Monday, July 15, 2024

The mental case of our politicians

Sometime last month, Peter Obi, former Governor of Anambra State and presidential candidate of the Labour Party, mildly shocked us when he declared, rather authoritatively, that 70-80 per cent of his fellow politicians are lunatics, as in raving mad. Being one of them, we should give him the benefits of the doubt without any supporting empirical evidence attested to by psychiatrists and mental health experts.

No nation jokes about the mental health of its political leaders. I take it that Obi was not making a jest of a crippling source of worry for those of us who watch the politicians doing things that call their mental stability into question. Much rides on the mental health of political leaders. Madmen are not rational people. It is beyond dangerous for a nation to put its fate and its future in the hands of mentally unstable people.

Public office is a pressure cooker. Things can sometimes go wrong even with sane men in public offices. A close friend of mine, a major-general, who was a military governor in the Babangida military administration, once sighed loudly and told me, “You know, you come into this office confused and leave it questioning your own insanity.” I could understand.

The insane is not just the man dressed up in the glory of his designer rags, talking and laughing to himself and shooting the air with his fists. It is the erratic, delusional man. Mental cases take many forms, many of which even do not manifest. Ask the experts. Some Nigerians were once worried about the insane behaviour of some of our politicians such as their brazen and shameless looting of the treasury they are entrusted with guarding against thieves, that they suggested that those who seek elective public offices should undergo a psychiatric examination to assure us that we are putting our fate and the fate of our nation in sane hands. Others suggested they be tested for hard drugs. But no takers.

When Donald Trump became president in 2017 and began to act in an erratic manner both strange and inconsistent with the American tradition in the Oval Office from George Washington to Barack Obama, the red light went off in the heads of his countrymen and women. Twenty-seven leading psychiatrists and mental health experts met to asset his mental health and stability. Their contribution was published in a book titled The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, edited by Bandy Lee. It makes chilling reading. The experts correctly predicted much of what the man did in his four years in the Oval Office.

The question for which the experts sought professional explanation was: was he “mad, bad or both”? They established that “his madness was catching on” and would progressively threaten American democracy and way of life. It came to pass.

A slew of books by various authors, some of whom were White House staff, raised the same issue. Omarosa, a former White House staff, put it rather indelicately in her book, Unhinged. Trump went on to prove those who suspected his mental imbalance right. His erratic and delusional narcissism culminated in his insistence that he won the 2020 presidential election and pressurised state electoral officials to steal the election for him. Failing that he primed his cult-like followers to assault the Capitol on January 6, 2020, to prevent Congress from certifying the result of the election clearly won by the now President Joe Biden.

The rest of the world watched in horror and unbelief the insane assault on the lawmakers by the lunatic Trump mob. Americans still tremble to think of what could have been in the primitive assault on their democracy and their way of life by a man in whose hands they entrusted their lives and the fate of their country for four years. The former president remains unrepentant. This, then, is the danger in putting mentally unstable men in public offices.

No nation can be too careful in choosing its political leaders. Some men are mad; some are bad and others are both mad and bad. High public offices unhinge the weak and mislead the unwary. The tendency for every ruler to thrash the rule of law, if he can, and promote himself as the only man who can fix his country, is strong among politicians. Once some of them mount the tiger of power, they cannot dismount because the fear of a) being eaten by the beast is no small fear and b) the descent from the pinnacle of power into anonymity advises some to die in office rather than vacate it.

There is a potential Donald Trump in every man. Examples are hardly lacking in Africa. Africa has had nasty and brutal rulers in Khaki or Agbada who ruined their countries and impoverished their people. Narcissism is not strange among politicians. Each man sees himself as the chosen one.

Here in our country, we see erratic politicians who are averse to decency; we see politicians who glorify in their exalted offices but default in their sense of public service and responsibilities; we see politicians who steal openly because they are too courageous to hide their heinous crime in a country that worships rich thieves; we see state governors who went into office with bank accounts in the red and holes in their pockets and who now strut the public stage as the newly-rich minted in our public treasuries.

These are obvious cases of lunacy. Greed is insanity. It births corruption, also known as the cankerworm. Ever met a Nigerian politician who, like the late Tanzanian President, Julius Nyerere, left office without a roof over his head? The mansion defines power and is the symbol of those who have made it – at the expense of the public they were called upon to serve.

The infectious megalomania among our politicians is beyond the quest for power. It is rooted, it now seems clear to me, in incipient individual madness accentuated by the enormous power and the privileges of a high public office.

At the best of times, power intoxicates; at the level of executive governors, it strips itself of any pretences to madness. It is a mistake to suppose that the crowded field of the recent primaries was evidence of the patriotic zeal by many to serve our nation. No, sir. It was evidence that politics is power and power is the short cut to wealth. It is not, I should think, a matter of national pride that some of our former state governors leave the government houses to the cold and lonely rooms of EFCC, accused of pocketing more money than they and their families would need in five or ten lifetimes.

Nigeria is the only country that embarrasses itself with unstable party politics. The parties have no ideologies; no political party can count on the loyalty of its members much of the time; they defect to rival parties if, in their greed for power, they see greener pastures there. It is lunacy. The quadrennial election season is a season of political hollowness, political jobbery and national politics bereft of principles and commitment. Each such season throws up strange words and phrases in attempts by the politicians to bend the rules or not to play by them. This year gave us placeholder and dummy.

I think it should be possible for us to agree that a state governor who watches his unpaid civil servants and pensioners starve to death is a lunatic.

A state governor who votes money to fix roads and schools but chooses to share the money voted for them with his contractor and arrest development in his state has some loose screws in his head.

A state governor who ignores the welfare of his people steals their money is bad and mad.

A state governor, who serves out his two terms in office and heads for the senate, is greedy, mad and bad.

A state governor who leaves his state worse than he found it, is a lunatic.

A legislator, who pockets his constituency allowance, is mad and bad.

Politicians who refuse to play by extant rules and choose to bend the arc of justice towards injustice is mad and bad.

Obi was right but he under-counted the political lunatics.

Dan Agbese
Dan Agbese
Dan Agbese was educated at the University of Lagos and Columbia University, New York. He holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science degrees in mass communication and journalism. He began his journalism career at the New Nigerian Newspapers, Kaduna, and has edited two national newspapers, The Nigeria Standard and the New Nigerian. He and his three close friends in the news media, Ray Ekpu, Yakubu Mohammed, and the late Dele Giwa, founded the trail-blazing weekly newsmagazine in Nigeria, Newswatch, in 1984. He held various editorial positions in the magazine and was Editor-in-Chief of the magazine. Agbese is a well-regarded and respected columnist in Nigeria. He wrote popular columns for the Nigeria Standard and Newswatch magazine. He is the author of Fellow Nigerians: Turning Points in the Political History of Nigeria, 1966 - 1999; Nigeria their Nigeria, Ibrahim Babangida: The Military, Politics and Power in Nigeria, Footprints on Marble: Murtala H. Nyako, The Six Military Governors Voices of History, Conversation with History and three journalism textbooks, Style: A Guide to Good Writing, The Reporter's Companion and The Columnist's Companion: The Art and Craft of Column Writing. He has also contributed chapters to several books on Nigerian politics. Agbese's much-admired style of writing has been the subject of a thesis by students in the University of Jos, the University of Ibadan, and Benue State University.


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