By Eze Onyekpere
Tomorrow, October 1, 2019, will mark Nigeria’s 59th year of independent nationhood. A human being at 59 is already an adult. Although a nation may not stricto sensu be comparable to a human being, because nations may survive for so many years, all successful nations at 59 had started showing and manifesting great signs of success or how they intend to be successful. What is the Nigerian experience? How can we turn the narrative of Nigeria into the story of how we succeeded, instead of the perennial lamentations of why we failed?
The Nigerian story is one that if we had the opportunity to start afresh, we would likely choose a different trajectory which would have led us to be more successful. There are basic indicators of a successful nationhood. Some like national unity are very basic and others build on the basic indicators, especially those that touch on economic prosperity. The major set of issues is about the groups and entities which make up Nigeria; are we united? Do they believe in Nigeria? Do they see Nigeria as one? How have they managed their cleavages and fault lines? How successful is our leadership recruitment process? Do we recruit our best into positions of leadership or do we throw up the dregs of our society and enthrone them as leaders? So many questions to answer as the nation hits 59.
However, despite pretences to the contrary, there are very few Nigerians who believe in Nigeria. The bulk of the population including the leadership and crème de la crème of society do not believe in the Nigerian project. On the general level, many see the country as a sinking ship, from which they are bound to rescue as much as possible and jump overboard before the ship finally sinks.This is responsible for the gross corruption and abuse of office where public office holders grab as much as they can for the rainy day. Public office becomes an opportunity to steal and express inordinate greed. This also explains why public office holders charged with running the education sector have their children in schools outside our shores; those in charge of health travel abroad to treat common colds. The average rich Nigerian must not only have houses in different Nigerian cities, they must acquire houses in major world capitals, especially in Europe and America.
In argumentative discourse, the sum of the parts can never be equal to the whole. But we have more of the Hausa, the Fulani, the Yoruba, the Igbo, Itsekiri, etc. than Nigerians. The building blocks that should emphasise our unity and de-emphasise our divisions have not been erected while attempts at erecting the pillars have been still born. Rather, there is a leadership attempt to emphasise our differences. Thus, instead of our diversity being a positive gift, it is used for the purpose of division which leads to retrogression. No nation makes progress on the basis of this trajectory. That idea of Nigeria as a mere geographic expression, an expression on paper, without a heart and soul and pondering from one misadventure to another still dominates our national outlook.
Leadership at all levels has been an adventure in criminality and only those not suitable for the task are best fitted for the enterprise of stealing, looting the common wealth, outright impunity, disobedience to court orders, carrying cash in bullion vans to bribe the electorate, turning logic on its head and the shamelessness that has become the hallmark of Nigeria’s leadership. Enter a political caucus meeting and attempt to talk reasonably at a time they are discussing how to get votes and you will be reminded that “this is not a society for pious men and women.” It is the world of real politics where you plan on how to bribe the police and law enforcement agents, electoral officials, recruit thugs and even plan how to murder your opponents, if need be, and get away with it. And this is our politics! No man or woman can give what they do not have. Expecting development from politics, turned criminal enterprise, is an impossible expectation.
Where do we go from here? We need to draw lessons from our failure as a country to build a nation. The most enduring lesson is that a country cannot grow bigger than its leadership. With the exception of the leaders of the First Republic, we have allowed through the barrel of the gun and electoral fraud or used our votes to hire intellectual Lilliputians who neither have the right vision or mission of development. When you ask a presidential candidate about his vision for the country and he finds it difficult to express himself and such a character yet finds himself in power, what do you expect? When a man occupies a public position because of the quantum of money he spent in the elections, what do you expect? When persons get into the legislature because of their subservient loyalty to a man suffering from enhanced moral depravity and acute integrity deficit; what do you expect? The answer to the foregoing is that we must start electing men and women who have vision as well as imbibed the cardinal virtues of honesty, patience and hard work. Essentially, persons who combine a strong intellect, learning, education and character need to ascend to leadership.
The second lesson is that our failure to hold leadership to account emboldens impunity, stealing of public resources and mismanagement of the commonwealth. The idea of subservient Nigerians literally feeling that the president, governors and other elected or appointed officials cannot be wrong even when they are manifestly wrong cannot lead to development. Defending poor economic and social performance is not only morally reprehensible but an outrageous conduct.
The third is that for Nigeria to develop, there must be conscious efforts at nation building. Regional, religious and ethnic champions who do not believe in the Nigeria project have no business becoming leaders at the federal level. They should stay put in their zones and states and allow cosmopolitan characters to lead the nation. Also, we must build a society based on merit. A situation where some dumb odd fellows who have never excelled in the private sector, civil society or in their assigned public roles become the persons elevated to national leadership and as such, call the bluff of their mental superiors is a case of blind men insisting on leading those who have their vision intact. It has never produced any good result and neither will it produce one in the future. It can only lead to stagnation and retrogression.