Nigeria: Culture, values, democratic governance and development

The darkest part of the night is the period before the dawn. Despite the cloud of despondency, evil and hopelessness, a new Nigeria is rising in the horizon.

By Prof. Anya O. Anya

“…Problems cannot be solved at the current level of awareness that created them…”

“…A nation is not governed that is perpetually to be conquered…”

– Advertisement –

I.             PREAMBLE

In your letter inviting me to present this lecture this year you had asked me to examine Nigeria as a country at war with itself, to identify the problems and provide the solutions through a blueprint for the future. This we must all agree is a herculean task. In essence, we are being requested to develop a hand book for nation building. I have therefore taken the liberty to reorganize the subject of our discussion as NIGERIA: CULTURE, VALUES, DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE AND DEVELOPMENT. All these are elements essential to the building and nurture of a mature, viable and progressive democratic society which is really the hope and vision of Nigerians.

Let me at this point pause to congratulate my lord, the Presiding Bishop on yet another birthday. Let me also thank him for the honour he has done to me in inviting me to present the annual lecture for the third time. I presume in this hallowed ecclesiastical circles that the first time was to honour the Father, the second time for the Son and this third time can only be in honour of the Holy Spirit. May you join me to pray for discernment and inspiration.

II.            THE CURRENT STATE OF NIGERIA

The problems of Nigeria are multi-dimensional. It is a plural society: multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural. It is therefore not surprising that the country is beset by a multitude of problems including

– Advertisement –

•             The mismanagement of diversity

•             The mismanagement of our security

•             The inability to define national values

•             The inability to understand competitive advantage as an enabler to enhance the pursuit of merit and excellence

It is therefore not surprising that there is a deficit in many areas of our national life including human interaction:

•             Lack of trust between citizens and peoples;

•             Lack of respect for one another

•             Lack of common purpose

•             lack of ownership of desirable national initiatives

•             lack of capacity to pursue safety in order to overcome threats and danger

All these conduce to the emergence of a society where there is incipient break down of law and order and violence is the regular means of social exchange. No wonder we have insurrection in the North East, banditry in the North West, the menace of the Fulani Herdsmen in the North Central and much of the South where kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery, and the phenomenon of unknown gunmen ravaged much of the land including the capital territory Abuja. In the meantime given the atmosphere of social alienation, the rule of fear and total helplessness amongst the citizens, the government continues to wring its hands as if bereft of any capacity to guarantee the safety and security of the citizenry. We are in the midst of an undeclared war where the enemy is ill-defined and where the consciousness for a war time environment is lacking. So where do we go from this dark valley of normless near chaos?

III.           NIGERIA: CULTURE, DIVERSITY AND DEVELOPMENT

In the 2015 Eni Njoku Lecture at the University of Nigeria, I had drawn attention to the impact of the global environment on the twin problems of national development and national integration as seen in many countries around the world even in the period of colonialism. In the process, we have to appreciate the centrality of culture especially its role in moderating and/or modifying the clarity of our understanding of the concept of comparative and competitive advantage and the circumstances that may give rise to low or high productivity given applicable strategies that may impact on national development and integration in diverse societies. Of particular interest is the role of biology in clarifying the manner in which this scientific discipline can influence the cultural milieu in the modern world especially regarding the role of behavior in shaping the culture of a people. The insights derived from these biological studies can help us in understanding and exploiting the relevant strategies to aid both the development and integration in the society. Before we proceed however we need a snapshot of Nigeria from the entry of colonial officials into the affairs of Nigeria.

