By Benjamin Bagale
We need to take a closer look into the problems of leadership and corruption as we celebrate sixty years of self-rule.
Nigeria is blessed with abundant human and material resources. All she needed is the will and commitment to harness them for the overall goal of development and welfare of Nigerians. But going by what exist on ground, the amount of funds invested and other unpleasant experiences sixty years are not something to proudly talk about.
What are the problems? Why is Nigeria so abundantly blessed by God in terms of human and mineral resources but still unable to record development that is reasonable and commensurate with her resources? Why are we backward and poverty stricken inspite of our riches? Why is it that instead of moving forward like most well endowed nations, we keep on moving in a circle doing the same wrong things over and over again? Answers are legion.
The nation has, for years, been gripped by myriad of problems most of which are human inflicted and the biggest and most challenging of them are the leadership and corruption. At the beginning of self-rule the situation was not so bad. Things looked bright and attractive and the people very happy and hopeful. But soon later events took a downward slide. Even though the leadership, at that time, continued to inspire and instil hope in people by giving an optimistic and rosy picture of the future, it was apparently ill prepared for the task of governing a multi ethnic and most populous nation in Africa.
The leadership was not prepared, as it was visibly incapacitated by poor or lack of vision, strong will, and wrong priorities, ethnically based or oriented political parties and therefore dangerously inclined towards unavoidable failure. Bad leadership and corruption led to ugly hot exchanges of blames and counter blames and a bloody civil war.
If leadership and corruption are our problems, Nigerians have every right to speak strongly against the evils because, unlike other known evils, the two have grossly undermined and ruined their corporate interest and existence by stunting or dragging back the nation’s socio-economic growth, caused them severe hardships and pains. If we agree that bad leadership and corruption have been the major enemies of the nation then why are we unable to combat the evils? Have the diseases become too advanced and malignant to be cured? What are our perceptions of a bad leader?
Answers may differ, but what I know is that, a bad leader is known or recognized by a poor or total lack of vision. He lacks strong will and capacity to steer the ship of the nation well, rightly, fairly and selflessly at all times. He is not patriotic even though he tries to present himself so. Most of the time he is wrong in setting out his goals and priorities. He may be educated or not well educated but has a myopic view or bad understanding of most critical events in his country and beyond. He calls himself a democrat or a progressive but his overall behaviour and actions do not portray him so. He speaks persuasively and convincingly in public about the need for rule of law, independence of the judiciary and freedom of the press but pays little or no attention to them. His relationship with the poor masses and democratic institutions that are at his mercy is deeply hypocritically or deceitful. He never accepts accusations of wrongdoing, or being an ethno religious chauvinist but his decisions and actions are heavily tainted or beclouded by it. And above all, he is inwardly careless about acts of corruption.
If we know so much, why are we unable to do the right thing? If we believe that solution is possible through selection of competent, visionary, patriotic, sincere and selfless leaders do we have such caliber of Nigerians? Certainly yes. Endless complaints over leadership failure or inability without any change, despite flood of promises by successive elective leaders, do not mean that Nigeria is in short supply of competent leaders. Nigeria has a large inexhaustible pool of well educated, visionary and competent people who are sensitive to the feelings and problems of the masses and could effectively use the nation’s vast resources to bring about transformation.
But ethno religious distrust or animosities, deliberate political exclusion and biases in the selection of candidates by major political parties to contest for elective positions have made it difficult for them to be leaders at the centre. This is not unconnected to the endless vehement calls for restructuring the country. Unless these barriers or hindrances are addressed, we will continue to make do with low caliber leaders who grope about in the dark or move round in a circle.
Now, what about corruption? How has it impacted our thinking, national conscience and moral values? How has it influenced our collective drive towards national development? Bad leadership has been a major setback to progress. It has tolerated corruption and worsened the plight of the leaders and the people. The two, which are closely linked, have inflicted greater harm than could be imagined.
Political events in the last sixty years clearly revealed that leadership and corruption are the biggest enemies of Nigeria due to the harm they have done to her economy and people. For instance, the discovery of oil, that should have been a blessing and a turning point for accelerated national development, turned out to be a bad experience. Emphasis on agriculture was abandoned for oil which was exploited, exported and its proceeds running into hundreds and thousands of trillion naira were allegedly spent on projects that were left to deteriorate and collapse. At a given point in time, under the federal military government, Nigerians were made to believe that money was no longer the problem of the nation but how to spend it. The seemingly inexhaustible dollars coming from crude oil were squandered lavishly and recklessly on non-essential needs. Even though modest achievements were recorded at building Abuja city, refineries, depots, federal universities, polytechnics, schools, health facilities, roads, bridges and critical infrastructures across the country most of them became dilapidated due to lack of care.
