Nigeria: In Search of Heroes

This piece is not intended to paint anyone in colours (whether good or bad), it rather examines Nigeria’s fate since independence, and highlights the need for urgent action from all of us that are called by the name Nigeria (the government and the governed).

While we are all responsible for Nigeria’s current reality, it must, however, be stated that the governments/politicians from 1960 till now, are the major culprits in the mess that Nigeria has been in and will remain until something unusual (positively), happens. Nigeria’s reality since independence (and Nigerians’ attitude) is a case of “we all want a good country where we can do as we like, not minding the impact on the other person”. Can you imagine such irony? 

Another thing is that we, or some of us, want a good country that thrives amongst its peers, but we also have genuine doubts that such a dream could become real because there seems to be really nobody around who can be courageous enough to dare to fix things, and get to convince people to get him/her to power. Someone who will remain on the right track against all odds, who would inspire citizens to be good to their country, and who would punish (justly) anyone found wanting (irrespective of who they are or their relationship with the head of the government). Someone who would be able to successfully inspire the potential of Nigeria and create a truly great country. Someone who would be able to get a greater number of citizens to share and be committed to his ideals and be willing to defend, protect and promote same, even at the expense of the ultimate price.

Nigerian Presidents’; past to present. C.Global History Blog

There have been conversations on issues as the 2023 general elections approach, and all sides of the political fence seem to agree that the current situation of the country is a huge disaster that needs urgent fixing. Unfortunately, the signs point to continuous decline and the almost impossibility of redemption. Colonialism was recently a subject that generated debate among Nigerians, some of whom noted that, though sad, it would have been better if Nigeria gained Independence in the year 2000, especially with a perfectly established NIGERIAN consciousness in all citizens. If that were the case, it’s being argued, infrastructure would no longer be a subject of daily national discourse, and economic development would be – even if not at the level of countries like the USA, Britain, China, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Switzerland, etc. 

Nigeria would be the real giant of Africa, proudly leading other African countries in an awe-inspiring march to greatness. But national greatness requires visionary, patriotic, and committed leaders. Whether it is admitted or not, and despite his own personal flaws (which every human has in one way or another), Obafemi Awolowo is the only one who could be said to have come close to being the kind of leader imagined above. The role of the Constitution of Awolowo’s time cannot be over-emphasized, though, among the factors that enabled Awolowo to be able to do many of the things he did as Premier of the old Western region, for which he is still being commended. Things like the first Television station in Africa (WNTV, now NTA, in Ibadan), the Liberty stadium (Ibadan), and the Cocoa House (also in Ibadan), paid the highest minimum wage at the time. 

Recognizing that quality education is good and liberates and brings people from different places and different levels of financial stability together through smartness, hard work, discipline, and probably fate. Being responsible enough to recognize that the office he held made it an obligation for him, as the political leader of that region, to make this education accessible to all citizens and initiate policies to actually ensure that. Something that the current set of politicians, especially the top ones, are consciously trying to prevent – that meeting/coming together of the opposite classes of the “haves & have-nots”. Awolowo made the policy of free and compulsory education for everyone, quality education that cannot be compared to the mess that currently exists. 

These, and other relatively uncommon (then and now), but positive things are Awolowo’s legacy. Unfortunately, Nigeria never allowed him to become President, one thing that could have made up for the absence of the colonial masters in the area of development of the country. When you examine the persons that have been heads of state, Prime Ministers, and Presidents with their records, then imagine that an Awolowo could not be president in this same country. How might one explain that? Perhaps recognizing the absurdity of such irony, Nigerians have been regarding Awolowo as “The Best President Nigeria ‘Never’ Had”. After Awolowo, the other person that showed signs of possibly being such a leader is MKO Abiola – despite his own flaws too. He remains one of the most brilliant Nigerians ever. 

Abiola understood governance and had a convincing personal idea on every subject, politics, economy, education, sports, business, religion, etc. He is the only one, to date, who truly united the country – North, South, East, and West. He did not just preach hope, he radiated hope. The thought of Abiola becoming President, at that time, naturally gave hope to regular Nigerians that life was worth it and anyone can be anything if the environment supports it, and Abiola seemed to be certainly going to make that environment Nigeria’s reality. Again, sadly, he never became president despite winning the election for that position. After these two men, it is hard to name another Nigerian, late or living, who has come close to being a possibility of that leader that Nigeria desperately needs. Despite the above, it is not the argument of the article that had either or both of them get there, Nigeria’s story would be significantly positively different, only time could have revealed the real course of events. 

