The story of Nigeria at over 55 years is a sweet and sour one. The miracle of staying alive in a country that has provided practically nothing for the well-being of her citizens is a story that is worth telling: so much potential, very little achievement. The country eats up her citizens, with a greater percentage living below poverty line and the remaining few that are well-to-do living in fear of kidnappers, armed robbers, hired assassins and terrorists.
For more than 55 years, we have been unable to find the key to prosperity for the nation. Groping in the darkness, we stumble from one failure to the other. Our leaders seek power for power’s sake and they, inevitably, become power-mongers, using the instrumentality of state powers to oppress their fellow citizens. I have always wondered: what is it about us that makes us to be so wicked to one another?
The history of man is replete with a keen and often destructive struggle for power. Power, in its simplest definition, will mean “the ability or right to control people or things”. Power is so sweet to have and I have not seen anyone who does not wish to have it. It was the thirst for power that turned the Shakespeare’s Macbeth’s growing character to degenerate from that of a noble man to that of a violent individual. It was power that transformed Master-Sergeant Doe into Commander-General Doe in Liberia and the struggle to retain power cost him his life in the most disgraceful manner.
Colonel Moamar Gadaffi seized and exercised power absolutely for more than four decades. Not willing to let go of the ‘sweet’ power, he fought a bitter battle with his enemies which ended in his savage death. Not learning from history, Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast tasted power and coveted its sweet aroma so much that he was not willing to let go.
Africa seems to have had so many of these power-hungry leaders who actually failed to positively impact their immediate environment. The list is endless: General Idi Amin Dada, Mobutu Sese Seko, Charles Taylor, Hissene Habre, Blaise Campaore, and many more. Little wonder that Africa remains underdeveloped despite several years of self-rule and the colossal amount of resources that have been made available to the continent. The leaders have simply failed to use the power of their various offices for the benefit of their people.
The Nigerian scenario
In Nigeria, state power has been largely used for the benefit of the holders of the power, their families and cronies. This abuse of power cuts across the entire strata of the society. The secretary in a government office expects you to give him money before your file can be placed on the table of the boss for attention. The admission officer in the university will collect money before your admission letter is released. The Vehicle Inspection Officer (VIO) will stop you on the road for only one thing: to extort money!
Once upon a time, we had so much respect for the men and officers of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC). That time, they would stop you for over-speeding or overtaking at the wrong side of the road; they would counsel you on the dangers inherent in your action, and you would be made to buy the Highway Code. Where your offence required payment of fines, you would have to watch a film on road accidents first before paying the fine – all in an attempt to encourage or motivate attitudinal change on road safety practices. But that has become history. Road Safety officials are now the power-drunk people you meet at awkward places on the dilapidated roads, looking for motorists to extort for real or imagined offences. They show no mercy to their victims and therefore no lesson is learnt and our roads remain largely unsafe.
What can we say about our police officers? You only need to watch them on the road harassing motorcyclists and bus drivers for money with guns loosely hanging on their shoulders. So many souls have been lost to “accidental discharge” from them, not for anything altruistic but for their personal gain. They were off the roads temporarily during the tenure of M. D. Abubakar as the Inspector-General but now, they are back at their lucrative ‘check points’ and the ‘business’ is booming. Also until recently, officials of the Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA) too were so notorious for their gangster-like arrest of motorists and the seizure of their vehicles.
Basically the malady goes on and on from tax, licensing, construction, electricity, immigration, customs, local government officials to so many others who wield one state power or the other. The public and their environment that they are paid and empowered to serve are always the victims of their exercise of power.
The big culprits
The real issues are with the leaders: presidents, governors, ministers, commissioners, director-generals, permanent-secretaries, chairmen of local governments, head of specialised agencies, etc. These are the people who have successively and for many years misapplied the powers of the state to enrich themselves.
What, in the name of decency, would Abacha have done with all the money reportedly stolen by him if he were still alive? He was so powerful as Nigerian Head of State such that he could have changed Nigeria completely for good just by issuing orders. He chose the accumulation of wealth for the Abachas even for the generations not yet born. What a pity!
To be fair, however, he was not the only one. What happened to the billions and now trillions of naira appropriated under Shagari, Babangida, Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan governments? Why are we still in this sorry state if these monies had been used for the purpose stated in the budget documents? Why our roads are still the way they are: impassable? Why are we still grossly enmeshed in electricity and fuel crisis? Why is our public education system in a total mess? Why do we still have one of the worst health indices in the world? When the price of crude oil was $100-$140 per barrel, what did we do with the money? We cannot even secure our borders as Boko Haram insurgency has proven lately! Where was Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, the Harvard-trained finance expert, when the money meant for development and security was being frittered away by the unpatriotic elements in power? Where was the ‘meek’ and ‘saintly’ President Goodluck Jonathan when Dasuki and company were feasting on the nation’s wealth? There are so many questions to ask our leaders.
Rather than do anything purposeful with the resources and power at their disposal, Nigerian leaders at all levels got it wrong. We could have developed and maintain a reservoir of foreign exchange as Obasanjo Government attempted to do. We should have diversified the economy and remove the suffocating dependence on crude oil export. We could have encouraged manufacturing on a massive scale and strengthened exports to the economies of other African States. We could have led and throw our weight around in the continent and dominate it economically. We could have established an African Economic Union which could have been comparable in size and influence, if not bigger than The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or the European Union (EU). We could have harnessed the potentials and opportunities in our large population, land mass (arable land) and diversity. But our leaders are only interested in themselves and it is for this purpose only that they seek power in a do or die manner.
We are where we are today because we lack a vision beyond feathering family and personal nests. It got so bad that we now need Chad, Cameroon, Niger and others to fight our battle with the insurgents. Prof. Soyinka once talked about his generation being wasted. My generation had been grossly mismanaged. We came, wasted, lost out and it appears that the only things we can leave behind are our thoughts and hopes that are not met.
Flashes of hope
Adolf Hitler, in the height of his glory and power, sought to dominate Europe and the world through the barrel of the gun. He acquired and deployed weapons of different shapes, sizes and sophistication for land, sea and air battles. He overran one country after the other but could not achieve his objectives. Rather, his country went down as a conquered territory divided into two by the whims of the opposing tendencies in the allied forces that overpowered him. Today, the same Germany is the undisputed leader of Europe, not through any military conquest but through the successive leaders who have used the power entrusted in their care wisely.
There are other leaders who have used their power well. Nelson Mandela won Freedom for his people by choosing to stand by them in South Africa, rather than enriching himself. Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, UAE and many other countries have taken immense benefits from visionary leadership.
Will it ever happen in Nigeria? I remain highly optimistic that it is possible. I believe that President Mohammed Buhari’s focused leadership could be our take-off point. If the president will not steal, either directly or through cronies, as recent probes are unveiling of the past government, then there is a chance that sanity will prevail. There is a chance that Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola will ensure that the money allocated to Power, Works and Housing ministry will be used to provide electricity, good roads and affordable housing for the citizens; that Mr Rotimi Amaechi will ensure that our railway system is functioning again without the deceit of the past; that Alhaji Adamu Adamu as the minister for education will work with the states to restore the public education system; that Mr Ibe Kachickwu will not spend all the NNPC money in hiring private jets for his comfort and that of his relations, and that he will make our refineries to work; that the governors in all the states will sit down to work and stop wasting money on travels and white elephant projects; that our local government chairmen and their directors will properly use the money allocated to projects for their communities, rather than the monthly sharing of the revenue allocation.
This is what I call the beautiful use of power. God bless Nigeria!