Toni Morrison, one of America’s finest writers and a Nobel Prize winner, just passed on, in the United States of America. One of her most illuminating quotes is: “If you can only be tall because someone else is on their knees, then you have a serious problem”. While this spoke of racial discrimination in America, and the need to respect the America’s impregnable philosophy of equal rights for all people despite color and creed, it no doubt confronted leadership ineptitude laced with corruption, tribalism and inhumanity everywhere. As the whole World mourns the death of this towering novelist, whose writings gave existence to a critical aspect of American existence, I will rephrase her question to ask Nigerian leaders, ´“What are you without tribalism and corruption? Are you any better? Are you still strong? Still smart? Do you still like yourself?
Good leadership lies at the heart of growth and development of any economy, while bad leadership pilots stagnation, corruption, ethnocentrism, and insecurity. The later have been the trappings of the Nigerian political system, where leaders have adopted the position of Lords, who administer their fiefdom with no obligation to anyone. Successive governments have continued from where their predecessors left in pillaging and mismanaging the commonwealth of the nation. Right from the Councilors in the local governments, to big power players in Abuja, Nigerian political leaders think and behave alike-bereft of ideas on governance, enmeshed in the unbridled quest for wealth acquisition and buried in clannishness. At some point, one wonders what actually motivates Nigerian political class. Political leadership is not necessarily an all comers affair. It is a reserved calling for service-focused people. People that aspire to political attitudes, most times, have at the fundament of their brain, the impulse and desire to allocate societal values in a just way that develops the system, promote justice and equity, and assure protection of lives and property of the citizenry. More significantly, they are humane, intellectually sound and patient men, whose love for the people are unmistakable in their leadership style. Unluckily, these attributes do not seem to get to the party on the idiosyncratic make up of Nigerian leaders, particularly, those that occupy places of decision making, which have direct bearing on the everyday lives of the masses. Most are rather motivated by the rapacious brigandage of the commonwealth. Political Leadership positions in Nigeria are dangerously lucrative; an elected councilor, in two years, becomes a millionaire; a Governor controls 700million Naira security vote every month, which he accounts to nobody; a national legislator is allocated as much as 200million Naira worth of constituency project annually in MDAs-which most of the times they insist on nominating contractors for project execution, including as much as 15 million Naira monthly running cost; Ministers jostle for ‘high net worth’ Ministries, Departments and Agencies, so as to position for heavy procurement and contract awards. Lately, there have been allegations that some Ministerial nominees for the current administration paid up to 2billion Naira each, in order to be in the Cabinet. That is the character of political leadership in Nigeria. Power is over-valued and attracts those who have no business in public governance.
The current state of the Nigerian nation does not reflect leadership that has moved above self serving, fame and attention seeking. Right leaders do not obscure the truth in order to seem respectable. There is no doubt that Nigeria is in a turbulent state. Yes, no nation is without trouble, especially in a globalized World; where international boundaries have been obliterated by technology, and what goes on in a particular area affects people a million miles away, but no serious leaders allow problems that undermine the integrity of a nation to flourish. In the words of Psychologist Mitchell Royal Rads, “A good leader understands that in order for the whole society to be a functional and healthy one, some adjustments need to be made and people need to learn to give some in order to gain some”.
There is an overwhelming complaint by the Nigerian citizens on the menace of herdsmen- I really do not want to use Fulani, not because I am a coward, but because it is not unlikely that unscrupulous elements would have also been hiding behind the cloak of herdsmen to perpetrate crime- across the length and breadth of Nigeria. The stories jump into our faces from the pages of national dailies, and gory pictures are seen online, every other minute, of the dastardly deeds of these merchants of death. These senseless killings threaten the foundation of Nigeria’s unity, and continue to raise serious challenges to the foundation of our coexistence and moral scope.
An objective, fair and coherent short term political response to manage this, without bias, is to outlaw nomadic open grazing in Nigeria. If the Presidency has no bravery, the Legislature should be able to muster the courage, in the interest of peace, and legislate against it. This step solves two problems. Firstly, there is a reduced tension between sedentary agrarian farmers in the South and part of the mid North, and migrant herders from the North, which is mostly stoked by accusation and counter accusation of crop destruction, water pollution and cattle rustling. Secondly, the burgeoning highway kidnappings, and killings of Nigerians, which have severally been attributed to Fulani herdsmen, would be brought into proper context, and different security design drawn up by the Nigerian police. Failure of the Nigerian leadership architecture to tackle the herdsmen problem frontally is one of the most destructive forms of ethnocentrism.
The original essence of government, right from the postulations of John Locke, Stuart Mill and to the contemporary theorists, is the primacy of the individual. According to Locke, the main purpose of government is to protect those natural rights that the individual cannot effectively protect in a state of nature. Thus, the government comes in as a force to moderate interactions and provides comprehensive security that ensures safety and orderliness. In doing so, the social interaction and cohesion within the society culminates into a development of the human soul, the physical environment, and the economic well being of the citizenry. Still, in Nigeria, this progression is in direct contradiction. This contradiction is mostly fueled by leaders who interpret current realties using models that were invented decades ago; model like a certain section of the country should better be kept out of some strategic positions, as they are not trusted; model like some sections of the country have vowed to exterminate a section by any means necessary, so all policies are surreptitiously directed at sequestration of opportunities and growth.
Nigeria deserves selfless leaders who are able to rise above and beyond any egocentric and primitive need for power, attention, or establishing primordial, tribal or religious agendas and work with the intention of good-for-all
That is who Nigerian leaders should be.
*** Unico Kalu Uduka, Abuja. Twitter @unicouduka