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Between the people and leadership

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By Sunny Ikhioya

IN the past few days, I have been involved in a running debate with some of my Warri brothers in the Alder’s league forum; very lovely, exciting and intellectually stimulating group. The debate has been on leadership: should the initiative come from our leaders or the people? Let me rephrase the question: who takes responsibility for the outcome of governance, the people or our leaders in government? Some have postulated that a society gets the type of leadership that it deserves. If the leadership is autocratic or dictatorial, it is what the people deserve and if it is a real democracy, it is the people’s wish. Therefore, people should stop apportioning blames to those in government. This position appears utopian to some of us, but in real life situations, in developed countries in the United Kingdom, the European Union and other places like Singapore, it is a reality; you do not take the people’s wish for granted. This is so because everything that can impugn the integrity of the selection process has been properly taken care of by established institutions; and this has weathered the storm over decades and centuries. There are differences and divisions naturally, as you will expect from any society, but you will never hear that the head of state has taken certain decisions because he belongs to certain religious or ethnic group. In fact, under such situations, every interest group must have been figured out and summed up into the whole; so you will find little cause for agitations. We must also not forget the fact that this level of people-induced leadership did not just emerge, it was built over decades and centuries, and in most cases with bloodshed. From traditional authorities to religious authorities, then to dictatorships of the strong over the weak, and then the rebellion of the people. So, the establishment of people leadership did not take place without a fight; in most cases, there were rebellions like that by Martin Luther; there were revolutions, as in the case of the Soviet Union. People have fought, people have died and people have made sacrifices in the quest  for a people’s democracy that we see today in Europe and other advanced countries.


On which side of the divide will you place the Nigerian situation? Will you say that the people are responsible for the prevailing situation in this country? Or is it the result of the kind of leadership that has been thrust upon this nation all through the years? Will you say that the Nigerian followership has been properly liberated to determine, correctly, the type of leadership suitable for its development? Will you say that the Nigerian follower ship has received enough education and enlightenment to properly determine its leaders? Can one say that religion and ethnicity have not overshadowed our personal views? What about the culture of militarism? Will you say that the people are responsible for the actions and consequences of a few individuals who forced their ways to power? Where do we place the impact of technologies in determining our leadership? Answers to all of these questions will enable us to situate our present democratic position and where possible, move ahead with solutions or remedial efforts.

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The average Nigerian populace has never known true freedom given the way our nation has evolved. Prof Wole Soyinka writing in the New York Times of October 9, 2019, in an article titled: “Lessons from Nigeria’s Militarised Democratic Experiment”, observed as follows: “In Nigeria, the will of the people, which lies at the very heart of democracy, appears to be a conditioned will, one that does not extend to even a mild tinkering with the constituent parts of the nation”. That is the condition of the Nigerian populace. They have never witnessed true liberation of the mind since inception. First, it was the British colonialism, which the people reacted to through their British educated leaders and at independence. These same leaders introduced their people to ethnic politics and when you add the neocolonialism of modern religion, the brainwashing of the people was complete.

Also, by reason of our traditional customs and religions, we do not possess democratic roots; it was divine ruler-ship through our traditional rulers and deities. So, our people have never been known to express decisions through universal suffrage, apart from the early efforts of trade unionists. In fact, the institution of democracy, as we know it today, is the manifestation of the foundation that our British colonial authorities imposed on us, through their administration, education and what we can empirically verify in their own system of governance. So, we discover that history has taught us to be subservient to authority; religion has also taught us to do same without questioning. Even, when there is a breakthrough, it is usually someone from the elite or ruling class that initiates the change.

Therefore, when you accuse the Nigerian followership of being too docile, what do you expect from a population with over 70 percent illiteracy rate, in some places over ninety percent? What do you expect from a people who have been subdued all their lives? Given our backgrounds and antecedents, the responsibility for actions and inaction of government must rest squarely on the shoulders of people in leadership. Do not get me wrong here: we can create a government based on people leadership or make it a reality in Nigeria. But that also will be determined by a leadership which believes that power resides with the people and will do everything possible to put the people in charge. How do you put the people in charge? Simply through education, enlightenment and non-partisanship. That is the solution, but this has been very difficult to implement in Nigeria because our leadership has been enslaved by primordial interests that have kept them down or blinded their focus all through the years.

We have been talking about restructuring all these while, but will the ordinary citizens in the North realise that the true federalism that is being advocated is one that will enable them to manage their own resources, give them focus and true freedom? To them, agitators from the South only want to deprive Northerners of our collective wealth which is embedded in the under belly of our Southern shores. So, they must resist any attempt to change the status quo.

With education , the average girl-child in the North will realise that she has more potentials than she has been made to believe all these years. With education, citizens of the country will be able to gauge correctly, the performance of their leaders and be able to hold them to their responsibilities. An educated man is more difficult to cheat or deceive than an illiterate one. The Hong Kong protests have gone on successfully for several weeks; only an educated populace can pull that through. The Singaporean development did not just take place, the people grabbed the message of leadership; with education, the message and focus of leadership is easily understood and implemented. That is why education is key in a developing nation and Nigeria must start with that. We will continue to hold the leadership responsible because it takes a good leader to turn an illiterate and confused society into a focused, enlightened and progressive one, as we have seen in other lands.

Atedo Peterside advises the elites and leadership to unite and move the nation forward. But it is only a leadership that is open to all views that can attract the elites to come in and help. Our leadership must follow the true path to greatness and must start by taking responsibility.


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