Generally speaking, Nigeria is a great nation with great people. A country endowed with natural resources and blessed with enlightened Men and women. A country whose technocrats and experts in various fields are respected and sought after in developed countries.
Why it is then that Nigeria has continuously been ranked high in corruption? Where were the scholars when clowns and the court jesters overran the polity and lay waste our national heritage? Where were the bearers of truth and justice when the agents of falsehood and deceit ascended the throne and bestrode the land, poisoning the national environment and propagating the stench of discontent? Where were the shining stars and beacons of light as the garrison commanders and greedy godfathers conspired to dispossess Nigeria of all her dignity and respectability?
In an attempt to find an answer to this I came to the reality that the problem of Nigeria has become highly complex and complicated that it is difficult and will not be correct to point at one sector as the problem of Nigeria right now due to failed system and bad leadership.
The expectations of citizens for good governance were quite high when Nigeria returned to the democratic system of government in 1999 after decades of military rule. Nigerians were looking forward to reaping the dividends of democracy. The narrative was that the military was delinquent, corrupt, dictatorial and unaccountable; and democracy would offer answers to critical matters such as poverty, unemployment, absence of basic infrastructure, corruption among many others. Believing our politicians had picked a few lessons from the catastrophe of the first, second and third republics, we entered the fourth, full of hope.
The progress of any nation rests on the stature or standard of its leadership, and how it can bring this to bear on the welfare of its people. No nation can enjoy lasting peace if her citizens live in abject poverty particularly if that nation is acknowledged as having the substantial means to provide development and guarantee good standard of living. Unfortunately, that is the tale of Nigeria. It is a tale of poor governance, insecurity and poverty in the midst of plenty. Nigeria has enjoyed several cycles of oil boom, but our leaders have in all ramifications failed to convert oil income into development of human capital and critical sectors such as the transport, infrastructure, health, education, agriculture or investment in foreign assets as other resource—rich countries have done with their oil income.
On the other hand, our much hyped leaders introduced the politics of recycled succession and nepotism; where the first elected person in this so called democracy have positioned themselves and recycled themselves and their relatives around their political interest. That philosophy has made it grim for anybody, particularly young people, to rise from outside and become anything significant in our political space without acquiescing the role of a godfather.
In Nigeria, the power of the political class is determined by how economically robust one is just as ones economic position is determined by ones political power. This clarifies why our democracy just would not work. The rich and powerful will do whatever it takes to have, control and continue in power; because to them it is the unquestionable way to more economic breakthrough. No wonder then that in these convoluted times, many of our youths are taking to crime. No wonder our students are indulging more and more in cultism and perfecting the language of the underworld. No wonder our notoriety is growing with the most intuitive scammers in our climes, even as we are touted to be the happiest people on earth. Balanced against our endowment and potential, our circumstances in this country suggest that we have had neither a listening nor learning leadership. Despite all tools and resources available to our society, the evidence abounds that what leadership we have in place at critical national level and at other levels is often self-serving and opportunistic.
Our lives in Nigeria have in recent times been dominated by worsening security situation, manifested in sporadic violent skirmishes, armed robbery, arson, politically motivated assassinations, massive youth unemployment and acrimonious poverty. Ours remains a country where millions are under nourished, where economic, education, health and social infrastructures are collapsed and tottering. In contradistinction to this national scenario is political leadership class that wallows in financial and economic constipation and self—adulation. We are progressively sick and worn-out of a democracy that has demonstrated to be worse than the military. If our political leaders linger in their ride of corruption, misrule, looting and failure to protect the citizen of its nation, the rising tendency to survive without the government will push the society further apart.
A country devoid of visionary leaders and integrity can hardly experience stability and peace. Leaders with vision inspire citizens and mobilize them for nation building. Leaders with crystal motives employ wisdom, foresight, sense of purpose and commitment, to galvanize a people towards self-actualization and propel the national spirit in them.
History throws up quite a few outstanding leaders, true heroes of their time, who set the moral and political tones for their societies. Such leaders were Winston Churchill of Britain, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, George Washington of America, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Charles De Gaulle of France, Mahatma Gandhi of India, and Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore to mention but a few.
