“our freedom is too delicate a fragrance for franchise…The Final Testament of a Minor God
new rulers take the reins, we the people keep the whistle.”
– Ode to the Manifesto
Last week, I reposted an old blog on Facebook. ‘Achebe was wrong,’ I said, referring to Chinua Achebe’s famous quote that the Problem with Nigeria was a failure of leadership. I suggested that a failure of the followers was ALSO responsible for the dismal state of Nigeria. In a few hours my social media post had been shared a hundred times and the hundreds of comments across the shares had been reduced to the chicken-and-egg debate: Who was more ‘simply and squarely’ to blame for broken Naija: leaders or followers?
I think the question is a distraction: like our four-yearly electoral soap operas.
And this is why: although the Problem with Nigeria is a matter of life and death for the masses, it is not even a headache to her leaders. In the health sector, dead public hospitals kill Nigerians daily, but our leaders use the most expensive hospitals abroad, at public expense. A world record of 13.2 million school-age Nigerian children are out of school, but the children of our leaders are in the best schools abroad.
Other examples abound, but the bottom line is this: the Problem with Nigeria is not a problem for her leaders. It is in fact their Business Plan. The Boko Haram problem, for instance, has killed 15,000, and displaced 2 million citizens, not leaders, from their homes into IDP camps and worse. But it merely justifies massive increases in military budgets, allowing $15 billion meant for arms to be embezzled at source by our leaders.
Our other problems justify our trillion-naira budgets, much of which are similarly embezzled at source. So, of course, our leaders are the chief architects and main beneficiaries of our woes.
But what should distress any thinking citizen is the fact that we, the principal victims of the Problem with Nigeria, are ALSO, by our craven silences, by our grassroots corruption, the chief enablers of that Problem. That was the point of my post, and I will illustrate it with two quick analogies.
The Beef Problem
One leader takes his followers hundreds of miles across the country in search of pasture. They are haunted by one problem: the human appetite for beef. But this problem does not equally affect leader and followers alike. For the followers, it is a fatal problem that will end in grief, in the bloodbath of an abattoir. For the herdsman, the problem is actually a business plan, which will make him a millionaire… but perhaps it is morally wrong to compare Africans to cows.
Slaves may be a more historically apposite comparison.
The Slave Problem
Here’s a better analogy: The problem here is the human appetite for slaves. During the centuries of the transatlantic slave trade, responsibility for slavery fell “simply and squarely” upon the Western slavers who owned plantations and ships, and who led the trade. On the other side were their collaborators (the sell-out African middlemen) and the victims alike. Although Slavery was a life-and-death problem for Africans, it was simply a moral problem for Europeans.
It was also their business plan.
An organised or determined Africa could have shut down the slave coasts as effectively as the west did when they were done with the trade. It was the privileged position of Europeans in the campaign to end slavery that made it last three centuries, and caused it to end on the iniquitous terms such as
- the financial compensation of slavers rather than the enslaved, and
- the compensation of European states by the enslavement of the entire continent, though colonialism.
Both the cows and slaves of my metaphor made the same error: they depended upon the person who created the problem in the first place, and who was most favoured by the problem, to end the problem. It was a fatal error then.
It will be a fatal error now.
The Problem with Nigeria
We the People can debate the chicken-and-egg question until it is our turn at the abattoir, but the only thing that will make a difference is a gut understanding that WE HAVE AGENCY IN DECIDING OUR DESTINY, and that our active collaboration is the only thing that sustains the Problem with Nigeria.
Whether or not the problems were authored by the leaders, the People can, by themselves, and without the cooperation, consent, permission or input from the leader, terminate those problems.
Any organised herd can turn its destiny around. But it would have to be a herd of humans, not of cows. Cows, as we will have to accept, will violently resist potential liberators. They will follow the herdsmen they know, loyally, to the slaughter slab; and we must leave then to their destiny.
What we must fight though, as humans, is our heathenish pedagogy of oppression: As a people we seem to have replaced ancestor-reverence with a cultural, unthinking, worship of leadership. From the 2019 gates of England’s Buckingham palace to the pre-revolution gates of Ethiopia’s Jubilee Palace, the human serf does seem wired to be owned by the great, to celebrate his oppression by the big chief, however bloody or immoral the historical basis of his authority or the source of his wealth.
Even so, our local treasury looters: they go from known drug peddlers to inexplicable billionaires after a stint in public office and our heathenish prostration reflex kicks in. No. We must resist the deification of our leaders. We must kindle a republican understanding of the paper truth in our constitution: the leaders are servants of the people. It is not the other way round.
The citizen is the sole sovereign of this age. Our leaders serve at our pleasure, and if the people are displeased, we must show them the exit though our vocal displeasure and the exercise of our democratic sovereignty. And because we the people, by our seasoning in Grassroots Corruption, are complicit with the Nigerian Problem of Grand Corruption, we will not be romantic about the sanctimonious rhetoric of any new leaders. Every new leader chosen from the people must immediately receive the same level of scrutiny and accountability as previous dethroned leaders.
flawed servants may still lead,
but the citizenry must police”
– Ode to the ManifestoThe Final Testament of a Minor God
My post was intended to provoke this awareness, to give agency to the follower, to challenge the citizen to recognise the active role of their silence in the destruction of their own lives and destinies. The universe does not owe us fairness. Neither does the cosmos self-correct in our favour. There is no bottom to the Atlantic depths on this path our leaders are charting, ready to helicopter to safety at the first sign of crisis.
