Shettima: Nigeria’s Modern Day Philosopher-King
By Lawan Bukar Maigana
“There will be no end to the troubles of states, or of humanity itself till philosophers become kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.
Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one place… cities will never have rest from their evils.”
There are probably millions of Nigerians and billions of people from around the world, across generations, who have been inspired by the above immortal lines gotten from Plato’s book titled, ‘The Republic,’ which was written around 375 BC. But for the purpose of this piece, let us limit the scope to two prominent Nigerians who lived in two different generations but whose footprints on the sand of time are massive and whose impact on governance, politics, history, literature and the general body of knowledge can never be forgotten.
One of them is Africa’s greatest storyteller, the Late Chinua Achebe, who in his 1983 bestseller, ‘The Trouble with Nigeria,’ placed the blame for the failure of Nigeria to evolve into a proper nation-state, develop it’s economy in line with its world class potential and rise above mediocrity, on leadership. As far as Achebe was concerned, the failure of the Nigerian wing to fly was due to the refusal or failure of the leadership to rise to the occasion and to take responsibility for good governance. Achebe said there was nothing wrong with the Nigerian weather, climate, soil, land or water; that the leadership is all the country needed to fix before it could be taken seriously in the comity of serious nations.
Before unveiling the second example of a contemporary Nigerian whose life trajectory and vision look like what Plato was looking for in leadership, we must fully examine fundamental ideas behind Plato’s definition of a great leader.
The ancient Greek thinker got the idea of a philosopher-king from his teacher and father of Greek Philosophy, Socrates, who defined a philosopher-king as one who loves and cherishes wisdom, has a ceaseless passion for knowledge of any kind, and is always curious and eager to learn, relearn and unlearn. Above all, Socrates deduced that all genuine philosophers love the truth and they damn the consequences of speaking up, no matter whose ox is gored.
Regarded as one of the founders of Western philosophy and among the first moral philosophers of the ethical tradition of thought, Socrates went on to explain why philosophers should rule the city. They should do so since they are better able to know the truth and since they have the relevant practical knowledge by which to rule.
In the evolution of western philosophy, it is believed that Socrates did not do a lot of writing, though some of the ideas that were later expanded and written about by philosophers that succeeded him were originally his. That is why some of his students like Plato were more celebrated than him because they wrote a lot about their discoveries and their elevated knowledge about society, humanity, governance, science etc. On the subject of philosopher-king as well, some of the notable attributes Plato wrote about were from conversations he had with Socrates which the former expanded with deeper and more practical thoughts.
In Plato’s ‘The Republic,’ he wrote that the philosopher-king is a ruler in whom political skill is combined with philosophical knowledge.
Plato believed that philosophers would be the best rulers of society because they are able to understand true goodness and justice in a way that other people cannot. Because they would understand that the greatest self-benefit is living virtuously, they would act out morally and not out of self-interest.
Plato’s ideal state was a republic with three categories of citizens: artisans, auxiliaries, and philosopher-kings, each of whom possessed distinct natures and capacities. Those proclivities, moreover, reflected a particular combination of elements within one’s tripartite soul, composed of appetite, spirit, and reason.
Plato’s ideal and just state is an aristocracy, the rule of the best. He believed leaders needed to be wise and trained on how to run a state, just as captains of ships are trained on how to run a ship.
Being an indigene and resident (for many years) of Borno state, watching Shettima speak, in and out of government, and displaying his depth of knowledge and erudition; watching him espouse brilliant ideas on corporate governance at state and national levels; seeing him put his life on the line and boldly leading the people in the face of adversity and daring the dreaded Boko Haram terrorists; seeing him show empathy and prioritising the people’s welfare, safety and security; studying his sense of fairness and justice, and grasp of right and wrong; and having read and digested Plato’s time-tested idea of the kind of persons that should lead people, I was trying to conclude that this man must be a very good example of the great leader Plato wrote glowingly about centuries ago. But before I made my thoughts public, Shettima himself said it as if he stole it from my mouth.
Talking about the secret behind his robust relationship with his hardworking successor, Governor Babagana Zulum, in a recent interview with Daily Trust, Shettima called himself a philosopher-king who understands the intricacies and trappings of power and knows how and when to let go and let others shine when it is their turn instead of seeking to outshine them, and most importantly, putting the good of the state above personal interests.
Shettima said: “I am a philosopher-king, and none of the vagaries of power holds much tenacious attraction to me. In life, as in politics, there are the winter years; you go into hibernation and blossom during the summer period. I held sway for eight years, but when a new sheriff came into town I had to move up to a higher plane and went off the radar and allowed him to blossom and call the shots.”
There is no doubting the fact that Shettima is indeed a philosopher-king in the mould of the great leader Plato endorsed. His remarkable eight years in office as Borno state governor, the humility and selflessness he brings into his dealings with his successor, the sheer brilliance he puts into discussing issues of politics and governance, his selfless and fearless pursuit of truth and equity, and the fair and just direction he wants his party and the country to go in the 2023 elections, all combine to testify to the above fact that he is indeed a contemporary philosopher-king.
With a philosopher-king like Shettima hovering around the polity, the future is bright for Nigeria and Nigerians.
Lawan Bukar Maigana writes from Wuye District Abuja and can be reached at [email protected]