Our next-generation may not know what our generation knew, may not have what we had. We have failed to give them what the previous generation gave us. The peace and tranquillity we knew, the comfort and ease we had, the security and brotherhood we enjoyed, the careful laying of the foundation for our future we witnessed – all these we have failed to transfer to the next generation because we have thrown away the baton.
The problems of Nigeria are such that you get lost when talking about them. Where do you start from? The betrayal of confidence by leadership that much hope was placed on? Or is it the systemic and systematic decay in its affairs? The “me first” attitude of its people that see the country as milking cow? Our lack of seriousness over what we should be serious about?
In Chinua Achebe’s book The Trouble With Nigeria, published in 1983, he professed that the only trouble with Nigeria is the failure of leadership. He wrote that with outstanding leaders, Nigeria could resolve its inherent problems, such as tribalism, lack of patriotism, social injustice and the cult of mediocrity, indiscipline, and corruption.
However, Joseph F. Mali, in his A Quiet Revolution: Some Social and Religious Perspectives on the Nigerian Crisis, thinks differently. He thinks corruption and failed leadership are not at the heart of the Nigerian crisis. He opined that though corruption and misrule have done terrible harm to the country; they are by-products of something in the same way smoke is the by-product of fire.
The real trouble with Nigeria, says Mali, “is the lifestyle of profound selfishness the people and their leaders have in common”. And the nation still bleeds because of this evil, he said. Unless Nigerians cure this (disease), he maintains, no system of government is likely to succeed. “In vain do Nigerians seek political solutions as long as selfishness remains their credo!” Since Nigeria’s problem is moral, Mali insists, the remedy must also be ethical. He proposes A Quiet Revolution as a cure for Nigeria’s ailment. This revolution is not a silent coup to overthrow the Nigerian government. It is not a French-style rebellion with masses on the streets and peasants in the country put an end to centuries of absolute monarchy. Rather, the Quiet Revolution is an interior change, an individual transformation. As long as this change has not happened, Mali declares, it will be difficult to repair and restore Nigeria.
This is quite in tandem with the Qur’anic verse that says Allah (SWT) changes not the condition of people until they change what is in their hearts. Here, the verse is widely quoted out of context by people wanting to give their idols in power excuses. People don’t just wake up and at same time say: “We must change.” He always gives them someone who sensitises and organises them by leading them as their guide. Such a person is the leader; even the greatest revolutions and mass uprisings in history have guides, so it still comes back to the question of leadership.
God sends prophets to lead people to cleanse their hearts and become new. One by one, people change internally and get transformed individually, as Mali said, and collectively a changed society is born. There is always one who is the society’s mirror..
In July last year, I wrote on this page “God raises the living out of the dead and brings forth light out of the dark, He raises from among a people their type who leads them from deprivation to well being. Out of the palace of the Pharaoh, He raised Moses (AS); out of the family and society of idolaters, He brought forth Abraham (AS), and out of the heathendom of Arabia He revealed Muhammad (SAW).
“Chaka the Zulu founded the Zulu Empire and led them for twelve years before he was assassinated on September 22, 1828. He moulded his people into a dominating fighting force never seen before in southern Africa. Mao Zedong, known as Chairman Mao, was the founding father of The People’s Republic of China and laid the foundation of what China now is. You can go on and count leaders who changed their people and their countries’ fortunes by leading by example. Cuba’s Fidel Castro was one; we also had Muammar Gaddafi from Libya, Dr Martin Luther King who raised the consciousness of Blacks, Dr Muhammad Mahathir of Malaysia and Mahatma Gandhi of India.
“These leaders raised the consciousness level of the people and changed them to better human beings, by being what they wanted their people to be. They did not look their people in the face condescendingly and patronisingly, point a finger at them singing “change” while they indulged in the vices of yore. Mao viewed such leaders as “swollen in head, weak in legs, sharp in tongue but empty in belly.”
Perchance this is one reason in 1999, years after he published his work, and despite Mali’s treatise, Achebe still maintained that Nigeria’s problem is that of leadership. He had returned to the country after a decade overseas receiving treatment for a back injury sustained in an automobile accident. At his home in the South East, he met with Cunliffe-Jones to discuss the Nigerian crisis. Achebe’s view had not changed at all. He reiterated his old message: “If poor leadership caused the problem then, it is still the case today.”
Someone once explained our social and political reality: “those in power enjoyed the oil money while most other Nigerians languished in poverty. The masses, he said, could be described as innocent sufferers, like the biblical Job, or the Suffering Servant of Yahweh. (Nigerian masses) watch their leaders ruin the nation but could do nothing to stop them”, he concluded.
Unfortunately, the quality of leadership seems to dwindle, deteriorating by the day despite Nigeria being more populated than forty years ago when Achebe wrote his political polemic. We have more professors, more PhDs, more professionals, more intellectuals, more exposure, more enlightenment – more everything. Yet we have regressed so much concerning providing quality leaders and leadership in the country.
Because of this dysfunction in providing formal leadership responsive to yearnings of people, tribal quasi-irredentists and jingoists have appeared on the landscape, setting the agenda.
The South-East produced Zik of Africa, Eton College-trained Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Kingsley Mbadiwe of the Timber and Calibre rhetoric and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary fame. It also produced Alex Ekwueme, intellectual giants like Chuba Okadigbo, etc. Now it has a Mazi Nnamdi Kanu.
The South West sired Obafemi Awolowo, Adelabu Adegoke, Lamidi Adedibu, MKO Abiola, Lateef Jakande, Adeniran Ogunsanya, Pa Adekunle Ajasin, etc. But now it is Sunday Igboho after Ganiyu Adams.
The North? The North that produced Aminu Kano, Hassan Usman Katsina, Shehu Shagari, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Waziri Ibrahim has no one now, sadly. It has been searching since the demise of the Sardauna of Sokoto 56 years ago.
The lack of leaders who love this country has been our problem. While current crop of leaders had the best of everything, they have not improved on what they got for those coming after them. The great public school system that groomed them is no more. They prefer to send their children abroad for tertiary education and private schools for their primary and secondary education. The American government recently said about 14,000 Nigerians pursuing graduate and undergraduate degrees across communities in their country spent $501 million (about N190 billion) last year. And this is just America!
The public health system that took care of them while growing up is a shadow of itself as private hospitals and clinics have taken over. The leaders now indulge in medical tourism, spending billions of naira in hospitals abroad. In 2016, Price Waterhouse Coopers in its report stated that Nigerians spend $1 billion annually on medical tourism. It also said that 60 per cent of it is from oncology, orthopaedic, nephrology and cardiology patients.
When the world was virtually locked down this time last year because of Covid-19, the average Nigerian patiently waited for conditions to ease. He believed that having realised our incapacity, Nigeria will witness massive developments in its health and education sector and an aggressive drive on food production. Good leaders would also think that way.
It is unfortunate our generation has not replicated for the next generation what last generation did for us. Instead of even giving them peace to do for themselves what we failed to do for them, we are bristling and threatening to push them into turmoil. Turmoil and uncertainty. We better retreat because the path we are treading will not stand us well in the books of posterity.
If we have failed in taking care of their welfare, we should not fail in securing their lives in a united Nigeria and giving them peace to thrive.