Becoming a developed nation like the US, UK, Singapore, Japan etc is a deliberate action, a deliberate action taken by the citizens of those countries, their founding fathers and leaders in government over (generational) time. The actions these developed nations took encompassed every strata of society. They also allowed themselves time to work through inevitable issues that arose. They stayed on the path of development, their leaders taking care to not lose sight (in face of civil wars and internal clashes) of common vision and ideals of prosperity for a better nation. There is no developed nation in the world today whose development occurred by happenstance.
Most had visionary leaders, leaders with clear ideals, ideals that made their resolve unwavering in the face of incredible challenges. Martin Luther King had a dream, Nelson Mandela had a dream, Lee Kuan Yew had a dream, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson et al all had dreams, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Michael Okpara and Obafemi Awolowo all had dreams. The dreams of these men was for a prosperous and peaceful society. Their unshakeable belief in the ideal of their dreams held them steady in the face of adversity. Some of these men lived to see their dream take root, others weren’t so lucky. The unluckiest of all lived for too long and saw their dreams planted but uprooted before taking firm shape. The founding fathers of Nigeria belong to the unlucky group.
Since independence and the death of our founding fathers, there has been a dearth of visionary leaders in Nigeria. Leaders that can unify ethnicities behind a common goal through the sheer power of their ideal and not on shallow rhetoric. It is most unfortunate that 49 years on from the military’s first incursion into governance, we have struggled to find a common vision for Nigeria. We even had a great opportunity during the Abori Accord discussion to agree a new vision, but like everything else, we squandered it for lack of foresight and understanding. To compound the issue, we also seem averse to learning not only from our history, but also of others that have been through the sort of challenges we’re facing as a nation. The best period in our short history coincided with when we had strong regions and the regions visionary leaders. There was a societal and communal purpose to every policy initiated by these leaders. Educational, health, infrastructural, sports, science, political – no matter where one looks, every policy had an ultimate goal of uplifting the society as a whole and in a coordinated logical manner. Idealism not only led realism, it matched realism at every point of the policy effectiveness cycle.
The effectiveness of these leaders is hardly surprising. Their ideals were well researched, thought out, tested and contested over time but the strength shone through still. In his independence day speech, our first Prime Minister, Alhaji Balewa said “today’s ceremony marks the culmination of a process which began fifteen years ago……each step of our constitutional advance has been purposefully and peacefully planned with full and open consultation, not only between representatives of all the various interests in Nigeria…..” Chief Awolowo in his speech March 1951 introducing the Action Congress (AG) at a members conference emphasised two basic guiding principles agreed by the party “life more abundant” and “freedom for all” but went further to list how these could be achieved through “education for all children, enlightenment for illiterate adults and children above school age, provision of health and general welfare, abolition of want by means of economic polity”. He opined further “having agreed on these basic principles, it becomes necessary to take the next step, namely: to agree as to common methods in the application of those principles. This is a very important step: because, even though people may agree as to principles, if they don’t agree as to methods of application it would not be possible for them to work together. Only we must make sure about two things, namely: that our principles are just, and that our methods are practical. For nothing defeats their own ends so easily as unjust principles and impractical methods of approach”.
In comparing these leaders to the current crop, it is easy to see what is missing. The current crop of political elite are lacking in ideology, vision and belief of what it means to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation as described in our constitution. This lack of ideal plays itself out in uncoordinated and ineffective policies at all levels of government with resultant hardship for the majority of the people. It seems to me that the political elite don’t ask this very fundamental question – to what purpose or end are we considering a policy? Other related question is does this policy benefit the majority of the people? Is it guided by a common and shared ideology?
One of the worrying things about Nigeria today is the level of distrust among various ethnic groupings. Distrust sowed by years of military and elite “divide and conquer” rule. Some may argue, with merit, that this lack of trust preceded military rule and was only mitigated by strong and independent regional government during the early days of an independent Nigeria. What is undeniable however is that we have a terrible record of dealing with ethnic disharmony. Too many within the political elite find it too easy to stoke ethnic sentiment to perpetuate and pursue self-serving interest. It is why I was particularly disappointed at how badly the President responded to a question on government inclusion during his recent visit to the US. Less than 20% of Nigerian’s voted at the last general election – 54% of which voted for President Buhari, implying a staggering 46% of those who voted did not vote for him. Whilst there’s a national outlook to the spread of the vote he received, the total number of those that didn’t vote for him cannot be flippantly dismissed. Further, whilst he was APC’s presidential candidate, he is Nigeria’s President. Once elected and considering the level of disharmony, 97% and 5% should never feature in the President’s mind. That he opened his response to that question with it suggests he’s dwelt on it for far too much than is expedient for his government.
Those that saw little wrong with it and agreed with the President’s retort of it being political reality overlook the immaturity of our democracy. Indeed the Constitution of our country provides certain protection to federating units, what it doesn’t do is prophesy the budget of the federal government. With the budget being under the President’s full discretion, he can direct federal resources to states where he received the most votes whilst still meeting the minimum protection guaranteed by the constitution on other states or regions where he received fewer votes. For example, former President Jonathan created 12 new federal universities during his tenure, 9 of these were based in Northern Nigeria. Nothing within the Constitution prevented or says he can’t do this. So it is slightly disingenuous for President Buhari to say that the constitution prevents him from bias. Of course, there is a thing called ‘federal character’ but that only goes as far as top government agency appointments, federal civil service and the security services.
In matured democracies, ideologies are the contest in election campaigns as it is what will guide whoever wins the election. For example, in the UK regardless of who wins the general election, the aim of the victorious party is to demonstrate to the whole country how their ideology is beneficial to all. It’s about demonstrating for Labour, left wing policies is best for the country or that right-wing policies is best if Conservative is in office. What these parties do is announce policies that galvanises their base but also appeals to the other side in order to win. It is never about 97% vs 5%. Our leaders should learn from how Lee Kuan Yew’s unshakeable belief in meritocracy endured and catapulted Singapore into a developed nation in the same time we’ve been an independent nation.
Our challenges are great, but our resolve must be greater. We cannot continue to enact policies based on bottom-up analysis with each ethnicity thinking of themselves only. Top-down solutions are of greater importance in nation building. Received wisdom says a house divided against itself cannot stand. We are a multi ethnic and multicultural nation. We need a shared ideology(s). Our political elites must promote this. Ideologies can be as strong a unifying force as link to ethnic heritage. Perception can often be reality in politics. President Buhari must not tire of selling the pan-Nigeria perception. He has to be a parrot about it, even bordering on constituting a nuisance. His cabinet appointees have to follow his lead on this and follow it up with implemented policies. We need our President to be as pan-Nigeria as he is anti-corruption.