What Nigerian Political Leaders Could Learn from The World’s “Poorest” President

by Akintokunbo A Adejumo

I have been reading the story of President Jose Mujica — the leader of Uruguay (please note the word “LEADER”) and I find it to be a singular example of humility, sacrifice and an uncommon disdain for all worldly material and other acquisition. In my opinion, this is a leader who may be worthy of emulation by our so-called leaders in Nigeria, and indeed, in Africa.

However, please let us recognise that being “poor” has not necessarily made Mr Mujica a successful or good leader (Uruguay is hardly the best country economically or politically in the world); but it is a testimony that a man truly leads his country and his people, not for his personal or family aggrandisement and benefit, but for service to his people, acquiring nothing personally, but giving back to the people, his people, that he sincerely loves and care for.

It is intriguing to consider how this powerful president draws on his humble roots, his experience as a former leftist guerrilla, and his reputation as a man of the people, to govern.

“His charitable donations – which benefit poor people and small entrepreneurs – mean his salary is roughly in line with the average Uruguayan income of [$770] a month.”

In 2010, his annual personal wealth declaration – mandatory for officials in Uruguay – was [$2,860], the value of his 1987 Volkswagen Beetle.

This year, he added half of his wife’s assets – land, tractors and a house – reaching [$215,000].”

This characteristic alone is singularly worthy of emulation by other leaders, especially in Third World countries, including our very own Nigeria. It also follows God’s or Nature’s aphorism that no matter what wealth or power we acquire in this world (and six feet under the earth is the end of it all, and we don’t even know when or how death will come), we are most happy and successful in this world only when it is used for the benefit of others less privileged, and to whom their well-being is entrusted.

It is gratifying to the humanity that President Mujica is not greedy, selfish, corrupt or self-serving. Unlike our leaders in Nigeria and indeed Africa, who believe naïvely that they have not lived in this world until all the wealth, power, possession and properties of this world is appropriated to them and is concentrated in their hands and their families only. They see success in the number of houses, cars and swollen bank accounts acquired as a result of their greed and corruption, never having a thought for the consequences of their actions (and inactions) on the lives of their own people whose welfare and betterment have been entrusted in their care, whether by force, constitutionally or by the simple laws of Man.

Our political leaders are quick and never think twice to betray the trust of the people who either voted or appointed them – this is for civil servants – into power (and in the case of the Military, people they are sworn to protect)

There is really nothing wrong with democracy, politics, religion, ethnicity, quest for power or wealth; the problem is the way Nigerian leaders manage to turn these values upside down, in cahoots and collaboration with their followers (and you might say, sometimes, foreign collaborators).

Do you have to be poor or be frugal to be a good leader? The answer is obviously No! Being poor is not a prerequisite to being a successful, good, kind, fair, competent, compassionate and incorruptible leader. In the history of the world, poor people hardly have the chance to get to be leaders; however, a rich man who becomes a leader may become poor as a result of giving up all his possession to make the lives of those he leads better. That is the nugget.

It is even likely, as often happens in Nigeria that a poor man, or let’s say a man who arose from a poor background, eventually has the chance to become a leader of his people; but then what happens? Such fortunate people become corrupted by power and wealth and easily forget his roots, or his past, or how it was for him before he had the God-given opportunity of making it to power and all its trappings.

Humanity has always had a problem with governments – no government in history has ever been perfect, and this is unlikely to change till the end of time – the reason being that it is fallible mortals that operate governments.

Power is government and government means power; power often attracts the corruptible, so anyone who seeks power must be suspected of being corrupt until proven otherwise. Again, “It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” – Aung San Suu Kyi, “Freedom from Fear”.

“Experience has shown that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” ― Thomas Jefferson

Mr Mujica is poor, so what? Are members of his government poor? He must have a cabinet of Ministers and Advisers; are these people, who carry out his wishes and orders poor? Do they share or agree with Mr Mujica’s modest and meagre lifestyle? The answers are not known. Uruguay is not an exceptionally country, neither can we classify it as a poor country; but one thing for sure, it is better than Nigeria and indeed, many African countries.

