In his seminal work, “The Trouble with Nigeria”, the late Prof. Chinua Achebe, correctly identified failure of leadership as the main problem hindering the growth and progress of Nigeria as a country. He posited that there is nothing wrong with the Nigerian people, the air we breathe or the water we drink. We simply lack political leadership capable of uniting our people, creating functional institutions of governance and harnessing our huge human and material resources in a just and equitable fashion that will ensure inclusive and sustainable growth of our nation and its diverse people.
What constitutes good leadership has been the subject of several books, conferences and research works, but a simple definition here will suffice. A simple definition is that leadership is the act of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal. He or she is the person in that group that possess the combination of personality and skill that make others want to follow his or her direction. I have underlined personality and skill. In my considered view, these are the operating features of a good leader, one with a good character (Personality) and the requisite knowledge and expertise (skill).
Flowing from this definition, it is easy to see that a corrupt individual lacks the character or personality to offer any form of leadership and whatever skill or expertise he or she possesses serves no useful purpose as it is already tainted by the moral failure and character flaws. Those skills will be deplored in the service of the person’s corrupt purposes instead of the common goal. Is it any wonder therefore that all advanced and progressive societies in the world treat corruption in their public space as a threat to their freedom, governance and way of life? So at the root of the failure of leadership identified by Chinua Achebe as the trouble with Nigeria is corruption. Therefore, one can safely say that the trouble with Nigeria is corruption.
The oozing stench of corruption in Nigeria is at the root of all our problems. How? The failure of leadership that resulted in the collapse of our educational system gave rise to mass illiteracy especially in the northern parts of the country, which in turn provided the environment for the insurgency that led to the breakdown of security in some parts of the country. The corruption in our national security apparatus charged with fighting insecurity, resulted in the progression of the insecurity to a full blown war and the spread of terrorism across the country.
The failure of leadership in the management of our oil sector resulted in our inability to reform the sector, pass the necessary legislations that will ensure a transparent management and exploration of our huge mineral resources. The net result is an opaque system that frets away huge natural resources in a subsidy regime that defies all common sense or logic; which in turn results in deploying over 70% of our recurrent budget in servicing debt obligations.
The failure of leadership in our National Assembly resulted in the inability of our legislative arm to play their roles as a check on the executive, a role critical to the survival of democracy. The corruption in the National Assembly resulted in the loss of the moral authority necessary to be independent. A National Assembly “leadership” moving from one tribunal to another results in the loss of any tangible legislative agenda other than staying in office. The havoc wrecked by corruption across all facets of our national and individual lives in Nigeria will take years to chronicle.
However, Nigeria can be salvaged and the work has already begun. And like a sweet breeze, it will most likely become a strong wind if we encourage these trends. In Oyo state, a newly elected Governor, Seyi Makinde has just forwarded a bill to the State House of Assembly for the creation of Oyo State anti-corruption agency. The Governor was reportedly quoted as saying that he is willing to waive his immunity from prosecution while in office if found to have compromised himself in the management of the resources of his state. I do not know if there has been any state in Nigeria with an anti-corruption agency. I request all the remaining states to quickly follow the footsteps of Seyi Makinde. The incremental benefit of anti-corruption watchdog in every state in Nigeria will hugely impact the war on corruption. It is the marginal benefits of a more transparent governance across board that will liberate us from the shackles of poverty and underdevelopment over time.
In Owerri, Governor Emeka Ihedioha is quietly re-establishing systems and processes in governance, having inherited a state with no administrative or governance processes for eight years. This is no easy task. Like his counterpart in Oyo State, Emeka Ihedioha has established the Imo State Bureau for Public Procurement (BPE). This will ensure that government contracts and procurements pass through a rigorous process of evaluation before award. He has also established the TSA (Treasury Single Account) to ensure that all government revenues are captured in a single treasury account platform.
This will surely do away with the previous practice of paying government revenue into private accounts run by family and friends of the governor. At the recent swearing-in of the new GMD of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mele Kolo Kyari was quoted as saying that he will partner EFCC to sanitize the corporation. These developments are only the beginning and they will go as far as we the people are determined to encourage and hold these leaders accountable for their commendable first steps.
Let me be clear, there is no silver bullet or one step solution to the problem of corruption in Nigeria. Nigeria’s survival depends on fighting it and it is the responsibility of all of us to join the fight. Any day, we reduce corruption significantly in our public space, it will no longer matter from which part of the country a president comes from. The present ethnic tensions and insecurity is a clear evidence of poor leadership and unbridled corruption in Nigeria.
*Chuka Odom, a legal practitioner, was former Minister of State (FCT).