The Trouble with Nigeria: Chinua Achebe’s Testament of Bad Leadership – By Lawrence Chinedu Nwobu



In his book “the trouble with Nigeria” Chinua Achebe (1930-2013) declared that “the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.  There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”  Achebe’s testament of bad leadership by successive Nigerian leaders remains timeless in the scale and scope of its vindication from independence to date. Looking around Nigeria, nothing but colossal failure is evident. From local government councillors all the way to the presidency, the only business of government   is the monumental and frenzied looting of the nation’s coffers, while the huddled masses reek in unbelievable poverty and destitution.


Nigeria is “a nation for sale,” high jacked since independence by  thieves,  bigots,  mass murderers, war criminals, unpatriotic opportunists,   election riggers  and other such vermin  who have run the nation through an unnecessary civil war,  corruption  and  total despoliation.  Nigeria is consequently a failed state, plagued by social injustice, unrest, debilitating poverty, disharmony and ethno-religious turbulence.  A score card of  the  nation’s  sadistic leaders   since independence  as listed below underscores  the  timeless  veracity of Achebe’s apocalyptic  testament of a nation poisoned since its founding  by bad leadership.


Abubakar Tafawa Balewa /Ahmadu Bello

Of all Nigeria’s  leaders,  Abubakar  Tafawa  Balewa  who  emerged  Nigeria’s  first prime minister together  with  Sir Ahmadu Bello, the leader of the  NPC  where the most notorious  in the foundational  years  in their  lack of patriotism, scheming, corruption  and ultimate un-building of Nigeria.  Both of  them  were  unbridled bigots  who  variously opposed  Nigeria’s  independence  and never  hid  their  unbelief  in a united Nigeria.  In  an address  to the legislative council in 1948, Abubakar  Tafawa  Balewa   declared that  “Since 1914 the British Government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people  themselves  are historically different  in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs and do not show themselves any sign of willingness to unite. Nigerian unity is only a British intention for the country.” This quote by Abubakar Tafawa Balewa underscores his unhidden disdain and vehement opposition to the very idea of a united Nigeria.


Sir Ahmadu Bello also remained resolute in his resentment of a united Nigeria, which is exemplified in the declaration in his book and autobiography “My Life” published a year after independence in 1961, where he described the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria as “the mistake of 1914.”  Ahmadu Bello further demonstrated his bigotry and lack of patriotism when he introduced the “Northernization” policy which dictated that all available jobs in the north must go to a northerner and in the event  that there is no qualified northerner should go to Europeans rather than Nigerians from the South. This policy reveals the extent of blind bigotry and disdain Ahmadu Bello had for other Nigerians and for the very idea of Nigeria.  Unfortunately the duo of  Tafawa Balewa and Sir Ahmadu Bello who harboured a deep disdain for a united Nigeria took power at independence  and  not surprisingly  demonstrated  their lack of patriotism by the excesses of their government  which included the rigging of census  results,  the  arrest, prosecution and conviction of Chief Obafemi  Awolowo on trumped  up  treason charges, the high handed and  violent quelling of the Tiv riots, the harassment, intimidation and persecution of political opponents  by  the native authorities police in the North,  the rigging of elections in the Middle belt  and the Western region in 1964 as part of an  agenda to create an undemocratic and corrupt  one party state. The totality of these corrupt acts and other excesses led to sustained violence (wetie) particularly in the Western region which eventually engendered a military coup in January 1966.


It is obvious that their unbelief and disgust in a united Nigeria gave the duo of Tafawa Balewa and Ahmadu Bello no incentive to invest in nation building and to make the necessary sacrifices to consolidate the fledgling republic in her most critical and fragile foundational years. They demonstrably advanced only narrow regional and sectional interests at the expense of good governance, democracy, patriotism, nation building and the rule of law. By the dawn of 1966, a culmination of these excesses and the unwillingness or inability of Tafawa Balewa and Ahmadu Bello to rise to the responsibility of good leadership and personal example plunged the nation into the pit of darkness from which she is yet to emerge.


Yakubu Gowon

In the aftermath of the January 1966 coup, General Aguiyi Ironsi became head of state in a brief interregnum. Following  the  July 1966 counter coup,  Yakubu  Gowon  emerged   head of state and quickly became notorious  for pandering  to bigots  in his cabinet and deepening the ensuing  ethnic crisis that eventually plunged the nation into an unnecessary  war.  A leader must be judged by what happens under his watch, as head of state, Yakubu Gowon   abdicated  his most  important constitutional  responsibility  to protect  the lives and property of the citizenry under all circumstances, when he did nothing  while thousands of Eastern civilians, including women and children were being hacked to death by mass murderers   that included officers and men of the Nigerian army and police who were supposed to protect life and property in well organised  and premeditated pogroms in the North.


