If Nigerian politicians were to invest a fraction of the time and energy exerted on undoing one another in the genuine quest of developing the country, Nigeria would be far gone from its current state of stunted growth.
In the past couple of weeks, the people have become dazed by the dizzying pace at which politicians have crossed carpets from one party to the other. The other day, a former Governor of Kano State, Mallam Ibraham Shekarau, capped up the ridiculous defections when he went back to the All Progressives Congress from the Peoples Democratic Party for the same reasons that he switched from the former to the latter four years ago. He made no shame of it at all as he addressed a press conference lamenting the failure of the PDP to protect his interest. None of it is ever about the people. It is only about the relevance and feathering of the nests of the political heavyweights. With Shekarau as with the Uduaghans,Atikus, Sarakis and Kwankwasos were a multitude of political sheep following their shepherd where he leads, hardly any questions asked and none answered.
In places where they are not jumping ship, politicians are busy playing the overlord. Insisting on who gets what and at what cost, enthroning and dethroning regardless of what such decisions might cost the country or its people.
But the Nigerian politician forgets that power is transient and that the only time power makes sense in any enduring way is when it is deployed to the advantage of the people. And you seldom see that in Nigeria because power is absolute here. Those who hold it think of no one else but themselves. The arrogance of power and incessant victories over the years, have taken over the hearts of Nigerian politicians so they regard no one but themselves in the ever increasing treachery that having their hands on the purse of the nation has become. But then, there is no greater peril than the avarice and overconfidence that past triumphs bring and when it deals its cold hand, such consequences are usually fatal on the careers of the unwary.
In the book, 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene tells of the story of a young man known as Cyrus. The story goes, Cyrus was a powerful young man who mobilised a huge army to depose his own grandfather as King of Medes in the Year 559 BC. After this battle, Cyrus went on to become the King of Media and Persia and began an expansionist drive of his kingdom to build a Persian empire. Victory followed victory for him and before long, he had defeated Croesus, ruler of Lydia, conquered the Ionian Islands and gone on to appropriate so many of the smaller kingdoms around him. Cyrus marched on and conquered Babylon after which he became known as Cyrus the Great, King of the World!
Having taken over Babylon and all its riches, Cyrus thought to expand on the east with a target on the half-barbaric tribe of the Massagetai, a vast realm on the Caspian Sea. Even though this race of warriors do did not have any of the riches of Babylon, which he just conquered, Cyrus told was obsessed with taking over this territory especially as he seems saw himself as the unconquerable king of the world.
In preparation for attack, Cyrus was said to have, in 529 BC, marched to a river which was the gateway to the Kingdom of Massagetai. As he set camp on the western bank of the river, he received a letter from the leader of the Massagetais, a female warrior known as Queen Tomyris. In the letter, Tomyris admonished the ambitious man of Persia in a very convivial way as follows: “King of Medes, I advise you to abandon your enterprise, for you cannot know if in the end, it will do you any good. Rule your own people, and try to bear the sight of mine ruling mine.”
However, she obviously knew that Cyrus at the time already crossed the lines of reason and like the dog destined to stray would not listen to the hunter’ s warning whistle, the aggressor would be too drunk on his own relevance to heed advice. So, she continued: “But of course, you will refuse my advice, as the last thing you wish for is to live in peace.”
And she was right. Cyrus chose to go on with his expedition. Confident of her army’s prowess, Tomyris offered to withdraw her troops from her own side of the river thereby allowing the attacking army cross it without waters and fight her army on the eastern side. Cyrus agreed but rather than engage in a direct fight, he played a trick on the Massagetai army.
Privy to the deprivation suffered by the people he was marching on, Cyrus, after crossing the river prepared a large banquet, full of meat, delicacies and strong wine in the camp that he had set up. He then left the weakest links in his army on the camp and withdrew with the rest of the army.
A large Massagetai army soon attacked the camp, killing the all the soldiers they encountered. After this, the victorious army got taken by their appetites and attacked the food and wine with the same enthusiasm with which they fought the soldiers on the Persian camp. But that was their undoing. They soon all fell asleep and became victims to the sword of the returning Persian Army. Spargapises, son of Queen Tomyris and a few of his soldiers, became prisoners of war while most of the army died in the battle.
On learning about this, the Queen penned another letter to Cyrus. “Now listen to me and I will advise you for your own good: Give me back my son and leave my country with your forces intact, and be content with your triumph over a third part of the Massagetai. If you refuse, I swear by the sun, our master, to give you more blood than you can drink, for all your gluttony.”
Again, Cyrus scoffed at the letter insisting that his conquest of Tomyris and her people must be total. While all of this was going on, the queen’s son took his own life in lieu of the humiliation his continued imprisonment indicated and that inflamed the Queen.
She immediately mobilised everyone and everything that was left of her army and, in a vengeful frenzy engaged Cyrus in a battle of no return. In time, she prevailed and rather than being caught alive, Cyrus killed himself! But the Queen was not satisfied, she searched for the corpse of the erstwhile king of the world. On finding it, she cut off his head and shoved it into a wineskin full of blood screaming: “Though I have conquered you and live…see now- I fulfil my threat: You have your fill of blood!” That act of unbridled ambition and selfish arrogance wrecked Cyrus and the empire that he strove to build.
Greene told this story to explicate the intoxicating influence of power, the sense of accomplishments that it brings to people who wield it and the unmitigated fall that accompanies the neglect to deploy power with discretion. How much you would wish that the Nigerian politician who feels he holds the world in the palm of his hands would learn a lesson or two from the transience and infallibility of it all.
As the country moves closer to the 2019 elections, powerful politicians in the country will sing the song of invincibility into their own ears. And when they do not, people around them would beat the drums for them. The greatest wisdom to borrow at moments like this, however, is to put the common good ahead of all personal interests. Used to running Nigeria’s hundreds of million lives from their minuscule political parlours, the Nigerian politician will hardly see reason in succumbing to the will of the people; but the best dancer is not the one who dances all the time rather it is that who knows when the rhythm changes or stops entirely.