INSPIRING LEGACIES OF POLITICAL ACTORS By Augustine Omilo
The Nigerian nation since independence has suffered untold leadership shortcomings. This has also led the country to a state of underdevelopment despite her natural and human resources endowments. Many of those that have so far held positions of authority probably do not realize that there is a historical position of honour or dishonour for political actors globally who have played these roles. Some people even appear not to realize that recognizing the positive impact of leaders with follow-up rewards can spur future leaders to excellent positions in office.
In the United States of America, the name of George Washington rings a bell. He was the first president of the country (1789 – 1797). He was also a commanding general of the continental army during the American revolutionary wars (1775 – 1783). For his numerous contributions towards the independence of his country and accomplishments as the first president of that God’s own country, the nation’s capital territory, Washington D.C (District of Columbia), was named after him in 1791.
Britain had her first female prime minister in 1979. She was in the position till 1990. Thus, she remains the longest serving head of state of the country in the 20th century. Her name is Margaret Thatcher (a.k.a iron lady). She is remembered in her country today for the economic reforms Britain experienced during her time in office. Her efforts to revive the economy were centered largely on monetarism, the theory that the supply of money in the economy affects such things as prices, output, and employment.
In 1982, amid the difficult recession and growing pressures on Thatcher’s government to reverse its policies, military forces from Argentina occupied the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas). The islands, located off the Argentine coast, were claimed by both Argentina and the United Kingdom. Thatcher quickly dispatched a naval task force to the Falklands that defeated the Argentines, a policy that was enormously popular in the United Kingdom. After leaving office in 1990, she won a seat in the House of Lords in 1992.
Africa equally has her fair share of inspiring politicians. One of them is late Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972), first prime minister (1957-1960) and president (1960-1966) of Ghana and the first black African postcolonial leader. Nkrumah led his country to independence from Britain in 1957 and was a powerful voice for African nationalism. He inspired other African leaders like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe.
Azikiwe (1904-1996), was a Nigerian politician, founder of modern Nigerian nationalism and first president of Nigeria (1963-66). Born at Zungeru, the son of an Igbo clerk, Azikiwe was educated in Nigeria and the United States of America. In 1937 he founded a newspaper chain, and in 1946 he became president of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC). He was premier in Igbo-dominated Eastern Region (1954-59), then governor-general, and later president of Nigeria. Following the military coups of 1966, Azikiwe was adviser to the Igbo secessionist state of Biafra. He was chancellor of University of Lagos from 1972 to 1975 and ran unsuccessfully for president in 1979.
Of course, Nigerian political history cannot be complete without the mention of Chief Obafemi Awolowo (1909-87), Nigerian nationalist and erudite politician. Born in Ikenne, the son of a farmer, Awolowo was trained as a lawyer. He became involved in politics in the 1940s and organized the Action Group in 1951. He was premier of Western Nigeria from 1954 to 1959, when he became opposition leader in the Federal House of Representatives. An unyielding advocate of federalism, he was arrested in 1962 for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government. Imprisoned in 1963, he was freed three years later by General Yakubu Gowon, head of Nigeria’s military government. Serving as federal commissioner for finance (1967-71), he resigned in protest over postponement of civilian rule. In 1979 he ran unsuccessfully for president.
Awo as he was fondly called by his admirers’ meant different things to different people. He was politically honest to a fault. As the first Nigerian politician to campaign with helicopter, many saw him as a mystic politician. He was reputed to have dropped a seed from his helicopter during a campaign trip to the old Midwestern region. According to the story, the seed later germinated and it is called “awolowo” till date.
Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961), nationalist leader who served briefly as the first prime minister of the Republic of the Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 1960. Lumumba helped bring independence to the colony of Belgian Congo but fell victim to the chaos independence created. He was assassinated in 1961.
Lumumba was born in Onalua in the southern province of Kasai in the Belgian Congo. He received a missionary school education and was strongly influenced by the writings of German political philosopher and revolutionist Karl Marx and French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre.
After his death, he was burnt to ashes. But a Belgian police officer took one of his teeth away to Belgium in 1961.The tooth was returned to Congo for official burial in 2022.
Another modern astute politician is the current governor of Delta state, Nigeria. Some people refer to him as the ‘road master’ due to his massive road construction efforts in the state within his less than eight years in office as governor. The former president of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo calls him “the bulldozer”. Other legacy projects he will ever be remembered for include the establishment of three universities, digital library, floating market, film village and amusement park, prompt payment of workers” salaries just to mention but a few.
To say the least, Okowa has become like the proverbial innocent lizard whose foes hate, not for being harmful but for sheer envy. There are some folks who have elevated the man to an imaginary height that presents him (Okowa) as a fellow like God who cannot make mistakes. The only succour for him remains the fact that a day is coming when his political ideals would be recommended for studies in school as a model.
Now, the obvious question remains; “how inspiring are many of Nigerian politicians?” Definitely, frequent defections by political actors from one party to the other at the slightest provocation cannot make the country’s democracy healthy.