Nigeria | The intersection of inept leadership and docile followership – Chinedu George Nnawetanma

It was the great novelist Chinua Achebe, widely regarded as the torchbearer of the modern African literature, who declared in his seminal work, The Trouble with Nigeria, that “the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.” He went further to add that “there is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”

Professor Achebe wasn’t mincing words when he made that germane contribution to Nigeria’s existential discourse. There is indeed nothing wrong with the Nigerian character, nor with the land or the climate. As a case in point, many other countries that share similar topography and climate with us, such as Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia, are doing so much better than us in almost every index utilized in assessing the quality of life. It is a pity that 33 years after its publication, Nigeria still grapples with the very same challenges explored in The Trouble With Nigeria.

However, there is an often-overlooked dimension to it all. It was the French lawyer and philosopher, Joseph de Maistre, who opined that “every nation gets the government it deserves.” It is one thing for a country’s leadership class to be seemingly perpetually plagued with utter ineptitude and it is entirely another for a citizenry to tolerate it for so long.

Twenty-nine years of intermittent military rule preceded by almost a century of colonialism may have had a lasting, transgenerational psychological effect on the Nigerian populace wherein they perceive individuals in positions of authority as demigods who ought to be worshipped, adored, feared and celebrated, instead of the public servants that they truly are.

It was Anthony Hamilton Millard Kirk-Greene, a British historian, who, in his compilation of documentary records of the amalgamation of Nigeria by Lord Lugard, described the instruments necessary for the successful working of the Nigerian system as ignorance, fear and military terrorism. With what has been the norm since their departure, it is difficult to argue against the possibility that this template was handed down by the British to their anointed successors upon the country’s independence in 1960.

Since its establishment as a country, civil disobedience and revolts in Nigerian have often been met with brutal repressions by the ruling class and their armed agencies. The Ekumeku Movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Western Igboland, the Women’s War of 1929 in the southeastern Nigerian city of Aba, the Coal miners’ Uprising of 1949 in the then Eastern Nigerian regional capital of Enugu and the pro-Biafra protests of 2016 are just a few instances of these.

Consequently, the Nigerian citizens have become apprehensive about holding their government accountable by pressing for their rights, electing instead to endure whatever comes their way, a learned helplessness that has earned them the infamous “suffering and smiling” tag. Even more worrying is the ethno-religious dimension wherein some sections of the country align with leaders of the same ethnicity or faith come rain or shine to spite perceived rival groups and to take their own slice of the so-called national cake, a situation that has only been exploited by the ruling class to wreak more havoc and consolidate their power and influence.

Nigeria will never be emancipated from its existential crisis and perennial doldrums as long as the callousness of its leaders is matched by the indifference, timidity and aloofness of the followers. Robert H. Jackson, a former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America, once said that “it is not the function of the government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.”

Those words are probably truer for the present-day Nigeria than they ever were for a 1950s America. Perhaps, not since the Civil War has the country had it so bad. Economic recession, insecurity, insurgency, secession, disintegration, impunity, corruption, nepotism, ethnic chauvinism and bigotry are words that have become all too familiar to the average Nigerian and hover like a dark cloud over their daily lives, thanks to a maladroit government. And it will only get worse until each and every Nigerian wakes up to their responsibility of keeping their government at all levels alive to their statutory responsibilities, even if it resorts to staring down the barrel of a gun.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *