By Segun Gbadegesin
Last week, we focused on the supernaturalistic account of the affliction that imperils Nigeria’s movement to greatness and found it inadequate as an explanatory model. Today, we will examine the humanistic account which pins our national malaise on human factor. There are at least three variants of the theory.
First, it is argued that even if we grant that Nigeria had a divine beginning and a destined end, we must also admit that the God of Nigeria’s beginning granted her citizens the free will to determine the course of their nation with adequate provision of resources to last many lifetimes. If they make that determination without much thought and they miss the road, it is their responsibility to change course. That they have failed for more than 50 years is not the fault of God. I believe that this is the position of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The former President admonished us recently to “stop troubling God because God has done all we need for us. We only need to play our part…” As he might add, as humans placed in this part of God’s creative genius, we have failed woefully to our detriment.
Whether as clerics, mullahs, priests, priestesses and sheikhs or as congregants, devotees and Ummah we know the ways in which we fail to play our part. Whereas the prophets of old did not shy away from confronting the corrupt practices of their era, with our trust in the gospel of prosperity, we aid and abet corruption in various ways. When we choose to accept the proceeds of graft as thanksgiving offering without asking pertinent questions, we thereby frustrate the development goal of the nation.
As business professionals, we play an ignoble part when we cheat on tax payment or collude with international frauds. This is the case with oil subsidy scandals. As contractors, we ruin the future of the nation when we abandon our contractual responsibility for road construction and abscond with contract mobilisation fees. Is God responsible for these acts?
As politicians, when we are motivated just by pure self-interest whether in our legislative priorities or in budget approval, we intentionally risk the future of the country. And when we allow our wants, whether material, mental, or spiritual, to overshadow the long-term interest of the nation, we fail to play our part in setting the nation in the path of development.
Of course, we can pray to God to help us know what is right and do it. But we cannot blame God for the weakness of our will. This is the essence of the humanistic theory.
Second, and following from the first, there is the account of leadership deficit and it is straightforward. The reason that Nigeria has not made it; the reason that it has missed the road often and has not been able to change course is that it suffers from a deficit of leadership. Of course, the theory does not deny that Nigeria has either elected leaders or has had leaders imposed on her since independence. The point is that those leaders have lacked the qualities that a leader needs to move a nation forward. Therefore, per this variant of the humanistic account, Nigeria has a leadership crisis, and until this crisis is resolved, it cannot move forward. Again, former President Obasanjo has recently doubled down on this position.
It is important to tease out the claims of this variant, especially in the former president’s most recent presentation. While some may rightly blame leadership from the beginning of the republic, Obasanjo gave credit to his generation, which fought for the unity of the country, and the generation before his, which fought for independence. His beef, therefore, is with generation after his, which, according to him, lacks “focus, commitment, continuity and sometimes proper knowledge about economic and development issues.”
Not a few may find this positing of the issue self-serving or more uncharitably, self-glorifying. But I want to cut the former president a little slack. Each generation of leaders faces a unique challenge. The first generation that faced the colonisers had no choice but to focus on independence. But the germs of later problems were clearly discernible even at the time of their struggle for freedom. Leading the country after independence, they failed woefully in the matter of unity and progress. As the military struck and leadership changed hands, that challenge of unity became insurmountable. Trained as fighters, the military leaders met the challenge the only way they knew. But while the rebellion was stopped, no one can deny that the war of unity was not won. Instead, there was an escalation of ethno-nationalistic mistrust. The leadership crisis that we have now is traceable to that juncture in our history.
What Obasanjo’s generation, and he, in particular, needs to come to terms with is that the matter of leadership cannot be resolved in isolation from our historical trajectory. Leaders are not plucked from trees. They are the products of particular cultures, histories and philosophies. In our case, the diversity of such cultures, histories and philosophies, which, should normally be an additional advantage, have been adversely impacted by the politics of uniformity.
The third variant of the humanistic theory of Nigerian malady chooses to give leadership a break while focusing on followership. The rationale for this is simply that followers either choose leaders or can reject them once they determine that those leaders lack the necessary qualities to lead. However, in the case of Nigeria, leaders and followers have been engaged in a game of mutual deception with followers yielding to the manipulative abilities of leaders for the satisfaction of short term wants at the expense of long term needs. If developmental goals are left unfulfilled because followers seek immediate consumption, they have themselves to blame.
There is no doubt that each of the foregoing variants of the humanistic theory is an improvement over the supernaturalistic theory. For one thing, they place emphasis on human agency and, therefore, on our human capacity to change the course of the nation.
Yet, as important as it is to recognise the significance of human agency, it is also crucial to understand its limitation, especially when the condition for the effectiveness of human agency to play its part is missing. Consider the fact that despite our lamentations regarding good leadership, we have had at least a few in our history that everyone, including sworn adversaries, attest to.
As I prepare this piece, a friend dropped in my WhatsApp message box an excerpt of a statement on Chief Obafemi Awolowo attributed to Ikemba Odumegwu Ojukwu: “As a leader of the modern cast, he (Awolowo) has left Nigeria standards which are indelible, standards beside which future aspirants to public leadership can be eternally measured. He was, for a long time, the only Nigerian leader that enunciated principles and played down personalities… Awo was a leader of great stature…That he did not fulfil a presidential ambition cannot detract from his leadership… and us, poor us, who were not his people, must continue to regret that our own leaders had not led us as he did his people or achieved for us as he did for his people.”
The crux of our challenge is in the last part of Ikemba’s statement. Do we see ourselves as one people or as different peoples with different agendas? If the latter, we do not have a leadership crisis. We have an identity crisis.
Therefore, a further refining of the humanistic theory is needed. If we insist, as we should, that humans are the architects of their own fortune, it stands to reason that they should also be the builders of their national greatness. This entails the responsibility for ascertaining the right kind of institutions and structures that are essential for the management of their affairs and the progressive development of their nation. It requires active thinking and selfless abandonment of short-term gains for self or group in favour of the general good of the nation. The challenge for leaders is to set their minds wholly to this structural task.
(To be continued)