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All We Ever Ask For

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By Akintokunbo Adejumo
Some of my friends, readers of my articles, and even politician-friends in Nigeria (and I don't have a lot of them in that last category) have often asked me: “What do you really want, man? Are you seeking self-serving publicity or government appointment? I always shake my head: they don't get it, do they? We are not all the same.

My simple and honest answer has always been: “To change or help change Nigeria for the better. If I personally cannot facilitate this change, then to help or contribute to others who are also sincere about making such a change or changes possible”. This stance of mine, I am very sure, will stand the test of time.

In some cases, my answer had been met with some friendly cynicism or scepticism. Some are of the opinion that I am perhaps looking to enter the “system” and then join in the free for all looting taking place, or at the very least, to have my share of the so-called “national cake”.

Well, one thing I always reply back is that if indeed I want to share in the “national cake”, I consider myself (and 140 million Nigerians) entitled to share in this cake; after all, I am a Nigerian citizen. So I should rightly demand my share in this cake. What I will not do is deny others the right to share this cake by being greedy, corrupt, unfair, unjust, murderous and inconsiderate in the sharing. And this will be to ensure that all dividends of our wealth and democracy are accessible to all Nigerians and not to me or my friends and family alone. That is if I ever get there, or allowed to get there, of course.

As for joining the looting of the treasury, count me out, I always say. What is there to loot? Why should I want to loot? Life is a very simple one for me (and I believe, millions of other Nigerians). All I need is just one house, a source of moderate income that will enable me feed, cloth, shelter and educate my family; a car or two to convey me around in Nigeria on my business; the ability to afford a decent healthcare provision for my family and a bit to spare for entertainment and other vagaries of life.

Why do I want to loot the treasury and then cart away the loot to foreign countries, buy properties I will hardly sleep in or that my children will hardly live in, thereby denying millions of my countrymen and women the right to a decent life? Just because I want to have everything to myself? “How much land does a man need?”, as asked in an 1886 short story by Leo Tolstoy about a man who, in his lust for land, forfeits everything, including his own life.

The same can be asked severally: How many houses does a man need? How many rooms can a man sleep in at the same time? How much money does a man need to live a full life? Poor or rich, we are destined, as mortals, to go one day and account to whoever created us, and we are not taking a single item acquired on earth with us, are we?

I therefore wonder if people who are disciples of greed and corruption usually think of this common fact, unless of course their reason is to live life to the fullest while they are in this world, while creating unhappiness, poverty, hardship, disease, disaster and death for the people they have denied good governance, justice, emancipation, etc through their corrupt and inconsiderate policies, activities and actions.

Happily for me, despite all these gloom, and the mire of poverty and helplessness, we can still see oasis of goodness from individuals and organisations who are trying to change things for their people as best as they can.

These people are not using force or guns to effect change. They are instead using God-given talents, skills, brains, hands, connections, etc to help change the world, and indeed, in our particular case, Nigeria.

Are they going to fail? I will say No, because when humanity is engaged in furthering the cause of goodness, it is unlikely such people fail. While all kinds of barriers and stumbling blocks will be erected in their paths by the forces of evil and darkness, some will still get through. A concerted effort from all such forces of goodness will eventually see them though. History is replete with such examples. You can't keep a good man down forever.

In Nigeria, believe it or not, there are a very fair number of such good individuals and organisations. Some, or even most of them will never get to the position to effect the desired change. Some don't even want to be in power. A lot of them have died trying, and a lot more will die in the process. These are facts. But then, aren't the evil ones preventing these good ones going to die too?

As a matter of fact, the evil ones are also dying like flies, victims of their own evil doings. A minister responsible for roads dying in a car crash on the road he was meant to rehabilitate, after embezzling the funds meant for the project. The children of the corrupt coming a cropper in several ways, having diseases nobody can cure, attacked by armed robbers on the streets their fathers are meant to make safe for all.

The root of all evil is a common figure of speech signifying something that causes serious problems and people would be better off without. This includes, amongst other things, money. "Money is the root of all evil" is misattributed to Jesus Christ (actually stated as "The love of money is the root of all evil" by Paul the Apostle in his letter to Timothy: 1, Timothy 6:10).

Following this is Radix malorum est cupiditas, Latin for "Greed is the root of all evil". It is therefore plain to see that both greed and money are roots of all evil, and that is our problem in this world, a problem not unique to Nigeria or Nigerians, leaders or followers. In our country, these particular problems are exacerbated by selfishness, lack of love for one another, the discarding of traditional, cultural, moral and religious values, sycophancy, illiteracy and so may other ills too numerous to mention. However, the bottom line is Greed and Money. Where those two are present, corruption will stick to them like a hump to a camel.

Having said this, it does not have to be like this. There surely is no society that is not corrupt; however, many Western societies have managed to contain corruption to a manageable level, by limiting greed and money available to be stolen. They have also done this by ensuring their people have access to all services and products of government or as we like to call it in Nigeria; dividends of democracy. They have ensured that their governments, government officials, politicians, and even corporate bodies are answerable to the people; that they behave responsibly and ensure corporate and governmental responsibility at all times in their dealing with the masses.

