The primary aim of power and politics is service to humanity, which includes adding value to the lives of the citizenry and evolving policies that are people-oriented. Other things that come with power, such as fame, wealth and influence, are secondary. Any man or woman assuming position of responsibility to oversee the affairs of men must have it at the back of his mind that it is a call to serve mankind. Anybody in position of authority must be prepared to give account of stewardship. People will always ask: “What did you do on office?”
Henry William Harrison ruled the United States of America for one month, before he died of pneumonia on April 4, 1841. History recognises him as former and 9th president of the United States of America. Franklin Delano Roosevelt ruled America from 1933 to 1945 before he died of cerebral hemorrhage. History also recognises him as former president of the United States of America. It is not how long in power but how well that is important to history.
History is replete with men who came to power and saw it as a permanent seat that should never be lost. Such men saw power as an opportunity for vendetta, looting and acquisition. They were so obsessed with power that they forgot that it was transient. They saw power like a helpless ant that suddenly found itself in a jar of sugar and decided to close the lid of the jar and descend on the sugar for life. To them, there was no tomorrow. But such leaders never ended well.
King Louis XIV of France was so intoxicated by power that he boasted before the French parliament, on April 13, 1655: “I am the state.”
A mere mortal like Louis saw himself as next to God and believed that he, as an individual, was large and mighty enough to be equated with the ‘state.’ As usual, time proved him wrong. Today, he is dead and forgotten and France after him is even far better than it was before him.
Adolf Hitler, in 1934, was so carried away by power and influence that he saw himself as the god of the Germans. He assembled over 500 German soldiers and got them executed. He was asked why he did that without the traditional military trial. Hitler boasted: “I am responsible for the fate of German people. I am the supreme justice and every one must know that for all future time, that if he raises his hand to strike the state, then certain death is his lot.”
Hitler manoeuvered his way to serve as a lance corporal during World War II (1914-1918), where his primary duty was carrying messages between company and regimental headquarters. He continued to involve himself in so many violent activities, including his escapade with mistresses, where many died violently in his hand, including his 16-year-old niece, Raubal Geli. Between 1919 and 1933, using all kinds of propaganda and political gimmicks, Hitler had succeeded in lording over the German people as a messiah-warrior who would take them to his promised land. Then came August 19, 1934, when, after a poll, Hitler was said to have fot 90 per cent of the country’s total vote cast, which finally made him the official dictator of Germany.
On official assumption of office, Hitler evolved several anti-people policies that led to the death of millions of people, especially German Jews and every opposition element, who were was visited with raw and merciless treatment. Finally came 3:30pm, Monday, April 30, 1945, as massive shelling was going on in the land, the man who had prided himself ‘the supreme justice’ went into hiding in one of his bunkers and had no option than to use his gun and shoot himself in the mouth, making the self-acclaimed god of Germany to die the most cowardly death.
In Cambodia, Pol Pot, the popular Architect of Genocide, stood tall between 1975 and 1979 and tortured the people of that country with guns, sticks and starvation. He ruled without mercy and ignored tomorrow. As far as Pol Pot was concerned, the Cambodians were his slaves and the power of life and death were in his hand. He was so obsessed with power that, under him, over two million Cambodians, about one-third of the population, were either tortured or starved to death. Rather than evolving policies that would add value to the the people, Pol Pot came up with many obnoxious anti-people policies that saw the merciless death of the people of Cambodia.
A few years later, in 1998, the frightening body of a dead old man was seen in the jungles of Thailand, where he had been on the run since 1979. The horrible sites of mass graves, skulls of innocent men and women littered all over the places were Pol Pot’s own record for history.
For over 30 years, Iraq under Saddam Hussein quaked and trembled, but he remained defiant and held the country with an aura of invincibility. He held sway like a colossus, ruled with tears, pain and blood without mercy. He maimed families like fowls, treated the opposition with utmost hatred and bitterness. Between 1979, when he officially manoeuvered himself into power, and Saturday, December 13, 2003, when he was caught in a rat hole, Saddam descended on the people of Iraq with brutality and high-handedness. He refused to see power as a transient project.
With over 50 bank accounts under his control, including his notorious account code-named ‘Satan,’ over 50 luxury palaces built for his comfort and 300 offshore businesses at his beck and call, Saddam believed that if God Almighty goes on recess, he would be the next God, especially in Iraq and the Middle East. He was in charge of every action of man in Iraq and manifested notoriety and wickedness before men that the fear of Saddam Hussein was the beginning of wisdom. He committed atrocities with reckless abandon to the extent of killing five Shia clerics and forcing over 200,000 into exile. He and his two sons, Uday and Qusay, were so overwhelmed by power and wealth that they forgot God and tomorrow in their actions. At the end of the day, Saddam, his two sons and many of his allies ended ingloriously.
The essence of this expository is not to indict any ruler, past or present, but to call evil evil and for present and future leaders to learn. It is unfortunate that some people in leadership positions in Nigeria do not concentrate on their primary calling, which is service to humanity. They prefer to indulge in unwholesome activities. A serving Nigerian governor recently boasted: “I have the power of life and death. I can kill and free.” That is the mentality of some leaders in position of authority today. They want to be seen as emperors and behave in such a way as if there is no tomorrow. But it is important to point out that the actions of men today will always be visited with a repercussions tomorrow. Those who misuse power will bear the brunt in future, no matter how long it takes.
Ali Bhutto said, “My time shall pass, your time shall pass, but the record of our work shall never pass.” That’s the truth. Many people in positions of authority and power today are oblivious of the fact that their activities are going on record and that their day of reckoning may be now or thereafter. A time will surely come when those in authority will stand face-to-face with history and give account of their stewardship. It is then that history will remember them, for good or for bad.
• Aja, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Abuja.