Osinbajo: Between character and learning
In this season of anomie, when some comedians are saying that it is not logical to use an idiom that there will be some light at the end of the tunnel because there is no tunnel anywhere not to talk of light here, the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, has given us some reasons to believe that sooner than later, there will be tunnels everywhere we go and so there will indeed be light at their ends. The long and short of this rigmarole is that the acts of the acting president during the president’s controversial medical vacation, have indeed reopened a long forgotten debate about the nexus between character and learning. In this country of anything is possible, especially in politics and business, it is now safe to discuss the character of the Vice President (now acting) whose attitude has given us a glimmer of hope that indeed there is nothing that is basically wrong with the black man. I am still reading a book, What is wrong with being BLACK: celebrating our HERITAGE, confronting our CHALLENGES by Matthew Ashimolowo. I would like to say that the law teacher and cleric who is also a senioradvocate of Nigeria, (SAN) has demonstrated that indeed there are still many good people in the country but the political system encourages a culture of celebration of mediocrity nurtured by corruption. In this nation of complex diversity that has been ruthlessly desecrated by ethnicity and religion, it is fitting that the first two seminal articles on Osinbajo as a difference maker were written by two credible figures from the core North, one a professor, Farooq Kperogi who lectures in the United States and a retired military former governor of Kaduna State, retired Col. Abubakar Umar.
Professor Kperogi who hails from Gombe state is a well-known journalist who has never been associated with frivolities in his weekly column. He wrote first on “Why Osinbajo is succeeding where Buhari failed”. It is a very analytical piece that deals with the disconnect and dysfunctional nature of the two year-old presidency. It is the same for Umar’s, whichcommended the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, for what he described as trailblazing performance since President Muhammadu Buhari left the country for medical treatment in the UK.
Umar, a pro-democracy activist, noted that since President Buhari left the shores of Nigeria in January, the Acting President had performed well.
The former governor spoke via a statement titled, “The deft moves of Acting President Yemi Osinbajo,”.
He said the visits of Osinbajo to the Niger Delta and the North-East gave the hope that enduring peace was achievable in the regions.
Professor Kperogi noted in his blog: “There finally seems to be some movement in the country. A new life has been infused into the country. There is now legitimate reason to be hopeful. Why has it taken the ascendancy of Osinbajo to the acting presidency to achieve this? The answer is simple: symbolic presence.
“President Muhammadu Buhari lacked symbolic presence in the 20 months he was in charge. His presence was barely felt in the country. Nor was his voice heard. It took him six months to appoint ministers.
“Attahiru Jega notified him of the impending expiration of his tenure months in advance, but the president didn’t act, and caused a needless bureaucratic kerfuffle at INEC.
A minister died in a car crash several months ago, and he hasn’t been replaced up to now….” “In online pedagogy, there’s a concept called social presence. It’s the idea that when you teach people with whom you don’t share physical co-presence you need to simulate some sort of presence through periodic electronic communication (such as an active online profile, comments, emails, instructor-learner interactions, etc.) to compensate for physical absence.
“In government, leaders also need constant symbolic presence to reassure the people they govern that they are there, that they care, that they are working–in addition to actually working. Buhari visited more countries in the world than he visited states in Nigeria. He spoke to more foreign media outlets and journalists than he spoke to the Nigerian media and journalists.
“He comes across as very contemptuous of Nigerians, the very people that put him in power, and obsequious to, even desperately desirous of the approval of, foreigners. That is why his presence in and absence from Nigeria are practically indistinguishable.
Osinbajo seems to be reversing this. He has social, symbolic and political presence. That’s why there is some movement—and some hope—in the country now….”
There is no doubt that these are two influential voices from the North, which also reinforce the point made recently on this page that no force on earth is powerful enough to bury truth in a grave: it won’t stay there. What is more, the opinions of the two prominent Nigerians from the North are more relevant than twenty that might have originated from the South where Osinbajo hails from. And the conclusion of the whole matter is that truth is constant, no matter the location.
