By Attahiru M. Jega, OFR
As kids growing up in elementary and secondary schools, our parents and teachers often asked us “what do you want to become in life?” In our impressionistic minds, we tended to answer: “Doctor!” “Lawyer!”, “Engineer!”, “Pilot!” Etc. The more daring ones said: “Governor”!, “President!” “Head of State!”. Those are dreams, and aspirations enthusiastically announced. [Hardly though does anyone venture to say: “Teacher!” or “Lecturer!”]
In our impressionistic minds, we never realised that dreams do not always come true. They are hardly ever realised. In most cases, they become pipedreams: castles in the air, cloud-cuckoo-land!
Unrealisable! For, turning dreams into reality is not an easy task. It requires hard work, focus, resilience, discipline; giving-it-all, and some luck!
Even more significantly, our impressionistic minds never realised that the actualisation of our aspirations and dreams, as kids or adults, are to a very large extent conditional on the extent to which, our leaders, especially in the political and governance spheres, work hard, selflessly and with foresight, to build the nation of our dreams.
What would or should the Nigeria of our dreams be? A strong, humane, democratic, rich and strong country, which allows, and is facilitative of, each citizen to pursue his/her potential unencumbered, in the context of equality of opportunity. A country in which the state discharges its role and obligations maximally to the benefit of the citizens, especially in terms of satisfying their basic needs, such that it earns their full respect and makes them to in turn discharge their obligations to it.
The increasing failure of leadership in Nigeria to harness and deploy public resources to create wealth, and to satisfy the basic needs and aspirations of citizens, is the ultimate destroyer of the potential for actualisation of individual and collective dreams.
Nigerian citizens, like citizens in most countries, aspire for great things, individually and collectively. In particular, they have aspired for a democratic Fourth Republic, in contrast to past military dictatorships, as the framework for expanded horizon for actualising dreams and aspirations.
In the past 22 years of the Fourth Republic, i.e. since 1999, political leadership and governance, with a view to satisfying dreams, needs, and aspirations of the people, have left much to be desired. Indeed, these have become progressively worse; as virtually all indices used to measure human security and dignity, socioeconomic development good governance, and democratic development in a country clearly show. The crop of ‘leaders’ who access political power and control governance processes, mostly control public resources, vandalize these for self-serving objectives, in the process also fight each other over primitive accumulation, negatively mobilizing ethnic and religious sentiments, and literally tearing the country apart.
Embarrassingly and regrettably, contemporarily, the role of so-called political leaders (elected and appointed) occupying the machinery of the state, at all tiers of governance in the Nigerian federation, are busily institutionalizing bad governance, rather than good democratic governance, which is more amenable to the actualization of popu lar dreams, and the satisfaction of the needs and aspirations of the Nigerian citizens.
What is to be done? As a matter of priority, starting with the current electoral circle, and the coming 2023 general elections, we need to pay remarkable attention to addressing the faulty political leadership recruitment processes, in order to bring more competent leaders into governance in Nigeria. The current crop of political leaders, who could appropriately also be termed as ‘dream-destroyers’ need to be replaced with much more responsible and responsive, selfless and visionary leaders, who can better harness, mobilize and utilize public resources, and more concretely explore Nigeria’s vast potential human and material resources, to reposition Nigeria on the trajectory of good democratic governance and development, and restore hope in the dreams and aspirations of Nigerian citizens.
Education and our Recurring Brain Drain
It is often said, justifiably, that no nation progresses and develops without paying adequate attention to the education of its citizens. Indeed, those nations who have developed or are developing appreciably have made huge investment in education and the development of their human capital. In spite of the commendable efforts made, especially in the three decades immediately following
independence (1960 – 1980), Nigeria has progressively disinvested in education. Using the international standard measures/indicators of a country’s priority to education, namely expenditure per pupil/student as well as, percentage of GDP and budgetary allocation to education, has ranked lowly, almost at rock-bottom, compared to other countries. The end result is there for all to see: relatively low enrolment from primary schools to tertiary institutions; inadequate, dilapidated, under-resourced and ill-equipped educational institutions, with poorly motivated staff and students; and unwholesome educational policies, which have allowed rapid expansion of tertiary institutions, especially universities, without careful planning and with ineffective regulatory frameworks for quality assurance.
One of the major consequences/ indicators of Nigeria’s neglect of education, is the recurring phenomenon of brain drain. This is a negative trend, in which some of the most highly trained human capital, especially among senior academic cadres, notably PhD holders and Professors, massively desert the institutions for other job opportunities, mostly abroad. Even in the best of times, Nigerian universities never had 75% of required qualified staff. Presently, largely on account of brain drain, unplanned expansion and slow ineffective training opportunities for replacement, Nigerian universities are said to have barely 60% of required qualified staff with PhDs.
