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Mental Health of African Leaders

By Passy Amaraegbu
28 February 2015   |   11:00 pm
He who gains victory over other men is strong, but he who gains victory over himself is all-powerful  — Lao-tse.  LEKE dropped out of school at Junior Secondary School (Class Three) due to gang activities. From there he proceeded into thuggery and robbery, which were his financial and social bases for acquiring political power. Umaru…

He who gains victory over other men is strong, but he who gains victory over himself is all-powerful  — Lao-tse. 

LEKE dropped out of school at Junior Secondary School (Class Three) due to gang activities. From there he proceeded into thuggery and robbery, which were his financial and social bases for acquiring political power. Umaru became a minister in a sensitive and crucial aspect of our national development based on his father’s connection. Sent to England to acquire quality education, Umaru couldn’t complete his university education after attending three universities in UK.  Struggling with drug addiction and homosexual lifestyle, his wealthy father used his financial influence to secure ministerial position for him. Ibeku is the choice man used to replace a former deputy governor. A notorious drug baron, he was one of the sponsors of the governor. Briggs is the leader of a group of militia oil bunkerers. He is standing for election for the post of national legislator in the Federal House of Assembly.

  The four of them represent the pervasive, inept and depraved psychological mindset of a section of the leadership in our nation and continent today.

These four sordid stories have a linear connection with the theme of our discourse.  Mental Health Status refers to the result received from conducting Mental Status or State Examination (MSE). As a basic and crucial mental health assessment, the MSE is a comprehensive assessment or judgment of a patient’s mental health. To arrive at accurate diagnosis, the psychiatrist or clinical psychologist combines the result of MSE, with those of biographical and historical information. It is important that the MSE is differentiated and not confused with another psychological or psychiatric test called, the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE), which actually is a basic neuro-psychological test used predominantly to diagnose dementia (loss of memory).

As a comprehensive psychological test, the MSE has some major sections like assessment of general appearance, psychomotor behaviour, mood and affect, speech, cognition, thought patterns, level of consciousness, degree of remembrance or recall.  These broad sections can further be split into specifics depending on the degree of psychopathology, expertise and experience of the clinician or psychiatrist.

  One may quickly query the need for our leaders (particularly those in governance) to undertake such a psychological test like Mental Status Examination?  What is the significance of such psychological test in the development of our nation’s political economy?  Of what significance is such psychological test to the lives of the leadership and electorate?

Significance of Mental Status Examination

  As noted earlier on, the MSE reveals the mental health status of the individual. Consequently, the result of this psychological test is an index of the degree of mental and emotional health of an individual. It indicates whether the individual (in this case the politician or prospective political leader) is psychologically healthy, or sick or on a borderline between the two. Furthermore, the result of MSE indicates the specific area of one’s life (like mood and affect, cognition or psychomotor behaviour) that requires psychotherapy or psychiatric attention.

  As a sequel, the result of MSE will enable the party leadership to select the right candidates to stand for election while disenfranchising those who are victims of psychopathology. The knowledge of the mental health status of our political leaders will provide a baseline data for political appointment and specific assignment of duties.  

Sometimes people who are richly endowed become lazy and ironically others less endowed due to the dint of hardwork, end up with excellent results.  The converse is also a truism.  Robert Kiyoski captures this lesson very well in his ground breaking book, entitled, Why A students work for C and B for the government.

However, understanding the mental and emotional capacity of the individual would facilitate proper placement as well as ensure excellent performance in office. Our society will be protected from a lot of damages, dangers and devastations occasioned by the enthronement of mentally and emotionally sick leadership.  Contemporarily we are inundated with psychologically sick people in leadership.

  Beginning with the four earlier examples of the area boy Leke chairman of local government; the drug addict Umaru who is a federal minister, the drug baron Ibeku who is a deputy governor, and the oil bunkering Briggs who stands for election in the national assembly House of Representatives.  Of course these are fictitious names but their profiles and political prowess are commonplace in our country and in fact continent.  What type of political office holders will such psychologically unbalanced people be?  What type and degree of damage would they perpetrate in the society?

One major reason why no political system or style of leadership works in Nigeria nay Africa is because; there is a gross negligence of the psychological (mental and emotional) state of the leadership class.  Anybody can acquire wealth anyhow and bribe their way to the office of the executive, legislature or judiciary.  Anybody can use any crooked means and build their own kingdom.  Anybody can manipulate the system as far as they have enough financial and occultic power.  

