by Simon Kolawole
For decades, I have been holding on tenaciously to the belief that Nigeria would develop someday. I like to be practical, so I come up with all kinds of thoughts on how this would or could be achieved in real life. However, I have seen my hypotheses and postulations disintegrate one after the other. For instance, I would think democracy was a prerequisite for development, but the Second Republic was not particularly a great advert for the link between democracy and development. The military took over and we celebrated “benevolent dictatorship” by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida but, in the end, we were praying for the soldiers to just pack their jackboots and guns and return to their barracks.
In 1999, I campaigned and voted for Chief Olusegun Obasanjo under the illusion that as a retired military officer who once ruled Nigeria and lived an austere life thereafter, he could return the country to the path of disciple and development under a democratic setting. But he was caught in his own contradictions. With his eight years in office, we still kept importing petrol and kept shouting “Up NEPA” everyday. He remained captive to the buccaneering elite in a consensus relationship. I was defeated by Obasanjo’s mediocrity — which, ironically, is still the best we’ve got since 1999. Imagine someone who scored 39% emerging the overall best student!
Undaunted, I started postulating that if we had a graduate at the helm of affairs, our development would be accelerated. Not only did we get President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who read sciences and had a master’s degree, we also had Dr. Goodluck Jonathan with a PhD as his deputy who also went on to lead the country for five years after Yar’Adua’s death. Through it all, the predators still held Nigeria by the throat. I thought President Muhammadu Buhari was going to offer something significantly different, but after the ‘initial gra gra’ (otherwise known as IGG), it seems normal service has resumed. The firmament is getting polluted yet again.
But I’m somebody who never gives up. When my hopes are dashed, I dust myself up, pick up my cap and float to the next dreamland. It was my friend and big brother, Dike Dimiri, who drew my attention to this trait sometime in 1996. I had done a project that failed spectacularly. I was really, really down. It is one moment of my life I don’t wish to remember. I spent a whole day lamenting to him. After offering words of comfort, he asked me what next. I said I was going to try again. I outlined my plans for the second phase. Dike looked at me and said: “You know what I like about you? You never give up.” He might have forgotten but I will always remember those kind words.
Sure, I know enough, and I have seen enough, to make me conclude that the development of Nigeria is an impossibility. The very nature and structure of our system is anti-development. Even if you motive is pure and you want to contest for an office, the way you get the party’s ticket and win the election is itself an obstacle to good governance. The governance system you will work with is designed to fail — or, at best, programmed to stunt development. The civil servants have no business with development. It’s not their cup of tea. Most political appointees are only looking for what to eat and drink. If you say you want to clean up the system, frustration will be your trophy.
So with all that, how can anyone say Nigeria will become a developed country? These days, my mood swings effortlessly. One moment, I am excited by the prospects and potential of Nigeria; the next I am shaking my head in gloom and screaming “it is finished”. Just as I have seen enough to make me conclude that we are doomed, so also have I seen enough to make me believe that we are going to make it, and that we are actually on our road to progress, no matter how little and how slow things appear to be today. You don’t want to be caught in conflicting emotions and thoughts as I have found myself. I don’t envy myself at all.
But let us look at these issues in another way. We have had our fair share of the argument over who to blame for Nigeria’s underdevelopment — the leaders or the followers? Many think it is the leaders, and that if the leaders lead us aright, the followers will fall in line. Others say it is the followers, and that we get the kind of leaders that we deserve. All my life, I have always believed that it is leadership that conceives and delivers development, and the followers will nurture it. There is a role for leaders, the bigger role at that, and there is a role for followers — in my considered opinion. Nigerians have demonstrated over time that they are ready to follow the leader.
If you agree with me that leaders should be the ones to show the way, you may also agree that our leaders have been mainly predators and have been showing us the wrong way. What most of them care about is how to abuse their oath of office, enrich themselves and their cronies, and leave the ordinary followers short-changed. Followers, beaten and battered, hardly see beyond their noses: they are ready to sell their votes to any bidder just to afford the next meal. So we go in a circumlocution, blaming bad leadership for our underdevelopment, blaming the voters’ choices for bad leadership, and blaming our underdevelopment for the voters’ choices.
