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The Nigeria of my dream at 60: It is up to us, now – Part 2

By Francis Onaiyekan
24 March 2020   |   3:40 am
Which explains the capacity for corruption of even younger members of the ruling elite. Considering the amount that are reportedly stolen, as well as the unabashed display of wealth...

Continued from yesterday
Which explains the capacity for corruption of even younger members of the ruling elite. Considering the amount that are reportedly stolen, as well as the unabashed display of wealth, the younger ones are more brazen than their mentors. No wonder little has changed, year in year out, under administrations. The French would say ‘plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose’ meaning that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Surely, there is need for a new way to address the problems that keep us and our country down. Instead of a top-down approach that may never effect the change we desire for our country, I suggest a people centered, self-engendered, bottom-up change of attitude and commitment.

Under whichever system of government- representative democracy or stratocracy – one cannot but suspect a conspiracy of Nigeria’s power elite against the majority of the people. ‘Democracy’, says Harry Emerson Fosdick, ‘is based upon the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people’. Nigerian political leaders and their colluders do not seem to think so. ‘A democratic society’ writes Daniel J. Boorstin, ‘is the one governed by a spirit of equality, and dominated by the desire to equalize, to give everything to everybody’. Nigeria’s brand of ‘democrats’ don’t act as if to want this for their countrymen. Consider these: the very basic needs of life such as regular electricity is denied citizens to work productively and live comfortably; good roads and a functional multi-modal transportation system to transport people and goods easily and cheaply is denied the people; a purposeful education system that will enable the majority escape poverty of the mind and of means is not available to the electorate. A friend once told me that a visiting business partner from Turkey insisted on being taken round Lagos to experience Nigeria. Seeing the physical decay and social chaos, he said in disgust ‘Your government hates you [people]’.

Nigeria’s power elite should be ashamed of itself living in sinful opulence amidst the ‘poverty capital of the world’. To carry about so must require a peculiar type of psychological constitution. Surely, this un-enlightened elite never heard of the Yoruba adage that ‘olowo kan l’arin otosi mefa, otosi ti ‘d’i meje’. Translation:  ‘A rich man in the midst of six poor men has turned the poor men to seven (Ayotunde O. Joshua, 2017). Mr. Dan Agbese recently wrote that ‘The corruption of the system is the worst form of corruption’ (The Guardian, January 11, 2020). I agree. Who constructed ’the system’? Who operates it? Who sets the rules, applies them, and perverts them? Who perpetrates ‘the many children of corruption’ such as bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, parochialism, patronage, influence peddling, graft, and embezzlement? The power elite of course, starting with the political class. The political class deserves specific mention because it controls, the executive, legislative, and coercive means to set, implement, and enforce agenda, priorities, and standards for the polity for the good or for ill.  The political class can, by policy and action therefore, create the conducive environment for personal national development and progress. The power of environment to enable or disable a people cannot emphasize enough. People, the human asset indubitably impels development and progress. Our own sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, has long ago posited that man is the prime mover in every economy and the positive and dynamic factor of development. In all matters of national development and social progress, people matter most because, says former United Nations secretary –general U-Thant, it is not the resources that make the decisions; it is the [human] decisions that make the resources. ‘There is no such thing as the viability of states or of nations, there is only the viability of people’ (E.F. Schumacher, 1974).

Nigeria’s extant 1999 constitution emphasizes the centrality of ‘the people’ by stating that ‘the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government…’ But a conducive environment must exist to enable the people be the best they can. Under the 1999 Constitution, this is the function of the State governed by elected officials who must be guided specifically by the provisions of the ‘Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy’, and generally, the entire provisions of constitution. If- and this is the perennial man-made hindrance in this country – the government keeps faith with these constitutional directives, the right operating environment emerges for Nigerians to excel.  To achieve this however, the burden of responsibility lies squarely on the political class that holds the levers of power. It must guide the state and its resources toward fulfilling its constitutional obligations. Consider, for example, that Nigerians go to other lands that nurture human capabilities and they literally magnify with their ingenuity in various fields of endeavor. Our policemen, arguably the most vilified group of public servants, perform so well as to win awards on foreign assignments? But it is the same police force that is so distrusted and disrespected at home. This reflects the power of the environment to make a difference.

The fish begins to rot from the head, says an African adage. The degradation of Nigeria reflects, directly, the degeneration of its political leadership especially since 1980. As political scientist and elite theorist James H. Meisel is quoted to say ‘the history of all societies, past and future is the history of its ruling classes…’ (Bottomore,1966).  The retrogression of this country simply reprobates an elite that is destitute of leadership qualities. But chickens do come home to roost. History shows that elite greed, parasitism, and unconscionableness will hurt the masses, but these grave and grievous sins ultimately consume the perpetrators. ‘The course of history is littered with the bones of those who robbed others to serve their own glory’ wrote former senator David Oke (Daily Sketch, February 17, 1981). Nigerian leaders not only fail to lead, they show bad examples. They group themselves in political ‘parties’ that are distinguished only by being ideologically undistinguishable. These parties fail, with no sense of shame, to keep the promises in their manifestoes. These public servants are not punctual to work or to public events, and they waste public funds on personal remunerations and appurtenances of office while giving little public service in return. Whereas the UK Prime Minister Mr. Boris Johnson, would travelled in the economy class of British Airways to the Caribbean, the daughter of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari recently had all to herself, a plane in the fleet of presidential jets, to work on a project required for a London university degree. The presidential fleet of Nigeria has 10 planes of varying configurations. But compare these:  the World Bank 2018 figures published on Wikipedia put the GDP of UK at more than US$2.825 trillion and a per capita income $42, 491.   In comparison, Nigeria’s GDP was about US$397.3 billion, and a per capita income of $2,028.

Amidst the refrain of a lack of funds, the current federal legislature under Senator Ahmed Lawan proposed N5.5 billion to buy foreign-made sports utility vehicles (SUV) for its members.  Senate Leader Yahaya Abdullahi chided complaining citizens that it is ‘an insult’ to say a Nigerian senator ‘cannot ride a jeep’.  Relatively poor Osun State that owes pensioners has reportedly found the money to buy the 2019 Toyota Camry for its 26 legislators at a total cost of N266 million. A disgusted former senator, Abdul Azeez Nyako (Adamawa Central), has accused his fellow politicians of providing ‘bad leadership’ saying ‘We are only concerned about distribution of resources instead of good leadership or how to resolve issues and get our people out of the mess [that Nigeria is]’ (The News Guru, online medium, 26 January, 2020). Nigerian political office holders would be good case study of Barbara Tuchman (1980) postulation that it is in government that people seek power over others and lose it over themselves.
The full paper can be accessed at