Both Governors Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State and Rochas Okorocha of Imo State have a lot in common, and one could as well be the other. Their burlesque leadership style is a constant and painful reminder that we are being led by wags who have given up on the cerebral part of governance. The two governors are also a reflection of their counterparts in other parts of Nigeria, at all levels of administration. However, thanks to the constant media focus on their antics, that pair is the loudest joke in the room. The sheer scale of the ludicrousness with which they practise the art of pretend governance makes one wonder if they are not deliberately distracting us from the need to urgently reform our country. One wonders, which is which: is Fayose the Okorocha of Southwestern Nigeria, or is Okorocha the Fayose of Southeastern Nigeria?
From our various vantage points, we can all see – except we choose to be wilfully misguided – that we have a crop of leadership that is bad for our national health and dangerous to our collective future. Fayose bought “Christmas cloth” for some 10, 000 (a likely exaggerated figure) indigent children in his state. With that gesture, he made a dual pretence of being Father Christmas to the children and to the tailors in the state who will sow the cloth. Those who applauded his initiative chose to ignore the ridiculousness of one of the most unproductive states in Nigeria buying Christmas cloth for children.
It is almost trite to have to state that the government is not supposed to be run like a charity organisation. The state should not be providing so-called welfare items such as “Christmas clothes” when we know that despite the immediate and temporary boost the governor promised it would provide comes at a huge and permanent expense to the state. The duty of the government is to make and implement policies which will facilitate the conditions that make it ultimately possible for people to sustainably create development activities through their own mobilisation and efforts.
Fayose was criticised by a Muslim youth organisation, NACOMYO, but it was not to point out the fundamental wrongness of his action: misplacement of priorities. Rather, they merely cried out about the one-sidedness of the project. Perhaps, they should question what they considered dignifying about the uniform of poverty Fayose distributed to the people that any self-respecting person (regardless of religion) should ask to be placated with a similar gesture?
Fayose has always been a one-man comic show; he treats governance with a cavalier attitude that demystifies leadership and reduces sober processes to impetuous decisions he can easily surmount simply by clowning. He claims to be an interpreter of our social maladies, and in a sense, he is right; he knows what many people want is immediate gratification and he gives them just that. The impoverished masses who see no future or promise in our diseased democracy care less for leaders who spell out their vision or spout ideals. When people are hungry, they do not want theories or thoughts; they just want to eat. Fayose found a perfect answer for these Esaus by fashioning a mess of pottage through his Stomach Infrastructure Programme. He at least understands that if you can give people their most immediate need, you can make a Faustian bargain with them to forget the future you are depriving them.
In this respect, Fayose is not alone. He is no different from Kano, Sokoto, Jigawa, and Zamfara states where the government arranges mass marriages to pacify religious-twisted minds who have been conditioned to think that sex within the confines of the marital institution should be anyone’s priority. He is also not different from his counterpart in Benue State who gave out wheelbarrows to his state constituents, or the one in Katsina who gave out goats to young people; or even the one in Kano too who bought noodles and eggs. All of them consider these actions as “empowerment projects,” and some journalists uncritically echo these inanities. In reality, these initiatives merely keep people in disempowering poverty, so they can continuously cling to their benevolent leaders like nursing babies.
Okorocha, like Fayose, courts controversies so regularly he frequently earns an indecorous spot in the media. In recent weeks, he has engaged in the rather curious act of erecting statues of certain political figures like Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa. It did not seem to matter to him that Zuma was facing ethical issues and allegations of corruption in his home country. Okorocha’s recent 55th birthday party was a vanity fair; a gaudy affair for a state still dealing with basic developmental issues like the rest of the country. If one thinks Fayose personifies governance turned into a parody, then Okorocha’s latest antic – appointing his own sister as the Commissioner for Happiness and Purpose Fulfilment – shows he will not be outshone. Creating a Ministry of Happiness, in addition to all the poor optics of such a move, reminds one of the 1984 Orwellian state where language is deliberately manipulated to create a doublethink.
Let us pretend for a minute that there is a universal definition of “happiness” and what constitutes fulfilment for everyone is standardised, how does a government agency intend to achieve this by appointing an official for this utopian mission? By which indices would the efficacy of this office be measured? Would it not be far easier to usher people into the brave new world which Okorocha envisions by simply injecting Imo people with the neurochemicals that artificially simulate happiness? Why create a formal ministry when there is a shortcut to happiness, and it has proven efficacy? Seriously, is Okorocha genuinely unaware that the overall architecture of governance is supposed to function as a unit that achieves well-being for the people, and that creating a ministry for happiness and fulfilment is at best superfluous?
At the end of the day, what both Okorocha and Fayose’s “playfulness” indicates is this: we are not being ruled by a higher intelligence. We are led by a bunch of people who do not (and do not plan to) have either plans or projections. Their approach to leadership is whimsical; their hunch does not come from a meticulous understanding of the problems their constituents confront. Instead, they look at people’s faces to decide what they think would satiate their inner gnawing.
When Nigeria had seemingly endless oil money to throw around, it almost did not matter that our governors and most of our leaders had no idea how we could transcend our joyless circumstances. They threw a few petrodollars in the direction of problems that required complex analyses, thinking those problems would somehow magically resolve themselves.
Now that Nigeria is dealing with an economic downturn, their cluelessness has become so stark, so pronounced.
The sad part of it all is that despite all the criticisms, the tailors of Ekiti State will be happy to go home with a few thousands of naira as dividends of democracy. They will praise their governor to the heavens and live off the memories when the money is all gone, and they are just still as poor. When those times inevitably arrive, they will remember his generosity to them and rationalise the complex conditions in which they are trapped by saying, “our governor is trying” and similar statements of forced optimism. In Imo, the Ministry of Happiness will create a semblance of happiness and “purpose fulfilment” when it begins to recruit staff and contractors who will be taken off the unemployment market for a while. It is that kind of small joys which both men manufacture in their respective states by micromanaging governance that makes both Fayose and Okorocha barely distinguishable from the other.