Guest Lecture at the Maiden Daily Asset Annual Awards and Lecture 2017-Democratic Leadership: Imperative for peace, justice and Development in Nigeria.
Let me start the lecture by expressing how most honored I am at the privilege of standing among you, compatriots, to share with you some thoughts on democracy, leadership, peace, justice and development. I believe that my standing here today is not connected with the fact that my boss Aare Afe Babalola the founder and the Chancellor of Afe Babalola University is being honored here today that our university is the best university for 2017..
I am convinced the organizers of this awards ceremony invited me here because I am a Tiv man and a lover of pounded yam eaten with chicken or dried fish in beniseed stew! While growing up in Kasar a Tiv village in the 50s I stumbled on democracy while eating pounded yam. The pounded yam “Ruam Kumen” was of Tiv yams by the Tiv men and for the Tiv, just like democracy is a government of the people for the people by the people. The practice of pounded yam democracy was also instructive. Whether you were a stranger or a citizen of the village you had to sit a circular formation, side-ways, so as to accommodate others, while the pounded yam and stew were placed in the center of the circle, within every body arms length, as we squatted on the floor and ate according to the ability of our stomachs. We ate pounded yam without meat most times; but whenever meat was available, the head of the village or the oldest person, in the pounded yam circle, divided the meat in small pieces and handed a piece to each person, who clenched it in his left hand and consumed it with the last round of pounded yam.
Today I see the Federal government as the owners of the village where I grew the pounded yam as the national wealth and the consumers of the pounded yam as the citizens. Every body contributed to produce the yam that made the end product and it was shared out without discrimination and everybody was invited to eat as long as you were in the village at the time to eat and to farm. During the meal there was peace and everybody left the food arena fully satisfied that justice had been fully dispensed to their stomachs.
We live in very challenging times now in Nigeria, the most cardinal responsibility of state the safety of lives and property in Nigeria has never been at such a dire strait. The civil war ended 31years ago. Our national economy is slowly picking up after nose-diving into depression, yet there is a growing sense of despair and gloom and the exodus has begun of people who wish to leave a country which has squandered its wealth and left the citizens so poor without an infrastructure to guarantee the future for all Nigerians; especially the teeming youth. The restive and despondent youth that is without an education, electricity or potable water is angry, visibly angry. The petrol queues of the past have started looming over the horizon reminding us that the worst is still possible. Just last week, we received another blow. The same terrorist group that captured the Chibok girls has abducted our Dapci girls from Yobe State by Boko Haram, the same terrorists group we have told both citizens and the world that we have overcome. Are we condemned to reliving the horror of Chibok again?
It is at times like these, that we try to hold muted conversations about democracy and good leadership! We begin to wonder that, if we had to choose between democracy and good leadership which choice would give more freedom to pursue our aspirations and careers, train our children, and pay for the health and welfare of our families? We live in a country today where many Nigerian civil servants and retired public servants look back at the days of military dictatorship with nostalgia. They are being owed salaries and pensions. These are dangerous times. They portend no good if we don’t critically look at the choices we have made and are making. What is it that has failed to add up? Is it our type of democracy or the type of leaders we have? Or is it simply in our genes as Nigerians?
It is a remarkable thing today that almost half of the countries of the world can claim to be democratic. But one thing is certain, the concept of democracy as the rule of the people, has taken different countries different routes to arrive at. That is why the democracy of the UK differs in kind even thought it is similar to the U.S. the democracy of the soviet Union, Germany, China, Japan, South Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Ghana, Egypt, Estonia, Chile, Nigeria and South Africa all bear similarities but are also different in many aspects. There is today a competing paradox between, the dominant Western Liberal capitalist democracies and the Chinese and Russian democratic models.
Most African countries can be considered as emerging democracies after their experiences of long years of totalitarian rules by the military and single party states or as the case of South Africa the apartheid regime. Apartheid ensured the rule of the minority over the majority. These emerging democracies in Africa are struggling with the meaning of democracy especially in attempting to be democratic through western liberal democratic ideals and coping with the cries of local cultures and attitudes as well as historical circumstances that are so different from the Western ideal. But democracy is a universal yearning of humanity. All human beings want to be governed well by their leaders. They expect to participate in decisions about their lives. They prefer limiting the power of those that govern them and being accepted by others and accepting other people who are different from them. This is the yearning and desire in all human hearts that makes democracy universally appealing. Nigerian democracy today is in chaos. Corruption, ethnic nationalism, religious extremism, poverty and ignorance have taken a heavy toll on our democracy. It does not seem to be working well unless we can inject in it is an innovative leadership.
