Indeed, the truth in the statement above cannot be denied. I totally agree with it.
Before presenting my points, however, I would want to explain three key words in the topic: ‘adversity’, ‘character’ and ‘power’, for better understanding.
The Oxford Advanced Learners’ dictionary defines ‘adversity’ as a state of misfortune or calamity. It also defines ‘character’ as a distinguishing feature and ‘power’ as control, particularly legal or political.
Anyone facing adversity is limited in many ways. He/ she may be short of money or unemployed, may be facing one or more health challenge(s) etc. In this state, such an individual has no option but to face the challenge(s) in humility. At such times, it is not strange to see such a person engage in prayers to God or any other superior being he/she may believe in with humility with the belief the adverse condition will change for the better. It is also common to see such individuals reaching out through the media to the general public for assistance totally without any iota of pride. His/her character, at such moments, is usually pious or holy whether he/she likes it or not.
A case in point is that of a man whose name I would prefer not to mention who came on national television recently to ask for funds from the general public to enable him undergo needed operations in India involving a kidney transplant. He broke down in tears towards the end of his soliciting. Luckily, the public responded positively and he is currently in India.
On the contrary, however, an individual who holds power is usually intoxicated. John Emerich Dalberg also known as Lord Acton in his letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887 once said: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
The individual holding power, especially political power over a territory, usually has access to plenty of funds, has great influence etc. This can affect his character and make him misbehave very easily.
It is at this point we truly know a person’s true nature or character. Base individuals, who would usually have pretended to be holy or pious, begin to show their true nature at this point. Some may not have pretended to be pious but the sheer quantity of money and influence at their disposal could intoxicate them and make them misbehave.
The world has witnessed the reign of many of such persons holding the highest political office in their countries. Some even still exist today. A few examples in Africa include Idi Amin Dada of Uganda who almost named the country after himself at the peak of his power and prosperity. He brutally crushed any real or perceived opposition and he is directly responsible for the death of over five hundred thousand persons. Another is Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire who embezzled over five billion dollars from his poor country. Samuel Doe of Liberia, Moumar Gaddafi of Libya and Sanni Abacha of Nigeria are few of these former rulers. Those still alive include Paul Biya of Cameroon and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. These men have governed their countries for over 30 years and keep tinkering with their countries’ constitutions to prolong their stay in office perpetually.
Other continents have had their own share of the reign of such individuals who have gotten intoxicated and abused the trust of the people they governed. A few include Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania, Adolf Hitler of Germany, Benito Mussolini of Italy, Saddam Hussein of Iraq etc. Hitler alone is responsible for the death of six million Jews!
It is pertinent to point out that most of these men, if not all of them, started out as Messiahs to their people. They came in dressed in sheep’s clothing only to turn out to be wolves due to the intoxicating nature of power. The people of Uganda, for example, danced openly on the streets when Idi Amin toppled Milton Obote in a coup only for him to change colours after consolidating his hold on power.
Apart from brutally crushing opposition, stealing their countries’ money and lodging same in foreign accounts, some have gone ahead to marry several wives while keeping countless mistresses.
To check such, advanced democracies have gone ahead to ensure power is checked by introducing the idea of Separation of Powers as was taught by Baron de Montesquieu in his book-The Spirit of the Laws– and by ensuring the idea of the Rule of Law which posits that all citizens, including government officials, are subject to the law is strictly adhered to.
Countries like the United States of America, the United Kingdom, France etc that have built their democracies on these ideas, have had no cases of such abuse of power since they started operating under them. Beforethe introduction of these ideas, for example, Napoleon Bonaparte held sway in France after capitalizing on the people,s revolution to remove the ancien regim or old order and cease power. No sooner had he consolidated his hold on power than he became a dictator. Such incidents have stopped since these ideas were introduced, however. In America, for instance, President Richard Nixon was forced to resign in 1972 after the Watergate scandal revealed he got power dubiously.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for some countries especially in Africa where democratic institutions are weak. It is not strange, for instance, for the President to appoint the Chief Judge, head of the electoral commission that oversees all elections, the head of the body responsible for fighting economic crimes, to mention a few, unilaterally. Such should be checked by building strong institutions and not strong men or leaders.
One can, therefore, conclude this write-up by saying, indeed: “Many men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”.