Nigeria as we know it today came into being in 1900 when the British authorities brought together what they had before then called the Northern and Southern Protectorates of Nigeria. Despite this novel arrangement both protectorates were administered as separate entities. It was only in 1914 that a conscious and deliberate effort to administer the two territories under a unified administration a process which came to be known as the amalgamation. The impetus for the amalgamation was fiscal: the administration of the Southern Protectorate was always in credit while that of the Northern Protectorate was usually in deficit. For example in 1910 exports from the Southern Protectorate amounted to 4.3 million pounds while that of the North barely rose above two hundred pounds. Pooling the revenue from North and South guaranteed the National government operated in credit. This political act served the interests of the British tax payer. It was not to serve the interest of the local population. Hence, a conglomeration of different societies at different stages of cultural, political and economic development were lumped together as an administrative entity. Consequently, over three hundred entities with over four hundred languages were brought together as one “country”. Some of these could have survived as autonomous nation-states, others were barely at the cultural level of the hunter gatherer or as pastoralists, if we may borrow the terminology of the anthropologists. Thus, in political terms we had the full range of putative political structures – from ancient kingdoms, republican city states, feudal enclaves and incipient empires. The challenge was how to weld a unified nation-state sharing common values and a common vision of their future. Against the background of the different cultures and differing political systems it was an arduous task. The key to the solution lies in the inter-linkages between culture and economic development. Additionally, there is the fact that cultural systems can engender innovative political strategies. Consequently “economic progress depends on changing the way people think about wealth creation and prosperity. For example, changing the underlying attitudes, beliefs and mental models built on deeply ingrained assumptions and generalizations. Such mental phenomena may include pictures and images which can influence how we understand or view the world in order to take action or not and what action we take. Constructing mental models can apply to individuals or groups of individuals. The models are identifiable and changeable for they have in them the seeds of cultural change. What is more culture is anchored on the aggregation of individual mental images which may influence the type of mental images and models that individuals have” We must remember though that while culture is a broader macro-level variable (the society), the mental models operate at the micro-level (the individual)

Hence, Nigeria is a plural society with diverse cultures, diverse political backgrounds, differing economic potentials and multi-religious backgrounds. How to develop a common platform of shared vision and code of values must be the challenge before our political strategists, economic planners and social scientists. Pursuant to the overarching goals, the insight provided by science and technology particularly the evidence-based offerings of both the biological and social sciences can be vital for our understanding. Thus science and technology can provide the framework for national integration through exploiting the insights of both the biological and the social sciences.

IV.          HUMAN BEHAVIOUR AND THE BIOLOGICAL FOUNDATION OF CULTURE

We may begin our search for understanding of culture as the fundamental basis for human progress in development and integration of societies. It was the distinguished professor of Harvard University Daniel Patrick Moynihan who summarized the relationship and the process of interlinkage of culture, development and integration in his famous observation that “the central conservative truth is that it is culture not politics that determines the success (or progress) of a society and the central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself…”

As I had observed in the Eni Njoku lecture in 2015 at the University of Nigeria “we need to examine animal (including human) behaviour as the foundation of culture and the interactive framework for human development and progress. Studies of humans and their primate cousins the chimpanzees have demonstrated that both share the rudiments of cultural knowledge and cultural variability including the presence of inter-generational learning process as the basis for cultural transmission and the rudiments of cultural change. Indeed, chimpanzees have the capacity to manifest the seven basic mechanisms utilized by humans for inter-generational transmission and innovation as cultural tools”

When language emerged as the instrument of communication we find the tendency to use arbitrary symbols to teach technological skills. Language became a useful tool for the teacher (usually the mother) to tell the learner what to do without explaining the process. When cultural innovation on the personal level has taken place, the signal is shared and transmitted to others through the technique of playful experimentation and independent practice thus creating the possibility of cultural change at the group level. Observation and imitation are powerful tools to spread novel and innovative behaviour. The innovative use of tools is copied by the juvenile human and the learning period coincides predominantly during the juvenile period thus ensuring cultural continuity and cultural change.

