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Nigeria’s predicament

RECENTLY, I read in the Vanguard of Nigeria that following a condolence visit of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan to the Sultan of Sokoto, the Nigerian Pro-Democracy group demanded the resignation of President Buhari.

This is apparently because during the visit Sokoto residents, mainly youths who massively voted to oust Jonathan and install Buhari as President in 2015, were vociferously welcoming the ex-President, and they carried placards that read “Baba Jonathan Please Come Back”. The Pro-Democracy group found this to be a clear indication that the same people that voted Buhari into power were then rejecting him because of his glaring inability to address the nation’s needs. Just as the Pro-Democracy group, most Nigerians are sadly aware of the disastrous current state of Nigeria’s economy, and the continuously rising inflation that has put enormous hardship on Nigerians especially the masses.

The cry for the return of an ex-President who was voted out of office in part because during his tenure corruption was booming and strangling the country’s development is a sad commentary on how Nigeria chooses her leaders. More specifically, the cry is evidence that in some quarters no matter how bad Nigeria’s predicament is made by incompetent governance, if a next administration turns out to be just as bad or worse than the previous one, there are Nigerians who find it acceptable to advocate for the return of a previous bad administration. This is sad because it emboldens rulers to think that they are unaccountable to anyone for despicable performance while in office. If Nigerians persist in choosing their leaders based on faulty criteria, Nigeria will continue to pay dearly for inability to choose the right leaders, and she will remain in the current vicious circle of bad governance and self-imposed underdevelopment. Stated simply and briefly, leaders should be chosen based on their visions for their state or country and evidence of their potential ability to make those visons to become reality. The importance of good leadership in determining people’s wellbeing cannot be overstated. The following is excerpted from a piece I wrote recently about the current unenviable predicament of Nigeria.

It is a painful fact that since independence in October 1, 1960 Nigeria has been beset with a wide variety of apparently intractable problems. I will comment briefly on education, corruption, and leadership mainly as they pertain to Nigeria.  The perspectives here are the random thoughts of one who is often confronted with the question: why do so many highly- educated Nigerians choose to reside in the Western world as reluctant exiles, instead of returning home to join their peers in the job of building a nascent nation? A precise answer to this question varies according to circumstances, and for the writer it has been presented previously in “Agony of a Nigerian Scientist” by Dike N Kalu (Heinemann Educational Books, Nigeria Plc, 2003, Available from Amazon, USA).

Visions for Nigeria: Nigeria has been an independent nation for well over half a century, a long enough time for Nigerian leaders to drum into the citizenry their visions for the country and how they intend to actualise them. Unfortunately, one is left to guess what these visions really are only from piecing together information from the media on the activities of those who have ruled the country since the end of the colonial era.

Visions for Nigeria must include continuously developing and modernising the country with the use of knowledge-based state of the art technology. Even though the country has continued to wallow in under-development, Nigerians are sophisticated enough to know that countries are built mainly by using technologies which are fallouts from science. For centuries, the industrialised nations have been using fallouts from science to progressively develop their own countries. (See, Nigeria’s Adventures in Technology by Dike N Kalu, Outskirts Press Inc. USA, 2015. Nigerians can also use technology to ensure the country’s development.

How do I know that?

I know because Nigeria has a surfeit of human resources both abroad and at home waiting to be harnessed. These Nigerians are as good and competent as any in the world. I know because in my many years in universities overseas I have seen Nigerian graduates excel in technological positions they’re plugged into. But many Nigerian graduates at home are jobless and some are whiling away an awful lot of time in the social media and doing basically nothing. Some even brand themselves as Presidents and CEOs of non-existing companies! These graduates are just waiting to be mobilised! It is a terrible waste of human resources and opportunities not to let these young Nigerians do something meaningful like building their own country.  It is not just sad but it is also unsettling to contemplate that Nigeria has such a multitude of intelligent educated and in some cases, uneducated youths doing nothing meaningful. Unsettling because an idle mind that is not meaningfully occupied, often drifts towards nefarious activities!