Ordinarily, globally, universities are “universal communities of scholars”, facilitating and nurturing cross-fertilization of ideas, for creative-thinking, theory building, as well as innovations and inventions. The well-trained and active researcher-scholars, are perpetually in high demand and therefore globally mobile. Hence, serious universities make heavy investments to both attract and retain staff. In this regard, mobility is to be expected. Universities traditionally even have Sabbatical leaves, Fellowships and Residency to encourage this mobility so as to attract and retain staff.
Academic staff cross-border mobility becomes a problem for a country, only when such essential staff can neither be attracted nor retained in the universities. Rather, conditions are such that they are being ‘pushed’ out of the system, and they are susceptible to being ‘pulled’ away by those who value their services.
In Nigeria, from the mid-1980s, with the introduction of Structural Adjustment Programme, universities’ capacity to attract foreign academic staff rapidly declined, and with the deterioration of condition of service as well as the onset of poor working environment, qualified staff began what can be termed as the first wave of a massive exodus to where their expertise and services were needed, mostly abroad.
Presently, Nigeria is also experiencing what can be termed as the second wave of massive brain drain. The conditions of service and of work in the universities, perhaps more so than in any other sectors, have regressed from bad to worse, academic staff are now literally facing an existential crisis, and responding with a nasty strike of over seven months and counting, which has essentially immobilised if not demobilised learning, knowledge production and manpower production in the country.
The situation in Nigeria presently is such that brain-drain is no longer a phenomenon afflicting only the universities. Due to deteriorating conditions in virtually all sectors in the country as a whole, brain drain now affects trained and qualified professionals, most especially doctors, nurses and others in the health sector.
What is to be done? We need selfless, visionary responsible and responsive leaders occupying the governance processes, investing wisely and massively in education, in particular resuscitation and reinvigorating our tertiary institutions, and in the massive training of qualified human capital for our country’s democratic and socioeconomic development.
Leadership Selection Process: The Flaws and Proposals for
The nature of leadership selection at all levels of governance in our country, is central to our current predicament; and getting it right is key to addressing the challenges of bad governance and obstructed development processes, which bedevil our country. In general, we have, evidently been recruiting and appointing / ‘electing’ inappropriate leaders; who are quite often round pegs in square holes, thereby undermining, rather than strengthening, our governance, democratic and development processes.
The criteria in vogue currently for leadership selection, among virtually all political parties, which are the special purpose vehicles for fielding candidates for elections into public offices at all levels of the governance process in our country, involves money, primordial identities and sentiments, and patron-client relationships, dominated and influenced by so-called moneybags and political ‘god-fathers’. Nowadays, state governors and ministers who control and privatize the public treasury have become the most influential moneybags and god-fathers rolled into one. In this conceptualized criteria, competence, capacity, integrity, experience and mass appeal, are hardy, if ever, considered. Most often, nomination forms, winning primary election, and getting candidate nomination forwarded to INEC go to the highest bidders. In this criteria, virtually all substantive democratic principles and ethical conduct are jettisoned, and the legal framework is brazenly disregarded. In essence, what happens is basically crude anointing and installation, rather than credible selection, recruitment and election of candidates. The end result, of course, is ‘elected’ leaders in the legislative and executive governance organs of the state, who do not seem to know or appreciate their obligations to the electorate, as citizens, and therefore do not care about good governance in which elected officials are required to be responsible and responsive to the needs and aspirations of the electorate/citizens.
It can be said that, in general, every citizen needs to be concerned about the development of his/her country. Whether their country develops or not, whether they leave in peace or in pieces, and whether their needs and aspirations are satisfied or not, may to a large extent depend on the type of leaders they have; in other words, it depends on how the leaders unite or divide citizens, how they inspire or demoralize and demobilize citizens; and how they harness and utilize national assets and resources to develop the country or how they destroy the country’s potential by reckless pursuit of self-serving objectives. If leaders lack vision, are narrow minded and short-sighted, or are quarrelsome and self-serving, they would only constrain, if not block the country’s development; they won’t be able to unite and inspire citizens; they would rather divide citizens along ethno-religious or other primordial identities; they would waste, wreck, vandalize, privatize or steal national assets and resources; and they would certainly be unable to address the fundamental needs and aspirations of citizens, with regards to human security, peace and stability.
Nigerian citizens belong to the category of unfortunate citizens of the world in whose country leadership, though in the context of a civil democratic dispensation, leaves much to be desired, in terms of a sustainable vision for our country’s development, selflessness in elective public leadership positions, competence and capacity to lead a country in the 21st century, and in terms of having an enlightened self-interest to galvanize and forge elite consensus on how to reposition, stabilize and develop the country on a sustainable basis.
There is an African saying that: “a wise cat that cares about tomorrow does not eat a pregnant mouse”! In Nigeria, our already very fat cats strive to eat all the mice without discrimination or regard for tomorrow! This is a very senseless act that cares neither for the human dignity of the citizens nor for the survival and sustainability of the country.
What all these suggest, is that Nigeria has had a profound crisis of leadership, which is crying for urgent resolution. And key to addressing this crisis, is improving upon the leadership recruitment processes and getting leadership selection / election right. And this needs to be done, at the latest, by the 2023 general elections.
