The “Unusual” Ogbeni Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola has several unique trademarks, among which are his signature maxims: “People First” and “Power Is Responsibility.” Simple statements of fact and commitment that have, however, acquired deep and heavy significance in an age of virulent irresponsibility in public governance and distain; nay, outright contempt for the wishes and aspirations of the common people by state actors they voted into power!
Whenever democracy (government of the people by the people and for the people) turns out not to be about the people anymore, it becomes a nasty and oppressive tool, a façade for authoritarian cliques to advance their anti-people projects. At such times, the discerning will notice that political parties are no longer principled and ideological vehicles for aggregating like-minds around grand social manifestoes but iniquitous platforms for power-grabbing by amorphous adventurers and fortune seekers: a typical Nigerian reality, post 2nd Republic especially.
In the above scenario, the power of one man’s deep vision and the force of his personal examples in commitment to the common good becomes a delightful oasis in a scorching desert of self-centredness and lack of imagination. If “all actions shall be judged by intention,” however overbearing and however far ahead of their times such a man’s steps and actions are, all can be understood and none can be intolerable except only to the shallow-minded, the revisionist of history and enemies of the people – sheep in wolf’s clothing.
The people must be first, and “why so?” is quite simple to understand and accept, except to hard-nosed, utterly self-centred politicians spirited away by vanity! The Yoruba say “irorun igi ni irorun eye,” and “bi ara o a ba ro okun, ara o le ro adie;” simply saying “the peace/stability of the tree/line gives peace to the bird perched on it,” and same for instability.
The common people constitute the majority amidst which the elites live. The elites are the privileged minority. The elites are elites because they are the best exposed, the most successful in business and the professions, the best connected socially, with ways and means to emerge as the leaders of politics and government, however it is constituted. What does it cost them to guarantee social stability and avoid turbulence so that they can enjoy their vast privileges in peace? Little, next to nothing – just sense of responsibility with the exercise of the powers submitted to them by the people in a democracy. What do the people need to maintain their peace and enjoy their ordinary lives? Little next to nothing – just food and clean water, shelter, clothing, good roads, electricity, schooling for their kids, healthcare, and a job whose income makes those simple things of life affordable along with little entertainment.
The titans of egalitarianism in Nigeria’s history were not poor; neither did they end up being impoverished by guaranteeing all of the above for their people in the responsible exercise of their powers by considering the people first. Obafemi Awolowo was a multimillionaire in Naira that was then worth more than dollars. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu today is not a poor man. What they have is what the vast majority of their fellow ruling elites lack: a people first and power is responsibility philosophy that gives unto the people’s Caesar what is due to it, so society can enjoy its peace; albeit their own enviable privileges. Insufferably stranded with irresponsible power mongers the like of our today’s Minister of (in)Justice, it is understandable why the Nigerian Flight is riding its most turbulent weather historically.
Even nature itself did not endow us all equally at birth; for simple instance, some are programmed to end up tall and some as dwarfs. Understanding Equal Rights and Justice as a condition for free society and thriving democracy is the only way those vested with powers to direct society’s affairs can guarantee peace and prosperity by implementing policies that put the common people first; meeting their basic needs as the majority in whom sovereignty ultimately reside. It is the only condition that can truly and finally eliminate turbulence and guarantee that the elites too enjoy their many privileges in peace. That is an exercise of power with deep sense of responsibility.