By Sonnie Ekwowusi
A lawyer friend has just returned from his trip abroad. Something happened to him over there, which I think is worth sharing with you here today. He was in a roundtable ‘social- distance’ meeting with distinguished attendants from other countries.
When it was his turn to introduce himself, he masterfully did so, and even added a caveat that he was a Nigerian. On learning he was a Nigerian, all the meeting attendants spontaneously hummed and booed him in unison in a way that suggested that they loathed the word Nigeria.
One cheeky fellow among them slightly bent his head low and whispered in a low tone, “that is the country where an Attorney-General was assassinated and to this day no clue about those who assassinated him.”
My friend felt humiliated. He felt ashamed of being a Nigerian. He wished the ground where he sat could open wide so that he could hide away in shame. But little did he know that the worst was yet to come. At lunch all the attendants boycotted his table. They avoided coming in contact with him by all means. My friend sat alone in the world of his own unsure of the next insult to be hurled at him. Having been maligned and contemptuously booed, they had proceeded during lunch to ostracize and stigmatize him.
How do they say it again? If one finger brought oil it soiled the others. If a handful of corrupt and dishonourable Nigerian public office holders had sinned all had sinned a well. The iniquities of these corrupt Nigerian public office holders have so stained the good image, integrity and reputation of Nigeria and Nigerians to the extent that being a Nigerian or carrying a Nigerian passport has become a liability or in the words of Chinua Achebe has become so abysmally frustrating.
No doubt about it, Nigerian immigrants abroad are exceedingly excelling. For instance, the Nigerian professionals in the U.S. outshine their counterparts from other countries year after year. Ditto for Nigerians in other countries. Now, given Nigeria’s ingenious human capital, why is the country ruled by scallywags, misfits, and the worst citizens? How did you and I find ourselves in this sorry pass? Failed political followership. The people are their own enemies. The Nigerian crisis, I insist again and again, is also a crisis of failed political followership otherwise how can you explain that despite his disastrous 4-year outing President Buhari was still brought back to power in 2019.
I jokingly tell friends that those who voted for Buhari the second time in 2019 despite witnessing his calamitous 4-year misrule should go to my corner and kneel down and raise their hands up in punishment in reminiscent of the punishment meted out to erring junior students in those good secondary school days. In all democracies especially in a presidential democracy like ours, sovereignty resides with the people. At periodic elections the people reassess the candidates running for political posts and vote out those who had failed in their promises when they were in power.
Not so in Nigeria. In Nigerian democracy most voters are not politically enlightened enough to evaluate the political issues at stake and the character of the candidates running for political posts before casting their votes on election day. Most Nigerian voters do not vote with their heads let alone their hearts.
Prior to casting their votes most voters do not first sit down to ask themselves the following basic questions: Why should I vote for a candidate who is so clueless that he doesn’t have the foggiest idea that the essence of wielding power is to render service to the people? Why should I vote for a man who perceives power as his personal fiefdom? Why should I vote for a man who is only interested in foisting ethnic hegemony? Why should I vote for a bigot who is shamelessly interested in giving key political appointments only to people who come from his own part of the country in violation of the Federal Character Principle enshrined in our Constitution?
The answers to the above questions explain why the Nigerian democracy has been churning out undisciplined rabble and thieves from their hideouts and entrusting them with the sacred duty of governing the affairs of their fellow men. Let me repeat here once again what really shocked me during the last Presidential election in Lagos. Some area boys and area fathers were seen masquerading about and forcing voters to vote for candidate Muhammad Buhari failure for which they threatened to unleash violence on such conscientious objectors.
Even some ballot boxes containing the votes casted for Atiku Abubarkar and other candidates were snatched away from polling booths and destroyed. The interesting aspect however is that while those area boys and fathers who were used to rig the last elections are now hungrily roaming about the streets of Lagos their mentor and idol is ceaselessly trying to acquire all the wealth in Lagos for himself. The people who complain that many Nigerian politicians are thieves are complicit in the thievery of the thieves.
It is said that a people get the kind of government they deserve. During the 2015 presidential campaigns, we were warned that candidate Muhammed Buhari would not make a good President, yet we ignored the warning. At that time, newspaper advertorials with reverting titles such as “Buhari is a Soldier: Once a Soldier always a Soldier”, “Buhari is not qualified to rule Nigeria”, “Buhari cannot be trusted” were constantly inserted in our daily newspapers. Yet some people proceeded to vote for Buhari. Even after it was obvious to all sundry that the man’s first term was a big disaster, yet some people and institutions facilitated his return to back power in 2019.
Consequently, you and I are reaping the tragic repercussions of Buhari’s return to power. Serves us right, shall we say? The saddest aspect is that rather than hold the government accountability for its misrule some parasites applaud the government just for selfish reasons. As far as these parasites are concerned, winning an election in Nigeria is synonymous with winning a big lottery with plenty of free money to dole out to the people.
A few years ago, one Federal legislator (name withheld) strongly advocated for an increase in the money paid to federal legislators as a security vote. Why? Because according to him he was not the only one “chopping” the security vote money; his friends and town’s men and women also partook in “chopping” the money.
You see, failed leadership in Nigeria is inversely related to failed followership. Failed followership begets failed leadership and vice-versa. If the people do not hold the government accountable for its misrule or deliberately acquiesce in the thievery of those in power because they too benefit from the thievery then we are in deep trouble. If the people fail to make their leaders accountable for their stewardship, then they should stop wondering why their leaders are making a show of their stupidity and wickedness in public.
Mere lamentation on social media that some politicians are incompetent or stealing government money is not enough. Action not words alone. To begin with, do you know the name of your local government councilor? Do you know the name of the person representing your Senatorial District or federal constituency at the National Assembly?
When was the last time you complained to your representative in government about the oddities around you? Do you partake in the sharing of ill-gotten wealth or proceeds from corruption? Do you demand for accountability from members of your State House of Assembly? Do you pay tax? Do you demand from the government to account for the use of taxpayers’ funds? Do you vote for incompetence on election day, or do you refrain from voting at all? We need responsible citizenry.
Mr Ekwowusi is a concerned Nigerian who desires genuine change, equity and justice for all