I believe our leaders are aware that the state of science in most Nigerian schools is inadequate to meet the country’s needs in science and technology. For us to use technology in the scale necessary to advance development in our environment, we are obligated to raise the level of science in our elementary and secondary schools. Since tertiary education is where most training for scientists and technologists occurs, if science is inadequate in our high schools then there will correspondingly be insufficient number of quality science students for our tertiary institutions as well as for vocational, technical and trade schools.

In this technological era that Nigeria appears to have been thrust into unprepared, it is the duty of those who can to advocate that we should not only be avid consumers of technology as is indicated for example, by the proliferation in the use of cell phones in Nigeria. We should also be generators of appropriate technologies for the country, or Nigeria will only be a dumping ground for other people’s technologies.

Question: Prof, but science and technology are expensive enterprises and it will require untold amounts of money to upgrade them in Nigerian schools and institutions. How can this be done?

Professor:  You are right. A lot of money will be required to modernise and expand science and technology in Nigeria. The thing to realise, however, is that money spent to improve the nation’s science and technology is money well-spent. Upgrading our science and technology sufficiently should be viewed as a necessary investment that if properly handled will repay itself many-fold in the future.

Nevertheless, I will not blame any well-meaning Nigerian for being nervous about the government entrusting anyone with the enormous amount of money required to upgrade Nigeria’s science and technology. This view comes from the country’s history in handling large amounts of money meant for the public’s good.

The question: How can it be done is a legitimate one that haunts people with the well-being of Nigeria at heart. A simple but facetious answer is, give the task to an “incorruptible Nigerian”. The reality is that even an “incorruptible Nigerian” cannot be effective when embedded in a sea of corruption.

Nigeria and unabashed, fraudulent enrichment of self: What has been consistent in Nigeria for many years is that joblessness, poverty, and crime are rampant irrespective of the administration in power. In addition, there is an unfortunate loss of personal security as Nigerians no longer feel safe in any environment even after caging themselves with walls as prisoners at home and for many at work as well. But the saddest of it all is that with minute exceptions, Nigeria’s ruling class and a privileged few, both federally and within Nigerian states, have developed an insatiable appetite for enriching themselves fraudulently with obscene amounts of the nation’s money. It is as if these individuals are competing for the title of the biggest looter. This strange competition appears to have completely replaced any concern the ruling class may have had for the wellbeing of the masses.

Amidst this background of excessive and inordinate interest in the welfare of self, politicians and political parties come and go. Each is oblivious of how to lead Nigerians out of their apparently perpetual political quandary to the “promised land”. So, the suffering of the masses continues.

It is amazing that the performances of the different administrations that have ruled Nigeria in this depressing and disappointing post-independence period have been remarkably similar. Each time an administration leaves office the Nigerian masses are in no better shape than they were when it assumed power. But the rulers invariably accumulate tremendous amounts of influence and wealth during their tenure, and they even seem to be objects of admiration of many of the suffering masses, which I find strange! I say strange because these rulers, no matter their misdeeds in and out of office, are celebrated and revered in Nigerian societies by many of the same people they failed while in office! We shall henceforth call the decrepit state of underdevelopment that these unscrupulous ruling classes have imposed on Nigeria, “Nigeria’s predicament”.   In view of the current poor predicament of Nigeria, it is indisputable that Nigerians have so far failed to build the type of country one would long for after political independence from colonial masters.

While searching for the reasons WHY, one is confronted repeatedly by a single factor that is common to all past administrations that have ruled Nigeria in the recent past. This single factor is unabashed and insatiable appetite for fraudulent and brazen self-enrichment using the nation’s wealth. Henceforth I’ll abbreviate this simply as “self”.  It is this inordinate love of “self” that makes people to convert for their own use more public funds than can last them and their families for over 10 lifetimes when their neighbors may not even be able to meet their basic daily needs.  It is this excessive and inordinate interest in the well-being of “self” that makes a legislator to use public funds to build over 200-kilometer-long tarred road that terminates at his residence; but he does not continue with the construction of the road to a general hospital for the masses just a few kilometers away. It is this disproportionate compulsion to focus on “self” that makes administrations and rulers to stash away billions of naira that belong to the public in out of reach unthinkable places instead of leaving the money in Nigeria where it could be invested or used to benefit other Nigerians.

