Politicians and political leaders in general and elected officials in particular, get blamed for any and all national headaches—–unemployment, poverty, insecurity, corruption, underdevelopment etc.
Blame is justified because leaders ask to lead, and blame for lapses comes with the territory that leaders occupy. Not a few will argue that if political leaders voted into office by the electorate are not prepared for the heat, they should not get into the kitchen of politics.
However, I argue here that followers also share in the blame of bad governance that creates national headaches. Followership blame may come at two levels. First is the low bar that followers set for the evaluation of leaders and potential leaders. Second is followers’ selfish tall expectation of miraculous performance from leaders tailored to their personal comfort. When a leader fails to satisfy the personal interest of a follower, the leader automatically becomes an enemy for his failure to attend to the personal need of his follower forgetting that the leader has so many followers that he lacks the financial capacity to attend to the personal needs of all. After all, do we elect or appoint leaders to attend to our personal problems or those problems bedeviling the society? Why should we channel our personal problems to leaders for immediate solutions knowing fully, well that they are surviving on monthly income as salary? Are we asking them to be corrupt so as to amass ill-gotten wealth and attend to our personal needs and we still turn round to call them thieves when the relation gets bad?
Normally, we should elect those rated with the capacity and intellect to be leaders, and, once they are access office, judge them by their credibility and integrity, by their empathetic feeling of the pain that their followers endure, and above all, by their competence. These three qualities are complimentary but they sometimes get emphasized differently at different times by different followers depending on which part of the divide the leader comes from.
Going down the memory lane for this discourse, in the 1980 US presidential election, integrity played a greater role than competence. That was against the background of the Watergate scandal. Jimmy Carter won handily against Gerald Ford who had pardoned Richard Nixon, to the dismay of many voters. Four years later, competence was brought to the fore by a worsening economy and the Iran hostage crisis which respectively impacted the economic fortunes of voters and shook their sense of national security and national pride.
With his demonstration of an empathetic understanding of people’s pain, Bill Clinton won the first presidential debate against George H.W Bush in 1992 and went on to win the presidency. His demonstrated competence in turning the economy around in his first term won him a second term in 1996 and effectively saved his presidency in 1998 even with his impeachment by the House and his damaged integrity.
A pertinent question is here in order: if and when their votes are allowed to count and elections are not rigged, are our people also guided by similar concerns of integrity, empathetic understanding of citizens’ pain, and again above all competence? Or are there other considerations that sway us one way or the other? For reason of space I cannot address this question as fully as it deserves. But I can hint at the route to an answer from our most recent experience.
Back in 2010 at the time of the unfortunate sickness and eventual demise of former president Umaru Musa Yar Adu’a, an unexpected crisis arose in a Republic guided by a Constitution that is very clear on succession. There was a reluctance to have the then Vice President Dr. Jonathan Goodluck serve as Acting President while the substantive President out was battling to restore his health. And when the substantive president finally passed on, there was another brand of crisis on whether the North should present a candidate to contest for and complete the remaining tenure of the late Yar Adu’a.
In both of these crises of succession as acting and substantial president, clearly other considerations were in play before reason eventually prevailed through the efforts of the national assembly.
In the lead-up to the 2015 presidential election, with the emergence of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as a strong contender in national elections, the criteria of integrity and competence were brought up and advanced in favor of candidate Muhammadu Buhari, while the accusation of incompetence and weakness in dealing with corruption and security were leveled against candidate Jonathan of the ruling party.
But as the points and counterpoints were being canvassed and litigated, an extraneous issue that mirrored the interjection of 2010 was brought to the fore. The claim was made without any sense of irony that every zone of the country was supposed to get two terms and that the South-south should not be denied a second term. Clearly here, the criteria of integrity, empathy and competence were not considered essential to electing the president but mere sentiment.
The above narrative from our recent past gives us a hint about the issues that we prioritize in the selection of leaders. And as a corollary, it should also provide us with a good barometer of leadership perception, understanding, and appreciation of their responsibilities and obligations to different demographics and constituencies. That the fight against corruption has different meanings for different segments of the population should therefore not come to us as a surprise.
But there is more. Our differing demographics notwithstanding, each individual and/ or group could still demand accountability based on the values that each holds dear. However, it appears that beside the group or traditional culture that makes us cling to nativist urges, we share a Pan-Nigerian culture that privileges certain attitudes which we do not find repugnant even though they are antagonistic to our true interests as individuals and as a people.
We nurture a culture of negative work-ethic, godlessness despite our religiosity, and materialistic greed. “Progressive individualism” is philosopher C.B McPherson’s description of the liberal capitalist ideology about the nature of market relations and the ethos that they create from the 17th century to the late 20th century.
That description fits us perfectly as a people based on the way we like to acquire the so-called goods of life. The difference is that where it originates, there is at least a combination of acquisitive tendencies with positive attitudes to work. For them, the urge for production precedes and pre-dominates the urge for acquisition. They work hard to produce much more than what they need. For us, the reverse is the case as we unceasingly indulge our ferocious appetite for material things without a corresponding interest in production. The consequence is that we have to rely on other countries, including those of our age for the satisfaction of our desires which are not always desirable.
The difference between the positive work ethic and modesty of life of the average citizen of countries whose consumption pattern we strive to outdo and ours is alarmingly huge. Our national culture celebrates pomp and pageantry, and respects flamboyance at the expense of modesty. We mock the pick-pockets and applaud the profligates with flashy lifestyles even as we fail to investigate the source of their wealth.
The anti-corruption fight has divided the country into the camp of supporters and opponents for a number of reasons. Some genuinely believe that it is one-sided. Others argue that the fight has left the economy uncared for. It appears to me, however, that one challenge of the fight is that corruption itself is a national pastime whether we want to honestly admit it or not.
Corruption permeates all the segments of society and while the big-time culprits are chased by the anti-corruption agencies, the television or radio producer who demanded for N150,000.00 gratification from a prospective interviewee or drops the programme from being aired is left to freedom. And for rejecting the demand, the programme was not aired despite its richness.
It is the case of an education officer who demanded for a padded envelope from a school proprietor for the registration of his school. Once given and received, no further questions would be asked and regulations need not to be enforced. And we continue to wonder why the education of our children is in such dire straits! It is the case of the policeman who turned the other way after a handshake with a driver’s stuffed hands, not worrying about overloading of the vehicle or checking the load in the vehicle. It is the case of a federal road safety officer who requested for vehicle particulars but received few naira notes instead and waved the offender to proceed on the journey not minding the condition of the vehicle and its road worthiness.
The foregoing samples do not exhaust the list of self-help schemes on the part of those with access to some level of power. Hardly is there an exception. Even teachers, who used to be role models for probity are, also tasting the forbidden fruit and a variety of fees are their means of making more than ends meet. Examination fraud is team work. Sex for marks is another trick of exploitation and purchase of handouts is another way of extorting from the innocent student. In some cases, even appending signatures on result sheets by Heads of Departments in tertiary institutions are sources of fortune. The situation is unbelievable but damning.
Folks without access to such formal positions of authority resort to “fine bara” of various shades and at various levels. From area boys to party stalwarts, they depend on the crumbs from the table of the powerful and connected and will entertain nothing that stands in the way. Talking ill of their benefactors gets into their skin; defending him/her is self-interest. We listen to those children from the breadlines shouting praises of leaders for peanuts not for sincerity.
It follows, therefore, that when leaders are ethically or criminally implicated, followers cannot creditably claim innocence because they are equally involved.
Muhammad is a commentator on national issues