GUEST COLUMNIST BY OKEY IKECHUKWU
As actors in a crisis-ridden political environment, Presidents Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari are not solely responsible for our present national problems. The PDP, the APC, or the two together, also do not bear exclusive blame for everything wrong with Nigeria today. They have their real and imagined shortcomings, of course, but they are also victims of generations of leaders and followers brought up on impunity, consumption and arbitrary use of state power.
The many powerful people whose interests differ from the national interest are partly responsible for the trajectory of the two presidents and of most past regimes and presidents. So let us first calmly admit that our crises have had long gestation. To fail to do so is to ignore history, particularly the essential elements of our own history, and replace it with hysteria. As my friend, Bishop Kukah, said during a recent joint television discussion programme, and during which I agreed completely with him: “The Nigerian nation has been run as a criminal enterprise for too long”.
We have been building a mansion on quicksand and with pillars of straw. The soil, quicksand as it is, is further infested with two species of ants, called presumption and nepotism. These ants, which feed exclusively on straw, have been nibbling away for decades. They have left us with a hollow and painted frame that conceals a lie. This lie has been on parade for decades. It is described as an architectural masterpiece by casual observers. An architectural masterpiece that is not designed to withstand the wind? Now that the whirlwind has come, and the elements are in their element, radical modifications (in design and material) have become necessary.
It is not right that a nation should be undergirded by untruth. It is also not right that a nation should be under a political economy of decay and corruption, warehoused and propagated by a business and political elite that lives in denial. When old lies are told afresh by those who know they are lying, a time comes when even the liars themselves won’t be sure whether they are lying anymore. Reason? Others would be repeating the same lies with great aplomb everywhere.
Now that we have brought up children who have seen shielded criminality as leadership, we have a nation wherein hiding under the instruments of state to violate natural justice, equity and good conscience makes you not guilty of any crime. Look at Nigeria today, 56 years after independence! The dominant motifs are (1) skewed values, (2) a flawed national psyche and (3) an aberrant leadership recruitment process. These motifs have given us several national ‘leadership pseudopodia’, or “false feet”.
Just as happens with Amoeba, the jelly-like microorganism that pops out part of its shapeless body in any direction it wants to move, Nigeria’s leadership pseudopodia (or new regimes with insular notions about nation building) usually spring new agenda, new national ideals and new aspirations on everyone without warning and without consultation. They have since replaced National Development Plans with limited regime goals, and often without plans or strategy. And it all vanishes without trace with the demise of each regime.
A major misdirection of the State and people occurred on January 15, 1966, when Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu announced his military coup d’etat. That coup saw a junior officer issuing instructions to his superiors. It saw murder as an instrument for leadership recruitment and transformation. It saw an officer peremptorily informing the nation (by mere announcement about ‘Extraordinary Orders’) that all local administration in the country was now under the ‘local military commander’, who would mete out any punishment he ‘deemed appropriate’ to anyone who disobeyed him.
It left right and wrong in the hands of individuals of, sometimes, questionable antecedents. It violated Service Discipline and set new paradigms for the collapse of esprit de corps in the armed forces. It also created a dilemma in diplomatic circles, for which even Ambassador Jolaosho’s experience as a diplomat did not prepare him when the Germans asked: “Why did your people kill your prime Minister, instead of voting him out of office”?
That coup sidetracked the existing crop of leaders and their ‘replacement generation’. A generation groomed along ideological lines in leadership recruitment stagnated for 12 years, until 1979. The trio of Zik, Awo and Aminu Kano, who would since given way to the likes of Tafawa Balewa, Michael Okpara, Bola Ige and others before 1979, turned up as presidential candidates, because of the 1966 coup. This created the backlog of two generations of leaders that we are still unable to deal with today. The average age of party youth leaders, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) says it all.
The Nzeogwu coup was ushered in by a series of murders. It laid the foundations for subsequent murders and abominations. It set the tone for the eventual replacement of professional military service and responsible national leadership with personal and ethnocentric desires, misuse of office and titles, political illiteracy and petulant idealism and exuberance. Everything forbidden by our traditional values the popular religions eventually became normal.