No nation can develop without good leaders. Are we agreed on that? Development is planned. Development does not happen by accident. Human beings sit down and design a plan, the same way an architect designs a building. Human beings decide what they want to do with infrastructure, how to build it and how to expand or maintain it. It can never happen by accident. But what happens when human beings plan and allow self-interest and greed to distort and destroy the plan? Nigeria has always had wonderful plans. The problem, we all know, is implementation. There will be no fidelity to implementation when greed is the motivation of the planners and the leaders.
Many will say we need a new crop of leaders. But all you need to do is talk to the so-called “new leaders” and you will discover many of them are more predatory than the people they are trying to replace. I know of many otherwise intelligent, focused and upright Nigerians who become something else when they get into public office. They tell you: “It is not as easy as those of you outside think! There is a difference between theory and practical!” I would have accepted their excuse if not that I am currently seeing theory and practical embrace each other in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Botswana. In Nigeria, theory and practical are mutually exclusive, according to the “new” leaders.
What then? So I have been thinking lately. Since we need good leaders to develop, since we have mostly predators as leaders, since we cannot apply for re-colonisation, maybe it is the same predators — the same buccaneers — that we would have to look up to for our salvation. I think the elite will have to come to their senses one day and use the same twisted brain for the purpose of developing Nigeria. They will have to divert their mental and physical energies to positive use. It will have to be a consensus among them. One of them will just say one day: “You know what guys? Enough is enough! It’s time to put Nigeria first!” And that will be the turning point.
I know what you are thinking: this is impossible. You are saying the same “predatory elite” can NEVER become “developmental elite”. I cannot expatiate on my thinking today, but remember the “Road to Damascus”? Paul was the mastermind of the killing of early Christians. Yet he became arguably the most influential convert. He ended up being killed for Christ. The same buccaneers pillaging Nigeria today can actually have a conversation with their conscience and become the architects and builders of a new Nigeria. They have the competence but lack the patriotism. What they need is the “Road to Damascus” experience, like Saul. Are you still with me?
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS
Now that President Muhammadu Buhari has decided to go on medical leave, may we now focus the national debate on how the country can move forward as we play catch-up with other developing countries? Politicians must, of needs, politick, but everything cannot be politics and politics cannot be everything. We all seem to have been sucked into the everlasting intrigues of elections, forgetting other issues that should be a welcome distraction — issues such as epileptic power, epidemics and unemployment, as well as general infrastructure that aids economic growth and development. And what about hundreds of unfilled vacancies in key federal agencies? Agenda.
SECTION 145 (1)
There was one hell of a controversy over the letter sent to the national assembly by President Buhari on his medical vacation last week. Invoking section 145 (1) of the 1999 constitution, Buhari said “the vice-president will coordinate the activities of the government”. The wording is different from that of a similar letter in January in which he said “the vice-president will perform the functions of my office”. The insinuation is that he did not want the VP to be “acting president” this time around but “co-ordinator”. The language of the latest letter may be suspicious, but since it is section 145(1) that has been invoked, anything else is irrelevant. Osinbajo is acting president. QED.
The recent release of 82 Chibok schoolgirls, rather than elicit all-round excitement, has led to allegations that the Buhari administration is only playing games and creating a diversion for its failings. There is even this fantastic conspiracy theory that the girls (by the way, they are now women, going by Nigerian laws) were kidnapped in 2014 by APC as part of the strategies to win the 2015 elections, and they are now being released in batches anytime the government is running low on popularity. I do not believe this theory; I think we’re taking politics too far. More importantly, though, the parents of the released abductees are not complaining. Perspectives.
Nicholas Ossai, a member of the house of representatives, says the N125 billion appropriated to the national assembly in the 2017 budget is inadequate — despite the addition of N10 billion by the lawmakers to their own budget. According to him, the legislature requires more money to carry out its “oversight” function effectively. He lamented: “The committees are carrying out national functions in line with section 88 of the constitution to expose corruption. Committees not only expose corruption, but block leakages. Definitely, we need a lot of money to address these issues,” Can somebody help us beg the lawmakers to “manage” the chicken feed? Times are hard. Please.
- This Best Outside Opinion was written by Simon Kolawole/Thisday