IF one were interested in this style question, the answer is immediately suggested. And that answer is to be found in a most illustrious list of two. And the two are Professor Chinua Achebe and Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, both late.
Personally, we use to think it is out-rightly Fela. And there are reasons to this. While Achebe is read and quoted by the intelligentsia, loosely defined, Fela reaches the millions of ordinary peoples, and is almost heedlessly quoted and echoed. It is so much that if you went to Oshodi Motor Park, where we presently run a shop, you could encounter an agbero speak, and he is quoting or echoing the irrepressible Fela. ‘Ah oga mi na shuffering and smiling na him we dey for naija. Ogami na dem dem, na ami arrangement.’’ And this style Fela-speak is repeated down through the days and amidst the many millions. So one gives Fela the Eagle feather in these things.
But lately no one is certain anymore. And the reasons seem to be tied-in with the current and running failure of governance by elected politicians and their hires. Apparently the hope the citizens put in them as messiahs, as Mahdi, has collapsed like a falsely inflated balloon.
It is perhaps this failure in governance, which manifests in the prevalence of fuel queues, lack of municipal electricity, lack of jobs etc. that has led the crash in the value of the leader, as a messiah. And this collapse of leadership asset, has pushed the Achebe quotable stock unto its present status as a fast moving consumer quotes, FMCQs, beating Fela to it.
And our personal experience puts a seal on this. Okay, we were in some moral turmoil and wanted the good Lord to forgive us our many sins. And it so happened that in pursuit of having our pasts forgiven us, as Isaiah preached, we were about a local born-again church.
And as usual our pastor was an orator and great dramatist in equal parts. Perhaps the two go together. To conclude on his sermon, the man of God said and I quote from memory: Nigeria is a wonderfully made. Our peoples are a wonderfully made stock. We are easily the best and greatest people about and around the earth. Go out to America, go to United Kingdom, and Nigerians are leading the pack, doing great and mighty works to the glory of the Lord. The truth is that we have everything, even better than the oyibos. Our sole problem is just leadership. It is just bad management. If we can get good leaders, it will be the Americans that will be sleeping at Nigerian embassies worldwide, looking for visas, and not Nigerians for American or UK visas.
Well you don’t need to be reminded. The fact is that this is my pastor’s own rendition or echo-recall of the famous Achebe quote: the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a problem of leadership.
And one thought that the pastor was about his day’s job. However one looks at it, the pastor is like a teacher. He brings food to the table because he talks and dramatizes some ideas, ideas that are not necessarily his. That is a great pastor like a great teacher need not believe in what he is preaching. The more important thing is that it makes logical sense to his congregations or pupils. If you doubt this I can tell that the reverend gentleman who once taught us the scriptures, was later found out to be an American spy and an atheist to boot. But he knew and dramatized the Bible like he authored it. So things happen.
Anyway, I just took it that our local pastor was just about the usual pro-forma thinking, and that there was little to be bothered on such. That he was letting Achebe think for him, by echoing him, wasn’t a sin for which he may be defrocked.
So we all took things in their stride. But not even a great dramatist would have pulled off what followed. And as we made it to a commuter bus headed home, a lady on sighting the fuel queue spoke out. And her words sounded exactly like the pastors, echoing and quoting Achebe. And the thoughts came to me that she was all too probably a part of the same congregation we just left. Perhaps the words of our pastor have come to her like new wine and loosened her tongue. And I had to ask, if she was a part of the congregation. And she said no.
That was when I became too alarmed for my sanity and the sanity of this country. Can it so be, I wondered, that the fleshless myth that Nigeria is a leadership-deficiency country, has become an epidemic infestation, in Nigeria? Has the matter come to this final and fatal conclusion, that the problem with Nigeria is leadership? Is the matter so much that independent pastors, commuters, drivers, fuel marketers, etc. have all concluded on one thing? And that one thing is the wisdom, received wisdom, that the problem with Nigeria is simply and squarely leadership?
If it were, it is then obvious something must be wrong, at least with the numbers. The truth is that every time and in everything where the multitudes gather, the hidden fact is that there are almost the many fools, lovable fools, as they say it in America. And the story of one of America’s great entrepreneurs tells it brilliantly. It was once told that Rockefeller, stumbled on his poor chauffeur playing the stock New York exchange. And the great Rockefeller became alarmed. Could it be he wondered, that the game [Stock Exchanges], the rich invented to serve, service and distinguish them, was now being played by the poor? Could it so be that a millionaire and his chauffeur are now in the same numbers game? If so, this is the hour to quit and abandon the losses to them, the lovable fools. And he did. And soon the stock market crashed. The poor of course lost an arm and a leg.
Perhaps this is the hour to finally quit the Nigerian leadership-is-the-elixir market. Firstly, this market has failed us since Achebe wrote his poorly argued, if bestselling tract: The Trouble with Nigeria. The book and its content have gotten too popular to make any meanings at all. The numbers are against it.
Now not known to the many readers of The Trouble with Nigeria, is the following. Professor Chinua Achebe is a bourgeois, whatever else he is. Professor Achebe is part of the class that inherited the British. It is not just fact, he confesses to it, at least in his writings. One of those is his autobiographical book of essays: The Education of a British-protected child.
So the game of this Achebe class of inheritors is in acquiring and keeping powers [aggregated and left by the British] for themselves and sometimes for their heirs. So acquiring and keeping power and prospering thereof, is a form of stock exchange play or casino for them. The politicians and coup makers are their most desperate or thuggish arms.
They are all decided on one thing. It is that they have no plans or intentions of ceding these powers to the ordinary peoples. So Achebe is really about his duty as the intellectual ranger of the class. And God, he was so brilliant at it, so much he has bewitched generations of ordinary Nigerians, almost making of us, lovable fools for the rich and the powerful. In all, what the book, The Trouble with Nigeria, does, is to divert Nigerian peoples, especially the youths’ attention, from the main issues in contention. And next it turns their gaze to the coming of a messiah, a Godot.
So rather than the people being taught to empower and save themselves, this class is teaching that it is the messiah that will save them. But there is a hidden caveat, a kind of insider trading that is hammered into their logic. It is that they and their charges are the proto-messiahs, waiting to save the people. So in a circular kind of logic, every single failure reinforces and justifies the need for a new round of leaders, in a form of army arrangement and paddy-paddy government, to quote Fela.
That is why there has never been any shortfall in leadership supply by this class. If you checked it well, since the ill-fated and ill-starred Gowonic reign, all forms of characters are on queue to be leaders. Billionaires have apparently left their market stalls, professors have abandoned their faculty halls, generals their cantonments, and all are in the game of playing the leader that will save Nigeria.
And each time they fail, jointly and severally, they still argue and bewitch the people the problem is in leadership. And since the peoples, like Rockefeller’s chauffeurs are lovable fools, we believe and are fooled, again and again.
Anyway if you doubt, try this joke on just any of those British protected charges: Since you claim leadership is the problem, can we then go to Singapore [the world’s best run country?] or America [the world’s most powerful nation?] and hire leadership experts to run Nigeria for us, while you relax? Not one of these leadership-is-our-bane gamesters will ever okay this. Why? They are all angling to be the leaders and not for the good of Nigeria. They know it, Nigeria is a game, their game, even as they sell it to the people as a mission. So next time you quote Achebe or even Fela, just know it is a game and play your best, ala Maradona, hand of God and all that jazz?