Going by the wisdom of the sage, great leaders are characterised by their ability to create positive impacts on the lives of the people they lead. They achieve this feat by placing heavy emphasis on the understanding that the economy would look after itself if democracy is protected; human rights adequately taken care of and the rule of law strictly adhered to.
In effect, their nation’s affairs are centrally planned over a period of time with their actions outlined for both normal and contingency conditions. By contrast, for Nigeria, like other nations with not-too-impressive leadership, in addition to non-possession of these attributes, they mistake coexistence with harmony.
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As background to this piece, each time one listens to the stories of how successful leaders made their nations great and juxtapose such accounts with what we currently face as a nation, one may easily get visited with despondency/dropping spirit.
The reason(s) that fuels such reaction is not far fetched
For over two decades of uninterrupted democracy in the country, different administrations manifested glaring unconsciousness that it requires prolonged efforts to administer a country well. Nigerians on their part successively failed to access the traditional but universal responsibility of questioning those in authority, a role which participatory democracy and election conferred on them.
Comparatively, leaders under this arrangement redefine democracy in the image of their actions, while Nigerians in their excruciating poverty and starvation mourn the effects of such policies- economic backwardness, underdevelopment, unchecked population explosion, unemployment, and poor planning and implementation.
There are countless examples of how government daily disconnects from the people, but perhaps, understandably the first one that comes to mind is their inability to recognise that public order, personal and national security, economic and social programmes and prosperity is not the natural order of things but depends on the ceaseless efforts and attention from an honest and effective government that the people elect, there is an important decision to make.
This piece is targeted at providing answers to; why our leaders act the way they do? Discover whether we will continue to live as a nation under the rule of law as embodied in our constitution? Or fail future generations by leaving for them laws far diminished than the ones we inherited?
Without wasting words, prominent among the reasons fuelling leader’s behaviour in this regard is our system’s non-emphasis on priority to human rights approach to governance that entails the infusion of principles of participation, non-discrimination towards the attainment of equity and justice. The absence of such a kind of thinking laid the foundation of what the nation is witnessing today.
Supporting the above claim is the position clarified by the United Nations Independent Expert on the Right to Development. It explicitly argued that the right to development/governance is the right to a particular process of development that allows the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights and all fundamental freedoms, by expanding the capability and choices of individuals.
In my view, another single but surprising element fueling the practice is the barefaced illusion by leaders that they are more nationalistic or patriotic than other citizens. Forgetting that globally, individuals, groups and communities have a right in decision making, planning and implementation of programs that affect them and the government has a duty to enable people affected by its policies and programmes participate in ways capable of transforming their social, political and economic conditions rather than merely using them as instruments to legitimize predetermined goals and priorities.
There is also an entirely separate set of factors relating to the reasons propelling the leader’s behaviour, and it is not rooted this time in impact on the system or the constitution or the inability of Nigerians to question those in positions of authority. Rather, it is rooted in personal attributes and realities of the public office holders as captured in a recent report that leaders (the advantaged) behave the way they do because significantly they have more political influence than those at the bottom- which tends to undermine representational equality, a key feature of democracy.
Not only did the research report argue that for the advantaged (Haves) to remove the obstacles that the disadvantaged (have nots) face, they must first, recognise that these obstacles exist. It submitted that such recognition must entail the advantaged seeing the world from the disadvantaged perspective.
But considering the present reality that we are in a country where public office is considered as an opportunity for promoting private gains as against the public good, can our leaders ever see the disadvantaged(have nots) perspectives?
What about our electoral system that is roundly capital intensive? How has the ‘unique’ role played by money above and below promoted or strained the relationship between governors and the governed?
Substantially, the culture of money politics has turned ‘consent of the electorate’ into a commodity to be purchased by the highest bidder and as an effect renders public offices as responsibility-free. Having paid for the votes cast, leaders conclude that they owe the people no obligation.
Similarly, such a culture creates a common ‘value system’ that shapes and forms our political thinking, and often always establishes a link with and sets the stage for a corrupt government. Particularly as the ‘practice’ runs contrary to the global belief that; the ‘precondition for an honest government is that the candidate must not need large sums to get elected, or it must trigger off the circle of corruption. Having spent a lot of money to get elected, winners must recover their costs and possibly accumulate funds for the next election as the system is self-perpetuating’.
In the final analysis; whatever the true position may be, if the interest of harmony is to be vigilantly guarded, there are vital points that leaders of our nation must not fail to remember and they are in this order; when we serve, we rule; when we give, we have; and when we surrender totally to selfless service, we become victors.
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos