Building Nigeria is Beyond Goodluck Jonathan By Austin Abu
To say that one of Nigeria’s greatest problems is leadership is stating the obvious. While this much is true, it has also become a convenient excuse, for citizens to neglect their responsibility and embrace complacency and cynicism.
In a democratic society like ours, citizens elect their leaders through their votes. This process though not as straight forward as it seems, (given our peculiar political immaturity and terrain) is still capable of producing the right or wrong kind of leadership. As such, it will follow that the extent to which good leaders emerge in a system like ours is greatly determined by the choice of the people. Given our dubious history of stolen mandates and rigged elections, many will want to argue that our democracy does not give the people the right to make such a decision. This mentality has succeeded to a large extent in cultivating voter apathy and a nonchalant attitude towards the electoral process.
While this argument may sound reasonable on deeper reflection, our electoral process and what we get out of it is dependent on what we indeed put into the process. Whichever way you look at it, the electorate more than any other actor has the greatest influence in determining the outcome of this process. This huge influence of people power can be readily seen from the recent wave of change in leadership across the Arab world.
To begin with, how do we take advantage of the democratic process to elect leaders of our choice and bring about change if we don’t start by registering to vote? One thing is certain as much as most people hate politics and the talk of it, politics unfortunately and fortunately moulds every facet of our society and as such, we must begin to take interest in politics by adding our voice and becoming full participants of the political process.
The majority of Nigerians want a well structured and governed society where things work and where they can achieve their dreams and aspirations. We are usually united on the need to have good leaders that will take us to the promise land. What is however bewildering is how we are quickly divided by ethnic and religious sentiments when it’s time to make that vital decision. Our sentimental voting pattern usually produces mediocrity with devastating effects. Even more startling is how we are again quickly unified in criticizing and lambasting the products of our sentimental leadership choice. This circle of self infliction has been the greatest impediment to change.
When we are not blaming our woes on leadership, we lay the blame on religion or ethnicity. In the midst of this blame game, we the “good people” stand as saints and refuse to take responsibility. We have the time to lament about our problems, but can’t find the time to be part of the solution.
With the advent of social media, the voice of criticism has grown ever louder with virtually every participant becoming a public critic or analyst of sort. Lambasting and criticizing everything…..but rarely providing or suggesting solutions. At best, comments are ended with prayer like lines. Here we find criticism of every government action whether good or bad. Debates are fierce with very disturbing fanatical, ethnic and religious tones. We also find here, the self appointed “social media novelties”, they have reasonable number of followers, they leave and breath on social media, criticizing and insulting around the clock, with fascist attitude and very short temperaments. They love to dish, but can’t take. They hate criticism and will quickly block any voice of dissent. Does it then mean we should stop criticizing the government and look the other way? Definitely not! After all, freedom of speech is the greatest gain of democracy and there can’t be democracy without free speech. But we must begin to look at our own neglected role and responsibility in this social contract. This is where citizen responsibility comes in.
While we have entrusted the leadership with the responsibility to rule and lead us, what is our own responsibility? We must ask ourselves, are we law abiding? Do we pay our taxes? Do we take responsibility for ourselves and our families? Do we even vote to choose these leaders we abhor and what role did we play in electing them? Do we help others in our community? How have we fared in protecting our heritage, morals, values and environment? How tolerant are we of our neighbors? These and other questions are what we need to begin to answer if we sincerely wish to play our roles as citizens and become part of a solution.
Two sets of Nigerians readily suffice in this scenario, a class of Nigerians who are well to do and basically leave in a bubble, they leave in good neighborhoods, they are chauffer driven in good cars, have good jobs, have access to good private hospitals (at home and abroad), their children attend good schools at home and abroad, they take vacation abroad, they hate local news and TV and could care less about what is happening in the country. Most of their kids carry foreign passports. Electricity is the least of their worries. They only lament when their comfort is threatened.
The second sets of Nigerians are those who lament all day! They blame every ill in society on an ethnic tribe or a particular religion. Be it at work, in their homes or on the street. To them everywhere on earth but Nigeria is better. This group mostly feels the solution to our problem is to split the country along ethnic and religious lines.
Both groups like most Nigerians like to talk about how western societies are so organized, with paved roads, good schools and a good health system. They talk about how Obama for instance, is such a wonderful president. Most of us fall in either of these groups. But the question is, are we as responsible as the citizens of these countries we look up to and compare ourselves with? We want good leaders and a well structured society, but are we doing what others did to earn it?
How then do we begin to build our country to become the society we want it to be? The process obviously starts with us. Firstly, we need to take responsibility as individuals. Like the good old adage, charity begins at home. We can literally start building from our homes. So if you find yourself leaving in a block of flats (or face me I face you), you can take up the responsibility of coordinating your neighbors and finding solutions to those problems that every one complains about but won’t act. It may be sanitary, security, car parking issues, etc. Then proceed to become active in your street or neighborhood association, which you always lambast for providing poor services with the monthly dues you pay, for security and other services. Rather than giving endless reasons as to why you won’t pay your dues, or attend meetings, it is more responsible of you to attend your association meetings, so you can lay your complaints, choose your leader or be chosen, make inputs and be a part of the solution to the things you complain about. Actions like this can then propel you to show more responsibility in the larger society. You can then choose to spare some time for voluntary services by giving your time, money or expertise in any field that interest you, be it in sports, vocational training, orphanages, old people’s homes, community service or mentoring. As insignificant as it may seem, you are beginning to propel change.
It’s easier to say that what we need is to occupy Nigeria and start a revolution, but then we have a democratic process in place that we can use to bring about change, hence it will be wiser to occupy the democratic space and bring about a revolution through the ballot. So let’s start by registering to vote, and then proceed instead to occupy political parties, where we can determine the emergence of credible candidates and even emerge as candidates. Ensure that we vote for the right candidates, defend our votes and continue to be vigilant and responsible even after the process. This is how we effect democratic change not by lamenting, twitting and face booking.
The barrage of blame and criticism of the government at every level especially at the centre is understood for obvious reasons. While I am not a fan of President Goodluck Jonathan or any lackluster government for that matter, I also think it’s unfair to heap all the blame or the ills of society on their door step. I really cannot understand for instance what the president or governor has to do with me not paying my electricity and water bill, or taxes or littering my environment. Why would I blame the police for extorting me if I refuse to renew my car particulars or if I break traffic rules? We may choose to be complacent and cynical by blaming every problem on the government and in turn becoming part of the problem or choose a positive attitude by playing our part in our little corners and becoming a solution.
In the final analysis, the bitter and unacceptable truth is that, our leaders are actually, a reflection of who we are.
Like Imran Khan, the Pakistani cricket legend, turned prime ministerial candidate, told a heart broken crowd of supporters from his hospital bed in April on the eve of a very hopeful election,
“I have fought for Pakistan all my life; I have done whatever I could do. Now I want you to take responsibility. If you want to change your fate then you have to take responsibility.”
We need to now begin to play our role in building the Nigeria of our dreams and it starts with us. Like that cliché phrase that says be the change you want to see. As Nigerians, at least we have democracy’s biggest bonus at practically all levels, we have a say in how we are governed, a right we can wield to our own advantage. With that freedom which should not be taken lightly, the future indeed is in our hands.
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