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Attitude that catalyzes nation building: Lessons from Jose Mujica of Uruguay

By Richard Oko Ajah
07 May 2015   |   6:38 am
“Wherefore let him thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12 KJV) FROM his Biblical perspective that feeds from scriptural inter-textual and inter-testamental exegesis, Paul evoked and used the analogy of the post-exodus Israelite tragedy to challenge the Church of Corinth. His apostolic and ecclesiastical admonition was premised on the spiritual paradox…


“Wherefore let him thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall”
(1 Corinthians 10:12 KJV)

FROM his Biblical perspective that feeds from scriptural inter-textual and inter-testamental exegesis, Paul evoked and used the analogy of the post-exodus Israelite tragedy to challenge the Church of Corinth. His apostolic and ecclesiastical admonition was premised on the spiritual paradox of Corinthian believers who were blessed with abundant spiritual gifts and experienced poverty of grace at the same time; through the illusions of manifestation of spiritual potentials, they became blind to their vanities and vainglory. His use of archaic interrogative adverb “wherefore” presupposes earlier discussions and announces his apodictic warning that deconstructs the present-day gospel of eternal security. Paul’s ecclesiastical caveat could present a strong discursive background for the analysis of the exit of Nigeria’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from Aso Rock and for the political education of Nigeria’s crème de la crème and masses.

The pomp and pageantry that greeted the victory of All Progressives Congress (APC) at the presidential poll shows the irony of power. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s victory is based on the presumed minuses of the current President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and his promise for headlong collusion with corruption which has become the nemesis of the socio-economic development of Nigeria and has defined Nigerian post coloniality. Politics is like a game of football: The spectators “play” better than the players are. History has suspended his judgment on Buhari, giving him another chance for penance and restitution. However, the political campaigns that preceded the presidential election have nothing to teach the youths of this nation as campaign activities and rhetoric were enmeshed in the whims and caprices of APC’s and PDP’s spokesmen who rode the political “armored carriers” that released missiles of hate speeches, derogatory gossips, interpersonal abuses, opprobrious name calling and social media quarrels. The campaigns were theater of the absurd for the Nigerian youths who are in search of mentors and models.

Besides this attitudinal failure of the “elders” through derogatory campaign rhetoric, both parties (PDP and APC) paid heavily for their carnival-like campaigns; unquantifiable monies expended for logistics, mobilisation of people, campaign outfits and other side attractions that displayed our paradox of riches and poverty. All these expenditures caused a financial hemorrhage on our economy that helplessly depends solely on oil and which has not recovered from its catalepsy. Such flagrancy of ostentation creates imageries of negative values in the psyche of our youngsters who are the future generation of our dear country. When political officer holders privatise public funds with recourse to their mantra of financial accountability and political performance, sealed by received accolades, sung by a coterie of aides and media, and signed by some ministers of God, it becomes a political attitude or unwritten code in the hearts of helpless masses who see the impracticality of patriotism and nationalism. This explains the larger-than-life living of the political class who justifies the purchase of aircraft and choppers, multi-billion naira state houses, jumbo salaries among others as if these politicians have not read histories of nations and the sacrifices made by their leaders towards nation building. Such can be seen in the life of the immediate past President of Uruguay.

Jose Mujica of Uruguay is popularly referred to as the “pauper president” apparently because of his way of life. This sobriquet of “pauperism” is not a product of his country’s economic malaise but a sacrificial choice made for charting a new course for his Uruguayan people. After his experience as guerilla fighter and a Robin Hood who ‘robbed’ the aristocrats and bourgeois, and his 13 years in prison, he ventured into politics. It is his experiences in jail that transformed him from a fighter to a politician. In 2010, he became the President of Uruguay, a small country of about 3.3 million people in South America and he has just vacated his office after the expiration of his mandate for his successor, Tabare Vazquez. In his reportage, the BBC Rio de Janeiro correspondent, Wyre Davies extolled the virtues of this great leader as Uruguay bade farewell to its “pauper president.”

