Going by the wisdom of the sage, great leaders are characterized by their ability to create positive impacts on the lives of the people they lead. They achieve this feat by placing heavy emphasis on the understanding that the economy would look after itself if democracy is protected; human rights adequately taken care of and the rule of law strictly adhered to. In effect, their nation’s affairs are centrally planned over a period of time with their actions outlined for both normal and contingency conditions-and most importantly, they live in absolute unity.
By contrast, for nations like Nigeria with not-too-impressive leadership, in addition to non-possession of these attributes, we mistake coexistence with harmony. As an independent nation, coexistence has been the watch word. Yet, for the most part, we have never lived together in peace but in constant hostility.
Within this period also, I have carefully read, as well as listened to well meaning Nigerians, great in their number, cite numerous laws, constitutional principles, historical examples and religious inclinations to cut down the above belief about war.
While those with religious inclinations argue that war fare cannot longer be supported or trusted as means of conflict resolution -as the consequence of such exercise or the degree of causalities cannot be predicted, and suggests- gospel and moral suasion as way forward, the global community, advocates that any nation desirous of survival and development, must apply global accounts of previous wars in its day to day administration. As such knowledge without a shadow of the doubt has the capacity to promote understanding between individuals, communities, states, nations and regions of the world.
Reports have it that shortly after the independence, but before the country became a republic, precisely in 1961, before Nigeria became a republic, something that qualifies as a setback happened. Southern Cameroun, which was then part of Eastern Nigeria, agitated that it wanted to leave Nigeria to re-join their French Cameroun brothers. The United Nations resolved the matter by conducting a plebiscite to determine whether it was the wish of the majority of the Southern Cameroon people, then part of British Colony, to leave the Independent Nation of Nigeria. An overwhelming majority, said to be around 90 % of the people, agreed to leave Nigeria and they did in 1961, thereby reducing the geographical size and population of the Eastern Region of Nigeria, a clear warning of a possible separation of Nigeria’s constituent ethnic Nationalities from the Nigerian Federation.
But before the dust raised by this unfortunate incident could settle, another was up thereby signaling an early warning that something was fundamentally wrong with the Federation.
The federating units were meant to enjoy some level of independence, yet mutual suspicion among them was rife as regional loyalty surpassed nationalistic fervor with each of the three regions at a juncture threatening secession.
The late Premier of the Western Region once described Nigeria as “mere geographical expression” and later threatened as follows; “we (Western Region) shall proclaim self-government’’, a euphemism for secession.
In the same vein, the Northern Region under the Premiership of the late Ahmadu Bello never hid its desire for separate identity. Just before independence, the region threatened to pull out of Nigeria if it was not allocated more parliamentary seats than the south. The departing British colonial masters, desirous of one big entity, quickly succumbed to the threat.
In fact, the north at that time did pretend it never wanted to have anything to do with Nigeria. For example, the motto of the ruling party in that region at that time was “One North, One People, One Destiny.” And the name of the party itself “Northern People’s Congress, NPC,” was suggestive of separatist fervor, distinct identity.
But of all the secession threats since independence, it was the one issued by the Eastern Region in 1966-67 following the bloody counter-coup of July 1966 and subsequent genocide by northern soldiers and civilians in which thousands of easterners living in the north lost their lives or were maimed, and the failure of Gowon to implement the Aburi Accord which was aimed at settling the crisis, that was much more potent. This also explained the massive ARABA (secession) protests that rocked the region shortly after the coup. The result was the declaration of Eastern Region independent country with the name, “Biafra” on May 30, 1967 by the then Military Governor of the Region, the late General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, in compliance with the Eastern Nigeria Consultative Assembly resolution and mandate of May 26, 1967.
It was reported that the Proclamation ended with emotional ‘Biafra Anthem” –‘The Land of the rising Sun’ rendered in beautiful tune of ‘Finlanda” by Sibelius, symbolizing the end of the struggle to assert the self-determination of a new nation. The scene was set for confrontation between the new state of Biafra and the balance of the ethnic nationalities that made up the Federal Republic of Nigeria and to resolve the question of the unity of the Nigerian states by use of force. The war ended over 50 years ago, but its effects and fears remain and stare on our faces.
That is what has happened throughout Nigeria’s political history!
Now, the question that is as important as the piece itself are, should we continue to live as a divided nation even in the face of recent humble admission by President Bola Tinubu that our constitution and laws give us a nation on paper but we must work harder at bringing these noble documents to life by strengthening the bonds of economic collaboration, social cohesion, and cultural understanding? Must we continue to agitate after his admonition that the South must not only seek well for itself but must understand that its interests are served when good comes to the North and vice versa? And even after his declaration that his mission is to improve our way of life in a manner that nurtures our humanity, encourages compassion toward one another, and duly rewards our collective effort to resolve the social ills that seek to divide us?
Should Nigerians give peace a chance to see if the new president, as claimed in his inauguration speech, will impartially govern according to the constitution and the rule of law and defend the nation from terror and all forms of criminality that threaten the peace and stability of our country and our sub region? Can we give the administration opportunity to see whether it will remodel our economy to bring about growth and development through job creation, food security and to end of extreme poverty? And see his government continue to take proactive steps such as championing a credit culture to discourage corruption while strengthening the effectiveness and efficiency of the various anti-corruption agencies?
In similar style, now that the present Federal government has proposed a ‘renewed hope’ mantra, should they be trusted? Or are there feelings among Nigerians that it may not be different from the ‘’Change’ and ‘Next Level’ mantras as proclaimed by the now out-gone former President Muhammadu Buhari led Federal Government during his first and second terms in 2015 and 2019 respectively?
