Between Nigeria’s constitution review & our characterless leaders, By Garba Shehu

Mallam Garba Shehu

In my last but one column, I ended it with a profound statement by a foremost politician and former Minister of Justice, Chief Richard Akinjide.

In a recent interview, Chief Akinjide said the problem of this country was not so much because of our constitution. That it is not the matter whether the parliament is bi-cameral or uni-cameral or that the system of government is parliamentary or presidential.

“The character of the people being elected is largely the drag on our democracy,” he stated.

For the nearly one hundred years this country been one, that is from the colonial period to these years of independence, we have been writing and amending constitutions without any obvious escape or relief from the situation we are in. The problems we are grappling with only seem to get worse.

Now that we are at our wits end, it should be clear that the problem is no longer the supreme law neither is it with the pieces of paper on which it is written. In fact, there is no amount of constitution review or amendment that will cause Nigeria to become a better country so long as politics and leadership remain a criminal nexus and conspiracy to loot the people and the country.

To save us from further deterioration, this country needs to do a lot of introspection, and make the necessary choice of focusing on the character of those that wish to lead us from top to bottom as can be inferred from Chief Akinjide.

Character, says Henry Clay, is the most highly prized of all the properties that belong to man.

Unfortunately, characterless men and women in political leadership have plagued Nigeria and it is a difficult hole that will take generations of inspired leadership to climb out. A President of this country once said he had no shame. Which means that he could walk the streets naked, rape or even kill without remorse. A sitting President told grief-stricken military families of a bombed out barracks that they were privileged to see him on location as he had more important things to do. Yet another leader has told us that he didn’t give a damn whatever anyone thought about he being corrupt or otherwise.

Nation building is by extraordinary hard work, character and sacrifice not by conceit, selfishness or greed.  In the light of this, it would amount to negligence, if not criminality, were the task of producing a people’s constitution to be left to leaders lacking in character as we read from Dr. Ahmed Joda.

Why can’t we get men or women of exceptional character who can motivate the rest of the country to awaken this sleeping giant?

When, in writing this article,  I researched the extraordinary tales of courage and statesmanship in far away countries, stories particularly of the character of those who built those great societies, I came away with the feeling that those ones might have came from Venus while we here originated from Mars.

I have been challenged and motivated at the same time by a character in a World War sibling narrative, the story of the four Ryan brothers in the United States Army, three of whom were killed in the war.

The highly reputed Steven Spielberg made the story into a film “Saving Private Ryan”. Tom Cruise acted it. The film won several awards and it grossed more money than any other in its year of release.

A diligent army records clerk had noted the commonness of the name of the Ryans from the casualties of war and went upstairs with her account.

The account went up and up, commander to commander until it got to the United States Department of War where General George Marshal was informed that three of four brothers in the Ryan family had died within days of each other and their mother will receive all telegrams same day. The death of service personnel in the war was announced to family members through a joint letter by the Secretary of Defence and the President or Prime Minister as the case may be. The telegram is the best family members will get since military dead are interred at military cemeteries and considered to be in the custodianship of the state.

In the consideration of the President, Abraham Lincoln and the Defence Secretary, the Ryan family had made enough sacrifices through the loss of three brothers nearly at once and decided that the last of the four Ryans at the war front must be brought home and to their mother.

General Marshal directed that the remaining Ryan, Private First Class James Francis Ryan at an unknown location at the war front in Europe be declared an MIA (missing in action) forthwith.

He set up a small band of military operatives to fight their way to the front, to where Ryan was.

He is to be found and upon reading Abraham Lincoln’s letter to the mother to him, should be sent home to the mother.

This band of fighters, led by a certain US Captain John H. Miller, fought their way to the front, losing men and material and getting directions upon misdirection on the way until finally they arrived his station on the outskirts of Ramelle in Germany. There, Ryan was one of only three Americans defending a strategically important bridge over the Maderet River in the town.

Ryan was told of his brothers’ death and their mission to bring him home.

The looks on his face were distressful. He was clearly sad to have lost all three brothers. He however told Captain Miller that it will not be fair to leave the duty post to go home, asking Miller to tell his mother that “when you found me here, I was with the only two brothers I have left,” looking at his colleagues, whose duty as reported, was to defend the bridge and destroy any approaching German mechanized unit.

Muslims have also read about Umar Bin Khattab, the second Caliph who led the Muslim community after the death of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Umar as leader of the emergent Islamic state did not sleep until every man or woman had had dinner. He went round the city of Medina in the manner of the duty prefect in the boarding school at night to see things for himself and hear out the subjects. On a particular night, he heard a woman from behind the wall of her compound shouting out her need for a man. Umar found out that her man had been sent on a military expedition and the Caliph felt guilty about their long separation. He later obtained information from a living wife of the late Prophet as to how long a woman could endure away from her husband and that was used to set a standard rule for military postings. From that period going forward, no fighter was kept away from his family for a period exceeding 40 days.

The Anglo-American World War 11 action plan for the cross-channel airborne and amphibious attack on German expedition known as D-Day was a plan that took four years on a secret drawing board.

Although the then British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, enthusiastically supported the plan, his characteristic prudence did not permit him to allow it to pass without nagging reviews and criticism; assessment and reassessment.

He got all the assurances that needed to be got but Churchill won’t just  give the plan a free pass. In a letter he exchanged with General Eisenhower the Allied war commander, Churchill was informed that “the only guarantee we cannot give (for the success of the plan) is against a natural (Devine) occurrence.” Yet, Churchill did not stop asking questions three months, two, one month, then down to weeks and days before the D-Day. On a final occasion, Churchill wrote a letter assuming responsibility in the event of failure. If the battle plan succeeded, however, the 150,000 fighters the U.S, Britain and Italy dropped on the beaches will share that success.

Nigerians, like our African brothers, are too much in a hurry to build nation-states without building nations. We are not even paying attention to the building blocks. We are paying scant attention to building consensus around common institutions and to character in men or women who lead or aspire to lead us. Constitutions and laws are required to regulate human beings but they can only be as good as their operators. Isn’t it time that we began paying attention to character in the choice of leaders?


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  • Mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa

    First a correction. Lincoln was not the US president in 1944, it was Roosevelt. The letter you referred to was an old letter written in 1864 by Lincoln to a mother that suffered similar tragedy with the Ryan’s.
    Finally, u guys are coming around to demands of patriots since the early 1990’s that we need to’ build a consensus around common institutions…’ But the arrongance and intransigence of the north have made this impossible. For eg, Can we have a national conference? No. What of state police? No.The north have become a permanent Dr No. Now we have so many citizens without loyalty to a nation. Mutual suspicion is rife. Instead of politicians we have religious bigots like buhari that insists that Muslims shouldn’t vote Christians.
    Lets build a common institution through consensus and not bluster or threat of gratuitous violence.