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The Power Of ‘I': Nigerian Sham Democracy - Damn Right - No You Cannot!


26 January 2011

By Zulfikar Aliyu Adamu 

Growing up, I'd always observed that the ability of a class captain to write names of all noise makers in his class depended on his capacity to withstand bullying and intimidation. A successful class captain was he who either by virtue of the biceps on his arms or the fearless spirit in his heart; stood up to the rest of his classmates, (and called for order) when things got out of hand. This is leadership at its simplest, but at that time, I knew it not. Today, it is apparent that it takes balls of steel for a leader to act right especially in the kind of sham democracy being practiced in many parts of Nigeria. It takes a strong will and an unwavering mind to realise that you are indeed a leader, and to declare to yourself time and time again: ‘I shall lead well'. 

Unfortunately, like the over-whelming peer pressure in our teenage years, many a leader in Nigeria is incapable of resisting the urge to pinch public funds because, well, it is the only game in town. Besides, a non-conformist is always out of place and prone to the overbearing influence of the status quo. Truth is, when you are for example, a legislator in the national or state assembly and your colleagues are being distributed ghana-must-go bags, you would raise plenty of eyebrows by your mere ‘absence' on such occasions. You would attract frowns and invite the whispers of others if you declined a bag. In such cases, like with the murderous senators who stabbed Julius Caesar, it is crucial that every conspirator's blade has pierced the bosom of public funds and is dripping with the blood of corruption.  

In other words, many legislators would find themselves maligned if they are not aligned with the agents of kleptocracy. So, such people tend to ‘go with the flow' at the cost of betraying the expectations of their various constituencies – and their personal principles, if they had any. When it comes to state governments, many governors do not have the guts to take the bull by the horn, by jettisoning the chains of nepotism and god-fatherism which restricts and constricts their better judgement. Maybe it is also because such governors are frozen by the stupor of fear, which comes from being hounded by the ghosts of stolen votes. 

At the peaks of Aso Rock, many of our presidents have historically been unable to actualise ten, three or even one-point agenda because they are either locked in the jaws of a selfish cabal, or they are too weak to ‘write the names of noise-makers' so to say. Many presidents have been bitten and poisoned by the fangs of self-serving advisors and so they foam at the mouth to the applause of sycophants, while displaying the epileptic jerks of the narcist. They are overwhelmed by the paranoia of impeachment; they salivate from the long-throat of second/third terms and are paralysed by indifference towards the gains of a truly federated Nigeria. It is seemingly easier for our presidents therefore, to dust the manuals on despotism left behind by Abacha, than to write a new chapter on national progress. That is why we are yet to see a president who is ruthlessly aiming to sanitise even one aspect of our multi-faceted maladies, with a combination of deep personal conviction and deft political manoeuvres. We are yet to see a president who is impatiently tapping the soles of his feet at the steps of our national assembly; waiting for people-friendly Bills to be passed, and implemented. 

In a nutshell, what I am implying is that many of our leaders simply lack courage. But were I to title this article ‘Cowardice of Nigerian Leaders', my passport whose eagle does not belong to the American species, would be seized even before my plane descends into Nigeria. So I thread softly, after all, I am not Okey Ndibe and solidarity statements would not be issued by global voices, if I got detained in an airport. 

So, by all means let us be allowed to criticise our leaders and leadership, but we should do so constructively and not for the sake of criticism itself. Better yet, instead of just criticising, why don't we (the followers) also ‘suggest ways forward' or ‘proffer solutions' and ‘contribute ideas'? Has it occurred to you that many of our leaders may simply be suffering from mediocrity complex? It is so easy to point fingers at ‘that man' in Aso Rock or Government House for every single national mishap. As bad as leadership has been in Nigeria over the years, many of us followers can be found wanting as well, in simple everyday matters. The president does not have to be an angel before you as a person realise that corruption is bad. Your effort to live a life free of crime and sin should not be dependent on the holiness of your local pastor or imam. On a scale of 1 to 10, (with 10 being excellent) methinks that many of us will score less than 3 in personal effort to change Nigeria. It is always someone else's fault that Nigeria is at best stagnant, or at worst backwards. 

