19-year old Daniel Usman is dead. He was shot dead by gunmen while trying to exercise his civic duty. Daniel is only one of the many victims of the just concluded presidential elections. At the last count, about 37 people have been reported killed and many others, injured as an aftermath of the unrest in different parts of the country during the voting exercise. Even as I write this, there’s tension in Oshodi, a suburb of Lagos, as thugs look to disrupt normal trading activities; it leaves one wondering if we’ll ever get to the point where politics will be practised without rancour.
I have been pondering the subject of ambition—the desire to achieve a goal—and how far the archetypal Nigerian will go to fulfil it, and the last couple of months has offered a glimpse into the answer. The political season is in full swing and the mash-up of bad blood and shenanigans that have ensued offers an ideal case study. It’s a period where people will sell their soul for a few wads of cash.
The front runners in the race for president also presented an intriguing insight with the way they approached their aspiration. First, we have Atiku Abubakar, a former vice-president and second citizen of Nigeria for eight solid years. And then, the incumbent, (and now president-elect) President Muhammadu Buhari who has been a force to reckon with as far back as the mid-sixties when he participated in his first coup. Since then, the lanky septuagenarian has been a Federal Commissioner of Petroleum and Natural Resources, a Head of State, a democratically-elected president. Both Atiku and Buhari have also contested for the presidency at least three times before. Two men who aren’t willing give up on their quest for power.
Their unrelenting determination to lead Nigeria informed their decision to cross-carpet between parties several times while even becoming allies at some point. And if what we hear about politics is anything to go by, this may not be such a bad thing. However, when one considers the vicious verbal attacks (online and offline) as well as the multiple deaths that have been recorded in the build-up to and during the elections, the natural response is to weigh the price of ambition.
What are the limits when it comes to personal ambition?
It’s worth ruminating on. While many of us may not nurse the lofty desire to be president, our individual pursuits and desires, particularly as regards career should be subject to scrutiny, We may criticise and condemn politicians for having a devil-may-care attitude towards actualising their ambition, but a little introspection will help us realise we aren’t entirely guiltless too.
The power play and cold wars that are enacted in many homes and workplaces are reminiscent of what happens in politics. In many offices, people backstab and snitch on a colleague just to thwart their chances of getting a promotion; subordinates gang up to oust bosses, best friends break their “bro code” in the pursuit of wealth, and allies betray each other to get ahead.
The desperation to do well is palpable. Everyone wants to excel; we crave fulfilment and we’ll do almost anything to see our dreams come to fruition. It’s one of the banes of a society where success at all costs is preached incessantly. Because poverty is rife and uncertainty is the hallmark of our policies and way of life, everyone is constantly on their toes.
We are streetwise, alert, precocious and desirous of more.
Ambition is a good thing. I consider myself ambitious, and I am always seeking to be better in order to achieve my goals. However, when one’s ambition is to the detriment of others, then they must begin to reassess it. The presidential elections have been won and lost but at the expense of innocent souls. People who have families who are currently mourning them while the rest of us continue to live our lives.
The unabashed quest for riches is responsible for the proliferation of fraudsters and ritualists we see around. The rabid hunger for prestige is why governors in these parts make the Senate their retirement home after their tenure in office. Unchecked ambition gives rise to avarice; a development that transforms the individual into a desperado.
The elections have been won and lost, but many have lost bigger things: their integrity, their values, and friendships they have built over time. They may be materially better off from the largesse of corrupt politicians, but they are also devoid of the peace that derives from doing right.