Policing ourselves: imagine that!

by Timi Yeseibo-Ereyi

In the month of August, I read in a national daily that the Sergeants-at-Arms of the National and State Assemblies were to be trained in crisis management and parliamentary combat control. By now, they should have completed rudimentary physical drills and simulations that are adapted to tempestuous lawmaking chambers where members freely jab each other and often aim at the symbol of authority, the Mace, to disrupt proceedings. I had a good laugh even though it was a factual report written devoid of humour.

Beyond the hilarity, I wondered why we need to be policed all the time, why voluntary compliance is so lacking. Self-discipline has been thrown out the window, and we need the brutal arms of uniformed men to coerce compliance out of us like malu congo, yama yama congo—a derogatory chant that I cried out as a young girl. It was aimed at cows being driven with a stick by a herdsman intent on the cows doing his bidding. LASTMA has borne the ugly brunt of many-a-jokes, but their very existence means the joke is on us.

There is a clarion call for visionary leaders, honest leaders, and accountable leaders. Bad leadership gets the blame for the ills that plague our communities. This view needs to be further investigated. The present crop of leadership is drawn from the current population so, what you have is what you get. Like the computer, garbage in, garbage out.

One view of leadership postulates that leadership is ultimately about getting people to contribute to making something great happen. But as the quote from Eleanor Roosevelt states, “It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.” How true. Barack Obama inspired millions when he said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” In other words, good leadership begins with me.

The other day, I waited in the hall of a bank to pay in a cheque. It was crowded and there were only two bank tellers at the counter. Their supervisor sat in a glass walled office oblivious to the impatient crowd. Where was initiative? She should have risen from her throne to work out a way to dispel the crowd. But, why should she? It was the same scenario day after day, and the bank was not losing customers on account of it.

A gentleman and I bemoaned our fate. We prayed that the ‘system’ would not ‘go down’ before it was our turn to be served.
He said, “I could have been at the front of the queue. A friend offered me a space in front of him and the man behind him did not mind.”
“Why didn’t you take the offer, you could have been out of here by now?”
“I didn’t want to cause confusion, like that man ….”
He drew my attention to a man with swagger.
“Excuse me,” Mr Swagger said to the man on the queue who was next in line to be served, “I just want to ask a question.”
Distrust shone through the other man’s eyes. Suspicion made him move slowly, but he made room for Mr Swagger to stand in front of him. Then wham bam before you could say leadership, cheque and money exchanged hands. Mr Swagger tucked his bundle in his pocket and sauntered casually out of the hall, toothpick in mouth, as if he had just finished eating bush meat. He had taken us for a ride. Tomorrow when he becomes Local Government Champion, I mean Chairman; he will take us for a longer ride.

Leadership involves self discipline. We would do well to imbibe the words of the ancient philosopher Lao Tzu, “Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” We are all leaders in our spheres of influence and contrary to popular belief, leading others starts today not when we get to Aso Rock.

According to the report in the daily paper, after a fracas is suppressed by the police in the Assembly, lawmakers always point out that the disgraceful event occurs not just in Nigeria. So, if I put my hand in the fire, will you too put your hand in the fire? We cannot continue to justify our bad behaviour on the bad behaviour of our neighbours. We are old enough to distinguish between good and bad.

As long as we still need WAI, KAI, TimaRiv, LASTMA, and the likes, in addition to regular law enforcement, we will have bad leadership. Remember, garbage in, garbage out.

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Folu January 11, 2011 - 4:50 pm

Lovely piece indeed! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It was spot on- addressing the core issue…we are the change agents. Undoubtedly,it’s so much easier to sit like an armchair critic apportioning blames, but its time for us to look inwards and be the leaders with ‘sterling qualities’ in our spheres of influence. No one bears the name ‘government’…our leaders were drawn from this same population of which we are a part. I couldn’t agree with you more. As role models for our kids and those around us, soon enough we might ‘positively infect’ them enough to cause a fantastic ‘change epidemic’ in our society! Surely, there is hope.

