It was good to see many Nigerians from the South East region observed the sit-at-home order to remember citizens who were killed 50 years ago. For some in other regions who lost loved ones, it was also a time to reflect on the pains of the conflicts and the eventual war.
There is strong sense that we are very much focused on the past such that we are unable to harness the opportunities of the present to enable us create a better future. I admit the focus on the past is because the injustices are largely not acknowledged and therefore, reconciliation and healing have yet to occur. However, we know with the current crop of leaders, these injustices are unlikely to be acknowledged sincerely.
In this catch-22 setting, we need to look deeply at the quality of leadership we have had and the journey – how it evolved.
Appointed Leadership: During the early days of the British government’s effort to establish a colonial government, they encountered opposition from the leaders of various kingdoms and empires. It was common place for community-recognized leaders to be disposed and unpopular ones appointed in their place. Those who fear being dethroned yielded their authority to that of the colonial government.
This was the beginning of under-representation of the people.
Sectional Leadership: The next phase was the rise of leaders outside of traditional roles because we were seeing the emergence of a political class. This was the category of leaders who knew after independence, the leadership of the country would transfer from the British to them.
In the battle to establish a political base and influence in preparation for the proper governance post-independence, sectional leadership became a critical strategy for most of our political class.
This saw the manipulation of the people (through propaganda) to gain influence on the national stage. This was not helped by the seen and unseen acts of the departing colonial government to maintain some influence and sustain benefits.
Military Leadership: As the sectional leaders sought to protect their regional influence and also make incursion into other regions, elections in various places were manipulated, leading to protest and violence. This was the peak of sectional leadership and the result was an attempt by some young military boys to change that for a national leadership in January 1966.
Unfortunately, the boys underestimated the power of the prevailing sectional culture which crept into their movement, leading to a sectional colouration of their effort. Within 6 months, there was retaliation by a section of military who felt the initial intervention in governance was targeted at eliminating their region.
The military boys from that region (the North) thereafter sought to sustain power to ensure the other region (the South East) did not have an opportunity again to implement their plan. Even a push by the military boys from the South East to take their people out was blocked by the military boys from the North.
In this era, we had young men who were products of our appointed and sectional leadership. In addition, they used their military powers to have national influence (something the sectional leaders who fought for independence did not have) but yet, the young military boys were largely inexperienced about leadership and more importantly, were not a representation of the people.
Today’s Leadership: The product of the years of appointed, sectional and military leadership has produced a political class made up of disciples, children or main actors of the appointed, sectional and military era. It is an exclusive club that has ruled Nigeria since independence and every time we have a democratic process (political party primaries and elections), it is this class (or cabal, as some Nigerians call them) that has decided who goes into office.
The people have rarely had a say in the political process and when the person gets into office. Our political class are appointed (not elected), are sectional and are from the military or endorsed by the military. It is impossible to see any Nigerian who became President or Governor that didn’t have the influence of this class. When those rare occasions occur, such person will seek the support of these class (through patronage) to sustain their stay in office.
That is our story today and it is story of all regions including that of the South East. So, what can we Nigerians do to take back our nation?
Accept that we have a democracy: Many citizens from 35 years and above grew up in a military dispensation and, therefore, carry a military mindset (the use of force and imposition). But we are now in a democracy and no matter how imperfect it is, we must begin to accept that not only are our representatives from among us, but we can also have a say in who represents us.
We can stop imposition and ensure that whosoever seeks to represent us sells their vision of what they seek to achieve and we can assess them based on these during their tenure and the proven record. In so doing, they will seek to serve us and not the cabal who wouldn’t go away without a fight.
Until we have a political leadership that is accountable to the people who gave them the mandate, we cannot fight corruption, ensure transparency in government, give our elected leaders room to operate and most importantly, we cannot encourage more credible citizens to go into politics.
In this democratic dispensation, it is useful to remind citizens of all regions that it is their sons and daughters who manage their commonwealth and when we complain about injustice, we must look first at our own before we accuse others.
Harness the democratic opportunities: These opportunities includes the opportunity to register a political party and build it up if not happy with the current ones; to put yourself forward for an elected office; to participate in party politics to determine which candidates win the primaries; to demand transparency and accountability from those who represent us by seeking regular information from the executive and legislature and studying it carefully to provide appropriate response, etc.
I wish Nnamdi Kanu would change from a hostile approach to harness the democratic opportunities. He can establish a political party, mobilize members (even outside the South East region), seek for office and use his elected members to demand for a referendum on Biafra or pursue a constitutional amendment.
A political solution is always the best avenue to a permanent solution. Besides, this approach would give him the opportunity to prove to his people (and other Nigerians seeking credible leadership) that he is competent and sincere. For now, he has no proven record of delivering credible leadership. Therefore, he is a huge political risk.
For our democracy to grow, much more citizens need to, at the very least, be active members of a political party. Dividends of democracy come through citizen participation and it remains our best key to break the grip of the appointed, sectional and military leadership.
The people of every region are suffering the effects of our bad leadership delivered by the cabal and yet regions like the core North, where our poorest and least educated citizens exist, are being blamed by the South for the ills ‘leaders’ from their region committed. We all know most Northerners are not beneficiaries.
There are a small but growing number of progressives from the North and the South. This is the hope for Nigeria’s future but there is an urgent need for this number to grow to ensure we hit tipping point and that is where these citizens would have taken over governance.
Are you willing to have a new mindset about Nigeria and join the new set of leaders?