A very important issue came up at the maiden edition of a Unity Talk organised at Canaan Plaza, Lekki, by a group called Centre for Unity Advancement and Peace Development (CUAPD), led by George Ezeugo, on May 1, 2017. It was the occassion for discourse around a very important topic – the unity of Nigeria – that I could not miss for anything in the world. I told George and the audience that I hadn’t seen any serious engagement in Nigeria’s top intellectual places, with the question of unity. Successive governments love to mouth the mantra that ‘our unity is non-negotiable’, drawing the ire of a growing majority of the people who believe that Nigeria is no longer workable and so should be split in, at least, three places. Some propose six spaces, along the lines of the geopolitical zones. Some propose smithereens. I noted that even at the last National Conference in 2014, the delegates were informed that this was a no-go area, and those who tried to raise issues in this regard were those who had already made up their minds on Nigeria’s hopelessness as an single entity.
For a while now, many Nigerians have been working assiduously towards the dismemberment of the country – with the likes of Nnamdi Kanu at the forefront. Others are clamouring for an Oodua Republic and being vehement about it. Even in the North of Nigeria, there is a growing number of people who have come to terms with the likelihood of Nigeria falling apart; so they say that they can no longer be blackmailed. A sizeable proportion of middle class Northerners now say that they feel more at home in Niger Republic and Chad than in Abuja, Lagos or any other part of Nigeria. Among those who live in border communities (relatively poor people), there is enhanced interaction with their ‘brothers and sisters’ in those other countries. These people feel more loyalty and affiliation with citizens of other countries than with other citizens of Nigeria with whom they do not share a culture or religion. Our borders are therefore non-existent, with all sorts of people with unholy missions allowed to come in and go out at will.
By now every ethnic group in Nigeria has figured out how they can be self-sustaining if it all comes apart.
The truth is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Nigeria but us. If all Nigerians were exported to the best lands in the world, we would most likely quickly make a mess of wherever that may be. On the issue of Nigeria’s unity, I don’t believe we have tried enough to make it a success before giving up entirely. Today, we have enough reasons to not even engage with it; many instances of ethnic and religious wars, costing human lives, have given us good excuses to not try. Add to that, mindless leadership that usurps the lifeblood of the country and that has continued to do so for decades. It seems we should give up right now, but I think not. I still believe we haven’t tried enough to make this one work, and perhaps more importantly, that the present crop of leaders cannot validly take that decision on behalf of Nigerians (and this is not about Buhari and Osinbajo but about those who have risen to become ministers, senators and the rest). I believe they have failed woefully and that we don’t have the critical mass from among them to engage in a debate that can begin to logically consider the pros and cons. Again, decades of neglect and ego-worshipping means that our issues have metastasised and positions have hardened. A very good debate with open minds would have solved many of these problems but we have now become incapable of sustained debate in an atmosphere of mutual intellectualism. In my own analysis though, I can see that the pros are more than the cons. So I am at the level of articulating the many reasons why Nigeria, as constituted, can work if only its people would rise to the mental level where they make it work. Alas, we have only sunk lower and lower into the abyss and shrunk mentally in the last few years.
Let me get one issue out of the way. There aren’t three nationalities in Nigeria, or three languages. There are more like 500. And most, if not all, of them – even when very similar – are not agreed on their own homogeneity (every Gwari village will prove to you how they are distinct from the next, when the time comes). Homogeneity itself has been shown not to be a sine qua non for progress, development or cohesion anyway. And for those who complain that the British cobbled all these 500 nations in Nigeria together into one country, one can only remind them that the shrewd Brits were never going to create 500 countries out of Nigeria by moving from one thatched settlement to another in the year 1800, asking whether they wanted their own countries. The British didn’t even have 500 of their own citizens in Nigeria at the peak of their colonial administration. They achieved much with little. I still marvel when some of our bright minds complain about Britain joining us together ‘even though we are different’. We are talking about the Dark Ages here. Even the white man wrought so much injustice on his own kin. Ireland was the first country that the English colonised – in the 16th Century – and they only granted part-independence to what is today known as Republic of Ireland (south Ireland), while retaining the Northern part of Ireland, only in 1922. 38 years later, Nigeria got its own independence but today we rush to the Republic of Ireland as refugees, for greener pastures and better living.
