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LEADERSHIP AND UNDERDEVELOPMENT IN NIGERIA

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One of the most influential books of the twentieth Century was Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications, 1972). This treatise, along with Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, and a few others are a must-read for anyone serious scholar and students on African and the developing world. In spite of the deserved and undeserved criticisms Rodney’s work attracted, many of his assertions are accurate: The Europeans did indeed plundered the continent’s resources; laid waste its future and possibilities; and in so many ways, set Africa up for failure.

Apart from colonialism and neocolonialism, there was the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Into this destructive mix are the damaging effects of the Second World War and the Cold War. And from the 1970s, through the 1990s, many African countries also suffered from the serrated policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Many countries -- i.e. China, France, and the USA and multinational corporations -- also steadily turned Africa into their playing and killing fields. The continent also became the dumpster for many stale and rejected ideas from many corners of the world.

While many Africans blamed external forces for their pains and miseries; they left out internal factors. It is not enough, or wise, to put all the blames on outsides forces. There are several reasons why Africans should desist from the blame game. For instance, Africans are not the only people who have suffered the inhumanities and calamities they often bemoan. Also, Africans need to pick themselves up and move on. Victimhood is a dated mentality. What’s more, there is the issue of personal responsibility. In other words, Africans emulate Asians and take charge of their own destiny and fate.

Africans – and especially Nigerians – will never get to the Promised Land if they continue on the current path and speed. Under the current condition, it may take Nigeria another two hundred years to get to where the Scandinavian countries are today (in terms of economic, social, and political development). What should Nigerians do in other to avoid continuing misery? Well, there are a dozen and one things that can and should be done. Here and now, let’s take an overview of leadership, the rule of law, and the people’s attitude towards their government and rulers.

For instance, when will the vast majority of Africans begin to hold their leaders responsible for the crimes they commit? When will the people desist from personalizing the rule of law? And when will political leaders step up and do what is right for and by the people?

Today, the Chinese and the Americans and the Indians and the Lebanese are all over the continent milking the people and their resources. And the French are all over French-speaking Africa acting as lords and masters. Whose fault is that? Until the people rise up against these types of insults, these offenders will not stop. They will not stop – they will not stop and obey the laws and also act in accordance with social mores – unless and until they are forced by the people, or penalized by responsible and responsive governments. African governments, as we have come to see and know, do not have the balls to confront foreign powers and concerns.

In a globalizing world, people and governments and companies are free to go anywhere in the world to invest and to conduct legitimate businesses. And so it is that when foreign entities go to Singapore or Canada or Japan to conduct business, they obey local laws and international conventions. When they go to Sweden or Spain or New Zealand or the US, they act in socially responsible manner. They obey environmental laws. But in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa, they act as if there are no laws to be obeyed. In some communities, they even dictate the rules of engagement. What nonsense!

After the oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, on March 24, 1989, Exxon (the company responsible for the spill) spent about $5 billion on cleanups, settlements, and punitive damages. And after the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, British Petroleum (BP) spent in excess of $10 billion on settlements and cleanups. But in the Niger Delta, where oil spills has been occurring steadily for the last forty or so years, and where people’s lives and livelihood are at stake, oil companies, in many cases, only execute half-hearted measures. The victims always bear the pain; while the offenders always walk away as if nothing bad had happened.

I do not blame the oil companies for the infractions being commit in the Niger Delta. I blame the oil-producing states and the Nigerian government for allowing private and public concerns to disregard the laws. And of course, there are kings and chiefs who, once there are money and scholarships to be shared, turn blind eyes to the damages being committed by these companies and their local agents. In many cases, community leaders become like their counterparts at the national level: they lose their minds at the thought and sight of money! You have to be mentally deranged to favor personal gains to the exclusion of long-tern benefit for the entire community.

As the governor of your state, you have to be deranged when you can send your own kids to schools in London and Geneva (with public funds) when schools under your control are worse than schools in the colonial era. You have to be psychologically unbalanced when you drink imported bottled water and the vast majority of the electorates have no clean and potable water. Only a sick governor – a terribly sick governor – can collude with friends and family to award contracts to himself and his unqualified friends and family. Sick and pathetic minds!

And only a deranged President would award road contacts again and again and again knowing that the road may never be completed; and knowing too that millions of people depend on its completion. And what manner of a president sleeps soundly when, year after year, millions of people sleep in the dark? How can you be the leader of your country or community when you obviously do not give a damn about their happiness and wellbeing? How can you be the leader of your country when millions of people have no access to the simple things in life? If financially Nigeria could not afford to provide these necessities, well, that’s a different matter. But Nigeria can afford it.

Nigeria can afford much more! Nigeria can afford to provide the simple things that decent governments provide their people. Every year since 1973, Nigeria has earned hundreds of billions of dollars. Yet, there is not a single public educational institution that functions the way it was intended. There is not a single governing institution that functions properly. Billions! Where has all that money gone?

I don’t know why the Nigerian society generally does not allow for the best and brightest to emerge and to assume the mantle of leadership (especially at the national level). This has particularly been the case since 1975 when General Gowon was thrown out of office. Except for Mohammadu Buhari, imagine the types of heads of government Nigeria has had. Ok, may be one could excuse Murtala Muhammed. But really, Nigerian leaders are a unique breed of people. They mostly do the unimaginable, the unthinkable, the absurd, and the frighteningly foolish things. They punish and abuse and politically rape their own people.

And even at the local and state levels, we have men and women – legislators, governors, ministers, commissioners, senior civil servants, and various political appointees – who seem incapable of good and decent behaviors.

This essay is written exclusively for Thewillnigeria.com (San Francisco, California) By Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

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