Mujica abandoned his presidential palace and the luxury and comfort it can afford for his country home, a one-storey building located at the outskirts of Montevideo where he lived (and still lives) with his two security men, his wife, his three-legged dog and his old VW Beetle. Over 80 per cent of his $12,000 monthly salary is sent and spent for charity. With adulations and accolades given to him, Mujica rather responds with surprise: “The world is crazy, crazy. People are amazed by normal things and that obsession worries me” as reported by Davies. His clothes, furniture, car, and life are simple, patriotic and nationalistic, products of conscious sacrifice for the future of his country.

If Mujica lived in Nigeria and witnessed the paradise of power and its splendor and luxury seen in the lives and families of politicians in the local, state and federal governments, he would not survive heart attack. Yet, the “ghost” of his sacrificial life would have haunted the consciences, if they really have any, of our politicians and party leaders. His statesmanship is revealed in the Uruguayan economy and country which is ranked first in Latin America, in democracy, peace, lack of corruption and quality of living; it is equally ranked the third best country in terms of HDI, GDP growth, innovation and infrastructure.

It can be said there is no basis for my comparative analysis of Nigeria and Uruguay because Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa, defined by its heterogeneous societies. Most Nigerians believe that our misfortune is a product of demography and multi-ethnicity; so, it is impossible to have stable electricity, good road networks, affordable houses, portable water and other infrastructure that harnesses human existence for all Nigerians. However, the size of China and the heterogeneity of India are explored and exploited for the economic transformations of these states.

The attitude of “chop I chop” or “come and chop” defines the activities of all political parties and the impetus of party members hence a chairman of a Nigerian political party once promised his party members that all who worked for the progress of the party during general elections would be duly settled. Incidentally and unfortunately too, the outgoing President had once made such a promise to his party members after some people had complained of lack of care or abandonment from the political party.

“Settlement” is a term carefully chosen to show the social contract between party members and its leaders; it should have revealed an inherent investment or loss experienced. Partly and sadly enough, it is the genesis of Nigeria’s monetisation of politics. The young generation is persuaded to demand what really is the purpose of political party. Is it an industry or a company that declares dividends to shareholders? With such mentality and ideology of political leaders, no economic policies, no Paul Samuelson, no messiah, no national conference, no constitution, no law, no prophet, no prayers can catalyze the transformation of Nigeria without attitudinal reorientation of Nigerians. It is simply because our political culture is at variance with developmental ethics. The nations of Africa appear jinxed to trail behind other nations of the world, despite the abundance of natural resources. This ‘doom’ has no end until healthy political culture is enshrined in the lives of politicians and masses who promote politicised rhetoric of development such as “Seven-Point Agenda,” “Vision 2020,” “MDG,” “Transformation Agenda” and many more, without engraving the cultural attitudes that can engineer such strides. It is in this complex equation that Buhari will have his challenge.

Buhari was the head of military junta when I was in primary school in the 80s and as a child; I heard much of his War Against Indiscipline (WAI). There is no doubt about his courage and stand on anticorruption. He has made several promises, based on his experiences of the past and present Nigeria; hence, CHANGE was the leitmotif of his electioneering campaign mantra and it is this change that Nigerians are expecting. Regardless of his operation in a democratic atmosphere characterised by antics, whims and caprices, propaganda, and lobbies that will confirm his claims of “conversion” to democratic ideals, he has incidentally inherited different political configurations and socio-cultural societies that are highly amoral.

A lot of things have happened since 1985. His emergence remains a product of political permutation of party gladiators who are regrettably descendants of the same system Buhari promises to fight. His first challenge is conflict of interest and the second is choice of cabinet. Both are Siamese twins, inseparable. Jubilations trailed his victory that will see him as the next President of Nigeria. We should not forget that it is not yet Uhuru and it will not be until Buhari tames the insatiable appetites of politicians for public funds. If he can be a Mujica in his style of life and use of public fund, other politicians will, though grudgingly, borrow a leaf. “Let him that thinks he stands take heed, lest he falls” is my advice to GMB and his party, APC. Time will tell.

• Dr. Richard Oko Ajah is lecturer, University of Uyo. Tel: 07039359498; Email: