Writing about the characteristics of powerful men in a September 22, 2010 article, contributed to The Mankind Project Journal, tilted Characteristics of powerful men, Steve Norcross, an Episcopal priest, recalled the morbid fear he used to have for powerful men and men of power as a kid. The persona, the image of character and personality that powerful men, at the time, projected to his infantile mind was that of super humans, even some extraterrestrial beings, who were never affected by mortal emotions and experiences. To Norcross, men of power of his time were not only dominant and domineering, their work and lifestyles were punctuated by alcohol and an inexplicable love for high contact sports.
However, as an adult, and a priest who has encountered varied human experiences in the course of his job, Norcross said he had “come to appreciate power in new and much more human ways,” submitting that “truly powerful men” protect and have utmost respect and love for the weak. Meaning: His adult-life encounters with truly powerful men have wiped out his childhood prejudices, replacing them with deep appreciation of the distinctive characteristics between “truly powerful men” and men of power who use their position and influence to oppress.
I may not have such morbid childhood impression about the nature of power and personae of those who wield it, but having visited a number of Government Houses, across the country, in the course of my job as a journalist, I think I should be able to do a reasonable evaluation of the men in Nigeria’s towers of power. Indeed, if I add my observations from those visits to my experience covering President Olusegun Obasanjo and the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, between 2002 and 2005, for my former employers, TELL magazine, I think I should be able to do fair character profiles of a sizeable number of Nigeria’s men of power. Including former President Obasanjo.
There are certain character traits common to most of them. First, their swagger. Though they no longer march as if they want to destroy the earth, like emperors of old, there is still this air of arrogance around the character and personality of most of Nigeria’s current men of power that, roughly interpreted, tends to suggest that we, lesser mortals, don’t matter. Some of them have this I-know-it-all, you-can’t-fault-my-judgment disposition. They enjoy people waiting endlessly on them. They love to see people, including their commissioners and ministers, cringe at their sight, or, where possible, scurry under the table at the sound of their footsteps. They talk boastfully about their personal achievements and never let an opportunity slip by without reminding those us, lesser mortals, that they are the best things to have happened in our lives. We can go on and on. Talk about the swagger of power.
However, our current democracy has exposed some oases of hope.
One of them is Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Governor of Ekiti State. I encountered him for about two hours, a few weeks ago, in Ado-Ekiti, the state capital. Boy, did he leave a lasting impression on me.
It was a Friday, and the appointment was for 1 p.m. I had to take over the car from my driver to save some time and arrive early enough for the appointment. It was one of those days that tanker drivers decided to display their usual madness around Ogere on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. We lost valuable time to their shenanigans. Despite that, we managed to get to the governor’s office in Ado-Ekiti around 12.30, p.m., and I headed straight to the office of the Chief Security Officer, CSO, as the governor had directed while agreeing to the appointment.
Surprise number one: the CSO was not only expecting me, he stood to welcome me and apologised profusely that “Oga just stepped out. He won’t be long. But I assure you, we won’t keep you long.”
‘Is this happening in Nigeria? A powerful man apologizing on behalf of his boss ahead of possible lateness?’ I intoned as I sank into a seat.
Surprise number two: I started to flip through some in-house magazines on the table to kill time. I tried to prime myself for a long wait. But I wouldn’t have to wait long. On the dot of 1p.m., the phone on the CSO ‘s table rang. He answered. I didn’t hear what he said to the man at the other end. But moments, later, he said to me: “Mr. Oshunkeye, Oga is back.” I nodded, thanking him. He returned my courtesy. I continued reading. In another five minutes, he spoke again. “Please, let him settle down,” he said, as if the governor owed me a huge debt. “He will see you shortly.”
In another 10 minutes, I was sitting right in front of the governor.
Surprise three: Though it was apparent that the governor was tired, and would do with some rest as stress had furrowed his temple, he stood up and actually walked up to me to welcome me. Can this be true? I intoned again. Returning to his chair, Dr. Fayemi, apologetically explained why he couldn’t see me at 1p.m. Time now was 1.25 p.m., not 10 p.m., not 12 midnight. He had to attend the synod of the Anglican Church, which had invited him as a special guest. From there, he had to rush to join men and women serving in the temple of justice-judges and lawyers-in a special ceremony to mark the beginning of a new legal year in Ekiti State.
Still, that’s not all. After that, he went into a meeting with some union leaders from either local government workers union or the state civil service, before returning to the office to keep other appointments. And here he was apologizing seriously for meeting me, ordinary me, 25 minutes, not two hours, not three hours behind schedule, as some others would do without qualms. And it wasn’t as if Fayemi’s life or the fate of his state depended on this meeting! No.
“I don’t like piling or shifting confirmed appointments,” he said, when I told him how profoundly pleased and grateful I was for his politeness and respect. “If you shift or shuffle appointments that you approved in the first place, it comes back to you because it is a chain of activities here. And one dislocation in the chain affects the others. So, I try my best not to drag appointments.”
Call that effective time management. I call it humility and effective time management. I also discovered another aspect of Dr. Fayemi during the meeting. He has a profound sense of duty. During the meeting, I tried to appreciate what I saw in town. I tried to applaud the many road projects going on simultaneously in many parts of the capital, and the ones I saw on the way. I did not even mention his giant strides in education, where from inception, he declared free education for primary and secondary schools, his social security scheme, and his other accomplishments which, many people in the state attest, surpass what his two predecessors accomplished in seven years. And to say that he did all those in two years? I said if I were in his shoes, I would not only blow my trumpet on the streets of Ekiti State, (because if I don’t someone else would) but I would also blow it from rooftops, minarets and such places where people would hear, see, and praise God on behalf of my administration.
The man just smiled but appreciated the compliments, all the same. He, however, quickly got serious and said, much as he appreciated people’s appreciation of what his administration had done in two short years, despite the state’s limited resources, he did not see any reason for wild parties yet.
Why? I asked him.
“We are just doing our job,” he said. “That’s what we are elected to do. If we don’t do our best on this beat, we betray the sacred trust people repose in us. And that won’t happen because we have a contract with the people, a contract to make live better and abundant in all its ramifications for our citizens and, indeed, everybody living within our boundaries.
“Many of our people have expressed surprises about where we got the resources to accomplish all these, like you have wondered too, my brother. My response has been that planning, prudence and a hundred percent commitment to the agenda we have set to achieve, which is a put-people-first agenda, have made all these possible. In two years, we have gone above 50 percent of the many initiatives we have put on the table.”
Still, he says it’s not yet time to party.
That tells me a lot about the responsive and responsible leadership Dr. Fayemi is trying to provide for the people of Ekiti. Not the type of leadership that abuses, exploits and destroys the earth that Steve Norcross saw during his childhood, but a leadership that strives to save the earth, even Ekiti State. Not a leadership that oppresses and adds to the woes and miseries of the poor but a leadership that respects and protects the poor.
Fayemi, like what Norcross now sees in his adult life, is a leader who loves the poor with his heart, soul, spirit, mind and strength. He is a leader who weeps with those who weep, and laughs with those who laugh. And like Norcross said, he is a man of power who “uses both his head and his emotions in his decisions and in his dealings” with those he leads and those in his life.
That is the kind of leader that I saw when I encountered Dr. Kayode Fayemi in Ado-Ekiti recently. With leaders like him, there is hope for Nigeria.