It is very unfortunate that Nigeria continues to be a paradigm case of a richly endowed country in the cesspit of arrested development.
Therefore, Nigerians must begin to seek seriously the reasons for that anomalous situation. To be more specific, why have Nigerian leaders continuously failed to harness the tremendous human and material resources domiciled in the country for optimum national development? What exactly is preventing the most populous Black country in the world from becoming one of the greatest nations in the history of civilisation? The straight answer to all the questions above is bad leadership.
By an unfortunate dialectic of historical circumstances, especially since the end of the civil war, a visionless cabal (or cabals), lacking appropriate moral and emotional intelligence for responsible and responsive leadership, has been dominating commanding positions in the critical areas of our national life – this is precisely the problem. On the other hand, ordinary Nigerians have not been able, through active participation in public life, to ensure that only the best is entrusted with political authority.
In other words, given the self-centred lethargic attitude of our people to political leadership, misfits and undesirable elements have risen to political and economic prominence nationwide.
It follows that although Nigeria’s problem is, fundamentally, leadership kwashiorkor, Nigerians themselves deserve a big part of the blame because they lack the courage to engage in genuine transformational praxis to liberate the country as a whole from the quagmire of mediocre leadership. It is as plain as daylight that vicious ruling cabals have been running the country down instead of running it with wisdom, courage and compassion for the suffering masses. It is even more pathetic that Nigerians are incapacitated to do anything concrete about it, partly because of underdeveloped social consciousness and because they are thoroughly soaked in the delusionary comfort of religious superstition.
Let us clearly differentiate between running a country and running a country down in order to identify clearly the leadership problem responsible for our desperate condition right now. To run a country (or any institution for that matter) requires certain mental qualities and habits necessary for the attainment of the goals for which the institution in question was established. All human societies came into being from the complex dialectical interactions of both intended and unintended consequences of human actions.
However, whatever else might be true about human groups in general, each group exists primarily for the benefit of its members. What justifies the emergence of social formations of all kinds is the opportunity they provide for people to actualise their productive powers in cooperation with others. In the case of the geopolitical entity called Nigeria, it is incontrovertible that the country is the creation of British colonialists meant to serve primarily the economic interest of Britain.
Therefore, the interests of the various peoples that constitute Nigeria were secondary to those of the colonising power as a motivating factor in the birth of modern Nigeria. Of course, British imperialists administered the country in a manner that suited the imperialist designs of the declining British Empire. As everyone knows, colonial administration of “Niger area” ended in 1960.
Up until now, the long shadow of British rule is still visible in the fundamental economic and geopolitical architectonics of the country. Nigerians who took over from British administrators were expected to run the country wisely by mobilising her abundant human and material for the good of all. In other words, the emergent Nigerian state has the necessary natural resource base to emerge as the “giant of Africa”; what the immediate post-independent leaders needed to do was to work extremely hard to harness the resources for all-round development of the country. From October 1, 1960 to January 14, 1966, Nigeria operated a regional political arrangement based on the parliamentary system. A paradigm example of how to run a government effectively was the Western region under late Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Despite his tribalistic predilections and the horrifying measures he adopted to emasculate Biafrans during and immediately after the civil war which cast a serious slur on his reputation, Awolowo was a disciplined and astute leader. When he became Premier of Western Nigeria in 1954, Awolowo set to work to make the region the cynosure of all eyes. Some hero-worshipping Awoists for whom the late politician was almost the divine being itself might have exaggerated his skills in financial management.
Yet, Awolowo’s achievements in the areas of economic development, mass communication and infrastructure were impressive. But the field in which the most respected Yoruba politician made his greatest mark, which remains an enduring legacy today, is education. As an intellectual deeply convinced that education is the key to all-round positive transformation of people, the late political philosopher, through his policy of free education, ensured that chronic poverty did not stop anyone in his region willing to go to school from getting educated.
Therefore, Awolowo’s above-average performance while in office makes him one of the few Nigerian politicians who knew how to run things – and he did so admirably. Now, consider the performance of Nigerian leaders since 1970: virtually all of them ran the country down.
The military heads of state, with the possible exception of Muhammadu Buhari (probably because his tenure was too short for him to make his own egregious mistakes) mismanaged the country so badly that repercussions of their incompetent leadership are still with us. In sane and serious countries, Yakubu Gowon, Ibrahim Babangida, Abdulsalami Abubakar and Olusegun Obasanjo ought to be thoroughly investigated and, where complicity and culpability is established, prosecuted for corruption and chronic mismanagement of the economy.
However, Nigeria is light years away from sanity. As a result, the media still celebrate these incompetent dictators, to the extent that Gowon and others shamelessly strut around gloating in the delusion of “elder statesmen.” The way I see it, most of our most pressing problems stem from the poor quality leadership provided by these men. To make the point more explicit: our military dictators, because of avarice, wasted wonderful opportunities to lift Nigeria from the slough of arrested development to the zenith of self-reliance and economic cum industrial sustainability.
In a lecture entitled “Nigeria: A Country in Perpetual Flux,” the bohemian virologist, Tam David-West, enumerated media reports about the grand larceny committed by our military rulers. Moreover, the embarrassingly high ratings of Nigeria in the corruption index of Transparency International – all this constitutes serious indictment of the twenty-seven years of military dictatorship in the country. To repeat: it is a big shame that dictators largely responsible for our tragic slide into the oxymoronic category of “poorest rich nation” are free men enjoying proceeds of their misgovernance.
More disturbing is the fact that these wealthy individuals are looked upon as role model for the youths. Past military leaders of the country, aside from being compelled to face justice for their selfishness and unpatriotic misuse of power, should be treated as lepers were treated in the past. But it appears that the word ‘shame’ has lost its meaning for Nigerians.
As David-West stated in his erratically written lecture referred to earlier, shame is an important human emotion that enables normal human beings “to recoil from evil and bad behaviour, and so tread the path of rectitude and honour.” The abnormal shamelessness we are talking about is a state of mind which makes one pachydermatous to remorse for evil and enables even so-called eminent Nigerians to “wine and dine” with former dictators who almost ran the country aground. Certainly, the obnoxious practice of running Nigeria down instead of running her with creative vision and imagination is not the exclusive preserve of soldiers, for even in civilian dispensations the evil still rears its ugly head with more devastating consequences.