I disagree with my literary master and mentor, Professor Chinua Achebe, on his well-known view that the trouble with Nigeria is leadership. Some other people have argued strongly that the fundamental problem of Nigeria is corruption. Is any of these two the fundamental problem with Nigeria?
Let us ask a few questions to test these assertions. If leadership were the root cause of the nationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s problems, why do those who have succeeded in other countries or in their private endeavours or in their immediate communities and socio-religious organizations fail when they become leaders? If corruption were the fundamental culprit, why do acclaimed men and women of integrity from different spheres and backgrounds fail or exhibit mediocre performance in high office?
This shows that the problem of Nigeria goes deeper than leadership or corruption. The problem with Nigeria is lack of nationalism or lack of full belief and commitment to Nigeria. Poor leadership and corruption are some of the symptoms of that deep problem. A person who does not have a burning passion for Nigeria cannot exhibit exemplary leadership. In the same vein, such a person is prone to corruption, because he/she does not believe in the survival of the nation in the long run. One cannot steal what belongs to oneself.
Most Nigerians see themselves first as Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Ijaw, Tiv, Ibibio, etc, before Nigerians. Most Nigerians can die for their ethnic groups or even their towns and villages, but they cannot die for Nigeria. Someone would ask, Ã¢â‚¬Å“but several people fought and died between 1967 and 1970 to ensure a united Nigeria?Ã¢â‚¬Â The question that needs to be asked in response is: Ã¢â‚¬Å“If the economic wellbeing of Nigeria was not threatened by the secession plot of former Eastern Nigeria (Biafra), would most of those who fought to keep it united have bothered?Ã¢â‚¬Â Another question is: Ã¢â‚¬Å“If such a secessionist plan were to erupt today, would most other parts of Nigeria bother to stop the secessionists?Ã¢â‚¬Â
It is regularly repeated to our shame that it is only Nigerian football team is playing against another nation that Nigerians are united as one. That is when Nigerians bury their ethnic, religious, political and social differences and become one. That is when nobody bothers about the ethnic or religious background of the scorer of the winning goal or that of the best player, as long as Nigeria is victorious.
When the recent revolution that caused leadership change in Tunisia and Egypt occurred, there were arguments whether such a united, persistent, organized mass action can succeed in Nigeria. The fact is that in the nearly 51 years of Nigeria as an independent state, such has never happened, and so there is no precedent to stand upon.
But some questions may suffice in answering this question. If a Northerner were the President at a time Nigerians planned a mass protest to oust him, would most Northerners join in the protest? In the same vein, if a Southerner were on the saddle, would most Southerners join in such a protest? Precedents, again, do not support an answer in the affirmative. The only condition that would make most Nigerians support the removal of their Ã¢â‚¬Å“brotherÃ¢â‚¬Â from power is if he would be replaced by another of their brothers. If such a condition does not exist and is not guaranteed, most people from the same ethnic group with the leader in question would cry that their Ã¢â‚¬Å“brotherÃ¢â‚¬Â is being oppressed or vilified because of his ethnic background. (Please note that I use the words Ã¢â‚¬Å“northÃ¢â‚¬Â and Ã¢â‚¬Å“southÃ¢â‚¬Â loosely here. Many of NigeriaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s issues are seen from the ethnic prism rather than the broad north-and-south divide.)
From NigeriaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pre-Independence days till today, Nigerians have never united on any national issue. From the fight for Independence to the last presidential election this 2011, every national issue has been tainted with ethno-religious hue. If the South wants a sovereign national conference, the North does not want it. If the North wants the quota system in national employment and the military, etc, the South says no to it. If the South wants resource control, the North cries foul on it. If the North wants Islamic Banking, the South raises hell against it. In every aspect of our national life, ethno-religious consideration rules and pulls us away from growth and development.