This column does not, as a matter of policy, comment on government and governance in Imo, my home state. However, it could, when the unusual takes place, relax this policy momentarily in order to be a part of a compelling history. Since the advent of BROKEN TONGUES in 1999, Imo has featured only twice in it. The first was in 2000 when, as Editor of LEADERS & CO., a publication on the stable of THISDAY Newspapers, I had cause to traverse the length and breadth of the country in search of the newly elected governors of the then nascent Fourth Republic. Governor Achike Udenwa of Imo State happened to be one of the governor’s that I sought out.
The second occasion was in 2007, when Ikedi Ohakim was elected the governor of Imo State. His emergence was a pleasant surprise to political watchers and pundits. I had good reason to comment on the unusual and unexpected development.
And now this. Rochas Okorocha, the unconventional governor of Imo State, has just taken unusualness to new heights. And this column is constrained, more than ever before, to take part in the ongoing effort to pigeonhole the absurd drama that is taking public discourse by storm.
The governor, penultimate week, created what he calls Ministry of Happiness and Purpose Fulfilment. He explained it thus: “The real essence of life is to be happy and to fulfill one’s purpose in life. Government officials are elected to address this. This is the very reason people elect their leaders to guarantee their happiness and purpose fulfilment.” The governor went on: “There is no activity of mankind that is not geared towards providing happiness. Unfortunately, this vital element of our social lives has not been properly addressed. Governments at various levels have created several ministries and departments to achieve this, yet people are bitter, angry with hate speeches, which lead to crisis, war and even terrorism… Happiness and Purpose Ministry, therefore, is established for the (lost?) time to correct the policy framework to guide ministries and departments on what they must do to guarantee the citizens’ happiness and contribute better to society.”
This is Okorocha’s reason for creating Ministry of Happiness. He wants people to be happy so that there will be no more wars and crisis of any sort. In it, he has created a super ministry that will guide the rest of his ministries numbering about 30 on how to run the affairs of the state. Okorocha may be entitled to his fancies and fantasies, but he needs to pause and ponder here. This has become imperative because his espousal on happiness does not only miss the point, the thinking behind it is simplistic and bizarre. The governor does not seem to know what happiness is all about and how it comes about. Let us educate him a little on this. From what we know, and from what great thinkers tell us, happiness is the ultimate ratio of existence. It is the most fulfilling aspect of our being. But happiness cannot be bought in the market. It cannot be decreed into place. It is a natural disposition, which every human being manages in his own way. Happiness is not a product of material wealth. It does not derive from the fatness of one’s bank account. Wealth does not, necessarily, translate into happiness. As a matter of fact, the happiest people on earth are not the rich and the wealthy. If anything, wealth can engender sadness. The less privileged, more often than not, are happier than the privileged ones. Those who do not have or who have less, have very little to worry about. Their limited exposure keeps them at peace with their environment. That is why William Shakespeare, English poet and playwright, tells us that ignorance is bliss.
Albert Einstein, the German theoretical physicist, in his famous Theory of Relativity, penned a note on happiness. In his theory of happiness, Einstein advises us on how to live a happy life. He said: “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.” There is profound truth in this viewpoint.
All of this contrasts sharply with Okorocha’s idea of happiness. He thinks that happiness can be legislated upon. He imagines that bags of rice or tubers of yam can bring about happiness. For him, when people have houses and cars, they are happy and their purpose in life has been fulfilled. This is most fallacious. The truth is that material things do not bring about happiness. They can only make people laugh. And laughter is not the same thing as happiness.
Plato, a Classical Greek philosopher, was one of the earliest to espouse on laughter. He tells us that what brings about laughter is vice. Laughter, he says, is related to pleasure and pain. Sigmund Freud, Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, was later to expand on Plato’s theory when he came up with a relief theory which says that laugh-producing situations are pleasurable because they save psychic energy.
I do not expect Okorocha and his government to know or worry about these eternal truths about happiness. But it is unacceptable for them to attempt to dabble into provinces they are not competent in just to justify the creation of a ministry on happiness. If the governor appreciates the points we have made, he will come to terms with the fact that government officials are not, contrary to what he said, elected to ensure happiness and purpose fulfilment. As we have noted earlier, happiness or the pursuit of it is an internal and private affair of individuals. The primary reason for the existence of government is the protection of life and property. Happiness has no place in it. Government exists to move us away from the Hobbesian state of nature. It is only when life and property are protected that we can talk of a human society where other aspirations can be realised.
In modern societies, the functions of government have since expanded to include welfarism. This is probably where Okorocha’s concept of happiness comes in. But he got it all wrong. Governments all over the world have various organs and instruments that ensure that the people’s welfare is taken care of. Various government ministries, departments and agencies are created to, in one way or another, ensure the welfare of the citizenry. If these government departments function efficiently and optimally, there is nothing that will be left out in the area of welfare packages. If the citizenry are not getting their due from government, it is because the government agencies, which are supposed to ensure that they do not lack, are not functioning properly. Okorocha can redirect his energy and focus along this line. If he does, he will discover that the idea of a ministry of happiness is bizarre. It sounds absurd. The mere thought of it makes its creator look unserious. Governance is a very serious business. It does not admit of jesting of any sort. That is why government policies and programmes are usually well thought out before they are released to the public. It is a sin for government to push out policies and programmes that debase governance. And Okorocha has just committed one. The governor needs to be reminded that he cannot set up an industry or create a ministry for happiness. It is absurd to seek to do so. To insist on doing it will make its promoter look like a court jester in the eyes of the public. Our governor cannot afford this damnable descent into the abyss of disrepute.