Policing Ourselves: Imagine That!

policing ourselves

Three years ago, I read in a national daily that the sergeants-at-arms of the national and state assemblies were to be trained in crisis management and parliamentary combat control. They were to complete rudimentary physical drills and simulations that are adapted to tempestuous law-making chambers where members freely jab each other and often aim at the symbol of authority, the mace, to disrupt proceedings. I had a good laugh then even though it was a factual report written devoid of humour.

Beyond the hilarity, I wondered why we need to be policed all the time, why voluntary compliance is so lacking. We have thrown self-discipline out the window and need the brutal arms of uniformed men to coerce compliance out of us like malu congo, yama yama congo—a derogatory chant that I cried out as a girl. It was aimed at cows being driven with a stick by a herdsman intent on the cows doing his bidding. LASTMA, for example, has borne the ugly brunt of many-a-jokes, but its existence means the joke is on us.

There is a clarion call for visionary leaders, honest leaders, and accountable leaders. Bad leadership gets the blame for the ills that plague our communities. However, the present crop of leadership is drawn from the current population so, what you have is what you get. Like the computer, garbage in, garbage out. Or was it from watching violent American movies that those legislators learnt how to engage the opposition with punches?

One view of leadership postulates that leadership is ultimately about getting people to contribute to making something great happen. Rallying supporters to violently disrupt proceedings in the House of Assembly while stirring them up with we-no-go-gree-style chants is not what this view of leadership advocates.

Leadership also involves self-discipline. We would do well to imbibe the words of the ancient philosopher Lao Tzu, “Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.”

The other day, I waited in the crowded hall of a bank to pay in a cheque and there were only two bank tellers at the counter.

Their supervisor sat in a glass-walled office, oblivious to the impatient crowd. Where was initiative? She could have risen from her throne to work out a way to dispel the crowd. But, why should she? It was the same scenario day after day, and the bank was not losing customers on account of it.

A gentleman and I bemoaned our fate. We prayed that the “system” would not “go down” before it was our turn to be served.

He said, “I could have been at the front of the queue. A friend offered me a space in front of him and the man behind him did not mind.”

“Why didn’t you take the offer, you could have been out of here by now?”

“I didn’t want to cause confusion, like that man.”

He drew my attention to a man with swagger.

“Excuse me,” Mr Swagger said to the man on the queue who was next in line to be served, “I just want to ask a question.”

Distrust shone through the other man’s eyes. Suspicion made him move slowly, but he made room for Mr Swagger to stand in front of him. Then wham bam before you could say leadership, cheque and money exchanged hands. Mr Swagger tucked his bundle in his pocket and sauntered casually out of the hall, toothpick in mouth, as if he had just finished eating bush meat. He had taken us for a ride. Tomorrow when he becomes local government champion, I mean chairman, he will take us for a longer ride and maybe outsmart the opposition with his fists.

Barack Obama inspired millions when he said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” In other words, good leadership begins with me and leading others starts today not when I get to Aso Rock.

According to the report in the daily paper, after the police suppress a fracas in the Assembly, lawmakers always point out that the disgraceful event occurs not just in Nigeria alone. So, if I put my hand in the fire, will you too put your hand in the fire? We cannot continue to justify our bad behaviour on the bad behaviour of our neighbours. We are old enough to distinguish between good and bad.

Now, before you and I turn up our noses at the “fighters” for justice, we would do well to consider that the cloak of shame widens to engulf us all, whether living at home or abroad. And as long as we still need WAI, KAI, TimaRiv, LASTMA, and the likes, in addition to regular law enforcement, we will have bad leadership.

Ol boy eh, garbage in garbage out!

©Timi Yeseibo 2013

The original article, Policing Ourselves: Imagine That!, first appeared here on November 4, 2010. Nearly three years later, the contents remain relevant.


People illustrations by Microsoft

Design: ©Timi Yeseibo 2013


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