(Culled from a piece originally published on 11 June 2010)

“No sane Nigerian will doubt the point that Nigeria is  nothing to write home about, especially when compared to other countries of the world, even countries that used to be on the same pedestal with Nigeria. But, while I agree that the crop … of leaders we have had since independence has contributed to the pitiable plight in which our country Nigeria has found itself today, I personally am of the view that the Nigerian followership and people cannot go free of any blame in this respect. Take as an example, can a leader rig an election without the cooperation of the people. If our leaders are bad, is that why almost every living Nigerian today wants to get rich quick, without working for it?

Is it the sorry condition of our educational and economic sector that has forced Nigerian students to abandon the reading culture (a veritable pre-condition to the development of a civilized and enlightened society) for cultism, brigandage and buying of certificates? A typical Nigerian wants first-class in his degree exams without working hard for it; to drive in the latest Toyota Prado jeep three months after leaving the university.

In summary, materialism has engulfed Nigeria like a wild fire…. And both the leader and the led are swimming in it. Tell me what happens to the elections if Nigerians decide to not allow themselves to be used to rig elections. But give a Nigerian University Professor one Million Naira and he would be prepared to snatch ballot boxes and inflate figures in an election. Some schools of thought are blaming the failure of the system of things in Nigerian entirely on the leaders.

With due respect, I do not share in this view. Is it the President of Nigeria that should be blamed when a Senator or House member decides to pocket the money earmarked for the development of his constituency, instead of using it for the intended purposes? What I am saying is that our leaders have so far not fared well, but a better, less greedy and less materialistic followership could help to bring about a purposeful and more transparent leadership.  Experience has shown that it takes the cooperation of the people for the leaders to be corrupt; the moment a leaders knows that the people around him are not willing to cooperate with him in his evil ways, that, in fact, they are determined to expose him, he would desist from engaging in evil. … we (both the leaders and the led) therefore are together to blame for the pitiable state in which Nigeria finds itself today. To heap the blames for all our woes entirely on the leaders is, I think, with due respect, to miss the point.

This is one side of the coin; the other side is that we must from the onset tell ourselves the gospel truth, namely that we can never have a perfect leader. Even the Philosophers who had proposed the idea of a perfect king, on seeing that this was not feasible, later settled for an alternative: the reign of the Philosopher-King. The question now is, who is the Philosopher-King? We cannot know him by mere looking at him; the test of the pudding is in the eating. All the people that are shouting against bad governance in Nigeria, I assure you that the moment you entrust them with power for two minutes, they will turn monsters overnight. But I respectfully assure you also that if we elect a known thief as our leader and he knows we are responsible, and that we would not accept or condone any nonsense from him, he would behave himself. It is because our leaders are aware from the beginning that they have willing tools in the hands of the people, the followers, that is why they do whatever they wish and get away with it at the end. So, if our leaders are criminals, we should know that we are the ones who made them what they are.  If, from the moment we voted our leaders into power we, Nigerians, had resolved that this is the way we wanted to be led and governed; and we really are determined to follow our words with sincere, concrete actions, the leaders would behave themselves. A ready example comes in mind: former President Obasanjo and his third-term agenda; look at how Nigerians rose up and spoke with one voice in opposition to it, and it was immediately defeated, and OBJ was forced to respect the Nigerian constitution he had sworn to uphold. Several other examples abound. But let us assume, on the other hand, that we elect a Pastor or Bishop or Chief Imam to be our President. As long as materialism, get-rich-quick-without-working-for-it remains our watchwords, we would end up corrupting the leader, thereby making him a bad President ….Can one pour clean water in a contaminated pool and expect the clean water to remain clean? Good followership begets good leadership; it is hardly the other way round. Countries like the USA, UK, Canada, etc are said to have good leaders today and therefore enjoy good governance, basically because of the responsible, refined, and reformed conduct and attitude of their citizenry. Nigerian President would not easily indulge in mis-governance if he is aware that Nigerians are not willing to accept it from him; a reformed society grows a reformed leader. How many Nigerian students still read novels, plays, etc? How many Nigerians are willing to reject money and chose the path of honour, even if it means dying in penury? Should the fact that a Nigerian graduate is still unemployed be a justification for his taking up arms against his fellow, equally impoverished, citizens, or for his accepting money from politicians or leaders in exchange for perverting and twisting the rules of a game?”

~~ Sylvester UDEMEZUE, contributing to an online debate on June 11, 2010.

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