Many “Excellencies” emerged from this murk, filling our post-1966 nationhood with sporadic and spasmodic declarations of new national goals, new federating units and much more. These were the off springs of the high yielding ‘seeds of death’ sown with fertilizer on January 15, 1966. The discerning could see no deep personal maturity, no national grand vision, little real wisdom and no enlightened patriotism on the part of many of the principal actors.
Do we know, for instance, that the Armed Forces Remembrance Day we celebrate every 15th January affronts us all? That date bespeaks impropriety and is inappropriate accolades. Nzeogwu’s action, disguised for decades under the mistaken notion that “patriotism” excuses immaturity and unmitigated arbitrary exercise of discretion, birthed many institutional and axiological horrors that we are living with today. It was on January 15 that some highly respected senior citizens, and some of our best senior military officers, were murdered in cold blood.
One major further aftermath, over decades, is the epidemic of prematurely retired military, many of who have passed on, or are living today, as frustrated and unfulfilled professionals. Others were last seen, or heard, as failed politicians, owners of failed banks and failed airlines, failed philanthropists, failed traditional rulers and much more. Yet they initially joined the armed forces to become military professionals, unlike some of their later colleagues who joined during the triumph of military regimes as a short cut to wealth.
So let us ask ourselves whether we should be celebrating Armed Forces Remembrance Day on the day families of some of Nigeria’s greatest leaders are in mourning. We have several military exploits, including the final triumph of ECOMOG, or the day Buhari rallied the Nigerian military to route Chadian incursion during the Shagari Presidency, to make our Armed Forces Remembrance Day. That will save us from holding up a day that blights our collective dignity as decent people to salute the gallantry of our armed forces.
No nation develops by having its high quality human capital and professionals, military or not, routinely swept out of service. Not after so much had been invested in training them! Now that events have come full circle on all fronts and we are seeing the impossibility of sustaining untruth with layers of mud, there is no good news out there. Look again: there is only, perhaps, the dawning realization that the nation is a grand scam perpetrated and facilitated by public and civil servants and their private sector allies. Look again! A dismantling of Nigeria’s ‘false legs’, or pseudopodia, is afoot.
We should not continue to project a day that reminds us that a civil war ended in Nigeria with the complete economic disenfranchisement of a section of the country. The South East was not really rehabilitated, reconstructed and reconciled to the rest of the country after the civil war. It is perhaps still not reintegrated, even today. Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya and others protected properties of Igbos in Lagos while the civil war lasted and returned same to the owners after the war. But the same Igbos lost their belongings in another part of the country as “abandoned property”. It was all taken over by their fellow countrymen to whom they were allegedly reconciled after the war. The nation’s ill-fated leadership trajectory has been a consistent violation of the cardinal principle of sustainable leadership and national development.
The nascent 16 years old democracy, has thrown up leaders with sudden stupendous wealth. That wealth has impacted only their immediate and extended families, of less than 15 persons, and a few friends. Their local communities, members of their religious congregations, most of their friends and even members of their extended families know how poor or rich they were a few years earlier. Some envy them even. The priests, traditional rulers and other supposed custodians of public conscience ask no questions.
They honour them, instead. Meanwhile, almost everyone, including their kith and kin silently regard them as thieves who got away with their loot!
As the nation reels, let the friends and admirers of Presidents Jonathan and Buhari pull themselves together and stop thinking that any criticism of the government, or person, of President Muhammadu Buhari is an automatic endorsement of the tenure and performance of their man. It cannot be. The Jonathan Presidency could have done much better than it did, but allowed itself to be ruined by avoidable blunders, indecisiveness, image deficits, and a consistent failure to present an inspiring comportment.
Friends and admirers of President Buhari, too, should note that it can do much better than it is doing at the moment. Insularity, with the risk of crippling itself is the real danger. Let us realize that there is mourning in the land and across all divides. Nigeria’s flawed and overlooked fundamentals have come back to haunt the nation. It all boils down to the absence of truth, deep knowledge, nobility of soul, propriety in public office, dignity in self-presentation, graceful ambience, competence and decency in leadership; for which neither Buhari nor Jonathan are solely responsible. Let us pray!