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The trouble with Nigerians

By Douglas Anele

Ever since the deceased iconic novelist, Chinua Achebe, wrote the little monograph entitled The Trouble with Nigeria, it has become fashionable to blame Nigerian leaders for all the hydra-headed manmade problems of the country. Indeed, he was unsparing in his acerbic criticisms of respected politicians, including Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo, for errors of judgment as political leaders.

Largely, Achebe was right: since independence, and more tellingly from 1970 onwards, soldiers and politicians with bulimic appetite for primitive accumulation have misgoverned Nigeria. It is estimated that the country has made up to half a trillion dollars from crude oil since it was discovered in Oloibiri in 1958. Unfortunately, the bulk of the funds have been stolen, to the extent that official corruption is now a way of life among members of the ruling elite.

Still, I believe that “The Trouble with Nigerians” is a more apposite caption than the title chosen by Chinua Achebe because it makes the point immediately that Nigerians are the ones destroying the country. For Marxists, it is convenient to blame colonisation for the developmental problems facing African countries since independence.

The serious damage done to Africa by European powers through slavery, colonisation and neo-colonisation has been masterfully explored by Walter Rodney in his thought-provoking book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. However, there is a counter argument that despite the inimical character of contact with Europe, after more than half a century when colonisation had ended in most parts of Africa, Nigeria and other richly endowed countries ought to have achieved a reasonable degree of economic and industrial development to compete effectively in a rapidly globalising world.

Because the character of leadership is critical in determining the developmental trajectory for a given country, scholars like George Ayittey, Jim Unah and Muyiwa Falaiye strongly believe that Africa’s problem is fundamentally that of incompetent leadership, as Achebe had argued so trenchantly.

Now, granted that good quality leadership is a necessary condition for positive social transformation, the quality of leaders that emerge in a given society at any point in time reflects the moral ecology of that society. In otherwords, if a society were in a state of moral degeneration, it would tend to spawn leaders lacking in moral fibre needed for development. On the other hand, there is a greater probability that good leaders would emerge in societies dominated by morally elevated individuals.

Presently, despite the unprecedented expansion of Christianity and Islam in Nigeria, there is deepening crisis of values in the country. It is a matter for serious concern that, as Nigerians are becoming more religious there is a corresponding increase in moral deterioration. Moreover, it seems that members of the clergy are conniving with political leaders to despoil the people, as is evident in the very wide gap between the opulent lifestyles of our prominent politicians and religious leaders, on one hand, and dehumanising poverty of the average Nigerian, on the other. Unfortunately, gullible Nigerians still take religion seriously, still cling to the delusion that God will intervene at the appropriate time to solve all their existential problems.

The attitude of Nigerians to politics and politicians is a bundle of contradictions. They believe that politics is “a dirty game” unworthy of decent people. Yet they also manifest exaggerated admiration for wealthy corrupt politicians doling out crumbs from the master’s table. Failure to shun corrupt politicians encourages the latter to be more brazen in perpetrating corruption.

Consequently, in condemning corrupt politicians, it is important to recognise that Nigerians encourage them through inaction and willingness to accept bribes especially during elections. Added to all this is the pathetic inability or plain refusal of our people, even the highly educated ones, to transcend narrow ethnic thinking with respect to politics and leadership.

Politicians know that the degree of national consciousness in Nigerians is very low, and that appeal to ethnic sentiments is very effective for getting votes. As a result, they deliberately befog issues of national importance by resorting to primordial ethnic fears and suspicion, rather than stating clearly the credentials that qualify them for the post they are seeking. Thus, in my opinion, inasmuch as one would agree that every ethnic nationality should be encouraged to produce Nigeria’s President as soon as practicable to promote a sense of belonging nationwide, Nigerians should start cultivating the attitude of putting meritocracy and excellence above ethnicity in making political choices.

In the last fifty-four years, Nigerian leaders have achieved little vis-a-vis the impressive quantum of human and material resources domiciled in the country. It can be plausibly argued that Nigeria is like an overpampered child given everything he needs to perform brilliantly in school but who, out of indolence and truancy, has been outperformed by children from more challenging family backgrounds.

Countries that were either on the same level of economic and industrial development with Nigeria or slightly below her in the 1960s, such as Malaysia, Brazil, Indonesia, Singapore and so on, have leapfrogged ahead of her. What exactly is responsible for this state of affairs? Based on Achebe’s analysis, the quality of leadership made all the difference.

While the countries mentioned above have managed to evolve effective leadership for quite some time, Nigerians have not been able to create systems capable of minimising the dangers of bad leadership. Consider the two main political parties in Nigeria now, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC). Naturally, leading members of the PDP are doing their best to ensure that the party maintains its stranglehold on power at the centre, whereas chieftains of APC are working tirelessly to wrest power from the PDP.

Objectively speaking, there is no good reason to believe that the two parties are committed to genuine transformation of the country. First, neither PDP nor APC is ready for radical modification of the skewed federation in operation right now, which emasculates the federating units and gives too much power to the federal government. Unless Nigeria implements a genuine federal system that gives considerable political and fiscal autonomy to the geopolitical zones, the intractable economic and political bottlenecks hampering national development cannot be eliminated.

Secondly, agbata ekee politicians preoccupied with the quest for primitive accumulation dominate top echelons of both parties. President Goodluck Jonathan and top members of the ruling party are far more interested in retaining power in 2015 than in addressing the genuine concerns of ordinary Nigerians. On the other side, Muhammadu Buhari, Bola Tinubu and other prominent APC members are desperate to dislodge PDP from office without offering innovative ideas and strategies to deal with the difficult challenges of national development. In this sense, there is little to choose between the PDP and APC: what we have is a lot of hot air from leaders of both parties, signifying that the outcome of next year’s elections will not bring about real change which Nigerians really need.

But the question is, are Nigerians ready for change? How many of them are prepared for transformative intellectual and moral paradigm-shift?

Given the alacrity with which Nigerians resort to prayers for solutions to the challenges of life and their antipathy to rules and structures established to ensure meritocracy, it is safe to conclude that most people are not yet ready to change old thought habits and adopt more appropriate attitudes for national transformation. That is the major trouble with Nigerians, leaders and followers alike.



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