Nigeria’s Biggest Problem? Followership

by Michael Egbejumi-David

A lot of commentators like to point to leadership as Nigeria’s biggest failing. Not true, in my view. There are worse problems bedevilling that poor dear country than its leadership. We have religion, ethnicity, the British, etc, etc. But taking pride of place at the top of this scrapheap are the ordinary Nigerians – the followers.

Last week, I was reading through the many commentaries from some Nigerians responding to a write up on Sahararepoters titled: “Nigeria Golden Eaglets Captain 7 Years Ago” written by Sunny Achi. The piece was done in support of an initial revelation that the team captain, Fortune Chukwudi is far older than the 17 years age limit of the FIFA under-seventeen World Cup football tournament. The writer also provided some pictorial evidence.

In those pictures, Fortune Chukwudi looks nothing like a seventeen year old. He looks decidedly older. That was not all. Former Green Eagles player, Adokiye Amiesimaka, who at one time was the Chairman of Sharks Football Club and the Coach of its feeder (Youth) team had earlier provided evidence to show that Fortune Chukwudi played for his club as an 18 year old in 2002. This is seven years later, and the same Fortune Chukwudi is the captain of our national under-seventeen football team!

There’s another player, Olanrewaju Kayode, who wanted to play for Sharks feeders in 2002 and he said he had finished secondary school back then. Kayode is also in the under-seventeen team. Please note that the first MRI test carried out by FIFA eliminated 15 of our squad members. 15! God only knows what ingenuity was then employed by our football authorities for the subsequent test.

But that wasn’t the worst news. Out of about 76 commentaries on Saharareporters from Nigerians (as at the time I began writing this), close to half were dismissive, contemptuous and lampooned the writer, Amiesimaka especially, even Saharareporters (whose only crime was publishing the story) and the other commentators who thought the whole affair was blatant cheating and wrong.

I now, for the first time, understand why our senior team, the Super Eagles, can’t get off the ground (or is it grass?). I had always wondered why we play ‘walking football’ at the senior level. I had wondered many, many times why the same players who excelled at junior levels could never deliver at the senior stage. Now we know: Those players were performing at their peak in junior tournaments. At the senior stage, they were already in their 30s, with kids, mortgages and individual retirement accounts.

But this is not an isolated case as much as there could be the temptation to pass it off as passion for the game or nationalism. It is woeful cheating and misplaced patriotism. It is a manifestation of the Nigerian malaise; the Nigerian factor. Worse; it is short sighted and very self defeating. A retrogressive practice where we mess up our own future.

When former governor Alamieyeseigha, who had Bayelsa in a headlock was let out of jail, he was immediately feted with government’s money over three days by the same State. Otherwise intelligent people who hail from that part of the country could not bring themselves to condemn this abhorrence because; well…he is their thief. They loudly and angrily told other revolted Nigerians to mind their business and go mind their own thieves.

Ibori was recently able to get grown men to stand out in the cold in front of a London court, holding up freshly made PVC banners in demonstration where his sister, secretary, and mistress are being tried for laundering some of the money that he stole. Those demonstrators decried the English legal system and blamed Ibori’s troubles on colonialism. This happened in the UK in the year of the Lord, 2009! At least some of the protesters were sufficiently embarrassed and tried to avert their faces, but they still stood there in the open protesting on Ibori’s behalf. How hungry can someone be? The same Ibori was able to bus a few women with sad drooping breasts from Delta to Kaduna earlier in the year to demand his release from custody.

Freshman Bode George still has people (not just his immediate family) trooping to protest his innocence and rain curses on the EFCC as George begins classes at kirikiri.

Today, even though Babangida’s house is no longer the Mecca it once was, there are still Nigerians going there and telling the man that his gap teeth is the best thing to happen to Nigeria this side of a tuning fork.

There’s currently a character turning the internet blue pushing the candidacy of governor Shekarau as Nigeria’s next president. But almost everyone knows that Kano in the last eight years has actually retrogressed during the Shekarau years.

When some of us heaved a sigh of relief and said thank God, Chief Adedibu was gone and that Oyo State could catch its breath and can get on with normal civilised life, a gentleman from the Nigerianvillagesquare retorted that I don’t know what I was talking about and that Adidebu’s brand of politics was the best thing that ever happened to Oyo State. He said ‘outsiders’ like me don’t understand Oyo political dynamics, blah, blah, blah. Months before that, a Yoruba Professor teaching in one of the schools in America had sent me a disapproving email accusing me of not showing enough respect for criticising Chief Adedibu and calling his method ‘thuggery.’

