Being Part of an Open Paper by Oliver Mbamara Esq., At the 2nd Annual Nigerian Leadership Summit in New York, 2011
- As the title suggests, this paper is not addressed to the Nigerian leadership alone but to the Nigerian populace as well. In reality, the populace owes a greater role (insured by its strength in numbers) to guide and point the leaders in the direction and path of socio-economic progress in nation building. To blame the situation of Nigeria’s socio-economic troubles entirely on the leadership or the populace in isolation of the other is to attend to the issue incongruously. Both the leaders and the led must play their various roles accordingly.
These points are hereby referred to as “brief points” as we need not go into broader detail. Actually they are mere reminders, for it is my conviction that our leaders and our people are aware of these points for nation building. The challenge is in the resolution to execute these theories which we know would improve our leadership and country. Some leaders even propagate these theories by word of mouth and campaign promises. Yet, the true test is in going about executing them. Whether we succeed or fail as a nation or as a people depends on how honestly and selflessly we execute these principles. So help us God.
1. Security, Security, and Security: The importance of this factor cannot be overemphasized.” In March 2002, I wrote in an article titled, “Investing in Nigeria (and Africa): The security question.” In which I stated as follows:
“It is only upon a solid foundation of peace and security of life and property that economic and political stability can be built to last. I look forward to the day our leaders would make safety and security their utmost priority for their country (not just around the leaders themselves). Employ more policemen, arm and train them better, but above all pay them well to attract more recruits and discourage bribery - there are many young men and women wasting away, yet willing and able to grab a police job anytime. It is said, 'the idle mind is the devils workshop.' When the youths have no jobs after their education, they easily accept an offer of a token fee to carry out violence and mayhem.”
No reasonable investor would venture into a territory where he could be kidnapped or robbed at will, and no nation can expect to thrive without significant foreign and private sector investments in the economy. That is the nature of the world we live in and that is why global economic sanctions continue to hurt obstinate administrations in the world. A comfortable state of security (not necessarily a perfect state, for that cannot be obtained on earth) will encourage investors and provide the confidence for them to invest in the country and its economy. That will provide more jobs, good roads, infrastructures, and sustenance. I believe our leaders can comprehend this obvious equation. One has to hope that someday a leader will come who would make the implementation of this equation a reality.
2. Responsibility and Accountability: This is the kind of respect and sense of duty and diligence that starts from the top echelons of leadership and permeates through subordinate offices, government parastatals and further down through local authorities. Leaders have to abide by the law if they want the populace to be law-abiding. If the executive or legislative arm of government would not respect the verdicts of the Judiciary, and the Judiciary would not interpret the laws of the land in accordance with duly enacted legislation or precedents, or the Executive does not execute its policies according to legislation and laws of the land, how would the populace be expected to abide by laws and regulations that build and sustain a peaceful and thriving socio-economic environment?
3. Exemplary Lifestyle and Leadership: In line with the preceding point it is important for leaders not to only say things that the populace should do to turn the country around for good, but the leaders also have to live by what they say and preach. As we say – “not just what I say but what I do.” It is useless to expect the populace to change their regard for the state if the leaders only care for themselves. It is useless to expect the populace to tighten their belts and live through economic austerity measures while the few in power live in squalor and reckless abandon. It is useless for leaders to send their children abroad to foreign schools or the best schools even in Nigeria while the average masses struggle to send their children to local dilapidated poorly equipped schools. It is useless for leaders to go abroad for regular health check-up and treatments while the average masses fight for their lives at poorly equipped hospitals within the country. If leaders avail themselves with the services of the same local school, hospitals, markets, roads, power supply, water and other amenities of life, they will naturally find it reasonable to provide these amenities or make them efficiently affordable to all. As I partly stated in an article in August 2009, titled, "Accountability and Responsibility, the Kind of Rebranding We Need" (Part 2):
- "The rule should be to lead by good example. Any attempt to encourage Nigerians to be more patriotic, responsible, and accountable in their ways of life towards creating a good image for the country would be an exercise in futility, bound to fail if Nigerians would not find the confidence and encouragement to look up to their leaders for good examples.”