Because the actions of the ruling class mold the actions of citizens, the “self” mentality of unabashed fraudulent self-enrichment has unfortunately infected the very fabric of the Nigerian society. Consequently, this love of “self” has consolidated bribery and corruption as a way of life in Nigeria. It is the inordinate love of “self” that makes many people in positions of trust to resort to making life even more unpleasant and disillusioning for others; they fraudulently make monetary demands from citizens for common services mainly for their own personal benefits. It is this love of “self” that makes people revere or turn blind eyes to what they know is ill-gotten wealth. It is this inordinate love of “self” that inspire some Nigerians to want to be one of the Joneses, and at all cost.

Prof, but aren’t all these just corruptions? Answer: Yes, they are; and all forms of corruption no matter in what guise they manifest themselves are heinous and should be rooted out if the nation’s development is to take root. Corruption aligned with “self” makes corruption even more wicked and virulent.

When corruption is infected by “self” as it is in our environment, it becomes very dangerous because it is no longer sensitive to the welfare of the masses.  A ruling class afflicted by “self” feels no compunction in embezzling from public funds obscene amounts of money, or in putting money designated for paying nurses, teachers, and civil servants under the bed or wherever it is not within easy reach as in foreign banks. Administrations afflicted by “self” are incapable of seeing the squalor around neighborhoods or the roads made impassable because they have become dirty stagnant pools of a mixture of rain water and refuse in the middle of the road with no exit route. The public official afflicted with “self” cannot make decisions that may eventually undermine “self” even if that decision is for the betterment of a state or Nigeria.

Since this destructive emphasis on “self” is found in all administrations post-independence in Nigeria, I have concluded that it is the primary reason Nigeria and her constituent states have not paid and are incapable of paying the necessary attention to the wellbeing of the masses.  For the many who find this conclusion intuitively obvious, I remind you that diagnosing a disease correctly and then doing nothing about it does the patient no iota of good. For the few that have, despite grave difficulties made substantive efforts to address Nigeria’s primary problem in their local environments we see you, and we acknowledge you.

In Nigeria, the excessive focus on “self” has failed the country and it will continue to fail the masses in Nigeria for one reason.  According to the proponents of “self”, as long as one is in or has political power behind him, one will be alright. This Nigerian truism has served previous administrations and a privileged few well in the past in Nigeria.  However, the “self” system is grossly inappropriate because in a country that is fast approaching 200 million people, only a minute fraction of Nigerians can ever attain political power and so benefit from it.  Consequently, the “self” doctrine cannot serve the bulk of Nigerians well, but it explains, at least in part, why there are bitter and nasty fights to join or remain in the ruling class in Nigeria. I will now propose a simple alternative to the “self” system that will serve ALL Nigerians well. That alternative is the “masses-first” system.

Masses-first system: What is important in “masses-first” system is anything an individual or an administration does, has done, and/or intends to do for the benefit of the country and the masses who after all, are the legitimate owners of society. The rallying cry of this “masses-first” system is, “We are all in this together”.  A society built under the umbrella of the “masses-first” system is bound to be successful because it takes into consideration the reasons the “self” system has failed so woefully. In the “masses-first” system every individual will look forward to the next day with hope and not fear, in part for the following reasons:

Schools will be built, equipped well, maintained, and staffed with teachers that will not be used as political footballs. Rather teachers will be cherished, respected, empowered and paid their salaries regularly because they are the guards of our children who are the inevitable future leaders of the Nigerian nation.  Our children deserve the best education they can get and their teachers merit a decent standard of living.

In the “masses-first” system there will be a renaissance in love for education. Science and technology will be given their rightful places and they will, as they should, be used as instruments for the development of the country. Youths will be taught early the utility-nature of science and technology, and the fact that the goal is to use them to improve the lives of mankind, and especially those of Nigerians in their case. They will also be taught early that it is innovation that drives development and that they too are blessed with novel ideas that have remained dormant only waiting to be tapped and developed. Endogenous technology will be sought and encouraged. People will once again begin to extol and appreciate the many benefits of education both to the individual and to society in general.

In “masses-first” system hospitals and clinics will be built and staffed with well-trained and competent healthcare personnel, and these hospitals will be equipped with modern facilities and conveniences. The requirements necessary to build first class medical establishments are public knowledge and Nigeria’s medical establishment is potentially up to the task. In the masses-first system, the masses will have no need to fly to Western countries any time they have medical issues and they too can enjoy the benefits of decent and affordable medical care at home in Nigeria.