The United States and Great Britain from where Nigeria copied our democracy did not get it all on a platter of gold. They suffered, sweated, and toiled to arrive at what appears to be their major export to the world today. The western empires were all built on injustice against their own people, they thrived on corruption and theft, slavery, colonization and exploitation of others, and bloody wars.
For hundreds of years, Europe’s path to democracy was covered in blood. It was shaped by violent and revolutionary conflicts, which were a fall out of the Protestant Reformation where many died in the name of both political and religious ideologies. What about the English civil war, or the American and French Revolution? These were all violent bloody conflicts that paid the prize for western democracy. The Treaty of Westphalia ended thirty years of religious wars in Europe and established the recognition of the nation states and highlighted the importance of international law for dealing with disputes between nations. The first Geneva Convention was established in 1864, the World Court in 1908, the league of Nations in 1919, the founding of the United Nations in 1945 and the Declaration of the Universal Declaration of Human rights in 1948.
This declaration was the first time the idea of democracy became a universally accepted for member countries of the United Nations. The Universal declaration spelt out rights of the human being that are God given and cannot be negotiated away under any circumstances. We all have right to life, liberty and security; we all have the freedom to think whatever we want and to believe in whatever we want and to pray to, whichever God we worship. We are free to hold opinions and to express them, to assemble anywhere peacefully and associate with others. We have rights as human beings to take part in government, directly or through a chosen representative. 1948 was the year the world universally accepted democracy, since then different countries have chosen different paths to nurture democracy. Globally too, there is progress and yearning for security and peace and the chances to fulfill our ambitious as human beings.
The democracy which we are trying to achieve is the ability to choose our government and our leaders in a free and fair elections conducted through a universal adult suffrage of one person one vote. But this aspect of democracy has been largely abused in many parts of the world. In Africa Burundi, the DRC, Uganda and Zimbabwe have democracies that oscillate between openness and authoritarianism. Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Chad and Rwanda have so rigidified authoritarianism that elections are merely empty rituals. Among the developing countries India has shown remarkable resilience in the smooth changes of government worthy of emulation. The recent change of power in South Africa was also done in a civilized democratic nature. The African sense of compassion and respect for the discredited elderly Jacob Zuma did not reach to humiliation; just like we saw in Zimbabwe a few months ago when the old Robert Mugabe was escorted with great civility out of the office of the presidency where he had outlived his welcome!
Nigeria’s democracy is presently not working, as it should. The people for whom the government owes happiness are crying. Their freedom and wellbeing has been in decline steadily. Apart from the 2015 election, which demonstrated Nigeria’s democratic credentials, very little has been done to justify Nigeria’s readiness to develop and sustain the democratic institutions in building Nigeria’s democracy. Moreover little nation building is going on and I am afraid of what the future portends if we don’t wake up The main threats to our democracy are as follows -:
1. No strong national identity
Let me borrow an aphorism on corruption from President Buhari and say that if Nigeria does not do away with tribalism, tribalism will do away with Nigeria. Ethnic nationalism has reared its ugly head in Nigeria at the time we should be building national cohesion. We lack tolerance for others. “My tribe is better than your tribe “mentality has outshone our desire to project the nation. Tribalism has colored our political discourse and undermined all our institutions. As long as we continue with a low radius of identification with our ethnic identities first before our nation we cannot be fair to others. Nepotism is derived from this. And we must acknowledge that nepotism is unfair, inefficient and disruptive. We need to build a strong nation where diversity is acknowledged and accepted.
2. No autonomous political institutions.
Nigeria has failed to establish political parties that are independent of moneybags and control of political office holders. This reliance on the government and the few rich people to fund the parties and candidates has robbed the nation of credible candidates and aided corruption and malfeasance among the politicians who see the party and politics as merely a route to instant riches! During election period governments open the treasuries for politics and corruption becomes acceptable! The people have not appropriated the parties; but worse than this is the fact that the people do not understand what any of the parties stands for. Candidates change parties like soiled undergarments!