Hence independent practice and teen-age teachers often utilize discovery learning and innovation. Which is why innovation tends to occur more often in the younger generation… hence cognition, teaching, technology and skills development go hand in hand…since the process of socialization is tailored to prepare the younger generation for the future, the process should change when the conditions that confront the younger generation changes from the conditions under which their parents grew. The aim always should be to teach the younger that which has the greatest potential for adaptation. It should also be emphasized that the phylogenetic evolution of learning and teaching mechanisms can create the biological foundation and potential for cultural change.

V.            DEVELOPMENT, UNDER DEVELOPMENT AND THE SEARCH FOR GLOBAL CONCENSUS

At the turn of the last century, the industrial revolution which started in Britain had taken root in most of Western Europe and had crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the United States. The experience of these nations led to the division of the world through the concept of developed, developing and underdeveloped nations. This gave rise to the notion that in pursuit of human progress (modernization) as illustrated by these nations three inter-linked themes were dominant in the successful nations, namely,

•             economic development

•             socio-economic equity

•             political democracy

This led to a frenetic search for the strategies needed to lift nations from their underdevelopment. Many new ideas and experiments were pursued in the search for prosperity and progress especially in the immediate post-colonial period. Hence in the first half of the last century, many of these ideas and theories flourished:

             central planning

             import substitution

             factor accumulation through education etc.

Under the influence of the elite, constituted by the intellectuals and government leaders, the search included land reform, community development, planning with focus on eradicating poverty, applying appropriate decentralization and now sustainable development. It soon dawned on the promoters of these ideas that the way people behave in a society has much to do with the signals that are created in the economic system. What is more a system of incentives, rewards and punishment conducive to the promotion of good behaviour in the economy must be in place. When Max Weber promoted the protestant ethic as the driver of western capitalism and science, it became obvious that the emergence of a new man who pursued a new ethic of “hard work, diligence, patience, discipline and a sense of obligation to fulfill our commitments clearly makes us more productive economically. Thriftiness fosters savings which enhances our productivity by making capital investment possible. Education likewise increases our individual capabilities as well as our stock of public knowledge. Such behaviour brings benefits that accrue directly to those who conduct themselves in that way, and we value them partly on that ground. Society values such behaviour as morally worthwhile. “When Japan, and other nations in S.E. Asia, without resources embraced this new ethic of discipline, thrift and hardwork, it was hailed as the Confucian ethic.

Fifty years ago it was assumed that the prosperity of a nation depended on the possession of natural resources such as land, minerals or a pool of cheap labour that conferred on them a comparative advantage. When Japan, South Korea and Singapore prospered without these assets it became clear that the story went beyond the presence of these resources. The new insight as promoted by Michael Porter was that nations prospered on the basis of their Competitive Advantage which is anchored on higher levels of productivity based on knowledge, skills, investments, new insights and innovation. In other words science and technology was critical in driving wealth creation. The idea of a Competitive Advantage was so novel that it clearly constituted a paradigm shift. This is the precursor of the current notion of knowledge societies.

READ ALSO: We can no longer say with certainty that we have a nation – Prof Anya

2023 elections and the future of Nigeria’s democracy: My take

Elections have consequences

Nigeria at the crossroads: The challenge of post-2023

Implicit in the acceptance of the Competitive Advantage model is the acceptance of the productivity paradigm anchored on two basic beliefs

•             it is higher productivity that drives an economy towards greater prosperity;

•             With increasing productivity the potential for increasing wealth is limitless since it is based on ideas, skills and new insights.

The acceptance of the productivity paradigm immediately imposes a new value system anchored on innovation, competition, accountability and education.

