By all standards, Mr. Jeremy Hunt is an important and famous figure in the United Kingdom and across the world. He is what we call, in Nigeria, a “big man.” Born 52 years ago, he is the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the United Kingdom.
Hunt is a British politician and, by virtue of his political office, a diplomat. A member of the Conservative Party as well as Member of Parliament (MP) for Surrey since 2005, he is a candidate in the race to replace British Prime Minister Theresa May, who resigned recently. He could be the British PM if he beats Boris Johnson and others in the contest.
With such a profile, Hunt is not an ordinary man. He has authority. He has power. He has capacity. He could do and undo. In our clime, such a man must be noticed anywhere he goes or is. There should be some air around him, as a mark of his importance.
Incidentally, Hunt appears to be a man whose simplicity, or should I say maturity, stands him out instead of the office he occupies and the power he wields. Recently, in Glasgow, Scotland, where he addressed the World Editors’ Forum, Hunt showed that the “hood does not make the monk.” He had walked up the podium unheralded at the Scottish Events Campus (SEC) on the dot of the scheduled time for him to speak. There were no aides bearing his papers. There were no policemen clearing the road for him. There was no policeman standing behind him as he read his keynote address.
When he spoke, he did not descend to the gallery. He talked about the issues. He condemned and highlighted attacks on journalists and journalism. And done with his address, he gathered his papers, walked down the podium and out of the auditorium. There was no bevy of aides running after him. As he left, only some delegates to the World Editors’ Forum joined him to get contact. He went to the car park, entered his car and off he went.
Hunt did not attack journalists in his address. He sympathised with them. He noted that, across the world, 99 journalists were killed. He acknowledged that governments globally jailed 348 journalists. He lamented the murder of journalist Lyra McKee, in Northern Ireland; attack of Maria Ressa and her team in Rappler, the Philippines; murder of Jamal Khashoggi; and the imprisonment and later release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo of Reuters in Burma.
Acknowledging the danger journalists face, Hunt said: “We cannot physically stop journalists from being locked up for doing their jobs. But we can alert global public opinion and make sure the diplomatic price is too high.” He underlined the importance of press freedom, saying: “We must promote a free media not solely for practical reasons but because it’s what we stand for. Democracy and freedom of expression mean nothing unless independent journalists are able to scrutinise the powerful – and discover the stubborn facts – however inconvenient this might sometimes be for the politicians on the receiving end.”
I have been thinking about the simple appearance of aspiring British PM Hunt at that Glasgow event and juxtaposing it with the conduct of government officials and, in fact, so-called “big men” in Nigeria. I have come to the conclusion that there seems to be something wrong with us. Were Hunt to be a Nigerian minister, his “low key” outing at the editors’ event would not have been. Our minister would most likely come late. When such a minister moves to mount the podium, many aides would accompany him, carrying his documents and others. Policemen would escort him to the podium. One policeman would stand behind him as he speaks.
Were Hunt a Nigerian, people would have been calling him “His Excellency” now, just because he is aspiring to be PM. Sycophants would be lurking around him, constituting a nuisance and causing distraction. Were he a Nigerian, when he was going, policemen would follow him so that nobody would come close. You would be sure that he would never express sympathy for journalism in his address. He would rather accuse journalists of causing all the problems in the country. He would tell you how tolerant government has been of journalists, and brand media men as supporters of the opposition.
Looking at all these, I must say that the late Dr. Stanley Macebuh, pioneer managing director of The Guardian and former Deputy Chief of Staff to the President, during Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency, was absolutely right when he said most Nigerians were suffering from “over-bloated dignitarianism.” Here, most people who find themselves in important positions change overnight. They become gods and give the impression of being above mortals. Here, most people in power allow the paraphernalia of office to control them. Such people cut access to themselves, read meaning in how people talk or respond to them. They talk to people without respect. They treat people disrespectfully, as if they are sub-humans. They want to be feared by people around them and others having dealings with them. Some of them get offended over superior arguments, as they believe they know it all
This superiority complex cuts across all strata of society, government, associations, schools, religious organisations, companies and homes. It is the product of power intoxication. There was a case of a former minister who fired his aide because the man was on call when he tried to reach him on phone. For him, it was an affront for his aide to be talking with another person on phone when he called. A top journalist told me a story of a former colleague who got appointment as head of a government parastatal. According to him, a few months after the appointment, he saw the man at the airport with four armed policemen closely following him. The man had become an another person entirely, whose importance must be displayed by having many security personnel guarding him. What did the editor do? Shocked by what he saw, he simply avoided the man.
Those in government and other positions should learn a lesson in conduct and comportment. The fact that they hold high office does not make them superhumans. It is rather a privilege to serve. In serving, therefore, there must be high element of responsibility, leadership and humanity. Lessons should be learnt from some Nigerians who are famous, connected, rich and respected, but whose personality has not changed. I would take three Nigerians, one each from the South West, South East and North, for instance. They are Chief Moshood Abiola, the late business mogul and winner of the annulled June 12, 1993, presidential election; former governor of Abia State and senator representing Abia North, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, as well as business magnate and Africa’s richest man, Alhaji Aliko Dangote.
The other day, Mr. Kola Abiola, son of Chief Abiola, said something instructive about his father. Kola said: “If any of his (Abiola) workers had an event in their village, he made sure he attended even if it was for two minutes so that people would know that you are an important person by virtue of him being there. He did it for many years and he was welcomed wherever he went.”
We have heard stories of how Abiola related and treated his workers, those around him and those he encountered. He showed humanity, compassion, respect and dignity. Meet Senator Kalu and you see simplicity and good human relations. He relates with his personal staff, employees and others so well that sometimes you may not know the difference between him and them. Dangote displays an aura of simplicity. He goes about without arrogance, to the extent that he was said to have disembarked from an aircraft for the late Bishop Benson Idahosa to fly, in order to meet up an importance appointment. This quality of being humane does not remove anything from these people.
Amit Ray, in his Mindfulness Meditation for Corporate Leadership and Management, said: “Compassionate leaders honour the complexity of human relationships, nurture authenticity and create common grounds for blooming great ideas of individuals.” There is sense in this postulation.