About 200 years of independence and democracy separates us from the United States, and if you add technological gaps, we are light years behind them; but nevertheless, let us make an elementary comparison. When America was saddled with the imbecilic regime of George Bush Jnr., did their citizens equally behave stupidly? Were ordinary Americans not coming out to demonstrate en masse against the lies which probably increased America's insecurity and cost the lives of soldiers in their thousands? Did the American people just sit back, fold their arms and blame leadership all the time, like we do in Nigeria? When they had the chance, did they not vote for a black man for the first time in their history, in the midst of a financial crisis- all in the expectation of hope and change? You see, bringing about an internal regime change was something many of them (as individual Americans) believed that they could, and eventually, they did. It started with individual belief and manifested as individual votes; and the rest is history as they say. Obama is president. 

In stark contrast, many of us Nigerians refuse to aim the flashlight of progress inward by questioning our very existence and essence as citizens of our country. Many do not understand or care about basic community or civic responsibilities. When 33 miners got stuck in a tunnel for over 2 months last year, the leadership skills of Luis Urzua, their supervisor was critical to their escape from the very belly of death itself. But for the sake of survival, each and every one of the miners had to play his role, and tomorrow, one of these ordinary miners would become a shift supervisor. His experience of being a good follower of Luis Urzua is the single most important asset he will take with him as a supervisor, every time he goes to work. While our collective patience as Nigerians is infinitely elastic, on substance, many of us don't measure up to the very ideals which we expect our leaders to live by. And because tomorrow, one of us will receive a baton of leadership somewhere in Nigeria, herein lies the real obstacle for us to break free, from the cyclic yoke of ineptitude which chokes us. 

Despite his perceived personal shortcomings, I was touched by the gesture of humility exhibited by President Jonathan, who took part in a book reading session for school children. This he did in the company of Africa's first Nobel Laureate in Literature, Prof. Wole Soyinka on the 20th of December, 2010. Now, do you have any idea what this ‘presidential reading' in the company of a literary icon would mean to the 400 kids that were present? It is the equivalent of me and my childhood friends in primary three, listening to passages of our textbook being read by President Shagari in 1982, in the company of Chinua Achebe or Prof. Chike Obi. Well, Shagari was neither inspired nor advised to do so, but if he had, one of us may have been on the way to a Nobel Prize in Literature, Physics or something like that by now. The inspiration would have been life-changing and long-lasting. Our heads would ‘swell' for months and we'd be motivated by an insatiable hunger to read, and read, and then read some more. The mere presence of a Prof. Chike Obi would not only help dilute our fear of arithmetic, it could have also triggered a mathematical genius among us. 

As quoted by 234Next.com, President Jonathan while summarising the morals of Achebe's ‘Chike and the River' told the children: ‘you don't have to go the South East to know about the place, you can read about it'. The president then led a recitation of passages from the book, to the awe of attentive children who followed him word by word, line by line. You see, leadership begins with self-realisation and simple acts that would inspire others. 

Some might not see the big deal in what President Jonathan did. But in his reaction to President Jonathan's reading campaign, Odia Ofeimun stated rightly that "this is the first time a national leader at the apex of decision making would be identifying with the campaign for the development of a reading culture, without minding the cynicism of those who believe the situation is too far gone to be remedied." Truer words were never spoken. The culture of reading has been dying in Nigeria because it has been stabbed by the nonchalance of many parents and teachers alike. So kudos for this presidential initiative to ‘Bring Back The Book'. 

