…As Uma Eleazu deplores state of the nation
What was supposed to be a lecture dovetailed into a well-structured argument to the enlightenment of the august audience Thursday, at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos.
The occasion was the Annual Lecture of TheNiche Newspaper.
Speaking on the theme “Why We Stride and Slip: Leadership, Nationalism and the Nigerian Condition,” Rotimi Amaechi, former governor and erstwhile minister of Transportation, had, in his introductory remarks, put the blame at the door step of citizens when he said that the followership was not demanding accountability from the leadership and that citizens were always accepting leaders no matter how wrong they were.
Citing election issues, he said that unlike other countries where citizens insist that their votes must count, in Nigeria people say, “leave them, ‘shebi’ it is only four years they will go.” That attitude, according to him, has resulted in perpetual enthronement of those that the citizens do not want to lead them.
Amaechi however, agreed that ethnic and religious considerations have so much afflicted the nation and still dealing deadly blows on the country.
In his lecture, he noted that “Nigeria, for instance, the unresolved national question is at the root of elite contests for power, privilege and patronage in the post colonial state. Our political elite constantly run to their ethnic base to invoke ethnic discrimination each time they fail to win advantages in their struggle for power and privilege at the national level. If a contractor fails in his bid for a major federal contract, it must be because the rival elite from other nationalities conspired to marginalise him because of his ethnicity. These intra elite class feuds are then transmitted to the grassroots as evidence of irreconcilable differences or deliberate marginalisation. In the process, a narrative takes root and expands thereby making national unity even more intractable and precarious.”
The two-term governor of Rivers State, also noted that “We have had more ‘rulers’ than ‘nationalistic leaders’. Even our democratically elelcted leaders have come from a background ethnic balancing and compromise rather than merit.
“In my estimation, Nigeria’s democracy needs a serious re-think in terms of its scope, focus and informing vision to make it more appropriate to our condition.”
He cited Mahatma Gandhi (India) and Lee Kuan Yew (Singapore) as two robust examples of leadership and nationalism.
“In the case of Mahatma Gandhi of India, his movement – the National Movement- wrested independence from the British on the platform of a solid, united and visionary Indian nation. Gandhi’s towering moral stature, political savvy and visionary leadership gave India, a massive country in every sense, the unanimity of purpose and nationalistic vision required to push towards independence and global influence.
“Gandhi had a difficult national question situation to contend with. He had to navigate deep ethnic nationality divisions as follows: Hindi 43.6percent, Bengali 8percent, Marathi 6.9percent, Telugu 6.8percent, Tamil 6.7percent, Gujarati 4.6percent, Urdu 4.2percent and Kannada 3.6percent.
“Gandhi also had fundamental religious and sectarian divisions to deal with. Again, Indians were people of diverse faiths as follows: Hindus, Moslems, Sikhs, Budhists, Christians and Jains. It is an eternal tribute to Gandhi’s leadership and statesmanship that he presented India’s struggle for independence as a unified nationalistic enterprise that chose peaceful but principles resistance to pressure the British to accept India’s independence. The benefit of that strategy is largely responsible for the national focus and principled quality of India’s leadership to date,” he said.
According to him, “In the case of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew was first and foremost a remarkable visionary leader. He was first and foremost a nationalist in temperament who saw the multi ethnic composition of the city state as building blocks for building a nation. Singapore was composed of the following nationalities: Malays, Indians, Chinese, and Eurasians. Through a process of cultural and social integration, Yew was able to forge a common national identity based on the primacy of economic survival and greatness.
“Again, it is this quality of visionary leadership and aggressive nationalism that accounts for the emergence of Singapore as one of the leading economies and harmonious societies of the world.”
This, according to the panelists who weighed in after Amaechi’s presentation, was the missing link in the case of Nigeria where most Nigerian leaders have run the country aground on the basis of their nepotistic character.
