Mbadinuju and burdens of leadership
By Chima Christian
MY PREFERRED definition of focus is to ignore all events and activities that are not related to or do not contribute to the current task. So while we were on the #PostponeCensus2023 campaign, many issues came up that deserved attention. But none could be afforded because we needed all the energy and concentration of a woman in labour.
One such event is the passing away of Dr Chinweoke Mbadinuju, former governor of Anambra State (1999 – 2003). To me, Mbadinuju’s demise offered our society another opportunity to deeply reflect on the burdens of leadership. Instead of that, we characteristically chose the easy route. “Speak no ill of the dead” became an excuse and indeed a misleading principle to continue operating in deception. I, for one, do not understand why one will lead a terrible life, and we all bemoan the terrible life while the person is alive. But once he or she closes her eyes in death, we hastily replace those evaluations with beautiful elegies which we and everyone concerned, including the dead, know are misleading.
I have no interest in discussing the private affairs of the late Gov. Mbadinuju. Even if I had, I won’t be competent enough to discuss such issues. However, Mbadinuju’s governance records ought to be reviewed, not necessarily to preserve history, but to instruct the hearts of present and future leaders.
Of all Mbadinuju’s governance records, the two most outstanding should be the shutting down of public schools for one year, and the brutal murder of Mr Barnabas Igwe and his wife, Mrs Amaka Igwe in Onitsha. There is an official record of the attendant investigation and prosecution of alleged culprits of that heinous crime. So I will like to leave it at that. Just that the point of the metaphorical witch crying in the night and the baby dying in the morning should be highlighted, even if in passing.
Now specifically on the industrial action which led to the closure of public schools in Anambra for nearly one full academic year. While the teachers were petitioning their lowly estate and the school children were languishing at home, “Odera” as he was called, and his goons went about town shouting “It shall be well with Anambra State.”
I can’t help but think of the relationship between that mischievous catchphrase and more recent ones like “Enugu is in the hands of God,” “Willie is working,” “Solution is here” and the rest. Make no mistake, there is nothing wrong with capturing ideas in moving phrases. It becomes mischievous when such collocation of words becomes a
Hebrews 13:10a, for Christians, is exceptionally instructive. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.” While the responsibility of the masses has been repeatedly emphasised by church leaders, the opportunity to equally highlight the leaders’ responsibility of keeping watch over souls as one who will give account has been spectacularly missed.
If people receive proper teachings about the enormity of the burdens of leadership, not many would aspire to become leaders. When one becomes the governor of Anambra State, for example, God entrusts in his care the lives of 6.2 million people who live in the state. The governor and the people he governs with determine how many avoidable deaths will be recorded due to the quality of care or lack of oxygen and other essential supplies in public healthcare institutions. He determines for instance, how many will die in preventable accidents due to badly-done roads or the absence of emergency services.
That person and his governing elite determine how many businesses will be wiped out in preventable or better-managed fire outbreaks. He, to a reasonable degree, determines the number of people that will be kidnapped or killed by “unknown gunmen.” He determines the number of individuals or communities he will, or allow opportunists to dispossess their lands without proper compensation. He determines the number of houses that will be destroyed or individuals that will be killed in preventable inter-communal wars.
The point should be clear by now; Leadership is such a weighty burden. Only fools reduce such consequential assignments to mere money-making ventures.
If you reflect deeper, not only are individual lives or businesses affected by the daily decisions or indecisiveness of the leader. But the many dependents of that person or business, and future generations that are tied to that individual or business will equally be affected. It is in light of this understanding that I choose to interrogate Mbadinuju’s public education scorecard.
Whatever the reasons, some say it is his inability to stand up to godfathers, Mbadinuju failed to pay the salary of teachers and allowed public schools to be closed for an extended period. Parents who had the means withdrew their kids and sent them to private schools. Others couldn’t afford it. The saddest part is that no one knew the issues would last that long.
“Like play like play, de thing enter one year” one parent recounts. During that period, some schoolchildren fell into drugs, truancy, unwanted pregnancies, gangsterism and other vices. Some of them did not make it back to school when the strike was called off. Some did, but the habits picked up while being away from school for far too long had become distracting. It wouldn’t be long before some of them eventually stopped striving.
While those schoolchildren and their caregivers will have to take individual responsibilities for their choices, the chief executive who watered the ground for such large-scale disruption in the lives of those schoolchildren will have an account to give to his Maker.
Not only have some of those youngsters been permanently damaged. A good number of them who escaped untimely death due to their operations on the “fast lane” have become or are becoming parents. I know of one of those “Mbadinuju boys” who smoke weed in the presence of his 2-year-old daughter. This particular guy was so focused and used to come top of his class before Mbadinuju happened to him.
Except God intervenes, there is a high likelihood that one moment of Mbadinuju’s executive indiscretion will have a cross-generational impact. If further investigations are done, it is possible that some of those “Mbadinuju boys” may have become part of the “unknown gunmen” terrorisingAnambra State today.
Even with his peculiar shortcomings, you will give it to Peter Obi. He is one of the few pronounced public servants who understand this accountability burden of leadership. In one of those witty moments which can only come after deep reflection, Obi prophetically quipped that the children we abuse today will take revenge on the society tomorrow. For Gov. Mbadinuju, that “tomorrow is here.” His immediate family will either have to rely on a detachment of police/military resources or pay “unknown” gunmen for his funeral to be peacefully conducted in Ihiala LGA of Anambra State today.
It is important to mention that Mbadinuju did not act alone. He had accomplices in the banking sector, media, civil society, House of Assembly, church, traditional rulers, influencers, political appointees, and the rest. There were several people who God empowered their voices to either stop him or call him to order. Some did, with its attendant consequences. Others, for selfish reasons, failed to deploy all the resources available to them to bring reproof to that erring king. Some of the prophets of that generation, just like you have of this generation, lost their voices and became worshippers of men and money. Some of those people have today faded into thin air. Others are still seemingly powering.
Leadership is a burden. The late Chinweoke Mbadinuju didn’t understand this burden dimension of leadership. For many, he thus became a destruction that laid waste at noonday. Present and future leaders still have the opportunity to learn how to approach their God-given assignments with fear and trembling. It is hoped that this review of Mbadinuju’s stewardship becomes another reminder that actions have consequences. And actions of leaders even have much more reverberating consequences.
According to a statement from his family, Dr. Chinweoke Mbadinuju died on the 11th of April, 2023 at the National Hospital, Abuja, at the age of 78 years. May God, the All-merciful, comfort both those who are mourning Mbadinuju’s governance misdeeds and those who are mourning his death.