“The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character…”
Chinua Achebe ( The trouble with Nigeria).
Writing about Nigeria is a duty if not a burden for Nigerian writers, we do this at a point in our lives, at times with articles, discussions with friends at meetings, with our social media handles ( for netizens like me), whatever way we choose to tell the story of a land filled with honey yet plagued with unending mysteries called Nigeria, we are contributing to her stories, a map for patriots to seek out whenever they try to get a grip on their beloved country. This essay is my little contribution and I would try not to mix it with my sentiments as best as possible.
Whenever the question: what is wrong with Nigeria comes up in my discussion with people, I love to pitch my tent with Achebe, hence the quote at the entrance of this essay. The leaders are the problems of the country, why? This question can only be answered by the archives of history. In 1914, the southern and northern protectorates formed Nigeria, this decision was taken by the then-British lords and a few native people, on behalf of a people from different backgrounds, religions, and ancestry.
The question at this juncture is: was the regional system of government practiced before on a good course for the people? Yes, the evidence is there to serve as answers, the exponential growth of each region on their resources and pace. However, as I said earlier, the leaders of this land in their “wisdom” decided to create a new path, a journey filled with potholes and a marriage that shouldn’t have existed in the first place.
Nigeria became Independent from British Colonial rule in 1960, the country became the envy of the world. Predictions poured in from all corners and a dream of a greater country formed in the minds of Nigerians. These dreams however became a nightmare when the military coup of January 15, 1966, took place. This coup however was interpreted differently by the citizens, the greater part of the populace agreed that it ended the corrupt leaders of the country, while the other parts believed it had another agenda which was tribe related. There is no doubt it was tagged an Igbo coup. Either way, it gave birth to other coups which eventually led to the civil war.
The Nigerian civil war which lasted from 1967 to 1970 was a scene of casualties by military machinery and manpower, targeted destruction of properties, and the weaponized starvation of the Igbo people of the then Biafra. The war in its wake, became a dark spot on the already soiled dress of the relationship between the major tribes: Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa. This spot would spread into the fabric of Nigeria and mould the trajectory of governance in the country.
We would agree that the leadership system of Nigeria would learn from her dark past and seek out a new path of governance for her people, but the reverse was the case. Many will argue that Gowon tried to rebuild burnt bridges but how true is that claim? The payment of 20 euros to a part of the Igbo population who had just left the ruins of war is a great example of his failure, this in no measure slowed down the progress of these people as they struggled to start all over again.
The Gowon government recorded a rise in corruption among the military officers which in many ways contributed to the emergence of Muritala Mohammed in a bloodless coup. The Murtala regime however was short-lived, and from here, there were changes from military to civilian rule as Nigeria strived to find a balance. I won’t dwell much on these changes because I prefer to discuss civilian governments that are relevant to where we are in Nigeria today.
President Obasanjo was the first democratically elected president in 1999, the government based on projects and policies is said to be one of the most successful governments in Nigeria, however, there were flaws in this government, one of which is the response to the crisis of attacks by militants in the Niger Delta on oil installations. The Obasanjo in 2006 declared a state of emergency in the region and military actions that affected the civilians and the hunted militants continued until late 2009 when amnesty was introduced. The effect of the mismanagement of the crisis aside from crippling the economy to an extent contributed to a rise in militancy in the region which Umar Yaradua inherited in his government.
The political climate during Umar Musa Yar’adua was a peaceful one save for the management of the militancy in the Niger Delta region admits other issues, the continuation of the amnesty program is a commendable part of his policies, the Freedom of Information Act also created a sense of transparency in his government, however, his reign was short-lived and we were ushered into a very dark rollercoaster.
After the death of President Yar’ adua, his vice: Goodluck Ebele Jonathan took over, but his government was plagued with different roadblocks some of which were a fall in oil revenue, poverty, and corruption at its peak. It is this government that we witnessed the infamous Diezeni Allison-Madueke, the minister of petroleum who embezzled over $ 20 billion dollars based on missing funds from the oil sector, inflated contracts, and kickbacks from oil companies. This government’s weight on the Nigerians’ necks led to their call for a messiah party, which APC ( All Progressive Congress) tried to fill by contesting in the 2015 general elections.
President Mohammed Buhari’s government lasted for eight years, which was characterised by a rise in poverty, insecurity, insurgency and corruption at its peak. The call for a savior arose once again and at this point, I participated for the first time in a significant political decision of this country.
Before May 29, 2023, when Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure came to an end and the general elections, aggressive campaigns had started from the three political parties: PDP ( people’s democratic party), APC ( All Progressive Congress ) and LP ( Labour Party), one would think that after the eight years of Buhari’s regime, and the poignant event of the endsars protest that there would be a political Renaissance, but the reverse was the case.
The campaign from the APC side was based heavily on whipping tribal sentiments, the result which would be felt in Lagos in terms of voter suppression. The coinage of the word: Emilokan by the flag bearer of the all-progressive congress: Bola Ahmed Tinubu came into place, a word that translates as: It’s my turn. This word was motivated by his sense of entitlement to the ticket of the flag bearer of the party and his belief that it was the “ turn” of the Yoruba people to rule in a popular video take circulated on different social media platforms. Another important thing to note is the presence of Labour Party led by Peter Obi and backed by the Obidient Movement, a movement that comprised of youths from different backgrounds, and for the first time, a powerful “ third party” was in the game.
Surveys were done and predictions were broadcast which were in favour of LP, my faith like other Nigerians was restored.
On 11 March 2023, Nigeria witnessed an election that was plagued with voter suppression, thuggery, and other means of electoral violence and other electoral misconduct, all thanks to social media video evidence circulated. After the rushed announcement of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu toward the dawn, PDP and LP proceeded to the tribunal, but on March 15, 2023, PDP discontinued their petition against Inec ( independent national electoral commission), and LP was left in the race.
The presidential election petition tribunal ( pept), led by Justice Mohammed Garba in a judgment delivered on September 15, 2023, held that the petition was unmeritorious and that Tinubu was duly elected. Once again the leadership of Nigeria dashed the hopes of the masses despite the evidence presented.
It would be unfair not to highlight some suggestions for better leadership for this country in this essay, so I would use this part to address that. For most of this essay, I have highlighted the role and impact of the leadership on Nigeria, but It should be noted that I am not by any means saying we citizens do not have a hand in it or we do not have a role to play. I encourage citizens to vote based on competence on all levels, not just the general elections. Participating in the local government and senatorial elections would go a long way to help get good leaders in power. The use of violence against groups or people with different political views should be discouraged.
The Electoral bodies should also create structures that will restore the faith of the citizens in the electoral process.