Beyond Political Corruption, What Is Nigeria’s Biggest Enemy?

In 1914, erstwhile British Administrator of the fragmented cultural groups of a Sub-Saharan African entity, Lord Frederick Lugard conducted a socio-political and religio-cultural experiment by merging those fragmented ethnicities to form a unified, composite whole. It was the birth of a new nation (Nigeria); a nation though heterogeneous in its cosmological composition, but nonetheless with the makings of becoming the most prosperous black entity on earth.

While the creation of Nigeria may not have been the product of a consensus between the cultural constructs that make up the country, there had been sufficient evidence to support the fact that these culturally variegated groups were ready to work assiduously in the interest of achieving an egalitarian society premised upon the sacrosanct ideals of justice, equity and fairness.

It was in a bid to achieve this lofty goal which saw the advent of Nigeria’s foremost nationalists who defied ‘the jingling of the jailers keys’ to fight the British colonialists in the quest for Nigeria’s independence. The idea was to finally have an independent nation extricated from the political influence of it’s European colonialists and consequently negotiate a future of our own making.

To this end, Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Angas, Itsekiri, Ijaw, Efik and indeed the entire array of Nigeria’s cultural multiplicity came together to wrestle Nigeria’s independence from European powers who were not exactly ready to surrender the country’s independence without putting up a fight. Nonetheless, it was the power of unity within diversity that made the difference all those years ago, and finally, we could ultimately be the masters of our own fate.

In truth, it would go without a saying that Nigeria’s independence did not exactly go as scripted, as barely seven years after Nigeria’s independence, the country had already plunged into civil war with fierce agitations and contestations from some of ethnic constructs who had felt politically marginalized in the grand scheme of things. In 1966, there was the Niger Delta revolution led by Isaac Adaka Boro who sought the creation of ‘Niger Delta Republic’ on the grounds that a region that constituted Nigeria’s wealth basin and suffered the scathing effects of exploration had been tragically cheated in the sharing formula of the nation’s wealth. In 1967, the Biafra revolution was led by Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, also on the grounds of political marginalization of the Igbos by a Hausa hegemony riding on the back of the Usman Dan Fodio ‘born to rule’ mandate.

The signs had become obvious, the socio-political and religio-cultural experiment by Lugard wasn’t working, and the mantra of one Nigeria became a charade upon which millions of Nigerians lost their lives in the name of love and unity that never found essence within Nigeria’s existential reality.

The years that followed Nigeria’s civil war would turn out to be the best years of our national history, not necessarily with regard to the quality of governance, but with regard to an unprecedented level of economic prosperity enjoyed during the hey days of oil boom.

Much of Nigeria’s fortune during this time had come from the proceeds of the oil boom which was helped by the fact that global technology was yet to find viable alternatives to crude oil and its ancillaries for the purpose of industrialization and other technological needs. As a matter of fact, so boisterous was the nation’s coffers that the then Military President, Gen. Yakubu Gowon made perhaps the most audacious boast ever made by any wealthy entity when he said that the problem with Nigeria was not money, but how to spend it.

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But this wasn’t merely a whimsical boast, as statistics in Nigeria further supports this fact that as at 1970, 20 percent of Nigerians were poor. This figure echoes as a staggering contrast to the present statistics which suggests the fact that more than 70 percent of Nigerians are living under the breadline. The one question on everyone’s lips is- what went wrong?

Nigeria’s past leaders from independent to date, have failed to provide the answers to Nigeria’s growing predicaments

The common answer to Nigeria’s perennial paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty has been identified as institutional corruption which has pervaded all levels of our national life. Bribery, corruption, political mendacity, prebendalism, tribalism, nepotism- these are all words that need no introduction in Nigeria’s socio-political landscape. As a matter of fact, even the very individuals responsible for this menace have continued to pledge in their various political manifestos to turn Nigeria’s bane of corruption into a distant memory.

But considering Nigeria’s dwindling fortunes as merely a function of a long streak of leadership failures would be ignoring a pertinent, perhaps imperative question; which, if not addressed will trigger us towards self-destruction regardless of what goes on in the corridors of power.

There is simply no apology for Nigeria’s leadership woes in the last sixty years, but then, the same could be said about the followership. In Nigeria today, a very random student union leader is culpable of frittering away union funds to the tune of millions of naira, needless to say that such numbers are staggering considering the financial muscle of a students union purse. The average Nigerian today, would rather pull societal rank or exploit relationships to beat a simple and well organized queue. In Nigeria today, the guy at the marketplace who has inadvertently been given a higher balance than he deserves considers it his own luck rather than exercise simple nobility to return the difference. In this same Nigeria where we daily lament bad governance, the average trader earnestly prays for an unfair spike in the price of goods so as to maintain unimaginable profit margins. In this Nigeria, the average civil servant bears no single scruple nor qualm in nominating persons with tribal affiliations for job opportunities ahead of a highly competent counterpart whose only crime was belonging to a different tribal sect.

Indeed, Nigeria’s omni-directional problem of bad followership, placed into proper context easily eclipses our problem of bad leadership, which we seem to hypocritically blame as the alpha and omega of the country’s failures for the past sixty years; and, to really understand the extent to which the average Nigerian has scuttled his own chance of living in a better Nigeria, let us consider the volume of problems which could have been solved if all of the above mentioned followership improprieties was dealt with on the basis of honesty and integrity, an avalanche of problems easily solved without government intervention.

A significant part of the Nigerian fighting spirit is entrenched in the will to survive through the harshest of political and economic climates, and quite frankly, that will has proven impervious despite being sorely tested on a daily basis. In the end, we have become masterful in inuring ourselves to the pain of suffering while we continue to yearn for the leadership that will take us to Uhuru; but the critical question at this moment is, if by some quirk of fate Nigeria finally finds the right leadership to steer the ship of the collectivity, do we have the correlating kind of followership that will produce this yet surreal Nigeria of our dreams?

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Ronny Ikpoto
Edidiong-Ronny Ikpoto holds a First Class degree in Media Studies from the University of Calabar. He shares a healthy enthusiasm for journalism, social & literary criticism, and creative writing.