On Thursday, 19th January, 2023, Mrs Jacinda Adern shocked New Zealanders and the entire world. The zestful and charismatic Mrs Adern, who assumed office as New Zealand’s prime minister at the age of 37, announced at a meeting of the caucus of her country’s governing Labour Party that she was resigning. She had superintended over the affairs of her Island country, which population, according to United Nations data, is 5209,286, for five and half years.
Mrs Adern had announced to a stunned world: ”I’m leaving, because with such a privileged role comes responsibility. The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not. I know what the job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.”
If her compatriots and the world were shocked, there was, expectedly, an outpouring of tributes by world leaders. Notable among them was Anthony Albanese, the prime minister of Australia. Albanese, who is said to have had an inkling of Mrs Adern’s resignation, gushed out that she had written a new rule book for leadership.
He proceeded to pen an op-Ed underscoring her shimmering qualities. Said Albanese: ”Through the sheer power of her example, Jacinda Adern has reminded us all that kindness and strength are not mutually exclusive. Even more importantly, she has shown that a true leader possesses both.”
Three major accomplishments stand Jacinda Adern in bold relief. And they have prompted this avalanche of praises: Her superlative handling of the COVID-19 pandemic; her robust and relentless campaign on climate change; and her deft, sensitive and compassionate handling of the terrorist massacres at Christchurch (city).
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Jacinda Adern shut down tourism. She introduced the highest level (four) lockdown measures in New Zealand: Offices, schools and non-essential services, including bars, restaurants and playgrounds, were closed down. This transformed her country into some hermit kingdom.
The upshot of this strict and massive lockdown is that New Zealand suffered only 1,409 COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths. She, with other five other female leaders at the said time,(Angela Merkel of Germany; Thai Ing-wen of Taiwan; Katrin Jakobsdottir of Iceland; Sanna Marin of Finland; and Erna Solberg of Norway) were adjudged as the best handlers and tamers of the pandemic.
Mrs Adern has been one of the staunchest and most formidable champions of a green world and the fight against carbon emissions. She has described public skepticism towards climate change as the equivalent of “weapons of war”, from which people needed to be protected.
On March 15, 2019, New Zealand experienced one of its worst terrorist attacks. Its Muslim community at Christchurch was attacked as it prayed in two mosques. 51 people were killed. The said attacks were live-streamed on social media by its heartless perpetrators.
Her swift and compassionate handling of the said massacres were reassuring. They were praised around the world. Mrs Adern became a household name in the Muslim world and she was touted as a likely winner of the Nobel peace prize. In the wake of the massacres, her government outlawed semi-automatic weapons in New Zealand.
Apart from these landmark accomplishments, Mrs Jacinda Adern must be lauded for her rare wisdom and candour. She has demonstrated an uncommon knack to know when to exit the stage. Wisdom, a sage once remarked, consists in knowing when to stop. By the same token, a consummate actor departs the stage when the ovation is loudest.
By resigning at the age of 52, when Mrs Adern believes she has burned out and has no value to add to her country, she has demonstrated rare integrity and prudence – qualities not given to politicians. And in a political world given to duplicity and spin, Mrs Adern has not behaved true to type. She was unusually candid and forthright.
More importantly, her departure from the helm of New Zealand’s affairs explodes the APRES MOI LE DELUGE (AFTER-ME-DISASTER) myth, a tendency once championed by the French leader, Louis XV. Instead, it validates another French statesman, General Charles De Gaulle. When fawning bootlickers urged him to hold to power interminably, De Gaulle retorted: ”The graveyards are full of indispensable men.”
Jacinda has verily changed the leadership rule book by underscoring that no one is irreplaceable. She has by her rare courage and sterling example validated what most progressive persons have always canvassed: Women, by dint of their unique endowments, have a lot to bring to the table of development. Mrs Adern and others before her are eloquent proof. Woe betide the country which foolishly drives women to the margins. This is because by sidelining them, such a country shortchanges itself and deprives itself of the benefit of their God-given talents.
In spite of all these, the shinning example of Jacinda Adern must come across in our misbegotten clime as some kind of paradox and a comedy of errors: For while someone at 52 years (who has exerted herself dutifully and diligently for her country) is hankering after a well deserved rest, our beloved, tired and spent forces are desperately jockeying for power – and at the evening of their earthly existence.
This stark and poignant contrast should instruct us. It should inform our choices in the impending general elections beginning next month. Nigeria, with a population of 230 million, is 46 times the population of New Zealand. If the leader of such a country could suffer exhaustion and throw in the towel, should a doddering gerontocrat dare in Nigeria? Could such a daring not be akin to the proverb, to wit: ”Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”?
Nigerians must ponder the edifying example of Jacinda Adern. They should vote wisely.
Dazang writes from Abuja