Of public spirit and political leadership

By Okechukwu Emeh, Jr
AT the apex of politics is political leadership, which simply means the act of being at the helm of affairs in a polity by steer­ing the political, economic and social systems towards the right path. Make no mistake, to be at such an exalted position is by no means easy. For one, political leadership entails making unflinching commitment to the common good with vision, mission, pragmatism, vibrancy and dynamism, as well as openness, probity and accountability. To accentuate this daunt­ing objective, those in positions of authority are obligated to manifest public spirit by doing things that will help or improve the well-being of the populace.
In analysis, public spirit in political leadership demands that those in the corridors of power should not be self-centred, self-seeking or sectional, as propelled by narrow interests like greed, selfishness, extreme individualism and apathy. This is where self –abnegation, self-sacrifice, concession and selfless service come in as a vital counterweight to negative interests that could impede the process of good governance and the accompanying dividends like social progress and welfare of the masses. Public spirit also calls for being preoccupied with the greater good of the vast majority in society, as embedded in the noble ideas of altruism and public interest, unlike the parochial ones of per­sonal aggrandisement and a tiny minority. Such social spirit is equally a synonym for patriotism or the love of one’s country and willingness to defend it, which is an act of true citizenship.
It is noteworthy that the lofty idea of public spirit is a guiding principle in the politics of many advanced democracies of the world, especially those of the West (Western Europe and North America) and countries like Japan and South Korea. Such disposition is reflected in salient areas like leadership account­ability, law enforcement with a view to safeguarding lives and property, provision of basic amenities, inclusive economy, even development and upholding equal opportunities. With regard to the citizenry, public spirit requires them to discharge their civic responsibilities and obligations as bona fide members of a state by, among other things, being patriotic, law-abiding, altru­istic and paying their taxes.
Encapsulating the premium placed on the idea of public spirit in governance is vote of confidence or vote of no confidence by citizens on their government, as mainly observed in many Western democracies, which, often, either consolidate the positions of those in power or seek their removal from office through constitutional means like resignation, impeachment and losing an election. This can be juxtaposed with the corrosive influence of private spirit in governance, as endemic in several parts of the world, including Africa, where most people in power do not usually recognize gen­eral good nor public opinion due to their self-seeking predilection. This is the real reason why certain office-holders indicted for act­ing with intolerable impunity in areas like bribery and corruption rarely resign for committing such acts of malfeance or impropriety or show remorse by offering public apology. Rather, they would like to soldier on in government with intransigence and political or sectarian support.
It can be contended that public spirit is at the core of good governance – which buoys a kind of servant-leadership – as well as well-informed politics. Sterling qualities like transparency, ac­countability, responsibility, responsiveness, centrist politics (mod­eration), secularism, multiculturalism, patriotism and statesman­ship are clear manifestations of such spirit – as geared towards good governance, dutiful follower ship, political stability, social cohesion, peaceful coexistence, nation-building, national integra­tion, national reconstruction and national development. These and other towering factors are diametrically opposite to extrem­ism, lack of patriotism, ethnic separatism/secessionism, religious fanaticism, conflict and other state-destabilising tendencies that have been the tragic fate of many imagined national societies in chaos and instability owing to their bloody armed conflicts like Af­ghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and South Sudan. Adverse situations like economic plunder through corruption and mismanagement are also at odds with public spirit, as they are driven by the spirit of self-gain, which is at the root of greed, selfishness and exploitation. On the other hand, outstanding social dispositions like benevolence, altruism, philanthropy and volunteerism are public-spirited in nature – as demonstrated by great benefactors like John Ford, John Rockefell­er, Andrew Carnegie, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet through their implacable commitment to relieve the misery that has afflicted the human condition with their history-making charitable foundations.
It is notable that many reputable political leaders across the world have, at different times, demonstrated public spirit, especially dur­ing their people’s hour of need. One shining example was the late Mahatma Gandhi of India, who, in the midst of the yoke of Brit­ish colonialism in the country, led the historic struggle to emanci­pate his people through his philosophy of non-violence. For Gan­dhi, “Through our pain, we will make them see their injustice”. In the United States (US), the late Reverend (Dr) Martin Luther King Jr, a foremost civil rights activist, championed a non-violent struggle for desegregation in the country. According to Dr King, “There comes a time when people get tired of being trampled upon by the iron feet of oppression”. This is because, according to him, “The world is full of evil, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who sit and let it happen”. In terms of dramatic display of the spirit of self-sacrifice while in leadership, the late Indira Gandhi, former prime minister of India who was assassinated by Sikh extremists in 1981, had premonition of her death when she said that “If I die today, every drop of my blood will invigorate our land”.
For former President John F. Kennedy of the US, during his inauguration speech in 1961, Americans should “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”. The late Tanzanian president, Julius Nyerere (the Mwalimu), in the grip of the debt crisis that nearly crippled many African states, including his homeland, during the Bretton Woods’ inspired Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) of the 1980s, had to ask rhetorically: “Must we need to pay all our debts for our people to eat grass?” For the late General Musa Yar’Adua (rtd), who died as a prisoner of conscience during the pro-democ­racy campaign for the re-validation of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election in Nigeria, solitary confinement was the price he had to pay for the country to be free.
During his famous treason trial in 1964 for plotting to overthrow the reprehensible white minority regime in South Africa, Dr Nelson Mandela (the Madiba), former president of the country who spearheaded the anti-apartheid struggle with courage and determination, expressed his preparedness to pay the supreme sacrifice in achieving “a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities”.
.Emeh, a social researcher, writes from Abuja

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