Divide and rule is by far the dominant strategy in Nigeria’s contemporary politics. It thrives on zoning and rotation of political offices with aspiring candidates for leadership at all levels of government and society cheaply brandishing their religious and ethnic credentials over any other qualification. Admittedly, in terms of educational qualifications, virtually all aspirants meet the minimum constitutional requirement. Although we have some cases whereby leaders are found to have presented wrong qualifications, often because of some manifestation of inferiority complex which made our aspirants and even so-called leaders to claim advanced educational qualifications. And given our current national pathetic proclivity for titles, some leaders have also commercially acquired educational titles such as Doctors and even B. Sc and M. Sc certificates from doubtful sources. On the whole however, it can be argued that predominantly our political leaders are more driven by ethnic and religious sentiments and hardly governing our nation and society based on knowledge and commitment to ensure that Nigerian citizens overcome challenges of survival and the quest for improved livelihood.
Thus, the big issue is whether such knowledge acquired through formal educational, which so-called qualifications comes with suggest competence and capacity to perform leadership tasks as required by the offices being aspired. Aside competence, there is also the demand for leadership vision and capacity to prioritise and take the right decisions. Ahead of all these is the critical leadership responsibility of coordinating and managing human relations in its broad context, which requires not just friendly dispositions but being open and accessible to all irrespective of differences. These are requirements that endear leaders and societies to citizens even beyond their immediate domain and are often part of the attractions that invites other non-residents to explore opportunities in communities other than their own.
A quick assessment of developments in Nigeria, at all levels since the mid 1990s will highlight remarkable departure and erosion of especially leadership values. At all levels of Nigerian society, standards have crashed and leadership requirements have been reduced to purely material (money) wellbeing. Anyone with money can buy his/her way to power at all levels, be it local governments, states, federal government and even nongovernmental organisations. In the circumstance, people with poor knowledge, without any vision, lacking of any priority and often of doubtful integrity are vested with leadership responsibility. Citizens are coerced, blackmailed or hoodwinked to support so-called leaders based on primordial sentiments with our leaders hardly challenged to win support of other Nigerians beyond their immediate narrow support base, often limited to their birth places, local governments, senatorial district, states, geo-political zone and hardly the nation as a whole.
Ethnic and religious factors have therefore emerged today as perhaps the most defining factors for contest for leadership positions in the country. As a result, there are incidences whereby leaders are produced with very narrow and parochial perception of their constituencies. In many cases, they even emerged just based on the endorsements of sections and few members. Even the practice of campaigns using posters, handbills and media hardly takes place, and if it does, it is reduced to mere symbolism. It is just simply a case of arrogance and contemptuous disrespect of the support of other sections and citizens other than so-called birth places, local governments, senatorial districts, states and geo-political zones.
This practice is widespread in many of our political institutions today. A visit to many seats of governments at all levels is enough to make any genuine Nigerian sick. Perhaps, it can be argued that this has been with us as a nation since independence. In some ways, it is an acceptable norm and little or nothing can be done about it. Yet, to the extent that it projects us as a fractured nation and promotes primordial hatred and anger, it constitutes a major national problem. How can we address this big national problem? Is there any possibility, however remote, that Nigeria can produce a leader who is not just a sectional leader? Or, is there anything that can be done to transform any of our leaders today from being narrowly perceived as a sectional leader to a national leader? By the way, what is the prospect that Nigeria’s problems can be solved by producing a national leader as opposed to sectional leaders? Anyway, what is wrong with sectional leaders? Have they not been serving their people? Do we even have leaders?
Our notion of leadership and assessment of their relevance to societal problems, in every respect, will influence our judgement with respect to these questions. To the extent that leadership is about having unregulated and unaccountable access to public resources, competition for leadership will continue to be driven by sentiments. Once leadership is blind to the issue of nurturing good human relations, our societies and nation will be highly vulnerable to reckless and crazy management of governmental and non-governmental affairs. So long as competition for leadership in our society and nation is reduced to our identity and the hegemonic drive for dominating others, knowledge and the challenge of environmental control will be a distant responsibility, if at all.
Without any doubt, if we want to survive as a nation, we must change our ways of producing leaders in every facet of our national life as Nigerians. We need a leader that is driven by knowledge, aspiration to unite our people across religion, ethnicity and all other differences, burning desire to reposition our society based on the capacity of citizens to discover their talents, respecting the values of the human person over and above any other thing and therefore recognising that the most fundamental asset of our nation is its citizens and to that extent not perceiving citizens as parasitic and the biggest liability.
How can this be done given a situation where the most important source of government revenue is the oil sector, which is a sector where government really don’t need the participation of citizens to be able to realise revenue? Why should government and our leaders respect citizens when in truth all they need is OPEC, US government, EU and other oil trading partners to be able to realise all the revenue needed to run government? With oil exploration and extraction being the direct responsibility of the Federal Government on account of which our states and local governments enjoyed huge revenue from the federation account for almost doing nothing in the process of revenue generation, why should the Federal Government not dictate to states and local governments? How can we be making any claims to federalism, when in fact our governance reality is anything but federal?
