I just reread Chinua Achebe’s ‘The trouble with Nigeria’ for the umpteenth time and I never tire of the lessons that this very small book can teach those that want to understand Nigeria. It really should form part of the civic education literature as we try to make the next generation understand their country. Written in 1983, he goes through the motions of trying to identify the problems with Nigeria and starts by quite eloquently stating that: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing 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”.
He then notes that these Nigerian leaders always seem to begin their speeches with the phrase ‘this great country of ours’ without fully understanding what it means to be a great country. It is not by merely stating that a country is great that makes it great and this is so true when it relates to Nigeria. He observes that Nigerian leaders delude themselves that Nigeria is a great country and argues that: “Nigeria is not a great country. It is one of the most disorderly nations in the world. It is one of the most corrupt, insensitive, inefficient places under the sun. It is one of the most expensive countries and one of those that gives least value for money. It is, dirty, callous, noisy, ostentatious, dishonest and vulgar. In short it is one of the most unpleasant places on earth!”
These two quotes highlight what the problem with Nigeria was almost three decades ago and if we move to the present the problems he identified, they are still very much in existence. We only need to look at the current condition of the Nigerian state and we see little difference in the country from 30 years ago. I believe it has a lot to do with poor leadership. We are faced with a ruling political elite that has set a very low bar about what it entails to be a leader. Examples of how bad the leadership is abound, from the grass cutting issue, the judicial and legislative mess, the blatant corruption and the increasing ethnic and religious divisions that continue to engulf the country.
Some might argue that these are not personal failings on the part of our leaders but a collective failure, but I will beg to disagree because individual failings are what are reflected in the actions of the collective. What they have done is set aside any programme, policy or act that will unite the country for the personal benefits that they gain from being in office. In any developed country (of which Nigeria is aspiring to be a part of) personal integrity remains one of the finest examples of what is expected of a leader. Unfortunately, Nigerian leaders have no integrity; rather they strive to be part of the ‘come and chop party’ at the expense of serving the greater good of the country. Also, we cannot dispute the fact that Nigeria is one of the worst places to live. It is everything Achebe noted and more. It is also slowly becoming one of the most dangerous places to live with the lives and property of citizens not safe from the twin evils of armed insurgents and state violence.
Achebe also noted that tribalism was a recurring feature of the Nigerian state and was one of its most challenging problems. With over 250 tribes (some say as much as 400), Nigeria is one of the most plural of the world’s nations and we keep hearing the usual rhetoric of how our diversity should be our strength but they are just that, rhetoric. Achebe observed that: “Tribe has been accepted one time as a friend, rejected as an enemy at another and smuggled in as an accomplice”.
Tribe was thus treated like a chameleon to suit the situation of the moment. It seems that currently in Nigeria tribe, is everyone’s accomplice, smuggled in at every opportunity. While Nigerians have at different times claimed to be detribalised, they now make no qualms about claiming tribe as the foundation for every action they take. Tribe now determines how every Nigerian determines his or her interaction in the Nigerian political, economic and social sphere. The idea of a united Nigeria is lost on many people, we have shed the pretense that there is a chance that Nigerians might one day be united under one Nigeria and we now seem to relish the prospect of a country restructured along the very tribal lines that have become more evident since independence.
We are living through a period in Nigeria’s history where the history being created is the wrong kind, not one of advancement but one of regression. But we must shoulder some of the blame for what we see happening in the country. This is because we have done nothing to change what we can rather being too invested in the things that are wrong with the country like ethnicity, corruption and religious intolerance. Nigerians are like the mute man who sees a man crossing the road unto an incoming vehicle and can do nothing to warn him, but unlike the mute who would like to speak but cannot; Nigerians can speak but chose not to as they watch this ‘great country of ours’ drift towards the precipice.
Dr. Liman, a Development and Political Analyst, wrote this piece from Kaduna.
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