LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM THE ABSALOM TRAGEDY
What has Absalom’s story got to do with leadership in a crisis you may ask? Today, a lot of citizens, particularly the younger ones are bitter, aggrieved, and have no iota of trust for the government. Some, if given the opportunity, will burn the country to the ground. How did we get here? Are we posturing on collectively healing and carrying everyone along? It does not feel so. Let us dig in.
In a crisis, the potential of having poor judgement and making poor decisions can be extremely high. And when you are leading or you are one of the many leaders in a complex nation like Nigeria, the fear of failure can even feel much closer. The past few weeks have had everything, from pent-up anger and frustration because of a pandemic that has refused to disappear. Now tensions are high across the country. There is not a better time for leaders to show up and lead the right transformation.
They say it all falls and rises with leadership. Typically, what happens if history serves as a good teacher, is that some leaders under immense pressure tend to switch into the command-and-control mode. It may come in the form of hyperbolic promises that may not be consistent with actions or even not authentic at all. Military metaphors proliferate and the like.
Nigeria needs strong leadership at this point. The ability to cope with change. The ambiguity and uncertainty should be met with the formulation of a strong shared sense of meaning; defining a purpose and working towards it together including captains of industries, citizens, thought leaders, and the like to explore and define that meaning together.
King David was recorded in the scriptures as having described Absalom as “young.” So, let us assume he represents the youth in Nigeria today. This group feels disenfranchised from the system. Most do not see themselves as a stakeholder or feel that they matter in the scheme of things. Like Absalom, they feel the system has done nothing or has turned deaf ears to their yearnings for justice.
Take for example the rogue officers of the SARS unit. Despite the cries for years, the appeals, and even evidence of extrajudicial killings, abuse of human rights, and extortion, not much had been done till it escalated and led to the #endsars movement.
Absalom felt his Father King David did little or nothing to get his sister justice. Life just went back to normal with Amnon, his half-brother who had not only raped his sister but humiliated her by throwing her out of his place after the act. There were no consequences for such heinous and abominable crime. Kind David just got angry and that was it. He did nothing else. Nothing. Does this sound familiar?
This decision, or should I say a lack of it triggered the next actions the young Prince Absalom took. He waited for justice and as he did not get any, he plotted to avenge his sister’s humiliation over two years and eventually had his brother murdered in cold blood. Those two years of wait turned the young man into a cold-hearted beast. And he did not just stop at murder, he proceeded to commit the very act Amnon was accused of. Absalom went on to rape all his father’s concubines in the full glare of the citizens. He also plotted with enablers to seize the throne and kill his father in the process.
We cannot continue to run this country this way. We need to not just talk about reforms but swiftly introduce these reforms and speed up the implementation. As the government is swiftly clamping down on prominent figures of the #endsars protests for reasons not so clear yet, can they speed up the punishment of rogue officers of the SARS unit and police officers that assaulted peaceful protesters as well?
Absalom’s quest to avenge his sister’s rape led him to commit murder and as a young lion that had tasted blood, he longed for more. So, from being a murderer, he became a rapist just like Amnon, who he despised so much. All this could have been avoided if punitive actions were meted out on Amnon in the first instance.
There would not have been bloodshed, war, and strife amongst relatives. Almost felt like Amnon was more valuable than poor Tamar. Nigerian youths feel the same. Like their lives do not matter hence the attitude of leaders not driving aggressively the current system structured to oppress them.
The king’s inaction was the genesis of all the drama that ensued after Tamar’s rape. The longer people suffer from injustice, the more bitter they get. And bitterness never walks alone. Like misery, it loves company. Over time, a bitter person starts becoming vindictive, accommodates animosity, becomes vengeful, and belligerent. And if this goes unchecked, fatality may be recorded.
And sadly, it will not stop there. Because of their anger, they can get overtly emotional and erratic in their thinking which makes them willing tools for people with sinister motives.
Absalom was living with the victim because, after the rape, she moved to his home. Every time he saw or heard his sister cry, he was reminded of his father’s “apathy.” And his hatred and lack of trust for his father must have grown.
He must have seen the hurt, countless weeping, and shame his sister had to endure. Many are seeing injustice every day today in Nigeria. A soldier can jump out of his car and beat a citizen to stupor simply because he is in the army. The video goes viral, and nothing happens. The military does not discipline him or hand him his marching orders. What message are we sending to young recruits in the military? I will tell you. “All you need is this uniform, and you can unleash hell on civilians with impunity.”
A government that can track banking activities of #Endsars protesters and its security operatives are kidnapping instead of inviting citizens for questioning must be able to investigate the alleged crimes perpetrated by James Nwafor of Awkuzi, track him, and if found guilty face the full wrath of the law. Security agencies cannot arrest and parade “alleged fraudsters” in public while politicians that team up to steal the commonwealth of the country walk free or use the court of law to frustrate justice.
Like King David, the government’s inaction has and will continue to breed millions of Absalom’s that will one day no longer put up with corruption, greed, apathy, and mere words. Only action will do. The Absalom’s are bitter, they are ready to cause mayhem, they want justice. Now is the time for actions to speak louder than words. If things continue this way, the Absalom’s will take law into their own hands and get jungle justice.
Think about this for a second… he hated and plotted to kill his brother over what? Rape, right? But he eventually went on to rape other women as well.
The only way out right now is a different type of leadership. A servant type of leadership. The type of Jesus Christ portrayed when he washed the feet of all his disciples. Leadership that shows empathy. Leadership that listens, authentic leadership that represents them and their interests first. A leadership that thinks in the manner of us and later solutions.
A word is enough for the wise and the Septuagenarian(s).