The reason most Nigerians aspire for political office is the lure of easy lucre, affluence and influence. It is almost a given, loudly vocalised rule that when you occupy a political office in Nigeria you are to bring home the spoils that go with that office. The disdain with which "unsuccessful" politicians are treated by their own kinsmen and people speaks volume of what has become the psyche and mentality of Nigerians. I have heard Nigerians rain abuse and courses on fellow Nigerians who were unable to amass wealth fraudulently while those who have inexplicably become overnight millionaires are conferred with traditional titles and feted as living deities.
Few Nigerians have in the past and in recent time proven to be able to occupy political office and fulfil their promises by rendering services to their constituents to the best of their knowledge and ability. There are a good few names that could truly make the political hall of fame in Nigeria and some of these include: Obafemi Awolowo, K.O Mbadiwe, Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Sardauna of Sokoto, and Aminu Kanu. In the second republic, politicians like Lateef Jakande and Sam Mbakwe distinguished themselves when graft and kleptocracy was the order of the day. In recent time, the likes of Babatunde Fashola and Sullivan Chime have shown that there are exceptions to the rule.
The objective of this piece is not to prove that the politicians listed above are saints who were not tainted by the cankerworm of corruption, but to delve into the roots of the problem in Nigeria. The resources and wealth in Nigeria is viewed as the ÔÇśnational cake' ÔÇô an aptly coined euphemism for the enthronement of grab-grab by no less a people than those who were supposed to lay the right foundation and orientation for the entire citizenry. If the Nigerian political class were to develop materials for our primary and secondary schools' social studies / citizenship curriculum, they would paint a picture of a free-for-all, winner-takes-it-all and scramble-for-your-share philosophy. The real entity called Nigeria (rich or poor) would be the proverbial goat owned by the public who starves and dies from want, neglect and gross abdication of our leader's responsibility.
It is a fact that the typical Nigerian politician does not consider himself to owe anything to the country. He prefers to think that the country owes him and therefore must exact his share of what belongs to him fairly or by default. There are many schools of thought: some laying the blame firmly at the doors of the British colonial heritage whilst others blame major cultural differences that inform the mindset of Nigerians for this problem. The bottom line is that there is a lack of trust among Nigerians. The country is polarised along intricate and complex tribal, ethnic, social, educational and religious lines. There is also a lack of true citizenship and collective ownership mentality. This translates eloquently into a lack of patriotism. And when paucity of patriotism or the concomitant elements that inform it are missing majority of the citizenry feel the way our politicians do about the country. Nigeria and its hapless citizens then become the proverbial publicly owned goat whom nobody cares about until it is prepped, garnished and ready to be consumed; or like they say here in Ireland, only good to be milked.
In simple term Nigeria lacks the spirit and cohesion for team work!
It is on record that some first republic politicians considered themselves firstly as ethnic leaders before national leaders. I do not have any problem with this attitude or political view but did they make clear efforts to build bridges and integrate Nigerians? How much effort was made to promote the things that hold us in common instead of the things that divide us? On the discovery of oil our politicians espoused the pork-barrel politics of Republican America and redefined corruption with blatant strokes of their pen. Many a dissent (social, political or armed) including coups, evil geniuses, kidnappings, political chicanery assassinations and blackmail have their thrust and base in this philosophy or lack of it.
Chinua Achebe correctly identified the failure of leadership as the major problem with the country. The problem with the current leadership in Nigeria is not new. It is recycled and anchored on extremely negative foundation. It is steeped in the pervasive putrid virus the founders of the country failed to neutralise more than fifty years ago. The leadership needed at this moment is one of re-orientation or refocusing of our national values. It must target our children in primary, secondary and third-level institutions. It must be consistent as a social marketing campaign. It must de-emphasise materialism and the get rich or die trying neo-Nigerian mentality. This new leadership style must give a new meaning to what social studies and citizenship curriculum aims to teach our children in Nigeria today. We must have structured learning that re-enforces individual and group projects that celebrate a value oriented ÔÇśone-Nigeria'. For example, are there privately sponsored or local government awards for schools and businesses for rediscovering new positive meaning of what Nigeria ought to be? Are their National Merit Awards for individuals and organisations that reward citizenship and leadership ethos that highlight selflessness and excellent leadership? What is therefore needed today is a strong, charismatic and transformational leadership that understands the need to sow seeds today that will make for a more disease-free-bumper harvest tomorrow.
With elections just around the corner ÔÇô do we have any such leaders and if yes who is your Nigerian leader for tomorrow?
Kelechi JK Onwumereh