Nobody wants to call a spade a spade anymore. We have perfected the art of self imploding and looking outwards for the pin prick. There’s absence of shame and absence of responsibility. Cheating and lying is simply the reality of our life as most Nigerians have come to know it. Most of us, depending on the circumstance, would find no qualms at all in justifying any perfidy but we then have the nerve to look and point elsewhere. We point to the leaders – as long as they are not from our neck of the woods – as the problem. Only a few honest Nigerians buck this trend.

I once had a surreal debate with a Nigerian who returned from Abuja and said that Abuja was better than London only on the basis that in London, there was too much maintenance of roads and that he found that very annoying when he drove. But in Nigeria, when a contractor comes in the dead of the night and fills a bad road with blocks and bricks instead of a full scale repair job, that is acceptable because he has settled officials and other civil servants who willingly accepts the money, or may even have demanded it knowing fully well that it means the road which they all ply would not be repaired. The contractor then takes the rest of the money and goes out to celebrate his ‘arrival.’ Everyone – including the greased civil servants then acts surprised and blame leadership when the same road falls apart worse than it was before.

The same goes for NEPA. Every new landlord or shop owner goes to bribe a NEPA official and stick their line into an already congested transformer that is extended well above its normal capacity and blame leadership when the transformer blows up within two months.

Another mate recently admitted that he regularly settles the boys in black at their illegal checkpoints with N50 every time he drives through. Most of us do. What will eventually happen if we all begin to refuse to pay this N50 bribe to the police? I am sure this person bribes other officials privately and publicly as a matter of course but remains adamant that he is awaiting a non-corrupt Nigerian to come and fight a clean fight against corruption that he and others like him daily empowers. The irony is completely lost on him. Nobody takes personal responsibility anymore. Nigeria’s problems are someone else’s making and it is therefore for someone else – untainted – to come and resolve. Meanwhile the majority seem

s to condone, abets and, in fact, awaits their turn at the trough. Only lip service is paid to fighting what is wrong. It is only wrong when other people do it or when we are inconvenienced by it. But if it directly benefits us, then other people complaining are unpatriotic, or it is a case of ‘bad belle’ and ‘pull him down syndrome’ – our newfound lazy, condoning, mop-up phrases.

Our leaders know us so well and have been happily shafting us accordingly. They probably have a good laugh behind our backs whenever they meet. Every time anyone of us raises an objection to their thieving and other scandalous acts, they know and understand that that person is in the minorities’ minority. There would be no shortage of other Nigerians to rain him or her down. A country does really get the leadership it deserves. Just the other day, David Mark was audacious enough to say that Nigeria is doing very well indeed and that those Nigerians complaining within and without should go start their own country. This is how much followership has enabled the kind of leadership we have.

If you do the right thing in Nigeria or even talk about doing what is right, you are laughed at by the people around you. They quickly remind you that ‘things don’t work like that here.’ Amazingly, some people don’t seem to see their own handsome contributions to why things don’t or won’t work. On the football story, some of the commentators chastised Amiesimaka for waiting till the competition got underway to make his revelation about Fortune Chukwudi. Clearly this is an afterthought and a very poor excuse. If Amiesimaka had said something before the start of the competition, they would have said why not wait till afterwards; you’re going to blow it for us. No time is a good time. What they really mean is: leave it alone. I’m afraid these are the same people who would justify cheating during exams.

Some people have argued that FIFA has given us a pass (it hasn’t) on the second MRI test and so we should not complain about over-age players anymore. It is mind-boggling really. That has never been the point. All sorts of specious talk and excuses are reeled out to justify what is clearly wrong and should have been universally condemned. Everything with some of us seems to be about short-term gratification – the here and now (no matter how), and the future is consigned into the hands of fate and for other people to fix – the inshallah mentality. When we have erected sub-standards around us and have pulled the environment down to that mediocre level, we then expect giants and worthy leaders to arise from the ashes.

I think that, largely, leaders everywhere would misbehave sometimes and do their own thing if their citizens don’t hold them to account and to better standards. But some Nigerian not only condone and rationalise away what is bad, they also happily abet their own under-development. Now, please, nobody should get me wrong; Nigeria’s leadership is mostly crap and has consistently failed that country. I mean, look at Yar’Adua and Michael Aondoakaa for goodness sake…But its followership is proving worse.

One of the more enterprising commentators on the referenced story on Saharareporters actually wrote: “Age cheating is the only way developing countries(sic) can compete with Europe, America and the 1st world who cheat with technology, better health facilities and quality food. Where would Africa match these people, if not over-age posing as under-age?”

So there!

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