The Three Enemies of Nigeria
By SIMON KOLAWOLE
One of my favourite Igbo proverbs says: “What a dog saw and started barking ferociously is the same thing a goat saw and merely grunted.” As young as I am, I have seen so much in this country that when people are barking over a thing, I just sigh. Yet we are reacting to the same stimulus. Inside me, I retort: “What else do we expect? How can we sow the wind and not expect to reap the whirlwind?” I have painstakingly studied the history of Nigeria. I have lived through 13 administrations, old enough in 11 of them to be able to distinguish between my right and left hands. I have researched into key issues per time, per administration. I have observed the trajectory.
Nigeria seems to be permanently on auto replay. So, all I do these days is sigh when people scream.
For instance, as far back as 14 years ago, I foresaw and wrote about a looming pubic disorder and insecurity fuelled by inequality and corruption — although I must confess that not in my wildest imagination could I have predicted the widespread carnage we are living with today. But you cannot have a country where over 70 per cent of its people have been living below the poverty line for decades and think there would be no explosion at some point. You cannot have a country with borders as porous as a sieve, plus security agencies that are insanely corrupt and ill-equipped, and think anarchy would not descend on us someday. You cannot have a political system built around rentier mentality and primordial sentiments and assume that Nigeria would be all fine. No way.
Economic hardship, ethnic rivalry, religious crisis, political tension, violence and insecurity have been part of our make-up for ages. From administration to administration. From president to president. Some issues are perennial, others seasonal. They only take different coloration and intensity per administration. In my undergraduate days, I used to easily get excited to jump on the bandwagon to blame our problems on one person or one part of the country. There is hardly anything people are campaigning for today that I did not parrot in the past — based on popular but jaundiced opinion. With introspection, I have become less emotional and more dispassionate in looking at the Nigerian malaise. We have been changing leaders and parties, but Nigeria remains largely the same. Why?
As we begin to discuss the 2023 elections, I can see excitement in the air yet again, propelled by permutations.
We are going to get a new president, new governors, new ministers, new commissioners, new agency heads, new board members, name it. We love new things. We renew our hopes at election times, expecting some change in our fortunes.
But it’s the expectations that kill us. In an article I wrote before the 2019 general election, entitled ‘Hurting on the Inside’, I argued that Nigerians have become adept at falling in love with politicians every election year — but the heartbreak never seems to stop. Yet, in the voice of Peter Tosh, the Nigerian will say: “I gotto pick myself up/Dust myself off/Start all over again.” Hope can be quite stubborn — and pretty stupid.
We all have our positions and perspectives on why Nigeria is like this. Some would argue that it is because there is no “true” federalism or regionalism that students are learning chemistry without chemicals in many government secondary schools in the south-west. Some are of the opinion that it is because there is no Republic of Biafra that many state hospitals do not have beds and drugs in the south-east. Some are convinced that it is because there is no “resource control” that the NDDC has literally burnt $50 billion in 20 years. Up north, many believe that it is because there is no full Sharia that they are abjectly poor and neglected. Some will even say that it is because of fornication and adultery — not poor sanitation and unclean water — that they suffer yearly outbreaks of cholera.
My views are slightly different. Anyone familiar with my writings in the last 18 years know that I have persistently pursued a different line of argument on the Nigerian condition. Today, I will focus on the three “enemies” of Nigeria that I have often identified as the enablers of the country’s underdevelopment. These are (1) our concept of political leadership (2) our concept of followership (3) our concept of development. Our concepts are based on warped mindsets, some of which we inherited. If these mindsets don’t change, Nigeria will never change. A scripture says: “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.” Our minds have been conditioned to interact with Nigeria in particular ways. These mindsets control how we see and do things. We badly need to restructure our minds.
Let’s start with our concept of political leadership. One, a typical Nigerian leader — and I use “typical” as the rule rather than the exception — does not have a vision. I rephrase: they do not have a positive mental picture of where they want the country, state, council, ministry or agency to be under their watch. I apply this to presidents, governors, council bosses, councillors, legislators, judges, ministers, permanent secretaries, members of governing boards and councils, commissioners, executive chairpersons, DGs, etc. Politics, the type that leads to development, is built upon an implementable “vision of society”. The leader is always thinking: where are we? Where are we going? Why are we still here? How can we get out of here? How far can we go in four years?
Without having a reasonable “vision of society”, the leader has already failed. It is like playing football without goalposts: you are just having fun and burning calories. That, unfortunately, is what leadership in Nigeria is mostly about: having fun. The moment some step into leadership positions, their vision is Dubai today, China tomorrow. They think leadership is the licence for comfort. They focus on building castles as government houses; riding the latest models of 4WDs in kilometre-long convoys, protected by battalions of police officers; acquiring or chartering private jets for personal well-being; and travelling abroad out to treat sore throat. All in the midst of ponging poverty right under their noses! In the end, we blame God or some constitution for our underdevelopment.
For so many, leadership is all about the perks of power. Narcissism. Everybody worships at their feet. There is a retinue of aides attending to their needs. They are unchallengeable — they are imperial majesties. There are some ministries and agencies where specific elevators are dedicated to the ministers and DGs. If the elevator for the staff is broken, what a pity. Even if the ministers and DGs are not around for a whole month, their lifts remain unused while the staff will continue to use the staircase. Warped! If you are a leader and your understanding of priorities is built around personal comfort and the perks of power, be assured that you are a pathetic problem to this society. Quote me: any country where leadership is not focused on a “vision of society” is going nowhere.
