What happened to southern Nigeria? Ranka Dede, that's what.

Gone are the days – especially in the southwest – when crooked rich people were shunned and derided with their money. Not anymore. The sources of people's sudden wealth are no longer questioned. People now routinely and feebly remark that God has allowed him to 'make it.' In order for us to chop, we have accepted contemptible miscreants as leaders. Economic powerlessness and the non-diversification of our economy have considerably weakened people's willpower and integrity.

One of the more pronounced by-products of the type of 'one Nigeria' we now have on our hands is the group think of 'might is right.' Put differently; the big man is always right, and they don't have a shortage of unrelenting apologists either. The need for personal survival has given way to acquiescence which in turn has led to the general powerlessness pervading the land. Nearly all of us have bought into that 'God gives power' refrain. We seem to have signed off our rights, ambitions and expectations to our 'leaders.' Heck, even our churches now reserve their front seats for politicians, rich thieves and other dignitaries. Ranka Dede, sir!

But there is no getting away from the fact; our new leaders are minions thrown up by a very defective socio-political system. The very heart of this system, the central government is perverted. To retain control in its satellites (the states), it has to rely on even more perverted representatives and other malleables from the lower rung of the local community. These are typically a mishmash of money-miss-roads who do anything – any errand, anything at all – to get money, and other people who have been struggling economically most of their adult lives.

These gormless leaders of course, immediately begin to seek validation, relevance and acceptance. This is the Babangida model. They seek to surround themselves, or be seen with people of high intellect, sound reputation and substance. Since 1999, from the federal level down to the local government level, newly 'elected' politicians rush abroad (mainly to the UK and the US) to be hosted by Nigerian communities in an attempt to be seen as 'with it' or accepted.

Abroad, people who have been forced into economic exile fall over themselves to accommodate these newly-minted leaders. The new leader opens his mouth, and you wonder how he got selected for any post at all. You also wonder whether you actually come from the same place. But never mind. Position papers are hurriedly thrown together and developmental priority lists are drawn up from the Diaspora!

As soon as the new leaders settle into office, they embark on recouping their financial lay-out, compensating their central sponsors and primitively amassing wealth for fear of returning to their formal impoverished station in case anything happens. They have only come into government after all to better their personal lot. That for them is doing the right thing. That is the dividend of democracy. When someone who had just two pairs of trousers to their name finds themselves in government, with unchecked access to money, the thought of leaving office fills them with horror. To make matters worse, because of the real fear of going back to Poor Street, they begin to view political opposition and enlightened criticism as an attempt to take food away from their mouths. They see it as an attempt to end their newfound privileged status. They rise up and fight this tooth and nail. Assassinating people then doesn't become a problem for them. Obasanjo coined the praise for them: do or die. Remaining in office becomes a matter of life and death, not a matter of ideological superiority or service to the people.

Before long, after accumulating an obscene amount of money (the money that is meant for the development of their peoples and areas) and because there's more to life than just money, two things happen to these leaders: Hollowness and insight. The hollowness is usually caused by real and imagined fear. They fear retribution for their acts and so further barricade themselves and are forced to become even more removed from reality. A siege mentality sets in. As they get a bit of insight, they realise they are largely empty vessels occupying space and are in fact holding back their people and their progress. So they attempt to seek more relevance and self importance by hobnobbing even more with people of provable character and good status. This is also why, from Tinubu to Kalu, they buy a Doctorate degree from somewhere.

Doing a bit of personal favour for an acquaintance or for some of the people whose company they so much crave to help validate their inaneness, for them, equates to serving the people. The thought of a service agenda - doing something for the entire community doesn't even enter into their heads. In any event, where is the money? Most of them don't posses even a basic understanding of governance or political service. These are not concepts they've ever had to think about. Instead, they think paying teachers' salaries on time is an achievement.

Economic imperatives (i.e., the monolithic nature of, and the central control of our economy) mean only very few people can stand on their own now. To partake economically and to make meaningful headway at all, some otherwise genuine people have to pay obeisance to the new political leaders. The youths, seeking self actualisation, leg it across the border. The ones that remain behind learn to play the game or become tools just to survive. The socio-political space therefore continues to be conceded to bad and obtuse folks.

This explains the presence and the dominance of the Anenihs, Arikesolas, Adedibus, Ubas, Ojo Maduekwes, etc, etc in our political life. Even though they individually have more than enough money for themselves and their children, they continue to acquire more from the state in order to stay relevant. To continue to be a force to be reckoned with, they have to outspend everyone else and keep the employ of a small army of bandits and other crazies. They need a lot of money to keep dispensing in order to continue to assert influence and to keep people dependent on them politically.

How might we stop this? Well, think of a car with a faulty heating system. The heat takes a very long time to come on, and when it does, it doesn't stay on for too long. The driver might resort to rationing the heat by frequently switching it off and on; reduce the thermostat to the barest minimum; fiddle with and continue tapping the heating vents; etc. But the heater still remains faulty. The problem is actually a near empty radiator tank. The solution is for the driver to fill the radiator tank with water before the system will begin to function properly again as designed. In the case of our Nigeria, it is a classic hub-and-spoke. We all now practice a vibrant feudal system where our representatives look up only towards their appointers and hardly ever look downwards towards the people. Simply, we have to buck the central government system as it is defective and its defectiveness is contaminating the states and local governments at every arm. When we fix central governance, we can then get competent people in to fix the economy which will in turn free up the people and release their positive energy and participation.

Even the once highly esteemed Dr Alex Ekwueme had to resort to going to Minna to get his marching orders. Why? Why do we acknowledge and dignify imposed leaders and other minions who otherwise stand hollow in our formidable collective presence? Why do we make them feel important? Why do we accord them goodwill by letting them rub shoulders with our considerable, redoubtable, and decent selves? What we are doing is helping to hold up the corrupt system that oppresses us all.

So we have to look at the big picture. I will suggest that, minimally, the much craved relationship which our known trifling politicians seek with good and conscientious people; the validation they seek from Nigerians both at home and abroad be denied them. We should stop hosting them and discontinue associating with them at home and abroad. When a miscreant who had been stolen into office at the local level to help keep his own people down so that the whole country can continue to be raped by a select few is given audience, space, time, relevance and acknowledgment by everyone else, especially citizens of good repute, then we are all contributing and helping to sustain the perfidious system and abet our own oppression. It is a vicious circle we must break.

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Articles by Michael Egbejumi-David