An estimated 50,000 innocent civilians were brutally murdered while Yakubu Gowon as head of state did nothing and indeed tacitly supported the mass killings. The killings only stopped when there was no one left to kill. These grave incidents and the failings of Yakubu Gowon pushed the nation to the brink. In January  1967, following the intervention of  General  Ankrah,  the Ghanaian head of state;  a genuine and final opportunity presented itself to resolve  the  simmering crisis through a conference in Aburi.  Yakubu Gowon, his advisers, secretaries and the military governors of the North, Midwest and Western regions  were in attendance while  Odimegwu  Ojukwu being military governor of the East together with his aides also attended.  Given the dire situation at that time, the meeting deliberated on the structure of Nigeria, the assassination of General Aguiyi Ironsi amongst others and reached agreement on every issue.  The next day the meeting continued and affirmed a final agreement known as the “Aburi Accord.” Thus for two days, Yakubu Gowon and  his aides together with all the  regional governors  technically constituted the supreme military council which incidentally is the highest ruling body  and  reached  agreement on all the critical issues, but no sooner did Yakubu Gowon arrive in Nigeria and met with opportunists  and  those who thirsted for more blood rather  than a peaceful resolution of the  crisis, he reneged on an agreement freely negotiated and entered into in Aburi Ghana.


Yakubu Gowon reneged on an accord which would have created the environment for reconciliation and a permanent resolution of the crisis. He proved incapable of honouring and keeping his word and an agreement which he himself, his top aides and military governors had personally participated in negotiating in Aburi Ghana.  That single act set the nation on the part of an unnecessary war and bloodletting.  By abdicating his most fundamental  constitutional  responsibility to protect the lives and property of citizens, thus allowing  and even enabling mass killings of genocidal  proportions under his watch,  by reneging  on an agreement he personally participated  in negotiating in Aburi  and  by  disregarding a people’s  inalienable God given  right to self determination through democratic means (plebiscite or referendum) as enshrined in the United Nations charter   amongst other excesses and high handedness  Yakubu Gowon  personally and deliberately  for  purely  selfish reasons  caused the clearly avoidable and unnecessary  Biafra-Nigeria war and the  attendant  monumental  horrors, atrocities and tragedies of  the conflict  just seven years after independence.   The bitterness and injustice of that needless war has remained Nigeria’s deepest enduring divide from which she might never recover and from whence she might eventually implode.


Yakubu Gowon also pioneered   the arbitrary creation of states without a corresponding plebiscite which subsequently led to a proliferation of unproductive, unviable parasitic states and the consolidation of the unitary (almajiri) system dependent only on crude oil allocations at the expense of other possible productive and wealth creating initiatives, which has in turn encouraged corruption, laziness and impoverished the nation. He was an unprincipled and incompetent leader who sowed the seeds of the lazy, unproductive unitary system, injustices, bloodletting and impunity that defines the nation to date. His failure of leadership unleashed   the pogroms and unnecessary civil war that spilled enough blood to fill the bowels of the Niger River.  In the end he proved incapable of being a man of his word, rising above tribalism and of providing responsible leadership.


Murtala Muhammed/ Olusegun Obasanjo:


After the overthrow  of Yakubu  Gowon,   Murtala  Muhammed  who was at best an ill disciplined, mentally unstable  character  implicated in the heinous massacres  of innocent  civilians in the pogroms  and in the infamous  Asaba massacre amongst other  theatres where he committed unspeakable atrocities, tragically became  Nigeria’s head of state. His short-lived regime was lack lustre without any significant purpose outside ethnic power mongering until he was assassinated in a bloody coup d’état.  Following Murtala’s demise in the botched coup,  Olusegun Obasanjo became head of state. His regime largely teleguided  by his northern  benefactors   was infamous for human rights violations particularly in the brutal slaying of protesting students in the “Alli must go” students uprising and for large scale corruption which culminated in the still unaccounted  disappearance of substantial amounts of money from the coffers of the ministry of petroleum. Obasanjo’s regime was crassly corrupt and began the era of the billion naira loot. As a leader Obasanjo proved incapable of leading by personal example.


Alhaji Shehu Shagari:


As has long been the tradition of mediocrity fostered by the Northern oligarchy, Shehu Shagari was an unwilling candidate for president who was picked by the clique and imposed on the nation. He proved to be a clueless and weak leader who exercised scant control over his rudderless regime. Not having learnt from the past, his regime brought back the ugly scenarios of election rigging, thuggery and mind boggling corruption. Principal characters of the regime such as Umaru Dikko and many others were notorious for the large amounts they stole. Dikko was reputed to have stolen more than 2 billion naira at a time the naira exchanged one to one to the pound sterling.  Shagari’s regime was marked by massive corruption, rigging and other excesses which doubtlessly proved his inability to rise to the responsibility of good leadership and personal example.


Muhammadu Buhari:


Muhammadu Buhari took power after the overthrow of Alhaji  Shehu Shagari  on the premise of anti-corruption and discipline however the regime soon became implicated in wanton human rights violations in the gagging of the press, detentions without trial, public flogging and brutalisation of women wearing trousers. The execution of drug traffickers with laws made long after the crime was committed was another illegality that haunted the administration.  His regime also proved reckless in its blatant disregard for Nigeria’s ethno-religious diversity and obvious tribal bias and religious fundamentalism. A culmination of these excesses proved the incapacity of Muhammadu Buhari to function according to the rule of law and within Nigeria’s ethno-religious diversity.