Chidi Amuta, media consultant and CEO at Wilson & Weizmann Associates Ltd, put the blame squarely on leadership. “For someone who has spent the last part of 35 years writing about the country, you can understand why we sound despondent. If you ask people today, is there any basis for hope; you are sure they answer you will get. We must lay the blame squarely on leadership,” Amuta said.
Justifying his argument, the publicist said: “What we have discovered is a progressive degradation of leadership in this country. We are seeing madness which we are taking as leadership. The last eight years were the most disastrous period in national history. We lost more lives than in a declared war.
“From an enlightened crop of leaders that led us to Indepence to what we have now, things have changed. It is the quality of leadership that generates the quality of leadership. My view is that we must lay blame squarely on leadership.
“Somebody shows up and runs the country aground; no consequences. Somebody shows up and runs a country where people are killed at random; no consequences. Young people go to school and learn how to kill and trade in body parts. Those things arise because we have failed at national leadership.”
Funke Treasure, broadcaster, author and social entrepreneur, blamed both leadership and followership for the failure of the Nigerian system.
Treasure noted that leaders of today are driven by self and not for the good of country. She recalled the last Presidential election campaign, saying that it was more driven by personality and not issue-based. She said that unlike the wishy-washy campaign of nowadays, the MKO Abiola presidential campaign of 1993 was robust, “we can still remember the jingles.
“The quality of followership is poor. We must begin to look inwards as followers how porous our system has become. We must begin to look at how we have failed as citizens,” she said.
Yakubu Mohammed, a veteran journalist and founding director of Newswatch Magazine, deplored ethnic politics being played these days as against the nationalistic politics played by even the Military regimes.
Mohammed pointed to how Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, a former military president, populated his cabinet with best brains from across the country.
According to him, the major problem of Nigeria is leadership.
“Nigeria has not made any progress as a country. What we wrote 30 years ago is still valid today. You can pull those copies without adding or removing anything, publish them that way and they capture the condition of our country today. Although some people say say the problem is leadership, I think it is leadership problem because they are to show the way,” Mohammed said.
He accused the immediate past president, Muhammadu Buhari of destroying the country in the last eight years with his policy summersault.
Valentine Ozigbo, a former president and CEO of Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc, who was a panelist at the event, said that there was hope for a better future for Nigeria if citizens can learn from the mistakes that had been made.
“I am tired of discussing Nigeria’s problem. In this 21st Century we keep asking what is wrong with us? How do we make progress as a country? Let us focus more on what to do to get it right in time to come. The elders should be remorseful for what they have done wrong,” Ozigbo said.
Expressing the optimism that Nigeria’s tomorrow is brighter, Ozigbo, who was the PDP candidate for the 2021 Anambra State governorship election, said: “There is actually hope. Even the last election we had, with all the negativities, there are lots of positive things. The young people are today more self-conscious; more politically-conscious than they were before the election.”
The Moderator of the panelists, Anthony Killa, a Jean Monnet professor of Strategy and Development Centre, director at CIAPS, who appeared overwhelmed with the strong views expressed, said: “I think the resolve we need to make is how to make our today better than our yesterday. Every country wants to make itself better than it was yesterday, but Nigeria’s yesterday is better than its today. That is not good at all.”
Earlier in his welcome remarks, Ikechukwu Amaechi, MD/Editor-in-Chief, TheNiche Newspaper, said that the choice for the theme of this year’s lecture was to really answer some leadership questions that had held the country down, and that the choice for the Lecturer was a person who has seen it all when it comes to the nation’s political leadership.
Uma Eleazu deplores state of the nation
While giving his remarks as the chairman of the occasion, Uma Eleazu, chairman, Board of Trustees, Anya-Ndi-Igbo, lamented the socio-economic and political state of Nigeria.
