As some geo-political zones are silently jostling for an edge to produce the Nigerian president come 2019, quality of leadership is, unfortunately, no longer a necessary condition for choosing a leader of most populous nation in the African Continent. Excellence and genuine qualification seem to be thrown out of the window. Instead, ethnic politics has for too long overshadowed the all-too important issue—the qualities of who would lead the country when the time comes. The debate on issues seems less important as less scrutiny of the qualities of candidates for the plum office is abundantly evident.
Also, the media is more preoccupied with geopolitical zones as the derelict state lurks behind ethnic politics. I’m reminded of the admonition of Martin Luther King, Jr. to America during the civil rights struggle: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.” Nigerians should not continue to feign ignorance of the dangers of ethnic politics in the country. It’s inimical to growth and incendiary in nature.
We must endeavor to build a trusting nation; a nation that has the virtues of democracy and a substantive national symbol that would rally all citizens. We must be a united country in letter and spirit as to be able to identify more with the nation and less with ethnicity. Though unity tends to be an elusive concept to some because of difficulties in achieving it, some of us in the Diaspora would want to work hard and expend time and resources in conjunction with other factors to have a united Nigeria.
Interestingly, though very many people would not want to make personal sacrifices required to attain the feat; they would rather be on the sidelines to criticize and point fingers at people toiling selflessly for a better tomorrow. A great many of us are willing to slog for a better Nigeria—a country that sees less of ethnicity. However, the first step in achieving a great Nigeria is to have an overhaul of attitude and imbibe honesty anchored on transparency at all levels.
Let me devote this paragraph to talk about honesty in a different way. It may be concluded that honesty is one of the factors that help build trust. As a result, if we want to build trust among our nation, we must not only be honest to others, but also to ourselves. Our public and private rhetoric must be consistent with our actions. When elected leaders make pronouncements or tell the public about programs they have implemented, the masses should be able to see and feel the impacts of such programs. When we make promises or pledges to the electorate, we should fulfill them. We will endeavor to mean what we say and say what we mean. When promises are made and circumstances change, we should be able to communicate the circumstances appropriately. Honesty helps us to build trust. To achieve unity in the country, TRUST must be present.
While it is important to have the unity of purpose, it is the responsibility of Nigerian leaders to articulate the vision and goals for the nation. The vision must be clearly communicated to the citizens of the country. It is the responsibility of everyone to focus on the collective interest, the common goal of the nation once the leaders have shown commitment toward accomplishing the set goals. In any case, commitment devoid of personal interest is an influential factor for accomplishing the goals of the country. If the leaders are committed to the country and accountable to the masses, individuals would undertake some personal sacrifices in order to accomplish the clearly defined goals of the nation. Remember that one will find it difficult to commit to the goals articulated by the leaders if he/she does not trust the leaders. It is pertinent also to distinguish between lack of commitment to the goals of the nation caused by selfish interest and that caused by the absence of trust and accountability.
Nigeria would be a great nation with credible leaders that would work selflessly for the country. The country is endowed with enormous human and natural resources. As a result, it would be seemingly out of place if we do not have an array of credible leaders wanting to lead and manage the country’s resources. Since the country has an abundance of quality leaders coupled with competing ideas, selecting a leader would be based on one’s ideological match rather than ethnicity.
Leadership struggle, however, should not have a negative connotation. It’s the beauty of democracy to have arrays of choices. Nevertheless, the struggle or contest must be ingrained in competing ideas and issues and not marred with fraudulent activities, ethnic and despotic tendencies. After a free and fair election, Nigerians should work together to harness and implement the prevailing ideas. No one should be left behind in that process—leadership requires the ability for one to have an inclusive approach to governance. Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of our leaders to create an enabling environment where harmony will flourish in the face of constructive dialogue.
Our leaders should bear in mind that unity of Nigeria should transcend religion, ethnic and geographic boundaries. This is a philosophy expressed to the American people in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. when he said, “Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”
In fact, it should not matter where one comes from; as long as one possesses the best skills set to lead us, it is incumbent upon us to support the person. We should focus on ideas and issues and not on personality and ethnicity. We should respect the leadership and be good followers. That does not mean that opposition or contrary opinion is unhealthy for a nation like Nigeria. Opposition is a critical component of democracy. Due to venal tendencies, sustainable opposition seems to be absent in Nigeria. Militancy should never be an approach of choice to demonstrate opposition. Constructive criticism must be allowed at all times. Opposition is good for democracy!
Pragmatically speaking, one of the ways to reduce the effects of ethnic politics is to have the Presidency and National Assembly (NASS) enact or enforce the necessary legislations to extend residency rights to all Nigerians in any state in which they have established viable businesses or have been domiciled for a minimum of 6 continuous calendar months. This would accord Nigerians living in various communities rights as indigenes—the rights to vote and be voted for in their respective communities of abode. However, with an increasing spate of violence against non-indigenes in some areas in the north, advocating for the residency rights may be unappealing at this time.
Nevertheless, the comeuppance for the undemocratic principles perpetrated by some ethnic zealots is the demise of the nation. The firm grip of an unhinged ethnic stance in dealing with the national issues may eventually destabilize the nation by causing the demise of the center.