Ibrahim Babangida:

Nothing destroys a nation as much as corruption and Ibrahim Babangida would be Nigeria’s “Lucifer,” in that regard for being the man who ultimately applied the final nail to Nigeria’s coffin through the institutionalisation of corruption. Under Babangida Nigeria became a commodity for sale, with contracts, appointments to boards, parastatals, ministries  and other institutions becoming a means of “settlement.”  He instituted and legalised monumental corruption (executive robbery) across all facets of government and national life that saw to the total degradation and destruction of national institutions. From this point, Nigeria airways, railways corporation, Nitel, NEPA, water works, schools, hospitals, roads, refineries, steel plants, textile mills and other basic amenities and infrastructure began the steep decline to decay and destruction. The scale and scope of corruption under Babangida put Nigeria for the first time on the world map as the most corrupt country in the world.  A deceitful   transition programme was also undertaken by Babangida which ended in the cancellation of the June 12 elections and the crisis that ensued. His regime turned out an unmitigated disaster for the nation. From the institutionalisation of corruption to the cancellation of free and fair elections, Babangida was a disastrous leader.


Sanni Abacha:


General Sanni Abacha continued in the consolidated looting of the Babangida era. Alongside serial assassination of opponents and other human rights violations, Abacha and his clique proved to be just as corrupt as Babangida.  Under his regime, the “settlement syndrome” with government boards, ministries, contracts and institutions accelerated unabated.  Massive looting was prevalent across all facets of national life, including the private sector with weekly incidents of failed banks, just as basic infrastructure and amenities continued their decline across the nation.  By the time Abacha died on top of imported Asian prostitutes, the nation was already a failing state looted to stupor.



Abdulsalami Abubakar: 

Following Abacha’s ignoble demise on top of prostitutes, Abdulsalami Abubakar   was invested with the “devils crown” becoming the   head of state of the land of blinding injustice. He unfolded a programme for a quick transfer of power to democratic rule during which time he and his gang of executive robbers engaged in a frenzy of massive looting.  In the nine months that he presided as head of state, he broke all records in the gargantuan scale of the looting and vandalism he and his hordes unleashed on the nation.  The democratic programme itself was manipulated to the extent of imposing a convict who was hitherto imprisoned and thus not involved in any political activity. The nation’s democratic system consequently remains stillborn.


Olusegun Obasanjo 2nd Coming:


Olusegun  Obasanjo’s  second  coming  as a democrat  after his release from prison which  initially inspired  hope in some quarters because of the humbling of his prison experience  turned out to be a disaster.  He became a pathological outlaw whose excesses  shocked  the nation. From massive election rigging, to thuggery, the backing of political godfathers one  of  whom  sacked  the Oyo  state governor  and the other of whom  orchestrated the  kidnap of  the Anambra  state governor,   Obasanjo was practically a reckless  monster who exercised   power like a mad man. His regime was also marked by insecurity and serial human rights violations particularly in Odi and Zaki Biam where whole communities were wiped out by the Nigerian army. Corruption continued its ascent with the $16 billion power scam, the Halliburton scam and other such scams that coloured his administration. At the end of his regime Obasanjo consolidated his hatred for Nigeria by personally selecting a chronically ill Yar Adua and imposed him on the nation knowing that he would be incapable of functioning; the rest is history.


Musa Yar Adua/Goodluck Jonathan:


Musa Yar adua became the beneficiary of  a massively rigged election. Being very ill, he spent most of his regime in hospital. The status quo of corruption, insecurity, misrule and general dysfunction continued until he expired. His demise ushered in President Goodluck Jonathan who remains to date the incumbent.  While the jury is still out on President Jonathan, so far there is nothing to show any change as corruption has continued unabated without any resolve to combat it decisively. There has been no visible initiative to embark on a massive scale of infrastructural development to redress the deficit, no initiative on youth unemployment, no initiative on political thuggery/weapons proliferation, no initiative on insecurity and no initiative on convening a sovereign national conference to finally confront the vexed issue of nationhood, federalism and restructure accordingly.  President Jonathan has thus far proven incapable of rising to the critical challenges of the present times and providing responsible leadership.




As Chinua Achebe declared in his book  “the trouble with Nigeria”  the list of Nigeria’s decadent leaders  and  their tragic regimes as listed above  vindicates  his premise  on  the nation’s unusual  curse of bad  leadership  since independence.  It seems as if Nigeria has been afflicted  only by thieves, unpatriotic  tribal  bigots,  opportunists,   mass murderers,  election riggers, thugs, war mongers, sadists, psychopaths and other such despicable characters  at all levels of  leadership. Not even a single leader in Nigeria’s history has, as Achebe said;   demonstrated the willingness or ability to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”  The consequence is a failed state on a fast route to perdition.



Lawrence  Chinedu  Nwobu



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here