3. No constitutional stability
The Nigerian Constitution has been a source of pain to many citizens and many call for amendments of the constitutions and clamor for amendments of the constitution to accommodate their needs. Some people have unkindly called the 1999 constitution a military constitution even though the people who wrote it were civilians. Amending the constitution would guarantee formal protections and reflect the bargains between various political communities in Nigeria.
4. No strong state institutions.
There is a flaw in the Nigerian power configuration. The presidency is too strong and the centre over bearing and over reaching. The separation of powers in Nigeria is not pronounced. Democracies stabilize when there are strong institutions that operate and are out of the control of the executive. We can see examples of this in the US but also in South Africa where the Judiciary and criminal justice system is out of the control of the presidency. In Nigeria, the state security institutions like the police are overly partisan. Even the army has eroded legitimacy since the only agenda they pursue is that of their Commander in Chief. The duty of heads of institutions is to stand out and hold against unpopular head of states and pursue their constitutional duties on behalf of the citizens. In the case where tribalism or nepotism are the criteria for selection of these heads of these institutions then the nation has double jeopardy.
A police officer tells an elected governor in Nigeria that he is a drowning man, and as long as he believes that his superior officers are happy with this public statement, he gloats and smiles at his critics. This is bad for the institution and very bad for democracy because it leads to the loss of confidence in the criminal justice system and could lead to the resort to private militia and illegal armament. The country is under-policed and the time is now ripe for state and community police if we don’t allow chaos in our land.
5. No Rule of Law
It is unfortunate that a near state of anarchy is prevalent in the country today and human life is very cheap! People are murdered kidnapped and whole ethnic groups and others target communities for elimination. Hundreds of people are killed, thousands become refugees in their home country. All these are happening and we are okay with it. How can we build peace without justice? How many people have we held to account for instigating mass killings beyond arrest of a few people who soon gain their freedom due to a missing file. How many tons of innocent blood must Nigeria allow to flow before we can establish a rule of law?
6. No Education for many and wrong education for the most.
The use of technology has imminent danger for Nigeria’s democracy. With increased access to the Internet by the young population to hand held devices, the youth have ability to communicate to learn and connect with their other youth peer globally. They have learnt that their poor education has made them uncompetitive with their groups around the world. They see on the media a fantastic and magical world with merely a touch of a finger and they know instinctively that their dreams of a better life here are not realizable! Education is a fundamental human right and any government that allows Nigeria to become the world champion of the highest number unrolled children in primary school (13 million) is wicked! But even more wicked is a society that allows her girls to be kidnapped at will by terrorists. Such a society is destroying its future. Nigeria has not encouraged the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics that would have fast-tracked her entry into the knowledge-based economy that creates great wealth through intellectual property. But worse still the few universities we have in this country where science, engineering, medicine and technology is taught there is a very little research going on. The little basic research taking place in a large measure has no relevance to the problems of the immediate community. This failure to massively engage applied research and research and development and innovation is totally pre-modern, and can only reproduce a whole line of graduates that are unable to be useful to the country or even themselves.
We have induced instability in our democracy by under-developing and impoverishing our youth who have through the social media being armed with the voice to cause upheaval. The wind of social change in Nigeria is blowing and cannot be stopped and only good governance and democracy can harness this wind energy for growth or else the wind will develop into a tsunami and it is not easy to predict its horrific consequences.
7. No strong economy
We may be the strongest economy in Africa but the fact is considered mere government propaganda when the citizens do not feel that their lives are getting better. The truth is that the Nigerian economy has been mortgaged to foreign interests, spin doctors and economic hit-men, who have bamboozled our government over and over again with adversarial economics that protects rich people and bank profits and feeds the people grass and carrots while bludgeoning them with poverty. We refuse to accept that the economy of our country where it matters most should be entrusted to the advices of non-stakeholders in our polity who claim to represent the World Bank, the IMF, the World Trade Center and high sounding organizations that keep prompting our governments to continue to increase the pump price of petrol and to continue to make life unbearable for the citizens while the stock exchange creates imaginary profits that make a few people rich and impoverish the rest of us. Since the return of democracy Nigeria quickly and hastily embraced the neo- liberal path of the West without looking out for the people’s interest to get a befitting infrastructure, a befitting education and a befitting health care. We chose to make a few people so rich that they do not know what to do with the money. They gallivant the world knowing that without undue patronage of government they will also be struggling with survival. Of what use is a Nigerian who is the richest man on earth to Nigeria if his kith and kin, fellow Nigerians are living on less than a dollar a day?
