This 2023 Nigerians deserve to breathe again

aaeb azuka onwuka
aaeb azuka onwuka

It is said that a people deserve the leaders they get, but one wonders if Nigerians deserve their leaders. Since 1960 when Nigeria got her independence, Nigeria has moved from one mediocre leadership to another. The people are usually desirous to have transformative leaders, but somehow, they keep getting disappointed. Between February and March of this 2023, Nigeria will go to the polls again to elect another president as well as legislators, state governors and state legislators.

With the parlous state of the Nigerian economy and security, most Nigerians believe that this year’s election is a defining one: It has the possibility to offer Nigeria the opportunity to break from its past of wastefulness and mediocrity and start the arduous task of rebuilding the country. But to achieve that, Nigerians are expected to elect leaders based on their pedigree and capacity rather than their status as “power brokers” or ethnic-cum-religious allies.

One factor that has contributed hugely to Nigeria’s retrogression and problems is the people’s obsession with material possession. If any presidential candidate who gets elected this year does not do anything to change that, then the person will not have achieved anything substantial for Nigeria.

The current Nigerian attitude to material possession is cancerous. It has eaten deeply into the internal organs of Nigeria and created some of the grave problems that have paralysed Nigeria. Money has become the god of Nigeria for some decades now. Most of the churches and mosques preach and worship it week after week. Even when they claim that they don’t promote materialism, the constant pressure they give their worshippers and the special attention and honour they give to the big donors still make the loud statement that money is the king and god of Nigeria, and those who have a lot of it and dole it out profusely get all the accolades and honours.

It is the same thing in the social or communal life. The Nigerian society has made it clear that only those who have money and flaunt it deserve respect. They are the ones who get all the chieftaincy titles and awards. They are celebrated at every opportunity as examples of success.

The sad part is that unlike in the past, the source of people’s wealth is no longer questioned in Nigeria. Until the mid-1980s, Nigerians still questioned people’s source of wealth before celebrating it. Parents would not accept monetary or material gifts from their children, if they were not sure of the source of wealth of such children. People tried as much as possible to dissociate themselves from those who were perceived as tainted.

In recent times, because of the desire to be wealthy and influential and be celebrated, crime has continued to soar in Nigeria. That many Nigerians engage in drug trafficking, even in countries where drug trafficking attracts the death penalty, is because of the consuming desire to get rich by any means. Many people say that it is better to die trying to be rich than to be alive without being rich and celebrated.

The same thing goes for kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery and internet scams. There is no repulsion for these crimes anymore. Those who engage in them even create justifications for them. They blame society for not providing jobs for them, even though most of them would reject jobs because no job in Nigeria will pay a young person millions of naira every month like crime does. There is also the justification that those in political positions steal much more.

The continuous rise in the level of corruption exhibited by those in the civil service and even those in the private service also has its roots in this worship of money. When most people talk about their tenure in the civil service, governance, judiciary, media, public relations, advertising, marketing, manufacturing, banking, etc, it is usually as one without blemish, but when the salary and other forms of remuneration of such people are compared with the amount of money and assets they have amassed, one sees a clear disconnect. There is no way all their earnings can give rise to the amount of wealth they have amassed, no matter how savvy they are in investment.

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An associate faced such a challenge and pressure based on the amount of money his townsman working in the same organisation was donating at home and the assets he was acquiring. His father asked him why he was not doing as well as his kinsman working in the same office, and advised him to get close to him and learn how to progress in life. Any time the man contacted his kinsman to tell him how he was making such huge financial progress, the answer he got was: “My brother, work hard, invest and trust in God.”

This continued until something led to a probe of his activities in the public relations department where he was working. It was found out that for years he was fleecing the organisation. He would raise a budget of gifts in cash and kind to reporters, editors and publishers for the sake of getting constant positive media reports. But much of the money was going into his bank account and that of his colleague in the same department. And just as security funds are treated with secrecy, encouraging corruption, so are public relations funds too. And this is rampant because the Nigerian media, which should be watchdogs, also join in the corruption of demanding or accepting gratification to kill negative stories and publish positive stories. Even though some media houses frown at such practices and punish journalists who engage in such, many journalists still find shrewd ways to engage in them.

Nigeria has been so badly infected that it has become virtually impossible for one to survive here without being tainted. Corruption has been so ingrained that the few who genuinely want to avoid it are seen as misfits. The more they try, the more they are victimised and more hurdles placed on their path, so as to make them succumb. Even their rights like their pension, gratuity, property, freedom, life, etc, are targeted, so as to make them succumb to corruption. Their family members, friends and religious leaders even tell them to “apply wisdom” by giving to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God, all in a bid to make them play ball like most other people and stop losing what is their right. Therefore, anybody who lives in Nigeria but is completely untainted by corruption is an extraordinary human being: almost a saint.

Wealth without enterprise has pauperised Nigeria and created desperation in Nigerians. There is the belief that after one has acquired wealth by any possible means, one can always make huge donations to religious organisations, the poor and different institutions as a way to ‘clean’ the money. One can even build a church or mosque with the hope that such is a befitting atonement.

Therefore, pulling Nigeria out of this pit requires a firm and strategic reorientation led by a trusted leadership. The leader must be someone who can lead by example and show that money is not the be-all and end-all of life. Such a leader will also be one that will take practical measures to fish out and prosecute those who are tainted by corruption or crime, even if they are his cronies. That is why it is vital that Nigerians elect someone who has the capability to destroy the current compromised Nigerian foundation and build a new one. This new foundation will require Nigerians rekindling their belief in the country and taking ownership of Nigeria. It will require Nigerians to raise the alarm whenever any big gun tries to jump the queue.

That attitude will help to restore sanity and hope in Nigeria. It will not be easy to achieve but it is possible. All it requires is for Nigerians to have a leader they can trust and work with, a leader who will make sacrifices while telling Nigerians to make sacrifices.

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