4. Honorable and Responsible Voting: This factor is very helpful in achieving the preceding factor. Voters have to be responsible with their votes so as to elect leaders who would be accountable to the public and not their cohorts. Voters have to realize that their vote remains their power. If they cast their votes without diligence, responsibility, and conscientious reasoning they should not expect to have leaders that will lead with reason, responsibility, and conscience. If the people cast their votes based on monies received from leadership contestants or they vote based on religious discrimination and nothing else, then they would have sold their right and power to effect the change they would prefer. In a national vote, tribal and regional factors should not be determinant factors as that defeats the principle of nationalism which is in turn a cardinal requirement of nation building. The voters have to account for their votes if they want the leaders to account for leadership. Prudent and honorable use of electoral power through voting would lead to the installation of leaders who will account to the constituencies and not just pamper to select group of friends, relatives, and cohorts.
5. Free Global Dissemination of News, Information, and Culture: We have to tell our stories and spread our good news so the truth will prevail. It is evident that many Nigerians and Africans in Diaspora continue to excel in their various fields of endeavor whether it is in business, academics, administration, arts, or otherwise. Yet, negative news reporting and pictures of war torn societies, starving children, and dilapidated suburbs are the kind of coverage Africa mostly gets in the western. Since negative news sells and travels faster than good news, the world is constantly fed with more negative news and impressions of Africa than the positives.
Nollywood: The main success story here is the growth of Nollywood (Nigerian film industry) and the impact it is having in exporting the true stories of our people. We can take advantage of the popular reach of Nollywood to paint and export a true and good image of our nation and people through worthy film content.
The other success story is the emerging potency of Individual involvement in sharing and disseminating of truthful news and information. Through the use of easily accessible and affordable channels and devices such as mobile phones, social media outlets like Facebook, Youtube, and blog sites freely managed by individuals, truthful and current news and information is at our finger tips to be shared. People no longer have to wait for censored or doctored news coming from government outlets such as state run television and radio stations. This way anyone could contribute in creating awareness and in exposing negative trends that require correction. The impact of this new trend in information dissemination is actually driving a wave of reorientation and change across the world. The viability cannot be questioned although there is a caveat to this recommendation. Sharing of certain news and information requires caution and management to avoid circumstances where reckless dissemination of such news and information could actually lead to very serious consequences. Example - revealing the residential address of a person accused or criticized could unfortunately lead overzealous people to locate and attack or harm such a person without allowing the full course of the law to take its course.
6. Economic and Administrative Stability: No prudent investor would want to invest his resources in an economy that could easily collapse or be manipulated in a way that would not ensure any returns on investment. It does not matter whether such investor is a Nigerian, an African or other foreigner. Naturally, new administrations come with new policies and as opposed to the days of regular coup de’etat when the military forcefully disrupted the ongoing socio-economic structure and instituted draconian rules that drastically deferred from the status quo. Elected transitions do allow for some transition of at least the good policies of one administration to the other. Investors have to trust that a change in government would not bring about a drastic and arbitrary turn around in policies that affect investments. Change in administration policies that reflect reasonable state of things could be tolerated – in fact that is part of the risk in investment. However, to change policies just to score political, tribal, or personal points when the change is detrimental to the socio-economic subsistence and stability of the state should be discouraged. To change policies or replace executive appointees just to compensate for political loyalty comes with a price of inefficiency when the appointee has little experience necessary for running the office in question except in those rare situations when the appointee is indeed qualified to do the job.
7. Religious and Tribal Tolerance: Nigeria is a country with numerous tribes, cultures, and languages. It will be folly to expect that these varying cultures will always be in harmony. That is not natural. However, tolerance and understanding of these variations would go a long way in maintaining a sort of conducive environment for the nation to thrive. It does not give the country a good image when fellow Nigerians resort to maiming fellow Nigerians and burning down houses, churches, and mosques just because they do not agree with the other’s tenets. Which foreigner, whether a tourist or investor would feel safe to be in an environment where hoodlums can easily take over the streets sometimes at the slightest or no provocation? Which investor would want to set up a business structure today only to see it burnt down the next day by an irate group that feels it has been wronged and that violence is its only way to make its political, ideological or religious points? Acts and threats of violence by an intolerant group whether political, religious or tribal is an impediment to good governance. Recent administrations have been willing to dialogue with dissenting groups which eliminates the need for violence as the only way out. If a group is sincere and honest, it will dialogue with the government or the opposing group.
