The above title is chosen from the Annual Pre-Ramadan Lecture of the University of Lagos Muslim Alumni Association held a few days ago, precisely on March 27, 2022, at the University of Lagos Auditorium. There is no time more apt than now to interrogate the subject. This is particularly so as we inch towards the general election in the country. The consensus of opinion (not as in the ‘consensus’ of the ruling party, All Progressives Congress as shown in the party’s recently concluded convention) is that the country is certainly unwell. The source of the ailment or the trigger of the sickness is, however, multifarious. Remarkable and ascertainable in recent times, among others, is the quality of the leadership of the country.
Although over time, causes of retardation of a country’s growth have been attributed to several factors, ranging from lack of technological know-how, through political instability to bad policies, it was, however, not until of recent that developmental economists were able to connect the dots between leadership and growth, particularly in terms of its fundamental nature. The failure of governance in any society cannot be divorced from the leadership holding sway in such society. In Nigeria, where the country is beleaguered with several afflictions, ranging from insecurity, weak economy to unemployment, collapsed infrastructure, etcetera, leadership failure plays a central role in this regard. However, without apportioning blame in the circumstances, it is incumbent that we look beyond the products and conduct a critical examination of the processes giving birth to the kind of leadership the country has.
This implies that, since the processes that give birth to these supposed leaders are warped, nothing good can be the by-product. Just as one of the speakers, Dr. Ahmed Adamu, at the said event, opined, when a product is bad, you don’t simply condemn the product but the production processes. The mode of recruiting our leaders is constitutionally through the conduct of elections. Regrettably, our elections have been a charade, and our conduct has left much to be desired when it comes to how we elect our leaders. The quality of our leaders has not been better than the process by which they emerge. In many cases, our political leaders evidence mediocrity to the world and bask in the satisfaction of self-aggrandizement and the impunity of power capture.
The elections in the country have been anything but credible. Our history of killings, maiming, bloodletting and gnashing of teeth in what otherwise is a simple experiment of change of guards in civilized climes constitutes a shameful blot on our claim to be ‘the giant of Africa.’ It is shameful that Nigeria still grapples with the conduct of credible elections in the 21st century when young men and women barely above their 20s are piloting affairs of whole nations in other climes without any form of acrimony trailing their change of guards. In interrogating the leadership question in Nigeria, therefore, our focus must shift to the recruitment processes. As generally agreed at the conference chaired by the noble Attahiru Jega, featuring Dr. (Mrs.) Oby Ezekwesili, Dr. Ahmed Adamu and Sheik Abdul Rahman Olanrewaju Ahmad, the country’s growth is continuously hampered by the quality of its leadership.
Now, with the conviction that Nigeria is not too distant from a failed nation, with insecurity ravaging all parts of the country, soaring unemployment, abject poverty, collapsing infrastructure, comatose health care, food insecurity, eclipsing morals and values, endangered justice system, deplorable educational facilities, etcetera, it is certain that we have more than enough to bargain with. The recent activities of terrorists in Kaduna and its environs in the past one week have proven that nothing, and no one, is safe in the country.
At first, it was the farms that were not safe for farmers, later villages fell in torrents to the cold arms of terrorism, our highways are getting deserted as far as the Abuja-Kaduna corridor is concerned, the airport received its baptism of terrorist fire a few days ago and, just three days after, the rail lines became the abattoir where the best of Nigerians, including a young medical doctor, Chinelo, were cut short in their prime. The terrorists forced us off the road with naked display of unbridled wickedness, we embraced the air and the rail. Now, with what we saw of the two modes of transportation thought to be the safest, our people had no option than to go back to the roads. And just on Tuesday, the 29th instant, a siege was laid on Kaduna-Abuja road with scores kidnapped and several killed. Governance seems to be on auto pilot.
With 2023 around the corner, the emergence of good leadership remains the only panacea. The route to this destination and the compelling roles of each and every one of us forms the core of the ensuing engagement here. It is in this connection that I will allude to the scintillating remark by the chairman at the event, Attahiru Jega, which is instructive to us all: “Every citizen has a role to play to bring about responsible and responsive leadership and good democratic governance, through an electoral process that has integrity. We must all endeavour to take this responsibility with the seriousness that it deserves, and contribute to the integrity of our country’s elections. There should be no ‘siddon look’ while bad people are having a field day in politics and messing it up, and messing us all up! Politics is not inherently bad; it is only as bad as we all allow it to be! When we allow bad people to populate politics, it becomes bad, very bad!!”
The implication of the above is that our passiveness and docility must cease.
This applies largely to the elite and middle class Nigerians that are mostly indifferent to the happenings in the political firmament of the nation. Oftentimes, the elite abandon the electoral process to the vulnerable in the society who lack the knowledge of why they are voting and the rationale behind voting a particular candidate or party. This reminds of the story told by Dr. Ezekwesili that when she was in government and was invited into the political arena, she declined, thinking that it did not concern her.