Let’s now move on to the concept of followership. While I unapologetically hold leadership responsible for the underdevelopment of Nigeria, I never lose sight of how followers have enabled and nurtured this disability. We turn our leaders to demi-gods and cash cows, and that means we do not question or scrutinise them as we should.
Rather, we see them relishing in the comfort of power and crave to partake in the unholy communion. We position ourselves to be co-opted. We either defend or attack our leaders on the basis of bias and overlook their performance. We stink of hate and prejudice. The intellectual concubines of the divisive elite are so blinded by ethnic and religious biases that all they busy themselves with is how to plant and nurture half-truths and fallacies.
We, the followers, perennially enable inept leadership and then turn around to complain that Nigeria is not making progress. Many would argue that the leadership selection process is already polluted because voters are induced at election times. That is definitely part of the problem, but I would still make the point that it should not stop the pursuit of a development agenda if indeed the candidate has what it takes to deliver the goods. If you are not competent, you are not competent, no matter how you got into power. Worse still, we the followers often think our job stops at voting leaders into office. We do not think of a development agenda that we should pursue. We do not think our failure to hold our leaders accountable is a key contribution to our underdevelopment.
Finally, what really is our concept of development as a people? I often break human development into tiny pieces:
access to education, health care, safe water, sanitation, electricity, roads and security, as well as gender equity. Therefore, when I say Nigeria is underdeveloped, what I am really talking about are the inequalities inflicted on all of us across the 36 states, FCT and 774 councils. My conscience will not allow me to say only Muslims or only Christians are affected by the insecurity and violence in the land, or that only one ethnic group is suffering from the lack of access to food, shelter and clothing. Tragically, since almost all issues are framed along ethnic, regional and religious lines in Nigeria, we cannot even begin to discuss or promote a proper development agenda.
I do not downplay our ethno-religious issues — I would be daft to do that. But every country in the world battles internal divisions: it could be race, creed, ideology, religion, ethnicity, anything. The human society is inherently given to rivalry and division. No nation is exempt. Even the family unit, bond by blood, is not conflict-free, much less a multi-ethnic country. The problem is not conflict but the management of it. I often argue that the political mismanagement of Nigeria’s diversity is a major setback for our development. We need justice and peace across board. But I am more persuaded that we can never rise until we get our concepts of leadership, followership and development right. And leadership will have to play the biggest role in breaking the shackles.
The Nigerian leadership factory has always malfunctioned. We are ruled in the main by a predatory elite across the regions. They are content with using power to benefit themselves and a few others, not to uplift the society. They are enabled by a parochial intelligentsia feasting on the crumbs. They are idolised by the downtrodden who have been fed with divisive poisons all their lives. Even if we balkanise Nigeria and these mindsets are not fixed, it will only multiply our troubles. Our latter end will be worse than the former. It is a mental problem. I have not seen any indication yet that we are about to produce leaders with a new mentality in 2023. And I still have not seen anything on the part of the followers that points to a new mindset as well. Yet we are expecting to see a new Nigeria.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS
Mrs Lauretta Onochie’s nomination as an INEC national electoral commissioner was opposed because she is a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) — but the senate said it rejected her on the basis of federal character. Delta state, where she comes from, already has a national commissioner. Now, this is serious. When President Buhari was nominating her, was he not aware that Delta already has a commissioner? Can one state have two of the 12 slots for national commissioners? How did that pass scrutiny before her name was sent? There are just too many things about this government that expose its quality of thinking and decision making. Appalling.
When a court ruled recently that Mrs Kemi Adeosun, former minister of finance, did not have to do national service because she was “technically” not a Nigerian when she graduated in 1989, the headlines said “court clears Adeosun over NYSC saga”. She even issued a statement promising to take legal action to “clear” her name — a veiled threat at Premium Times, the news website that investigated the saga. I am somewhat confused. The allegation against Adeosun was forgery — not citizenship — and she admitted guilt in her resignation letter. What exactly is this “court clears Adeosun” narrative about? And, please, what exactly will she sue any newspaper for? Bewildering.
The house of representatives on Thursday asked DStv to reduce its subscription fees following recommendations from an ad–hoc committee. The Nigerian government itself has increased petrol prices, raised electricity tariffs and hiked the toll and parking fees at airports. The exchange rate has fallen from N305/$ to N410/$ (remember broadcast rights are paid for in dollars). Prices of garri, palm oil and yam, along with transport costs, have hit the roof — all of which have eroded the real income of Nigerians. However, the critical issue for our dear lawmakers is the subscription fee of a luxury product like DStv. Meanwhile, the lawmakers have not reduced their own allowances. Joke.
SOUND OF SILENCE
Role models don’t come better than Lanre Fasasi aka Sound Sultan, who unfortunately died last week after a battle with lymphoma, the extremely aggressive cancer of the white blood cell. I actually wept when the news broke. A Nigerian patriot to his bones and a responsible husband and father, the multi-talented artist and satirist was never named in any scandal. He never engaged in media wars. He was just a cool guy, whose personality and art I admired greatly. It is also so unfortunate that the basketball aficionado was not alive to witness the incredible victory of D’Tigers of Nigeria over the world’s greatest team, the Dream Team of USA, in an Olympics warm-up. Life!