Tuesday, July 5, 2022


Why constitution is not Nigeria’s major problem

Why constitution is not Nigeria’s major problem
June 04
13:37 2021

To convince Nigerians that she did not call one of her constituents a thug last week, Senator Oluremi Tinubu told interviewers the following: “… she kept screaming and I said what is going on, are you a thug? I am not going to take that. Are you a thug? Am I talking to a thug? Then, her eyes were popping and popping. She is younger than I am, why would I call her a thug outright?”

At the end of it, Mrs Tinubu’s explanation wasn’t a denial of the fact that she employed the word “thug” on a Lagosian, who is obviously not a thug (forget that the so-called thugs are created and sustained by a special economy reliant on politicians) but that she did not put a definite, positive “thug” tag on the citizen. In other words, inquiring from the lady whether she was a thug and suggesting that she was behaving like one are better ways of handling the situation than calling her a thug outright. Madam Senator should therefore be hailed for this euphemism.

Here, Tinubu revealed the average Nigerian politician’s superiority complex and fundamental misunderstanding of the demands of leadership in a democracy. Twenty years into civilian governance, most of these people fail to see that they were elected to serve. They imagine that their offices are avenues to talk down on and lord it over Nigerians. Sad!

When I read Mrs Tinubu’s explanation, I remembered an incident involving Gordon Brown, a former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. During a door-to-door campaign towards the 2010 general election, Brown encountered a 65-year-old widow, Gillian Duffy. Duffy took the PM on over his administration’s policies on national debt, education and immigration. He took her points in his strides and tried to play the responsive politician obligated to the lowliest voter. He even complimented her by acknowledging that she was from a good family and ended the conversation with: “It’s very nice to see you. Take care.”


Getting back into his car, however, he had an exchange with his communications director, Justin Forsyth, during which he described the lady as being “just a sort of bigoted woman…” Unfortunately, what Brown thought was a private conversation was amplified by the microphone of a TV channel still on his lapel and his vituperation became the talk of the world within minutes.

While it may be hyperbolic to attribute the eventual loss of the election by Brown’s Labour Party to this event, there is no doubt that this act of disrespect took its toll regardless of the various apologies including “an extraordinary address to a live television audience from the grandmother’s driveway where he described himself as “a penitent sinner,” and an eventual email to supporters of the party where he expressed “profound regret” for his behaviour. Would Nigerian leaders ever see the people as their bosses, speak to them with courtesy and offer heartfelt regrets when they make slips as are expected of all humans? