By Sunny Ikhioya
THE return of Muhammadu Buhari at the helm of affairs as Nigeria’s president has since brought to the front burner the debate of the relationship between leaders and followers. This only reminds us of the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti singing: “My people are senseless, my people are useless, my people are indisciplined”. And not too long ago, the “ lazy youth” comment by Mr President has stretched the debate line further. There is also this trite saying that “a people get the kind of leadership that they deserve”.
So, where do we you place the blame ? Is it the fault of the populace or more specifically the voters? Is the people in leadership at local, state and federal governments levels? Nigerians have often been accused of being too passive, when it comes to government affairs.
They allow themselves to be fooled, used and dumped by politicians, including those elected or appointed to run government affairs. They have been accused of celebrating people who have come to wealth through criminal means; of not properly monitoring the activities of those that they have voted to represent them and therefore, the leaders are having a field day.
Successive governments have come and gone, each promising improvements in governance, but they usually leave the people in poorer shape. This claim begins to gain more potency when we look beyond our shores and see the way people in government are made to be accountable.
The case of Donald Trump of the USA, Netanyahu of Israel , Boris Johnson in Britain and even in authoritarian states like China and Russia, people do not take leadership for granted; they are quickly removed before they go to the extent of inflicting damages to the system. If people in these climes can have control over their leadership, why is the case of Nigeria different? Does our culture and heritage play a part in it?
Is it colonisation that has brought down our moral values? Is it the mixing of different ethnic groups and religion? Can we attribute this to our faulty foundational structures? What is it that has made the Nigerian leadership so selfish and irresponsible? It is a very intricate puzzle to unravel, but if we interrogate this with sincerity, we can easily get the answers.
The great Islamic scholar, Sheikh Uthman Dan Fodio, once espoused that: “Conscience is an open wound, only the truth can heal it”. Are we ready to heal this wound that has been keeping this country perpetually down? Let us go to the beginning: then we had traditional institutions with cultures, mores, ethics and others that guide governance, each ethnic group with its own set up, where kings and chiefs take pre-eminence, their words were laws and people were allocated to offices according to their relevance in society.
In most cases, they must earn their positions, except such positions are hereditary. The customs are the laws and they are not toyed with for fear of grave consequences. Basically, the traditional and religious institutions in Nigeria demand strict compliance to instructions and obedience to customs; you are not allowed to question or rationalise why certain things remain the way they are because that is the way it has been and so will it remain, taboos are even placed on things that you can eat.
So, you see a child growing up strictly in line with what the parents tells him as the law; that was our foundation, to obey and not to question. The colonialists came and distorted the system in the manner of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart ; but in this instance, they assumed a master-servant relationship, which placed their thinking over and above that of the indigenes. Our educated fathers and leaders who took over from the colonialists soon began to implement negatively what they have copied from the colonial masters.
They are never comfortable with alternative views, even in Churches and Mosques. Genuine interrogations are considered heresy and blasphemous, whereas in most developed countries, questions are asked and answers proffered by those in authority. A six-year-old child can ask the parents questions on why things are the way they look and answers will be provided. In our case, the child will be told to keep quiet; that is our way and that is the foundation of our docility.
We regard anybody in a position of authority as divinely appointed and so can rule the way he/she deems fit without questioning. Our leaders have taken it as a given and so behave true to type. Conversely, the developed countries of the world have gone through transitions, of revolts and revolutions against existing structures that are detrimental to good governance and fundamental human rights.
Over time they were able to establish structures that will not be swayed by human sentiments; structures that will impose fairness based on the rule of law that everyone will be subordinated to, no matter the standing in society. Structures that regulate the conduct of the people, both the leaders and the followers. Structures that are permanent; even though government goes and comes, the structures remain. Structures that guarantee equity to all no matter how lowly or highly placed in society.
Structures that will allow the upcoming ones to interrogate the existing systems and to point out loopholes without fear of being censored. Structures that allow the leaders to be accountable to the peoples’ needs and welfare. Such are the structures that have been put in place by developed countries, where our brothers and sisters are now running to enjoy; that have made citizen migration a big problem for the country.
Such structures are attractive because they are open, transparent, focused and system-based. We crave for such in Nigeria. Our leaders know this and often mouth it at the slightest opportunity. They are proud of saying that they are a democratically elected, brought into political offices by the people to rule in a democratic manner.
Is that not the source of our present predicament? The rule of favoritism over merit? The rule of secrecy over openness? Is that not why government is afraid of press freedom? Why should we be uncomfortable with Twitter, if we are sure that we can defeat them in the court of public opinion? I will, therefore, not subscribe to laying the blame on the people.
We have seen the people’s efforts at effecting change and each time they were muzzled. We have seen the arrogance and threatening manner government officials address issues concerning the citizenry. We have perceived how security agents have been used to selectively fight the corruption battle and disrupt elections.
It is only the leaders that can change the system; every successful revolution has been led by elites. The people have been beaten to submission, they cannot raise their heads. President Buhari has shown from his interview with Arise TV, that he is in charge, that whatever direction the government is taking today, he is the one piloting it. Labour, civil societies, students unions have all become toothless bulldogs; even well-known comrades and human rights activists have gone on vacation; the others in government are following the leader.
That is the Nigerian situation. When we put structures and systems that will be respected by all in place, then we can hold the people responsible for not taking action against leadership failure. But, again, who will put these structures in place? The leaders, of course!
*Ikhioya wrote via: www.southsouthecho.com