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"The trouble with Nigeria? The people encourage wrongdoings"
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"The trouble with Nigeria? The people encourage wrongdoings"

If a Nigerian governor substitutes merit for nepotism, it is partly because it is the only guarantee to enjoy retirement at the hands of friends, family and townsmen, writes Nnadozie Onyekuru, 23, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Maiduguri.

“There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leader to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership” – Chinua Achebe, The Trouble with Nigeria.

On a bus ride in Abuja last year, stupefaction swept across most of my fellow passengers. We had just passed a dramatic scene: policemen acting on a new city order banning the use of tinted glasses by vehicles had stopped and pulled out a rich offender.

The ostentatious fellow buried in a bolt of disbelief reached for his mobile phone and started making a call to, I guess, a higher authority. Anger swelled in our bus. There were voices.

“Why should they stop him? Weren’t they sure that he was a big man?”

“Is it easy to be a big man in Nigeria?”

My first impulse was to argue, but even that impulse had become weak. I was on my way to watch a presidential debate, worn out from the mockery friends had made of my destination. Even the newspapers were washing away the effects of the debate. It would just be another talk show, the most significant candidates wouldn’t be there and yet they would carry the most votes because what would matter in the elections would not be the issues, but the loyalties and the money.

People like to ask, ‘What is wrong with Nigeria?’ and many of those who are more qualified than I am to x-ray the anatomy of my country would readily hand over that famous quote in Mr. Achebe’s disquisition.

I remember stumbling on a Commonwealth conference lead paper by Nigeria’s social issues cleric, Matthew Hassan Kukah at the University of Melbourne where he argued convincingly that the problems of social unrest and religious violence in countries like Nigeria were most likely to be rested when the instruments of state had been effectively used to provide social justice and opportunities for citizens.

It is about eight years since that advice was given and little has changed in my country largely because, since the intervention of the military in Nigeria’s politics, governance has been about anything but ideas. But the irony of Nigeria’s leadership problem is that it is largely a followership problem.

The trouble with Nigeria as I have said before is not that her leaders ran away from the politics of ideas. The trouble with Nigeria is not that they have not returned to it. The trouble with Nigeria is that her leaders might never return to the politics of ideas because many of her followers want it that way. If the president’s catering budget is large, it is partly because the market women would refuse to sell tomatoes to the president’s chef at the ordinary man’s price.

If the civil servant inflates his estacode, it is partly because at the airport, officials ask him, ‘Anything for the boys?’ If a governor substitutes merit for nepotism during state employment, it is partly because that is the only guarantee to enjoy his retirement at the hands of friends, family and townsmen.

Nigerians like to curse their leaders in the fuel queues and in the newspaper stands, yet they inadvertently encourage their wrongdoings and on almost every occasion of personal example, they themselves fall short of the standards they have set for their leaders.

I believe that this is my nation’s original sin and when we cleanse ourselves of it, we can start hoping for a better day.

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About me:

“I am a Nigerian student. I love books. I am young and restless with firm dreams that are only tempered by Christianity. I dream of a world where people, inspired by their common humanity, engage in a global wheel of ideas and do not use history as a tool for blame game but as a lesson for the future. In my spare time, I write stories, speeches and participate in activities that advance the respect of human dignity.”

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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