As my parents would say; when they were growing up and getting married in the 60’s, they revered great leaders and wished that their children would grow up to emulate these leaders. They proudly recalled Nigeria’s past heroes as if ‘they once walked on water’.
The Sardauna of Sokoto, Tafawa Balewa, the Nnamdi Azikiwe and their likes were wonderful role models. Our parents looked up to them, and so do we today because of their accomplishments. These leaders, it would appear, placed the needs of their subjects ahead of theirs and made selfless sacrifices their ethos in public service.
Great thinkers like Aristotle believes that we learn to be moral (virtuous) by modeling the behavior of moral people, and depending on the role models we have, people can learn both good and bad habits.
Today, many Nigerians feel betrayed whenever our leaders stand on podiums to extol the excellent work of our heroes past. At the funeral of late Chinua Achebe, Nigeria’s literary icon, the follies of our leaders played out glaringly when President Goodluck Jonathan recounted reading ‘Things Fall Apart’ in 1971. Many in the audience that evening felt the President did not learn any lessons from the book.
And so, for me and numerous other countrymen, the question rings profoundly: Who are the role models in Nigeria’s contemporary political leadership? There’s hardly any voice that speaks hope. Both from the camps of those occupying the various Government Houses today and the ones in opposition you routinely receive in different decibels the voices of deceit. There’s nothing in the open pointing towards affordable housing, healthcare, quality education, electricity, and access to potable water.
Steadily, it has been more of those that uphold ethical precepts that are routinely losing out and those with dubious characters are heavily on the ascendancy. Merit and hard work are hardly any qualification for elevation in any field of endeavour. Instead, nepotism and crass political patronage are the rule.
Journalism that ought to be the ground of cultivated values is up to the dogs, sadly. This is the case in many spheres of our public life, where many that decided not to thread the path of corrupt and retrogressive leaders, and chose to adhere to the highest ethical conducts are silenced and hounded into submission or passivity. I have asked myself who among today’s rulers could inspire and not despair. Who could be a leader and not be a dealer? Who could be a real refreshing breath of fresh air, not a grandstanding, dubious claimant? I can only think of one or maybe two but I couldn’t think of a third person in a country with over 160 million people.
Although, a role model can vary from one person to another however my focus here is; are today’s leaders as selfless and committed to the overall good of Nigeria like what we see in some of the names mentioned here? Why is the disconnect between today’s leaders and their followers so wide that they have to protect themselves with armoured vehicles and heavily armed guards? Can a leader serve without accumulating questionable wealth for himself and for his family?
Can we have a Madiba in Nigeria whose mission in governance was not the institutionalization of self, who served a single term and stepped down without being heckled? Who left power willingly for the younger generation of South Africans at a time he could command a landslide win in any national election?
There was something about most of Nigeria and Africa’s founding fathers that made them very special. They led by example, raised the bar for us and we wished to be like them. But today, I doubt if I want my children to be like any of the Governors or Presidents that emerge today.
A look at one of my favorite pictures of our founding fathers, the picture of Nigeria’s Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa with his two children eating sugarcane in his farm. He sat on the mat with very modest clothes during a vacation in 1963. Such modesty was glaring when these leaders were found to have near empty bank accounts when they were killed in 1966.
Can our local council chairmen today live a modest lifestyle? Today’s leaders at all levels of governance in Nigeria are in a race to have the fattest foreign bank accounts, the most palatial mansions, who will be treated in the best hospitals in the world when they or members of their families fall sick.
Today’s leaders or ‘bad’ role models have no compunction with the way they globetrot with their private jets amidst the squalor and indignation of the people they claim to be working for. Apart from the general despair of any likelihood that things will ever change for the better in our lifetime, the generality of Nigerians have not witness practical dividends of democracy other than the strange cute scorecards that are published regularly.
Today, the absence of role models has made it practically difficult for our traditional rulers, religious leaders, elders, or political leaders to ask restive or irate youths to rest their fists and shun violence. Many youths will say “we have never seen your kids in the schools we attended, under trees, with no instructional manuals, no teachers, where we have to stay at home many times due to strikes”.
Many youths will say; “how can they stop violence when in fact, it was you, politicians that provided them with money to buy hard drugs, money for training, provided them with weapons and charms to kill or intimidate people especially their opponents for them to win elections”.
Today’s political elites erect high parameter fences around their houses, build private boreholes while the community in which they live is bereft of any public amenity. These rulers siphon the resources meant to build hospitals, roads and schools to support the industrialization drive and real estates of many developed countries and invest heavily in their companies and banks, while our industries that can provide jobs to teeming youths are in ruins. Nigeria is indeed, in need of role models.
Salkida writes from the United Arab Emirate and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org / @contactSalkida