The Madness Of Our Leaders

A while ago, I wrote an article titled “Of Lunacy and Leaders” (17 January 2008) in which I tried to analyse the mental state of our thieving leaders and relate it to the development, or rather, the underdevelopment of our country, Nigeria. At the time, I received some flak from some readers for calling our political and military leaders, past and present, psychopaths and madmen. I kept quiet.

I now seem to have been vindicated when recently, the new EFCC boss, Mrs Farida Waziri told a visiting delegation of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) led by Olisa Agbakoba, NBA President that here in Nigeria too many persons in public office are mentally ill, and that to sanitise the Nigerian public space, aspiring public office holders should be subjected to psychiatric tests. According to her, The Guardian reports, “Most of the negative character traits exhibited by public officers in the country, especially massive looting of the treasury, are symptoms of mental illness”.

There we go. Mrs Waziri, a former Police woman with more than 20 years as a career police officer in charge of fraud investigations even tried to identify these negative traits: the theft of public funds, primitive accumulation, and greed. “You know if you are stealing what you need, it is a different thing but if you are grabbing left, right and centre throughout, then your character should be called to question. This, she said, is necessary in order to help many Nigerians who cannot even raise a voice against some of these practices. They cannot feed three square meals while those who occupy public offices through elections, return to their villages, demolish their shanties and replace them with paradise with no regard for their neighbours who cannot feed. This is merciless“.

Mrs Waziri is not the first person to call for psychiatric tests as a condition for eligibility for public office. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had made a similar suggestion in the past. This was before he assumed office as Nigeria’s civilian President in 1999.

And this is what the respected Dr Reuben Abati had to say in the Guardian of 11th July 2008: What haven’t we seen in this country? We have seen leaders who loot the treasury and stash away public funds in foreign accounts, sometimes running into trillions of Naira. Leaders who hide public money meant for development in overhead water tanks, underground chests and in all kinds of unimaginable places. One former public official allegedly owned over 50 houses in Abuja alone! Would he sleep on two beds at the same time? But wanton display of ill-gotten wealth is not the only sign of mental ill-health in the corridors of power. How about the maltreatment of ordinary people? Anyone who suddenly finds himself in a position of authority thinks that this is a license to misbehave. They chase other Nigerians off the roads. They violate laid down rules and regulations and claim superiority to the law. These mad men and women terrorise lesser beings, they turn their offices into weapons of assault against the same people whose interests they seem to be representing. But madness is not restricted to the corridors of power. Nigeria is one large sanatorium. If you doubt this, try take a ride round our cities and watch how motorists behave. Even the average cyclist thinks that the only way to assert himself is to break someone’s legs or smash the side mirror of other people’s vehicles. Tempers are short around here; Nigerians are so uncivil, so mean, sometimes it is better to stay in your own little world and avoid any form of confrontation”.

It is indeed very frightening to know that we are ruled and led by madmen and women, but this is something a lot of Nigerians have always suspected. You don’t have to go about naked in the marketplace or on the street to be a lunatic, or to have mental illness.

I would not like to go on about this but will just publish some excerpts from my previous article on this subject for those who did not read the article:

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.

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”.

Looking at our systems in Nigeria today, it encourages corruption by the following reasons: there is scarcity of goods and services; there is monumental red tape and delay (bureaucracy); there is lack of transparency from the governments; our judicial system cannot guarantee justice, fairness and equality; tribalism and nepotism among the corrupt to protect each other (as with the expression “thick as thieves” and no expression as “thick as honest people”).

With the above causes of corruption are also four key players: the corrupt politician, the corrupt bureaucrat or civil servant, the corrupt businessman and the criminal, who combine together in different formulations, permutations and combinations to perpetrate their corrupt acts on the people and the nation. Incidentally, they are all of the same ilk, carved out of the same tree. For example, if the corrupt politician were to be a businessman or civil servant, he will still be corrupt in those roles, and vice versa for all four groups. It does not matter what position or role they play either in governance or business, or just any role in the society, they will always be corrupt. The environment does not have any effect on them. It is difficult to say when the civil servants are taking bribes because it is like trying to guess when the fish in the water is drinking water. The civil servants are very much part of the system and it is difficult to detect their corruption, but we all know they aid the politicians to steal us blind, hence their culpability.

Most kleptomaniac leaders, bureaucrats and politicians are also psychopaths, therefore they rarely feel remorse or fear the consequences of their misdeeds, and this only makes them more culpable and dangerous. Again, examples abound currently with indicted or arrested ex-Governors, and their friends in Government, still pulling strings in their incarceration or hideouts to remove evidence, getting anti-corruption chiefs removed or even resorting to murdering witnesses.

