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Published On: Tue, Apr 29th, 2014

What manner of leaders have we?

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Nigerian President SealBy Ifeanyi Uddin

There is no question but that the quality of our national leadership has deteriorated of late. The consequences of these are particularly telling at the economic level. Despite the roseate statistics favoured by the incumbent administration and its supporters, even they do not deny that the incidence of poverty (however we choose to measure it) is both onerous and growing.

The misery index may have improved (at the margins) lately as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) successfully throttled the life out of inflation over the last year-and-a-half.But this has been at considerable expense: the cost of money has risen so much that bank loans in what the industry refers to as “the retail segment of the market” currently stands at about 24% per annum. Access to credit, a serious problem before, is thus compounded further. Higher borrowing costs also mean that we cannot grow the new businesses (especially at the micro- and small-and-medium-size levels) that put a dent on unemployment numbers. Is this the point about economic growth being a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for development?

However this question is answered, government’s failures stare one in the face across other departments of the economy. Security? An executive presidency (in an American-style government) regularly appears not to know where to place responsibility for lapses here. By all means, blame the opposition for everything (so long as these are not illegal, we ought to remember that opportunism aside, the point of an opposition is to make life as difficult for the incumbent administration as is possible), but we cannot forget what the pre-election campaign promises meant: a commitment to resolve as many of the problems facing the country as possible.

So, there is no question about who is responsible (and for what), or for that matter, what to do when a department of state fails in its responsibilities: to protect citizens’ lives as in the botched Nigeria Immigration Service’s graduate entry examinations; or the abduction of 173 (maybe even 200, who knows) school girls at Chibok.

This failure, though (of competence and a lack of accountability in public office), did not start in 2011. It has worsened, no doubt. But it has always been with us. Or how can you explain the construction of gas-fired power stations without access to the gas grid? There is the one possibility that those who lead us today either played hooky, or missed the whole point of their studies. We may be minded, come 2015, to correct this. To ensure, in other words, that we elect folk into public office who took their growing-up lessons seriously, and in consequence, understand the nature of the responsibilities that they acquire as keepers of the public trust. But I worry.

Daily, I run by and through evidence that suggests that it was not just our leaders who were truant growing up, or who never managed to wrap their heads round the concepts without which civilised societies perish. “We the people” fail significantly in these respects. Nowhere does this failure rankle more than in our treatment of others’ spaces. The fecundity and ease with which we violate these spaces I’m told is in direct relationship to the failure of the criminal justice system. In other words, a more efficient policing and court systems would have encouraged the litigiousness that would put a heavy cost on tortious behaviour.

Civil society fails in other, subtler respects, too. A tort is an injury we suffer, not one brought about by our conduct. This is how most of us would describe it. A felonious conduct by a “clan” member is to be tolerated, while we ought to denounce, as loudly as possible, that from members of other “clans”! Conceptually, few things about how we think, or are subsequently organised prepares this country for the “greatness” that we ceaselessly pay lip service to.

An irresponsible leadership.A feckless followership. Indeed, do our people not deserve the leadership they have gotten this far? But then again, to run with this pack is to succumb to a particularly Nigerian form of ennui. The simple truth is that today, in the run up to general elections next year, we confront a strong case for untying our own Gordian knot. All we want is our own Alexander, The Great, who, thinking outside the box, takes a broadsword to the problem.

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