‘ …A wicked ruler will not be allowed to govern the land set aside for righteous people.” - Psalm 125 (God’s Word)
There are no loyal Nigerians. If there were, they are dead. What we have is a nation of people loyal to the oil, their tribes, their religions, their cults and their political affiliations. That generation of people, prepared to die to defend the honour and integrity of this nation are gone. Now, the current leaders of this nation are fighting over the legacies of bye-gone heroes, rather than building on those legacies. Almost all our national leaders now are ex-military, Government contractors, unprincipled politicians, and ex-senior civil servants and those who have or had connections in one form or another with the looting of this country. Professionals and people of independent intellect have kept resolutely away from political governance. We have got ourselves a long list of disappointing rulers in Nigeria. In popular parlance, it is said that the people get the type of leader that they deserve. Reading the psalm above correlates this, because it confirms that we are not a righteous people, and thus, we cannot expect righteous rulers, no matter how morally upright they define themselves.
A friend once asked me why I returned to live in Nigeria. I replied that I had never contemplated living perpetually elsewhere. He shook his head and said he felt sorry for me. He said that my talents would never be appreciated, my activities would be vilified and my achievements debased. It was a stinging remark. He prophesied that my problems would start with my trying to do something for the country or for people. This “friend” then summarised by asking me to help him get a visa so he can get out of this country to serve her in exile. Today, he lives in America, and has been recruited in the armed forces there. Such is the nature of the angst of the future generation of leaders. We have managed to run this country down with misguided capitalism, deep rooted corruption and greed, pure selfishness and superficial unity.
The problem is, everyone blames somebody else. Where does the buck stop? No one has had the strength of character and sense of responsibility to say “okay, the buck stops with me. I take personal responsibility for the failure or success of this nation”. When there is civil disturbance, the government blames “disgruntled elements”. The police blame shortage of fuel for not responding to distress calls. One religion blames the other; politicians blame rival parties. Some, perhaps, even blame God. There is no collective vision for this country. No tried, tested and true leadership philosophy and culture for the country. We “fumble and womble” our way to an unsure future. The whole nation has no conscience. My own generation has nothing to hold on to but formless shadows. We are mired in fraud, violence and hopelessness. The few salaried ones are tentatively loyal to their current employers, not to the country. Their employers are loyal only to their shareholders and not to the country. The shareholders are only loyal to their bank accounts. Soldiers are loyal to their commanders, their units, battalions, divisions, and not to the country. The heads of state are only loyal to their constituencies, and not to the country. The Igbo loves Ohaneze; Yorubas, Afenifere; Hausas, Arewa. Nobody loves Nigeria. Not a single soul.
The Government makes us pay several taxes and levies and charges to arm soldiers to fight us. We pay the police to take “tolls” at checkpoints. We pay Local Government officials to come and close down our offices under all kinds of pretext. We pay Governors to demolish our houses. We elevate people into leadership positions that have no independent quality of leadership, other than belonging to the right clique. They are paralysed at the first signs of crisis. Since 1985 particularly, our young men and women have been bringing international honour and acclaim to Nigeria, in sport and entertainment. But it is the politicians who are building mansions and setting up banks with profits from over-inflated contracts. Our country’s population is growing beyond her means. Our civil service does not have business orientation, and often hamper rather than assist private business initiatives. Ministries take weeks to attend to a simple letter. You often have to bribe your way to get approvals for some things, which could benefit the entire society. I have lectured over one thousand civil servants in business skills; I am speaking from sure knowledge. You know, I cannot blame those highly educated and talented youths who have emigrated from Nigeria, and left us laggards behind.
In my country, your ideas are discarded because your face does not fit. Your initiatives are strangled, so that you don’t get too popular. Your talents are stifled so that you don’t get any glory. Your reputation is smeared so that you don’t get elevated. And most of our national sin is perfected in the place that we least need them – in the civil service. Leaders of our national and state parastatals are arrogant and self-righteous. Their sirens have shattered many a ear drum. The cost of maintaining the high and mighty in Government has dissipated our gross national earnings. In the private sector, the banks have gone haywire. They hire incompetent people, and teach them to manage often less than honest financial transactions. Their input in national development is tactically nil, since they do not support industrial development. Manufacturing companies, rather than re-engineer their operations, and become leaner, diversified or micro-consolidated, stay afloat bereft of useful ideas, almost unproductive.
The multinationals are declaring huge profits and repatriating their profits abroad. The industrial development of Nigeria is almost nil. If we are not exporting manufactured products then we are not developing. If we are importing toothpicks, orange juice and candles, then we have reached an economic dead end. What we love is flattery, attention and superficiality. We hate constructive criticism. Why don’t parents encourage their children to develop their talents? Why do we love titles before and after our names? Why do we wait for isolated achievements of the likes of Agbani Darego and Wole Soyinka to boast of our national greatness?
