It has been three decades since that Chinua Achebe’s ‘The Trouble with Nigeria’ appeared. That is the book in which Mr. Chinua Achebe, stumped by the state of his country, declares: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.”
Today, disagreeing with that line has since become a mini-industry of its own – a school of philosophy that insists (and one cannot find any evidence to label them ‘incorrect’ or ‘misguided’) that the “simply and squarely a failure of” tag ought to be affixed to the “followership” as well, and that a people deserve the leaders that emerge from amongst them.
I, on my part will tend to mostly line up behind Achebe. My opinion is that Nigeria is simply and squarely a land of “follow-follow”. Years of sustained dictatorship combined with a progressive anti-education of the mass majority – have produced a citizenry lacking in the kind of self-confidence true democracy requires, and given to lining up unquestioningly behind, as well as taking their cues from, whoever is at the head of the queue. In this part of the planet it is the leading elite that sets the standards that the masses live and die by.
Until that changes – it appears to be changing “small small” –the quality of the leadership (as opposed to the followership) will continue to be the most influential determinant of the state of the polity. (Remind me to explore this in detail in another article)
Back to that L-word. When I think of it I images arise in my mind of a central bank of unanswered, perhaps unanswerable, questions.
What part of leadership is talent, what part ambition, what part political savvy? How much corruption can/should a leader tolerate? (How much land, ladies and gentleman, does a man need?) Where does one draw the line between the compromise that lubricates action and the compromise that cripples governance? How does one raise the funds to maintain a political machine in a system that runs almost completely on cash and patronage, and how does one do this without handcuffing oneself to godfathers and powerbrokers that make it impossible to serve the interests of the citizenry?
What kind of models of home-grown models of leadership should we be developing in a country like Nigeria, where the rules that apply in China, Brazil or America do not in the least apply? What, if any, are the benefits of technocracy? I’m now thinking of Adenike Grange, world-renowned paediatrician, who was no doubt played by politics, into disgrace. I’m thinking of Arunma Oteh, Harvard-educated technocrat who has – at least as we speak – ended up in the belly of the tiger. To what extent did naivety play a role in the way their public service careers turned out? How much of it was uncomplicated bad luck? And how much what the Yoruba call “afowofa” – self-inflicted misfortune? They emerged with the sort of promise no one associated with a Patricia Etteh – but it now seems all three will be accorded the same reception by posterity.
Questions, questions. What are the critical success factors that define leadership in the Nigerian clime? What, in fact, is success, in Nigerian politics?
What are the indices by which success should be judged? Why do we consider Babatunde Fashola a success, and chuckle at Adebayo Alao-Akala?
Do we Economist-reading, Mega-City-forming, Eko-Atlantic-City-aspiring folk realise that there is a largely voiceless multitude for whom the name Fashola is everything but a blessing? Last week I stood under an umbrella in Victoria Island, watching Lagos rush beneath a rain that couldn’t make up its mind whether it wanted to stop or not. Next to me were two elderly women, petty traders from what I could see. They were discussing ‘Fashola’, in Yoruba.
“Fashola is wicked,” said one. “He terrifies me.” They shared stories of the state government’s sustained assault on the city’s poorest; the demolitions and evictions everywhere from Oshodi to Amukoko. They compared it to the wiping out of Maroko (in the early ‘90s). “When this rain is done ‘they’ will find fresh victims, claiming that the houses are sitting on drainage channels,” one of them lamented.
What however intrigued me the most was something one of those two women said at least twice: “We ourselves are to blame for all this. We collected rice and N1,000, didn’t we?”
Make of that what you will.
The problem with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of …?