What is more? The Nigerians of that time couldn’t care less. Our agitations, and this ‘exceptionalism’ by which some of us claim to be better than the ‘others’ is a very recent phenomenon. The demarcations of today were not there. No one really cared. Communities morphed into one another. When I posted the list of 371 Nigerian languages on my Facebook page recently, someone commented that there were Yagba people in Ekiti, while another corrected him that it was the other way round; that there were Ekiti people in Yagba. Another commented magisterially that there were Igbo people in Benue and Akwa Ibom, to which I replied that there are Benue/Idoma people in Igboland as well and Ibibios/Anangs in the border towns of what is today known as Igboland. I know Idoma people with names like Anyanwu, but also Igbo people on the other side of the river from the Igalas, with names like Omale. At the root of much of our problems lies our method of oral history, and what my political science lecturer, Dr. Agbogu, referred to as Ptolemic Parochialism, some 30 years ago. He referred to the Greek poet, Ptolemy whose entire writings were about the greatness of the Greeks, and little else.
The truth is that in pre-colonial and colonial days, our people didn’t care about all these divisions, and unfortunately, it seems they had more respect for themselves than we do today. They adopted each others’ languages freely as caught their fancies, even though inter-tribal trade could not be compared to what goes on amongst us today. They also imposed culture when they won their tribal wars, but sometimes they chose not to (like the Binis who didn’t impose their language when they conquered territories). We who live in today’s Nigeria ought to have evolved beyond the tiny little wars we fight against each other today, but we haven’t. Another truth is that there is no cohesion even among the ‘majority’ tribes of Nigeria today. One Churchill Okonkwo, writing for Sahara Reporters, listed some of the contradictions of the Biafra phenomenon e.g. what Anambra in-laws feel about Imo wives, how an Anambra catholic bishop was rejected by Mbaise people, how the Anglicans in Anambra are complaining of marginalisation in the hands of their catholic kin today, and how some Igbos consider Abakaliki people to be second-class in a way. He said there are people who believe they are Igbos today who will not be so considered when Biafra arrives.
I also note that if we were in an Oodua Republic today, there will be a war between the Eko (Lagos) people and the Ile-Ife people and many other towns will align behind each warring side, for the snobbery that the Eleko of Eko (otherwise called Oba of Lagos) showed to the Ooni of Ife who is regarded as the spiritual head of Obas in Yorubaland. And with the ‘controversial’ interventions of Emir Sanusi, we have seen how the North has split into the ‘conservatives’ and ‘non-conservatives’. We should remember that under Goodluck Jonathan, the fabled homogeneity of Northern opinion was thoroughly tested, with many Northern ‘big men’ ready to sway to his side for position and the opportunity to make money, in spite of the interest and feelings of the larger nationality. I remember people like Ahmed Gulak and how far they were ready to go. The ‘South’ was able to see that the purported ‘unity’ of the North was a myth, especially when subjected to the test of money and power. But the South seems to have forgotten these all too soon.
Many people have observed that the upper class or ruling class in Nigeria is solidly united across tribal or religious divides when it comes to sharing the loot. All we are asking for now is that we unite to develop the country. Uniting has never been a problem for us. The issue is what are we uniting behind. Our leaders should concentrate on getting us to unite behind the issues that matter.
One of the highlights of the seminar was the talk given by Pastor John Enelamah – a junior brother to the Minister for Trade and Investments. The enthralling lecture focused on leadership, and drew copiously from the works, statements and experiences of Lee Kuan Yew, the iconic saviour of Singapore. Pastor John’s conclusion was that we needed such a leader – with the focus, selflessness, vision, determination, stubbornness, philosophy, grit, savvy, intellectual prowess, and ability to stand their own in international circles, for Nigeria to move ahead, and to get itself out of this rut that it has found itself. The lecture opened another vista in my thoughts about the Nigerian problem. I became afraid. Where will our Lee Kuan Yew come from? And will that be a feasible strategy?