It was until her departure and witnessing the desecration of her legacies that she realised that she took a wrong decision. Apart from the reality that, by the acts of the politicians, they endanger all of us, the politicians mostly degrade the system. Remember that many in this class of people called politicians are ever shameless with no regard for any value, moral or virtue. These are people without any iota of principles, which explains their wandering from one party to another in the name of decamping, since those parties have no ideology in the first instance that can define who is qualified to be a member of a particular political party or not. There seems to be no distinction among them as recently buttressed by the antecedents of those heading the leadership of the ruling party, All Progressives Congress, today.
From the profile, it is obvious that a sizeable percentage of these politicians are products of the opposition party, if you like, call them graduates of the People’s Democratic Party. The same PDP that was forced out of power by APC has now become the darling of the ruling party that its former rejects have become the shining lights of the ruling party. Thus, the time is over-ripe for us as Nigerians to take our destiny collectively into our hands. Delay now has become dangerous. If we fail to act, all of us will eventually be consumed by the approaching inferno. Enough of the heartless, selfish and greedy leaders who care not about our future and the future of the country but themselves.
As aptly illustrated by Jega in the same opening remarks, “There is an African saying that: ‘a wise cat that cares about tomorrow does not eat a pregnant mouse’! In Nigeria, our already very fat cats strive to eat all the mice without discrimination or regard for tomorrow.”
The net effect of this is that, by the time they finish with the resources meant for all of us, we will ultimately become prey in their hands. To avert or stave off this, our intervention is compulsory.
Enough of all the conversations and discussions on the subject. Talk is ever cheap and eternal but now is the time to act by walking the talk that is expensive but terminal. There are two basic ways of doing this, one is to interrogate the electoral processes and the other is to participate within the available framework. While I admit that the electoral processes in our electoral system is still far from being perfect, the little shift or progress made in the recently enacted Electoral Act should be fully utilized.
In this regard, of immediate concern to all of us must be the registration of all eligible voters in the country. Apart from our individual commitment to this, we must get involved in the mobilization of other eligible voters to register. This is the foundation of our electoral system. The clock is ticking and there is no time again. Voter’s apathy must be stopped and the quality of our votes improved upon through the participation of the informed. Our enquiry must start with the leadership criteria. What qualities are we expecting our leaders to have, beyond the constitutional dictates that are largely unhelpful.
Do we still want to stick to the constitutional requirements of a school certificate holder or its equivalent still running our affairs? Are we electing leaders that are unprepared for leadership? This and many other issues of this nature must start agitating our minds. As Jibrin Ibrahim puts it in his back page column of Daily Trust of March, 25, 2022, “we must develop an overwhelming consensus that political leadership cannot remain the only job for which no qualification appears necessary except to have a lot of money, usually, stolen money.
It is clear that for as long as the current pattern of leadership recruitment continues, our troubles will continue. It is for this reason that we must find a way to bring relevant criteria to bear on the selection of leadership. We have got to find a way of making character, competence and capacity to determine who leads.” To this end, conversation must be initiated as to the expectations around the qualifications of those who should lead us. As said above, what the constitution has laid down appears to be the minimum, we must inevitably build on it to get the desired and appropriate leaders.
As rightly put by one of the speakers, Sheik Ahmad, do we do any profiling of the aspirants/candidates? Any background checks? These are basic things done on ordinary visa applicants. Now imagine neglecting same for those who would be leading the country! Is that not the beginning of the nation’s woes? Gone were those days when results of such checks used to count for something, but now, even if done, it is inconsequential as the Independent National Electoral Commission cannot disqualify any candidate on that basis.
I am not oblivious of the rationale behind stripping the Commission of this power which is simply due to abuse of same with the active connivance of politicians. The time is ripe, however, to revisit this with the necessary checks and balances. Beyond the above, voting wisely and defending our votes is non-negotiable. We must help in the enlightenment of the uninformed, particularly the vulnerable. This is a short-term route that must be urgently embraced.
There is no better way to end this discussion than quoting from the opening remarks of Jega again, “Finally, no doubt, one can say that good leadership recruitment has been the missing anchor in our national development; we must look for it and find it, as soon as possible, before 2023 elections, before it is too late, before the reckless disposition of the band of bad people who dominate and control our political and governance processes runs the country totally aground, beyond redemption or salvation. It is not too late now to do so; we must pick up the gauntlet, as we are truly running out of time. We must contribute to the development of a criteria to be used to mobilize citizens for good leadership recruitment for the 2023 general elections and beyond. This is a task that must be done.”
Banire (SAN) is a former National legal adviser to the ruling APC
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