One lovely Tuesday afternoon at the Villa in Abuja, several former leaders, who had led the country at one time or the other, met for lunch with the new President Osuvwi, having attended his inauguration the day before. But for Kwesi, a former President of neighbouring Shongharia, who had been exceptionally invited, the rest were either past presidents or past military heads of state of home country. After the exchange of usual pleasantries and an exquisite meal they eased into an interesting conversation. Never before had an inauguration been so well attended. Former leaders who would typically shun inaugurations on the basis of ideological difference had somehow managed to attend this event.
Panshak who had been the oldest among them, said, “This country has turned out exactly how we planned it would after the war; a static republic dependent solely on oil.”
“Worrisome. As it was back then…so it is today,” Ernest echoed. They knew he had returned to his shipping business after his overthrow as Interim President, which had made him an enormous fortune since then, and it wasn’t as if business had begun to dwindle. So they were surprised at his concern. He asked, “But have you noticed how the young people seem to be toeing a different direction?”
Dan Baba said, “I guess they’re just more vocal. The internet has opened up a huge platform for public policy participation but they’re too afraid to take responsibility.”
“Dan Baba, you led this country as a young man,” Ikedioha said. “I wouldn’t have imagined you describe our young people as being afraid of responsibility.”
They all laughed as they realized that though they had gone off in different directions—from the civil war to oil dependence to youth apathy—they felt the same way.
Everyone was trying to mask their regrets about how differently the country would have looked if they had done something different during their time in office. And some of them even admitted to making a few wrong decisions here and there, owing to the pressure that comes with political office in this part of the world.
Then Kwesi spoke, “I was very excited when I won my party’s nomination to vie for president of Shongharia. My plan if elected was to bring sweeping changes, end corruption and fix our balance of trade problems.” He paused, and then continued. “But after I became President, my first term didn’t go as planned. In fact it nearly robbed me of all my good intentions. And though my approval ratings hit the bottom of the barrel, it gave me an insight to why most leaders in Africa struggle through their time in office. It was the pressure of trying to be a president of the whole country and at the same time please of every section without being seen as prejudiced. Biblically speaking, it felt like David having to put on Saul’s armour to fight Goliath; or trying to play God, perhaps.
“That is,” he continued, “until I heard a very interesting story that changed everything.”
“How so?” Ernest asked.
“Well the story helped me look at problem solving from a completely different angle—from tinkering with the problem which we do so often in Africa, to tinkering for a solution—and it showed me how. By my second term, the change was phenomenal.
“At the outset, I was upset at the obvious simplicity of the story. It sounded like a traditional folk tale my mother might have told me while I was a child.
“But then, I was even more upset with myself and how I could have breezed past so many of my own problems if only I had applied the simple truths from this story had I known them earlier.
“Once I realised the characters in the story, like a compass, represented the four cardinal points that determine which direction a person or society goes, I decided which characters I wanted to be like and then, things started happening.
“Later, I passed the story to my cabinet and they passed it on to their staff, and governance improved. People began to make better decisions. And like me, many of our leaders said it helped them even in their personal lives. My Minister for Education at the time even made the story into a book and included it in our national curriculum as required reading for students at secondary school level.
“However, there were a few naysayers who said the story was just another fable. And that all the testimonials from people about the story were fabrications to win favour with my office.
“What’s this story? Ikedioha asked.
“I call it, Bushmeat Republic.
The group laughed. “I think I like the sound of it already” Ernest said. “Please would you tell it to us if you don’t mind? May we too would be able to learn something helpful from it.