Twenty-one years of return to civil rule in Nigeria: Need to go back to the fundamentals

By Otive Igbuzor, PhD

Founding Executive Director, African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development (Centre LSD),

Nigeria returned to civil rule in 1999 after about thirty years of military rule. This year marks twenty-one years of return to civil rule. Since then, Nigeria has held six consecutive elections and civilian rule has been maintained uninterrupted. At return to civil rule in 1999, there was a lot of hope and enthusiasm that return to civil rule will eliminate or reduce corruption as corruption was always one of the reasons for military takeover. There was hope that development will be accelerated leading to  the talk about dividends of democracy. There was expectation that the potentials of Nigeria will be realized. But twenty-one years later, all these hopes and aspirations remain unfulfilled.

While the military was seen as an aberration, politics is being touted as a dirty game and it appears that your success and rise in the political terrain depends on how dirty you can be. Corruption has taken dangerous dimensions that anti-corruption crusaders can be framed up or even killed. Nigeria still remains potential. Nigeria is now the poverty capital of the world. The level of youth unemployment is unprecedented. As if these are not bad enough, the COVID-19 pandemic has further complicated matters. But I see light at the end of the tunnel for four reasons. First, when the All Progressives Congress (APC) came with the slogan of change in 2015, it resonated with Nigerians which shows clearly that the people wanted change in the status quo. There is no doubt that there are challenges in bringing about the nature and character of change that the people wanted including resistance but the fact that the people wanted change and still want change about the nature of the state and the way governance is conducted is a positive indication. Secondly, decent and patriotic Nigerians are increasingly realizing that politics can be cleaned only by clean and godly people. It appears that Nigerians are giving heed to the advice by Plato that if you fail to participate in politics, you will be governed by inferiors. Additionally, it seems Nigerians are learning more and more that for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. So, despite the wickedness of some people, there are still many Nigerians who are fighting corruption, blowing the whistle and refusing to compromise. Thirdly, the level of awareness is very high today in Nigeria. The average citizen today understands the problems of the country. They know when they are being lied to. They know how people steal money from government. What lacking is the ability to mobilise and change the situation. But the fact that the level of awareness is so high is a positive step because changing a country is a process. Finally, we are reaching a precipice. It is clear to me that with the challenges in the economy and the increased level of awareness, things cannot continue like this for ever. Some things will have to give way for order to continue in society.

This is why I think that as we reflect over the past twenty-one years, we must go back to the fundamentals. The first thing to look at is leadership at all levels. You cannot expect the best from any society that puts forward its worst to lead. Merit must be returned to all spheres of life. Secondly, as the followership becomes more aware, it must move to the next level of consciousness and  understand that they can do something to change the situation. They must realise that historically, the ruling elite is always unwilling or incapable of bringing fundamental changes to society. It has to be forced. Thirdly, we must return to values.  The constitutionally guaranteed ideals of freedom, equality and justice must be operationalized; and the people of Nigeria must imbibe the national ethics of discipline, integrity, dignity of labour, social justice, religious tolerance and patriotism. There are things that can be done by the leadership and followership to make this happen. Ethics must be seen openly in families, communities, religion, politics and indeed in every facet of life. Finally, we must redefine politics and governance. The predominant view of looking at politics as “selfish” interest must be changed to service. Governance itself must go back to the fundamentals. Citizenship and identity must be addressed. Taxation of citizens and corporate bodies must operationalized in a just and fair manner as the oil dries up. The oil communities that have been degraded and destroyed must be cleaned up and people’s livelihood restored. These things are not rocket science and they can be done.

Nigerians keep hope alive. Do your best in your little corners. Good will always triumph over evil.

Dr. Otive Igbuzor is Founding Executive Director, African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development (Centre LSD).

 

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