“Courageous leaders don’t make excuses; they apologize”- Mahatma Gandhi
I am yet to find the appropriate word from my vocabulary bank to describe Governor Babatunde Raji Fashol’s recent tender of un-reserved apology to the entire descendants of Nri- the Igbos of the hinterland after what could have just snowballed into an ethnic feud between the Igbos and the yorubas a couple of months ago.
I cannot hide how much impressed I am by this singular and uncommon leadership savvy of the legal colossus turned governor not because I am by the accident of providence an Igbo by tribe but because honor must be given to those to whom they are deserving. with this act of Raji, he has further proved naysayers wrong that he is not just the best performing governor because of the amount of revenue that accrue to his state as a result of its economic advantage but also because he has also got the rare character and leadership quality that many leaders today lack and which is: Humility and admittance of wrong or guilt. To this end let me quickly add that history and not hysteria, will vindicate him for that.
Recall that last July, a verbal ‘war’ had broken out between some elements of Igbo and Yoruba ethnic groups when the Lagos state government (LASG) ‘shipped’ some rehabilitated destitute of Igbo extraction back to Onitsha in Anambra state and dumped them in the wee hours of the night under the notorious Upper-Iweka bridge. The act did not go down well with his counterpart Peter Obi, the Anambra state governor and thus saw him send a strident letter of complaint to president Good luck Jonathan while prominent sons and daughters of Ndigbo cried foul play and complained to anybody who cared to listen how they have not only been stopped from producing the president but also have continued to be marginalized since after the war that set out to exterminate them like the Jews under Hitler’s Germany.
Some, even threatened to send ‘Amadioha’ after the governor who was then in faraway Saudi Arabia observing the Umrah and the National dailies made frisk business as it was always easy to sell copies when Headlines and riders carry the ‘deportation’ or repatriation saga as some preferred to call it. If it generated tension in the print media, perhaps it was the social media that made things even dirtier and messier as it generated even more frenzy among the citizens of the World Wide Web. But it was Femi Fani Kayode who stole the whole show and who would later become its greatest ‘victim’ when he choose to let us in into what happened between him and Lady Bainca(Onoh) Ojukwu and a host of other women whom he,( in trying to prove to us, he has no sentiments against the Igbos) once had emotional relationships with.
The former minister of aviation and a stooge of Former president Olusegun Obasanjo whom he served as a media aide added salt to an over excruciating injury with his diatribes and uncouthly tripartite articles in which there was scarcely an epithet of abuse to be found in the English Language which was not used against the Igbos. Everything from rancor, prejudice, ignorance and many other ill-mannered verbiage were all utilized in those articles that threw the cyber space aghast and saw rejoinders flying from left, right and center. In fact I am quite sure many people are still doing a lot of research to reply the man who called himself ‘Hercules’ as according to him, ‘he cannot be challenged’.
I had also seized the opportunity of this column at that time to lend word to the issue that one couldn’t help writing on albeit looking at it from the legal perspective to make it clear how Fashola goofed. Not necessarily because my kinsmen were in the middle of the morass as I hate to play the regional card which almost became the hallmark of the whole spat but much to my mortification, readers still pigeonholed me as an ethnic chauvinist and irredentist. You can’t just please human beings but with Nigerians, you have a tougher job in hand.
Haven said the foregoing; it is not what we are concerned in today’s column. I had threaded that path to bring readers up to speed. After all, didn’t the Bible say that Behold old things have passed away and everything has become new? Let us then proceed to the crux of today’s piece- Fahola’s ‘Mea Culpa’.
Though the fire of the controversy did not exactly burn out. Its embers continued to glow but our national sickness-Amnesia caught the best of us and we gave attention to other things. But Governor Babatunde Fashola who had earlier on unconsciously ‘set’ the fire may have poured water on the smoldering embers and buried same there by rekindling the friendship that has thrived for a long time between the igbos and the Yorubas with his good natured ‘mea culpa’ a Latin word literally meaning ‘Through my fault’- A confession of guilt. The quotation is part of a sentence which occurs in catholic prayers thus: “Mea culpa, mea culpa, and mea maxima culpa” when construed loosely it means, – “I am the more to be blamed in the matter”. Leaders like Fashola are a blessing to this nation and hence we must pray to the gods to give us more people of his ilk.
I had read sometime a great article on Forbes Magazine about the very topic- “Creative Leadership: Humility and being wrong”. The authors Dough Guthrie and Sudir Venkatesh , made a very clear and well-reasoned case for the positive powers of admitting and apologizing for one’s mistakes. At one point in the article, they noted:
“We are frequently taught that leaders especially aspiring leaders should hide weakness and mistakes. This view is flawed. It is not only good to admit you are wrong when you are, but also can be a very powerful tool for leaders- actually increasing legitimacy and when practiced regularly, can help to build a culture that actually increases solidarity, innovation, openness to change and many other positive features of organizational life”.
