The Failure of Leadership – Debo Adejugbe
“The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian
land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigeria problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.” – Chinua Achebe in “The trouble with Nigeria”
“During the colonial period, struggles were fought, exhaustingly, on so many fronts — for equality, for justice, for freedom — by politicians, intellectuals and common folk alike. At the end of the day, when the liberty was won, we found that we had not sufficiently reckoned with one incredibly important fact: If you take someone who has not really been in charge of himself for 300 years and tell him, “O.K., you are now free,” he will not know
where to begin.” – Chinua Achebe (editorial piece in the NY times)
“The trouble with Nigeria” by Chinua Achebe was published in 1983 by Heinmann, with 67 pages. You’ll be amazed what this great writer delivered in those few pages, with sections covering: Where the Problem Lies; Tribalism;
False Image of Ourselves; Leadership, Nigerian Style; Patriotism; Social Injustice and the Cult of Mediocrity; Indiscipline; Corruption; The Igbo Problem, and; The Example of Aminu Kano; you will definitely flow with Achebe as he takes you through the Nigerian problem and I’ll walk you through a few.
If you call “The trouble with Nigeria” a book of frustration and anger, you’ll certainly be right to do that because his frustration is evident in it. If you call it a book of desperation, no one will blame you because his desperation for things to be right were glaringly evident. If, by any means, you call it a book of love, so be it because Achebe demonstrated his love for Nigeria by writing the book and essentially giving us a piece of his brain by profering solutions here and there.
I’m writing this piece through Achebe’s eyes, I’m not doing something extraordinary or important, only to wake you up to your responsibilities and reason with you while I do that.
Let’s look at few salient points put forward by Achebe in “The trouble with Nigeria”.
-He challenges the ordinary Nigerian to do more, by rejecting this failure of leadership, telling us (thoughtful Nigerians) to rise up and jettison the habits that continually draw us back as a nation.
-On Patriotism, he has this to say: Spurious patriotism is one of the hallmarks of Nigeria’s
privileged classes whose generally unearned positions of sudden power and wealth must seem unreal even to themselves. To lay the ghost of their insecurity they talk patriotically.
He went further: “Listen to Nigeria’s leaders and you will frequently hear the phrase ‘this great country of ours.’ Nigeria is not a great
country. It is one of the most disorderly nations in the world. It is one of the most corrupt, insensitive, inefficient places under
the sun. It is one of the most expensive countries and one of those that give least value for money. It is dirty, callous, noisy,
ostentatious, dishonest and vulgar. In short, it is among the most unpleasant places on earth.”
-Achebe sees the motto on our coat of arms as misplaced, On Unity and Faith, he quipped “unity to do what? And faith in what?
Its so easy to see why he said this, we are united in corruption at this point in time and have an absolute faith in things to work out without efforts.
He argued that Unity and Faith are not absolute in themselves but ‘conditional on their satisfaction of other purposes’, questioning why they never chose such absolute concepts like Justice and Honesty which can not ‘easily be directed to undesirable end’
-”One of the commonest manifestations of under-development is a tendency among the ruling elite to live in a world of make-believe and unrealistic expectations. This is the cargo cult mentality that anthropologists sometimes speak about – a belief by backward people that someday, without any exertion whatsoever on their own part, a fairy ship will
dock in their harbour laden with every goody they have always dreamed of possessing.”
That’s Achebe describing our mentality of blind optimism that things will come good even without efforts on our part.
– Achebe didn’t leave out Tribalism, he explains vividly and gives examples of when people are employed into a position that they ill fit, neglecting more efficient, better equipped and more competent individuals just to satisfy tribal sentiments.
-He didn’t leave some our most revered founding fathers out of it. He compares statements from the biographies of Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo to those of leaders like Julius Nyerere and Kwame Nkrumah. The earlier two were accused of “absence of objectivity and intellectual rigour……..tendency to pious materialistic wooolliness and self-centred
pedestrianism” which encourages corruption labeling it as “poverty of thought….” Which is worlds apart from the expression of Ideology in works by the later two.
-Peace, is another area that Achebe allowed us to use his eyes. He says without peace no meaningful social programme will work. Normally, a reasonable person will wait for his turn when he is absolutely sure that the shares will go round, otherwise he will start a scramble when not sure.
Its a scramble in all levels of our national life at present, the citizens are scrambling because they have so little while the elite have so much.
