Where Are The Good Men And Women Of Nigeria?

By Mark Adebayo

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors”.

                – Plato

I CANNOT help asking myself often whether Nigeria’s beautiful ones are not yet born or are stillborn or just missing in action. It is baffling that a country with over two hundred million of one of the most diverse groups of people on earth could be this recklessly mis-governed without deliberate interventions by its ‘good people’.

Are we so bereft of good people?

Undeniably, Nigeria has produced great individuals who have excelled in all areas of human endeavor – sports, the sciences, the arts, business and corporate worlds, academics, entertainment, writing, name it. It was late Professor Dora Akunyili who, as information Minister under President Goodluck Jonathan, coined “Good people, great nation” as Nigeria’s slogan. Where are the good people? Well, maybe the more appropriate question should be where are the good leaders? Or, where are the good politicians?

Undoubtedly, Nigeria has been blessed with great individuals in variegated fields except in political/governance leadership – especially post First Republic. Pre- and post-independence politicians were more focused on the general development of the larger society engendered by relatively healthy rivalries among the three regions – later four  – the West, the East, the North and the Midwest that came later. The Regions, with greater controls over their resources and semi-autonomous constitutional statuses, took governance and development seriously. Each of the Regions didn’t want to be outdone by the others. It was a race for glory and honor. There was a determined and deliberate stab at making each Region progress meaningfully not only at its own pace but also sparing and aspiring not to be outpaced by others.

The Western Region seemed to be competing with the outside world by scoring a number of firsts in Africa while the other Regions seemed to be in hot pursuit not wanting the West to outrun them out of sight. It was a spectacle of competitive and organised development that compelled each Region to put itself on a continuous state of alertness to avoid being outclassed. The Western Region made a good use of its Cocoa, Coffee and Palm Kernel exports, the North leveraged maximally on its groundnuts and hides and skins exports, the East made outstanding progress through its Coals and Palm oil.

According to experts, at independence, there was no well-defined agricultural policy at the national level. However, various regional governments had, in a bid to cause accelerated development of their various individual regions, evolved agricultural trade policies built around encouragement of agricultural export (Fabiyi, 1996Olufokunbi and Titilola, 1993). The sole aim was to generate huge revenue mostly in foreign exchange to finance the importation of capital goods necessary for development.

It is common knowledge that this worked well for the Regions as none of them was encumbered by the negative phenomenon of the so-called ‘Federal Might’ that currently allows for undue interference in the affairs of the federating units in which the constitution makes the center superior to the former through the Exclusive Legislative List that takes away the powers of the federating units to autonomously determine their developmental fates as they deem fit. The Center now serves as a limiting factor in the political economy of the states and, by extension, the country itself.

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The modern state of Nigeria seems to present a bewildering irony of a country with a constellation of great people but no good people, or one with great people whose good people are fast asleep or have been bitten by the enervating bug of ‘sidon look’. Sidon look is a self-defeatist and escapist recourse of Nigeria’s intellectual and corporate elites who feel overwhelmed by their sociopolitical environment and whose response has substantially been one of cargo-cult mentality or exaggerated helplessness.

I have had the the privilege of serving a political Party and leading same at national level for years and the experiences garnered therefrom are considerable. That’s vis-à-vis my decades-long involvement in civil rights activism since my student days. I have come to realize that many good, educated, successful, decent and sophisticated Nigerians are quite politically näive. They are, essentially, victims of systemic confabulation or holier-than-thou syndrome. The field politicians, toughened by years of political pugilism have developed effective scare tactics to isolate them from mainstream politics and they seem to have succumbed without a fight.

I remember a particular incident in 2007. A gentleman, an American-based young professor of kinetic molecular biology returned home to participate in the electoral processes and his interest was the local government to contest as chairman and make a difference in Ogba-Ikeja area where he grew up. He was so enthusiastic about it and went into it headlong ignorant of the precarious political environment he was venturing into. Obviously, he was the most qualified of all the aspirants that showed interest in running for the post in terms of education, exposure, integrity, sincerity and patriotism. He had developed a comprehensive development roadmap relevant to that community which was second to none and could even work at national level. Actually, his opponents had none except the posters and flyers they posted everywhere and their army of political thugs. He campaigned door-to-door in the American version of electioneering while his opponents engaged in street carnivals and, even, beer drinking competitions. He had the vision, they had the crowds and the nuisance value. He was the best candidate but obscured from the mandate. He was the one with the ideas, but his opponents had the fear factor.