  For instance, take a look at the issue of political ideology.  In America, can an avowed Democrat who failed in primary election move over to the Republican Party and stand for an elective post that same year?  Can a Republican Senator cross-carpet to the Democratic Party and still remain in the Senate?  Or in the UK, a Conservative party member facing some disciplinary sanctions cross-carpet to Labour?  Yet, such bizarre stories are commonplace in Nigeria.  We live in a country where impunity and inanity reign.  A country where the abnormal is not only the rule but is celebrated.

  Of course, there are several reasons for the manifestation of individual and corporate ineptitude and insanity in our leadership system but poor psychological development is a major one.  We need to ask ourselves some salient questions.  Why must one shed the blood of fellow human beings in order to gain power to rule?  Why should one glory in violence and terrorism in order to gain power?  Why should one garner corporate wealth for selfish purposes?  Why should a leader’s political ideology be based on exploitation and greediness?  Why should one become a sit-tight leader?  What type of future Nigeria are we building for our children?  Why do we preserve the lives and future of our children but engage in a rabid destruction of other citizen’s children?  How durable is political power? 

  The fact is that only mentally and emotionally healthy citizens can ask such humane questions. The psychologically sick such as schizophrenics, sociopaths, megalomaniacs, compulsive liars, and their likes lack the psychological strength to do so.

  After fifty-four years of independence, Nigeria is meant to be greater and better than what she is today. Of course, our country is blessed with great natural and human resources.  There are many Nigerians who are like lighthouses in virtually every noble endeavour of life but the bad eggs are determinedly trying to poison the former.  To forestall this horrible situation where the life of the hen, which lays the golden egg is being endangered, noble souls must rise up and fight for the survival of the Nigerian soul.  

Establishing A Humane and Healthy Leadership

  The inclusion of attainment of a certain level of education by political office holders in the Nigerian constitution underscores the need for our leaders to be educated.  Besides the direct advantage of becoming literate, acquiring quality and relevant education facilitates personality development. Instead of deemphasizing the need for our leaders to acquire education, we should upgrade the standard of education of our prospective leaders beyond that of 1999 constitution. For instance, a Nigerian President should at least hold a first degree from an accredited university or its equivalent.  Besides the personal advantages stated earlier on, acquiring a university education places such a leader in a position whereby he/she can compete effectively with their contemporaries and peers from other parts of the world. Moreover the demands of governance in our contemporary world are complex and illiteracy or semi-literacy cannot cope with these.

  Unfortunately, Nigeria falls into the class of nations whereby some individuals are more powerful and richer than the corporate body. This is dangerous because human beings are susceptible to error and irrationality. Moreover the lifespan of such strong personalities are shorter compared to that of the nation.  Therefore we need to deliberately build positive, productive and strong institutions, which will exact excellent long lasting influence on our people and generations to come.  This creates the need for the establishment of a National Institute of governance, which will incorporate among other departments, a psychological health section for both prospective and serving political leadership.  In the future, the psychological section can equally be developed into an institute of psychological Health Services for prospective and existing political leadership. The services of this psychological Health Institute should include the assessment of the mental and emotional health of all prospective political candidates who stand for elective positions as well as recommendation for effective leadership.

  Elected political office holders should undergo orientation course in the art and science of governance during which they upgrade their knowledge of the current trends. Handling public office and involvement in governance in our nation should be upheld as serious business and not be regarded as a merchandice of maniacs and mendicants.

  Nigerian public office holders and political leaders should be taught to begin early to acquire positive political culture and leadership qualities.  The relevant axiom here comes in the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who said that, The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight but they while their companions slept, they were tolling upward in the night. Unfortunately in Nigeria, greatness is achieved in a jiffy.  The consequence is the corrosive and catastrophic state of nationhood we live in.  

The result is that madmen and specialists (apology to Wole Soyinka) have overran our political landscape.  We must consciously reverse this state of ineptitude and insanity by beginning early and consistently to prepare for political leadership and governance.

  Ideally, some secondary schools and Ivory towers can be designated for the training of Nigerian political leadership.  However, from the primary, secondary and tertiary institutions in every nook and cranny of Nigeria, the curriculum should incorporate the tenets of excellence and altruism in governance.

In pursuance of a productive and incorrigible leadership, the need for accountability can never be overemphasized.  Excellence should be rewarded while ineptitude should be sanctioned. The vision of a strong and prosperous Nigeria where no man is oppressed is a reality but at a price. Both the leadership and followership, should stop the game of passing the buck and pay the price of mental development, which will ultimately lead to nation building.  

Dr. Amaraegbu, Clinical Psychologist and Author, lives in Lagos.