PLATO’S NOTION OF PHILOSOPHER KING, AND NIGERIAN LEADERS, A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS
Plato was a writer, a thinker and a teacher. He stands with Socrates and Aristotle as one of the shapers of the whole intellectual tradition of the West. “He came from a family that had long, played a prominent part in Athenian politics, and it would have been natural for him to follow the same course. He declined to do so, however disguised by the violence and corruption of Athenian political life, and sickened especially by the execution in 399Bc of his friend and teacher, Socrates.” Plato sought a cure for the ills of society, not in politics, but in philosophy. It is because of this political instability in Athenian society that Plato wrote his famous book, “The Republic”, and arrived at his fundamental and lasting conviction that those ills would never cease until philosophers become rulers or rulers become philosophers. He believes in the “ideal State”. To Plato, it seemed natural that competence should be the qualification for authority. The ruler of the State should be one who has the peculiar abilities to fulfill that function. Looking at history, the world can boast of some rulers who had natural competence, rulers who are philosophically inclined and these same rulers gave a good account of themselves when they ruled. Some of these great rulers are Odumegwu Emeka Ojukwu, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Martin Luther King Junior of America, Mahatma Gandhi of India, kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal, Ken Saro Wiwa etc. These great men of history distinguished themselves as prominent and reliable personalities during the difficult periods by helping to bring under control, moments of hardships and difficulty. During the most difficult moment for the Igbo’s (Biafran War), Sir Odumegwu Ojukwu stood as a giant between the poor and helpless Igbo’s and their armed enemies. He left everything he owed, believing to die for his people. Nelson Mandela of South Africa showed what is takes to be a great leader, by choosing to be on the side of his people, and remain in prison to being on the side of the enemies, and becoming free.
Taking a look at the situation in Nigerian politics, it seems that we (Nigerians), like the Athenians, are faced with the same leadership problems. Our today leaders have proved to be incapable and philosophically uncritical. This has seriously affected us negatively both socially, politically an economically. With Plato’s Republic, all hope is not lost on our political leaders. Since Plato’s Republic was written in order to arrest the political quagmire in Athens, we hope that Nigerian leaders will become philosophers. “Plato’s idea of rulers becoming philosophers or philosophers becoming rulers is a positive idea.” It has helped towards the development and liberation of many countries like Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania, India, etc. He had through his Republic, saved many societies, countries, from difficult moments or early extinction. It is highly commendable. Plato, through the Academy, which he founded, trained young men who are to be philosophically sound, so as to be qualified to become future philosopher kings. Plato, The Republic, trans.by Desmond Lee, Great Britain, Haze Watson pub. Ltd.1980, p. 1  Ibid p. 2