Akeredolu and his daughter’s wedding in Mauritius
Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State has understandably come under fire for taking the wedding of his daughter to a foreign country, Mauritius instead of holding the event here in Nigeria. Specifically, critics in the state had claimed that, ‘‘within the last two years, the governor had celebrated weddings of his children across the world, from Canada to the United States and now Mauritius at the expense of the citizens …without any sense of respect to the people he leads.’’
On the face of it, Akeredolu, even as a governor, must be granted his deserved right under the law to hold his private events anywhere he chooses including the moon if he so desires and can afford it strictly from his private means. And we would choose to believe that the Mauritius event was completely funded at absolutely no cost to the public resources of Ondo State and its people. The governor has been a successful lawyer and should know the legal implications of a breach of the relevant financial regulations.
Nonetheless, holders of public office are so entrusted with the justified expectation of the public that they act at all times in an exemplary manner that sustains that trust and respect. It is more than a matter of the letter of the law: it is, above all else, a moral issue. High office demands that, to borrow from an American president on moral leadership. Indeed, the most effective leaders are those who lead by moral authority. When the governor of a not-so-rich state as Ondo stands accused of ‘‘a display of affluence and disdain for the people,’’ it is his moral leadership that is impugned. And Akeredolu should worry because he leads a generally well-educated, perspicacious and bold people. They have a history of not condoning betrayal of public trust.
We agree that as one in high public office, it is not wisdom to display needless ostentation in the face of the current poverty in the land. Without displaying wealth in a foreign land, the governor, who is a successful lawyer who once led the Nigerian Bar Association and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) is undeniably a man of means. The wedding at issue, if held in Akure or in Owo or any other town in the ‘‘Sunshine State’’ would certainly have boosted the economy of that environment while it lasted. Consider the value-chain that this wedding would add to the local economy. The local hotels, caterers, decorators, facial make-up specialists, head tie specialists, memento makers, printers and many other service providers would have received patronage that one way or other would have boosted their respective businesses. This is besides the exposure to guests from far and near and psychological lift to the people of whichever town hosts the wedding. Why then, in a manner of speaking, take the local wealth to foreign lands to expend?
Members of the Nigerian elite in politics and business have in recent times thought it an indicator of ‘‘class’’ to hold their private functions in other countries. It is not ‘class; it is merely a cheap show of curious wealth (sometimes without work). As Professor Wole Soyinka would say, a tiger does not need to proclaim its tigritude. Besides the fact that, that attitude of the power elite constitutes an unpatriotic export of precious financial capital from the Nigerian economy, there is something of an inferiority complex to find venues on other shores more attractive than their own fatherland. It is insensitive to the point of bad taste and even provocative that business persons who have either made good for themselves from the immense resources of this land, or who are elected to serve and improve the lot of Nigerians in their respective domains would not deem it most improper to flaunt wealth to the face of the teeming masses. This is even more so in the specific respect of Ondo State where the government is allegedly owing billions to pensioners. The chairman of the state chapter of the National Union of Pensioners, Mr. Adedapo Salami revealed the other day that the government owed N50 billion in pensions and gratuities since 2011 besides not implementing the 33 per cent increase to the pensioners. What is more, Ondo State government has not settled all the inherited salary arrears from the Mimiko’s administration.
Mr. Donald Ojogo, Ondo State Commissioner for Information’s claim that only five members of Akeredolu’s cabinet attended the event in Mauritius and at their own expense is not persuasive. Is this necessarily a judicious way of spending money in these times? We think not. There is a time for everything. Deriving from his leadership of the NBA, we maintain that this is unexpected of a progressive governor. It is not out of place to say that the hapless people of Ondo State deserve an apology for being so disappointed.
Leaders, especially political leaders, are expected to feel and reflect the mood and prevailing conditions of the followers. Emotional intelligence is ever called for in leadership that would succeed at this perilous time. No public office holder worthy of his or her post should feel comfortable while the rest of the people groan in discomfort. To act otherwise is to show that there can be governance without compunction. The people do not have to occupy the streets before government can be afraid of the people power.
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