Even as Nigerians meditate on the above issues raised, it is important at this point to underline that there is nothing wrong with power.
In fact, Power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve a purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, economic, political, cultural and religious changes. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anaemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demand of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.
From these words of Martin Luther King Jr. it may not be a wrong assertion to conclude that power could be used both constructively and destructively; that for man to function well in any given position of authority, he/she must identify that power is not a complete end but looks up to something further; it cannot itself be the ultimate goal; that power is valuable according to the use to which it may be put. And most importantly, power in the estimation of the Marxists is but the ability to protect one’s interest.
Chief among such examples of the destructive exercise of power include Pol Pot. It was in the news that while in power in Cambodia between 1975 and 1978, he used his position to cause the death of more than two million people in Cambodia – a small country in Southeast Asia bordered by Vietnam and Thailand. This is a verifiable fact.
The story is not different here in Africa as it is factually backed that late Robert Mugabe in his quest to hold on to power, massacred over 20,000 of his people and not animals, destroyed the nation’s economy and watched with disinterest while his wife looted millions of dollars. Fresh in our memories are the Liberia episodes in the early 1990s, Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo and Mobutu Seseseko of Zaire.
Specifically in Nigeria, there are even more accounts of gradual and silent encroachment/abuse of power by those in positions of authority, than by violent and sudden usurpations.
Conversely, talking about constructive use of power, the thought of Lee Kuan Yew, the Prime Minister of Singapore (as he then was), naturally comes flooding. It is recorded that Lee grew fifteen times, independent Singapore with a GDP of $3billion in 1965 to $46billion in 1997 and its economy became the 8th highest per capita GNP in the world in 1997 according to the World Bank ranking. Back home is a similar account, shortly after independence, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, then Premier of the Western region, Nigeria constructively used his position to better the life chances of his people of the region- infrastructurally, socio-economically. And through quality and affordable education, set the region on a hyper-modern pathway.
This feat or a combination of other people-purposed achievements, without doubt, explains why four decades after his reign, he is daily remembered and used in virtually all the primary schools (both public and private), as an example of a great leader.
They defined power in the image of their actions
Indeed, while the narrative has since changed in Nigeria with education, power, health, infrastructure and national development as victims of such ineptitudes, it is useful and important at this point to examine and document the warnings that the previous administration ignored. This is not to “point the finger of blame”, but to expose a shocking reality that the same qualities that created success in the past are similar to the forces that undermine success lately -and in order to better determine how our country can avoid such mistakes in the future.
Take as an illustration, the education sector under the now outgone president Muhammadu Buhari left 10.5 million children out of school in Nigeria, the highest in the world.
Our industries continue to bear the brunt of a negative economic environment. As a result, job losses and unemployment continue to skyrocket, creating a serious case of social dislocation for the vast majority of our people. The University students stayed at home more than the time they were in school. No thanks to the incessant industrial action which currently characterizes the nation’s university system.
This malfeasance at all levels of governance has led to the destruction of social infrastructure relevant to a meaningful and acceptable level of social existence for our people. Adequate investment in this area, it has been shown, was clearly not the priority of Buhari’s administration.
As a result, our hospitals whether state owned or federal owned became veritable death centers where people go to die rather than to be healed. The absence of basic items such as hand gloves and masks are indicative of the level of decadence and rot in the country’s health National Budget recommended by the United Nations.
With regards to the criminal justice system, our people, especially the poor and vulnerable continue to suffer unprecedented acts of intimidation and violation of rights at the hands of security agencies across the country. Extra judicial killings, lack of scientific based investigation of crimes and corruption in the judiciary contribute to acts of injustice against the innocent. Our prisons have become places where prisoners are hardened rather than places of reformation of prisoners for reintegration back into the society
As to the solution to these challenges, this piece and of course Nigerians with critical minds believed and still believe that leadership not only holds the key to unlocking the transformation question in Nigeria, but to sustain this drive, leaders must carry certain genes and attributes that are representative of this order.
Thus, as the nation celebrates, one point Nigerians demand from the new president is that only a sincere and selfless leader and a politically and economically restructured polity brought about by national consensus can unleash the social and economic forces that can ensure the total transformation of the country and propel her to true greatness.
Doing this must involve a clear definition of our problem as a nation, the goals to be achieved, or the means chosen to address the problems. The system must have consideration for connecting the poor with good means of livelihood-food, job and security.
This, as argued elsewhere will help ensure that there is provision of adequate social infrastructure such as genuine poverty alleviation programmes and policies, healthcare, education, job provision, massive industrialization, electricity provision to mention a few. It is critical to jettison this present socio-economic system that has bred corruption, inefficiency, primitive capital accumulation and socially excluded the vast majority of our people.
To catalyze the process, the truth must be told to the effect that if the interest of harmony is to be vigilantly guarded, there are vital points that Bola Tinubu led Federal Government must not fail to remember and they are in this order; when we serve, we rule; when we give, we have; and when we surrender totally to selfless service, we become victors.
Tinubu must therefore, build a new social and political order that can mobilize the people around common interests, with visionary leadership to drive this venture. Only then can we truly begin to resolve some of the socio-economic contradictions afflicting the nation.
Nigerians on their part must in the interim shun every political, socioeconomic, cultural or religious differences and support the present administration in its resolve to install a renewed hope in the country.