Kerry rides regularly to keep fit, and he takes his bike wherever he goes, even on foreign trips. Let the reader take note: America's Secretary of State took time off being the "big man" to be the ordinary human that we all are. That's one man who doesn't define himself by the post he holds, choosing instead to lead a simple life; an important thing if a man mustn't become swollen-headed and misbehave. That's not the case with Nigerian gods where political leaders think they are superhuman. It's a mentality with far-reaching implications for the country; such includes looting the treasury in order to maintain the status of the "big man" years after leaving office.
Aside from ego that by nature sits comfortably in the hearts of many, most office holders live by what people think of them, always wanting to impress, carrying themselves as though they are more than mortals. Such individuals take themselves too seriously. Point to note: Most don't take what they do seriously (obvious from their poor performance in office), but they take themselves seriously. Yet, the other side of the coin should be the case, a thing that's apparently so among political office holders in advanced democracies. A few examples establish the point, showing the simplicity with which office holders in other climes conduct themselves, ensuring that they have nothing to be ashamed of, or worry about when they return to private life.
An elder statesman shared with me what he watched on TV in the early 1970s the day a British Prime Minister suffered defeat in parliament and left office. The PM wore nothing more than a shirt and tie when he walked out of 10 Downing Street. He also carried a bag that couldn't have contained more than five file jackets. He boarded a taxi and was driven across London to his home, leaving behind a thankless job. There was also that normal day of September 11, 2001, the day terrorists seized airplanes and bombed choice places in the US. President George Bush was wearing a shirt and tie, had rolled up his sleeves and he was reading to children in a school when the news got to him. Note: the US leader was interacting with the leaders of tomorrow in his country without an apparent political motive (of course, the classroom was not swarming with TV cameras); just a leader interacting with children, inspiring them to seek to be like him. When Britain suffered from flooding months back, the British PM, David Cameron, had come out under the rain in shirt without the tie, his sleeves rolled up to inspect the extent of damage in parts of London. There had been no ceremony to it, no big man in town given the "big man" treatment to inspect the scene of a disaster.
One should compare those with examples from this clime, too. A few years ago, the cover page of a Nigerian newspaper had the picture of one of the state governors from the South-West (the governor was reelected lately). It was at the time the nation suffered from flooding. The victims stood knee-deep in flood water in their neighbourhood. The state governor who came to sympathise with them wore creaseless "buba" and "sokoto", with a long exotically designed cap that touched the skyline. He didn't walk in the flood water, rather he stood in a canoe. A boy who was not more than 15 years old stood in the flood, barefooted, dragging the canoe in which "His Excellency" stood. The first thing that crossed my mind was how the governor thought anyone watching him in that situation had perceived him. The governor had become too big to wear rain boots and walk in the flood water like the victims.
As stated earlier, there are implications for a nation where leaders feel they are gods. That the citizens themselves encourage it, expecting a leader to start carrying himself differently doesn't help matter. The same citizens pay for what they encourage in the end. They expect the public office holder to have much to throw around; it doesn't matter that he doesn't have a limitless income. If he doesn't deliver on that count, the next thing is to plan to vote him out of office and vote the man who knows how to distribute what he doesn't earn. All of that has encouraged looting in public coffers of the funds that should go into providing infrastructure and opportunities for all citizens to improve themselves and lead a better life. Add that to the expectation to live big even out of office, a reason some at intermediate level in their civil service career have been credited with stealing billions of naira under their care as the case of the embezzled police pension fund showed.
I learnt a lesson from a public figure some years back about how to lead a normal life after years in public office. He said before he occupied a public office, he used to give one of his sisters a ram during the Muslim Sallah festival. When he came into public office, truckloads of rams were delivered at his door during the festivity. He said the gift was so much that he thought he should increase the number of rams he gave his sister to two. Then he asked himself what would happen the day he left office and the truckloads of rams stopped? In the end, he decided to limit the ram he gave his sister to one. Instead, he gave the large number of rams he got to other people who didn't have. Years later, the personality in question left office and became a private citizen. The truckload of rams, not unexpectedly, stopped, but he didn't have to lose sleep because he could still afford to give one ram to his sister. It's noteworthy that I was told this story at the time one former national party chairman died and he was praised and celebrated by all as a man who had no drive for wealth accumulation. The chairman was eulogised for not having a house in Abuja; he didn't even have a piece of land, and that he lived in a rented house in the Federal Capital Territory years after he left his post. The man who told me the story about one ram for his sister related this story in the course of comparing his lifestyle with that of the late party chairman who indeed had been allocated several plots of land in Abuja, using his high contacts. But because he desired so much to maintain the public image of a "big man", he routinely sold what he got (one sale not being less than N100m).
This piece should return to the simplicity displayed by Kerry who went around the world with his bicycle. That simplicity in the disposition of a public official comes from a culture, a culture which recognises that holding an office doesn't mean the occupier is no longer a human being. Occupying an office doesn't make him a god. Rather, holding a public office is temporary. Even with that knowledge, men who define themselves by the post they occupy, seeing it as status symbol, cannot be stopped from behaving as though they are gods. Getting them not to harm the nation thus becomes the more important thing. How to do this is by ensuring that occupiers of public office are accountable and responsible to citizens, while free access to public funds with which they mostly massage their ego is blocked. This is something much in line with the verbalised philosophy of the new administration.