Professor Chinua Achebe, the renowned literary genius had these to say in his booklet, ‘The Trouble With Nigeria’;
“The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its’ leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are hallmarks of true leadership…Whenever, two Nigerians meet, their conversation will sooner or later slide into a litany of our national deficiencies. The trouble with Nigeria has become the subject of our small talk in much the same way as the weather is for the English”
Professor Achebe continued his treatise with questions waiting for answers, about two decades from when he first wrote those words;
“Nigeria has many thoughtful men and women of conscience, a large number of talented people. Why is it then that all these patriots make so little impact on the life of our nation? Why is it our corruption, gross inequities, our noisy vulgarity, our selfishness, our ineptitude seem so much stronger than the good influences at work in our society? Why do the good among us seem so helpless while the worst are full of vile energy?
At a series of lectures on business and personal development that I was invited to give to the workforce of a Federal parastatal, I was asked to provide solutions to my own complaints, as stated above. The 600 persons that I lectured, from the lowest cadre to the Board, all seemed to seek the same solutions. They told me that there were Nigerians but no Nigeria. Despite working for the Federal Government of Nigeria, these hardworking and loyal officers, had no sense of unity and cohesion in the entity called Nigeria. These people, who built Nigeria, with their sweat and toil, still do not accept her corporate existence. What they were doing, was not by choice but by chance. They wanted to know If my own generation of diversely educated and experienced post-independence baby boomers had any solutions to the myriad problems of Nigeria. I thought so. I thus prepared to write my own philosophy about Nigerian statehood, which would be published as a book on its own. Our national Golden Path, if you will. Until Christ arrested my arrogance, I was going to give logical answers to spiritual problems.
Firstly, Nigeria is bedevilled by the numerous demonic institutions that feed fat on this land of milk and honey. We are not a righteous nation. The shrines, malevolent gods, dark cults etc have sucked the goodness of the land. And no matter what anyone does in this land, he will not make much honest money. Dark and dangerous forces are the real landlords of this country, indeed this African continent. No leader can redeem this nation without spiritual sanctification of the entire society. Such a person knows that death is almost sure. Politicians are generally cowards, so we cannot look to them for that kind of sacrifice. Many of our traditional rulers are worshipping money, and have sold their sacred titles to the rich, and not the hardworking. They depend more on their shrines of a thousand spirits than the power of Almighty God. Universities are giving most of their honourary awards to those who have means, or are in political power, rather than to those who are actually uplifting the soul of the nation. Parents teach their children to marry wealth, cheat at all cost and make evil covenants. Thus, we need to defeat the national demons that are causing these and all the ethnic, religious and political violence in the nation, before we can repair the damage done.
We need to get all school teachers on a national teacher’s conference, to discuss re-defining what we should be teaching our young children. Our parents’ teachers associations should have a national conference to talk about parenthood and education. Our traditional leaders should have a national conference, to discuss how to emphasise what is good in our cultures, and to jettison those that are harmful or worthless. Our professionals should meet along their various areas and set visions and standards for the future of Nigeria as a corporate entity. The politicians should have their national conference, without party affiliations. The soldiers should discuss their role in the new Nigeria. Students and youths should meet to discuss their future in a new Nigeria. All stakeholders should meet to fashion out a purpose for our national existence. These programmes should run concurrently over a two year period.
The various agreements and documents produced should be collated. Then we should have a national referendum on each issue to accept or reject the recommendations made. Then we should have a democratic national conference. This is not a conference to ask whether to break Nigeria, but one about how we can co-exist in peace given our knowledge of the desires of the various units of our country, without religious and ethnic bias. This kind of conference will not be one of the various ethnic groups, but of the various groups as listed above. We should be able to now have a popular vision, mission statement, and national philosophy. Then we can form a smaller group to fashion out a constitution that takes all the important issues into consideration. These should take a further two years.
At this point, our Government should be streamlined. Every non-profitable parastatal should be sold or closed down. Our foreign policy should be expanded and industrial development expanded overwhelmingly. Legal emigration should be encouraged, since these people are in effect being trained to lead a future, more stable Nigeria. When our Government and society becomes quite stable, positive and purposeful, then all the foreign based human and material resources will naturally migrate back home. Their foreign incomes will be used to grow the Nigerian economy.
How about ethnicity? It is poverty, ignorance and greed that is the cause of these. Poverty among those feeling marginalised, greed among those in power, and ignorance in the others. The eastern region of Nigeria traditionally is more industry oriented, while the south-south has been the bread basket of modern Nigeria. The northern peoples are politically conscious, while western Nigerians are intellectuals by nature. Thus, the westerners manage the wealth created by the south-south, the northerners secure the polity, while the easterners push for industrial self sufficiency. That is what makes Nigeria great and successful. We are truly symbiotically joined, for better or for worse. The industrial development of Nigeria depends on the creative instincts of the easterners. The sophisticated management skills of the westerners is the basis of our economic stability. The northerners have consolidated the political and security aspects of our nation. Now, one cannot survive without the other. The day we all accept this fact there will be more political stability and more foreign investments, more wealth, less corruption and more progress. When this happens, then we will help the economic development of surrounding countries which will inevitably help our own exports too.