8. No Historical memory.
Of all our crimes against democracy there is none that surpasses our willful collective amnesia about who we are, where we have come from and where we are going. We do not really understand that historically colonialism under-developed us. We are a country with a legacy of many Kingdoms, Empires, Emirates, a Caliphate and at-least, one republic (The Tiv Republic). British Interest was not to unite us and they did not amalgamate the people of the north and south. They came here and conquered us, a bestial murderous enterprise and then milked our resources and destroyed our cultures and falsified our history and made us dependent. The British only amalgamated the administration of the British South and Northern Protectorate in 1913, but succeeded in planting perpetual hatred and suspicion between the people of the South and the North. The British injured the North by denying them Western education. They instead instilled a bloated sense of importance to the northern oligarchs that they will continue to rule over the nation as long as they hold their people in stagnation. Nigeria does not know that the ten million Africans that were captured sold and taken to slavery at least seven million were Nigerians. They are our people and we owe them responsibility to admit culpability and stand with them in adversities they suffered. The greatest tribute we can make to these people is to provide leadership to Nigeria in a democratic setting and emerge a strong a world power, so that the racial slurs that assail them everyday where they live will not continue to leave them in mental shackles and torture.
Nigeria does not know that there is a certain resilience that comprises the DNA of the Nigerian, which has been forged in the Nigerian adversity. This resilience is evident in the blossoming of Nigerian genius all over the world. Nigerians remain the best species of humanity anywhere in the world when the soil is fertile; there is a level field for competition and when resilience is called to question. The task needed to make Nigeria one of the world’s greatest countries is to give Nigeria a leadership that is sensitive and tangible. The celebrated Chinua Achebe calls that new leader one who will rise to the “true calling of leadership.” What we need today are leaders who are selfless, well informed, humble, hard working, courageous and visionary men and women who will collect and restore our historical memories and our pride! Nigerians are hated around the world. We need a leadership that will help restore our historical memories and our pride to see our unity in spatial and cultural dimensions. We baffle the world because they have failed to understand how we think and feel about our past. We behave as if we didn’t have a past until the white men came to give us identity.
We need a leadership that can unite us through the restoration of our lost self esteem through a same-image internally and to define us properly for the world to see Nigeria’s exceptionalism. We need a leader to motivate us to celebrate some of our greatest achievements in the arts like the Benin arts work, the Nok Terra Cotta, the Ife Bronze, the northern Durbars and celebrations the Tiv kwagh-hir theater and many other works of artistic genius. We have a great history of achievements in administration too. We do not need to be ashamed of our deep history, which encompasses several skeletons like the slave trade, the Biafra war and the continuous killing of the Tiv from Lord Lugard days to the present. We must acknowledge the injustice to our women folk. We have denied them rights to be regarded as persons and thus denied Nigeria a more robust and dynamic development. Until we re-asses our history and understand that we are engaged in trivia pursuits and are killing ourselves in petty disputes we will continue to be pre-modern. Because of historic disputes we have failed to appreciate the historic passions of others and thereby make reconciliation and peace impossible during crises period.
I commend the Nigerian army under Gen Buratai the Chief of Army Staff, for the refusal to engage in genocide against the Tiv like his predecessors. I commend the military attempt at soft power approach. However the soft power is totally out of context and the opposite effect of blaming victim is being achieved. This is why the Nigerian army cat is racing while the Tiv cat is dancing. Leadership is simply the ability to tap into our potential inherent to see opportunities where others see challenges and benefit in the opportunities. One of the world’s contemporary leadership trainers John Maxwell defines leadership simply as “influence-nothing more nothing less”. And there are over five hundred different definitions of leadership.
There is good and bad leadership and therefore when we are influenced by bad leaders they maybe leaders but their end result is a bad purpose. The people who lead young people to blow themselves up while they are in safe homes are toxic leaders. The same is also true of political leaders that encourage the looting of treasuries and chaos while their countries descend to chaos!
