The pioneer chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Nuhu Ribadu, has identified inefficient leadership as the major challenge retarding the growth and development of Nigeria after 56 years of independence.
Mr. Ribadu, who delivered the convocation lecture of the 11th convocation ceremony of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, in Anambra State on Wednesday, also stated that the nation had grappled with challenges of mutual suspicion and ethnic jingoism, which he said had deprived the people of reason, fairness and sense of justice.
Speaking on the topic, Leadership and Challenges of National Unity in Nigeria, Mr. Ribadu highlighted the hypocrisy of leaders who pretend unity in the open, but fan the embers of disunity behind the scenes.
“We laugh and hug in public and plot against each other when we retire to our ethno-religious enclaves,” he said.
“Once in a while, this mistrust finds grotesque expression among our people as we witness bloodbaths premeditated by ethno-religious contempt for each other.”
According to him, development is low in almost all parts of the country and there appears to be nothing to be proud of in almost all spheres aside cases of personal achievements of resilient citizens.
He said basic amenities were lacking, while Issues that other nations had long taken care of were still hard for Nigeria.
“Nigeria still ranks poor in many development indices while the menace of corruption is threatening to choke the country to death due to the excessive stealing of our resources by some handlers of our affairs,” he said.
“Clearly, our challenges of nationhood are linked to the inadequacies of some of our leaders at all levels. Yet, another compelling argument explaining our developmental backwardness is failure by citizens to take ownership of their country.
“A lot of us, to quote late Chief Bola Ige, prefer to adopt a siddonlook attitude in the affairs of our nation. Therefore, addressing the leadership question without tackling the absence of this fundamental emotional investment in the country, would not be enough answer to our challenges.”
He quipped that while other countries were afflicted by natural disasters, Nigeria’s own disaster is leadership failure, noting that the metaphor might be exaggerated, yet it is certainly not too far from the truth.
“We have burned out decades of self-rule moving in circles from one problem to the other, often caused by poor leadership challenges,” Mr. Ribadu lamented.
“This leadership inadequacy has contributed in compounding a number of our problems, from widening the parochial divisions among the citizens to active participation in plundering our patrimony.
“What we missed at independence and for most of the years that followed is a true national leader with a clear determination and focus to unify the country.
“Having such a unifying person would have been one big leap because it would have taken care of the most central challenges of our country.”
Mr. Ribadu argued that leadership was key to whatever social change is desired, while advocating a top-bottom approach to solving societal problems.
“It is the leader that charts and navigates the way for the flock to follow and it is the leader’s action, inaction and body language that dictate the tunes for the dance steps of the public,” he submitted.
“As I have noted before, if a leader eschews corruption, it will be difficult for those below him to indulge in such practice; and if the leader is deep neck in it, it becomes a free-for-all.”
Mr. Ribadu rejected the notion that Nigeria is an artificial creation, arguing that the nation would benefit more from its ethno-religious diversity, as homogenous countries such as Somalia and South Sudan had proved wrong the idea that the nation would be better if the people were of a less diverse state.
He said the challenges of a diverse society like Nigeria have not been confronted in a way that is enduring and holistic, saying the situation raised the question of effective leadership.
“The leader of the Nigerian renaissance must therefore be strong, tough, and inclusive in his or her own capacity,” he said.
“He or she must not be an opportunist who grows on the back of citizens to entrench a regime of dictatorship that weakens our institutions and in turn end up annulling our democracy and its values of freedom.”
Mr. Ribadu, while offering his opinion on the way forward, noted that the nation needed a paradigm shift in governance that would urgently tackle the alarming inequality in the country as well as the mass poverty and misery it nurtures.
“This really is the ticking time bomb that is about to unravel our common destiny, and our collective future,” he said. “History is rich of great civilizations and nations who ignore to address the social compact and ended up in regret.
“If we have a society of one religion, one ethnicity but ignore to address the ravaging threat of inequality and poverty, the outcome will be worse than Somalia, more so in a diverse society like ours.”
He said attempts at continuous tinkering with the national architecture through policies like state creation and micro-ethnicity will not get Nigeria to the promise land.
“The truth is that the minute after a new state is created, the agitation for smaller unit is triggered,” he said.
“Breaking states into small entities have not helped much in this country. Agitations that triggered the formation of new states have largely remained in the entities created.”
According to Mr. Ribadu, the answer to the problem is to invest heavily in social justice; political justice; and in the promotion of a regime of freedom as broadly as possible.
He recommended that the country should celebrate shared experiences, connections and togetherness, which, he said, far outweigh the differences among the people, while resisting the influences of hate mongers who might be politicians or religious leaders.
“This approach should include investment in law and order to ensure that there is zero tolerance for violence and hate speech,” he submitted.
“On the other side, fairness and justice should not be only notional abstracts, it should be seen to be on display through every action of the state and our individual leaders.”
He called for the strengthening of unity schools and the NYSC scheme as a way to building more bridges across nationalities and sustaining existing ones.
“The demography in our universities should also as much as possible reflect our ethno-cultural diversities,” Mr. Ribadu advised.
” I am sad to note how our universities are becoming increasingly provincial in terms of students and teachers’ population, thereby ending up producing narrow-minded graduates.
“It is therefore right to say that what the country needs is honest and modern leadership that would be a rallying point for citizens, one that can tame the consuming tides of corruption and evolve creative solutions to our myriad of problems.
“It is my belief that firm and sincere leadership is the precursor for industrious and patriotic followership.
“This will enhance national development and bring an end to current mutual mistrust that is shaking the foundation of our nation.
“Managing Nigeria’s diversity in the context of justice and fairness is a pathway to progress. If we address these existential and leadership challenges, we are more than half-way into addressing all our problems.”