Their leaders are not insulated from the people who put them, and kept them in power and positions. There is accountability in everything they do, and they know that if they step out of line, they will be kicked out through the ballot boxes. Simple and this is why things are working out very fine for them. This is why our people from the third world are flocking out to live in their countries. Forget about whether they used our slave labour to do this several centuries ago, or they colonized us.

Unfortunately, for my people in Africa, this is not the way leaders view it. Their idea of leadership and governance is a very warped one. I am always in awe of how our leaders managed to twist and bastardize good things to suit themselves. Look at our constitution in Nigeria, which was said to be modeled after the US version. Trust our leaders, they bastardized the constitution. They do not even follow the bastardized version anymore. They have all but discarded it.

Leadership has been described as the “process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task”. A definition more inclusive of followers comes from Alan Keith of Genentech who said "Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen."

According to the late Jules Masserman, American psychoanalyst, leaders must fulfill three functions: (1) the leader must provide for the well-being of the led, (2) provide a social organization/environment in which people feel relatively secure, and (3) provide a set of beliefs. Students of leadership have produced theories involving traits, situational interaction, function, behavior, power, vision and values, charisma, and intelligence among others.

Please take a look at most of Africa's leaders today, and especially, our leaders in Nigeria, and one will see almost all these traits missing. And this is perhaps why President Obama of the US did not even consider including Nigeria on his itinerary to Africa, at our indignation. It was a message, but did Nigerian leaders get that message? No, they could not. In fact they hardly seemed worried by events going around them – the successful and peaceful elections in Ghana and South Africa following the shambles of a mere by-election in a few wards in Ekiti State. That is a measure of the above traits in our leaders.

In writing this, I took some time to study the meaning of the following two words, or prefixes which we confer on our leaders: Excellency and Honourable.

Excellency is from “Excel” which means to surpass, be better than, to be very good, pre-eminent. “Excellence” has the synonyms: distinction, eminence, fineness, goodness, greatness, high quality, merit, perfection, purity, superiority, virtue, worthiness; and “Excellent” is admirable, capital, champion, distinguished, estimable, exemplary, exquisite, first-class, meritorious, outstanding, prime, superb, superlative, great and sterling.

Our leaders bear the prefix “Your Excellency”, how many of them can aptly be worthy of the above definitions and qualities?

Honourable, a title for our legislators, means personal integrity, renowned, reputation, sense of what is right or due, mark of respect. The synonyms are ethical, fair, high-minded, honest, moral, principled, trustworthy, true, upright, virtuous, distinguished, illustrious, notable, prestigious, venerable, creditable, proper, respected and righteous.

Again, are our leaders deserving of such description? The prefix “Honourable” has no meaning amongst our leaders. I find it very difficult to address them this way, knowing they are nothing of the sort, and is against my principles to be dishonest, insincere and flattering. And most importantly, I do not pander to titles and do not suffer fools gladly.

Some people are of the opinion that we are shouting ourselves hoarse to a deaf, undiscerning and incorrigible clique of leaders. I will disagree. We must drum it into their heads at every opportunity. Why not? People like Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Gani Fawehinmi, late Chief Awolowo, late Ayodele Awojobi, late Aminu Kano and a host of others have been saying the same for decades. Some died in the process; the living ones are still shouting at them, probably until they themselves die. But I am sure that one day, they and we, will succeed in getting through to our leaders, probably the future ones.

Another of our biggest problem is the continued recycling of the architects of corruption and their cronies, the so called military and political "elites", under various guises of minister this, minister that!!!. Ghana was able to move forward because Rawlings realized that the only to move Ghana on was to completely eliminate all the old thieves. This option may not be feasible in our case, but if we all join hands together, especially our writers, and say enough is enough to these thieves, instead of celebrating them, we can achieve something significant. But first, we have to identify the architects of corruption and relentlessly go after them through our write-ups.

As earlier written (Why I write About Nigeria), my writing is the only way I can vent my frustration. It is my only weapon against tyranny and corruption. Others can take up guns, and other means, but that is their weapon of choice which they know best how to use, and we can support then or join forces with them. In my case, writing is my ideal weapon. The pen, they say, is mightier than the sword. And we see the examples in Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe and others. Believe it or not, it was the pens of the Nigerian media and others that finally spurred those with guns to rid us of ignoble governments like those of Shagari, Babangida and Abacha. It was the pen that eventually terminated the third term ambition of Obasanjo.

I expend my energy in the hope that Nigerian leaders, political and military elites and power-holders will read some of these writings and hopefully examine their conscience, change their ways and re-commit themselves to improving and governing Nigeria the right, humane and considerate way to improve the living standards of their people. I also tend to think that I am expending too much of my energy and taxing my brains even though there is little or no guarantee of success and despite the fact that greater minds have tried and failed.

This is all we ever ask for. Not a lot. Just good governance, justice, equity, progress, excellence, honour, consideration, vision and values, focus, love for us and one another, tolerance, commitment and the will to change the society of which they are a part of.

We will continue to write till they get it.

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