Talking Blues: If you want to test a man’s character…
By Mapwiya Muulupale
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power,” Robert G. Ingersoll
Speaking to BBC News Pidgin in the twilight of her era as the first lady, Aisha Buhari, wife of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, insinuated that her husband has failed Nigerians.
“People expected so much from us. And maybe, after seven years, we haven’t done to their expectation. …Those in government have tried their best, but maybe it is still not the best for others… So we must apologise to Nigerians.”
Mrs Buhari did not specify which areas she thinks her hubby’s government could have done better.
That said, the jury is out on how President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has failed to bring Islamist violence and armed gangs under control, end corruption, and deliver more jobs.
With President Buhari about to head off into the sunset after two terms in office, Nigerians are looking forward to elections scheduled for February next year.
Comparing President Buhari’s two full but baren terms, whose deliverables are invisible even to his wife, with British Premier Liz Truss’s exit stage left after a 45-day stint offers several lessons. It also partly explains why we Africans are worlds apart from our friends in the northern hemisphere.
“I came into office during great economic and international instability. …And our country had been held back for too long by low economic growth. I was elected by the Conservative party with a mandate to change this…
“I recognise, given the situation, that I cannot deliver the mandate on which I was elected by the Conservative party. …. I am resigning as leader of the Conservative party.” This was Liz Truss, accepting failure and honourably leaving the stage for others.
Look here, while our African leaders hold on to power at all costs, often citing constitutional mandate and what have you, despite their dismal performance, our colleagues in the West relinquish control when they fail.
This cannot happen here in Africa, where electoral promises made at rallies preceded by prayers are works of fiction invented to enable so-and-so, his extended family and cronies to get the keys to public resources and coffers.
Come to think of it, if our bunch of leaders actually tried and failed, citizens would not be so bitter, nor history so cruel to them.
Their wives wouldn’t be ashamed on behalf of their embarrassment-proof better halves like Mrs Buhari and others, be it in private, are.
Let’s change the topic and touch on the “test of a man’s character” quote above, often misattributed to the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.
According to Reuters, although the quote has long been erroneously attributed, there is no record of Lincoln ever making such a statement. It appears nowhere in the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln.
In 2016, an investigator – Garson O’Toole – traced its possible origin to something said by another American politician called Robert G. Ingersoll.
As per an archived version of the Wisconsin State Journal issue of 16 January 1883, Ingersoll said these words when introducing a speaker appointed to lecture on Lincoln in Washington, DC.
In his speech, Ingersoll said: “If you want to find out what a man is to the bottom, give him power. Any man can stand adversity — only a great man can stand prosperity. It is the glory of Abraham Lincoln that he never abused power, only on the side of mercy.”
Many iterations have since stemmed from this wordy original to the varieties misattributed to Lincoln today. Misattributed or not, the quotation itself continues to stand and pass the test of time. In our case here in Malawi, we have the quintessential example of our current leader.
Spare time to review President Lazarus Chakwera’s speeches before he was granted power and reconcile that orator’s punchlines to the man governing today.
You will be lucky to get only a headache; Hypertension will more likely be the fruit of your labour. Since the proof of the pudding is in the eating, let us dissect a few extracts together.
Chiding his predecessor President Peter Mutharika on a lackadaisical approach to subsidies, rechristened AIP, he critiqued:
“Mr Speaker, Sir, subsidies being an expensive business, there was a need for more detail regarding the expected returns, how and who would finance such, the operational aspect during implementation, and the unintended consequences of that, including a bloated and unsustainable fiscal burden.
“This could be a recipe for macroeconomic chaos, leading to heavy fiscal deficit and heavy government borrowing that could result in increased interest rates, high inflation and the crowding out of the productive private sector.”
This was on 19 June 2014 in response to Peter Mutharika’s State of the Nation Address of the 45th Session of Parliament delivered on 17 June 2014.
Of nepotism, cronyism, kleptocracy, substandard projects, predatory taxation, political intimidation, and public misinformation, Chakwera – tongue in cheek – harangued,
“Honorable Members, let us here heed President Mutharika’s warning and restrain ourselves from saying that “there is nothing happening” in this country under his leadership. After all, nepotism, cronyism, kleptocracy, substandard projects, predatory taxation, political intimidation, and public misinformation are all happening in abundance under his supervision.”
This was Chakwera’s response to SONA on the State Opening of the 6th meeting in the 46 Session of Parliament and the 2017/18 Budget Meeting.
On corruption by ministers, aides, kith and kin, and hangers-on, Chakwera, in what has since proved to be brazen hypocrisy, pontificated:
“Mr Speaker, Sir, the fact is that the President countenances corruption among his own ministers and is surrounded by aides who not only interfere with government processes for awarding contracts but also ought to be investigated for corruption for all the inexplicable wealth they have amassed in less than 40 months. Because the President, the Ministers, and the Presidential Aides continue to operate above our nation’s anti-corruption laws, some controlling officers, junior-level accountants, civil servants, and department directors feel emboldened to continue looting with impunity.”
This was on 13 November 2017, the Opening of the 1st Meeting of the 47th Session of Parliament.
All these are dully chronicled in the Hansard.
Now, what can I say? Nothing. Because President Chakwera said everything that needed to be said and remedied by the one in power.
Now, who is in power today? And what is the situation vis-a-vis these very same issues? What does this speak with respect to the character of whosoever is so good at pointing fingers but given a chance ends up doing worse?
Folks, allow me to be embarrassed on his excellency’s behalf because once given power, he has dismally failed the litmus test, the all-important test of character. Since he seems incapable of embarrassment, I hereby volunteer to bear the shame on his behalf.