2014: Saving Nigeria from Nigerians

In an address he delivered on the occasion of the 2012 Annual Lecture of the Nigerian Academy of Letters at the University of Ilorin, the Vice-Chancellor then, Prof. Is-haq Oloyede, prayed that God save Nigeria from Nigerians. His argument that day (April 26, 2012) is that Nigerians are the enemies of Nigeria and “my prayer is that God save Nigeria from Nigerians so that we won’t wreck her further but rather steer her to the shores of peace, progress and prosperity for all.”

As 2014 continues its forward march, its significance as a make or break year, on account of how political leaders especially conduct themselves, is not lost to all. The year is not only important because it marks the century of the birth of our country, it is also a year that will lay the seeds of our survival as a people and a nation, the year that will launch the country into its second century. While some prophets of doom are already harassing our collective psyche that it is not more than a colonial contraption or a balloon that is bound to burst, the political atmosphere that is at fever pitch also suggests that the prayer is on point.

While we continue to pray as a religious country, there is an urgent need to also complement the prayers with efforts as also suggested in the address under reference. It is well known that prayer without effort is half-full while effort without prayer is half-empty. The effort needed in 2014 and beyond is required at the level of leadership, which has remained the bane of Nigeria.

Over 2000 years ago, Sun Tzu wrote his seminal book, “The Art of War”, and the insight it contains is as useful in the fields of philosophy and military tactics as it is in politics, family, business and organisations as well as other spheres of life today. For Sun Tzu, “leadership is a matter of intelligence, trustworthiness, humanness, courage and discipline” all of which have a symbiotic relationship.

In other words, the five components of leadership are inter-dependent, not mutually exclusive. The author warned thus, “Reliance on intelligence alone results in rebelliousness. Exercise of humanness alone results in weakness, fixation on trust results in folly. Dependence on the strength of courage results in violence. Exercise of discipline and sternness in commands results in cruelty. When one has all the five virtues together, each appropriate to its functions, then one can be a leader.”

The five virtues of leadership should be embraced by our political gladiators, some of who are desperate on “capturing” Nigeria to feather their nests. The “intelligence” of neutralising opposition in some states is manifesting in the abuse of power and gross violation of human rights. Besides, while it appears “intelligent” to muffle the voices of dissent, it is ultimately counter-productive as evident in the rebellion of party members for example and the realignment of political forces. Intelligence without wisdom and other components of leadership is self-defeating.

Yet, leadership is also not about humanness of face saving. High corruption cases have often been swept under the carpet just because of protecting political interests and overlooking the excesses of prominent stakeholders like Ministers. To err is human but to forgive is not company policy. There is no virtue in treating unethical conduct with kid gloves as that tendency makes the country weak. A mere cosmetic discernment of good and bad with rewarding good and punishing bad behavior is antithetical to the functions of leadership.

For instance, if it is established that the Aviation Minister, Ms. Stella Oduah, who has solid reputation now for being in the news for wrong reasons, lied on oath to Senate on her qualifications or does not have the honorary doctorate she claimed she obtained from an American university, if at all the University exists, she should be shown the exit door.

Then, leadership is a trust and trust is a burden. Leaders should comport themselves in a way it will be easy for Nigerians to trust them. The thrust of any government is the provision of security and making life abundant for people but this is not the case with Nigerians. At all levels of governance, many leaders are not trustworthy and the masses are continually fooled with empty promises and vain assurances. At another plane, it is sheer folly to uphold the trust of selfish individuals who do not mean well for the generality of Nigerians.

Courage of course is a virtue but as Tzu emphasised, leadership is not all about it because it creates violence. This is the point the late Chinua Achebe stressed in his Arrow of God, first published 50 ago, through the advice of Ezeulu to his courageous son, Obika: “It is praiseworthy to be brave and fearless, my son, but sometimes it is better to be a coward. We often stand in the compound of a coward to point at the ruins where a brave man used to live.”

For instance, Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein were “courageous” but where did their courage lead them ultimately? Leaders whose courage is impelled by power who thus aid and abet violence on Nigerians should remember that violence consumes those who create it. As Achebe also drew our attention to, “We cannot trample upon the humanity of others without devaluing our own.” Politicians who are stockpiling arms just because of winning elections at all costs in some states are devaluing themselves.

Moreover, discipline is a core component of leadership that without it everything else fails. Discipline manifests in self-discipline, fiscal discipline, moral discipline and political discipline. However, it is one virtue that is lacking in many Nigerians, starting from the leaders down to the rest of us. Since everyone is a leader, actually or potentially, saving Nigeria requires that we exercise discipline in speech and action. For instance, dragging religion into the murky waters of political calculations in the manner it is being done now is indiscipline. Let politics be played by politicians and let politicians leave the volatile issue of religion out of their scheming.

By and large, the year 2014 is a significant year and the resolution that leaders should make is that they will combine the five virtues of intelligence, trustworthiness, humanness, courage and discipline as suggested by Tzu over 2000 years ago in steering Nigeria to the “shores of peace, progress and prosperity” as the country marks its centenary birthday. As we continue to watch with bated breath the antics of our politicians, the prayer of the year remains, “God save Nigeria from Nigerians!”