-The issue of traffic got a mention, and he says: “there is indeed no better place to observe the thrusting indiscipline of Nigerian behaviour than on the roads: frenetic energy, rudeness, noisiness”
And of their indifference, he says it is of “truly psychiatric proportions”, he went further to describe the convoys of our elites as “childish and cacophonous instrument for the celebration of status… a medieval chieftain’s progress complete with magicians and acrobats chasing citizens out of the way”.
-On corruption, the gigantic two horned monster bedeviling us since the age before independence, he says this in reply to Shagari’s statement that corruption wasn’t a major problem: “My frank and honest opinion is that anybody who can say that corruption in Nigeria has not yet become alarming is either a fool, a crook or else does not live in this country.”
“Keeping an average Nigerian from being corrupt is like keeping a goat from eating yam.”
“Achebe presented graphic details of the amount of money that are siphoned from the system in the form of plain theft by politicians, inflated contract figures, salary payment to ghost-workers, and more. He demonstrates, comparatively, what it amounts to and what edifices that could have been built with such resources.” – (Fredu Agyeman, 2011)
-To us, people who are folding our arms doing nothing, he says: “We have stood too long on the side-lines; and too many of us have adopted the cynical attitude that since you cannot beat them you must join them. Our inaction or cynical action are a serious betrayal of our education, of our historic mission and of succeeding generations who will have no future unless we save it now for them.”
These excerpts are from the book “The trouble with Nigeria” by Chinua Achebe, published in 1983. It has been 29 years and it bears an uncanny resemblance to what we have in Nigeria presently, only that it has multiplied in uncountable folds and its now deeply rooted.
Its not an uncommon sight to see our so called leaders and politicians talk about patriotism in its most warped sense, these are the people who promote corruption as a state religion, negotiating their tribal people into government and keeping them there with an instrument of terror. They travel the world with retinue of aides, some travel just to tend to “oga’s” shoes and bags.
While these are going on, they preach peace to us and then hire our youths as thugs to achieve electoral victory or score cheap intimidation point against political opponents. This applies to most politicians in Nigeria irrespective of party affiliations. Lurching at every corner is the blind optimism that tomorrow will be good while we fold our arms and do nothing, absolutely nothing about it.
Unity and Faith has been heralded as a veritable tool to move us forward, yet someone from any part of the country picks pickle fights with others when they criticize politicians from their tribe. There is a permanent traffic in our lives because we’ve been trained with indiscipline and graduated into corrupt gladiators who extend the misadventure of our particular type of governance to our everyday life.
What is the difference between Achebe’s 1983 and our 2012? We’ve traveled on a very long journey of national awareness and purported discovery, yet we are one of the most backward people in the world, not minding whatever standard used. We’ve seen corruption move from a big problem to a national religion, we talk and smile and laugh while we gradually slip into coma. The injuries are mostly self inflicted and there is absolutely nothing done to see things move in the right direction, yet we proclaim that things are getting better.
Its so funny that the solution to our problems can be seen in the proclamation of the problems themselves, but we can’t face it. Eradicate corruption with purposeful and decisive leadership – cut frivolous expenses and duplication of duties in multiple folds to plug leaks in our resources. A hungry nation is an angry nation, we live on less than two dollars per day and they say we are progressing.
Why won’t the youth embrace militancy and terrorism when they will be fed, sheltered and treated as heroes by those who brainwash them?
Our educational institutions are becoming glorified structures where students go to cram and pass and then move on to the labour market to become unproductive and illiterate graduates (check some of their comments on articles around the web to understand my point). Is that progress? Why can’t there be a sustainable educational policy? Our infrastructure are mostly at zero level and we want to move forward? Why can’t our government focus on these things? Its applicable to all levels of our national life. Power has become a talking point for past/present leaders, they take turns to tell us its getting better. Really? Why do we see all these big generators transferred around our neighbourhoods by the high and mighty in our midst?
Our problems are not insurmountable but our leadership problem is becoming so; we move between bad and worse when electing leaders and those with the look of fresh air delivers below zero level. If leadership can be addressed, we can start talking about moving forward as a nation, addressing our other critical problems starting with corruption.
If this CURSE of leadership continues…………Nigeria will never be great! Please don’t call me unpatriotic, I’m patriotic enough to write this piece and open the floodgates…………..what are you doing to bring your dreams of a good Nigeria to fruition?
…and 2015 beckons!