Nigeria’s primary problem and, or, disease, is to have been cursed with the leadership of very ambitious men, with little or no vision. If the future of our children, and our nation is to be guaranteed, we must begin to envision what future we see for our children, and our nation…
Wo̩ ́ n fi è̩ tè̩ sí’lè̩ , wo̩ ́ n ń’pa làpá làpá. THEY ignore the leprosy; and pursue the cure for ringworm.
One of the enduring words in the political lexicon of the Nigerian nation is “corruption”. I first started having my senses and life serially assaulted by this word while yet in my early teenage years. The politician of the Second Republic tossed the word around liberally, and so did those who galvanised public opinion against bad governance. Everyone, from the corrupt leaders to the Rights crusaders railed against corruption, and; the unanimity of opinions, private and public, is that corruption is the reason our country has been in a suicidal dash for State failure and the Stone Age. I could not disagree more.
I was taught the English language, and I am still a student of the language. But I was born a Yoruba man, and that is the language of my thoughts, and my dreams. I think in Yoruba, and translate or transliterate depending on the circumstances, into the English Language. The Yoruba language does not have a word that may be translated to mean ‘corruption’. Yet some of the most corrupt leaders of Nigeria have come from my home…Yorubaland is just as afflicted as the rest of the country. Every language is a reflector of the people’s customs and mores, and I make bold to say that corruption is alien to the Yoruba culture. That is why we never evolved a word for what is today called corruption in our country.
There have been several anti-corruption crusades, wars and circuses and yet the situation has grown empirically worse. Corruption has become the biggest industry in Nigeria. Every aspect of our national life is corrupt and evidences of the putrefaction caused by corruption abound all around us, and confront our daily existence. We rank pretty high in all indexes adopted for the measurement of corruption. Even David Cameron (former Prime Minister of United Kingdom), also became affected with the intellectual indolence that has led to the mischaracterisation of the Nigeria problem.
Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, a man distinguished by his happiness with simple thoughts, came close when he said that our problem is not corruption, but stealing. He was excoriated without attention being paid to his words, or any critical analysis being undertaken. He was right up to a point.
The single reason for our national malaise is visionlessness. A cliché: “The eyes are useless, when the mind is blind”. We have for too long been blinded as a nation, forgotten who we are, and oblivious to whom we can be. Our blindness is multi-dimensional and total darkness has enveloped our nation for too long.
Spiritual blindness has replaced Godliness in our nation, and vacuous religiosity has taken the place of true faith and worship. We love God, and our beautiful churches and mosques are altar to the depth and breadth of our love for the Almighty creator of heaven and earth, but we hate his creation to the point of appointing ourselves God’s deputies, and we kill in His holy name.
We profess the one living God in public but in dark places, we worship at altars that we condemn by day. Some play God and presume to have the powers of promotion and demotion, evil exercises of powers, without authority. Men forget the day of death.
The Yoruba say “Olówó kan láàárín òtòs̩ ì mé̩ta, òtòs̩ ì ni gbogbo wo̩ n”. We have in our blind pursuit of private wealth, impoverished ourselves. Let me use a well-known example, Operation Feed the Nation (OFN). Baba Aremu came to power in 1976, I was eight years old at the time, memories of those years have started fading, but I remember Operation Feed the Nation. It was always being yelled at you from the transistor radios everyone seemed to have at the ready in those days and when the television comes on for the day around 4.30pm, Uncle Sege, in his khaki shorts with his hoe nestling on his shoulder, was there to remind you of the virtues of farming. We know how that ended, or has continued till date.
I am now 51 years old (being born in 1968). Operation Feed the Nation is arguably the largest and most profitable farm holding in Nigeria, if not in Africa — mostly retired generals, former governors and foreigners own the closest to it. The Nigerian farmer remains an endangered species, because of a national vision for a true agricultural revolution; what we have had over the years has been a visionless pursuit of private ambitions and greed. Today, we remain a nation that cannot feed itself.
We import practically everything we eat. I am not talking about the criminal importation of expired frozen or embalmed chicken. I speak of basic things like tomatoes, tatashe, potatoes, different peppers and vegetables of all types. More than 70 per cent of the protein consumed in our nation is purchased with scarce foreign exchange. Trillions of Naira. The evidence of the visionlessness of our agricultural exertions is clear for all to see.
