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Madmen and leadership

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Healthcare system

As I pondered on the forthcoming World Mental Health Day on October 10, my mind raced back to many years ago when I came across a funny character with combustive energy called OKK. OKK was known for a compulsive ritual that baffled his teachers and classmates. For the four years he was in the university, each morning OKK woke up the first thing he did was to take a two-kilometre walk from his hostel to the newsstand in town. There, he picked up a newspaper, opened to the horoscope page, read his star, and then began his day. Students and professors called OKK a madman. The last we heard of OKK was that his people had invited him for a political appointment.

In the parlance of psychiatrists, OKK may fall into the obsessive compulsive class of mental disorders. And it was into this category of psychiatric state that the then Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) boss, Mrs Farida Waziri, placed Nigerian politicians, when she made the audacious proposal, years back, that public service aspirants undergo psychiatric tests. In a paper she delivered at a workshop on transparency and accountability in the public service, she tended to have suggested that the rabid quest for, and the selfish drives towards fraudulent accumulation of wealth and obsessive pillaging of national capital resources are expressions of psycho-pathological behaviours.
Hear her:

“The extent of aggrandizement and gluttonous accumulation of wealth that I have observed suggests to me that some people are mentally and psychologically unsuitable for public office. We have observed people amassing public wealth to a point suggesting ‘madness’ or some form of obsessive-compulsive psychiatric disorder.” True, from her long experience as an investigative police officer, Mrs Waziri knew very well when politicians turn privileges in public office into licenses for megalomania and dementia. The continuous fraudulent amassment of wealth and stashing of state funds to foreign banks is an index of the compulsive ritual that characterize the Obsessive Compulsive state. The state of denial about their capacity for monstrous atrocities as reflected in their contrasting public display of feigned piety, as well as the irrational fear of lurking insecurity despite their power and wealth, have been fingered as the obsessive streak of this psychiatric disorder.

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Before Waziri’s casual suggestion, the Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, in Madmen and Specialists, had drawn a correlation between the glee of madness and the terror on the state. Our own legendary Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, taking a critical look and with spiritual insight on governance, had dubbed this simulacrum of people’s government as ‘demonstration of craze’, ‘crazy demonstration’. When you consider the scandalous opulence of Mobutu Seseseko of the then Zaire, the effrontery of Emperor Bokassa of Equatorial Guinea, the brutal despoliation of national capital by our own Abacha; and then relay it to the development of their respective countries, it will be easy to appreciate reason Fela asked “Why for Africa?”.

But the national malady of madmen in high places is not only reflected in the criminal episodes of plunder and looting of public fund, economic sabotage and abuse of power, but also in the ravages of selfish drives and caucus monopolies that beget apathy, indifference, dereliction in public service and intolerance.

What manner of health would make a Minister of health endure the deterioration in the healthcare system, while he and his household get the best healthcare services from excellent medical facilities abroad? What manner of thinking would allow a Minister of Education to party round the globe, escorting his children – students of foreign universities on a family jollification while the university gates are closed and teachers in public schools are on strike over salaries? What kind of anxiety or ironcast indifference would make legislators impervious to the ubiquitous suffering and pain, while many see others as subjects? Former president Obasanjo was right: the animal called man has pitched his tent in Nigeria. Yes, madmen think for our nation.

Nonetheless, the mental health challenges of the animal called man are not peculiar to Nigeria alone. The spark of insanity is a mark of human frailty and fallibility, and so everywhere you find human beings there abound some madmen, even in high places. And it is for this reason that shrinks thrive in America and developed countries of Europe. However, the point is that like in any imperfect situation these other countries have devised means of addressing the problems of madmen in high places.

Nigerians should not be shocked that the chalets and corridors of power will accommodate more mental cases for a very long time. The reason is that the World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics of mental healthcare delivery for Nigeria is a far cry from civilization. For every 100,000 cases of mental healthcare delivery, Nigeria has 46 psychiatrists, 20 psychologists and 20 nurses. Compare this with the United States of America where for the same 100,000 cases there are 20,000 psychiatrists, 14,000 psychologists and 14,000 nurses. Even Brazil, a Third World country, stood at 4,000 psychiatrists and some thousands apiece for psychologists and nurses.

•Dr. Okeregbe, of the Philosophy Department, University of Lagos, is a visiting member of the Editorial Board.

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