The Iconoclast by Chris Adetayo
Email: email@example.com Twitter: @chrisadet
These are momentous times. There is no running away from this fact. For better or for worse, the management of the national security crisis that stares Nigeria in the face will have far-reaching impact on the country and the wider African region for generations to come. Yet, when stripped down to its basics, this crisis has been planted, watered and tendered by the crisis of leadership that is at the root of the country’s problems.
A generation ago, one of Nigeria’s greatest sons declared that “the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership”. Chinua Achebe made this declaration against the backdrop of the leadership failures before and during Nigeria’s Second Republic. Given the quality of leadership that has followed his famous declaration, from military to civilian, Achebe clearly spoke too soon.
Today, many Nigerians read about the exploits of Zik, Awo, Sardauna, Murtala, Balewa et al and struggle to find any amongst the nascent leaders that comes remotely close in vision, drive and altruism. During the greatest crisis of the country, the Civil War, a young Yakubu Gowon, fresh-faced and relatively unworldly, found ways and means to sew the fragile fabric of the nation together. Compare Gowon’s 1967 statement – “if circumstances compel me to use force to defend the territorial integrity of Nigeria, I will do my duty” – to the incoherent babble that passes for policy and strategy on Boko Haram and the scale of leadership failure hits home hard.
The crisis of leadership extends to the rest of the African continent. Given the history of the continent’s struggles against colonialism, the spirits of Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Nnamdi Azikiwe and all the other greats of the liberation struggles across Africa in the 20th century must have had a very sleepless few weeks. Watching from yonder, they must be squirming at the sight of their children turning against each other and requiring the same “white man” they chased out to be the peacemakers. Not only have the descendants of colonialists become peacemakers, they are now entrenched as security advisors and guarantors.
The most distressing picture that captures this reality was the sight of six African presidents, including that of the putative giant called Nigeria, summoned to Paris to discuss ways of working cooperatively to overcome the growing Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. That Paris meeting conveyed, more than any words could have, the paucity of quality leadership across the continent.
Do not misread this writer. Wherever the solutions may be, good leaders are duty bound to go seeking them. But you wonder how far we have come if African leaders cannot call a meeting of African leaders in any of the capitals of the participating countries. Instead, they have to head for Paris for such a meeting. Worse, they did so ONLY because the French President was benevolent and magnanimous enough to call the meeting. Look at it this way: would it not have been easier, cheaper and better for such a summit to hold in Yaounde?
The meeting in Paris also calls to serious question, the continuing relevance of the African Union (AU) in modern times. After its metamorphosis from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the hope was that the new generation of African leaders were set to focus the organisation on the continent’s development. Given that the greatest hindrance to this has been the gradually growing insecurity in many parts, it is astonishing to see that the most concerted efforts at bringing these wars and insurgencies to an end are coming from outside the continent.
Beyond issuing meaningless press releases, little or nothing emanates from the inner sanctuaries of the AU. The South Sudan crisis is being attended to by the UN and the US. Mali and Central Africa Republic are the worries of France. Libya and Egypt have occupied the governments of the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). And now Nigeria has the attention of these same powers. The AU? Happy in its sonorous slumber.
So how do we correct the course of this powerful stream that could wash away any lingering hope of political stability and economic development? The answer: select the right leaders! Pick the right set of leaders – men and women – who will stare the problems of the country in the face, determine the right solution and march headlong to bring about the desired change.
The next cycle of national elections is less than a year away. The Nigerian people will have another chance to elect the bulk of the leaders that will steer the ship of the nation for another four years. If we continue to allow religious, ethnic and nepotic sentiments to guide our choices, the ship of state will continue to sail rudderless and in a near-permanent state of capsising. If however we select leaders based on their track record, abilities, qualifications, and outlined plans of action; and remain vigilant in ensuring they stay true to their electoral promises, we will save ourselves and our children the embarrassment of being held hostage by a rag-tag army of religious irredentists.
May we find the courage to choose right!