Perhaps because of the ease with which power usually enters these strange, sometimes unwilling hands, Nigeria is today the story of a nation without a soul. Leadership is celebrated not as a responsibility, but almost as liberation from responsibility. Fifty years on, our national story is at best that of the prodigal son, but without the happy ending of a magnanimous father to whom to return.
If Nigeria as one corporate entity is important to you, 50 years may be significant because some people say we must celebrate staying one and not rupturing into several entities. But that is actually a disingenuous argument; we have not stayed one. We fractured into two almost 50 years ago. We are two nations with an uncommon border. One Nigeria went into a life of licentiousness; the other did not get a life. One was sold; the other pocketed the 30 pieces of silver. One has prospered, and the other has regressed. There is the pre-eminent Nigeria of power and privilege; there is the Nigeria of poverty and hopelessness. There is the Nigeria that loots for a living; the other is looted and laughed at.
There is the Nigeria that has electricity, and the one that must observe from the dark. There is the Nigeria that must die on our terrible roads, and the Nigeria that simply flies over those roads. One Nigeria gets its shopping done abroad—along with medical care and good schools for its children; the other shops in endless traffic, dies in local hospitals and hopes school will open long enough so its children can graduate into unemployment. One Nigeria lives in fear; the other can afford layers of policemen and private thugs. One Nigeria has property in towns, villages and cities in Nigeria and abroad; the other Nigeria has nowhere to live.
This is the setting for the celebration of our 50th anniversary. It is not a pretty one, but the greed and corruption that has redefined Nigeria’s values also mean that the political elite feel neither irony nor shame.
But we must press ahead. Fifty years ago, we got lost on our way from our independence event, but recriminations will only eat into the next 50.
How do we return to the road that leads to peace and harmony? That future cries out for a man or woman who is courageous enough to define a wholesome, people-oriented Nigeria, and fight even his wife for it. Such a Nigerian would be one who is neither afraid to identify our biggest problem—corruption—nor squeamish about the kind of artillery required to prosecute it.
To arrest corruption in Nigeria has to be the nation’s principal agenda. As many Nigerians rightly argue, there is no possibility of successfully implementing public policy in this country unless corruption and the impunity which fuels it are brought under control. No manifesto is honest or realistic unless it addresses corruption first.
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Unless our power-seekers can address corruption courageously, honestly and aggressively, our 50th anniversary only commences the squandering of the next 50. Between those who ask for power and those who vote for them, we may cover everything in clever language, but in 50 years—if there is no true war on corruption declared now—the children we welcome today will be at the bottom of the human development ladder. They may, in fact, have no country.
In order to win the next 50 years, we need a leader who is sincere with Nigerian and with himself—and a citizenry ready to fight for its country. We need a committed, passionate leader, one that can speak the truth from his heart, not lie from written speeches. For our children, if not for us, we need leaders and citizens who are prepared to risk it all for Nigeria, not their narrow interests and insatiable stomachs.
We need a leader who understands that the only thing that holds Nigeria back is the greed, corruption and manipulation of its political elite; a leader who would seek a new beginning from his own examples rather than his preachments.
We need a leader who will confess his good fortune, in terms of the opportunities of education and service this country has given to him, and commit to serving its people through the honour of his heart and the selflessness of his effort.
We need leaders who can say “No!” to the same tired old compromises that have led us here: No to political party machinations, No to easy appropriation of public funds, No to projects that were never completed, No to one more Nigerian dying on our highway, No to one more talented Nigerian going to waste or going abroad.
We need leaders who will say “Yes!” to the power of example: Yes to declaring their assets even when the law does not demand it; Yes to personal financial and disclosures; Yes to every idea or measure that promotes transparency in government; Yes to nurturing Nigerian institutions and prospects; Yes to nurturing Brand Nigeria.
We need leaders who can see beyond our local politics and processes, and focus on changing Nigeria not in 20 or 30 years, but in three or four or five. We need people who would inspire our land with their strength, their doggedness and their optimism. We need people who admit of no obstacle to the greatness of a motivated Nigeria. We have the men and the women. We have the land and the water. We have the friends and their friends. In the end, we can be whomever we want to be: the wretched of the earth or the eagle in the sky.
But our so-called leaders must write off the last 50 years as a genuine but not a repeatable error, and—beginning from self—commence the arduous task of rewriting our story. In my view, there is really little choice left in this matter: those 50th anniversary car bombs in Abuja were no fireworks celebrating our first 50; they are a symbolic and eloquent introduction of our next.