Eric January 6, 2011 - 4:31 pm

Very enlightening piece indeed!!! I confess that I am one of those who on more than a few occasions had grumbled audibly about the excesses of Lastma and similar “contraptions”…and yes I confess to having told a few Lastma jokes!!! Indeed, their very existence is a reflection of the society and really the joke is on us. Some have argued that multiplicity of enforcement agents is not the problem…nor the solution for that matter, I think your piece really helps to elucidate this point. Clearly, the crux of the matter is “Why is voluntary compliance so lacking?”

Ted January 6, 2011 - 10:13 am

Good piece, especially with the perspective of just coming back into Nigeria. Self policing has always worked in the villages and communities, where there is a time-honored way of upholding values and enforcing discipline. Maybe we need to go back and learn from the true village(r)s – if we can still find them. Meanwhile, let’s all do our little bit by becoming the light you want to see in others…

Nnenna January 6, 2011 - 9:05 am

Great piece of work Timi! I think it is about time our leaders lead us in deeds because we have heard a lot of words. We need leaders and not bosses. Leaders that will ‘show’ us the way forward. I also hope that we the followers show initiative and positive attitudes toward progress.

Tekena January 6, 2011 - 8:16 am

I thought I was the only one who suffered from different instructions from traffic controllers and yet made to pay a price. I have concluded that it is a deliberate ploy to extort money from you. After some bitter experiences, I now stick my head out of the car and say, “Oga, you mean say make I pass?”

It is sad, but this jungle has thought me to survive.

Nari January 6, 2011 - 4:55 am

Timi, thought provoking, this is the bane of our society, we need more “Minds” thinking in this direction. We must continue to spread the word…..

Egekwu January 6, 2011 - 2:16 am

The Change Movement is further brought to bear by the content of this article. Indeed we are advancing the boulevard of positive change for Nigeria. Great work, it gives me hope.

Timi January 5, 2011 - 10:53 pm

Ada, the proliferation of different categories of law enforcement agents across the country is a testimony to the confusion that exists in the higher echelons of leadership in Nigeria … ah, but that is a story for another day.

Buwa January 5, 2011 - 6:59 pm

Very good observation Timi. Difficult as it may be, the onus id on us to effect the change we want to see and SELF discipline is a key ingredient.

Buwa January 5, 2011 - 6:53 pm

Very good observation Timi. Difficult as it may be, the onus is on us to effect the changes we want to see and SELF discipline is a key ingredient to achieving this change. Please keep the pen flowing!

Henri-Joel January 5, 2011 - 6:38 pm

Bull’s eye!!!!

ada January 4, 2011 - 12:21 pm

Excellent piece of work, Timi. I’d like to add that having law enforcement agents in a country is not necessarily the problem with Nigeria but the variation of enforment agents in each state. Why cant the police force alone be empowered to enforce Law & Order across the 36 states? It’s a laughable sight to see Yellow fever, police officers, LASTMA and the white uniformed traffic controllers, i failed to mention the voluntary traffic controllers ( most often disabled) a few yards away from each other controlling traffic on just one street. I got confused a few months ago when a Police officer signalled me to move my car even when the traffic light had just changed to RED. I obeyed him but got caught by the LASTMA agent a few mins after i initiated the turn. It is all so confusing. I sincerely hope our leaders get a chance to read some of these views from the public. our country most certainly needs a change of what? The problems are enormous … i agree good leadership starts with us changing the way we behave in the banking hall, bus queue, market place, at home. the list is endless. So, the next time, i am encouraged to ignore the traffic light, i know exactly what to do.

ifeanyi ukoha January 4, 2011 - 11:13 am

This says it all

Alero January 4, 2011 - 10:42 am

True talk. When one has children, then you understand that leadership is by example and not talk!

Let us be the change we all want to see, and Nigeria will be better for it.

Brilliant article.


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