It will be great to find a Lee Kuan Yew. The problem is they don’t make them like that anymore. Even his son who presently leads Singapore has been under criticisms just like his father, and many people are wondering if the entire legacy is about maintaining Chinese leadership over Singapore, or worse still about building a dynasty. Singaporean economy has been losing some steam lately. Lee is a one-in-a-million leader. If we would wait for a Lee, we may have to wait forever. How many people can readily say that they can stand shoulder to shoulder with Lee in Nigeria today. Buhari was meant to be our best export, until (I’m sorry), his own self-demystification. Before that demystification, I had cause to be very angry with one of his handlers, Garba Shehu, who, on the occasion of Buhari’s 100 days in office, penned an article where he slagged off Lee Kuan Yew as a ‘micromanager’, while extolling the great leadership qualities of his boss, none of which has come true.
Where will Nigeria find a Lee Kuan Yew among its young leaders?
I have another proposition. Why don’t we de-emphasise such mercurial leadership which may never happen, but see how we can raise a million leaders who can combine two or more of the attributes that Lee had. Yes, Nigeria needs a million leaders, not one who can do everything. This is strictly from a risk management perspective. If we all relied on a single leader and that leader was ‘taken out’ or ‘neutralised’, where would we then find ourselves? With the kind of problems we face in Nigeria today – problems which keep metastasising – we surely need so many people with vast capabilities who can back up for each other. We need a leadership revolution. I acknowledge that a vast amount of leadership programmes have been going on in the country for over a decade now, with little on ground in terms of real leadership results. Perhaps the mistake is that a lot of our leadership trainings are focused on the self. And too many are focused on making money (leadership to get more market share and become a billionaire; is that one leadership?) That is why very few of those trained in ‘leadership’ actually do the first thing that is required of leadership in our clime; step out and take a risk. Leadership skills are useless if all you use it for is make yourself comfortable (in fact it should lead to discomfort), or if you wait until you get a big title before trying to deploy (leadership should not be about titles but about influence).
Nigeria needs a million leaders. That is a good place to start if we are truly 180 million. In time, we will need a lot more than that to transform our every space. We need leaders popping up out of the woodworks in a way that will shock the world. We need people who will step up and take the necessary risks when normal people are still hedging and running away. We need those who will realise that no matter their status, their looks, their circumstances, their pedigree, their background, the resources available to them, they may be the person Nigeria and the world has been waiting for. Again, it must be emphasised that this is not about the limelight and big offices, but about sacrifice. We need to train our upcoming ones that the critical thing here is the ability to make sacrifices and offer oneself to the people, in deed and in truth, if we understand how bad things are and how little time and opportunity we have on our hands to make a change. We need deep people, who in spite of all odds will keep trudging on, and will not allow the fear of death and destruction to withhold their efforts. We need them today.
Yes, Nigeria needs a million Lee Kuan Yews, because, not only is Nigeria much larger in size and population than Singapore, but our problems are several times bigger. The world has changed and become more punishing of laggards, we are in a strategic location drawing the attention of the global community, not all of whom want our progress (truly), and we live in a globalised community where the competition is extremely intense, among other factors. We also need to begin inculcating in our younger ones the sheer enormity of our issues and why they cannot keep standing aloof, but why the solutions are in their hands.
We need a million leaders, who cannot be obliterated, who will keep backing up each other, and supplying the critical leadership that Nigeria requires at this time, at every level of society, who don’t have the time to wait for their titles and nameplates.
In the spirit of Robin Sharma, we need leaders who know that:
“Leadership is less about the position you hold than the influence you have. It’s about doing world-class work, playing at your peak, and leaving people better than you found them. It’s about Leading Without a Title.”
“Leadership is no longer about position – but passion…. It’s no longer about image but impact.”
“Leadership begins and ends with 3 words: Absolute Personal Responsibility”
“The way you do the little things is the way you’ll do the big things. Everything matters.”
We have not begun to see the beginnings of this I’m afraid. I visit universities and see dilapidated infrastructure that could have been fixed or maintained if we had such leaders among the student populace, even if the VCs and professors have dropped the ball. I see students still using disease infested toilets in the year 2017, something that we will not see in any university in the developed world, and no student is stepping up to say this is unacceptable. Yet it is in little places like that that these leaders will emerge. If we want a Macron, we would have to fish in the Ocean that offers up leaders who have transformed their spaces or are currently assiduously working on it.
WE NEED A LEADERSHIP REVOLUTION!