By Jerome-Mario Utomi
Viewed subjectively, experience is the best teacher. But in an applied sense, experience is not the best teacher. Rather, it is what you do with what happens that teaches. The usefulness of experience essentially manifests in the development of the capacity to escape the guilt of the past and anxiety for the future. This ability to learn from past deeds coupled with the ability to centrally plan over a period of time, spelling out for both normal and contingency conditions in such a way that create positive impacts on the lives of citizens, are but the attributes that makes a great leader.
However, if there is any event in recent history that postures Nigerian leaders as lacking in the above attributes, it is incident of Tuesday 20th October, 2020, at the Lekki tollgate where scores of protesters were killed as shooters believed to be officers of the Nigerian military opened fire on hundreds of youths keeping vigil to demand an end to police brutality.
Separate from terminating the lives of many innocent Nigerians while leaving others wounded, the present unwarranted killing remains a sad narrative because it has more than anything else President Muhammadu Buhari’s led administration as a bunch that is unwilling to draw a lesson from its past mistakes/wrong leadership judgements.
For clarity, the nation has traveled one road too many. We have journeyed through a part consistently without result. Yet, we have refused to make a detour. As a nation, we have traveled to the southeastern part to watch the python dance. To the south- south to witness the ugly crocodile smile. Another Codenamed: “Operation Octopus grip” as declared by the Nigerian Navy in the Niger Delta region. We must equally not forget the unprovoked invasion of the peaceful Ajakurama Community in Edo State in a drill code-named; Operation Crocodile Smile. Also fresh in our minds is the avoidable clash between the Shi’ites Islamic groups in Abuja that left dozens of the protesting members of the group dead. Notably, all these ‘dances, smiles and grips’ shares but a common outcome called chaos and left in their trails; sorrows, tears and blood
Despite all these unpalatable signals and feedback from the targeted ‘beneficiaries’ of these operations, our nation’s handlers have not deemed it necessary to appraise the entire process in order to situate if the strategy is achieving the premeditated result. But instead, have pushed on, focusing on trivial concerns while forgetting to address the fundamental issues.
More tragic about the present discourse is the believe by Nigerians with critical minds that any administration that comes to power in Nigeria tends to be worse than its predecessors
Take as an illustration, while the present government against all known logic opts for maximum force against these youths, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s administration, under a similar circumstance, during the fuel subsidy removal protest in January, 2012, went to engage Nigerians in a dialogue. And after much haggling, he partially removed and reduced petrol price from N141 to N97 per litre.
To further appease the masses, he announced some palliatives to cushion the negative impacts of the subsidy removal. These included the procurement and distribution of about 1000 mass transit buses for the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, as well as the establishment of a subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme, SURE-P, under the leadership of Christopher Kolade, former Nigerian High Commissioner to Britain.
Now, recognizing the public outcry that greeted the present occurrence, and acknowledging that no nation can long continue to flourish or find its way to a modern society without doing the people’s will, the question may be asked; why is President Muhammadu’ led Federal Government finding it difficult to communicate to Nigerians the clear vision that his government is trying to accomplish or try to understand the Nigerian youths by walking in their shoes and seeing things from their perspective? Why can’t the President look back and draw a lesson from Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s template?
While the nation awaits possible explanation from Mr. President, it should be clear by now that leadership in Nigeria is fraught with definitional ambiguities and systemic challenges which divides neighbour from neighbour; creates frictions between the government and the people, and cause appreciable embarrassment to the nation at the global stage
To make the above assertion clearer, from a development practitioner’s point of view, leadership is power and power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, economic, political, cultural and religious changes. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demand of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.
But contrary to the above explanation, power in the estimation of the present government is but the ability to protect personal interest. The repercussion of this deformed definition/belief is what the nation currently suffers.
From the above concerns flows another called impunity.
In Nigeria, impunity is one word that has become wrongly domesticated and applied in the Nigerian political and security space. According a report, this is a country where politicians and security agents, albeit public officers take laws into their hands. Some of them behave recklessly without thinking of the short and long term damage their acts of impunity have on the psyche of Nigerians albeit the entire world which is also watching.
There have been cases where security agents unleash terror on their victims, public officials acting with impunity in siphoning pension funds while starving hapless pensioners to their early Grave.
The above may not be the only explanation. There exist in the present government the challenges of; inappropriate self-interest, distorting attachments and the presence of misleading memories.
If not inappropriate self interest, how do we explain the occurrence that at a time the nation is boiling over the gruesome murder of Nigerian youths, such time has become the perfect period for the members of House of Representative to introduce a bill for consideration to bar courts and election tribunals from voiding the election of a President-elect and governors-elect, because of blemishes in the educational qualifications of their running mates, is underway in the House of Representatives.
The Bill entitled: “An Act to Alter the Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, to Preserve the Elections of a Candidate to the Office of the President and Governor whose running mates are found to have Defected in their Qualification”, and sponsored by Rep. Solomon T. Bob (Rivers-PDP), seeks to alter the Provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to preserve the elections of candidates to the office of the President or Governor whose deputies, have been found to have deficiencies in their qualifications”.
Looking at the current political temperature in the country, such move cannot be the best way to legislate for the poor but a pure wrong signal to the wider world.
To move forward as a nation, the present administration must on one hand understand that the economy would look after itself if democracy is protected; human rights adequately taken care of, and the rule of law strictly adhered to. Closely followed is recognition that the primary aim for occupying pubilic leadership position is not for joy but for great ‘development battles; not for honour but for making sustained decisions that will help make the people productive; not for idleness but for work; not for rest but to take steps that will improve the life chances of the masses.
Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Cordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social And Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA).Lagos, Nigeria.