VI.          THE CRUX OF THE MATTER: THE PROBLEM

We have implied earlier that culture was central to our understanding the problems that assail us in our development and our failing search for integration. We are confronted by multi-faceted crisis which are inter-twined, complex and often difficult to disentangle. There is

•             the security crisis

•             the economic crisis

•             the social crisis

•             the leadership crisis

These are inter related in the sense that unless you stabilize the security situation, you cannot tackle the economic crisis; without a handle to the economic crisis, you cannot deal with the social crisis. Your capacity to deal with these crises depends on the leadership question. Farmers cannot go to farm because of violent herdsmen, youth are unemployed as a result of the shrinking economy. What is more the available leadership lacks the capacity to deal with these problems. What is more, the inter-relationship between the problems hobbles your ability to deal with them sequentially. The situation is often in a flux and in a changing and dynamic state. So where do we begin? The nature of the problems cannot respond to the application of linearity: problems in the digital age often respond to unknown algorithms. Such capacity to deal with our problems are limited by the number and quality of our professional class and our education system, which has been denied the minimum level of resources needed to lay the foundations of a knowledge economy.

Let us take the security situation first. Since the emergence of the Boko Haram insurrection our security has progressively lost control of vast swathes of Nigerian territory. For the past seven years we have heard the hollow sounding assurance from government spokesmen that they have been “technically degraded” yet the activities of these non-state actors continue to grow with new entrants to the melee such as ISWAP, armed Fulani herdsmen, bandits, unknown gunmen and the Niger Delta militants. To thicken the brew we have separatist movements for Biafra, Oduduwa and Arewa. The provision for the unusual asymmetric warfare remains underfunded, under manned and ill-equipped. It is time to face the fact the we have a war on our hands. For a beginning we need to recall the retired military who in any case can be regarded as the reservists in our military system. The situation is definitely beyond the level of police action. Additionally, our military needs to be retrained to upscale their capacity for asymmetric warfare. It goes without saying then that this is an opportunity for massive recruitment into our police forces. We need to stop behaving like the ostrich which in the midst of danger buries its neck and head in the sand – unseeing and unaware of approaching danger.

Next to the deteriorated security, the mismanagement of the economy is a major threat to our sovereignty. We are about to drown in our debts which at the last count from the National Bureau of Statistics and the Debt Management Office is chasing after N50 trillion. We are at a stage where it is said that all our earnings in each month are no longer enough to service our debts. Unemployment is chasing the forty percentage mark even as inflation rate is slowly inching upwards towards the twenty percent mark. The exchange rate has come from around 400 naira to the dollar to 700 naira to the dollar in less than two months. It was less than 200 naira to the dollar when this administration took over in 2015. We now need trillions of naira to pay the so-called petroleum subsidy. If this were a private company we would have called in the receivers because the case for bankruptcy is strong. Over the last seven years our GDP has hovered between 2, 3 or at most 4 percent per annum.

Experience over the last fifty years has shown that it is possible for economies to grow on the fast track and double their GDP within a decade as Singapore, China, South Korea and Taiwan have been able to do especially in the last thirty years. This is why Singapore has the highest GDP per capita in the world, higher than the United States the largest economy globally. This is why the founding father of Singapore Lew Kwan Yew could boast of taking Singapore from the third world to the first world within a generation. The story of Dubai where our political leaders flock to at the flimsiest of opportunities is even more outstanding. So the question is why can we not imitate them? Can it be that we have a chronic case of low ambition?

Let us start from the beginning. The economists suggest that for an economy to transit to the fast track of development, it must grow at a minimum of 7.5 percent over a decade. This is because at this rate of growth each economy will double its GDP in each decade. There is no adjustment for population growth yet. If the population was growing then adjustment must be made in the rate of growth to maintain the momentum for doubling the GDP within a decade. Nigeria’s population is growing at nearly 4% per annum. This means that if we are to double our GDP within the decade, then our economy should be primed to grow at a minimum of 11 percent. To aim for this level of growth suggests that our economic planners must aim for the double digit if we are seriously expecting a breakthrough. None of the nations mentioned above, achieved the breakthrough with less than double digit growth. In any case, in 1964 the economy of each of these countries was less than Nigeria’s. The economy of Eastern Nigeria in the same 1964 was said to have been growing at the fastest rate globally! What happened that we got stuck to the point where we are now the poverty capital of the world?