Living in an endemically corrupt society inevitably fouls every citizen with the taint of corruption. Active resistance is the only option for the citizen constitutionally opposed to Corruption. If we the people desire to live in a fairer, more ethical society, we must fight to create it. We dare not buy into the leader-sanctioned deception that ONLY leaders, like some promised, truant, messiah, have the responsibility, and ability, to break the very table of oppression that has served them so well.
The tragedy of course is that we have, across the continent, been cursed with absolute cretins for leaders. It has been our lot to be ruled by morons incapable even of efficient theft. Today’s village idiots wheel their family heirlooms to the public market, steal the wheels off the cart, and leave the priceless jewels for common thieves to loot. Their ancestors sold their blood into slavery for whiskey and gin. For old hats, sheepskin gloves, bracelets, iron jugs, large mirrors, ‘gold’-painted walking sticks and the guns with which to catch more slaves. In 2019, our leaders are still selling the destiny of Africa’s children for bling, and guns.
As I write, Nigerian leaders have accrued a debt of $8.6 billion, the equivalent of 40% of the entire national 2019 budget to one UK company as damages for failing to do its part in a gas processing contract. I had thought it was impossible to beat the calamity of an $8 billion Ajaokuta Steel pipe dream that left an abandoned town with 43 plants, thousands of houses in 24 housing estates and nary a tube of steel. But here we are in 2019: in return for $8.6 billion, Nigeria is not expecting a bent nail.
Unfortunately decades of nepotistic, tribalistic and hedonistic hires have bankrupted echelons of government of the most basic husbandry skills that even illiterates should have. The village idiots are captaining not just a sophisticated oil industry, but sensitive government departments where only the brightest minds should be. Our leaders are no longer satisfied in creaming off 90% of contract prices and causing the abandonment of tens of thousands of contracts across Nigeria. No. They must now, like a bad odour, infiltrate every room in the house, with catastrophic consequences.
We are not fielding our first, second or third elevens. We are fielding people who have never even stepped onto the field of play. Nigerian citizens are world class in every field of endeavour, except apparently in government, where we scrape the bottom of the barrel. It is no wonder fraudulently-minded foreigners continue to fall prey to every stripe of asinine 419 proposal purporting to issue from Nigerian government ministries: that is how our real government works.
The result is that the usual sleazy rackets that would have cost Nigeria the usual dozens of millions of dollars are now multi-billion dollar debts on every Nigerian man, woman and child for the next few generations. Not only are we funding our spendthrift and padded deficit budgets by reckless borrowings, we have now put our national assets all over the world on the auction slab. In 2015 I warned about the profligate policy proposal made by Bola Tinubu to the Goodluck Jonathan government. It is now official public budgetary policy.
It will, of course, get worse.
If the Bribecode were in place as a law in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, neither the PI&D $8.6 billion scandal nor any of the scandals that currently plague Nigeria would have been possible. The focus on signing contracts, rather than executing projects successfully is due to the corrupt payoffs that attend such signings. These will be eliminated by the Bribecode, which will punish serious corruption with corporate liquidations and total assets forfeiture for individuals. In post after post after post, in speech after speech, I have campaigned for the Bribecode over the last decade. With the whistleblowers’ reward policy, the government of President Mohammadu Buhari administratively implemented one watered-down aspect of the Bribecode. Although the policy is already the single most successful anti corruption recovery mechanism thus far, it is still structured to protect the interests of leaders in power and therefore defeats the very spirit of the proposed Bribecode.
By giving ALL Nigeria’s 37 Attorneys General the authority to prosecute serious corruption in Federal High Courts across the land, the Bribecode takes away the ability of corrupt cliques to protect coven members. A common response of Citizens to the Bribecode, of course, is that it is doomed since the lawmakers would never pass such a bill that might put the corrupt among them out of business.
This is a rehashing of the “only leaders can do it “ rhetoric. It is not too late for Nigerians to break their silence with the outrage of a new-born baby run through with a safety pin by his careless mother. Love for an incompetent mother does not prevent a child from crying for relief from pain. The child that does not cry when hungry, will starve in the hands of a benevolent mother.
We must unlearn this pathological nepotism, tribalism, party loyalty or rank cowardice that silences us, as a corrupt and incompetent leadership destroys our destiny. We must get off the cow truck to the abattoir. We must do EVERYTHING that can be done, including signing up for the Bribecode now, and pursuing our individual lawmakers assiduously, to ensure that they support and push the Bill into law.
We must take responsibility for the Problem with Nigeria with all the commitment our leaders have invested in their personal business plans. I have seen the face of our Problem “fairly and squarely”. I can show you the whites of its eye.
In a mirror.