When you examine the history of the African continent, and the men recognized as real heroes of their countries and by extension Africa, it is sad that there is no Nigerian that has truly come close to deserving to be on such a list of greatness, where you have names like Emperor El Selassie of Ethiopia, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, professor L.S Senghor of Senegal, Patrice Lumumba of Congo, Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, Seretse Khama of Botswana, even Paul Kagame of Rwanda. It will be naive to discuss any Nigerian leader in the same context as these Africans mentioned above (especially in almost becoming synonyms of their country). Despite this, it is disrespectful to an Awolowo, to talk about any of the current politicians in the same context as him, and it is mischievous for anyone of them to claim that they are followers of Awolowo, because time has shown that they are the direct sad and unfortunate opposite of an Awolowo. They recognize his relatively good name and just want to leverage it to continue their deliberate destruction of the country. 
There was a report in 2019 that said a doctor had a heart attack “in a hospital” and died because they could not get an automated external defibrillator (AED) to revive his heart. Between May 29, 2015, and August 9, 2019 (when this piece was originally written), president Buhari had flown abroad several times and for a long stretch of time for health issues. The First Lady, Aisha Buhari, lamented the unavailability of paracetamol in the Aso Rock clinic, despite having billions of naira allocated to it, President Buhari’s son, Yusuf, had an accident and had to be flown abroad for treatment (some “strangers to shame” even went to welcome him when he recovered and returned to Nigeria). While all these were happening, the health sector continued to deteriorate (the deterioration is worsening today) – despite having a professor of Medicine (who previously retired from being a university Vice-Chancellor) as Health Minister. 

A Nigerian Public Hospital

From UCH to LUTH and other medical facilities, it is almost always a story of pain, misery, death, and sorrow. What could be more important as a motivation for president Buhari to fix the health sector than his own health challenges? If President Buhari fixed only the health sector, he may be forgiven for the other things he did not do, but that would actually be too much to ask of a man whose only expertise is in blaming others (especially those on the other side of the political fence) for the ills in the country, even when he has been an active contributor to these ills all his life. The police and other security agencies are another sides of the story that is Nigeria. Reports are everywhere of the many unprofessional acts of many officials. Like many citizens, this author has been at the receiving end of the ills of the men of the Nigerian police force, several times and at different places. 

In a conversation with an officer of the Nigerian Police Force (a few years ago), about the mess in the force, the officer admitted that they are guilty, but not without reason. For example, he explained that the monies budgeted and allocated to each police station almost never reach them because the “ogas at the top” would have cornered such monies. Each police officer has had to bear the cost of his/her uniform, each station is on its own in the fueling of their vehicles, many of which are not in good shape (yet these same people would stop a private citizen driving a vehicle that is obviously in way better condition than theirs, and be asking for a paper of road worthiness). He concluded by asking how they are supposed to do the job in the midst of the above challenges, and then stated the obvious, that the regular citizens would bear the cost. 

The education sector is one of the saddest casualties of this mess. Public primary and secondary schools are a sad picture to behold, the higher institutions are not better. How can one explain a situation where these schools solely depend on the government for survival? The reason why you see them selling honorary “Ph.D.” to money bags, irrespective of the character, record, and reality of such recipient(s). You see acclaimed professors of economics/business administration in schools that have no businesses to point to, and you then wonder about the relevance of the knowledge they lay claim to. Professors of physics, engineering, etc in schools where there have hardly been significant useful inventions. When managements of these schools want to execute projects like roads or building construction, they award the contracts to contractors from outside. This reminds me of one of the speeches of the Kenyan law professor, Patrick Lumumba, who said we have civil engineers who cannot build roads, the reason you find the Chinese at major construction sites in the country and continent. 

A Nigerian public school -The GUARDIAN

Another thing is the absence of accurate national data for citizens and residents which would make Nigeria aware of everyone called by the Nigerian name anywhere in the world, especially those within the country’s borders (data that would enable the country to truly benefit her people and command patriotism, pride, and respect in them). As it is, it can hardly be established whether Nigeria knows if the author of this article exists, talk more of knowing his location and other relevant information about him. If this is the case, how then can the government really make plans for the country and its citizens, in the absence of statistical data? It is sad that we have very lazy rulers who cannot make effort to grow the economy to cater to the people and help run efficient states and countries. The strange minds of many politicians who think that only easy money (federal allocation), and more of it, is all that matters in life. Wonder why they always cry when the demand and price of oil fall in the international market. 

If Nigerians really know the extent of the irresponsibility of their representatives in government (especially when compared to leaders in other countries), the 2023 election’s importance would be better appreciated. The amusing acts of the current set of politicians, and their lack of truly sound minds. How do you describe a governor that derives fun from erecting statues (especially of failed politicians like himself) instead of building good roads, schools, hospitals, etc? How do you describe a governor that uses public funds to pay criminal violent non-state actors, instead of prosecuting them, yet sees no shame in telling it to the world? How do you describe a governor that decried the level of indebtedness of his state because of the financial mismanagement of his predecessor(s), but who is only about two years of being in office, adds more than N100 billion to that debt portfolio, with almost nothing tangible to show, further increasing the misery of the state? 

When one looks at the acts of serious countries of the world and the seriousness with which international politics is played, one cannot help being sad for Nigeria, for being so unfortunate that the set of rulers who have ruled it is the ones we have had so far. It would, however, be unfair to put all the blame on politicians, because we all are responsible for the kind of country we have. While some of us analyze issues and criticize objectively, demanding the right things to be done at all levels, some others (even those who are victims/casualties of the current system) defend the system and its architects. It is amusing how the reality of the country does not grieve their hearts. How long shall the country be without heroes? Events of the last 62 years of Nigeria have brought only misery to the country, but the saddest part is that there is really no sign of redemption around, there is really nobody to look towards as a possible gladiator that would halt this decline, and inspire a renaissance in the country that would lead to a Nigeria that thrives amongst her peers in contemporary times, a Nigeria that truly benefits her children.

Seun Lonimi ( on Politics Today

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