With regard to the wealth of the society, it would seem that we passed the point of no return in the level of social decay, disharmony and dis-equilibrium some time ago. When active and expanding insurrection, banditry, militancy along with their associated violence co-exists with unmentionable evil as shown in deviant sexual practices, financial malpractices as typified by the yahoo yahoo boys and the humongous sums that public officers including governors and high officials of state are accused of embezzling. It is a clear sign that the society has lost its moral bearings. Does it make sense that the Accountant-General of the federation is accused of fraud of over eighty billion naira? What for and for what purpose in one lifetime? That such an accusation can even be conceived is the measure of our moral degeneracy. What of the drug problem? General Marwa’s exertions and lamentations over the grip of this dangerous malady amongst our youth sign-posts the level of depravity that exists amongst the vanguard of our future leaders, the youth. The evidence that we have lost our moral compass and our moral conscience as a nation is made evident by the drama before our eyes at the recent congress of the two leading political parties when the newspapers were awash with the frightening news that the votes of the delegates were purchased with as much as thirty thousand dollars per delegate. At the current rate of one dollar to seven hundred naira, each vote was purchased for twenty one million naira. Does it make sense? There was no outrage because we regarded the situation as business as usual. Do we need any other evidence to believe that as a society we have gone raving mad. These candidates are expected to lead the new moral Nigeria that the youths are clamouring for! With drug peddling within the political class, do we wonder where the youth picked up their drug peddling and drug consuming habits from? In the light of the evidence of total depravity of the Nigerian society, is there any other hope for deliverance except the God of creation visits us with serial miracles flowing from His throne of grace?

VII.         DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE, ECONOMIC GROWTH AND THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE

Implicit in our discussion so far is the notion that democratic governance is linked to economic growth. It is to be noted that democracy increases human capital accumulation even as it lowers income inequalities and it increases economic growth. Indeed, as noted earlier, wealth is actually created by the productivity with which a nation can utilize its human capital and natural resources to produce goods and services. However, it is also clear that there are multiple paths to prosperity as individual countries succeed when they build on their unique strengths instead of emulating the economic choices of others. Experience also suggests that democratic practice can be untidy as it has proved in Nigeria. For example it can slow down physical capital accumulation as it can also raise government consumption through corruption thus lowering further economic growth. What is more the practice of democracy it has been suggested can be contentious even chaotic. Indeed it is not every aspect of the untidy process of self-government that is conducive to economic expansion. The view has been canvassed that while the absence of democratic freedom impedes economic growth the resulting stagnation in turn makes a society even more intolerant and undemocratic. Indeed, the value of a rising standard of living for the citizens does not lie just in the concrete improvement it brings to how individuals live but also in how it shapes the social, political and ultimately the moral character of the people. It has also been observed that democracy prevents the worse outcomes even as it does not guarantee the best outcomes. In summary, democracy will not thrive without the spread of a democratic culture which encapsulates the values and principles that guide the behaviour of individuals and groups.

It seems evident then that the most urgent challenge facing Nigeria today is how to prepare and create a new environment of truth and righteousness which can choose, incubate and empower a new generation of leaders as the builders of the New Nigeria. In the pursuit of this noble and national objective, the experience of other nations can be helpful. In this regard the American experience comes to mind and would seem relevant and appropriate. The founding Fathers of the United States were ten: John Adams, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, James Maddison, John Marshall, George Mason and finally George Washington who was to become the first president of the United States through elections.