It seems to me that the opportunity that representative democracy provides through the electoral processes, for the careful selection / election by citizens of those who would truly represent and take care of their collective interests and aspirations, is either not properly understood by our politicians and citizens as voters, or are wilfully ignored, or worse, deliberately undermined. With of course the terrible result that the electoral processes mostly spew up and recycle people in elected public offices who either bought, or fraudulently and often violently stole, the votes which put them into ‘elected’ public leadership positions. They invariably achieve this, because the special purpose vehicle for getting into elections, namely the political parties, are captured by so-called ‘money bags’, ‘godfathers’ and powerful patrons, and they operate undemocratically to install clients and otherwise very unprepared and untrustworthy people into elective positions, which require thorough preparation, competence and trustworthiness.
In view of this, we need to enlighten, awaken and mobilize our citizens as voters, to understand the value of using the electoral process for the protection, defence and advancement of their human dignity, and then put it to good use, to elect into public governance and leadership positions tested and trusted people, known good people, who have requisite honesty, integrity, competence and selflessness and vision for actualization of collective aspirations for progress and development. In this regard, we need to mobilize all citizens who are qualified to register to vote, to know how to vote, to turn out on election day to cast their votes without wasting their ballot, to vote wisely for people of good character who would represent / lead them well, and be accountable to them, through good, democratic governance processes.
Similarly, we need to enlighten and mobilize Nigerian citizens to massively register membership with political parties of their choices, and to not merely register but even more significantly to become very active members within their parties, at all levels, from the ward to the national. Only such active and informed membership and its participation could, even if gradually, help to democratize and open up our political parties, and free them from being enclaves of reckless, desperate, undemocratic and self-serving politicians, using an unwholesome criteria for leadership selection.
All citizens have roles to play, to bring about responsible and responsive leadership through an electoral process that has integrity, and that would help nurture and institutionalize good democratic governance. We, the elites in particular, must all endeavour to take this responsibility with the seriousness it deserves, and contribute to the integrity of our country’s elections and governance systems, institutions and processes. There should be no “Siddon-look” while bad people are having a field day in politics and messing it up, and messing us all up! Politics is not inherently bad; it is only as bad as we all allow it to be! Or as long as we allow bad people to populate and dominate it! When we allow bad people to populate politics, it becomes bad, very bad!!
Therefore, religious leaders, community leaders, civil society organizations and community-based associations, all enlightened, patriotic and well-meaning Nigerians, need to engage positively with the current political and electoral processes, contribute to improving the leadership recruitment process and help nurture a better future for our country in terms of democratic governance and socio- economic development (see Jega 2022 a-c).
Finally, no doubt, one can say that good leadership recruitment has been the missing anchor in our national development; we must look for it and find it, as soon as possible, before 2023 elections, before it is too late, before the reckless disposition of the band of bad people who dominate and control our political and governance processes run the country totally aground, beyond redemption or salvation. It is not too late now to do so; we must pick up the gauntlet, as we are truly running out of time. We must contribute to the development of a criteria to be used to mobilize citizens for good leadership recruitment for the 2023 general elections and beyond. This is a task that must be done.
I fully agree with Jibrin Ibrahim, that: We must develop an overwhelming consensus that political leadership cannot remain the only job for which no qualification appears necessary except to have a lot of money, usually, stolen money. It is clear that for as long as the current pattern of leadership recruitment continues, our troubles will continue. It is for this reason that we must find a way to bring relevant criteria to bear on the selection of leadership. We have got to find a way of making character, competence and capacity to determine who leads (March 25, 2022, Daily Trust, back page).
To my mind, this should be made the main item on the agenda of all patriotic citizens ad organized civil society and community – based groups for active participation in the political and electoral processes of our country leading to the 2023 general elections. If, or when, we have good people in leadership positions in governance, the resolution of many of our national challenges, such as brain drain, insecurity, poverty, ethnic and religious tensions, distorted federal arrangement, and chronic economic crisis, would become much easier.
Both good institutions and good leaders are necessary for a country’s stability, economic growth and democratic development. Good leaders, though, help to nurture good institutions, while bad leaders
destroy institutions and undermine the growth and development potentials of a nation. In countries, such as Nigeria, which has been fumbling and muddling through its democratic development, and increasingly entrenching bad governance, it is necessary to focus attention to having and deploying a wholesome criteria for leadership selection and recruitment. Having this would ensure that Nigeria is repositioned towards good governance, through which to decisively address and resolve all the current challenges being faced, from brain drain, to the more serious existential issues, such as restructuring, poverty reduction, and insecurity occasioned by the activities of irredentists, terrorists and other criminal enterprises. The 2023 general election and the processes leading to it, are welcome opportunities, which must be seized upon and appropriately utilized.
Presentation at a Colloquium on “Building the Nigeria of our Dreams”, Organized by the King’s College Old Boys’, Lagos