It is pertinent to point out that the execution of the laws of the land to quell or prevent religious violence and to improve religious tolerance for peaceful co-existence and the practice of one’s religion no matter which fate, has to be fair, impartial, and without fear or favor, but in accordance with the cardinal objective of maintaining respect for life, property, freedom, and human dignity amongst the general populace (regardless of religious affiliation or tribe). To be selective in dealing with religious issues simply to please powerful traditional institutions in some parts of the country is a practice that will never quell or cure the situation. In fact such approach has the tendency of prolonging and even escalating the situation. Those who condone, encourage, or sponsor religious or tribal violence have to realize that religious or tribal violence could be like a burning fire – once ablaze, it could get out of control and eventually consume the same person(s) who set such fire.
8. Conscience: One leading factor on how successful it is to achieve and maintain a tolerant and conducive environment for the economy to thrive and peace to reign is the conscience of community tribal and religious leaders. Nigeria has been and continues to be a country dominated by the culture that requires people to listen to their elders and leaders. It is therefore natural that these elders and leaders have significant impact on how their followers think, reason, and act. An elder or leader with good conscience will impact such goodness and conscience to his followers. He will not rile them up to go and kill and maim innocent people just because those other people share or express a different opinion on issues of life, morals, politics, or religion. A true leader with conscience will not stand by or look the other way while his followers commit mayhem in the name of religion or political affiliation.
The other side of the coin is that even if the leaders lack the conscience to respect human life, property, and fairness, the individual has a responsibility to choose his own decision and do what is right while abstaining from that which his conscience find to be wrong. In the end, the individual will have to account for any atrocities committed. He could be prosecuted and jailed here on earth for his criminal offence or he would face the wrath of the spiritual law of Karma even after life. However, it must be conceded that to trust on the individual’s ability to make good, moral, or conscientious decisions on his own has its shortcomings. The fact is that sometimes an individual maybe so brainwashed or indoctrinated that he no longer has a reasonable ability to ascertain what is right and what is wrong. He could be an extremist zealot and as cruel and heartless as can be yet “believe” that it is the right thing in the eyes of his God. This is usually the case in those situations where people have been so indoctrinated to believe that they could fight a war for God (as if God is that powerless), and they therefore take the laws into their hands to kill and maim others based on their narrow religious convictions.
9. Reorientation: Whether at home or abroad, whether a leader or the led, Nigerians have to believe in the spirit of the nation, Nigeria. Nigerians have to be proud of being called Nigerians regardless of the taint on the image of Nigeria by a few other Nigerians. Choose leaders based on qualification and merit for the job, not just on tribal, political, or religious sentiments. Think what can be done to make things work not what can be found that is wrong with the nation. What can be done to bring about some positive change no matter how small, not what can be done to exploit the situation to selfish ends. Encourage what could be beneficial to the future generation Nigerians, not just what is immediately good in it at the moment. Be bold to speak out or act (with votes) against the nefarious activities of leaders even when such leaders come from the same village, tribe, political party, or religious affiliation as the Nigerian. Look beyond mere allocation of portfolios and instead consider whether the appointee fits the office. Be constructive and not destructive in the criticism of Nigeria and fellow Nigerians. Dwell also on the achievements of many great Nigerian men and women who continue to excel in many areas of life be it academics, sports, medicine, law, research, engineering, or many others, and not just on the bad egg Nigerians.
Conclusion: Many of these things we know but how willing are we to go forward and make the move. Some of us give up before we even start. The task is huge and sometimes it is hard to know where to start but the simple rule is to start with ourselves. Look in the mirror and honestly address the man in the mirror and then go out and live an exemplary life. Shun bribery, corruption, dichotomy, favoritism, tribalism, and other kinds of discrimination that have negative impact on the progress of the nation. Some little sacrifice here and there. Rearrangement of our priorities, here and there. Sacrificing of our times and resources to do things that would be good for the nation and the people of Nigeria in general. These may seem too numerous or too minor but they add up if we all do just our little bit everyday and everywhere. The true test is in going about executing these principles.
If the man that is blessed with experience gets the opportunity, but fails to use it for improvement, what then has he lived for? If the man that finds himself on the corridors of power and trusted with leadership either by electoral votes or by fate, fails to let his good conscience reign, what then is his value if he lives, acts, and leads like he has no conscience?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Oliver O. Mbamara is an Admin. Judge of New York State. He is also a filmmaker and a published writer, poet, and playwright. For more on Oliver Mbamara, please visit www.OliverMbamara.com