Between them, they achieved three notable purposes for their nation, namely

•             the successful achievement of independence;

•             implanting the liberal ideas celebrated in the declaration of independence;

•             implanting the republican form of government

Together, they constituted a political elite that believed in God and the choice of each of them were on merit rather than genealogy. The foundation they laid for the new nation was anchored on a set of beliefs and convictions (what Thomas Jefferson came to christen as the self-evident truths) made manifest in the following core beliefs, namely

             to become an American citizen does not depend on blood-lines but endorsing a set of beliefs and convictions such as all men were created equal which was established at the foundation of the nation;

             the American system of Jurisprudence links all land-mark constitutional decisions to the language of the constitution itself and the original intention of the framers (the founders)

Consequently the American political tradition which rests on conviction and self-sacrifice was founded on a pluralistic conception of governance which was facilitated by the pluralistic character of the founding generation.

VIII.        THE LEADERSHIP QUESTION

There has emerged a near unanimous concensus that Nigeria’s most fundamental problem is the leadership crisis. In the Emeka Anyaoku lecture which I had given on 10 September 2015 in Port Harcourt in which I had presciently titled NIGERIA: The Continuing Search for Leadership three months after the swearing in of General Muhammadu Buhari as the President of the Federal Republic and who had run on the catchphrase mantra of CHANGE. I had observed in that lecture as follows:

“There is no question that when the unexpected happens there is the opportunity for a new beginning. Such was the expectation of many Nigerians on the emergence of General Buhari. Three months on the chair of governance in 2015 two strands (of opinion) have emerged – besides his unrepentant cheer leaders- those who have voiced disappointment on the apparent slow pace of government business and those who have voiced apparent horror on the apparent sectional tilt of his appointments. Of those who raise eye brows on the slow pace many have been disappointed that for a man who ran for the office on a record four times he should have come to office better prepared and to hit the ground running. Some have counselled patience. At the last count, out of thirty two appointments including the strategic appointments of Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the Chief of Staff to the President of the Republic, twenty six have been Northern (and Moslem). Almost unthinkable in a plural society some would say. Some have seen this as a loud trumpet proclaiming and reinforcing the view that the disposition of GMB cannot work with all Nigerians except those from his geographical enclave. Some have made the excuse that it is too early in the day to judge while some have counselled that this is just the beginning of the bazaar of appointments since the President of Nigeria has a patronage bag of over five thousand offices to fill. Few have been impressed with the post hoc alibis. It has been for some beyond belief that a man who had for the better part of his political career, some would say unfairly carried the political tag of a religious bigot or fanatic as well as that of an unrepentant and unapologetic Northern irredentist to be so insensitive to the potential signals from his first appointments in a plural society smells of a hidden agenda. Others have counselled caution. Whatever may be the case GMB must now face the challenge that any leader must face when perception collides with reality. It is a hard call but it is not impossible to change if the strategy for amelioration is built on the chemistry of truth, justice and equity” I had ended the lecture on the same note. I had sounded at the Eni Njoku lecture at the University of Lagos three weeks earlier. I had said then that “the options for Mr. President are clear and historical. His failure to build the Nigeria of the dream of Nigerian youth could generate a historical cataclysm of unthinkable proportions. He deserves better” Welcome Endsars, welcome the various youth driven movements that have sign posted 2022 as it transits to 2023!

So I welcome all Nigerians to the Nigeria of 2022/2023 flowing from the signals and portents I had warned about in September 2015. So professors can also interchange their role with that of prophets! Now where do we go from here? It seems evident that we have exhausted our viable options in the last twenty years. It seems clear too that we do not have the political leaders who have the quality to lead the new and envisioned Nigeria that is our only option to the future of the dreams of our youth and indeed of our capacity as a nation. This is underlined by the fact that the values espoused through their actions by the present crop of leaders whether of the APC or of the PDP are unacceptable. The system is corrupted from the grass-roots to the apex of the leadership as demonstrated by events and the outcome from the party congress of both parties. The delegates from the grass-roots are alleged to have paid local party leaders to earn the privilege to be delegates to the various party congresses. So right from the grass-roots it was transactional investment. When they were offered thirty thousand dollars for their vote at the congress the return on their investment was repaid a thousand fold. The equivalent of 21 million naira which they “earned” in one political trip is more than many of them will access in a lifetime! So it is not possible to reform a system that is so rotten and derelict from top to bottom. All this presages the total collapse of the society’s value system. If the value system has collapsed how do you rebuild the system as a viable structure to withstand the evil that will confront our culture and will continue to undermine our values?

