Politics, leadership, followership and mental health

Politics of bitterness

By Sylvester Asoya

Many years ago, a popular Nigerian columnist wrote an opinion piece with the title: Mad men and politics. The article was actually inspired by the unprecedented step of appointing a non Christian to the Vatican as ambassador by one of Nigeria’s demented military dictators. In the article, the writer also raised the issue of a former governor on the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party, SDP whose election was challenged in court by his opponent, the candidate of the National Republican Convention, NRC on grounds of mental illness. In the same breath, the journalist made a “persuasive” case for mad men and why they should be active in our country’s politics. “Who is afraid of mad men?” He asked.

Politics of bitterness2

In a sarcastic tone, he argued that more mad men were needed in positions of authority so that a non Muslim can also be appointed in the near future as ambassador to Saudi Arabia by a mad man. He called for more bizarre appointments and more horribly rude and insensitive leaders as a way of resolving our contradictions.

Before that extraordinary ambassadorial appointment to Rome by that former military ruler, Nigerians had witnessed other levels of borderline personality disorders among their leaders. Today, extreme emotional swings and wildly unpredictable behavior are still common amongst politicians and Nigeria’s so-called important personalities. But the incontrovertible fact is that mental health disorder has always been here but it is now widespread in Nigeria among many people in high places.
Some years ago, I did a human interest story on mental health issues and I was shocked by the revelations of psychiatrists and psychologists who provided perspectives to the writing. Of all the disclosures by these experts, the most telling is that many people with mental illness are unaware of their conditions. So, they are not likely to seek help or treatment. But the tragic part is that some of these mentally unstable persons are holding important offices in both the public and private sectors. They are also influencing lives, running homes and big businesses, directing affairs in newsrooms, working in sensitive state agencies, making laws, performing security duties, serving as role models and even ministering to the spiritual needs of people.

However, there seems to be more mad people in politics than any other vocation in Nigeria at the moment. It is not yet 2023 when the real primitive contest for power will begin but politicians are already throwing mud at those who disagree with them in order to harm them. Anyone who is observant would have noticed extreme mood swings of highs and lows, sometimes under the same situation as politicians trade blame. They talk down on everyone and everything in sight, in insulting and condescending tone just to dehumanize and diminish. These absurdities are taking place everywhere and every time. Unfortunately, these occurrences are beginning to shape our reality as a people.

As Nigerians, some of us appreciate the comedy politicians bring to public space with their unedifying comments and spectacle. But behind that unpleasant drama, it is now evident that all is not well mentally with many of them. To fully understand this instability and growing malady, it is important to review every four years or in-between, the average politician’s utterances, the awkward dance steps, outlandish costumes, pedestrian carriage, fleeting friendships, the unbridled ambition and their unending public show of shame and defections.

But it will be unfair to single out political leaders in this up-close character analyses; followers, especially in the country’s two dominant political parties are also guilty of insanity. For example, in the run up to the 2015 general elections, some crazy members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP declared Muhammadu Buhari, presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC brain dead. But they did not just stop at one death wish; they later sponsored front page advertisements in two national newspapers affirming that the APC candidate will die in office. This is aside the sensational clone story and the account of the current president dying and being replaced by a certain Jubril, his lookalike from Sudan.

In what seemed like an attempt to outdo each other, another mentally deranged group in APC took the madness a step further. As part of their vicious campaign in the same 2015 general elections, a “grand” burial party was held for Goodluck Jonathan, the sitting president. First, they constructed a coffin supposedly bearing the remains of Jonathan. To make matters worse, the symbolic casket was carried with the president’s photographs around the city with glee before Nigerians who watched in horror. These crazy members of APC rounded off their lunacy by conducting a mock funeral for the former president who was at the time, the presidential candidate of the PDP. There were also other instances of disorderly conduct across Nigeria by members of the political class and their insane supporters during that bitter campaign. Those were the lowest moments of that election that almost set Nigeria ablaze.
Certainly, one thing is sure; we cannot leave our politics in the hands of demented people for the reason that politics is superior to every other human activity. To do nothing is to support the on-going nation-wide rascality and madness.

But the most horrifying part of our story today is this continuous state of violent mental agitation among the leaders and the led. Many have argued that lack of good education, exposure and deficiency in ability can make a leader mad while in office. After all, failure breeds irritability. Yet, how about other kinds of leaders: the highly educated, professionals, fathers, teachers, mentors, uncles, doctors, nurses and other care givers molesting those in their care? In homes, schools, work places, social gatherings and religious institutions, there is also a surge in cases of incest, sexual harassment of other kinds and related vices. The self-evident fact is that most times, rape is also driven by insanity, so there are mad people everywhere today. Nigeria will not go anywhere until her decision making and influencing citizens know their mental health status. This piece therefore, speaks to mental health everywhere and its consequences on our country, our children, our future, governance, homes and other places of interaction.

Some Nigerians may not know this; we bear Africa’s biggest caseload of mental illness and depression. Nigeria also ranks 15 in the frequency of suicide in the world, a study by the World Health Organization, WHO. According to another finding by the Pathology Department of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State, 20 to 30 per cent of our citizens are believed to be suffering from one form of mental health challenge or the other; this is scary. However, as a result of our environment and realities, the three major categories of mental illness here are dementia, anxiety and mood disorders. Therefore, we must face this reality now or be prepared for a catastrophic end result in the years ahead.

So, as we insist and campaign for good education and verifiable certificates for intending public office holders, we must also be resolute on psychiatric examination. Going forward, politicians seeking elective positions and senior public officers in service for Nigeria must undergo thorough psychiatric assessment before they are allowed to serve.

And as a condition for participating in future elections, Nigerians should demand a quick parliamentary response to this serious issue of mental health challenge in our country. This legislative process is urgent; it must also be accorded the seriousness and speed it deserves.
That is the only way to banish these mad people everywhere and save our country.

-Sylvester Asoya, journalist, public affairs analyst and former assistant editor of TheNEWS, writes from Lagos