Religion, Ethnicity, Politics And Nigeria’s Future – By Sanusi Muhammad

Nigerians to say the least are deeply political and sentimental; they live and breathe it, even if sometimes misguided. This piece intends to look into the sentimental aspect of ignorance on display that is seriously affecting the unity of our fatherland.

Religion is also truly the opium of Nigerians; what they do with it or without it? Therefore, weaving the issues together may remind Nigerians who they are and where they are in time should briefly arrest their attention in this dark period of rising poverty, insecurity, paranoia and apprehension.

The piece may draw flak by suggesting that Nigeria’s problem is chiefly leadership. But hard as it has tried to re-examine that apparently controversial thesis in order to accommodate the counterargument that change indeed could also begin with the citizenry, not just the leaders, it has been hard to find substance to the counter-thesis.

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Every Nigerian government has engaged in the delusion that a reorientation campaign could offer the magical propagandist shot to ginger the people into patriotic fervor. That campaign has repeatedly failed in the past decades and has not deterred every succeeding regime from obsessing with that chimera. The Buhari ongoing ‘Change Begins with Me’ campaign will of course naturally fail, but that may not stop the next government from chasing another shadow, even if conjured, believing in the maxim that says, ‘there is no harm in trial’.

The problem it seems is that Nigerian leaders, not to say the people themselves, have no vision of their country’s future. They prefer expediency to structured work. Much worse, both leaders and the led have probably one of the worlds’ most perverted conceptions of religion, one so skewed and abhorrent it is hard to imagine anything worse. And to add to this stultifying nonsense, they all lack a coherent and sensible ideology of politics. But this piece’s preoccupation is leadership, a factor that continue to undo the country and endanger the future of Nigerians in particular and Africans in general.

Former American president Richard Nixon once proffered the view that, “All the really strong leaders I have known have been highly intelligent, highly disciplined, hard workers, supremely self-confident, driven by a dream, driving others. All have looked beyond the horizon. Some have seen more clearly than others”.

Highly intelligent, highly disciplined, President Nixon had said thoughtfully. He is right. The reader should, in fact, cast his mind way back to the current Fourth Republic, without excluding or excusing the corrupting intervening military regimes. Who among Nigeria’s past leaders fits the bill? Why does anyone expect something to be built on nothing? While for ethnic reasons many Nigerians excuse the appalling failure of their kinsmen in power, and even come to their defence most of the times, the reality is that none of them, Hausa/Fulani, Igbo or Yoruba, has faintly approximated the Nixonian conception of leadership. Not one, and not even now. It is pointless trying to encourage any of them, for no leader can give what he does not have (intelligence and vision).

President Nixon was even more unsparing. He says in his book, ‘Leaders’: “The would-be leader without the judgment or perception to make the right decisions fails for lack of vision. The one who knows the right thing but cannot achieve it fails because he is ineffectual. The great leader needs both the vision and the capacity to achieve what is right. He hires managers to help him do so, but only he can set the direction and provide the motive force”.

Going further to describe management as prose, and leadership as poetry, President Nixon adds, “The leader necessarily deals to a large extent in symbols, in images, and in the sort of galvanizing idea that becomes a force of history…..The manager thinks of today and tomorrow. The leader must think of the day after tomorrow. A manager represents a process. The leader represents a direction of history……”

I have always argued that a leader without a fiery and transcendent intellect cannot hope to achieve anything substantial or enduring. He must have a brilliant and instinctive grasp of the complex and interwoven issues his country wrestles with, and a comprehensive appreciation of the other far-reaching issues shaping the world- indeed, an understanding of the spirit of the age. It is only then he can work on those issues and shape or reshape them to fit his vision.

What ails Nigerian leaders is their debilitating inability to comprehend the intriguing and sometimes mystifying issues of the day, their lack of discipline, and often their inability to extricate themselves from the primordial issues with which they have become willingly entangled. In short, they have no sense of history, and no sense of where their country should be in the coming decades viz-a-viz other countries. This piece posits that no one should attempt to lead a country or any portion of it without first engaging in a deep study of the forces and issues that shaped the character, policies and worldviews of Alexander the Great, Deng Xiaoping, Julius and Augustus Caesar, Winston Churchill, Genghis Khan, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Charles de-Gaulle among several others.

