The founding fathers of the putative Nigerian nation did not share a common vision of the structure and future of their country. This hiatus threw into bold relief the immanent differences in the emerging polity and consequently heightened ethnic tensions. The kind of politics that this environment of contentious disputation encouraged gave the alibi for the intervention of the impatient, inexperienced, even if idealistic military officers. The apparently one-sided casualty list that came with the intervention of the military only heightened ethnic tensions which was to culminate in the pogrom in the North which claimed the life of tens of thousands of Eastern Nigerians of all tribes. The new military government’s effort to enthrone unitarism in the constitutional structure of the young nation only exacerbated the already polarized situation. It is instructive to note as a matter of historical detail that at the point of military intervention, the
political crises that created the atmosphere of disunity involved the North which controlled the Federal Government and the Yoruba West whose dominant leader Obafemi Awolowo had been imprisoned, thus factionalizing the ruling party in the Western Region. Eastern Nigeria was not in conflict with the West or the North at this point.
In the immediate years preceding the military intervention the efforts of the Easterners to broker peace was doomed to failure by the perception that the Eastern government was in favour of the Awolowo faction of the Action Group as demonstrated in UPGA despite being a coalition partner of the North in the Federal Government. When the pogrom erupted and Awolowo (now released from prison) agreed to work with Gowon in the new government now totally dominated by the North, the last fragment of trust and confidence were now shredded setting the stage for an avoidable and with hind-sight completely unnecessary civil war. This marked a water-shed in the failures of leadership in Nigeria.
In retrospect, the 13-year military intervention sowed the seeds of many of the ills that have come to bedevil efforts at building a nation. The hierarchical command structure of the military (with immediate effect) was ill-suited to the patient and conciliatory style that governance in a plural society demanded.
In the process, the essence of major institutions such as the civil service, the judiciary and the universities were destroyed.
The most pernicious and far reaching in its effects was creating an environment in which fundamental values of the society were compromised particularly the values of excellence and merit. It is an acceptable principle in nation building to give incentives to vulnerable entities in the society to improve on their situation and aim for improvement in their circumstances.
This is the basis of practices that have often been lumped together as affirmative action. This is in clear contrast to the practices of Federal character and the concept of educationally disadvantaged states which were decreed into existence against the lessons of experience from other nations. The bug-bear in the failure of these initiatives is the notion of entitlement that forecloses extra effort and the deployment of initiatives on the part of the vulnerable target populations. This is why no state that was classified as educationally disadvantaged more than forty years ago has improved on its ranking.
Some cultures in Nigeria have a tendency towards clientilism, nepotism, subservience, even sycophancy and authoritarianism. The period of military dominance heightened those tendencies and encouraged the emergence of an alternative governing elite with venal values encapsulated in the promotion and dominance of self. With their progressive upward climb to the higher reaches of influence and governance politics became more divisive and polarized. The language of politics became abusive and less tolerant. In practice manipulation became the order of business in governance and particularly in electoral matters. This was a stage ready made for the emergence of political god-fathers.
Politics became dominated by name-calling and the repetitive mouthing of inaccuracies, inanities and even untruths all in the name of political propaganda. If truth be told we have watched apparently helpless at the progressive emergence and evolutionary upgrade in our politics of those whose stock-in-trade has been fraud and mendacity. The situation has not been helped by the fact that the military did not tackle the two fundamental problems that the colonial authorities left behind for us: the apparent fraud in the census and in electoral matters and the lop-sidedness in the governance structures of the country in a supposedly federal nation. They made it worse.
The challenge for leadership given this plethora of problems is to begin again but the question is from where and who will bell the cat?
Despite the inclement environment in which leadership must operate in Nigeria, the review of modern research examined earlier suggests that the appropriate leadership quality needed to meet the current demands of leadership in Nigeria is what we earlier referred to as boundary spanning leadership “which is the ability to create direction, alignment and commitment across boundaries in service of a higher vision or goal…”.
The higher vision being to build a new Nigeria where equity, justice and prosperity is available to all regions and constituencies. In the pursuit of this goal we must remember and take cognizance of
the global environment. As has been stated elsewhere.
“….Gone are the days when leaders work within an intact group in which leaders and followers share a (common) culture, values and interests. Instead today you must lead across groups, at the juncture where wide-ranging experience, diverse expertise and varied identities intersect. It is here at the inter-section where two powerful human forces – differentiation and integration – collide that you can enact six boundary spanning practices to catalyse collaboration, drive innovation and transform organisation…”
WAY OUT OF THE WOODS
Such leaders often evince humility and steadfast determination verging on passion. Apart from humility and passion, such leaders demonstrate on overarching umbrella of rock-solid integrity, honesty, charity and compassion. These are the values that will drive them to connect with the followers.
Indeed, “when safety, respect, trust, community inter-dependence and reinvention characterize the interactions between groups, those groups will achieve something together above and beyond what they could achieve on their own…” namely a society anchored on truth, justice and equity. Another
Utopia? What is demanded is nothing short of the re-invention of Nigeria. So who will bell the cat?
In the last five months we have gone from the euphoria of the change mantra to the reality check of governance in a plural society. Now we have passed the hallowed magic threshold of 100 days. We have seen inelegant efforts to espy some success verging on the sycophantic, to the raucous cacophony reminiscent of a bolekaja melee as part of the condemnatory admonition of the less impressed. There is no question that when the unexpected happens there is the opportunity for a new beginning. Such was the expectation of many Nigerians on the emergence of General Buhari. Three months on the chair of governance two strands have emerged besides the unrepentant cheer leaders – those who have voiced disappointment on the apparent slow pace of government business and those who have voiced apparent horror on the apparent sectional tilt of his appointments. Of those who raise eye-brows on the slow pace many have been disappointed that for a man who ran for the office a record four times he should have come to office better prepared and to hit the ground running. Some have counselled patience.
At the last count out of thirty two appointments including the strategic appointments of Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the Chief of Staff to the President of the Republic, twenty six have been Northern. Almost unthinkable in a plural society some would say. Some have seen this as a loud trumpet proclaiming and reinforcing the view that the disposition of GMB cannot work with all Nigerians except those from his geographical enclave. Some have made the excuse that it is too early in the day to judge while some have counselled that this is just the beginning of the bazaar of appointments since the President of Nigeria has a patronage bag of over five thousand offices to fill. Few have been impressed with the post hoc alibis. It has been for some beyond belief that a man who had for the better part of his political career, some would say unfairly, the political tag of a religious bigot or fanatic as well as that of an unrepentant and unapologetic Northern irredentist to be so insensitive to the potential signals from his first appointments in a plural society smells of a hidden agenda. Others have counselled caution.
Whatever may be the case GMB must now face the challenge that any leader must face when perception collides with reality.
It is a hard call but it is not impossible to change if the strategy for amelioration is built on the chemistry of truth, justice and equity. Obviously, the challenge before GMB is similar to the challenge that faced GEJ in 2013 when it became obvious to some of us that the pan-Nigeria coalition that propelled him to office in 2011 was not in alignment with the governing coalition that he had put together for governance majorly around the PDP. The rest as the pundits would say is now history. The options for Mr. President are clear and historical. His failure to build the Nigeria of the dream of Nigeria youth could generate a historical cataclysm of unthinkable proportions. He deserves better.