Even clueless leader should show empathy

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The current flooding that devastated many states in Nigeria underscores how Nigerians have become used to the absence of leadership. According to reports, at least 31 states out of the 36 states of the federation were affected by the flood which killed about 600 people.

Unlike the flooding in 2012, this year’s flooding is much worse. Videos and photos showed houses submerged. The implication is that anyone still in such houses will be drowned.

There were reports that the water washed up corpses from the cemetery, thereby leading to floating corpses. After a week, the floods have not receded.

Not surprising, more than one week after the flooding started, the President, Maj Gen Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has not visited any state affected by the flood.

A leader may not be versed in economic management. A leader may not be versed in political transformation. But a leader does not need any exceptional skills to be able to show empathy when the governed are hit by any misfortune. It does not even cost anything.

The Igbos have a saying that ‘ndo’ (sorry) does not heal illnesses but it softens the heart.

The standard practice in developed democracies is that once there is any natural or man-made attack on any part of the country, the leader of the country issues a statement and promptly visits the venue of the incident. This reassures those affected and the nation that they are not alone at their time of need.

When a leader cancels appointments and heads for a scene of misfortune, it shows the people that they have a leader that feels their pulse. They, therefore, don’t feel abandoned.

In late September, Hurricane Fiona hit some eastern parts of Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cancelled his plan to travel to Japan for the funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. Trudeau headed for Atlantic Canada where Fiona had its landfall and wreaked havoc.  The premiers of the affected provinces – some of whom are not of the same party with Trudeau – buried their differences and joined hands with Trudeau to provide succour to people whose houses were washed away or destroyed.

A few days later, Hurricane Ian hit Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina in the United States of America. President Joe Biden also visited some of the areas affected.

These are basic issues taken for granted. Once there is an incident of mass shooting, bomb attack, plane crash, train crash or natural disaster that causes a large-scale destruction, the political leader of any serious country immediately holds a press briefing, reacts to the incident and condoles with the victims.

Depending on the nature of the incident, the leader of the country is expected to visit the scene of the tragedy within 48 hours to show the people that they have a leader. Any leader that does not do this may be impeached or voted against during the next election. If that leader is not seeking re-election, the party of that leader will bear the brunt of such insensitivity.

But Buhari has taken leadership to a new dimension that Nigerians have stopped expecting to see him in their neighbourhood any time they face a disaster or tragedy.

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The best they get is a statement signed by one of his spokesmen. Many Nigerians have even learnt to give excuses for Buhari on such issues, arguing that his visits will not wake up the dead or heal the wounded.

In some instances, after dozens were killed in a part of the country, Buhari entered his presidential plane and flew to another country. Sometimes, he even goes to another event from there.

Sometimes, he may return, spend one or few days before taking off again. No matter how hard Nigerians have complained in the past seven years, the President does not seem perturbed. Buhari has made us see natural disasters or mass killings as regular occurrences.

It was the President that taught Nigerians and, maybe the world, that when there is a tragedy in a part of the country, the governor of the state involved would take a trip to Abuja to pay a visit to the President. It has happened in different states.

For example, in March 2016 when Agatu in Benue State was attacked by herdsmen, Governor Samuel Ortom visited Buhari in Abuja.

Similarly, in April 2016 when there was an attack by herdsmen in Nimbo, Enugu State, Buhari did not visit the state. Rather, the governor of the state, Chief Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, visited Buhari.

The current flooding experienced by many states is no exception. It is not just that the President has not visited any of the affected areas; he has not even delegated the vice president or any minister to visit the affected areas. He has not also made any categorical statement on what can be done to stop future occurrences.

It sounds absurd that while Nigeria has a sitting President, who is paid to do the job, the presidential candidates of political parties are the ones playing the role of visiting or donating to the victims of the flooding.

The candidate of the Labour Party, Mr Peter Obi, announced last week that he was suspending his campaign to focus on visiting the victims of the flooding. By the weekend, he had visited at least three states.

Similarly, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has announced that he intends to start visiting states affected by the flood. He has also announced some monetary donations to the victims. Also, the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Senator Bola Tinubu, has made a donation to victims of the flood.

Nigerian leaders should not continue with the habit of choosing when to copy the examples from developed economies and when not to. Human beings are the same worldwide. They need care and love. It is not too much to ask for. And it is not too much to give.

 

– Twitter: @BrandAzuka

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