I started my education at the Jeleosinmi at Church Eleja around Queen Elizabeth Road, Mokola in Ibadan. The Jeleosinmis — roughly translated as “Let the household have some rest” — are the precursors and forerunners of today’s Nursery schools. I must have been around 30 to 36 months old when I was enrolled. I would walk with my slate held in one hand, and a bag or sack made of khaki, containing my rag for cleaning the slate and my chalks. All of us, the ‘disturbers’ of different households, would walk in a single file, the approximately three kilometres, to the basement of the church where the school was situated. We learnt our alphabets and we began the clumsy journey to whatever laid ahead of us. We all remained there until we were qualified by age to enter primary school.
Primary education was governed by the Free Universal primary Education policy. The result today is that we have an army of uneducated graduates, products of a system built on blindness, and they are already passing on the same ignorance to the generation they are teaching and impacting.
Òdo tó ń gbé òdo rá, ignorance is breading ignorance, and the blind are leading the blind.
Our army evolved as an army of occupation. Its roots and history are not different from that of the Nigerian Railways and, or the Nigeria State itself. The railway tracks are the same inherited from the colonial masters, designed primarily to serve the colonial purpose of exploitation, and exportation of the wealth and substance of the colonised. The rail tracks end at the ports and are devoted to the carriage of raw materials thereto.
The State found its amalgamation in 1914, never the expression of the will of its blighted and stunted citizens.
The British, nay the West, wrote the book on corruption. The corruption in the western world is built into the system, and criminologists will tell you that a certain amount of crime is beneficial to the system. Before howls of derision from Whitehall, and Albany begin to greet my broad assertion, I invite you, my reader to review the live of Mr. Mark Thatcher, son of the late Baroness, Thatcher, iron lady of the British Realm, conqueror of delinquent Labour leaders and the epoch defining Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Mark made his first significant wealth from Britain’s single largest sale of arms; a contract to sell arms to the Saudis signed by his mother in 1985. The al-Yamamah deal. He made a rumoured 12 million pounds sterling for what Sir Dick Evans, then head of British Aerospace Companies (BAC) later described in his book as “…nothing that could be helpful or useful’. Twenty years later the Tory government has refused to allow request for papers that might have shown the clear abuse of office, in defiance and abuse of its own stated guidelines.
The several Wall Street convictions for corruption, the success of Bernie Sanders in attacking Hillary Clinton, for her closeness to Wall Street, and the several political scandals that have engulfed America, from the Watergate scandal to the Whitewater enquiries are eloquent testaments to the fact that Nigeria has no patent on corruption. What we appear to have monopolised is collective blindness.
Ambition is not to be confused with vision. Ambition promotes the limited self, and does not see beyond the self. Vision benefits beyond the person because it always transcends the self. Nigeria’s primary problem and, or, disease, is to have been cursed with the leadership of very ambitious men, with little or no vision. If the future of our children, and our nation is to be guaranteed, we must begin to envision what future we see for our children, and our nation; we must move beyond the narrow prism and pursuit of the self to the articulation and pursuit of a national vision built on the promotion of the commonwealth above the interests of the persons, and a subjugation of personal interest beneath identified national interest.
Vision is not to be confused with sight; one within the conquest of human sociology and interactions, vision talks about purpose, about goals, it is the vehicle with which the intangible become tangible, and the strength of the vision channels the powers, resources and capabilities of the visionary, to the point where the realisation of the vision becomes an all-encompassing vision for the visionary. There are clear identifying characteristics of visionary and vision, and the presence of these identifiers, generally, signposts the presence of visionary leadership.
I was watching one of the foreign news channels recently, Sky, I believe and a news item caught my attention. The National Health Service (NHS), the clear fruit of the visionary leadership of the British people, had determined that it requires thousands of new doctors and nurses in the coming decade and, as a result, a debate rooted in ideology but constrained by vision, had led to a government policy which was being announced with support from all sides of the political divide; they would see a spike in the numbers of student Nurses and Doctors being admitted with a glow of incentives to encourage young men and women to consider careers in the health sector.
You will find the same evidence of forward thinking in all spheres of life, where visionary leadership exists, be it in a home, a corporate body, or a nation-State. But forward thinking, which is unaligned to an overarching vision of a better life for the citizenry only, produces the sad corruption that we see all around us.
A chapter in “Do Not Die In Their War” (erroneously published as “Big Blind Vision”)