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Leadership and the challenge of mass poverty

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Some say Nigeria has no business with poverty. I think they are wrong. Nigeria has every business with poverty, until we recognize the nexus between poverty and politics. Poverty and politics are united, just as economics and politics are intertwined. Thus, it is difficult to be completely apolitical and have a full life, anywhere in the world.The raging battle for the soul of the states of the country, whereby the peoples’ ballots are being stolen and replaced by those thumb printed by the candidates and their agents, speaks volumes about the many things, including the kind of leaders we are expecting and freedom of choice. Those who want to serve the people will allow them to choose who serves them. And the absence of free choice is a mark of poverty. The just concluded elections show that we have not made any progress in the democracy part of us.

Nigeria has outperformed its peers in several human endeavours; not in the building of a united nation; not in rocket science or engineering; but especially in endeavours that are devoid of national pride and honour. We probably have the largest amount of money stolen by public officers in the world. For years, we have been repatriating funds stolen by a single man, the former Head of State, Sanni Abacha, and we are not half way done. We have a divided country of we and them, masters and servants and winners and losers. We may have tribal rallying points but a national creed is not about to evolve. Clearly, we have not done anything to ginger the spirit of nationhood in all Nigerians.We do not care enough for our people. Therefore, they have become too poor, malleable and vulnerable to criminal pressure.

If our elections have been devoid of honour and integrity in the past, the current one has completely upped the ante. It has become a kind of trial by ordeal. Ballot box snatching, which had begun to be a thing of the past, returned full scale in 2019. People were being killed like chicken, not only by party supporters but the security operatives sent to protect them. Many hearts, especially those of innocent voters have been broken, from a failed hope of a free and fair election that never happened and the large number of peopled killed across the states.

The point of this piece is that our present political arrangements do not promote harmony and cohesion, and will not bring prosperity. Instead they guarantee poverty. They promote hatred and destructive rivalry because it is a winner takes all system.  I have said elsewhere in the past that the current political system – the presidential system of government – may be doing more to unravel Nigeria than corruption and nepotism. It is not only so expensive that it starves critical public necessities of requisite funds, it also breeds disunity at all levels and generates poverty and lack.

Has anybody tried to find out why the phenomenon of hate speech, which we did not see even at the end of the civil war, all of a sudden, became a burning issue during Buhari’s first term in office? Why did we suddenly grow more resentful and hateful of one another? It is because of the winner takes all nature of our current politics and the fact that the enormous powers it confers on executive positions may get into wrong hands and be used against the people of Nigeria. This makes those outside the privilege of power resentful of those they perceive to be enjoying what belongs to all of us. Wrong use of presidential system and its powers breeds hatred among the people, especially the literate poor. Why, instead of hauling people out of poverty as India did, over the past few years, and handed the badge of poverty to Nigeria, we have shoved millions more of our people into poverty. To be an oil rich country and still be the poverty capital of the world is something to be scandalized about. How can we drop this crown of shame? Surely not by leaders who are lawless and self-centred as those wielding thugs all over the country. It is by people-oriented leadership devoid of the current high levels of tribalism, clannishness and nepotism that ravage our national and subnational governments.

Mass poverty is a product of failed leadership and leadership may fail for many reasons, of which incomepetence and lack of capacity are only a small part. For as long as our leaders, especially lawmakers, continues to preserve bad laws in the hope that they may profit from such laws in the future, for so long will their law-making be a waste of public resources. The National and State Assemblies have failed Nigeria in such a woeful way that they ought to be scrapped. They have not acted as defence for the people of Nigeria against oppressive governments. Instead they team up with such oppressive `governments, especially in the states

But it is not right to continue to blame politicians for the ills of our political system when there are laws guiding practically all human action. As long as our institutions remain the private property of those appointed to run them, and offences carry selective consequences, we go nowhere. The failure of our leaders to honestly reform the electoral system, for instance, has guaranteed that incumbency, cash and self-interest continue to dominate the political system. Even the process of recall, the so-called window for Nigerians to express their dissatisfaction with poor representation, is flawed. Nobody can ever be recalled through that process. We all know this but the so-called law makers are so shamelessly selfish that they won’t amend that process.

Clearly, this kind of political system, where one man controls everything, either at the federal, state or local government level, and accounts to nobody except himself, is the most potent threat to the fragile peace we have in Nigeria. It is the source of all the poverty. This system gives too much powers to those in executive positions and has no way of compelling them to account. This is why governors who owe several months of salary arrears are being reelected in many states.  The people have been so weakened by penury that they actually have no votes effectively. Our electoral system has not improved beyond the primitive rigging techniques of past years. The result is that services are not delivered and the people do not see their national resources. They become poor and desperate, and the same politicians who made them poor hire them as thugs.These people are too poor to care about anything including their own death. We must provide our people the minimum acceptable levels of living if we want them to be useful human being. Otherwise, we build a house of thugs to be harvested for selfish reasons by the people who made them poor.

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