This was not the topic I intended for this first column of the year 2013. Under the proposed headline: ‘Nigeria’s docile followership,’ my plan was to x-ray the followership deficit in Nigeria. My thesis is straightforward: We are a country with probably the worst followership in the world. We have mostly docile citizens, who only groan, moan and grumble without challenging what we perceive to be wrong. We are a peculiar brand of homo sapiens, who have the greatest elasticity for suffering.
We take all kinds of nonsense from those in leadership positions, either waiting and hoping that God will intervene and bring our sufferings to an end or that one day our turn will also come to enjoy the spoils of office and be the next oppressor. Nigeria, in my view, has been turned to the veritable turn-by-turn PLC. After the next bad leader exits, a new worse one enters. And the game of deceit and misrule continues.
How can a nation ever make progress with such mindset in the majority of her citizens? I am of the humble view that Nigerians, in a sense, are the cause of their problems: by our actions and inactions; omissions and commissions, we create the fertile ground for dictatorship. We make tyrants out of our leaders. We grovel too much and are afraid to speak truth to power or authority. I am not talking about leaders at governmental levels alone.
Even at the family, social and corporate levels, we are often too timid to call erring leaders to order. When we see those leading, going astray or have become too oppressive, we choose to clam up because we are either afraid of repercussions or considering what we stand to benefit from playing the ‘good boy’ role. In Nigeria, when a man becomes president or governor, he becomes the wisest person in the country or state; when he becomes Director-General/Chairman or whatever big appellation, he becomes the wisest man in that organisation.
And only when the leader falls, will all those who had been timid regain their voices and begin to demonise the erstwhile strong man, even when they had been willing collaborators and cocooned in a conspiracy of silence. The followers are truly part of Nigeria’s biggest problems. Followership that only mumble and collaborate, only to wake up the morning after the deed had been done. Even when the constitution makes no such provision for it, we baptise our leaders with the appellation of executive president, executive governor, executive local government chairman and so on.
We turn ordinary human beings to gods with our sickening hero-worship and grovelling sycophancy. Otherwise humble men soon turn emperors because of our culture of sycophancy. We are a nation of praise singers. We praise sang Sani Abacha, and before him, Ibrahim Babangida. We praise sang Olusegun Obasanjo and UmaruYar’Adua.
Now, Goodluck Jonathan has become the target of praise singers, who have designed for him campaign posters of a contest that is three years away. Even when he is yet to successfully discharge the duties of his current mandate. What kind of people are Nigerians? I am not saying we shouldn’t commend leaders, who are making the critical difference in their sphere of authorities. But when we see a patently unimpressive leader, who has not lived up to his responsibilities, why do we insist on serenading him? Why can’t we call bad by its proper name?
Why should we deodorise faeces? When Abacha, the taciturn maximum ruler was alive, all the five political parties adopted him as their sole candidate. They claimed that no other person other than Abacha could rule Nigeria; that without Abacha, there would be no Nigeria. Abacha is dead and there is still Nigeria. The same people, after Abacha expired, moved on to other leaders, singing the same song. Where is their conscience? I hope to return to the subject of our peculiar followership soonest.
A followership that will not challenge their LG chairman for inefficiency; the PHCN or water board guys for shoddy services; their layabout Senators and Reps for underrepresenting them at the National Assembly; students that will not challenge their lecturers for absenteeism and harassments. The Nigerian youth that will not get angry at clueless leaders, who provide no leadership and services to the people. If these are not indices of bad followership and docile citizenry, I wonder what else to call it.
We may blame our leaders for every imaginable thing they have done against our people but we must also blame the followers, who have been behaving like Fela’s zombies. Back to the subject of today’s discourse.The politics of 2015. To me, this must be the cruellest joke of the New Year. It is insensitive and misguided. It is like poking fingers in the eyes of Nigerians, adding insult to our injury. How can a nation that hasn’t done its duties by its citizenry after the 2011 elections be talking about 2015? How can any serious people be talking about the re-election of a president, who has been trying to grapple with the dynamics and challenges of governance?
President Jonathan has not convincingly delivered on his mandate, yet some funny characters are already talking of one good term deserving another. Which good term? Which country are they talking about? Do these guys live in the moon? Do they not see the suffering and hopelessness in the land? Do they not hear many Nigerians, blaming themselves for casting their votes for the shoeless boy? The denial by the Presidency of any part in the 2015 posters only makes matters worse.
They could simply have kept sealed lips. I am sure they know that not many Nigerians believe they know nothing about it. In one breath, they claim that they are not privy to it while in another, they say the authors of the misguided posters are only expressing their opinion. Interpretation: 2015 is on Jonathan’s mind. Another interpretation: He is most likely to run the 2015 presidential race. The presidential media aide, ReubenAbati, also says Nigerians should trust their president, that he would be honest enough to declare his intention when the time comes.
That is quite funny. I am sure even Abati doesn’t believe himself. No Nigerian leader has ever openly admitted nursing a power ambition. Nigerians can only read their body language to tell the direction of their hearts. Former President Babangida never agreed he wanted a tenure elongation beyond 1993 until he was forced out; Gen. SaniAbacha never told anyone he was interested in transmuting to a civilian president until the night he ate the fatal apples. Even till this day, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo is still denying nursing and working for a third term agenda, even when it was crystal clear that Baba was the brain, leg and hand behind the infamous project.
Of course, President Jonathan can tell it to the wind that he knows nothing about the 2015 posters or that he has not made up his mind about running. He wants to run for re-election. He is entitled to it. If he works hard and delivers on his mandate of transforming the country, why not? But If Nigeria doesn’t positively transform between now and 2015, President Jonathan’s dream of re-election can only be a pipe dream or shadowboxing.
I totally agree with Rev. Mathew Hassan Kukah, the fiery catholic priest, activist, humanist and intellectual, that no one ever wins a prize for shadowboxing. You win prizes for your sterling performance; for your excellence; for your outstanding works. You win no prizes for your intentions, your thoughts or your words. Leadership, says Kukah, in his brilliant interview in last Saturday’s The Guardian, is earned.
“Office holding may be accidental but leadership is earned; it is not advertised. It is not something you earn by hiring publicists. You can line up so many people and they can go round and shout their lungs out but they are blowing a muted trumpet. Leadership is earned with a leader, satisfying the needs of those under his or her care.” And Kukah ends with a knockout punch for those, who are expecting a magic performance from Nigeria’s current leadership: “It is hard to expect any earth-shaking changes based on what we have seen, which is more important than what we have heard.” True.
How very true. The reason no one is applauded or garlanded for shadowboxing is obvious: It is not the real thing; it’ s a mockery of the original; an empty display or showmanship that leads nowhere. When you want to win a medal, you box straight (if it is boxing); kick into the net (in football); drop the balls into the baskets (basketball); breast the tape before others (athletics) and do what needs to be done to be the best among the rest in any endeavour.
As it is in sports, so it is in governance and leadership. You win the heart of your people only when you have performed and the performance is clearly seen. You win not by words but by your actions, what the people can see, can feel, can touch; things that are visible. Can we say that about Brother Jonathan?