The Trouble with Nigeria

No Comments » October 1st, 2009 posted by // Categories: General Articles



The Trouble with Nigeria

By

Chido Onumah

 

“The trouble with Nigeria has become the subject of our small talk in much the same way as the weather is for the English. There is a great danger in consigning a life-and-death issue to the daily routine of small talk. No one can do much about the weather: we must accept and live with or under it. But national bad habits are a different matter; we resign ourselves to them at our own peril.” — Chinua Achebe

 

As I reflected on Nigeria’s 49 years of independence, I made out time to revisit Chinua Achebe’s classic, The Trouble with Nigeria. First published in 1983, this booklet remains relevant today as it was more than a quarter of a century ago. I recommend this small book to everyone who believes in Nigeria and its glorious future.

There is collective apprehension about the rudderless state of the Nigerian nation, particularly since 1999 when that equally perfidious but armed wing of Nigeria’s ruling elite relinquished power. If the return to democracy has brought nothing but underdevelopment and misery for majority of Nigerians, the last two years have been unmitigated disaster. Since 2007, things have moved steadily from bad to worse as the country inches towards implosion every day.

 In the last two years, we have been served with the rhetoric of seven point agenda, rule of law, rebranding, anti-corruption, and other highfaluting verbiage about governance that have hardly made any difference in our lives. Infrastructure and social services – electricity, roads, education, security, health, etc., — have all but collapsed. If corruption was a problem before 2007, it has intensified multiple folds in the last two years as the agency tasked with fighting corruption wrings its hands in resignation and the State, through the office of the attorney general of the federation, flaunts its complicity.

It is as if democracy, rather than propel us to greatness, has provided a numbing alibi for retrogression. But the problem is not democracy; neither is it about the country’s laws, granted many of them, including the constitution, need to be rectified. I go back to Chinua Achebe and The Trouble with Nigeria. “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership”, Achebe wrote. “There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”

If those who run the country are willing and able to rise to the responsibility and challenge of personal example, Nigeria would be one of the greatest countries in the world. As a nation, Nigeria is abundantly blessed. Our climate is wonderful — nature, perhaps aware of how deficient we are in managing our resources, has spared us the destruction occasioned by natural disasters; our land is not only beautiful, it is very fertile; above all, Nigerians are smart, hardworking, and resourceful. Looking at Somalia, an archetypal failed state, – a country with more or less one ethnic group, one language and one religion – it is sufficient to say our problem has nothing to do with our diversity; our many religions and ethnicities, as one writer described it. 

Nigeria simply has not been lucky in the one thing that every nation, big or small, needs to achieve greatness: credible leadership. It seems at each critical juncture, when Nigeria requires a leader with the ability and vision to make a difference, we are confronted with wimpy, unwilling, and incapable rulers. There is no further proof that Nigeria needs “strong men”. But not “strong men” like Africa’s quintessential dictators: Mobutu, Idi Amin, Bokassa, Babangida, Abacha, etc. We need men, and women, with conviction, character, and vision, who are willing to lead by personal example. This is not in any way to undermine the need for strong institutions. But no country can develop strong institutions without the benefit of good leaders; leaders who will create the conditions necessary for building and sustaining strong institutions

Nigerians who feel the effect of the country’s poor leadership are not unconcerned about the current state of affairs. There hasn’t been a time when the trouble with Nigeria has been discussed as it has been in the last two years. Taking advantage of new media technology, Nigerians from all walks of life daily show their anger and frustration on blogs, social networking sites, and numerous online publications.

This “national conversation” is, of course, welcome. But the danger, as Achebe pointed out, is that we seem to have consigned the future and survival of Nigeria — “a life-and-death issue, to the daily routine of small talk”. And we do so “at our own peril”. Our national bad habits – poor leadership and corruption being on the top of the list – are issues Nigerians have to come together and consciously confront.

According to Achebe, “Nigeria is not beyond change”. I agree completely. But Nigeria can only change if, as Achebe wrote, “she discovers leaders who have the will, the ability and the vision. Such people are rare in any time or place. But it is the duty of enlightened citizens to lead the way in their discovery and to create an atmosphere conducive to their emergence. If this conscious effort is not made, good leaders, like good money, will be driven out by bad.”

There is nothing else to add, except to say that after 49 years of independence and many failed attempts to elect credible leaders, the time has come to heed Achebe’s advice. In this regard, there are a few things we, particularly the post independence generation, can learn from the events of last November in the US.

conumah@hotmail.com

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