In essence, we should never underestimate the power of ‘I'. And I am talking about the ‘I' in initiative, the ‘I' in inspiration, the ‘I' in integrity and the ‘I' in ingenuity. I am referring to the very simple ‘I' in ‘Yes, I can do it!' I am also referring to the more complex ‘I' in ‘I am the President of Nigeria, and today I am going to read to 400 school children'. You can fault him on how he reacts to bomb blasts, but the foresight of President Jonathan regarding the impact and import of reading on children, is worthy of commendation and emulation. If the President could read out to school children, then what about you the parent? When was the last time YOU sat your children down and read them a good book? When your kids pick up incorrect oral skills from the streets and call you ‘fada' or ‘moda'; do you stick out your tongue and show them how to make the ‘th' sound in ‘father' or ‘mother'? Do you even care to notice how well they speak at all, or is it the concern of school teachers alone? Most parents of today fall short in this regard, and that is the God-honest truth if I ever spoke one.  

We would rather sit back on the couch, switch channels on our remote controls and insult pictures of the legislators on AIT; blame every governor that shows his face on NTA and condemn the President when he appears on CNN. Yes, many of our leaders deserve to be told off, but not at the expense of individual responsibilities. Each and every one of us was, is or could be a leader some day, so leadership is not the exclusive reserve of aliens from planet Mars. How prepared we are for the big stage of tomorrow, is directly proportional to how well we play small leadership roles today whether as school prefects, as parents, or as matrons in hospital wards. 

So, many of us find it easier to ‘go with the flow' and blame leaders and leadership for all our problems: from the bites of a mosquito to the catarrh in our nose. But then, only helpless blades of grass and leaves in a river go with the flow. Strong people resist, and that is why the true hero is the soldier who charges in the opposite direction to his fleeing compatriots. In other words, even when a river is flowing fast and furiously with the turbulent currents of corruption, it requires a noble sense of individual heroism to grab the branch of integrity, and hang on as if your life depended on it. But at the rate we are going, we would find ourselves perpetually on the losing side of the blame game.  

It takes the power of ‘I' for an incumbent to rise above the tendency to make an enemy of every critic and every political opponent. It takes the power of ‘I' to agree that people will disagree with our goals, our visions and our political directions. It takes the power of ‘I' to tolerate other religions and other ethnicities- to walk side by side and treat as equals, people who eat, talk and dress differently from yourself.  It takes the power of ‘I' for a law maker to resist the temptation to sell his/her conscience and the future of the unborn at the price of a ghana-must-go. But it is the same power of ‘I' that is also required for the office manager to resist a brown envelope in order to push a contractor's file. Without the power of 'I' the policeman is unable to ignore the folded palms and insist on searching a vehicle, no matter who is in it. 

I have a strong personal conviction that although Nigeria has chronic leadership problems, yet it is not an ‘US' versus ‘THEM' thing. I always say that those who encourage, siddon-look or participate in either rigging of elections; in sharing of looted funds; in supporting despotism or in upholding the banners of tribalism; such people have no business asking for good roads, clean water or reliable health care. Good leadership is not automatic, and it does not occur by default. In fact, I make bold to state that it is a despicable felony and a sacrilegious crime, for any Nigerian to expect good leadership if his mind or his hands are soiled as a willing accessory to the murder of progress.  

Such is the power of ‘I' that many of us underestimate every single day. Nigeria is in dire need of individuals, who would be a hero to someone, to anyone: a hero to your wife or to your child; a hero to your colleagues or to your subordinates; a hero to your state or to your country. There are a few such heroes in Nigeria today, so we need many more. You don't have to be called a ‘leader' to realise that you can be the source of inspiration and direction to those around you. The power of ‘I' is therefore about you pointing your forefinger backwards and telling yourself to act right. 

They say if you believe that you can, then it is possible that you can; but if you believe that you cannot, then you are damn right- you cannot! There is an old man that I know, who applied the slogan ‘yes you can' in his everyday life, long before Obama ever dreamt of being president. This article is therefore dedicated to that man, my father: a self-taught man in many respects, a man wealthier in more ways than he ever realised, who taught me to believe that I could.  

You are not a helpless blade of grass, so do not ‘go with the flow'. Look inside, and celebrate the power of ‘I' that is wasting in you.

 

Zulfikar Aliyu Adamu

Loughborough, United Kingdom. zulfikar.aliyu@gmail.com

 

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