Of Lunacy and Leaders

Not too many eons ago, the Government of Lagos State under Mr Bola Tinubu started a mini revolution in the city of Lagos whereby motorists caught driving on the wrong side of the road or otherwise driving carelessly are not only fined a hefty sum of money, but are also escorted to psychiatric hospitals to have themselves assessed, and at their own costs. It was, I was told, a very successful initiative, but sadly, like many other good and welcome initiatives in Nigeria, it died an unnatural death. That was because there was never any real commitment to it.

The fact that a lot of our citizens wantonly and deliberately disobey the laws of the land – and believe me, Nigeria has a lot of laws, which if enforced as they should be in a normal society, will give us a better and more organised country – is a reflection of the lunacy and breakdown of law and order in that country. By this I mean in its totality, not just motorists, armed robbers and militants, but also corrupt officials in government, industry, business and other sectors.

It is for this reason that I have likened the behaviour of motorists to those of our leaders. The problem of corruption in Nigeria has assumed enormous and embarrassing proportions in recent years, although it has been with us for decades. In fact, so grave is the problem that in 1998, the CBCN (Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria) composed a special prayer against bribery and corruption in Nigeria. This prayer is still being recited today at most Catholic masses. (See my article – Corruption and the Nigerian Mentality, Nigeriaworld.com )

Since President Yar’Adua assumed the mantle of power in May 2007, the earth shattering revelations that have surfaced on the monumental scale of corruption in the previous administration of Olusegun Obasanjo has shaken Nigerians dizzy. The monumental sums being bandied about is beyond belief. And we have hardly started or ended. Like Americans say, “You ain’t seen nothing yet”. In fact we will never know the real and true amount of Nigerian people’s money that have gone into the private pockets of former Governors, Deputy Governors, Ministers, Special Advisers of all tiers of government, Commissioners, Board and Parastatals Chairpersons, Local Government Chairpersons and their councillors, top and middle level civil servants, and even minor officials. It is like looking for a needle in a big haystack, if you ask me. We are talking of trillions of Naira here, because if only three ex-Governors can steal over 200 billion Naira between them, imagine the rest. And the stealing continues with second-term Governors and new Governors alike. All of them think they can still get away with it; they think they are smart enough to outwit the system. A delusion of their minds.

This is pure lunacy. And that brings me to my essay. Gary Novak, (undated) an “Independent Scientist”, quoted Ivan Pavlov (Nobel Laureate in Physiology in 1904) as defining modern psychology by showing how stimulus-response reactions are created in the mind. Without going into the experiment of Pavlov, he showed that certain stimuli cause patterns of behaviour to be expressed as developed reactions, and when these are repeated often, causes reactions to become more developed over time.

The reactions of corruption always have the same characteristics, with the starting point being the assumption that prevailing over someone else would be advantageous. In Nigeria, our leaders and/or those in charge of power and authority create that advantage by stealing more money from the treasury, buying more properties, and to take it to another level, buying private planes and more valuable properties and vehicles in overseas countries, even when they do not need to. This allows them to dictate terms to their advantage (as seen when they are going for re-election or even during plea-bargaining) to the detriment of other players – colleagues or the ordinary citizen. They see themselves as playing a game of survival, and the only way they can survive is to maintain a corrupt advantage over everybody else.

In Sam Vaknin’s “The Psychology of Corruption” in Malignant Self Love (1999 -2007), he wrote Most politicians bend the laws of the land and steal money or solicit bribes because they need the funds to support networks of patronage. Others do it in order to reward their nearest and dearest or to maintain a lavish lifestyle when their political lives are over. But these mundane reasons fail to explain why some officeholders go on a rampage and binge on endless quantities of lucre. All rationales crumble in the face of a Mobutu Sese Seko or a Saddam Hussein or a Ferdinand Marcos who absconded with billions of US dollars from the coffers of Zaire, Iraq, and the Philippines, respectively.

These inconceivable dollops of hard cash and valuables often remain stashed and untouched, mouldering in bank accounts and safes in Western banks. They serve no purpose, either political or economic. But they do fulfil a psychological need. These hoards are not the megalomaniacal equivalents of savings accounts. Rather they are of the nature of compulsive collections.

Erstwhile president of Sierra Leone, Momoh, amassed hundreds of video players and other consumer goods in vast rooms in his mansion. As electricity supply was intermittent at best, his was a curious choice. He used to sit among these relics of his cupidity, fondling and counting them insatiably. While Momoh relished things with shiny buttons, people like Sese Seko, Hussein, and Marcos drooled over money. The ever-heightening mountains of greenbacks in their vaults soothed them, filled them with confidence, regulated their sense of self-worth, and served as a love substitute. The balances in their bulging bank accounts were of no practical import or intent. They merely catered to their psychopathology. These politicos were not only crooks but also kleptomaniacs. They could no more stop thieving than Hitler could stop murdering. Venality was an integral part of their psychological makeup”.

So we see the relationship between looting of government treasury and kleptomania. The same analysis above is very apt with our Nigerian politicians and leaders. Some of them are so mad that that they keep their loot in their houses; some of them even bury cash in graves; while some of them just go on buying every property and business in sight, despite the fact that they can only sleep in one room at a time, example, an ex-Governor who has 159 or so properties in a single city.

Kleptomania is a compulsive desire to steal. Psychologists and psychiatrists will tell you kleptomania is a psychological disorder or aberration. It is about acting out a dream or fantasy. Corrupt Nigerian leaders also see it a compensatory act; they think politics is a drab, uninspiring, unintelligent and often, humiliating business, which is risky and arbitrary. It is also stressful and full of conflict. They also think they are doing us all a favour and therefore they should be compensated adequately. In other words, they do not agree that their salary is compensation enough and the fact that they are living virtually free of charge on our money. Vaknin also goes further to posit that “politicians with mild forms of mental health disorders react by de-compensation. They rob the state and coerce businessmen to grease their palms because it makes them feel better, it helps them to repress their mounting fears and frustrations, and to restore their psychodynamic equilibrium. These politicians and bureaucrats “let off steam” by looting”.

Another fact is that a society where truth is not allowed to flourish is bound to be corrupt; and with it, all other kinds of ills in the society. Such is our society. That is why some people who can never tell the truth, and see nothing wrong in telling lies all the time, are referred to as “pathological liars”. Politicians thus devised a seemingly acceptable definition by saying they are only being “economical with the truth”. However, a lie is a lie. A corrupt person can never ever be expected to be truthful – another kind of psychological aberration – because he/she always has something to hide. Any threat of exposure then leads him/her to taking evasive action, and he/she will even contemplate, and often resort to, mass murder. Incidentally, it is not only the leaders or politicos that manifest this characteristic, but even the ordinary members of society. Hence the veracity in the saying that “A people deserve the leaders they get”. We must all share the blame for our corrupt state.

Written by
Akintokunbo A Adejumo
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