Barack Obama is the epitome of grace, graciousness, class, and humility. Given Obama’s laudable accomplishment of rising to arguably, the most significant office in the world, President of the United States, Africans rightly are proud of his biological ties to the continent. However, how many Africans–I’ll narrow it down to the most familiar, Nigerians–can claim to possess a modicum of Obama’s grace and humility?
Nigerian leaders are known for invariably evincing a presence that would make the common man feel like pissing his pants. It would appear that an accompanying trait of Nigerian leadership is having a presence that induces trepidation.
Nigerian leaders don’t have to be photogenic, be dashing or possess the gift of garb to demonstrate that “Obama factor” that draws the admiration of average Americans, endearing them to the former US President. In fact, I argue that we have had our very own leader (although he was denied the office of President of Nigeria), who although very different from Obama in appearance and temperament possessed a certain charisma germane to the Nigerian environment. MKO Abiola had the charisma to connect with the common man in Nigeria.
I recall having met MKO Abiola, at his home in Lagos, Nigeria, when I was eight years old after his son, a classmate of one of my older brothers had invited us over. We called him Billy as a sobriquet, and he was regularly at my home. He was about eight years older than me and enjoyed playing with me. One day he invited me to come along with my older brother to his house.
After Billy had given us a tour of the “complex,” and I was still trying to figure out how in the world Billy lived in a “house” so large and palatial, with it’s own soccer pitch, more than one swimming pool, a mosque that could host an army; while I was still wondering why in the world they had so many kitchens and even a kitchen on the second floor, Billy decided to give us a little respite from our travels around the premises, and sat us in a landing next to what he said was his dad’s room.
As an eight year old, of course I had no idea, “who” his dad was and as I was about to unload all the numerous questions in my head, the door swung wide open revealing an ebullient man, grinning from ear to ear and so effusive in his enthusiasm to see us. Actually, he came out just to leave an instruction and escort a departing guest, he acknowledged us sitting to the side of the room with words I have never forgotten in Yoruba, “Ehen, en shey meeting abi, business wo tun ni yen o? E sha ti fi share mi le!” (English translation: you are holding a business meeting, do include my share of your proceeds lol.) He laughed heartily and walked back into his bedroom, after completing pleasantries.
I have since heard from other friends of their chance meetings with MKO Abiola, the Nigerian billionaire businessman (long before Forbes decided to “notice” Dangote and other Nigerian billionaires, MKO Abiola and his accountants had pegged his net-worth to an estimated $6 billion; Nigerians had long known that it had billionaires even before Forbes realized and recognized this–just like Africans knew river Niger and Victoria Falls existed before Mungo Park and David Livingstone respectively discovered them) turned politician and winner of the controversial June12, 1993 Nigerian Presidential elections that were annulled. They all attest to his winning personality, charisma and even humility amidst the significance of his trappings of wealth and power.
Could it possibly detract from Nigerian leaders if they would only just discard the attendant aura of “magnificence” they don with their “authority,” which invariably bestows trepidation upon their Nigerian “subjects?” Or in the Nigerian context, it just isn’t leadership, if authority/power is not accompanied by arrogance from the leader and fear – shown by the governed?