Mfonobong Inyang: Bad Governance – Are We The Cause?
“The presidency doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are. And the same thing is true of a presidential campaign. So, if a candidate is erratic and threatening, if a candidate traffics in prejudices, fears and lies on the trail, if the candidate has no clear plans of achieving their goals, if they disrespect their fellow citizens, including folks who make extraordinary sacrifices for our country – let me tell you, that is who they are. That is the kind of president they will be, trust me. A candidate is not gonna suddenly change once they get into office. Just the opposite, in fact, because the minute an individual takes that oath, they are under the hottest, harshest light there is. And there is no way to hide who they really are. And at that point it’s too late.” – Michelle Obama
For the seventh time since 1999, we will be heading to the polls to elect a president. Ordinarily, more attention should be paid to the gubernatorial, legislative and municipal races but the notoriety of the presidential race in itself is a testament to the non-centrifugal nature of the Nigerian state where power has inordinately been concentrated at the federal government to the detriment of state and local governments. For most of the past 24 years, we have experienced a warped governance model where there is revenue without development, religion without reformation, roads without transportation, schools without education, farmlands without food and wealth without enterprise.
Any goat that died in a yam barn was definitely not killed by hunger; why is Nigeria seemingly a failed state in the midst of abundant natural and intellectual resources? We have effectively become a country of contradictions: we’re blessed with crude oil yet queue endlessly for hours to get PMS, we claim to be a federal state but practice a unitary system because almost everything rises and falls on Abuja, we have the biggest African economy whilst also the poverty capital of the world, we have one of the youngest populations in the world with an average age of 18 but the political leadership is riddled with gerontocracy. The list is endless. The 2023 Election is by far the most consequential one of our lifetimes, so it’s not that election where you outsource your thinking to influencers, celebrities or ‘intellectuals’.
As citizens, we must take our own share of the blame for these outcomes owing to our collective hypocrisy during elections. Our theology isn’t congruent with our ideology; we pray in one direction but act in another direction. We sow oranges but somehow expect to reap apples. Imagine voting for a Herod-esque leader with well-documented murderous proclivities only to turn around and act surprised when he eventually orders a pogrom against defenceless little babies. Madness is doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting different results. Whilst the forthcoming election is rightly adjudged as a referendum on the political class, our values and identity as a people are also on trial.
If you study the feudalist playbook, you will understand why prebendalism is a powerful signature of such a Machiavellian leadership style. Prebendalism is just a big word that means, to put it in Nigerian colloquial terms, ‘chop-I-chop’ and ‘man-know-man’. So instead of an egalitarian society where opportunities are sufficiently democratized, you will find a system where opportunities are distributed on the basis of identities instead of merit. This conditioning by the political class is why many people love omelette but don’t want to break their eggs; they love the omelette of good governance but refuse to break the eggs of ethnicity, religion and partisan affiliations because those sentiments appear to be their meal ticket to the national cake. Napoleon Bonaparte perfectly understood this when he said that “a man will fight harder for his interests than for his rights.” This explains why Nigeria has earned well over $400 billion from oil in the past 10 years yet has almost every undesirable statistic appended to her nomenclature. No surprise Forbes once described Nigeria as “Africa’s money-losing machine.” We cannot have a country that really works for less than 1% of the population. A great son of Africa, Captain Thomas Sankara, once admonished, “We must choose either champagne for a few or safe drinking water for all”.
It’s easy to set up ring lights and give people podcast OT like an OG but e reach election, here are the same folks standing on a mandate that is not mandating. It would be interesting to see how undergraduates vote after staying at home for almost a year, same for parents who advise young ones to stay away from drugs and druggies. It remains to be seen how those who have littered the timeline with complaints for the past seven years will cast their votes; whether or not they have seen enough shege. I can tell you for free that Nigerians in the diaspora are counting on us, not just to return or invest but in the hopes of having the opportunity to vote in future elections. The rest of the continent is also watching to see if the giant of Africa will continue to sleep or wake up to take her rightful place in our geopolitics. Apathy is the biggest threat to our redemption.
This is not that election where some persons or media organizations from across the Atlantic will package an invalid leader and sell to us as the best thing since sliced bread; this time no eight-minute interview can finesse us into eight years of bad governance. Respectfully, they are not patriots of our homeland but only people pursuing their strategic interests not minding if we all become collateral damage. It beats me that the best of us fight ourselves over who amongst the worst of us should lead us. People like Leah Sharibu, who has literally become the poster child for those who have been held captive are counting on us. Women like Bamise Ayanwola, Chinelo Nwando and Deborah Yakubu who lost their lives to needless violence are not expecting us to dance on their graves by making wrong electoral choices. Patriots like Obadiah Mailafia, little Sylvester Oromoni who had big dreams of being a pilot and Chijioke Iloanya with a great future ahead of him who never got the chance to tell his own side of the story are up there rooting for us to get it right this time.
To my fellow youths, we will largely decide the outcome of this. It has to be personal; we have to take back our country. Every generation must recognize and embrace the task it is peculiarly designed by history and by providence to perform; it’s time for the Soro Soke generation to show up and show out. Don’t just vote, stay back and protect your votes. We deserve a society where our political expression isn’t crushed with brute force but met with empathetic dialogue. We’re not accepting placebos this time because these cuts are too deep for a band-aid solution. It’s competence, character, capacity and commitment in government going forward.
Beyond electing a vector-in-chief to put Nigeria in a pole position, this country desperately needs thinkers, strategists, culturists and futurists in political leadership. Personally, no amount of threats, money or propaganda can convince me otherwise about a new Nigeria being possible. Like Julius Caesar, I have since crossed that Rubicon. The Romans used to say in Latin, “Quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat” – loosely translated as “whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.” Don’t allow yourself be used by unscrupulous politicians to destroy your future and that of others; do not die in their wars.
Victor Hugo once said, “there is something more powerful than the brute force of bayonets: it is the idea whose time has come and hour struck.” Everybody has a role to play in birthing this ballot-based revolution; just like the janitor that President John Kennedy met in 1962 at a NASA Space Centre who was aware that he wasn’t just cleaning, he was part of the mission to send a man to the moon! I rather hearken to this clarion call than offer the fat of rams; it’s better to be obedient to a glorious future than to offer the sacrifice of fools. The night is dark and full of terrors but not for long. Governance in Nigeria desperately needs an encantador to bring back that much-needed kaizen; too much mediocrity and dysfunction have been allowed to represent the smartest minds on God’s green earth. Again I ask, when it comes to bad governance, are we cursed or are we the cause? It’s now or never!
“We all pray for a country that is peaceful and prosperous but God allows us by our voting to show Him whether we mean the prayers we pray or not. You cannot wish this country well and vote for someone you do not believe in. Know your vote carries the answer to your prayers for our country!” – Prof. Yemi Osibanjo (SAN), Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.