In a more recent lecture I had suggested that “we need to establish the normative values that drive social change in each of the major component entities in each of the geopolitical zones in the country as has been done for the Igbo nation…there are seven normative values which drive social and cultural change in the Igbo society. Equivalent normative values can be identified for other major nationalities in Nigeria – Yoruba, Hausa, Edo, Tiv, Igala, Ibibio etc. when all these are pooled together a hierarchy of Pan-Nigerian normative values will emerge. The most fundamental and basic of these values can be propagated through the educational system. As an example the seven normative values in Igbo cosmology are the following:

•             IKENGA – which defines and directs the inner strength driven by the personal chi and personal ambition;

•             AKO N’UCHE – the reservoir of inner wisdom beyond wealth and physical endowments;

•             ONYE AGHALA NWANNE YA – embodies the communal spirit within the context of transformative collegial leadership;

•             NJEPU – harnesses the truism that travels beyond the local environment enhances experience that enlightens the persona with wisdom to drive the common good;

•             NTOZU – embodies maturity that comes with the highest level of self-actualisation and drives leadership founded on truth and wisdom eschewing avarice and the fear of man;

•             EZI-OKWU BU NDU – encapsulates the belief that untruth in the mouth of a titled chief (an elder, nze n’ozo) is an abomination; and finally

•             IGWE BU IKE – unity is strength thus supporting the communal ethos and collective will of the community.

These normative values encoded in Igbo cosmology that drive wealth creation and social change are similar to the protestant ethic as identified by Max Weber as the drivers of capitalism industry and science in Western Europe as indicated earlier.

IX.           THE CAPSTONE AND DYNAMICS OF LEADERSHIP

Leadership operates usually within a context. The operational context of a particular leadership level determines the operational guidelines and values that are emblematic of the particular leadership cadre. As it has been said, “the intricacies of managing the diverse interests of a multi-cultural nation-state such as Nigeria requires a lot of skills, tact and open-mindedness. If the nation-state should move forward Nigerians must deliberately decide to reject the promotion of self over group, group over community, community over ethnicity and religion and ethnicity and religion over national interest. We must willingly suppress the urge to promote our personal interest and choose instead to put forward our best foot forward to promote our collective national interest…”

Three problems emerge from this context. First the national interest must encompass a common and acceptable national purpose. Secondly, the decision makers in relation to what can constitute a genuine example of a common purpose must share a common code of values. This code of values promotes a common and acceptable vision of a desirable future. The system through which the decision makers emerged usually applies a strict set of criteria based on merit and excellence. Thus a level playing field in which the code of values are deployed across the board. Usually the criteria that shape the selection process include the following seven attributes of the leader: integrity (Character), competence, conviction, courage, charisma, commitment and compassion. Needless to emphasize such a leader commands the trust and loyalty of the followers. It can be said that the crying need of Nigeria is clearly to find those who can build a new Nigeria on a new foundation. The emergence of a responsible and Nigeria-wide college of elders and leaders who promote and project unity amongst a crop of nation builders driven by knowledge and wisdom symbolized by an unflagging commitment to the pursuit of merit and excellence is urgent

X.            THE DILEMMA AND THE PARADOX

Most thinking Nigerians are confronted by the paradox that a country so richly endowed with natural and human resources should evince such hopelessness as shown in our current rating as the poverty capital of the world. Additionally we are confronted by the dilemma that we cannot explain how we landed at this particular station. Yet our citizens continue to excel in the wider world outside our shores. We all gladly mouth the cliché it is the leadership, stupid. The question still hangs in the air – how did we arrive at this point where it would seem that the best of us are “ruled” by the worst of us? Does it make sense?

