By Douglas Anele
At the official commencement of the national Christian campaign on social transformation tagged: “Be the change you want to see”, put together by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), President Goodluck Jonathan claimed that a lot had gone wrong in the family, schools, churches, and the society generally, and that there is need to bring about transformation.
According to media reports Mr. President, represented by the Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Ms. Ama Pepple, expressed optimism that the campaign would reset misplaced priorities in the society, pointing out that “Our priorities are misplaced. The values of hard work, respect for elders, truthfulness, contentment, humility, patience, compassion, fairness, love, justice, obedience, etc. are all lost.”
Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the President of CAN, while preaching at the event, sermonised that “If God can change me, God can change Nigeria. If you look at Nigeria in the eyes of the spirit, you will see a great Nigeria. But if you look at Nigeria with natural eyes, you see a confused nation.” It is instructive to note that President Jonathan and Pastor Oritsejafor, who are living witnesses to the shambolic state of affairs in the country were not bold enough to locate the root cause of our problems at the doorstep of mediocre leadership. The reason for this deliberate omission is not far to seek. As Usman Dan Fodio, a nineteenth century Muslim cleric declared, “Conscience is an open wound. Only truth can heal it.”
Therefore, Mr. President and Pastor Oritsejafor deliberately avoided the inconvenient truth, namely, that the fundamental cause of Nigeria’s arrested development is the inability or plain refusal by members of the ruling elite to provide responsible, transparent, and selfless leadership for the people. Let us begin with President Jonathan himself who, alongside former President Olusegun Obasanjo, are among the luckiest Nigerians alive today. As we argued last week, President Jonathan’s meteoric rise from very humble beginnings to the pinnacle of political power is the kind of existential experience repackaged for entertainment purposes in blockbuster movies.
However, the question is whether he has manifested the kind of leadership qualities that Nigeria needs now to progress. The most charitable and generous assessment of Jonathan’s administration would score it thirty five percent. Most Nigerians believe, correctly in my view, that his government has failed in the areas of electricity supply, security, employment generation and wealth creation through a robust manufacturing sector, as well as drastic reduction in the amount of money used in running a bloated sybaritic government. Similarly, mind-bending financial rascality and corruption is continuing unabated among top public officials despite Jonathan’s shibboleths about having zero-tolerance for corruption.
Therefore, President Jonathan can make ceremonial speeches about misplaced priorities and the loss of values. The real issue is whether as President he has led by example, that is, whether he has demonstrated the same virtues the disappearance of which he was lamenting. In my view, Mr. President has not really been as transparent and accountable as some Nigerians would have wanted.
Even in a simple and symbolic matter of declaring his assets publicly, he cleverly refused to come clean. President Jonathan, just like his predecessors whether military or civilian, has perfected the art of making fine speeches without sincerity of purpose to back them up. As a result, it is not surprising that all the talk about his transformation agenda, about repositioning the economy for sustainable growth, about poverty alleviation and delivery of dividends of democracy to the suffering masses are just that – mere talk full of hot air.
The main reason why President Jonathan and other members of the ruling cabal are always lamenting the vanishing effectiveness of moral values in the society while the masses are suffering is that they do not take their responsibilities very seriously.
Again, our leaders know that Nigerians have an incredible capacity to endure manmade hardships occasioned by incompetent leadership. Now, in countries where people are really serious and desirous of positive change, the citizens protest publicly to compel their leaders to act responsibly. For example, there are massive protests in Turkey and Brazil as the people unleashed the power of dissent against policies and programmes of their respective governments that are detrimental to the common good.
Consequently, the government in both countries are making concessions and working on reforms to placate the people. That is how it should be; after all, government is about people, not about a few greedy individuals and multinational organisations solely motivated by primitive accumulation and megalomania. In our own case here in Nigeria, the situation is rather different.
Nigerians tend to depend on an imaginary supernatural power to solve all their problems, rather than take concrete actions to assert their fundamental right to good governance. This is where I have serious objections to the close ties between religion and state in this country. Now, I consider religious irrationality, as exemplified by Christianity and Islam, to be one of the most formidable obstacles in the path of Nigeria’s evolution towards greatness. Very wealthy “men of God” are spiritual consultants to the President, governors, members of the legislature and other top government officials and politicians.
Thus, it is not surprising that political and religious leaders in Nigeria have been conniving to despoil gullible Nigerians. That is why prominent members of the clergy always admonish their followers to pray for our political leaders. If I were a pastor or imam (I am so lucky not to be one), I would continuously pray with my congregation that the almighty should grant corrupt Nigerian leaders long life and afflict them with the most horrible diseases so that they would not enjoy their ill-gotten wealth.
Indeed, since the Supreme Being is supposed to be a God of justice for whom nothing is impossible, I would pray fervently that He (or She or It) should use any means necessary to make sure that Nigerian leaders, their families and cronies do not benefit from the proceeds of corruption.
However, our religious leaders can never pray that God should severely punish VIP thieves here and now because some of them are benefiting from the appalling existential situation on ground, which compels millions of Nigerians to seek illusory spiritual help in churches and mosques. Remember, Pastor Oritsejafor is a very comfortable Nigerian.
He is among the lucky few that live in mansions, owns a private jet and can afford the best things of life for himself and his family. On that basis, one can understand why he can only see Nigeria’s imaginary greatness with “spiritual eyes.” However, the suffering masses see clearly and objectively a very different Nigeria with their “natural eyes”; and what they see is a deformed country in dire need of radical positive transformation without the illusory comfort of religious superstition.
Nigeria, as presently constituted and run, is not working. President Jonathan, members of the ruling elite and highly placed clergymen and clergywomen should stop sermonising and begin to lead by example. Moral virtues are best taught by action, not by pious sententious platitudes, which ultimately amount to nothing.