Somehow, he managed to work himself into the hearts of many people despite his refusal to offer money he was daily being harangued to give by so-called Party leaders and would-be voters. Their continuous refrain was “Se oyinbo la maa je ni?” Or “Na grammar we go chop?”

At a point, through his hard work and persistence, he was recognised as posing serious threats to the pre-anointed candidate of the godfather and the powers that be. So, a meeting to pick a consensus candidate was arranged. He innocently saw it as a means to avoid unnecessary clashes and give the Party he was contesting under a better chance to win with him as candidate. He prepared with disciplined commitment for his presentation at the screening to pick a consensus candidate. He practised religiously how to sell himself to the Party leaders and the Consensus Committee members.

He was so sure of himself.

His first shock was that the time of the screening was changed without his knowledge. It was slated for 2pm but it commenced by 9am, luckily same venue. Someone alerted him and he drove there on top speed. He thought he was in the US. He went there with his beautiful wife and 13-year-old son. A big mistake! As they alighted from their car, they were instantly enveloped in a huge cloud of cannabis smoke by political thugs strategically stationed at the entrance and surroundings of the screening venue to target him. The thugs started singing his dirge while still alive. On evaluating the environment and determining it wasn’t safe for him and his family, he tactically retreated. Even as he drove out of the place, his car was being pelted and a shout of “ole, ole, ole!!!” rent the air. His wife and son were so shocked and began to cry. He was in a total state of bewilderment for such level of hate and psychological torture. That’s how he lost the opportunity to participate in that election. Under pressure from his wife and son, they departed for the US less than a week later. He hasn’t returned home since then.

He had withdrawn from the race before his younger brother reached out to me. It was too late! I told him, you don’t run, you stay and fight! You wouldn’t go there with vulnerable members of your family. You go with your own crowds too.  After a twenty minutes’ lecture on effective handling of violent political scenes without necessarily getting violent – at least not starting the violence first- he regretted not having known me earlier. I regretted too because that was one rare gem of political asset.

Nigeria’s good people must learn from the indelible political tutorial of Winston Churchill who declared emphatically that

“Politics are almost as exciting as war, and quite as dangerous. In war you can only be killed once, but in politics many times”.

Gold and diamond come from dirt. It is those who are ready to get dirty who can harvest them. Even in advanced democracies scare tactics are prevalent in different forms and shades. If you are really committed to salvaging Nigeria from its steady march into moribundity, you gotta be ready to roll up your sleeves and get dirty. The end justifies the means is not always a bad approach if you mean to use the end for the good of society.

A cowardly and withdrawn generation of good people would ruin their society by inaction or feeble engagement with their society’s fundamental contradictions.

Georges Pompidou, a former French Prime Minister and later President, tried to rouse the lethargic elements of French society who had become disturbingly apolitical by saying “A statesman is a politician who places himself at the service of the nation. A politician is a statesman who places the nation at his service”. Therefore, our good people must graduate to the level of statesmen and put themselves at the service of their country before it collapses irretrievably.

Adlai Ewing Stevenson, America’s 23rd Vice President, in a famous quote, said “A wise man who stands firm is a statesman, a foolish man who stands firm is a disaster”. The latter part has been Nigeria’s misfortune for so long. Napoleon Bonaparte’s perspective on this was to declare that “In politics, stupidity is not a handicap”.

The fools have been standing firm and wrecking disaster while the wise are withrawn into their shells. Today in Nigeria we have a president who says he would remove people’s settlements to resuscitate dead grazing routes for cattle. What a disaster!

I completely agree with Albert Einstein’s position that “The world will not only be destroyed by those who do evil, but also by those who watch and let it happen without doing anything”.