He said: “Today’s Nigeria, everything that can go wrong has gone wrong, thanks to the fumbling of our leaders. The economy is not growing, in fact, the growth rate of the GDP has slowed considerably due to poor economic management, the Naira has lost its value, interest rate is so high that it does not encourage either savings or investment, and without these, the economy cannot grow.
“Foreign investment cannot flow in because of unpredictable exchange rate. Without foreign capital inflow, we cannot attract new technology that could help in solving some of our problems. Indigenous scientific research has for long been stultified because those in power are not serious about technical education and scientific research.”
Eleazu, a former director/coordinator of National Policy Development Centre, Supreme Headquarters, Lagos, also said: “The physical infrastructure that support growth of businesses – energy, roads, ports etc. have dilapidated. The general business climate is harsh and uninviting; those foreign businesses already here are taking their flight out of the country – Dunlop, Michelin, M-Benz Trucks, (ANAMCO), etc. I shouted myself hoarse in the 1970s and 80s. The powers-that-be did not listen.
Security-wise, we appear now to be living in a Hobbesian state of nature, where, as he put it in his book Leviathan: ‘There is war of all against all, and the life of man is nasty, brutish and short.’
“Daily, people are killed in cold blood, others are kidnapped, raped or put through inhumane physical torture only to exact ransom from their relatives. Life is now so precarious and cheap that one is afraid to venture out of one’s house. You can get killed on the streets and no one will be held responsible for taking your life, unless caught red handed. And if he, the culprit, is unlucky and apprehended by a mob, they will execute jungle justice. It is now toxic to live in Nigeria. Any wonder the so-called ‘japa’ syndrome has gained ground among the youths.
“There is banditry and kidnapping for ransom, murder of innocents by known and unknown gunmen, highway robbery, rape, murder and arson especially on Government facilities built with colossal amounts of public funds; there is blatant looting of public funds by the people who were elected or appointed to use it for the welfare of the people.
“Our elected leaders appear to be ‘fiddling while Rome burns.’ Debates in the National Assembly, and even state assemblies sound so flat, self-serving, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The debates do not show that our leaders understand the people’s problems except when it touches their pockets. At the end of their term in the House, they take their loot and retire to their homes abroad only to be replaced by another batch of treasury looters under immunity from prosecution. Do they understand their role as elected representatives of the people? I doubt it. Appointees to public offices consider their MDAs as fiefdoms from which to extract wealth for themselves.
“Corruption has reached high heavens as to make the angels weep. Add to this the impunity with which public officials deal with the down trodden, the wretched of the earth of Nigeria; there is much extrajudicial killing of innocent citizens perpetrated by state officials paid to maintain law and order. The youths are hounded into prisons for having an earphone; some are arrested and detained without trial for having a computer to ply their trade. A panel beater was sentenced to death for stealing N57,000 while an Accountant General was fined N750,000 for stealing N109 billion of public funds. If that is not a travesty of justice, then I don’t know what justice is.
“The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) says 45.6% of youths (aged 18 – 35) are unemployed. Many are unemployable – a result of poor educational system. Those of them who managed to go through primary and secondary level of education have no employable skills. Those who managed to finish their tertiary education eke out their living on the periphery of the formal economy, thanks to the internet and IT revolution. Most of them are starting families and will soon have other mouths to feed! The result is intergenerational poverty of body and mind. Any wonder the World Bank says Nigeria is now the Poverty capital of the world with over 130 million suffering from multidimensional poverty. That is the former Giant of Africa.
What happened? What did we do to ourselves?
“How did Nigeria descend to such a level? Our children are now asking questions. How do we get out of the mess the country is in and join the rest of the world and they deserve an answer. IT HAS NOT ALWAYS BEEN THIS BAD.
“In the past 30 years or so, I and a number of others had noticed this downward trend in values, decay of institutions, and erosion of moral standards. Imperceptibly, the social order was being undermined. The result in the political sphere was decay of democratic institutions. In a situation where there are no strong institution to uphold the social, moral and political order, anomie becomes inevitable.”