The trouble of the troubles with Nigeria
By Prof Pat Utomi
Chinua Achebe once famously wrote that the trouble with Nigeria is simply put, leadership. Profound as that conclusion was, it was esoteric. The naked truth is more disturbing, and, as T.S. Elliot wrote long ago, “humanity cannot bear too much truth”. Achebe was too true.
But our conscience is bleeding and Uthman Dan Fodio long admonished that conscience is an open wound and only truth can heal it. The plain truth, beyond Achebe’s expression of outrage, is that the trouble with Nigeria is the misadventure of state capture that placed in positions of leadership, self-obsessed moral cripples and monsters of amorality of power, who narcissism has managed to blind to even their own best self-interest. What was once called enlightened self-interest.
The outcome has left a country of great promise on the brink of anarchy and yet they lack a sense of shame about the sun going down on their watch such that they even manage to swagger as they dance naked in the marketplace while the bloody red sky laments the setting Sun as the square gets dark, very slowly but sometimes in double quick backward stepping of a recursive zigzag.
It does not matter that hundreds of young boys that went to school were abducted in Katsina State, just like hundreds of young girls were taken from Chibok, Borno State several years ago; a case of gender balancing and equal opportunity terror by nihilists whose purpose is unclear, you may say.
It does not matter that the economy is back in recession for the second time in five years in what could be a double dip stagflation recession that was completely avoidable with public choice that is known.
No, it does not even matter that the youth of the country who have the knowledge, zeal and spirit of enterprise to reinvent their country’s economy through technology and other value chains as their American counterparts did when things went belly-up during the Jimmy Carter years and Ronald Reagan challenged the spirit of America, awakening them, for the .com revolution, wanted to protest the conditions holding them back under the #EndSARS. But they were met with bullets, blank and not so blank, that managed to leave death in its wake.
The demise of a sense of shame symbolises the trouble with Nigeria and the pain of men of power masquerading as leaders and hold aloft posters of haemorrhaging empathy. You wonder that compassion was in jeopardy but fear that if you said that the jobless looking for opportunity and have heard that many more jobs were in jeopardy and thought Jeopardy was a destination they could hurry to for the jobs they desperately sought may invade the streets looking for the road to jeopardy.
Even though the basest primer of leadership says it is other-centred activity which evokes sacrificial giving of self for the good of others, few can see leadership behaviour on today’s stage in a Nigeria beclouded by love of self, and the reality of a retreat from public service into a state of compulsive abuse of the commonwealth for personal comfort and ego.
The motorcades are still there, the unjustifiable unearned benefits are still there, private jet travel of public officials is still there, and so on.
In the mid-1970s, a base swing of oil prices, routine for a commodity known for price volatility, and General Olusegun Obasanjo, then Head of State, ordered ‘low profile’.
Coats were to be cut, not according to one’s size, but according to the size of the cloth; and the ultimate status car, even for the head of state would be the Peugeot 504. That culture and symbol defined us between 1977 and return to civilian rule in 1979.
What galls the intellect on these matters is that some of the purveyors of poor leadership and the megaphones recruited to promote their interests and defend their misdeeds shamelessly, with public funds and formal titles they are clearly unworthy of, proclaim themselves in private, to win support, as standing up for some faith. But we know better.
Many years ago, His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, Saad Abubakar III, gave both my wife and I some book gifts. It was a book on the principles of leadership as enunciated by founders of the Sokoto Caliphate.
Many of today’s people of power can use a good read of that book.
Let me offer a sprinkling of excerpts.
‘The leader is under obligation to observe justice and goodness. Justice is that he restores to everyone his right’ – Shayk Uthman Ibn Fodaye (Usman Dan Fodio)
‘The Governor has to see to the welfare of the people. The Governor must not think that he is the owner of the province over which he is made to govern; whereby the land becomes his personal property which he can give to whom he likes and refuse whom he wishes. Such action is misguided and belongs to the days of ignorance (jahiliyya)’. – Kalifa (Sultan) Mohammed Bello.
More than a 120 years after, it is clear many of our governors are still living in the years of ignorance.
The wanton abuse of property rights by state governors is the main reason few are willing to invest in Nigeria leading to the Forbes magazine call out on Nigeria as a money-losing machine.
How can Nigeria be rescued from the challenge of today with the great and grave urgency of now? Citizens must insist that public life discover humility and have sacrifice as the banner over the call for service.
We must also collectively condemn the poor job of leadership selection the political parties have done and call for a new system for finding people of compassion, competence and civility for socialisation into places of opportunity for selection to run for public office or to be appointed to such.
Next, we need to orient society into understanding that people can be, and need to be, trained to be leaders. Whether it be in the family, in schools, in business organisations or in government. Just like companies advance their interest by sending their staff for leadership training, political parties, governments and networks of people in positions of authority need to provide training in leadership for their members.
As Stephen R. Covey suggested, there are two dimensions imperative for leadership to take place; knowledge and a sense of service.
With the dimension of knowledge, we need to train people who seek to lead to learn. Readers are leaders and you cannot see the tomorrow you want to lead people to unless you have the discipline of continuous learning. The British consultant and writer, Bob Garratt, waxed lyrical on this decades ago in the book, Learning to Lead.
With the sense of service where sacrifice counts, it ought to be pristine clear that a sense of service is a habit formed from practice. The leader wannabe has to habitually give up self for the good of others. That habit can also spring up through training.
In the crisis of now, which is upon us, if we are to stop Nigeria from failing, we must look out for people whose history showcases these dimensions. In spite of the collapse of culture in Nigeria, these people abound. We need to find them and call them up, almost in the way armies call up officers of the Army Reserve when war suddenly breaks out. And war has broken out here. More people are killed every day here than in many of the civil wars of our world today. Indeed, the sense of rudderless drift suggests the moral equivalence of war. It’s time to summon the Reserves and call out the Complicit Middle hiding behind the neutrality that tips people into that core of Dante’s inferno.
Surely the trouble with Nigeria, leadership, can be overcome when we become citizens and learn to speak truth to power.
My experience of doing that for 20 years through just one platform, Patito’s Gang, is that even if it hurts the purse, it elevates the possibilities for progress.
Utomi, political economist and professor of entrepreneurship, is founder of Centre for Values in Leadership.