It was a former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America, Robert H. Jackson, who 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.” Nigerians, it seems, are beginning to wake up to this responsibility.
Over the years, Nigeria, like many of its counterparts in Africa, has been particularly plagued with bad leadership. The late literary icon, Professor Chinua Achebe, singled out bad leadership as the bane of Nigeria’s development as a nation in his 1983 seminal work, The Trouble With Nigeria.
In his words, “the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. 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.”
Since its independence from the United Kingdom in 1960, Nigeria’s democracy has been truncated thrice: in 1966, 1983 and 1993; spawning a total of 8 military juntas in the process. And it’s not that the civilian leaders have been paragons of virtue, either.
The current president, Muhammadu Buhari, toppled Nigeria’s second civilian administration in 1983 as a young military officer. As a “democrat,” he rode to power in May 2015 on the mantra of a CHANGE from the status quo. But almost two years on, Nigerians are yet to discern any distinction between his administration and what they are accustomed to.
The country entered its first recession in two decades in mid-2016. The unemployment rate has soared to 13.9%, inflation is at 18.3% and the local currency, the naira, has plunged from an exchange rate of N210=$1 in March 2015 to about N506=$1 in the parallel markets as of February 10, 2017.
Much of this worsening economic condition is due to the government’s laxity and fitting of square pegs into round holes. For instance, it took President Muhammadu Buhari nearly six months to appoint his ministers while the country virtually drifted in autopilot. When he eventually did, he conflated three of Nigerians most critical ministries – Power, Works and Housing – and handed it over to a lawyer; appointed a scandal-plagued ex-governor of an oil-rich Niger Delta state into his cabinet; and named a sports minister who would go on to declare that he was against Nigeria’s participation in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Ordinarily, Nigerians would have taken this lying down. But, empowered by the social media and exposed to happenings in other parts of the world, they’ve had enough. A popular musician, TuFace Idibia, organized anti-government protests in many cities of the country, leveraging his celebrity status to galvanize support from the masses.
Though he would later pull out at the last minute, citing security fears, the protests went ahead as scheduled on Monday the 6th of February, sparked off several other protests and became the top trending story in Nigeria during the week.
What is heartwarming is not the protests themselves. Protests have been organized in Nigeria before, even during the military interregnums, with some recording higher turnouts than this week’s. The take-home is the fact that the latent activist in many Nigerians was awoken.
As more and more Nigerians become equipped with the internet and other channels of information, they will not only learn from history, but also from current world events the importance and gains of imbibing the culture of holding elected officials accountable. I hope that these demonstrations represent a giant leap in this direction, rather than a fad whereafter everyone retreats to their comfort zones.