No public official who admonishes Nigerians to ‘ask not what their country can do for them but what they can do for their country’ can expect to be taken seriously anymore. The general populace has suffered far too much and gone through a lot in the hands of their own government to want to listen to ‘government preaching’ anymore. Every government that we have had since 1985 has called for belt-tightening and austerity measures on the part of the people while those in government have continued to feed fat from the public treasury.
It is not as though Nigerians are incapable of making, or even wanting to make, any more personal sacrifices for the good of the nation. The fact is that faith in government and, unfortunately, the Nigeria project, is at an all-time low as a result of successive administrations consistently breaking faith with the people. There have been too many failed and broken promises. The people have been taken for a ride for far too long as they watch those in government preach one thing and consistently practise something different. It is the underlying reason for the public’s scepticism and resistance of government’s plans to deregulate the downstream sector of the oil industry in spite of all the media hype and propaganda about the benefits of deregulation. The masses are unsure if they will ever share in the benefits after all the sufferings they will be put through, but they know too well that those in government and their cronies will be laughing all the way to the bank from the minute the policy is implemented, but they will never get to share in the pain of the masses.
The patriotic spirit of most Nigerians is in need of a new inspiration. This inspiration will not come from mere talk, which seems to be what the laudable project of rebranding Nigeria has been reduced to. It will take a combination of both talk and action – largely action – to inspire Nigerians afresh. Let’s face it, Nigerians have heard more talk and words than they need to. Government talks too much, promising and over-promising with very little action to match its words. There seems to be an uncanny ability in the machinery of government to churn out more words than actions. I would love to see a study commissioned to analyse government words versus actions of all the administrations we have had since 1985. It would not come to me as a surprise if the results establish a direct relationship between government talking and non-performance. That is to say, the degree to which Nigerian governments engage in propaganda is indirectly proportional to their ability to perform.
As though echoing my thoughts, the National Coordinator of NARTO (Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners), Alhaji Lawal Isa was reported in a news story on page 3 of The Guardian of 25th November, 1999 to have ‘described the regular outbursts by the Minister of Works on road projects as nothing short of playing to the gallery’. His words: ’The volume of noise being made is not commensurate with the level of projects executed. We challenge the Minister to tell Nigerians the progress of work on each of all listed federal roads for which N116 billion worth of contracts were approved by the FEC’ (emphasis mine).
Nothing short of sacrificial leadership will inspire the patriotic zeal of Nigerians. Only sacrificial and exemplary leadership can inspire a critical mass of Nigerians to commit to doing the right things always – whether in public or private and whether convenient or otherwise – and making sacrifices or deferring immediate gratification for the good of the nation. As it is now, trying to find someone in our national government who offers leadership by example is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do leadership, which is the stock-in-trade of our current political leadership, will at best inspire a crowd of hypocrites, men-pleasers and sycophants who lack the basic attitude for nation-building.
No matter their skills, experience or qualifications in enterprise and human capital development, people who are given to pretention and sycophancy carry within them elements that are inimical to the philosophy and task of nation-building. In fact, they bear the venom that kills the spirit of development and nation-building. They carry within them toxins that defeat the mission before they even get started. Any wonder why hypocrites and sycophants around the corridors of power have not taken us anywhere.
The task of nation-building is so difficult that no selfish or self-centred individual can undertake it. National goals and interests are usually in conflict with narrow and parochial personal goals. Only people who have subjugated their narrow personal ambitions and interests to higher national goals qualify to be charged with the arduous task of nation-building. Without such sacrifice of self no one can lead a nation on the path of greatness. No great nation has been built without sacrificial leadership. All the great nations that have emerged have been built through sacrificial leadership.
With the calibre of leadership that Nigeria parades at the moment, can we sincerely claim that we have sacrificial leaders? Can we find anyone in our present government we can describe as a nation-builder? Can we look forward to becoming a great nation under the present crop of political leaders we have? Can we truly move beyond the rot and mess where we have been for decades with the type of leadership that we have today? Are we ever going to stop marching in the same inglorious position where we have been for years and take an irreversible leap forward with the quality of leadership we currently have? Can those in political leadership sincerely ask themselves if their current leadership values can create a better Nigeria for the next generation or if Nigeria would not be worse off because they assumed leadership?
Is our National Assembly peopled by nation-builders or is it constituted by nation-spoilers, looters and plunderers? How many members of FEC (federal executive council) can be described as nation-builders rather than opportunists, self-first and self-serving public servants? (It is paradoxical to have self-serving public servants) How well does the political class grasp the issues of nation-building? Do our political elite put the nation and the next generation first or do they always want to line their own pockets first and consider nation-building next? The fact is, it ceases to be nation-building once it is relegated to second-place. It becomes anything but nation-building.
The position of the president of the nation, no matter who occupies it, is often described in lovable terms as the ‘father of the nation’ because the president is expected to treat the people as his children, caring for and loving them. I can’t recall if we have ever been so treated. No responsible father will sit to eat without asking if his children have had their own meals. When we look all around and see in the midst of plenty, the masses of our people scourged and crippled by poverty while political leaders are feeding fat, we find evidence that Nigeria has had the misfortune of being ruled by irresponsible ‘fathers of the nation.’
Sacrificial leadership appeared to be the type President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua promised Nigerians upon assumption of office. Two years after, there is very little evidence that his ‘servant-leadership’ is anything near sacrificial and exemplary leadership, except if he is setting the right examples in private but his officials by whom we assess him are not copying his examples. Or, that he is setting no examples at all and giving his officials leeway to conduct themselves as they wished. Honestly, many times I am forced to wonder if there is really anyone steering the ship of state. Nigeria seems to be running on some kind of autopilot (apologies to the opposition Action Congress spokesman, Lai Mohammed). No one seems to be taking charge of the affairs of state and pointing to a clear direction for us as a nation.
Leadership that puts the people before and above itself, that is more concerned about posterity than the next election, that rises above personal interests, inclinations and failings is sacrificial or servant-leadership, which we are yet to see but which Nigeria desperately needs. How long do we have to wait as a nation before we have such a sacrificial leadership? When are we going to have a leadership that denies itself breakfast until the masses have had theirs? Is there hope for a leadership that sends away the security personnel at Aso Rock until they have first guaranteed security for the common man? When are we going to have a leadership that would divert and convert all the money usually reserved for providing jobs for the boys into creating millions of jobs for the masses?
How long do we have to wait before we have a leadership that will prohibit foreign scholarship for their children and wards, making them go to public schools which government is forced to upgrade to Western standards because children of the elite also attend them? Any chance that one day we could be led by people who ban foreign medical check-ups and treatments for themselves and their families just so that efforts would be galvanised to make public hospitals function at the level where they can offer the same standard treatment current political leaders seek in US, UK, Germany, France and even Saudi Arabia?
The task of building Nigeria into a great nation is an onerous one which we can only succeed in if a critical mass of Nigerians is involved. Only a sacrificial and exemplary leadership can engender the rise of this critical number of people and inspire in them patriotic fervour and a sense of urgency in the task of developing our nation, mobilising the masses into an army of nation-builders. No developed nation has attained that status without the right leadership. Nigeria cannot be the first nation to join that league (in 2020 or whenever) without the right leadership. The time for sacrificial and exemplary leadership is now.