Corruption dragged leaders and helpless Nigerians into political and economic doldrums. Chunks of billions appropriated for projects were diverted into personal use by greedy and selfish individuals. Major sectors of the economy suffered stagnation. Refineries, which were the life wire of the economy and which, by any human reasoning, should have been given adequate and prompt attention, being dependent on oil revenues, were neglected to the extent of being unable to refine crude oil. This pushed the NNPC to resort to spending more money importing petrol and other products than it is making from exporting crude oil.
Nigeria became virtually an import dependent nation and a dumping ground for all sorts of foreign goods. This killed not only the economy and value of the Naira but also crippled the emerging home industries. I can recall vividly, when I was newly employed in 1981 the Naira had stronger and higher economic value than the American dollar. Today, 2020, it is a disappointing story. A dollar now exchanges at a staggering black market rate of N470 or more.
The return to civil rule in 1999 provided a favourable opportunity for civilian leaders to clean up the dirts left behind by the military but things did not work as expected. The leaders had tried to make a difference but they did not meet the yearnings of Nigerians. The existing epileptic power supply that was declared a priority by them still remained a toddling infant after consuming billions of dollars. Rural areas, widely acclaimed as suppliers of essential food items to urban centres, still remained inaccessibly. Despite the disappointment, we can’t ignore or be silent over President Obasanjo’s effort at opening up the country for telecommunication companies to come in and invest, which put an end to NITEL monopoly. He also did well by paying off Nigerian’s foreign debts before he left office.
The present Administration under President Muhammadu Buhari has tried by introducing new measures and ways of doing things. However, a lot more needs to be done to regain the confidence and trust of Nigerians.
Certainly, the administration has done well at bringing down the high level of threats and fears in the country caused by Boko Haram insurgents by pushing them away from areas under their control. The government needs to do more because, even though the audacity and ferocity of insurgents’ attacks and suicide bombings have diminished, the rising cases of kidnapping, banditry, trafficking in human beings and herders attacks around the country have raised greater concerns and fears and reversed the gains made at fighting insecurity.
The fight against corruption, although not as many Nigerians expected, has undoubtedly yielded good results. Many treasury looters or thieves have been convicted and their assets confiscated. Badly hit by the impact of Covid-19 Pandemic and other domestic problems, the government resorted to external borrowing to execute critical developmental projects. Agreed, no nation could isolate itself from seeking help or totally avoid foreign loans in times of difficulties, but caution must be exercised whenever the need arises. Right now Nigerians are not happy about the loan collected from China to rebuild the comatose railway lines because as they are made to understand, the conditionalities for the loan amounted to surrendering the nation’s sovereignty. This fear was heightened and justified by a minister who recently pleaded with the National Assembly not to tamper with the loan.
Another dimension or aspects of corruption and corrupt behaviours steadily rising and gaining ground is our attitudes to show of opulence. We delight in lavish displays of wealth, especially the spraying of Naira at ceremonies, in a Society where the majority of citizens could hardly afford one meal a day. Individuals who can’t defend their sources of stupendous wealth are behind the lavish displays. A high percentage of Nigerians recruited by them now willfully, carelessly and openly sponsor or support events that actively and adversely encourage corruption. Instead of questioning or rebuking those involved in tempting the people, particularly public servants or elected leaders who usually come back home heavily loaded with billions of Naira without any credible, convincing visible legitimate business supporting it, we praise and worship them as worthy sons and daughters. Instead of holding them to account for, or explain the sources of their money, we welcome them home with deafening ovation, honour them with titles and special awards in crowded ceremonies. Most of those benefitting from them always rise in stout defence of the corrupt behaviour, calling it an existing cultural practice. Our custodians of culture and tradition must rise up, condemn and distance themselves from this dirty antic. They must not allow the good name, respect and dignity of the traditional institution to be smeared or given a bad name.
The honours and revelries accorded to doubtful wealthy individuals betray and ridicule our moral values and contradict the ongoing fight against corruption. It is disheartening to know that the honours and awards being dished out are based on the idea that any stolen money brought home is the people’s legitimate share of the national cake. This has, unfortunately, affected the reasoning of many of us. It has strengthened and legitimized the crude criminal notion that government money is nobody’s money and that stealing it is a show of smartness. This notion has not only elevated stealing to a higher level of veneration but also turned the commandment of God which says thou shall not steal into a joke. Whoever made his money in a clean and hard way will never spend it prodigally.
Government and all concerned Nigerians must unfailingly join hands and rise up against this show of ignorance and shameless decadent behaviours. If they tolerate or quietly surrender to the evils they should not be surprised if one day they discover that kidnappers, armed robbers, bandits, traffickers in human beings and other lucrative areas of crime are among those they honour and worship for their money.
On a final note, I reiterate the firm belief and conviction that bad leadership will never end or disappear from the country as long as we hold onto ethno religious sentiments against one another, political biases and distrust in the selection and election of leaders. That corruption will not only continue to defy our efforts but grow stronger, more daring and destructive as long as we persist in the habit of honouring and glorifying persons who engage in it and derive immense profit and benefits from it. May God save us from becoming victims.