At the root of our leadership problems are so many issues that require urgent attention. It is beyond simply focusing on the individual. If the truth is to be told, government as oriented today is the source of our leadership problems. It is a situation that is known to virtually every Nigerian. Unfortunately, at best, almost every Nigerian only lament about it and conclude that nothing can be done to change it. This has given rise to a situation whereby all our governments are simply on auto pilot just facilitating importation and consumption with virtually the only production taking place being crude oil extraction.
This is a matter that calls for organised political initiatives based on selflessness and patriotic disposition. Unfortunately, most of our political actors are more driven by personal aspiration which weakened their capacity to develop the needed group approach. On account of personal aspirations, most of our political leaders are very defensive and susceptible to narrow and parochial approaches. With revenue given, all they need to worry about is not citizens’ contributions especially given zero correlation between government revenue and economic reality of citizens. All they need to worry about is perhaps their capacity to dominate citizens, which in the midst of high poverty levels money has become the main factor. The challenge therefore before anyone interested in addressing problems of leadership in Nigeria will be to initiate strategic approaches of organising Nigerian citizens around the values of re-inventing communal spirits of mobilisation and pulling resources together to drive initiative.
This is a critical rescue factor to pull Nigeria out of all the calamities facing the nation with all its varied manifestation. It is a factor that required everyone genuinely interested in moving Nigeria forward as a nation to submit and subordinate himself/herself to. This will be far more effective if driven by a superior political organisation such as a political party. The reason being that a superior political organisation would have the advantage of both legal and moral ambiance, which would engender not just commitment regarding leadership conduct by individuals but also prescribe orderly processes of nurturing citizens who subscribe to new conduct, including those of our leaders based on the need to create new outcomes that may perhaps place more premium on the welfare of citizens. Accordingly, issues of tax and how it translate into strong revenue sources for governments at all levels could then create a positive correlation between citizens welfare and governance at all levels.
Of course against the background of deep national frustration, there is often the temptation to reduce these issues to simple leadership change focusing on personalities. In today’s reality it is producing a strong clamour against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Being in power, especially at federal level since 1999, such clamour would not be without justification. In fact, with rising oil revenue and at the same time geometric rise in poverty levels, the clamour against PDP is very legitimate. However, Nigerians, especially opposition politicians, need to be very clear that simply changing individual leaders without clear governance programmes to address the fundamentals that makes citizens inconsequential will not move our nation forward. In fact, from the experiences of some of our state governments between 1999 and today where new leaders emerged as state Governors after elections but end up doing worse than the PDP government they defeated, is an indication that the problem goes beyond individuals.
In a sense, combinations of programmes and good mobilisational strategies is what is needed. Endearing programmes and unifying strategy – a strategy that strongly unite Nigerians – is what is needed to defeat PDP and guarantee that such a defeat would produce new governance reality founded on respect for the contributions of citizens. This is largely because the PDP has designed power architecture for the country around divisive politics in the name of zoning and rotation and so far programmes implemented by PDP are anchored with outright disregard to citizens. Once opposition politicians relate to Nigerian politics based on PDP power architecture, it will almost be impossible to defeat PDP. If that happens, it will purely amount to Pyrrhic victory and will hardly be capable of changing the welfare conditions of Nigerians.
This is where our opposition parties working to produce All Progressive Congress (APC) need to concentrate in producing new power architecture. Somehow, it would appear that either that the PDP public relations machinery is at its best and is succeeding to force the hands of our opposition political leaders to limit their objective to producing so-called individual leaders or that actually our opposition political leaders have not realised the full weight of responsibility facing them and to that extend they are about to squander golden historic opportunity by limiting the problems of Nigeria to emergence of new leaders. Be that as it may, the issue before APC at this stage is to stimulate a national commitment to produce new power architecture for the country. Such new power architecture should be oriented to unite Nigerians, promote and proliferate competitive activities and in the process throw up leaders at different levels of party organisations and society through innovative applications of democratic principles.
As much as personal attributes are important, it must not be projected in such a way as to suggest primacy of the individual. In some ways, corresponding initiatives from citizens with good interface with our political structures, in this case, APC will be a strong catalyst to enable our opposition politicians meet this national expectation. Instead of folding our arms as citizens and waiting for our opposition politicians to rollout APC with all the risk factors of modelling it in the image of PDP, Nigerian patriots need to think more strategically and initiate corresponding political actions that would naturally compel a strong relationship and influence between APC and organised interests in the country. Absence of such initiative have the undesirable potential of pushing APC to adopt the same divisive governance architecture as PDP and in the process increased the probability of PDP remaining in power at all levels of government in Nigeria, way beyond 2015. Should that happen, both APC leaders and patriotic Nigerians should bear responsibility.
The choice is both for APC as well as for all Nigerians to make!