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The Trouble With Nigerians

By Zayd Ibn Isah Iconic writer, Chinua Achebe, in his book, “The Trouble with Nigeria”, famously stated, “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely…

By Zayd Ibn Isah

Iconic writer, Chinua Achebe, in his book, “The Trouble with Nigeria”, famously stated, “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land, climate, water, air, or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility and embrace the challenge of setting a personal example, which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”

Unsurprisingly, this statement by Achebe has come to be frequently cited by political commentators who often examine the nation’s problems. While I agree with the late sage’s assertion that a failure of leadership lies at the heart of the challenges facing the nation, it’s also evident that there are issues with the mindset, actions, and behaviors of the average Nigerian when it comes to matters of public interest. The purpose of this article is not to exonerate those in positions of power in the country by painting everyone with the same brush. Certainly, there are good leaders, just as there are good followers in Nigeria. It’s crucial to acknowledge that while we may criticize our leaders for forsaking the aspirations of the people in pursuit of filthy lucre, we mustn’t forget that they were once like their followers. They, too, criticized those who governed them before finding themselves in their shoes, only to sometimes surpass their predecessors in the very behaviors they once decried.

You will agree with me that in today’s Nigeria, it seems almost an abomination to live within your means, even as a public or private worker. You will be considered a failure if after thirty-five years of meritorious service to your country, you do not flaunt wealth brazenly or possess luxurious mansions and exotic automobiles scattered all over the country.

The prevalence of living beyond one’s means in Nigeria became apparent to me through a story a friend shared with me not too long ago. This particular tale involved a senior uniformed personnel who, after twenty years of service, had little to show for it. In contrast, his nephew, who secured the same job with only a basic education certificate through his influence, already owned a mighty edifice in the village and drove expensive cars after just three years on the job. At a point, the former personnel’s family had even suggested he should return home to farm since the job was clearly not favoring him. I laughed very hard that I almost hit my head on the wall that day. However, amidst my laughter, I paused to reflect on how we’ve reached a point where amassing ill-gotten wealth has become the rule rather than exception. Just like the average Nigerian, the family members didn’t even care how and where the latter officer got his money from. All they knew was that their boy was doing well. And of course, one would instantly be labeled an “enemy of progress” if they were to dare question their boy’s source of income.

Recently, I came across an interview in Punch Newspaper featuring 32-year old Yusuf Suleiman from Kano State, who made a sterling discovery that the Kano State Government was still paying his late father’s salary. He promptly returned the money to the state’s treasury. This decision drew mixed reactions from the public; some labeled him “a blockhead and a finished man”, while others commended him for his honesty.

The average Nigerian often exhibits a sense of entitlement and sees nothing wrong in living beyond their means. There is a prevailing belief that the country’s wealth belongs to everyone and no one in particular. Consequently, when individuals attain positions of authority, they frequently prioritize their own interests. Those who resist the prevailing norm of “chop make I chop” may incur the wrath of their colleagues and even family members. I once read a story about a Nigerian professor who won an election to represent his constituency in the Senate. After four years of diligent service to his people, his wife and children were dissatisfied that he wasn’t as rich as his colleagues. It is stories like this that make me chuckle and wonder whenever I hear Nigerians saying, “We are highly religious people.” While I agree that we are indeed religious, but there seems to be an abundance of “religiosity” in Nigeria with a scarcity of genuine spirituality.

That said, it’s essential for us to engage in introspection. While we collectively agree with Achebe that the core issue plaguing Nigeria is undoubtedly a failure of leadership, we must not forget that these leaders we criticize for their inability to improve the country’s fortunes emerged from within our own society. As such, it’s time for some self-reflection. Greed and a lack of patriotism are deeply embedded in our problems. It’s often remarked that Americans think about what they can do for America, not what America can do for them. However, when you share this sentiment with the average Nigerian, the response might be, “What has this country even done for me?” But what is the essence of singing the national anthem and the national pledge if we can’t live up to their letter and spirit?

All in all, there is a popular adage that the ruin of a nation begins from the homes of its people. Parents have a significant role to play in reshaping the future of this country. They should live by example, and our children must be taught that it’s not okay to take what does not belong to them. Late Dora Akunyili once said that she learned how to live within her means and not take what did not belong to her from her parents, and that’s why she was able to make meaningful changes regardless of the circumstances. Speaking about Professor Dora Akunyili, I would like to conclude this article by sharing her thoughts during an interview session with journalists for us to reflect upon in our quest for a better Nigeria.

“Today as we speak, our citizenship as Nigerians, we cannot take it to the bank. We want to bequeath to our children, a Nigeria citizenship that they can take to the bank. Otherwise, God will not forgive us. And when we talk about inefficiency in education sector, political sector, governance and all, everything boils down to corruption. And corruption is not about giving or taking money. Corruption is not about giving or taking money. Corruption is about not doing the right thing. And why are we corrupt? Because of lack of understanding, because we do not understand that we don’t need too much, our wants may be too many, but our needs are very little. And I don’t even envy corrupt people; they destroy themselves, their children and generations unborn. And when we look at the way we behave to ourselves and to this country, Nigeria, for which we have no other country that we can call our own, it’s all because of bad attitude, that attitude of the past and even the present, that we are saying through rebranding that we must change, if we don’t change, nothing will change…”

I believe every right-thinking citizen of this country can agree with all that Prof. Dora Akunyili said in that interview. Unless there is a shift in perceptions and attitudes from both the leaders and the led, our aspirations for a united, peaceful, and prosperous country will always remain a distant dream.

Zayd Ibn Isah can be reached via: [email protected]

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