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The obligations of power


Power, whether political, economic, religious or cultural, has some obligations. Power has to be used by man for the benefit of mankind, of society. Man ab initio was given power in order to control and dominate his environment for positive ends. When, if we know that power does not belong to us, that mortal power is not forever, that power is given for a reason, that power is not an end to itself, the obligation to use it sensibly for the overall benefit of mankind would be better appreciated. Power that is deployed selfishly or clannishly is often destructive to the power holder, to society, to the world. Man can never possess absolute power. Any human being, who believes that he has absolute power over ANY condition or any other human being, lives in absolute delusion. Such men are dangerous. Of such we must beware.

Also, power that is given to man and is not used because of fear, small-mindedness, greed, or selfishness can be destructive. It also can be taken away by the Giver of power. In human terms particularly in a popular democracy, the people are obliged to take back power from that man who has failed to use power or has failed to use power positively. It is true that sometimes a man who has been popularly given power through the ballot box could become or claim to be more powerful than the people. He could then use the same power to oppress the people. But because he is mortal he cannot go on forever. Time, is the greatest controlling force of power in this regard. Ultimately that man will fall from power. Power will go to another. This has been a recurring decimal in the history of mankind. It was Abraham Lincoln who said: ‘nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power’.

Of course there are different levels of power. There is micro power, just as there is macro power. There is power given to affect a small section of society. There is also power given to affect the larger society. When a man is given power to affect a small section of society, like the family unit, a village or clan he is expected to focus on that unit. If he thinks that power at that level is given to transform the world, then he is yet to understand the obligations of power. For example, the Chairman of a Local Government should know the boundaries of his power. He is elected, he is expected to focus on the Local Government area; not his pocket, not the State, not the country. Power at the micro level is what it is – to be used at the micro level. If all of those who are given power at the micro level use it effectively, it would have a ripple effect on society. To each his own, to everyman his portion and to every society its benefits.


Power at the macro level, say at State, national or international level, carries a greater burden. Its reach is wider, its expectations greater. Certainly, it deals with more people. It also has or is expected to have more resources, both human and financial. A State Governor, for example, who has four million citizens within his geographical territory, would be abusing the obligations of power if he concentrated on national politics to the detriment of his people, the electors. Also, a national President who concentrates on his personal affairs, ethnic group or his home State or his religious group in a multi-religious State, would be failing in the obligations to power. He would give account some day. History will judge him squarely as a failed leader.

To whom much is given much is expected, much will be expected. This is one of the obligations of power. There have been too many people who misunderstood the obligations of power and ended up in the pit of infamy. Some fathers have been guilty of this in their homes; some businessmen have learnt this lesson only when it was too late; and some politicians have expressed regrets in their death bed. Sadly, that it happened before, that it was widely publicized and condemned is no guarantee that it won’t happen again. Man as never learns from history. On this journey, fools there were, fools there are and fools there will be. In the immortal words of African folklore, ‘what happened in the house of sheep will happen in the house of goat’.

Power is very powerful; or, power could be very powerful. It has the capacity to seize the senses of the power holder so badly that they would become powerless in the face of the power of power. Power gives the unfortunate and misleading impression that it is forever. That moment when a man exercises power over a person, a group, a State or a country could be very deceptive. It tends to banish other factors. It clouds the possibility of variables, of the unexpected. It deceives one into thinking, into believing that the ‘Now’ is the ‘Forever’, is the ‘Permanent’ of things. How wrong it all turns out to be!


A man in power, a man who is empowered to protect, to save, and who looks the other way when human beings in his care are being slaughtered or exploited or abused or degraded has failed one of the obligations of power. A man who appropriate funds meant for the collective good to himself has failed in the obligations of power. Those who sacrifice human beings in order to get to the top have failed in the power train.

So those who currently control the levers of power at any level, the level of family, clan, Local Government, State or National should realize that they are tenants in the House of Power. Ultimately, Time will remove them from power; Time will remove that power from them because the time to move on or fall back has come. At such a time, the question would be how well, how nobly they have used power for the benefit of the greater majority. For those who think that power is to be used mainly to increase the level of confusion, either by design or default, a time of reckoning here on earth and in the hereafter will come.

Why has power not been used to end the suffering and environmental pollution in the Niger Delta? Why has power not been used to end the senseless killings carried out by so-called herdsmen? Why has power not been used to transform the lives of the peasants in Northern Nigeria? Why has power not been used to provide employment for the millions of unemployed youths in Nigeria? Why has power not been used to tackle the menace of kidnapping across the land? Why has power not been used to reduce the level of poverty in the country? It is because those who have been entrusted with power have not used power as they ought to. But they should remember that power is not an end itself; it is a means to an end! We, eternity shall judge them by what they did with power. Plato concludes it all when he says: “the measure of a man is what he does with power’.

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obligations of power
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