A Uruguay example: ‘The only good addiction is love’

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WITH our eyes locked firmly on the Nigerian electoral process, and the forthcoming Presidential elections, on the one hand. And battling the creeping and crippling economic crisis in our country, on the other, we can be forgiven for missing some noteworthy events in our world. Early this week, former Marxist guerilla, Jose “Pepe” Mujica ended his tenure as President of the South American Republic of Uruguay.

He was often described as “the world’s poorest president”; for others, he was the “president every other country would like to have”. The BBC’sWyre Davies, who interviewed him recently, argued that “whatever your own particular ‘shade’ of politics, it’s impossible not to be impressed or beguiled by Jose “Pepe” Mujica”. Davies said while the world is certainly full of “principled” politicians, none “comes anywhere close to the outgoing Uruguayan president when it comes to living by one’s principles”.

As president, he refused to live in the presidential palace, choosing instead to remain in his wife’s farmhouse, on the outskirts of Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital. He had only two policemen as his security details plus Manuela, a three-legged dog.

Annual wealth declaration

The president and his wife (also a former Marxist guerilla) worked the land themselves. In 2010, his annual wealth declaration, which is mandatory for all public officials in his country, was just $1, 800, the value of his 1987 Volkswagen Beetle car. It was in 2012, that his assets was “rebased” at the equivalent of $215, 000 when his wife’s assets of land, tractors and a house were added. President Jose “Pepe” Mujica was donating 90% of his monthly salary, equivalent to $12, 000 to charity.

He argued that: “I can live well with what I have”, because “I’ve lived like this most of my life”. He noted that: “I’m called ‘the poorest president’ but I don’t feel poor. Poor people are those who only work to try to keep an expensive lifestyle, and always want more and more.

This is a matter of freedom. If you don’t have many possessions then you don’t need to work all your life like a slave to sustain them, and therefore you have more time for yourself. I may appear to be an eccentric old man…But this is a free choice”.

Solitary confinement: President Mujica was elected in 2009; but he spent the 1960s and 1970s as a member of the Marxist guerilla group, the Tupamaros, which had been inspired by the Cuban Revolution.

He was shot six times and spent 14 years in jail, most of it in very harsh solitary confinement, two of them lying at the bottom of an old horse trough. The experience almost broke him mentally, especially because for about eight years, he was not even allowed to read a book! Mujica said of his experience, that “prison, solitary confinement had a huge influence on me.

I had to find an inner strength”. On his modest lifestyle and the response of people, he argued that: “This world is crazy, crazy! People are amazed by normal things and that obsession worries me!”

He went on: “All I do is live like the majority of my people, not the minority. I’m living a normal life and (other) leaders should also live as their people do. They shouldn’t be aspiring or copying a rich minority”. It is also instructive that he left presidency with Uruguay having what was described as “a relatively healthy economy with social stability” and “the most liberal country in South America”.

He carried out some controversial social and political initiatives, including the legalization of cannabis, which he defended: “Marijuana is another plague, another addiction. Some say its good but no, that’s rubbish. Not marijuana, tobacco or alcohol- THE ONLY GOOD ADDICTION IS LOVE (my emphasis!)!”

He went on that: “But 150, 000 people smoke marijuana here and I couldn’t leave them at the mercy of drug traffickers. It’s easier to control something if it’s legal and that’s why we’ve done this”.

Looting life style: I have brought up this remarkable man’s exemplary lifestyle today, as a contrast to what we have in our country. The political and economic elitesare in cahoots in the looting and underdevelopment of Nigeria.

Our legislators are said to be the richest in the world, and a few weeks ago, it was concluded that the Senate President and Speaker, House of Representatives would be on life pensions.

So Senator David Mark will add his senate pension to the one he collects as a general of the Nigerian Army. In our states, people like Bola Tinubu, Bukola Saraki,Danjuma Goje and GodswillAkpabio, to mention a few, worked unconscionable pensions for themselves, on top of the billions that they accrued running those states over an eight year period.

The public service space has become “privatized” to deny the Nigerian people basic decencies of existence, while those given opportunity to rule, behave like lords, with attitudes worse than those of medieval feudal rulers.

Personal assets

It was in Nigeria, in June 2012, that I asked President Jonathan during the PRESIDENTIAL MEDIA CHAT, why he refused to publicly declare his personal assets and he answered me that: “I DON’T GIVE A DAMN”!

Yet, in our world today, a president of Uruguay declared publicly what he had which made him known as “the world’s poorest president”! President Jonathan was angry when people said Nigerians were poor. No, he said, we have the largest number of private jets in Africa.

Our rulers are addicted to ill-gotten wealth. But President Jose “Pepe” Mujica of Uruguay said “THE ONLY GOOD ADDICTION IS LOVE”; love of the people and of our country!

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