Great Country, Poor People



Frankly, we cannot remember the number of times we have read, written and complained about the quality of the Nigerian followership, in comparison to the usefulness or failure of the Nigerian leadership bloc. We have used the famous line of “a people get the leaders they deserve” to force down our shame and absurdities of a nation so blessed in human and natural resources; yet so prodigal and retrogressive in harnessing these resources for high growth and widespread prosperity.

Despite the best efforts of the inimitable Prof. Dora Akunyili, former information minister, who chanted cheerily the homily of “Nigeria: Good People, Great Nation” – it was clear to most people, apart from Akunyili and her ardent surrogates, that the mantra or its intention was dead on arrival. That was especially so, in the attitude of the vast majority of Nigerians, in high and low places.

Recently, we were reminded of how much we have abandoned any pretensions of civilised mindsets; clearly exposing most of us as joyful haters of the rule of law and proper public behaviours. A viral social media post by one Harry Daniyan highlighted our disdain for normalcy and order. Somewhere in Abuja, he was on the pedestrian walkway beside a busy road when a motorist, with his boss in the “owner’s corner”, honked for him to get out of the way! The driver, perhaps to avoid a traffic logjam, elected to go on the side walk. When the elderly gentleman refused to give way, insisting that portion of the road was rightly designed for pedestrians, he was assaulted and harassed, verbally and physically, by…wait for this: the offensive driver, the madam-the-owner, and fellow pedestrians! The same people he thought he was standing strong for, in the face of mindless impunity and abuse of traffic laws, were the same people abusing and shaming him for being too stubborn and arrogant! But, are we surprised? Really?

We recognise this seed of split personality in the mainframe of most Nigerians: we love peace, but explode at our neighbour’s slightest provocation; we drive into a mall in our big SUVs, and scurry away in a gale of jeers after slapping rude park attendants; we exclaim a sense of responsibility, but swiftly defend the malfeasance of public looters who happen to from their villages… the distressing statistics are inexhaustible.

While we admit that it will take much more than whining and lamenting about our poverty of civic aptitude, occasioned by sundry inter-locking incidents and failings of our nation-building actors, we must find the means and occasions to alert our people to the slippery paths we currently travel and the urgent need to change our ways, apply a more liberal, more civil, more neighbourly and more proprietary relationship with public utilities and infrastructures. In every area of our influence and authority, we must lead by examples, both in thoughts and deeds; in private and in public.

In taking this position, we are conscious of the enormity of our assignment, if indeed we want to get to a level where politicians will be afraid to make hare-brained campaign promises that can never be fulfilled; where governments, at all levels, know that their citizens will insist on holding them accountable for the successes or otherwise of their vaunted policies; where persons elected or invited to positions of authority and prominence understand that their stewardships will be thoroughly scrutinised and weighed based simply on performance and application, not on any base sentiments.

However, we need to own up to our failings, and understand that current perplexities are not merely the handiwork of irresponsible and incompetent leadership; that many leaders are currently enabled, endorsed and actively lionised by vast sections of the followership. Even standoffish, siddon-look followership should not see themselves as immune or beyond reproach in this current dilemma.

On the face of it, it seems arguements that insist in apportioning blames on both the led and the leaders are merely opinionated and baseless. Yet, a deep, unbiased and brutal excavation of the long-hardened layers of our actions, sentiments and customs will reveal how far and how much the rain has been beating us.

We will attempt to explore some of what we believe are the root causes of our present anomie; such as: the family and the home, our educational system and policies, politics and governance, public service and infrastructure, sociological perspectives, erosion of ethos and values, broken communication practices, and crimes as cornerstones of our informal economy.

‘First thing first’, the Family and the Home: This minutest unit of the society has been gradually and steadily liberalised and fragmented since the ascendancy of the millennial parenthood. The discipline and firmness that corralled the children of the 50s, 60s and perhaps up to the mid-70s – just before the reckless flush of petrodollars inflamed our appetites and bloated our indulgent stomachs – vanished from our lifestyles. By the 1990s, single parenting was no longer an aberration; the 2000s embraced deviant behaviours – transgenders, same sex marriages and such ordinarily abhorrent lifestyles in years of yore became more acceptable… shattering the landscape for puritans and moralists.

Those vigorous lifestyle paradigm shifts also had influence in thawing the admittedly strong influence of disciplinarian parenting. Children of the latter days were mostly not exposed to corporal punishment, even when they indulged in quasi-criminal activities. Teachers and school owners concerned about return on investment held back the rod of correction. Some of the children took cues, and began a reign of terror and bragging conquests. These later graduated into cultism, which in the past decade, has filtered into levels below tertiary education; into thuggery, gang-rape, and assorted acts that question the quality of recent parenting received by our children.

One of our children put this anomaly in a perspective indicating clarity of thought and understanding of the issues. The following extract is culled from the winning essay announced at the 17th Mike Okonkwo Annual Lecture in September, 2016. Fadilah Saliu-Ahmed from Zamani College, Kaduna State stirred reactions from the audience when she said: “The Nigerian child of my generation has grown up seeing corrupt leaders being celebrated. He has learnt that all you need to have to be respected is wealth; no one cares how it was gotten.

Hard work and discipline no longer mean much to him.”

Fadilah is even more right today. The children of today have missed the bus of trust; the parents are hamstrung by sundry excuses preventing them from leading by examples – majorly telling the children how to do it, instead of showing them how and why we do it. Any chance of fruitful succession is destroyed with some of today’s children caught violating their own mothers, and killing their fathers for money-making rituals and such sick morbidities.
Still a long way to go… we continue next time.