Professor Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. was one of seven professors who facilitated a leadership training in Georgia for politicians in Nigeria.
His positions are factual and evidently visible. He wrote about how power literally damages the brains of people who wield it and causes them to be dissociated from reality.
However, his proposition was rejected by other facilitators at the training. The criticism were defeated after he expounded his journal by giving the theory a credence.
He wondered why some known human rights activists and politicians outside the realms of power suddenly become worse and deny the same things they once protested against.
"Almost everyone I know wonders why people in power change radically; why they become so utterly disconnected from reality that they suddenly become completely unrecognizable to people who knew them before they got to power. They get puffed-up, susceptible to flattery, and intolerant of even the mildest, best intention censure. Why they appear possessed by inexplicably malignant forces; and why they are notoriously insensitive and self-absorbed.
He reiterated that those with friends in a position of power, especially political power, can attest to the accuracy of the age-old truism that is lost.
Of course, there are exceptions, but it is precisely the fact of the existence of exceptions that makes this reality poignant. The exception proves the rule,” he expounded.
Farouk referred to one of Abraham Lincoln's famous quotes, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. He referred the quotation as an examples of political office holders in Nigeria.
Look at all the power brokers in Nigeria—from the president to your ward councilor—and you’ll discover that there is a vast disconnect between who they were before they got to power and who they are now.
He further narrated the previously arrogant, narcissistic, power-drunk prigs who have been kicked out of the orbit of power for any number of reasons.
What Is It About Power?
You’ll discover that they are suddenly normal again. They share our pains, make pious noises, condemn abuse of power, and identify with popular causes. The legendary amnesia of Nigerians causes the past misdeeds of these previous monsters of power to be explained away, lessened, forgiven, and ultimately forgotten. But when they get back to power again, they become the same insensitive beasts of power that they once were."
Many psychologists have been grappling with this puzzle for years and have a clue. Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at the University of California Berkeley, extensively studied the brains of people in power and found that people under the influence of power are neurologically similar to people who suffer traumatic brain injury.
According to the July-August 2017 issue of the Atlantic magazine, people who are victims of traumatic brain injury are more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, crucially, less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view. The study indicate that victims of traumatic brain injury, power causes people to lose their capacity for empathy. This is a surprising scientific corroboration of American historian Henry Adams’ popular wisecrack about how power is like a tumor that end killing killing people.
The findings of Sukhvinder Obhi, a professor of neuroscience at McMaster University, in Ontario, Canada, are even more revealing. Obhi also studies the workings of the human brain. “And when he put the heads of the powerful and the not-so-powerful under a transcranial-magnetic-stimulation machine, he found that power, in fact, impairs a specific neural process, ‘mirroring,’ that may be a cornerstone of empathy,” the Atlantic reports. “Which gives a neurological basis to what Keltner has termed the ‘power paradox’: Once we have power, we lose some of the capacities we needed to gain it in the first place.”
He gave an example of Muhammadu Buhari, who prior to 2015, was—or at least appeared to be empathetic. He supported subsidies for the poor, railed against waste, thought Nigerians deserved to buy petrol at a low price because Nigerian oil was “developed with Nigerian capital,” and so on. He even said foreign medical treatment for elected government officials was immoral and indefensible, and wondered why a Nigerian president would need a fleet of aircraft when even the British Prime Minister didn’t have any.
Nothing but power-induced brain damage, which activates narcissism and loss of empathy, can explain Buhari’s dramatic volte-face now that he’s in power. This fact, psychological researchers say, is worsened by the fact that subordinates tend to flatter people in power, mimic their ways in order to ingratiate themselves with them, and shield them from realities that might cause them psychic discomfort.
“But more important, Keltner says, is the fact that the powerful stop mimicking others,” the Atlantic reports. “Laughing when others laugh or tensing when others tense does more than ingratiate. It helps trigger the same feelings those others are experiencing and provides a window into where they are coming from. Powerful people ‘stop simulating the experience of others,’ Keltner says, which leads to what he calls an ‘empathy deficit.’”
Researchers also found out that excessive praise from subordinates, sycophantic drooling from people seeking favors, control over vast resources they once didn’t have, and all of the staid rituals and performances of power conspire to cause “functional” changes to the brains of people in power. On a social level, it also creates what Lord David Owen, a British neurologist-turned-politician, called the “hubris syndrome” in his 2008 book titled In Sickness and in Power.
Some features of hubris syndrome, Owen points out, are, “manifest contempt for others, loss of contact with reality, restless or reckless actions, and displays of incompetence.” Sounds familiar? You can’t observe Buhari’s governance—or, more correctly, ungovernance—in the last four years and fail to see these features in him.
But it’s not all gloom and doom. Powerful people can, and indeed do, extricate themselves from the psychological snares of power if they so desire. Professor Keltner said one of the most effective psychological strategies for people in power to reconnect with reality and reverse the brain damage of power is to periodically remember moments of powerlessness in their lives—such as when they were victims natural disasters, accidents, poverty, etc.
They should also have what American journalist Louis McHenry Howe once called a “toe holder,” that is, someone who doesn’t fear them, expects no favors from them, and can tell them uncomfortable truths without fear of consequences.
Winston Churchill’s toe holder was his wife, who once wrote a letter to him that read, in part, “I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner; & you are not as kind as you used to be.”
Many African leaders do not have a toe holder. They appear to be all in all, for themselves and by themselves.
Another potent way to reverse power-induced brain damage according to the Professor is to "periodically get out of the protected silos of power and solitary observe the quotidian interactions of everyday folks—their humor, laughter, fights, etc. — without the familiar add-ons of power, such as aides, cameras, security, etc. This helps to stimulate the experiences of others and restore empathy."
Farouk's position is timely and necessary for all would-be leaders and the present ones on the continent. Will they even accept the brain damage remark? I doubt it.
Header Image Credit: mmjdoctor.com