In my little years as a trained media and Communications professional, I had scanned international political arena for great leaders. My conclusion is it will be unwise to say our world lacks supposedly great leaders who can turnaround things. But major problem of such individuals are sycophants around them.
For many sane leaders, says Daniel Vasella, former Novartis Chairman, the urge to be successful with a lofty aim of reaching great heights is very intoxicating. But the pattern of advices they take and the choice of their advisors often leads to distortion of such goals. For political leaders, most of these advisers are foist on them or are chosen because of their indebtedness to them.
The trouble with political leaders, in this instance, is that they never learn from history as many will rather rely on their own press. Not many want to fail. It is a common knowledge, not all failed leaders are bad. Those who eventually failed woefully are not necessarily bad people. Most of them lose their moral compass through yielding to various seductions and caprices of selfish advisors.
Within Nigeria setting, many sycophants wear different dresses. They can be aides, special advisers; media consultants, friends and families of the leaders, school mates and old associations the leaders belong to amidst others. We need to state clearly there are thorough-bred, value based professionals amongst the listed name above. Just like the Holy writs says ‘amongst my people are wicked and egocentric people’. If in doubt you may ask former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Sometime it may be difficult to distinguish between who is who. But one will not miss sycophants because they live traces. For them ideas and opinions are always politicised. Every contrary opinion to what they believe is the voice of opposition who do not wish their lords well. They do nothing else but offer conflicting advices which are over politicised. There are always conflicts of interest in term of what is good for the generality and what is good for their purses and paymasters.
Sycophants help simplified the issue of corruption, which is a killer epidemic in many developing countries, for their paymasters. They tell them it is what it is and others do it. They give technocrat advice on how to create the loopholes as well as hack government funding without getting cut.
Sycophants in the corridors of power are conduit for excessive leakage and massive looting. More importantly you do not miss sycophants at the corridors of government because they do not have evidence of professional training in the role they play, neither do they have enviable track record known outside ‘political jobber’ nor an enviable personal profile. In most cases you cannot find any of their inspiring profiles, online or offline. In other words they are often faceless and do serve only as attack dogs. I am sure some will remember some known names by now.
Are there no great and principled advisors? There are great examples. For instance how King David would had survived without the counsel of Ahitophel before his wisdom was corrupted. What about Nathaniel who would confront same King for the murder and illegal acquisition of the wife of one of his generals in the army. Jacqueline Rose in her book also talked glowingly of Arthur Sinodimos, as Chief Of Staff, during Prime Minister Howard’s reign in United Kingdom. Arthur was considered an integral part of Howard’s successful performance without enforcing or controlling Prime Minister Howard.
Great advisors don’t assume they know it all. Sometime they help bounce off the idea with the people/governed to be sure the outcome will be great. But sycophants will politicised every issues and look for the selfish beneficial ways which can increase their purses only. Their bellies are their gods. Everything is rated based on how much they can take away personally.
Despite all the challenges posed by sycophants in different dresses, it is also a global tragedy advisors are always hired in drove. Each successive government always promise a reduction in numbers of their advisors but they often do the opposite. The reason is they find out, political leaders are overloaded with many issues they do not have strong skills in and they have to depend on advisors.
More on the needs for advisors within political setting, Jacqueline Rose in her Book ‘The Problem of Political Counsel in Medieval and Early Modern England and Scotland’ explained the importance, needs and challenges of Political counsel. It is a means to good rule. It is essential elements of any political system required for effective daily work of the body polity. No great rulers can do away with counsels as they are not all knowing. Great advisors therefore are helpful assistance in this regard if political leaders must fulfil personal their and national goals
In all, the failure of political leaders cannot also be wholly blamed on the sycophants-counsellors or advisers. Much of their own failures depend on who they are as leaders.
It has been proven leaders who know what they want in term of good governance and performance indices; understand their policy focus and are passionate for real change are not subjected to selfish wiles of their advisors. Only weak and inexperienced, egocentric leaders fall into the ditch created by their advisors.
Political leaders need to know their names are at stake and not the name of their political jobbers. Political leaders will be remembered in history for whatever outcomes they deliver.
My candid advice for sycophants who serve as attack dogs is to check history and see the end of their forerunners. In Most cases, many of their forerunners wished they had laid a better legacy their children would be proud of.
*Yinka Olaito is a Media and communications specialist based in Lagos Nigeria.