However, the most remarkable lesson and deliverable from the Buhari-Osinbajo saga is the fact that we need to re-examine the nexus between knowledge and character. It can be seen from the foregoing discussion points that what has earned plaudits for the former Attorney General of Lagos State, Osinbajo is not just his learning or learnedness, it is the content of his character. The point here is that in our country where character education has suffered some reverses over the years, there is ‘a crisis of character’ as a reputation risk management specialist, Peter Firestein has observed. In this country, there are too many brilliant people everywhere you go. Too many orators, oracles, who speak the minds of the people and the gods but sadly there is still a crisis of character in every nook and cranny. In all the arms and agencies of government, in all the 36 states and 774 local government councils, there are too many ‘gurus’ but too few men of good character like Osinbajo who can wield power for months without soiling their hands with blind ambition, “lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh and pride of life”.
As Eknath Easwaran, an Indian researcher notes in his analysis of Mahatma Gandhi’s essay on “knowledge without character”,
Gandhi formulated a series of diagnoses of the modern world’s seemingly perpetual state of crisis, which he called “the seven social sins”. Since the problems they address are not crimes calling for punishment but crippling diseases that are punishment enough in themselves, they can be called seven social ailments. The first—and the one we will focus on here—is “knowledge without character”. It traces all the difficulties in India to a simple lack of connection between what they know is good for them and their ability to act on that knowledge.
In the same vein, In Nigeria, I am persuaded that the central paradox of our time is that despite our powerful intellectual skills and our ingenious engineering and medical achievements, we still lack the ability to live wisely.
As Martin Luther King, Jr., once put it, we live in a world of “guided missiles and misguided men,” where few technical problems are too complex to solve but we find it impossible to cope with the most basic of life’s challenges: how to live together in peace and health. In our lucid moments, we see that we are doing great harm to ourselves and our planet, but somehow, for all our intellectual understanding, we cannot seem to change the way we think and live. Every day, we listen to intellectuals, sound professionals on radio and watch them on television pontificating. Most of the public intellectuals are university administrators and senior public servants in the public sector. Some are top guns in the organized private sector. Yet we are not making tangible and measurable progress in any sectors. I think there is a crisis of character that takes the steam out of our knowledge. That is why there have been no dynamic capabilities that Citizen Osinbajo has exhibited since he has been acting as president.
This is not to say we are bad people. The problem is simply that “we have not yet completed our education”as Easwaran has noted. When Gandhi speaks of knowledge without character, he is not implying that we know too much for our own good. He is saying that because we do not understand what our real needs are, we are unable to use our tremendous technical expertise in a way that might make our lives more secure and fulfilling. Instead, we treat every problem as if it were a matter for technology, or chemistry, or economics, even when it has nothing to do with these things.
Now that President Buhari has returned, as was noted on this page last week, he should deal decisively with the spirit of procrastination and lethargy that has somehow paralysed his almost two years in office. As Kperogi said, it isn’t only the 16 years of PDP misrule that was responsible for the stagnation and worsening of living conditions during Buhari’s 20-month rule. Now that the recuperating President has seen that like the biblical Barnabas, Vice President Osinbajo is a good man, he should overhaul the machinery of his government beginning with the very weak presidential bureaucracy as we have consistently advised on this page.
Certainly, PMB should as a matter of urgency head hunt more Osinbajo’s – men and women – who combine character with their learning. After all, there are still too many vacancies that can be filled with good people in all arms and agencies of government. The message here is not about Osinbajo who is also blessed with a virtuous woman as his wife who carries herself with uncommon dignity and grace. It is about the need for the President to listen to all the voices of reason that have been clamouring for a restructuring of his government including members of the “Inner Circle” who may have been preventing him from recognizing Osinbajo as a stabilizing factor in the presidency.
Specifically, the presidential bureaucracy comprising the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the Chief of Staff to the President (COS-P), Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, (HCSF), etc should be overhauled. Where are the Advisers in the Office of the President? Even the Cabinet should be retouched for operational efficiency and dynamism. A load of hearty thanks for the acting president who has demonstrated that there is indeed nothing wrong with being black, after all. What is more, thank you Pastor Osinbajo for showing that a man of God can be backed by the God of man to show that “the main value of education is not financial or occupational, but it is personal and spiritual and character building…”according to Professor Stephen R. Covey.