The beauty of the Uruguayan situation is that with a modest and focused President, the resources of that country are managed well; corruption reduced to the minimum, bureaucrats do what they are supposed to do and the government loves and really try to take care of its people. This is governance. I don’t even care if it is not democratic like America or the United Kingdom.

So do the Uruguayans love their poor President? They apparently do, not because he is poor, but because he looks out for them; he does what they want him to do for them; he or his government are not corrupt and unaccountable to them; he is open and fair to them; he does not tolerate excesses and corruption; and neither does he tolerate mismanagement and inefficiency. His military obey him, his Ministers do what he wants them to do for the people and generally oversees a good government that his people can call their own.

I will admit I do not know much of the history of Uruguay, probably because I have not bothered to do a lot of research, but the little I know suffices to write this article. Uruguay is home to 3.3 million people of whom 1.8 million live in the capital Montevideo and its metropolitan area. An estimated 88% of the population is of European descent. With an area of approximately 176,000 square kilometres (68,000 sq. mi), Uruguay is the second-smallest nation in South America by area, after Suriname.

Uruguay won its independence between 1811 and 1828, following a four-way struggle amongst Spain, Portugal, Argentina and Brazil. It is a democratic constitutional republic, with a president who is both head of state and head of government.

So here we have it. Nothing really in common with Nigeria except that it was once a colony of a European country and is today operating under a democracy after long periods of military rule. This is enough for me. The size of the country is immaterial as is the constitution, or demography of the country.

Our leaders, and indeed the followers, do not have any need to re-invent the wheel. Neither is governance rocket science. The quest and avarice for illegal wealth, unrequited and misplaced power and priority is our problem. On the humane side, we can also add selfishness and appropriation bordering on the ugly side of our cultural and traditional values. Apt also is the way charlatans and the mediocre force themselves into power for the sole purpose of acquiring wealth.

Georgia, a former state of the defunct Soviet Union, which a few years ago, was one of the most corrupt nation in the

world, has now got its act together and now boast of the least corrupt police force in the world. After an intensive drive to purge the country of petty and official corruption, many ordinary Georgians say they actually welcome the sight of police.

“Everything has really improved,” says Shalva, an elderly car owner in the capital, Tbilisi. “There is no way the patrol officers are taking bribes. They even changed my flat tire for free so that I could keep on driving. What could be better than this?”

“There is no other country at the moment where more people see a decrease in corruption in their country, and where more people say the government is effective in fighting corruption,” says Mathias Huter, a senior analyst with Transparency International’s Georgia office. “I think this is an indication that the Georgian government’s efforts to fight corruption have been very successful.”

How I wish we could say the same of my country, Nigeria, where it is even now more apparent that the Government itself is the main inhibitor and stumbling block to riding the country of the bane of corruption? In fact, one suspects that the government is actively aiding the stupendous growth and sustenance of corruption. As written earlier in an article, the various government apparatus in Nigeria thrives on corruption – it may even be that it is corruption that is keeping the country’s economy, entity and sovereignty from collapse.

Can we, nay, can our illegally-rich (in other words, thieving) leaders learn anything from Mr Mujica of Uruguay? Yes, but only in terms of morality and humanity. I am not sure of Mr Mujica’s governmental competence and effectiveness, but if the fact that he is poor and humble have anything to go by, yes, surely, our arrogant and corrupt leaders need to learn a lesson in humility, fear of God and Man, civility, love and intense care for one’s fellowman and woman and selflessness in the discharge of one’s duty to his/her people.

I see undeserving idiots, mediocre, charlatans and thieves being lauded and acclaimed everyday by the government, the society, religious segments and even the academics with the conferment of dubious honours, awards and accolades, chieftaincy and religious titles and I say to myself, “Are we a degenerate and depraved people who have unfortunately become used to suffering and battering from the hands of an unworthy few?”.

The Truth always.

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