Like most people who write columns, I had the challenge of deciding on what on what to write about, among the many issues that contested for this space, this week. Among them were the following topics: local government autonomy, the ugly face of Nigeria and how nations develop. I left them for this particular subject and the reason is very obvious: until the society gets the human element right, call it the human capital resource, meaningful development will remain an illusion. The title too was not what I had in mind. I had earlier wanted to title this work ‘The Nigerian Army’. But after the task of perspectives, knowing that two parties are involved in this, I therefore settled for the topic stated above, because as observed earlier it is time we begin to lay emphasis where it is due on the human person.
It is important we develop the human person. Often, when we talk of development of the human person, our minds navigate to formal trainings, the kind that could be given by formal institutions. But the development of citizens is far more than that because as we know already one might have a doctorate degree and yet would appear an untrained person in several dimensions of life. So education is different from development of the human person. Most nations that moved from backwardness to classical development understood this point and took it very seriously. I have said it several times in many of my discourses on this page and elsewhere, that in Israel for instance, no one is considered a citizen until you have passed through some of their institutions for human development, and this is irrespective of one’s educational attainment.
This aspect is lacking in our country and I can say with emphasis, that this omission is at the root of every other problem, name it poor leadership, lack of productive base, social tensions and violence. Every time something happens and throws up negative consequences, our first reaction is to blame the leaders. Even for domestic dislocations, we lay the blame elsewhere, it is the leaders. We never take time to look at the perspective of the individual, in fact at the concept of self. We never give a thought how we act, what we say or what we insist must be done and try to find out how they contribute to the building or destruction of our society. If we undertook this simple experiment, I am sure our findings would shock us; we would discover that we are the architects of the misfortune that has become our lot. From my perspective in this narrative, I have no hesitation to say that about 90 per cent of us are tyrants in reality and in heart.
The things we do when we have little authority would amaze each and every one of us if our daily activities were to be filmed and shown to us in our sober or most vulnerable moments. We would see how we exercise authority so abusively on ourselves, other people and the larger society. I say on ourselves because most of us would lose our humanity on conferment of little authority. I am not talking about power because many go crazy when they get power. When we get authority we become gods, and power we assume we are bigger than God. This is one of the tragedies of our society, and this trend explains why most of those charged with the responsibility to develop our society fail to live up to expectation; they live in a different world.
But the truth is that our leaders are not products of fortune, they are outcomes of who we are. A society with people who run on sound principles would produce leaders that are very good and rational. We are all tyrants. We live like that even at home and in unlikely places like churches and mosques, hospitals, banks, the civil service, security forces, schools and even in private establishments. The ordinary employee in a DSTV office would stop smiling and become very harsh to customers whose offense is that they came to make a technical complaint. It is no different in banks. Those beautiful ladies and handsome gents would never smile at you let alone respond to your inquiries in a friendly manner, except they discover you to be a high profile customer. The other day I was in a major Federal medical facility and it was disgusting to see how naughty most of the personnel were to the patients. They wore the garb of gods. I have tried to find out why they behave so badly and the line of response was “few hands doing elaborate duties.” How does that affect manners and decorum? Couldn’t training have taken care of such excesses? How come people in America, Britain, Malaysia, and Thailand act orderly and we cannot replicate same here?
In the course of the week, I was privileged to participate in a consultative meeting, and as would be expected arguments were thrown back and forth, but the atmosphere was generally very peaceful. Unfortunately, an officer of state was among the participants. At some point he couldn’t stand the level of debate, he rose up and said, “you guys better listen to me, understand and accept what I’m saying or have me take the matter to another level where you all will be forced to suffer and accept my position.” That was a typical show of tyranny. The meeting was peaceful but before anyone could spell Jack Robinson, a detachment of soldiers arrived at the vicinity. The people were not threatened but it created a tense atmosphere in which anything including the bloody could have happened.
The issue for me was not the invitation of soldiers, but it was more about the psychology of an ordinary unemployed citizen seeing the invitation of soldiers as appropriate in a purely civil matter. Who sold that ideology to a chap of about 23 years? Who gave him a link and what did he think he was doing? What did he want to achieve? Had he capacity to know the consequences of his misadventure on society? This is the kind of impunity like I said we see everywhere, on the streets, in the neighbourhood and offices. I can hear a few saying I am not of such, but who would tell? Until a man is tested with power (some say money and women), never trust him to be of sound mind.