The Real Problem with Nigeria
By Fred Igbeare
Bad leadership is usually blamed for the problem with Nigeria. That is true only to an extent. If you look deeper, the people are the real problem with Nigeria. Yes, you and I must take the blame because our leaders today come from amongst us, not from anywhere else. You cannot seriously expect to pluck good fruits from a bad tree, or get mangos from an apple tree. Our individual choices and actions add up to become the huge national leadership mess. The point to begin fixing that mess is a candid inspection of that image staring right back at you in the mirror.
Some years back, a colleague entreated me to give him freelance work. I obliged but cautioned him to inform me ahead of time if he couldn't deliver. Do you know this dude never showed up come deadline time! He did not even call with an explanation. I had to scramble to fill in the slot I had allocated to him. He was a fellow Nigerian messing with my gari at a foreign-owned newsmagazine!
Now tell me please which Nigerian leader told this adult to be irresponsible? Neither Abacha nor Obasanjo was anywhere around in this transaction. If a grown man cannot understand the simple concept of credibility, how can some other flawed person help him? Besides, if a leader told him to jump into fire, would he? Would you? (That is if you are not a suicide-bomber.) Leaders are flawed people like everyone else. The standards that apply to them should apply to us too.
When anyone promises to do something and doesn't do it, there is disappointment understandably. When a president promises free and fair elections and doesn't deliver or a spouse promises to be faithful and then cheats, how are these two situations different? By the way, they say OBJ rigged the last presidential elections - okay: who helped him? He is just one person, or is he omnipresent? Anyway, when a ruler promises to fight corruption and then turns out corrupt - how is that different from a Nigerian friend who promises to back you up but turns around to stab you in the back?
People should fulfill their promises, or at least try. If they come short, it is not too much to expect them to offer a sincere apology, a credible explanation or a better effort next time. No one admittedly is perfect. Imperfection however is not a sufficient excuse for abdicating responsibility. Credibility indeed applies to both the leader and the led.
That Nigerian guy today would complain about how bad Nigerian leaders are, how they can't live up to expectations or fulfill their promises. And like many other Nigerians, he fails to see how our individual shortcomings combine to become the huge national leadership mess. We are the Frankenstein collective and this monster of bad leadership is our creation.
Take some of the leaders we so discredit today, and rightly so. They didn't come from Mars. They say Babangida was born in Minna. Chances are that he was raised by Nigerians not Martians. The wayo philosophy that is so ingrained in his personality is something he inherited from his Nigerian environ.
IBB has been able to play with the intelligence of Nigerians this long because he understands that some of us identified with and even enjoyed his antics. When he created two political parties (a little to the left, and a little to the right) some could not help but smile at the joke he was playing on himself and the country. Tell me please: is there a shortage of Babangida supporters today? Are these people from Jupiter? The man must hurry though to change his ways for the end of the game is in sight for him.
Look at the story of Murtala Muhammed, though he was a military ruler. He came on with such a promising profile, and then boom, Nigerian hands blew him away! Or let's talk about Gani Fawehinmi, the outstanding lawyer. I listened in shock some years back when someone said that Nigeria could not afford to have more than one like him! I kid you not. If anything, we need more courageous and judicious people like Fawehinmi. With some exceptions, we have this tendency to either destroy or denigrate the promising leaders among us. No wonder the bad ones flourish.
What if I showed up one day to a Lagos party dressed in simple, affordable clothing, and I rode my bicycle there and carefully parked it besides the Lexus, the Mercedes, and the BMWs. The bicycle was all that I could afford because I did not take bribes as a civil servant. My ÔÇśclean boy' status is hardly going to impress anybody there, especially if I had no money to ÔÇśspray'. I would be disdained almost entirely, and may never find a woman to dance with at the party.
Of course, if I were Tai Solarin at that party, the reception may be different, maybe not. The fact that people like Tai Solarin or Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala could get some respect in Nigeria is encouraging though. We have been able to produce good leaders before, as well as bad ones who unfortunately almost always seem to smother out the good ones. This contradiction is part of the human predicament that compels a continuous struggle between the good and the bad within us.
Nigerians can begin to overcome that evil within if we first acknowledge one simple truth. We are the problem with Nigeria, all of us. Bad leadership simply reflects us. Living in denial can only make matters worse. We have to fix ourselves first before looking outwards. That is how this Nigerian tree can produce good fruits consistently. To change Nigeria for the better, you and I need to start where it really counts: with the image in the mirror. Stop looking elsewhere!