The psychology which breeds corruption is that today corruption is a low risk, high profit activity. There is no shame in being corrupt, as exemplified by those arrested ex-Governors who are still strutting about on the streets, fighting all corners, and in fact, still being hailed by their own people as some malformed heroes. So if you can make easy money and also there is no loss of prestige in the society, why not indulge in corruption? In fact the only restriction of corruption can be from two sources. One is the internal check of conscience and the moral values an individual gets form his family, background, religion and his own society. In our current situation in Nigeria, moral values of all kinds seem to have rapidly and irrevocably declined. The second of course is external control, which the government can exercise to make corruption a very dangerous exercise. As a Nigerian, I am concerned with the second part, because, invariably, it is in Government that we find 90% of corrupt officials in Nigeria, so how can the Government make corruption a dangerous exercise to would-be corrupt leaders or politicians?

My reason for writing this article is my belief that before one can understand the reason behind this our national malaise, it is pertinent and important that we understand the psychology behind corruption and the people who perpetrate it on 120 to 140 million people before we can devise effective strategies of confronting the perpetrators. We need to study and understand their psyche. It is also because of my inability, much as I try, to comprehend the reason why corruption is so pervasive in the Nigerian society that I grew up in. All many Nigerians had wanted in life, and what our family, background, religion and society had taught us then was to have a good education, take up a job in any sector of the society and do our best to ease the suffering of society in any way we individually or collectively can, and that is simply by working hard and serving our people. However I fail to understand why others – corrupt, avaricious, selfish, arrogant, insensitive and murderous people – feel the wealth of a whole nation belongs to them by right or by virtue of the position they find themselves in – elected or selected. I cannot understand how a Governor or even a Minister can walk or drive on the streets of Nigeria and be totally impervious and immune to the suffering and poverty going on around them. These people even feign ignorance of these and insulate themselves from the public, as if they have never been ordinary citizens before. I cannot for the world of me, reconcile being corrupt with being happy because you have more money than me. Mind you, I am not naïve. I have needs too, as a normal human being, but I don’t think I can be happy by depriving others of their needs or entitlements too.

It is therefore safe to conclude, from the psychological analysis of corruption, that our corrupt politicians and leaders must be mad. They must be psychopaths. This is the only plausible explanation for their behaviour. It is therefore not asking too much if perhaps they should be subjected to very rigorous and extensive psychiatric tests before they are allowed to run for office or take office, as cumbersome and impracticable as this may seem. It is not even enough asking them to declare their assets before they take office or before they even run of office – they always manipulate this exercise in futility. A lot of them are a danger to the Nigerian society, like armed robbers, policemen (yes) and mad people on the street. Unfortunately, a mad person never realises his/her problem, they think everybody else but themselves is the mad person.

But I am sure that if we put our heads together and follow the dictates of Truth, the Law, the ability to recognise good and evil, Nigerians will be able to come up with effective solutions to check corruption and utilise government and the people to check corruption. We must come together, we must survive and enjoy together, we should build on our strengths of ideas and resourcefulness; our ideas must be bright and shining and practical and sincere, and we should remove the poison of misunderstanding between us and there should be no hatred.

Truth be said, we are all fighting a very common enemy in corruption. Our very survival and that of our future generations, now or unborn, depends on it. Some people believe Nigeria is irredeemable and incorrigible and is a failed state. The problem is those who hold such thoughts and opinions will die, along with the rest of us, never knowing otherwise, and Nigeria will still be there.

Quoting Dr Abati again in his conclusion, “Given the increasing rate of mental disorder in this country, and the implications for socio-political and economic well-being, government must raise the level of concern about mental health policy. In Britain, the United States and elsewhere, there are Mental Health Legislations, with the most recent Mental Health Acts in the UK and the US passed as recently as 2007. A mental Health Bill has been before the Nigerian National Assembly since 1999. It is time to take a look at it”.

Now that Mrs Waziri has recognised and realised the mental state of the people she’s dealing with, and take into consideration what she is up against, because she is not dealing with normal people, we can only hope that she is up to the task. I also hope she is not working unwittingly or knowingly for those she rightly labelled “madmen and women”. She has recognised and defined the problem, let us all find the solution.

I say, let the truth be said always, only then can we progress as a nation and as a people.

Written by
Akintokunbo A Adejumo
Join the discussion

  • Unfortunately, am really not impressed with the write-up. Am actually trying to decipher what message there is in calling our leaders mad people and using such abusive terms. I woul rather see a write-up that contains a more constructive criticism of our leaders and the country in general.

    We acknowledge and accept that there are serious issues there, but to decend to such foul language in the presentation of these issues, and still profess to be a citizen of the same country that you’re running down, beats my imagination.

    All said and done, we shall continue to pray for our country and wish for it to be well there…….it is what we profess with our mouths and, if i might add, in our writings, that eventually comes to pass. beni o!

  • Thanks for this article, which tried to capture the malaise of our-hell-on-earth oddly called a country…

    What can I say in response, which has not been represented in this article. All I will add is that it is obvious that anybody that disagrees with the author – including those who sent him flak for calling Nigerian leaders psychopaths are equally mad. They are either fellow psychopaths in action or psychopaths as victims!