We also need to re-orientate our individual and collective psyche, not to be inordinate lovers of flashy, superficial and inappropriate things. We should learn to ignore a man who writes five titles before his name on a business card. We should not concern ourselves with keeping up with the next door neighbour. We should not judge every book by its cover. We should fight poverty by spending our individual time, effort and resources building people for material wealth, rather than thinking of how to furnish our homes with millions from that fraudulent deal. We should pray for Nigeria every morning of our lives, for a nation that prays together will stay together.
We need to rebuild all the community halls, so we can meet to keep talking together. We need to rebuild those football fields and sprint tracks, so the energetic young would be developing positive talents rather than negative ones. The states need their own systems of security, to complement their justice systems. The federal police should focus on crimes committed on the highways, at the border towns and in federally owned buildings. That does not mean that the federal police will not have powers to take over investigations of crimes of national importance or multi-state instigation. There should be no restriction to the registration of political organisations or ban on any person or group from the political process, except if first established at the law courts that it is good and necessary. Certainly, no one should ever be banned for life for any reason. The electorate should be left to determine the suitability of an offender or ex-offender, after a period of penitence, to get on with his or her lawful life.
Talk about the various regions going separate ways. That is a dream. I was Nigerian Taekwondo Champion, Mr Nigeria, President of various Nigerian organisations. I do not wish to have ever being or become Oduduwa or Ijebu Champion of anything as an alternative. We should consolidate and not disintegrate. I would prefer to be an atom in the information super-highway than a single amoeba. I would rather be a gold fish in a massive ocean than a massive trout in a pond. There is strength in numbers, and our diversity is what makes us so special in Africa, for good and for bad. Now, we need to start to manage the bad sides by a system of de-emphasization, and to increase the good by a system of consolidation.
Individually, we must start thinking positive things about ourselves, our communities and our nation. We must involve ourselves wholly in the process of selecting credible leaders of every aspect and strata of our society. Then we can learn to take responsibility when things go wrong, and arrange to correct them. We cannot sit on the wall expecting other people to change or implement the things that affect our lives. We have to work. If employers start looking for evidence of good moral character, altruism, national loyalty and wide ranging achievements, rather than certification alone, there will be less examination fraud. If there is less corruption in the Government, people will pay their income taxes. If the police is not so busy arresting innocent people and beating up those providing for their salaries they will get more cooperation, and crimes would be solved faster. All young Nigerians should be given some military training. Not to ward off external aggression (even though I believe there will be some form of war in the future, with a neighbouring country) but to instil leadership qualities, strength of character, discipline and loyalty in our citizenry. It will also be sufficient to prevent coups.
There is a legacy that we must leave for the unborn generations. A legacy of love. We need to understand the nature of true love, and to learn to show it. We must love in others what we love in ourselves. We need to learn to love our landscapes, and the sonorous language of the Kalabari’s, and the cool and etheric atmosphere of the Plateau region. We need to appreciate the beauty of the Fulani maiden, and the strength of the Igbo man and the athleticism of the Edo boys. We must appreciate the academic potentials of the Ekitis and the industrial and commercial instincts of the Ijebus.
King Solomon so loved the splendour of Israel, that he used superlative words inspired by the beauty of his country, in songs of love. Solomon wrote beautiful poetry that supersede the best that Shakespeare ever wrote;
“My beloved is unto me as a cluster of Camphire in the vineyards of Engedi”
“The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land”
“A fountain of gardens, a well of living water and streams of Lebanon”
“His legs are as pillars of marble, set upon sockets of fine gold: his countenance is as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars”
“…thy hair is as a flock of goats that appear from Gilead”
“Thy neck is as a tower of ivory; thine eyes like the fish pools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bathrabbim: thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh towards Damascus”
[Songs of Solomon (KJV)]
It is no wonder that Israel, in the time of Solomon, was the centre of knowledge, splendour and pilgrimage. The ruler of the nation was in love with his country and everything it contained. When our young people run away to live in distant lands, it is because they have found nothing to love in here. We cannot make people love Nigeria by force, but we can identify the things lovable in our different cultures and we can celebrate this together. I am proud to say that I love this country. Through the heartaches, assassinations, wars, corruption, decadence, strife, etc. I have repented personally from my own corruption, fraud and every other activity that debases this country. Our irons are in the fire. God is at work in this country. Someday the fine object of desire will be produced. God’s agenda for the transformation of Nigeria has begun. Long live Nigeria.
George H. Ashiru Co-convener NIGERIA: Town Hall Meetings Project (THMP)