Meetings: Nigerian Leaders and The Incalculable Cost of Truancy

Last week’s Senate elections that saw Bukola Saraki notch the red chamber’s top seat with a blockbusting walkover precipitated a lot of nitpicking. All the perceptible nuances of the drama have been analyzed. The main characters and their sponsors have been judged; commended and condemned.

However, the precipitate romanticizing of Saraki’s victory as a leap for our democratic culture is outlandish, just as the celebration of the win of his presumptive rival, Ahmed Lawan, as the dawn of the renaissance of one noble ideal would have been preposterous. None of the duo articulated a rationale for his bid. Their manifest desperation confirmed that they were professional wrestlers, hankering after the title and the money.

But the immediate cause of the turn of event, an issue that would be implicated in any honest study of Nigeria’s stagnation, has perplexingly escaped consideration.

Lawan’s absence imposed a disappointing denouement to what had promised to be an epic match. The anointed favorite of the APC oligarchy didn’t show up: he and his ensemble were at another venue for an anticipatory meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari. Saraki, the rebel who would not shed his unsanctioned ambition, reported at the National Assembly: and he was vested the easiest coronation.

One vignette from Aesop’s Fable stood as the lookalike of that anticlimax resolution.

The mountains quaked, its peaks issued columns of smoke, the trees crashed and the boulders tumbled. The countrymen, apprehensive and unnerved, huddled together, to behold the revelation of the agitated volcano. They watched and waited. The mountains convulsed some more and a huge opening appeared on the side of the mountain. They cowered and waited. In the end, nothing more than a tiny mouse emerged from the hole. Their spectatorship yielded a wretched dividend: ‘’Much outcry, little outcome’’.

Lawan and his camp replicated the naivety of half of the cast described in the Parable of the Ten Virgins.

The ladies took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five took dry lamps. The other five had oil in theirs. At midnight, the herald announced that the bridegroom was at the threshold. The girls awoke and trimmed their lamps. The lamps of the negligent virgins burnt on thirsty wicks. They saw the newsflash – they needed oil!

They scurried into town, on the off-chance that they might see an oil seller keeping vigil. The bridegroom arrived. The ready virgins went in with him for the banquet. And the door was shut. The foolish virgins returned from their fruitless prospecting and began to knock on the door and plead for admittance. The bridegroom denied them: ’’ I don’t know you’’.

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The morale of the parable, told to illustrate the need for vigilance in the end time, was ‘’ keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour’’.

The five ill-equipped virgins were denominated ‘’foolish’’ because they failed to prepare themselves. Even though the marriage supper invitation bore no set date and hour, they were expected to have secured the basics before, not running about in the nick of time.

It was 10 am, the hour stipulated for Senate resumption, that Lawan, found opportune to lead his support base to some parley with a non-actor at the International Conference Center, a location that is spatially distant from the National Assembly. In this weird premier, we gain a glimpse of the measure of discretion Lawan would have been drawing to function as the the head of the legislative arm of the biggest black nation on the earth!

The last-ditch meeting, a suicidal absenteeism, should ordinarily be an error beneath any Nigerian Senator-elect. A broad road leads to our Senate: fugitive drug barons make seamless crossovers to our parliament. But we assume that whoever obtains the certificate of return by whatever circuit and means, possesses, passable common sense. Lawan, a ranking Senator, smashed that presumption.

He pegged his bid on the declared preferment of the APC Secretariat. The Senate Presidency was a reward conceded to the North East axis for offering the second highest bloc votes and to his person as the chosen one of the region. He hoped that that conferred inevitability on his aspiration. Everyone would swallow their ambitions and congratulate him on the lot of greatness thrust on him.

When Lawan sensed in-house dissent, he didn’t conceive a potent counteracting strategy. He occupied himself with how to fetch an ogre who would help bully the renegades of the APC caucus to bow down and confess allegiance to party supremacy.

But Lawan’s grandest blooper – it should be the runner up to the highlight of his political biography- was not leading a flat-footed crew that reenacted the zero hour doomed search of the five foolish virgins in such a serious context as the contest for the office of Senate President. Being somewhere other than the theatre of action and hoping to shape the outcome from a long shot, wasn’t the ultimate blunder.

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It was his reaction upon realizing that he had gifted his rival the Senate Presidency by waiving his right to attend. Lawan didn’t show a self-chastening, regretful demeanor. Instead, he deployed sound and fury; fuming for being excluded from an event he willfully abandoned, threatening an Armageddon legal challenge. Someone was to blame for his self-inflicted humiliation!

Of course, there is a burden of shame in reconciling yourself with the actuality of the occasion. Lawan and other well attired adults who parade themselves as respectable persons, fled from their office address on the very first day of resumption. They wanted to force a delay of the inauguration of the Senate and probably script the future the proceedings to their likeness. When they failed, they started to declare that the event they caused themselves to miss should never be reckoned to have happened.

The breathing of life into the dormant body of the eighth Senate should have waited till the end of their conclave. The Senate of the (re)public was supposed to be hostage of their private get-together.

The botched meeting proved expensive. Lawan had imagined that it would break the stalemate and install him in his dream position. It wound up costing him the opportunity of trying out for the third highest office in Nigeria.

Yet, the meeting underscores an antiquated construct that elevates partisan gatherings above governance. It accentuates the little celebrated fact that the Nigerian political class is plagued by an addiction to incestuous meetings. The larger part of their busyness and business are meetings.

The meetings are in categories: meetings before a meeting, the actual meetings and meetings to sabotage other meetings. Those who commit to a career in Nigerian politics or accept the stint of appointment subscribe to a system which guarantees survival only to those who breathe in the meeting oxygen.

Your fortune hinges on the nature of the meetings you are invited to, the caliber of other attendees, the venue of the meeting, the time of the meeting and the title of the convener of the meeting. The prospects are bright if you are welcome to attend the meetings of the oracles. When you are out of favor, you can’t gatecrash.

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The standard of living of the greater number of the Nigerian people proves that the endless meetings of the politicians have made little or no impact on the welfare of the people. The meetings are essentially self-serving. They are a brotherhood of vultures, bound by a common craving for carcass. Their meetings are about their own meat things.

Their agenda is never about confronting Nigeria’s power deficit, a situation that creates an insulting apartheid contrast, with the majority in darkness and the minority in light. It’s never about sketching a humanitarian scheme to defeat the cycle of cholera outbreaks by giving the rural dwellers conveniently accessible potable water. Never about recovering the future of young girls trapped in the web of illiteracy, premature marriage and VVF.

Their meetings are about themselves and their evolving interests. Their trysts are for deciding the economics of allocating fractions of the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory. They assemble when their appetites overlap.

The version of politics that makes meetings and the surfeit of it, the vital sign of government activity is costing us more than we can ever sum. Now, the politicians rob us by looting the treasury. Few times, a scandal bursts and we get an inkling of the amount. But how can one possibly make valuation on total opportunity costs inside the thirty minutes of the President of Nigeria?

Witness that the runaway Senators-elect almost got the neonatal President to sideline matters of state to tend them. Buhari was about to leave his desk for the meeting before Saraki’s election was consummated.

The penchant for attending meetings, receiving courtesy calls, and devotion to sundry trivialities constitute a squander of tenure. The Nigerian political class loaf around more than they pretend to work. And the problem is that we underwrite their truancy while they show gratitude by perpetually postponing the day Nigeria joins the developed world.

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Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu

Blogger at EmmaUgwu
Emmanuel Ugwu loves human beings. He thinks for a hobby. He writes for a better Nigeria.



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