I must say that you cannot have a good democracy and a bad leadership that is sustainable. Democracy is designed to eliminate bad leadership. This is why there are term limits. If a democracy cannot get rid of a bad leader after his first term limit, the democracy itself has become toxic, malignant and dead! In its place, is rooted a civilian dictatorship and totalitarianism. In the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, “ we need leaders of inspired idealism, leaders to whom are granted a great vision, who dream greatly and strive to make their dreams come true; who can kindle the people from fire from their own burning souls.”
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
(1) We need more democracy
There is no short cut to democracy. It is a messy affair. The founders of Western Philosophy: namely Socrates, Plato and Aristotle preferred the rule of the virtuous to the rule of the people, the unruly majority who could be mobilized and swayed by the unscrupulous. There never has been a perfect democracy and there never will be. It is a process and not a destination and the democratic process gets better with use! This is why Nigeria’s young majors that killed the First republic did great evil. They denied us the experience that India had, to evolve into a mature democracy. We are still struggling in the wilderness. Democracy is still the best of the worst forms of government because there is no better form. We should have expected the first attempt to self-government in the first years to be messy and disruptive. We need to strengthen our democratic institutions that keep the delicate balance between the executive legislative and the judiciary. We need to keep the balance between Civilian and military leaders, between the Federal and the State individual and group rights and between the government and the people.
2. Constitutional Amendment.
We must amend our Constitution to make it more acceptable as the collective bargaining of all Nigerians..
3. Best Minds.
We must now bring the best minds to governance so that we can begin to forge national unity and aspire to global greatness and respect the key contributions of the Civil Society as dividends of a better society
4. Vestiges of oppression
Eliminate all vestiges of oppression and parasitic and unwarranted privilege. It is a sad thing that may Nigerians have traded in their freedom acquired as citizens when we became a republic to remain “subjects” of conquests by some clever rogues who are modern slave dealers. They have renounced their rights and even their lives. We need to liberate our women and help them stand at par side by side with the men to rapidly advance modernization and develop our country.
5. Education and Literacy
We must boldly employ education as a vehicle for rapid development, compulsory Adult and mass literacy is possible for 99% of our population so that never again shall ignorance prevent the people from sensible choices in governing or choosing who to govern in their places.
6. Remain one Country
We must resolve that we will remain a one indivisible great Nigeria. We will all lose if we break apart like the Balkans. If anything Nigeria should expand its influence and take over the administration of some our neighbors by helping their economies to grow, obliterate colonial boundaries and also in a win-win-situation help promote Pan-Africanisms and make Africa stronger, better and greater.
We must consciously appreciate and enhance the beauty of our diversity. Religion and ethnicity must be contested by kindness, love and respect.
8. The Followership
The Harvard Professor Barbara Kellerman has defined the world we live in as the age of the followers. She warns that “ Followers the world over are getting bolder and more strategic-which is why leaders who dismiss or discount them do so at their peril.” The last two presidents were swept into power by the new found power of the followers using the social media. One swept out of power by the same social movement. We the followers must guard our human rights and our rights to be heard. A month ago a friend of mine rushed to the Internet to accuse his brother of very serious breach of peace. His brother was meanwhile doing the opposite healing wounds and mending broken relationships. When they both realized what had happened my friend was too embarrassed to even apologize and his brother’s reputation damaged permanently on the net. We are more powerful than we think but we must regulate our fingers so that we can build a better society filled with love, patience and tolerance. We must not re-post on whatsapp, Twitter, Instagram or facebook any content that is incendiary for when the nation burns we would have destroyed what took lifetimes to plant nurture and grow.
9. Political class reforms
The entire political class needs a new organizational culture. The senseless unenlightened self-interest must give way to humility and modesty. Public servants are enjoying salaries that are hugely disproportionate to their positions and our present resources.
The culture of greed must be replaced by a culture of need. The need to flaunt ostentatious unearned wealth must give way to hard work, prudence, frugality and investment in the future! We are flaunting cars that shouldn’t be afforded on our poor roads and private jets that should occupy no Nigerian space. We are taunting the dispossessed and the oppressed.
We must all return to our Faiths and pray for a National Re-birth. The Nigeria we are in today is not yet the promised-land. And the messiahs we have been following are false prophets. God help Nigeria.
God bless Nigeria.
IYORWUESE HAGHER PRO-CHANCELLOR.
AFE BABALOLA UNIVERSITY