(An open paper by Oliver O. Mbamara At the 2010 Nigerian Leadership Summit in New York,
As we celebrate Nigeria’s 50th Independence Anniversary)
Though selected to address the topic of “Fighting Corruption in Nigeria,” I intend to make this discourse more about recognizing how we could move the leadership of the country forward rather than dwelling entirely on corruption. In recent years, many Nigerian writers and social commentators have been addressing several Nigerian issues touching on leadership, society, religion, economy, arts, and more. Yet, interestingly these issues continue to strive or repeatedly surface in various forms as various challenges and shortcomings under different leadership.
It is nothing new to say that the culture of corruption has been so rooted in the Nigerian polity with the Nigerian leadership in the forefront, but it might help our discourse to give the analogy that the extent and character of corruption within the Nigerian leadership has been like a relay race where the baton changes hand to continue the race. The only difference is that unlike a relay race which aims to win the race and uplift the team, the leadership change of baton in Nigeria is built around the objective to selfishly amass what belongs to many and then horde and abuse the same within the confines and pleasure of a few. In other words, leadership changes but the character of deliberate mismanagement and embezzlement of public fund continues.
Yet, it is not about public fund alone. The reputation and goodwill of the people of Nigeria which could in some cases be more valuable than financial wealth are also mismanaged in a manner that continues to impact the progress and future of the country and its people. So the question remains; are the challenges and shortcomings of leadership in Nigeria embedded in the leadership per se or could there be another underlying source or cause?
Obviously there would be various answers to this question as there are various perspectives by over 140million people, but let us kick off this discourse by submitting that besides the problem in leadership, the challenges and shortcomings of leadership is significantly embedded in the society though the shortcomings are mostly executed by a very small minority that seizes hold of power only to selfishly mismanage the affairs of leadership.
Every leader has a background and orientation that is to a good extent impacted by the society and the manner the individual expresses this in his or her daily life is sometimes condoned by the society or at other times condemned if such expression becomes anti-society. The condemnation in question is a societal responsibility that acts as a check of society on itself and there could be various ways of applying such checks. When such checks are abandoned society tends to fall apart.
There is an Ibo saying that: “when an evil act is allowed to continue for a length of time, it becomes the norm.” This is akin to the discussion in jurisprudence about society, law, and morality. These tenets exist side by side and to some extent influence each other, which ultimately influences what becomes of a society and its people.
During the early days of the early man, what obtained was the concept of survival of the fittest. You conquer and vanquish your neighbor or enemy if you are stronger, sometimes in self defense and sometimes out of the drive to dominate, and at other times to simply exist. Then the more man saw the need to cohabit with each other, the more he became selfless and more accommodating of the rights and space of others. This led to respect for the lives and properties of others, which led to man-made conventions (laws) for a more peaceful and equitable co-existence. That goal of seeking to attain or maintain some sort of peaceful and equitable co-existence continues to partly drive society and leadership till today. A perfect state of peaceful and equitable co-existence in man’s society on earth may never be achieved but to abandon the goal of maintaining some sort of peaceful and equitable co-existence, could lead to total chaos.
Responsibility for the deliberation, creation, application, execution, and maintenance of these guiding rules of society is what leadership is about. It is based on this that human and societal laws continue getting enacted, amended, or repealed accordingly as the need arises just as man continues to seek for the most appropriate rules (of law) to guide society. If left in the hands of a few lacking in responsibility and humane conscience, leadership could be mismanaged and if unchecked it could lead to tyranny (dictatorship), which could further spiral into anarchy, chaos, and/or a lawless society.
A society that finds itself losing grip or veering off the course of basic leadership responsibility has a superior responsibility to redirect its course which in many cases would mean a change of the status quo. Such change could be in the form of basic but significant re-orientation and re-awakening to better tenets. In some instances such changes are consciously engineered to gradually occur. In other instances, such changes naturally occur on their own volition when all the factors are in place but consciously or unconsciously ignored by the leadership and members of the society. Whether the Nigerian leadership has the required conscience and sense of duty to voluntarily redirect its course and therefore lead well is a question that is bound to be answered in a matter of time (which could be a topic for extra discourse). Yet, one thing is clear, change is inevitable. The status quo has to change at some point. Such cannot be denied for too long for it is a natural course of life (and event) that will come when it will come.
Yet, one of the purposes of a leadership summit of this nature is to proffer and exchange ideas and solutions that could improve the leadership situation in question. In line with this I will briefly quote from two papers I had previously written and published as far back as 2002. Though written years ago, the points raised are still very relevant and applicable today.
In March 2002, I wrote in an article titled, “Investing in Nigeria (and Africa): The security question.”
– “It is only upon a solid foundation of peace and security of life and property that economic and political stability can be built to last. I look forward to the day our leaders would make safety and security their utmost priority for their country (not just around the leaders themselves). Employ more policemen, arm and train them better, but above all pay them well to attract more recruits and discourage bribery – there are many young men and women wasting away, yet willing and able to grab a police job anytime. It is said, ‘the idle mind is the devils workshop.’ When the youths have no jobs after their education, they easily accept an offer of a token fee to carry out violence and mayhem. …our leaders have continued to ignore this obvious equation.”
In August 2009, I wrote in an article titled, “Accountability and Responsibility, the Kind of Rebranding We Need”
– “The rule should be to lead by good example. While many Nigerians would tend to agree that re-branding maybe a good idea, it would be an exercise in futility, bound to fail if Nigerians would not find the confidence and encouragement to look up to their leaders for good examples…In the end, re-branding maybe good for Nigeria, but it has to start from the top.”
A few days ago, the current President of Nigeria stated as follows on his facebook page:
“The law must not be a respecter of persons and justice must at all times be seen to have been done. If Nigeria is going to be a place governed by the rule of law we wou
ld have to start at the top and work our way to the bottom. I personally do not see the justice in sentencing to prison a man who steals because he is hungry while the man who causes the hunger by misappropriating funds meant to ease society’s burden is treated with kids gloves. There must be social justice in Nigeria without which we will not have a level playing ground. – GEJ on Facebook – August 10, 2010
Obviously, our leaders know these things. The true test is in applying these theories and methods which we know would improve our leadership and country. Our progress lies in how honestly and selflessly we execute them. So help us God.
Oliver O. Mbamara Esq.
August 14, 2010