FEATURE ARTICLE

Nnanna IjomahTuesday, August 22, 2017
[email protected]
New York, New York, USA

NIGERIA AND THE ABSENCE OF LEADERSHIP

s I watched the news and the Political fallout following recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, here in the United States, during which protests by white Supremacy groups resulted in the death of a young innocent female bystander, vis--vis the less than forceful response by the President in the view of some, I could not help but notice an eerie parallel between the events and Nigeria. Actually what immediately came to mind were not only the murderous escapades of armed Fulani herdsmen, the massacre of over a thousand followers of a Shite Moslem religious leader in the North, the shooting of IPOB demonstrators in the South East, the massacre in Southern Kaduna and even more recently the gassing of the Resume or Resign crowd both in Lagos and Abuja but also the absence of leadership in responding to these unfortunate incidents. In all the aforementioned events there is no record of any significant arrests, prosecution or jail time if any for the perpetrators. The herdsmen still herd their cattle with AK47 rifles slung over their shoulders, yet to be disarmed. Our security officials continue to act as the President's storm troopers, virtually out of control and more ominous is the absolute inaction or characteristic indifference of this administration in nipping these atrocities in the bud except for the occasional lame condemnations, fruitless photo up meetings with traditional and religious leader which usually culminating with empty promises of quick action.

As usual in this present environment of hate and the emergence of secessionist and militant groups, not to mention the recent senate vote to reject a restructuring of the country, some of the nation's so-called elder statesmen and erstwhile political leaders like the French resistance have retreated into the woods. Just like the moral midgets which they are gone, they have gone into hiding in the luxurious comfort of their palaces refusing to voice their opinion except for a few. The fact that the above-aforementioned events did happen are not matters in dispute or contention rather what is disheartening is the failure of leadership in handling, resolving and preventing their reoccurrences. What is abhorrent is the obvious feeling of empowerment some of these people or groups exude. They are the herdsmen who feel emboldened by the belief that they have a friend in Aso Rock. Same goes for the Arewa group who had the audacity and temerity to issue a deadline for all Igbos resident in the North to leave. They are the angry mob of Buhari supporters who attacked the "Resume or Resign" protesters in Abuja as security officials on horsebacks watched, as the acting President who has a place in the national dialogue about national unity refuses to fill it with his failure or reluctance to articulate a moral center.

Over and over again as events have proven all over the world and as evidenced in Egypt under Mosi, Venezuela under Maduro, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Syria under Assad and more recently the Philippines just to mention a few, it has become abundantly obvious that there exists a direct correlation between leadership and the rise or escalation of social unrest, national instability, ethnic and religious tensions and even revolutions in a nation's polity. So when some Nigerians ask the question, how come all these secessionist agitations, civil unrests and extra judicial killings did not flair up under the previous administration, the answer is not so difficult to find. Actually, It is quite simple: "the absence of leadership at the top". Once again as the saying goes, 'the fish rots from the head". The President sets the tone, just as in the United States today. So when the Nigerian President made such comments as, "not willing to rest until Sharia becomes the law of the land", that he will not concern himself with the 5% who did not vote for him or that he will consign the 2014 National Conference report to the trash can and then acting them out, he was setting the tone for others to follow. Is it, therefore, any surprise that all the Northern delegation in the Senate voted against the restructuring bill? Of course not. Is it a coincidence that the Arewa Youths have asked that 5% of the population who did not vote for the President to leave the North not to mention the anti- Igbo song circulating the airwaves. I don't think so. The reality is that the purging of dozens of Southern senior military officers, the skewed federal appointments etc are not isolated or not- purposeful actions. The resultant consequences of these actions are the divisive political environment that exists in the country today.

It is true that the hate, ethnic distrust, religious bigotry and the like in the country today did not start with this administration, however, it has worsened under it. Just as slavery is said to be the original sin of the United States, ethnic distrust and hatred is that of Nigeria. While countries with diversity, racial, religious and ethnic problems such as ours have striven to minimize or solve them, we, on the other hand, have continued to apply palliatives instead of a cure. In doing so we have consistently resisted attempts to solve them unless it benefits our ethnic group. The restructuring issue is quite a good example despite popular assumptions that it will help in no small measure in alleviating feelings of marginalization in various sections of the country as well as make for effective governance. Yet in voting against it those Senators showed their true colors and it was not green white and green. Every administration the world over goes through a pivotal moment when the country looks to the President or its leaders for leadership. This administration like many before it have had such pivotal moments but on each occasion have failed to seize the moment. There are also moments when political leaders or the Presidency either choose the morally right or the evil wrong but with this administration, they have consistently chosen moral indifference.

