Nigeria and the Followership Question, By Jimoh Akanbi

There are two sides to every issue and that includes the problems confronting Nigeria. Over the years, the leadership factor has been consistently blamed for the seemingly insurmountable obstacles to the expected steady development of the country. Leaders of various governments also formed the habit of harping on the failures and inadequacies of predecessors akin to the “bring him down” syndrome of rival military juntas.

Nigerians generally welcome leaders with euphoria and high expectations but rarely consider themselves as essential factors in the success or failure of governments, impatiently turning into “wailers”, even though their attitudes and conduct too often militate against the desired national progress and development. The prevailing situation in the country whereby undeniably strenuous efforts of the Federal Government are seen to be yielding positive outcomes, especially in the anti-corruption fight and the critical sectors of infrastructural development, agricultural development, economic diversification, youth empowerment and poverty alleviationcontrasts sharply with the public pre-occupation with crisis-mongering and armchair criticism. The notoriously unpatriotic “Nigerian Factor” is obviously alive and kicking!

It was US President John F Kennedy who famously took the citizenry to task over their presumption of entitlement to the benefits of citizenship from government without responsibility, when he counseled “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. This exhortation is even more warranted in Nigeria where the tendency is for citizens to look up to government for their every need without the slightest consideration for their own contribution in support of government’s omnibus duty. Not even tax!

President Muhammadu Buhari was even more forthright when, in his first emergence as military Head of State, he identified indiscipline as the national malady against which he launched a highly impactful corrective War Against Indiscipline (WAI) targeting social maladjustment and rampant corruption with emphasis on engendering personal and moral discipline to check indolence and corrupt practices. It is instructive that in his second coming, three decades later, President Buhari had to start from where he was stopped by the IBB palace coup in 1985, this time going all out against corruption in government which was threatening to “kill Nigeria”.

President Buhari has marvelously demonstrated the critical role of responsible and patriotic leadership in charting a course of moral and institutional integrity as a necessary pre-requisite for political and economic progress. However, it is disheartening that the generality of Nigerians are quick to “hail” his exemplary record but reluctant to play their own part in support of his national crusade which they purport to endorse. Yet they know that without their buy-in and self-motivated adoption of the Buharia corrective crusade against corruption in government and indiscipline in the society, they are merely paying lip-service to the legacy. Ask not what more Buhari can do, ask what you can do in support of his crusade against personal and social indiscipline.

Among the trending acts of gross indiscipline that Nigerians, especially urban elite, brazenly indulge in is ignoring traffic lights. This malady was rightly diagnosed as psychiatric by the FRSC which appropriately introduced compulsory psychiatric examination for culprits but it seems to be spreading like an epidemic across the nation today. Such a life-endangering act of indiscipline is perpetrated in broad daylight by supposedly civilized urban elite!

 Another outrageous case of indiscipline frequently unleashed on innocent road users with reckless abandon hit the headlines recently when irate commercial drivers deliberately blocked the ever-busy Kaduna-Abuja highway for more than 12 hours in a protest against the killing of a bus driver by a  policeman   on the road after he allegedly refused to part with a N2,000 bribe. The Kaduna State Governor Nasir ElRufai who eventually pacified the protesting drivers did not spare them for such misguided protest : “However, grief and a sense of loss do not justify imposing such pains on other citizens as the protesting drivers have done by blocking a very busy highway. They have left many people stranded for several hours and caused considerable distress.”

These two incidents capture the negative attitudinal and behavioral traits that Nigerians exhibit frequently that not only underscore the inherent character challenges that have to be overcome but also demonstrate the impact that such undesirable tendencies have on the prospects for developing a supportive mind-set among citizens for success of good governance policies and programmes. Such behavioral patterns indicate high potential for citizens to deliberately act in conflict with laws and policies intended for the overall interest of the nation. This calls for vigorous sensitization on the need for citizens to contribute their quota to the success of meaningful public policies towards national progress by regarding the task of governance as the joint responsibility of citizen and government.  

So indeed there are two sides to the problem with Nigeria. The leadership aspect has been identified and is being subjected to corrective measures by the democratic opportunities for periodic review, recall and replacement. But the followership fiasco is getting worse on virtually all fronts. Gross indiscipline is complicated by orchestrated incitement against democratic institutions and processes, exploiting the widespread political ignorance of the masses.

Now that we have a purposeful President with a mass followership and a corrective agenda, the next four years could be our best chance to bring the masses back from the wailing wall. If only our crisis-mongering, blame –gaming and empire-building political elite would put long-term national interest above all else and stop running down the best efforts of a principled and patriotic leader to stop the rot.

JIMOH AKANBI, politician, wrote from Ibadan.

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