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Finding The Balance

N. F. Kenure

Last week, I attended ceremonies at two different schools, and I was struck by their stark contrasts, despite both events serving the same purpose. The concepts of 'acknowledgement' and 'ceremony' embody the differences I observed.


At the first school, six students casually walked onto the stage after being announced as the new student council leaders. The assembly, comprising students and parents, offered a brief applause—lasting all of ten seconds—before the student leaders announced a free dress day to celebrate, a celebration that included all other students. And just like that, the moment was over.

 Now the second was a ceremony. The only thing lacking was pots of jollof and drinks. Parents and well wishers were in attandence, they had been informed in advance that their children/wards had been carefully selected after attending a leader’s training camp earlier in the past school year, a screening by the school administration and subsequent voting by their peers. These students, about twenty in all, were the new prefects of the elementary school and were to be feted with all the aplomb that their new positions demandedsome with designations that I did not understand.

 When I walked into the assembly hall as part of the contingent of well wishers, I was almost as excited as my friend was for her son. This event meant the world to her as this validation was a timely and well needed boost to her son's self esteem. The hall had been decorated and the ceremony was pronounced an ‘investiture’, which was my first cue as to how serious the day would be. Another friend, part of our posse of celebrants, declared that at her kids’ school, a lawyer was invited to swear in the kids as prefects and I wondered privately if it all wasn't a bit much.

 The students and their new positions were announced individually, they enjoyed a long walk amidst applause to the stage, a badge was pinned on ceremoniously with the intermittent flashing of a cameraman. As the announcer worked her way up the hierarchy of elementary prefectsI of course noted that the apex of this was the head boy, for whom the DJ suddenly played Right Said Fred’s Stand up for the Champion, to a rousing  standing ovation. It soon dawned on me that there were tears all around me, all kinds of tears. Amidst this, I noticed tears of joy, pride, and disappointment mingling in the crowd.

Despite the school administrators' reassurances, those who weren't selected as prefects felt like losers—a sentiment hard to dispel. It didn't matter how many times the school’s administrators said they weren't, and that everyone couldn't be a leader or that the new prefects shouldn't think too much of themselves. The formalities came to a close with another round of prayers.


As I made to leave, we were informed there was to be a more intimate ceremony for the new prefects and their guardians with light refreshments. Again, I struggled privately with what I knew this attainment meant to my friend versus what the excesses of the day signified.


In the smaller reception room, parents were invited to pray and give words of advice to the new leaders and even tasked with remembering that they too had new positions to play as the parents of prefects and needed to comport themselves as such. It seemed to me like the adults were saying one thing to the kids but exhibiting something else. At least two parents said as they beamed with pride that the kids ought to remember that leadership meant service, but all the children could smell what this really was–power.


Comparing this to Boris Johnson's unceremonious succession of Theresa May, the disparity in cultural approaches to leadership transition was evident. Nigerians marvelled at the lack of pageantry, a whole new Prime Minister and no asoebi was sewn? Basic acknowledgment versus ceremony! The divide is no thin line. How much celebration does a leadership appointment warrant? A simple pat on the back? A big commemoration with all the trimmings? Or something right in the middle? The question then arises: What degree of celebration is appropriate for a leadership role? Should it be a simple acknowledgement or a grand ceremony?

I find myself increasingly curious about the potential correlation between grand investiture ceremonies and the subsequent abuse of power. These ceremonies, often marked by opulence and a high degree of ceremonial pageantry, are designed to legitimize and celebrate the assumption of power by leaders across various spheres. However, one wonders if the grandiosity of such events might also embolden a sense of entitlement or invincibility that could lead to governance challenges, including the misuse of authority. Does the spectacle and pomp surrounding these ceremonies contribute to a disconnect between leaders and the populace, possibly paving the way for governance that leans towards autocracy rather than democracy? The exploration of this relationship could offer intriguing insights into how the rituals of power might influence the behaviour and decision-making processes of those in high office.


There’s generally nothing wrong with a little celebration especially for proper achievements like acing a test or winning competitvely. But for positions of leadership, if service is truly expected especially in these parts, maybe we ought to think about dialling down the ‘champion’ bit, just a notch.



Sep 23, 2019