As Nigerians, what we are witnessing today is a raging battle between the best angels and the worst demons of our nature. At this moment in time, a significant percentage of the population exists in that sacred space between fantasy and delusion, between lies and hyperbole, between hate and bigotry, a separation so thin and so close they are not even aware when they cross or straddle it. It is not the government that gave the Igbos resident in the North a deadline as to when to leave. That ultimatum was issued by our fellow Nigerians. Right at this moment, thousands of Igbos have begun boarding buses to leave as the October deadline approaches while many others weigh the option to stay, hide or leave. Even as they board buses to leave, they scroll through memories and fears as if they are pictures on their phones. They wonder what might happen to their homes, their businesses, their stores etc, but leave they must because they cannot be sure their government can protect them because it never did in the past. This is the Nigeria we live in today. A country where our leaders sit idly by like spectators watching a football game thinking they can control events. But as history has shown as in the former Russian Federation, Egypt, and now Venezuela, they end up being controlled by the events because they usually spiral out of control by assuming dimensions beyond anticipation.

But be that as it may, we can blame our leaders or the government till the cows come home and nothing will change because the change has to come from us. As a Nigerian, I don't only feel ashamed of the quality of leaders we keep electing into office but also cheated. Soon after voting for them we suffer through the soft bigotry of low expectations and because we don't expect much from them we develop a conscience of silence and apathy. Yet as the next elections approach in the year 2019, it's very likely we will re-elect the same leaders or replace them with another group of selfish incompetents because we have been emotionally brutalized over the years hence we've developed a captivity syndrome whereby having failed to escape our captors we have ended up falling in love with them just to be able to survive. We must break the chains of captivity and stand up to our captors because the change we need must not only come from our voting choices but also from a resolve to accept our fellow citizens as different colors of a rainbow irrespective of ethnic, language or religious differences. Also, the President now that he is back from his medical vacation must strive to push the reset button by providing the moral leadership the country sorely needs in these times of national disunity hopefully fully aware that posterity will not be kind to him if this country breaks up under his watch.

For starters, he must make a determined effort to rectify his skewed appointments to reflect a federal character model by dissolving his entire cabinet and replace them with more capable and experienced hands. He must be made to understand that there are consequences when you let people at the religious lunatic edge gain oxygen when they receive no retribution for their burning of churches and other crimes against humanity. He must set up a truth and reconciliation committee to address the wrongs of the civil war and assuage the feelings of those who believe they still have not been fully re-integrated into the fabric of the country hence feelings of being marginalized. I know some might disagree with this contention, but truth be told even though that civil war ended 47 years ago, scars of that war still remain. The American Civil war ended centuries ago yet we see protests today over civil war monuments. More important, the President must re-assess or re-evaluate his decision to oppose the restructuring of the country and our governing structure and by so doing debunk the Northern narrative that has enveloped his Presidency. He must be willing to put the political stability of the country above the narrow ethnic concerns and preferences of his base supporters in the realization that governance like diplomacy is a tough business built around sometimes ugly compromises and that effective governance and leadership is not about getting your way and ignoring the needs and aspirations of others.

He must continue to dialogue with the Niger Delta militant groups and the Biafra secessionist leaders so as to find common solutions for their agitations. These are things a transformative leader does, fixing the broken pieces of the Nigerian nation. Definitely, if he does some or all of the above, there are some who would say "now or never" and others who would say, "too little too late" But try he must. For those amongst us who spew hate on social media, not excluding our politicians they must realize that prejudice is not a monolithic trait or violence the exclusive preserve of one ethnic group. Every ethnic group is susceptible to both. It is all about who can manipulate them better for his own use and purposes which are something we must guide against as 2019 approaches. It is heartwarming that the Acting President Yemi Osibanjo recently linked hate speech to terrorism worthy of punishment of some sort. But his comments and condemnation of hate speeches are not enough.

We as citizens must disabuse our minds of hate and prejudice but also be willing to shout down those who propagate it rather amplify their comments. We need to define the boundaries of common decency. It is true that we live in the age of anxiety which inevitably leads to the age of fanaticism and ethnic scapegoating as people seek crude palliatives for the pain in their miserable lives and look for someone to blame. But then the depressing spectacle of the moment we endure in is no reason to demonize and despise each other. Rather we can do better by not letting the breakdown of intellectual virtues hamper our ability and resolve to pay due respect to reality, deal with complex and unpleasant truths because once a country tolerates dishonesty, incuriosity and intellectual laziness then everything falls apart. Let us avoid the uncomfortable spectacle of explaining to our children that the hate and bigotry we confront today is the legacy they may have to bequeath to their children. We must strive to do our part but we need our leaders to lead the way. I will conclude by saying that as much as I want to reject the slouching toward an apocalyptic vision of the future for this country, it must however be said that we live in what I may call the Federal Republic of amnesia" hence our fatal forgetfulness flares when ethnic bigots emerge from their closets and try to reprise the same environment that gave rise to the civil war as our leaders idle in political complicity or indifference.

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