Many Nigerians love to blame the country’s socio-economic and political woes on leadership deficit and deficiencies. This is understandable, given the pivotal role the head of any human organization plays in its affairs. We love to say and repeat the sayings of our people: ‘A fish begins to rot from its head’. This reductionist tendency however does not sufficiently capture the dilemma Nigeria finds herself. It does NOT sufficiently interrogate the phenomenon of leadership as a sociological construct.
It fails to ask the simple question , ‘From whence cometh a leader ?’ ‘From what social mileau does a ‘leader’ emerge’? What are the DOMINANT and CORE values of that society? Nigerians are gnashing their teeth today at the rapacity and licentiousness of people who claim to speak in our name. Just two days ago , [Wednesday, Aug 14] Nigerian newspapers [The Guardian, Punch, Nation , Vanguard] carried the not so new revelation, that our country spends 77.2% of its budget on recurrent expenditure [largely the pay packages and emoluments of about 1% of population, that is the government of the federation and its agencies] This was from Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the minister of finance. The corollary to that though is to ask ourselves [unflinchingly] ‘WHAT’ society PRODUCES these people?
Surely they do NOT fall from the sky. A leadership is a reflection of its own society, its dominant mores and values. The leadership EXEMPLIFIES the society.
From our pre-school [crèche] and primary schools, WHAT values are being taught? Are our children being taught accountability, transparency, good citizenship, neighbourliness, regard for others, patriotism and love for our languages and cultures? Or are they being taught to believe that our society is worthless and valueless? The anywhere BUT Nigeria syndrome, where the gaze is permanently fixed on other countries, where ignorantly they often long to migrate to, get stuck and their talents are permanently lost to Nigeria. Self actualization stunted and largely unrealized, they live in denial.
Or do we have secondary schools where students believe their grades/scores are negotiable and can be outrightly bought? Is our society teaching them that anything is purchasable IF you have the right price?
Do our adolescents carry such mindset to the tertiary institutions? That merit and hard work matter not. That distinctions and merit are relative.
I once had a conversation with a young Nigerian university graduate of international relations who aspires to a career in our country’s Drugs Law Enforcement Agency [NDLEA]. With a decent grasp of conversational French and a degree in international relations, I thought she seemed to have thought out a career choice. So I posed the question, ‘so what if someone approached you with the sum of five million naira, and requested easy entry for a shipment of cocaine or heroin into Nigeria, what would you do?’
She wasted no time in telling me ‘Sir, this IS Nigeria…..I will take my money and the goods can come in.’ I looked at her steadily. She continued, ‘this IS the way it is here’ No need for preachment. I tried to understand her mindset. Her Nigeria is a land of ANYTHING goes as our former army chief of army staff, Lieutenant-General Salihu Ibrahim so famously put it.
A surfeit of platitudes about leadership, here, before our very eyes, at the first PDP presidential primary, in 1998, all the rules and regulations guiding the process were set aside, the proceedings totally monetized [cash and carry] so a preferred candidate could win. Those who played by the rules were sidelined to lick their wounds. The principal beneficiary of this chicanery is now preaching about leadership in our society, when Nigerians can see there is near total disconnect between his own words and his conduct. What would Nigerian youths make of this mockery, except cynicism….or I dey laugh o?
The people of Nigeria are no different from other people all over the world, an aspiration for good things of life that make life comfortable and worth living. A peaceful, secured and orderly society, where individuals can pursue without let or hindrance, their dreams, under the law. In ALL human societies, the law acts as a RESTRAINT to the excesses of citizens. The problem as I see it, in our society, is that many seem to have come to the conclusion that rules, regulations, indeed the LAWS do NOT matter. ANYTHING can be negotiated or suborned given the access and means.
IF that is the dominant frame of mind, evidenced by everyday practices by the high and low, why should we expect differently from those in position of authority? What makes it galling is the effrontery of the very personages, who are defined in the public consciousness by these excesses, to be preaching virtues to the rest of the society. Yes, a people ought to look up to its leaders for direction and more importantly to the laws of the land for protection. And yes, it is meant that the leadership of a society ought to serve as moral examplers, that is the price of leadership. But as the Reggae musician Majek famously crooned, ‘you can’t plant rice and reap cocoyam’, a society is defined by the dominant values therein or by those harboured by its leaders. Or as the Marxists assert, ‘the ruling ideas of a society, are the ideas of its ruling class’.
If Nigerians want our nation to join the ranks of prosperous democratic nations of the world, with strong institutional pillars of democracy, there would have to be a revolution of values in our society, bottom up. It is no use just blaming the top 1% who have, by hook or crook, found their way to the socio-economic and political apex of this country. No nation on earth, whatever national hubris it demonstrates, is an island of virtue, excesses exist, criminal and moral. In some, sanctions and punishments are draconian. Conviction for embezzlement in Peoples Republic of China attracts the death penalty; in others, like Thailand, drug possession and trafficking attract same.
Building a nation is everybody’s concern, the leaders and the led. Nigerians would have to find their voice and love this land enough to demand the values that would bring forth the ‘new’ Nigeria. They would have to demand those values from themselves as well as from those who speak in our name. If this value issue is not addressed, all these pious declarations and exhortations, secular and spiritual, that are spewed daily all over this land, would not prevent it from grinding to a halt.