One of the missteps by the committed good people in Nigeria is their tendency to speak only among themselves. Their patriotism and genuine concern about the horrid state of the nation is not in doubt but they’re content with engaging in cyclical discourses on social media and closed group interactions or inside air-conditioned hotel conference rooms that produce wonderful ideas but which do not percolate into society for  optimum political utilization. They are guilty of repetitive political subterfuge that only portrays them as patriotic and decent but alienated from the essential realities of their society. They are high up on their moral horses ignorant that their failing society would consume them along with the roguish political class running the country aground. The innocent are in the first line of destruction in a failed state because they’re the most vulnerable.

Plato was right by concluding that “Mankind will never see an end of trouble until lovers of wisdom come to hold political power, or the holders of power become lovers of wisdom”.

Nigeria’s good people must learn not to leave the political space to the dregs of society and decorated miscreants. You need to study your sociopolitical environments and come up with efficacious responses that would translate to political power and not mere political relevance.

Good people can gain ascendancy to political power but they need to fortify themselves psychologically and sociologically. Be mentally prepared and ready to relate socially with the critical mass. Engaging in political social distancing is detrimental to the elements of power politics. Playing politics without power as the ultimate goal is tantamount to intercourse without the aim of procreation.

George MacDonald lamented that “It is not in the nature of politics that the best men should be elected. The best men do not want to govern their fellowmen”.

In order to overcome organised political terrorism that scares away the good people from participating in politics in this country, there has to be a systematic structuring of a mass political movement painstakingly built through grassroots political education that would eventually give birth to an authentic people’s Party that can take power at the center and eventuate a socioeconomic revolution for Nigeria’s placement among desirable countries in the world.

I need to reiterate that Nigeria’s ruling cliques are scared of creative ideas being promoted by new generation political Parties and were certain that gradually those Parties would gather momentum and Nigerians would discover them as the ultimate solutions to the established order of misrule and corruption. The Parties lacked the financial and structural muscles of the Parties in power but were outspoken and  better organized with functional internal democracy templates that gave every Party member a sense of belonging. Suddenly, the powers that be pressured the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to deregister 74 of the new generation Parties on February 6, 2020 in a most brazenly unconstitutional manner as later ruled by the Federal Appeal Court in Abuja. It has to be stated clearly that the power to deregister political Parties vested in INEC is an anathema to democracy. I am yet to discover any constitutional democracy in the world with such antidemocratic clause in their laws. It is alien to democracy.

This is another scare tactic planted in our constitution to kill creative political ideas that can straighten Nigeria out of its crookedness but we must never give up because that’s what they expect.

While some Parties have succumbed to this scare tactic, some have remained on course fighting for reinstatement as political Parties through the Courts of law while a few others have gone back to the drawing board to register new political Parties. Some, although in Court, are reorganizing to birth new political Parties just in case. That’s the spirit. We can’t just vacate the political space for the rogue elements under whatever guise and retire to a life of perpetual complaints, murmurings and criticisms.

In the efforts to salvage Nigeria, the good people must arise and begin to participate in Party politics and seize the initiative from the roguish political magnates for whom Nigeria is one huge private business arena and Nigerians the articles of trade.

In those days in Yaba, Lagos, I used to be beaten by one strong bully in our area. He was a notorious bully feared by all kids in the Tejuosho area of Yaba at that time. Fisoye was his name. I wasn’t surprised when I heard later that he went into violent crimes. One evening I was returning from the Mosque in the company of my cousins. He accosted us as he was wont. He tapped me in the chest as a challenge. Something came over me – an all-consuming anger was triggered by what I knew not. Unlike before, I responded with a blow to his face. He was completely taken aback. My cousins feared I would be severely hurt and advised we all run. The guy grabbed me by my  buba and the wrestling began. For the first time in about two years of submitting helplessly to bullying, I downed Fisoye. Not once but twice. I liberated myself that evening. He never bullied me again.

When you fight back, bullies respect you. It is not always that you turn the other cheek. You have only two cheeks. After the two have been slapped, it’s time to fight back. It’s time to reclaim Nigeria from the bullies who hold her to ransom. Join the struggle!




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