I couldn’t agree more with their position. What the led, look out for in a leader is to see whether he/she is courageous before they will fully accept that person’s leadership. If they see courage (and taking responsibility for actions and admitting and apologizing for mistakes are two of the main indices of courage) it feels safe to confide in them. People need courageous leaders in order to feel that there is someone to make the tough calls and to take responsibility for them-we need to know that the buck truly starts and does end with the leader else, we do not have one. With a courageous leader, People feel protected. Not that they are helpless, but they know that the person at the helm of affairs really has their back. To acknowledge a wrong, is not a sign of weakness as many leaders may think. Even the led know that their leaders are not gods who would not err because of man’s infallibility. But it is the admittance of error and tender of apology that underscores the legitimacy with which the leader emerged and also shows the respect the leader has for the led. I cannot help but say, that Raji is one such Leader.
Hear him: “I offer unqualified and unreserved apology, if the actions taken have been misunderstood. I cannot take the Igbo for granted because we built a relationship based on tolerance, mutual respect, love and trust. The relationship was built by our ancestors and I put a lot value in it. Because we are human, we are bound to err especially in the swift twist of activities that would naturally attend the running of a state such as Lagos. To err is human but to forgive is divine”. Such words are what make a leader stand out in the crowd. It was the leadership quality exemplified by the Father of modern day India- Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The Man whom after studying, I have come to the hypothetical conclusion that he was a god sent down for the Indian project (I stand to be contradicted).
When in 1922, Gandhi had thought India was ripe for civil-disobedience and thus wrote an open letter to the viceroy dated February 9th, 1022 setting forth the blueprint of his program and giving the viceroy-Lord Reading 7 days ultimatum which to change their bad policies against Indians or civil-disobedience will be proclaimed.
Scarcely had the letter to the viceroy been dispatched when there occurred an outbreak more violent than has ever been seen in all of colonial Indian society. It was the “Chauri-Chaura” procession massacre which was started by Gandhi’s Indians during a procession at the district of Gorakhpour. In the melee that ensued between the British constables and the mob, thousands of Indians were massacred and burned. Gandhi would have easily exonerated himself from any responsibility since the killed were members not sympathetic to his “non-violence” policy but he had really become the conscience of Indians. The crime of any of them cut him to the quick and he took their sins upon himself.
But the greater problem was: How could he retract the letter without making his policies seem illogical and even ridiculous? “Satan” as he said, “forbade it”. But realizing that “Satan’s” voice was the voice of pride, he decided to retract the letter or Manifesto. And on the 16th of February, 1922, there appeared in the “Young India”, one of the, most extraordinary human documents ever written. It was Gandhi’s “Mea Culpa”. His public confession. And from the depth of his mortification, words of thanks swell to his lips, of thanksgiving to God. Listen to what Gandhi said:
“I know that the drastic reversal of practically the whole of the aggressive program may be politically unsound and unwise, but there is no doubt that it is religiously sound. The country will have gained by my humiliation and confession of error. The only virtue I want to claim is truth and non-violence. I lay no claim to superhuman powers. I want none. I wear the same corruptible flesh that the weakest of fellow-beings wear, and am therefore as liable to err as any. My services have many limitations, but God has up to now blessed them in spite of the imperfections. It is better to be charged with cowardice than to be guilty of denial of our Oath and sin against God”.
Fashola must have asked the same question that Gandhi had asked way back in time which is occasioned by being given to pride but his ability to rise above that Hubris of many great men, is a pointer that he is one of the few Gandhis that live among us today. As Fashola pointed out, Igbo and Yoruba have truly come a long way. There are three to four generations of Igbo families living in Lagos- the Ojukwus, the Azikiwes, the Mbanefos, the Enelis to name a few and more prominent Igbo families that have lived in Lagos for generations, raised families, inter-married and owned ample property. As he further went to say, the relationship between Igbo and Yoruba is far deeper than many from both sides can imagine. In fact to separate the two sides may be likened to separating a set of Siemens twins as my columnist friend “Hardball” puts it in his Friday, 0ctober 4th column of “The Nation Newspaper”. This recent show of humility by Fashola would further cement what these two great ethnic nationalities have had in the past.
Fashola for me by this uncommon act has further rented an apartment for himself in the estate of great men and women who ruled this land and this act will not go unnoticed. Femi Fani Kayode, the self-acclaimed “Hercules” should learn from this uncommon leadership quality coming from his kinsman BRF. He could as well rid himself of his pride that seems to be getting a better part of him lately, and toe the same lane Fashola has travelled not for anybody’s interest or for fear of the Igbos or to win their love but most importantly for the sake of posterity.
And to all those who have read political meaning into this gracious act of Fashola, because of the forthcoming Nov.16th gubernatorial elections in Anambra state,( as a possible way of clearing the way for Ngige the APC governorship aspirant) your guess might just be wrong as well as it might be right. But in any case, whatever may have led Fashola to this, this writer thinks is secondary. The primary thing is that, the bad egg which risks spoiling others in the basket has been carefully quarantined by this act of Fashola. The unity of this country cannot be allowed to suffer any jeopardy in whatever guise. Fashola with this acceptance of error and tender of apology to the Igbos has doused a great ‘volcano’ gradually erupting to destroy the strings that hold Ade, Emeka, Bola and Ikechukwus of this part of the world together. That is what matters for now. Fashola ‘Ekwusigo’! “ogu ebe go”.
The writer is a Law student and a public affairs commentator. He is on twitter as @yung_silky