Two qualities are indispensable to a leader, One, the leader himself must possess that innate and intrinsic passion to affect deep and fundamental changes in the society, if not the world. To possess this attribute is to also prequalify himself intellectually and have the ability to appreciate and deconstruct complex issues almost effortlessly. Second, is the need to develop this great and essential attribute by equipping himself with wide-ranging studies of leaders throughout history. China’s Deng did not just happen upon building blocks of ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’, a mixture of ‘socialist ideology with pragmatic market economy’ by chance. Once he developed the idea, he then prepared to suffer for it, and in fact he did.

The point, however, is that whether it pertains to elected governments or military regimes, Nigeria has lacked leaders, not just the right leaders, all of them fifth-rate. When they are not megalomaniacal, they are demagogic. But nothing undermines a country’s destiny more than to be ruled by demagogues devoid of intellect.

Consider one or two of Nigeria’s Heads of State and presidents. After the death of Gen. Sani Abacha, some military generals got together and without vision of Nigeria and deep understanding of its future and how to guarantee and energize that future and without the mandate of Nigerians, just decided to impose one of theirs, Olusegun Obasanjo on the country as president in 1999. The consequences of that imposition are evident in his misshapen policies, his anti-democratic and monarchical measures that saw him deposing elected governors and enthroning presidents at will, and his braggart attempt at self-perpetuation (3rd term) that was scuttled by sincere democrats in the National Assembly. His heedless approach to policy and governance, though far better that his successors and predecessors combined, ensured that after him, Nigeria simply slipped back to the starting block, bruised, battered and disillusioned.

Somehow, too, some Nigerian leaders, though they espouse sham religiosity, at various times worked to undermine the country’s secularity, either by covertly pushing the country into the cauldron of religious politics or by erecting places of worship of their own faiths within the seat of power without a concomitant consideration for the erection of a shrine for traditional worshippers.

Sadly, till this moment, short-sighted national and regional leaders still do not appreciate the cause(s) and effects of the multiple ethno-religious upheavals convulsing particularly the North and insidiously spreading to other parts of the country.

If more than two millennial ago, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (c. 562BC –c. 605BC) could cast the net wide recruitment of the next generation of leaders and advisers for the empire, including inducting gifted slaves into the empire’s leadership cadre, it is shocking and unbelievable that President Buhari has constricted his leadership recruitment to a selected few, narrowed his definition of democracy, routinely subverted the constitution and the law in the name of desperate and urgent national causes, and fixed his government’s lodestar by a strange and simplistic dualism of good and evil, and wrong and right, which even his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, as bad as he was painted, had trouble embracing.

That reprehensible dualism is today alienating a large section of the country, from the Southeast which is groaning under obnoxious and oppressive measures inspired by Abuja, to the Middle Belt ravaged by tribal wars as the Federal Government pretends to some concern, to the militarized states of the South-South which is deliberately being divided in order to be ruled in the classical realpolitik sense.

If Nigeria is to survive, and if democracy is to endure, the country needs to produce the right leaders in 2023 not the kind of demagogic and supremacist leader APC may project in Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu or PDP in Atiku Abubakar.

If Nigeria is to genuinely gain vibrancy, if divisions are to healed, if true leadership is to be enthroned in place of paranoia and sectionalism, and if ethnic and religious strife is to be subjugated, Nigeria must carefully examine those who offer themselves for election in 2023. The people must vote right. But can they? This piece is in doubt, for the typical Nigerian voter has not always demonstrated the detachment and wisdom necessary to put the right people in the office, the kind of detachment that downplays ethnic and religious bigotry. So, then, the first challenge is for those who nurse 2023 ambitions to begin selling themselves and their ideas to the country’s six geopolitical zones, recruiting friends and supporters, and interacting with the business, political and religious elites from all parts of the country.

They must demonstrate by learning, eloquence and vision that their conception of Nigeria is different from the archaic and schizoid one brandied about by past and present leaders. By personal discipline, character, intuition, intellect and overarching appreciation of the issues of the future and of the moment, not to talk of the demand of office, the would-be Nigerian leader must be able to conceptualize a country able to provide leadership in constitution and law for the rest of Africa, a country destined for prominence and preeminence. 

Muhammad is a commentator on national issues

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