By Fr. Valentine Anaweokhai
ost discourses and discussions about the dominant problems affecting Nigeria as a country today point at bad leadership. The assumption is that if Nigeria addresses her leadership issue, many other problems will be solved. How true this claim is, only time will tell. But to a great extent, I agree with that same position. Unfortunately, it is obvious that the system that breeds and produces these leaders at various levels and degrees is fundamentally faulty and designed for such ends. For example, some people have frowned against the method that recently produced the presidential candidates of some major political parties, who emerged because they were the highest bidders and spenders. A situation where ‘delegates’ were carefully selected, and they voted not according to their willful consciences but according to their ‘monetized consciences.’ Where they voted, not according to who had the best of ideas and solutions to the myriads of issues bedeviling the country, but according to who paid the highest dollars. Indeed, we have begun an era of the dollarization of party primaries.
However, one good thing is that now that the various political parties have their respective flag bearers, and vying for various elective positions across board, Nigerians should care to know the antecedents of these personalities approaching them for their votes. Over the years, the dominant yardstick for voting people into public offices and positions has been blatantly smeared with religious, political, and ethnic prejudices. This is surreptitiously playing out again, ahead of the 2023 general elections. The question is, when shall we rise above these divisive and retrogressive sentiments and biases, in choosing our leaders? At what stage in our national growth and development, shall we begin to use more objective and universal standards and criteria in choosing those who lead us and manage our scarce resources for the common good? This is very crucial for the next general elections.
It is both a moral and civic duty and obligation to educate and conscientize people on the need to identify and watch out for candidates who possess basic virtues required in leadership. People who live by acceptable prosocial values and have outstanding qualities in leadership. People may have been inadvertently fortunate to occupy public offices in the past, but that does not qualify them for higher leadership offices and positions. Public offices should not be used for compensation. They may just have been privileged to have godfathers (mothers) who backed them up or powerful sponsors who financed their ambitions in the past. But that does not mean they deserve any of our votes this time around. Ethnic, religious, and political considerations and biases have led us to where we are today, and it is obvious that is where the political permutations are heading again this time around.
At a time like this, Nigeria needs empathic leaders. Leaders who know the real cause of the problems of Nigeria and are willing to deal with them headlong. We need leaders who truly mean well for the people and are ready to go out there and solve the problems of insecurity, unemployment, low quality education, poor infrastructure, hunger, poor health care, minimum wage, and religious bigotry. Leaders who can feel the real sufferings and pains of the people and be ready to address them. Leaders who are ready to wear the shoes of anguish and woe of the people and take drastic steps to ameliorate them. We have had one too many cases of people who make empty campaign promises, but upon assumption of office, they turn their backs against the same people who voted for them.
Moreso, we should be looking out for leaders who are selfless and service oriented. Leaders who understand that public office is purely about public service. Anything short of this is a contradiction. It is a glaring fact that some public servants have turned their offices to self-serving instruments. Such offices are now for self-aggrandizement, self-adulation, personal and selfish wealth acquisition, and for vain glory. We must look out for virtuous people who understand that ‘leadership is for the people, about the people, and by the people.’ If care is taken, it won’t be difficult to identify those who have such antecedents of selflessness and have dedicated their lives to the service of humanity and have not usurped their offices for purposes of victimization and vindictiveness. These are the kind of people we need now, but unfortunately, where are they?
One of the consequences of choosing leaders based on sectional considerations, (religion, ethnicity, and politics), is that they end up working for the same sectional, regional, and hegemonic interests. Leaders must always work for the common good. We have instances where an elected public office holder would deliberately malign some citizens under his care, simply because they didn’t vote for him, or because they constitute a smaller percentage of those who voted him. We need leaders who after election, can put behind all pre-election matters and squabbles, and face the real business of governance, administration, and development, for the good of everyone. The common good here would include services, amenities, infrastructures, and resources that would improve the living condition of everyone, irrespective of class, status, condition, culture, background, and gender, as long as they guarantee human rights, dignity, and freedom.
Having said that, we need leaders who have the poor at heart, leaders whose aspirations would include principally, a ‘preferential option for the poor’. As Antonio Gutierrez puts it, leaders who can stand by ‘dominated peoples, exploited social classes, despised races, and marginalized cultures.’ The regional, structural, and cultural lines that divide us in Nigeria, in the recent years have become so obvious and visible. More so, the divide between the extremely rich and the marginally poor is widening more than ever before on a geometric scale. The powerful rich, who double as the privileged ruling class, continue to leave no stones unturned in exploiting the poor to maintain the margins. This is the reason why till date, no refinery is working at its optimum, electricity is still epileptic to the extent that the National grid is gasping for energy to stay alive, public tertiary institutions are closed, armed conflict and terrorism is on the rise, and inflation is a sore reality. We certainly need leaders who not only care about the votes of the poor, but who care about the poor voters. We need leaders who are concerned about the dignity, freedom, rights, and welfare of the poor. Leaders who understand, according to an ancient maxim, that ‘in situation of misery, God is not neutral’. We need leaders who are ready, in the words of Elizabeth Johnson, ‘to side with the poor, not because they are more saintly or less sinful than others, but because of their situation’. A situation that is caused by the greed of a callous, avaricious, and gluttonous few.
To say the least, we need leaders who have the fear of God more than the fear of godfathers and mothers. As the scripture says, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; fools despise wisdom and instruction.’ Enough of leaders who bow and cow to the biddings of their sponsors and paymasters, than the will of God. We need leaders who shiver before the aura of divinity than the temple of the profane and the mundane. Leaders who fear God and love his poor and miserable children. Such are the men and women we should look out for. Such are some of the criteria we should put forward in assessing who our next president, governors, and legislators should be. We should be asking ourselves, how competent are those presenting themselves now for elective positions? Do they possess characters that align with the leadership positions they aspire for? Do they have the calling from God? This last question is grossly taken for granted and has been subtle replaced with the consensus mandate of a privileged few.
As we look up to God for help in getting our leadership debacle right, let us remember that we all have a role to play in choosing right, who our leaders should be. When we pay less attention to the importance of virtue in leadership, and care less about appointing or electing virtuous people into public offices, but rather use very divisive and retrogressive measures to determine who govern us, then, let it be on record that we end up paying the caliber of pipers who play for us, songs of oppression, slavery, and bondage. To change this agelong dynamics, it therefore, lies in our collective will and power, to pay pipers who have character, competence, and divine calling. Pipers who are virtuous and live by standard values that are productive for human and societal growth, progress, and development. We must not let this golden opportunity slip us by.