Recently, a globally acclaimed Nigerian Scientist Professor Oyewale Tomori broke down in tears as he was describing the current state of Nigeria in a public lecture as this one. It was the logical reaction of a thinking and feeling human being. His audience, made up of privileged Nigerians in high positions did not react as if anything was amiss. It occupied some space in the social media mainly of the gossip variety and we continued with business as usual. It should have generated a national debate as well as a demand for accountability. It is a clear sign that our society has lost all sense of both empathy and compassion. How can anyone in a position of authority feel no shame or remorse for the state of our nation. Yet those who in saner societies will take responsibility for the parlous state of our social condition are busy cavorting round Nigeria and the glamorous cities of Paris, London and New York to seek our votes to continue their pillage and conscienceless looting of our common wealth. With a bold face they tell us it is their turn. Thank God they have not yet said it is their right. When a society facing democratic elections in a social emergency such as faces us presently and no candidate has addressed Nigerians on how we got to this hole and they have not provided their accountability for the suffering of the people over the last twenty years and more. Obviously something is gravely wrong. It was the late Albert Einstein who advised that you cannot expect those who created a problem to have the capacity to solve the problem! That is the central dilemma that faces us as a people presently.

XI.           IMMEDIATE TASKS

We had made the case earlier that we are in the midst of a national emergency of the gravest danger. We are in a state of war! The first task we must deal with is the state of our security. We need to recall and mobilise all the retired military and paramilitary personnel in our country. There are amongst them a reservoir of experience, expertise and patriotism that we can ignore only at our peril. Secondly we need to create an environment for enduring social and political harmony. The easiest path to that end is the immediate implementation of those aspects of the 2014 National Conference that have constitutional and long term policy impact.

We must not forget that some of the wisest statesmen amongst our elders such as Yakassai, Adebanjo and Edwin Clark were members of that conference. A fifteen member committee consisting of two delegates per each geopolitical zone in addition to the Deputy Chairman and Secretary of that conference can sift through the report and assemble those actions that can be effected immediately. Such a report can be presented to the Council of State whose endorsement can prepare the way for its proclamation as Presidential Order for immediate implementation. Subsequently the order can be presented to the National Assembly preparatory to the relevant aspects being presented to the Nigerian people in a referendum. We must now put a stop to the tendency to ignore and let past reports to accumulate dust without action. We must stop the habit of always trying to rediscover the wheel which really is evidence of our national proclivity for procrastination.

Thirdly, we need to put in place going forward a strategic plan that aims to create a new environment for the selection, training and development of a leadership elite. Such a leadership elite must be qualitative, knowledgeable, creative, unbiased in its choice of members, open to progressive ideas and committed to nation-hood while espousing zero-tolerance to ethnic and religious bigotry and driven always by the demands of merit and excellence. Such an elite of service can constitute a small group of people within a larger group of leaders.

In China, Deng Xiaoping encouraged the emergence of such a leadership cadre selected from the best in each generation. They hold office or authority for a decade and then are succeeded by a new cohort. This was the idea behind the establishment of NIPSS until its bastardisation by compromised selection criteria and misplaced national goals and vision.

Let me end by reminding us all that the darkest part of the night is the period before the dawn. Despite the cloud of despondency, evil and hopelessness, a new Nigeria is rising in the horizon. It will be driven by a new crop of exceptional youth-gifted in their creative talents and committed to the pursuit of merit and excellence within the framework of a new national code of values of truth, justice, equity and righteousness. Yes, the future is pregnant. I am done. God bless Nigeria and all the people of Nigeria.’

  • Prof. Anya O. Anya, Ph.D. (Cambridge), D.Sc. (Hon), D.Litt. (Hon) FAS, OFR, NNOM, delivered this speech at the 2022 Bishop Mike Okonkwo Annual Lecture on Thursday, September 8, 2022 at the Shell Hall, MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos.

Comments are closed.