Where public figures exemplify the sterling qualities of leadership, the rub off on the society at large and invest citizens with the patriotic fervor. But where as in Nigeria, a country plagued by rogue leadership, where it is dominated by treasury looting, election rigging, political brigandage and assignation—in such decent and public spirited individuals are disparaged and discouraged from participating in the resultant dirty politics. Many with altruistic intentions, who venture, end up being compromised and they join the bandwagon. And where a political system is dominated by greedy elements, such characters even if perceived to pursue politics with ‘’blood-thirsty’’ devotion, cannot provide what it takes to lead a country to peace and prosperity.
With this reality on ground today, where the masses are more and more depressed in all sectors, the gap is ever widening between them and a leadership feeding fat and getting richer by the day, a leadership enjoying self-awarded honors and prerequisites, with their wards often comfortably ensconced in foreign lands.
Only yesterday, many of these political parasites were out there, gaunt and hungry like the rest of us, bemoaning their lean fortunes. But today, they have metamorphosed into deities who are no longer sharing the pains in the land. The story of our kind of leadership is akin to the one told in the Holy Bible (Ezekiel 34), where the shepherds of Israel, rather than feed and tend the flock in their charge, chose instead to feed themselves on sheep and milk to dress themselves in their wool, and abandon the sheep.
Nigerians are hardly ever known to quit public position on grounds of failure, incompetence, neglect, scandal or moral integrity. even in face of obvious neglect and mismanagement of public resource, it is our character to quit the stage, and when forced to do so following rotten scandals, our leaders are let off hook to fluent their ill gotten gains and to worm their way back to political relevance at various levels, using the same ill gotten wealth to buy up people. Many believe that a major factor in the Nigerian social—political conundrum is the question of the moral credentials of those at the helm of affairs. Evidence abounds that many just have bought their way into leadership. Their true motive is not necessarily out of passion to serve the people of this country but to take advantage of the prevailing political contradictions and economic distress for personal aggrandizement. Consequently the average Nigerian political leader develops an imperial air of condescension and once in power treats people with utter disrespect, sometimes bordering on disdain.
It goes without saying that the government of the day is insensitive to the yearnings of the people and deaf to their cry of desperation. Those who are holding the reins of power believe too much in themselves, as if they know it all and they have everything in control. In their own eyes they are doing wonderfully well, but the signals everywhere are that this government has lost it bearing. And before such a deaf government, the people are praying as usual that the God of love will intervene. but if this country must make a headway, if the progressive decay in the polity must be halted, if an undemocratic monoculture in governance is to be avoided, and if the decent into anarchy in Nigeria must be averted, then change is inevitable, and so we shall need to pray harder, and get to work to bring the required change about.
Fellow Nigerians, if the forgoing sounds like a dirge or a soulful lamentation, it is a reflection of how much I have suffered and agonized in recent times about the only place I call home. In the course of travels and my presentations, I was constantly confronted with the bundle of contradiction that is called Nigeria. And on one occasion my moral credentials as an ethical crusader were even called to question: why, they said, would a Nigerian living in such a morally bankrupt society (as was seen portrayed in the recent happenings in his country), come here to teach or preach to us about good governance, leadership, integrity, ethics or responsibility? “He should be told to go back home and preach to his people, for charity begins at home! I was derided and lampooned for coming from a tribe of fraudsters, internet scammers, treasury looters, drug pushers and election riggers”.
I went with my head bowed low, bearing the burden of our national disgrace. I felt humiliated not by what they said, but by our own autochthonous conquerors whose greed for money and lust for power have pushed the country into a state of acrimonious poverty and social dislocation that have assumed the moral equivalence of war—a state of affairs where illegality is the norm, and where gangsters and bandits call the shots and set the tone.
Yet as a man of faith, I am convinced that our fate, the destiny of our dear nation, is not entirely in the hands of these war lords. Our situation is not irredeemable. Nigerians are not different breed of human being from citizens elsewhere. I do not believe that Nigeria is difficult to organize and lead unto peaceful co-existence, political stability and economic prosperity. What we need is a paradigm shift from a reactive to a proactive leadership and culture of governance. What we need is a different definition of perception of politics where the paths to public service are not as smooth and attractive as they are now for rogues, thieves and brigands, and where the gains of office are not as rewarding as they are currently fashioned out to be. We need a shift in leadership focus sustained by transparency and accountability where civil society will engage the political leadership in balancing policy objectives against concrete acts of governance.