In the “masses-first” system roads will be built and maintained because they are the arteries of commerce and leisure for everybody including the masses. This is more so because the masses, unlike the privileged few do not own the strong, expensive, foreign vehicles that can ply unmaintained, pot-hole-infested, and flooded roads.

In the “masses-first” system reliable electricity energy and safe water supply will be ensured. The “masses-first” system considers them as basic rights of Nigerians because in conjunction with good roads they will do so much to enrich the masses and enhance the economy as well.

In the “masses-first” system personal security will return to our neighborhoods, mainly because everyone that wants to work will work and not remain idle and be consumed with antisocial thoughts. Money allocated for building factories and for job-creation will be so used and will not end up in the pockets or private bank accounts of “enemies of the masses”. The “masses-first” system will not leave qualified youths idle and unemployed because to do so is tantamount to encouraging them to engage in despicable anti-social activities.

It cannot be over-emphasized that the “masses-first” system will not be successful if the level of youth joblessness and adult underemployment we now have in Nigeria persists. Nigerian kids were asked to go and acquire elementary, high school and tertiary education and thereby prepare themselves for a bright future.  They did over long periods of hard work plus support and sacrifice by parents and guardians, and finally they graduated. But after completing mandated national youth service, there are no jobs for a vast number of them.  Sadly, many recent graduates that were lucky to have found employment are now being laid off because of the current self-imposed economic difficulties of the country. If you are a parent or a guardian, what can you say to these unemployed young graduates? What will now be your reason for encouraging Nigerian youths to persevere with the demands of obtaining education? What do you think young Nigerian kids’ attitudes to education will now be?

It is no wonder that unemployed, educated Nigerian youths are confused and frustrated. Some unfortunately drift to contemptible activities just because they have too much idle time in their hands and nothing meaningful to show for their education.

It is not just the obligation of governments to see that youths are adequately prepared for a future that is at best uncertain. The government is also obligated to put in place a system that ensures that graduates are usefully employed because these youths are legitimate custodians of the future.

Graduates are at that youthful stage in life when they are able and willing to do whatever is necessary to make a great future for themselves, their family, and their country. The government through her policies should affirm that they are desired and valued members of society whose educational training is necessary for growing the country’s economy and moving the nation forward in the right direction. What should be discouraged at all cost is making these youths to see life as inequitable and uncaring.

The “masses-first” system recognizes that it is of immense social and economic interest to actively promote adequate employment of educated youths, and that not to do so is gross negligence of a vital responsibility.

Nigeria must also acknowledge the existence within her borders of many individuals without the advantage of secondary or post-secondary school education. These people, many of whom are not responsible for their problems, constitute a large proportion of those that have borne the frustrations of the repugnant and primitive “self” system. Their wellbeing must rank high in the preferred “masses-first” system, and they should never be forgotten in any restructuring.

Nigerians have no choice but to believe that a better future lies ahead for them, and that the frustrations they have so far endured are analogous to the “storm before the calm”. They need not, however, wait for as long as it took the industrialized nations to become developed because unlike for them, the groundwork for development has been laid for us ad nauseam.

Nigeria’s predicament can be turned around if Nigerian masses truly jettison the disgusting “self” system by all legitimate means possible. Our lots will change dramatically for the better if we begin to patronize a system in which those we choose to govern us are true believers and advocates of the wellbeing of the masses. I plead with you to go now and find them, and please do not allow yourself to be hoodwinked.

While the above plea may appear to be a near impossible task to accomplish, please do not laugh it off as a tall order because Nigerians are also the architects of the current abhorrent system dominated by “self”.  To rescue Nigeria from “self” is difficult but possible. You have paid enough price for giving “self” root. Descend into your innermost resources in the quest for guidance, and remember that it is your future and that of your progeny that are at stake. If you abandon a worthy enterprise you only can accomplish just because it is difficult, then it is unlikely that you can ever achieve anything meaningful and worthwhile because issues that merit spending time on are usually difficult.

