In There Was a Country, A Personal History of Biafra, Chinua Achebe wrote nostalgically of his generation and lamented about a country that was but had disappeared even before he wrote his war memoir. According to him, “most members of my generation, who were born before Nigeria’s independence, remember a time when things were different. Nigeria was once a land of great hope and progress, a nation with immense resources at its disposal—natural resources, yes, but even more so, human resources. But the Biafran war changed the course of Nigeria. In my view it was a cataclysmic experience that changed the history of Africa.”
Achebe’s lamentation in this seminal work can even be true of some few others that came after his generation. The significance of Achebe’s memoir lies more in bringing back the memories of a Nigeria that was. Every generation will have its own tale of a Nigeria that was. My generation has some nostalgic feelings of a Nigeria that was. Every generation of Nigerians will also have theirs. The problem with our country, apart from leadership failure, is that things continue to get worse with each passing year to the extent that we always look at our past with nostalgia in virtually all sectors of human development.
We always wish we can go back to our past when men were men, when ladies were ladies, when boys were boys, when girls were girls, and when naira had real value and even towered above the US dollar. Even in education, we remember the Nigerian universities of 1960s, 1970, 1980s and even 1990s with great nostalgia. The same thesis can be extended to the health sector and other sectors. We remember the politics of the first republic and wish our present politicians are like them.
Earlier, Chinua Achebe had in his postcolonial novel, Things Fall Apart, portrayed, among others, the disintegration of the tribal society under the yoke of alien rule. And toward the ending chapters of the novel, when Enoch killed an ancestral spirit and Umuofia was thrown into confusion, Achebe wrote: “That night the Mother of the Spirits walked the length and breadth of the clan weeping for her murdered son. It was a terrible night. Not even the oldest man in Umuofia had ever heard such a strange and fearful sound, and it was never to be heard again. It seemed as if the soul of the tribe wept for a great evil that was coming—its own death.” Achebe deployed this moving and enchanting metaphor of the mourning ancestral spirits to lament the disintegration of the tribe by the imperial and alien colonial system. It may well be a warning against a national death.
In most of his fictional works and essays, Achebe’s major preoccupation can be said to be more with the failure of leadership whether at tribal or national level. Having said that much on Achebe, the leadership challenge facing the country is the main focus of today’s article in the face of the forthcoming most crucial election in the history of the country and the way forward.
The February 25 Presidential and National Assembly election is just one month and some days away. Any visitor to Nigeria today can readily attest that politics is very much in the air. At newsstands, bus stops, barber’s shops, schools and churches, the major topic of discussion is politics and who will take over from Buhari on May 29. While about 18 candidates will be on the ballot, the major contestants are Peter Obi of Labour Party, Bola Ahmed Tinubu of All Progressives Congress (APC), Atiku Abubakar of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Rabiu Kwankwaso of New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).
The leading presidential candidates have campaigned in all parts of the country and met with different professional groups and held various town hall meetings to sell their programmes to Nigerians. While some engage on issue- based campaigns, others at times embark on campaign of calumny aimed to smear their opponents. Although throwing banters and jokes is part of politicking, resorting to personal attacks, name calling, blackmail and ethnic profiling is not in order. Some of the leading presidential hopefuls have taken their campaign train abroad, United States and the United Kingdom.
The Royal Institute of International Affairs or Chatham House, the UK think-tank, has hosted the presidential candidates of APC, LP and NNPP. The chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has appeared at the Chatham House. During his presentation, he said that the 2023 election belonged to young people in view of the fact that they constituted 70.4 million of the registered voters. According to Yakubu, the youths also constituted the highest among those who had collected their permanent voter cards. He assured the international community of INEC’s readiness to conduct they best election in the history of the country.
It is hoped that the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) will soon host all the leading presidential candidates, after all the election will take place in Nigeria and not in the UK, US or other such places they visit. Moreover, Nigeria has not approved Diaspora voting. Therefore, going outside to campaign for a Nigerian election is unnecessary. Those who will vote during the election are in Nigeria.
The 2023 general election is the most crucial one in our over six decades of existence as an independent country. We must not fail to get it right. It is a referendum on the continued existence of the country as one corporate entity. It is about ensuring inclusivity and equity in our democratic process. It is also about the healing of old and perceived wounds and righting the wrongs of the past. It is about our history and about a country that was and how to reclaim our country. It is about the young people, who should be at the driving seat of our democracy and leadership. It is also about the future of this country and how to make our governance work effectively.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has enjoined the youths to take over the leadership of the country. Pastor Tunde Bakare has also said that Nigeria needs new breed of leaders who can address past grievances and consider every section of the country in its power equation. According to the Serving Overseer of Citadel Global Community Church (CGCC), “this is the moment for a new bred of leaders to emerge; a new breed of leaders that can situate themselves between polarizing forces and bring every constituency together on the table of brotherhood; a new bred of leaders that can reconcile past grievances, end marginalization, and give every constituent part of our nation a prominent seat at the table.” Many other prominent Nigerians such as Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Pa Edwin Clark have spoken in the same vein.
Although INEC boss has promised a free and fair poll, he must ensure that all the political parties are giving a level playing ground for the poll to be truly free, fair and credible. That is why Yakubu should personally intervene on the issue of Labour Party not being able to fill their party agents in many polling units before the January 18 deadline. Let him ensure that the party fills the names of its party agents in the affected polling units before the election begins. The growing violence and intolerance by political actors in some parts of the South East is condemnable. The pulling down of LP billboards in Anambra State is malicious and undemocratic. Let politicians play the game according to the rules.