Remember that any time you point at those unscrupulous practitioners of the archaic and old-fashioned “self” system and chastise them for their misdeeds, your other four fingers will be pointing right back at you because you chose many of them. As far as I know Nigerians do not carry a special gene that predisposes them to seek inordinate and fraudulent self-enrichment. So, the time is now to dump the primitive and archaic anachronism of “self“ for the progressive “masses-first” system which will serve ALL Nigerians well.

As I opined in another occasion, Nigeria is today insufficiently developed because she imposed under-development on herself. The country should offer her God-given abundant human resources the mantle of doing all that is necessary to uplift the country from her present unenviable predicament. Nigerians should be made to realize that they belong to a blessed country where there is more than enough for everyone. Nigeria may be a capitalist country, but we are no longer in the jungle era of the survival of the fittest.  We are now obligated to cater for the wellbeing of one another.

I hope Nigerians have learned through their own sufferings under various regimes that it is ignorant and uncouth for the ruling class and a privileged few to embezzle or misuse the nation’s money. All peoples of the world have finite lifespans and when the federal and state looters of Nigeria’s wealth are gone, the monies they misappropriate come under the authority of the countries where the loots are “hidden”!  Nigeria is left to spend time she does not have trying to recover these loots instead of spending her time to address the many real issues that face the nation. This is unacceptable.

Every Nigerian should be aware that “we are all in Nigeria’s predicament together”.  Any feeling in any quarters that “I am all right” is nothing but an illusion if there are Nigerians that feel exactly the opposite. Hardship and insecurity will persist in Nigeria if there are those jobless individuals anxious to work but have no viable escape route from their unenviable situation.

Leadership in Nigeria: Good, progressive leadership is a prerequisite for any country to thrive and be successful. The leadership of a country or state is a complex and monumental task, and it takes an exceptional individual to make a success of it as Nigerians can attest to. Consequently, a state or national leader in Nigeria and elsewhere for that matter should be a combination of many virtues. He/she (subsequently designated as he) should be, honest, knowledgeable, humble, fair-minded, compassionate, empathetic, and always ready to learn.

To be successful, once elected and installed, a leader should rise above his electorate and partisanship and become leader for all. He should be a perpetual student of the complexity of the human condition; he should strive for equitable justice for all citizens, and he should be a custodian of the environment.

In addition, a leader should realize that whether or not he so wishes the citizens of his country will scrutinize “his every action” daily, and many will look up to him for guidance. So, what a leader says, does and does not do or say are of great consequence.

A leader should make public his true visions for his country or state during election time, and he should reaffirm those visions periodically after he is elected leader. The visions should be clear, impartial, ambitious but achievable.

In addition, a leader should have the potential to mold the present in a way that will promote a successful future for the country.

While the development of a nation requires good leadership it also requires appropriate division of labor because it is unrealistic to expect a leader to do everything by himself.

A county’s leader should be sensitive to the fact that we now live in a complex world where the ability to accomplish most tasks requires the pre-acquisition of a lot of basic knowledge, expertise and experience. Unfortunately, these requirements do not come easily from wishing, willing or being privileged; rather they are the products of sustained efforts in the right direction. Indigenous people with the above requirements are indispensable in the successful building of a nation. Good leadership is obligated to find and acquire them.

So, a good leader should seek within the citizenry the best people with relevant expertise to actualize his visions for the country or state.  Since one can only work with what exists, when the necessary expertise is not available the leader should rely on evidence of previous superior performance in other areas when seeking people to help him fulfill his visions.

A country or state should always strive for excellence in all her endeavors so that she could with good conscience make do with the next best if the ideal eludes her. While it is true that managing the affairs of a nation or state is a difficult and complex task, an administration that does not give the masses a reason to look forward to the future with hope and optimism is a failure.

Role of the masses: The masses themselves should be aware that consciously or unconsciously they too play a big role in making their country or state what it is. They do so by the leaders they choose to govern them, by the tasks they devote their time to, by how well they perform in their differing vocations and by how they treat one another.

As I have said before, I say again: one should always be mindful that whenever fate puts one in a position of service to society due to a unique talent or training, failure to serve and serve honorably is a violation of moral responsibility”.

By Dike  Kalu, a retired Professor Emeritus, wrote from USA.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.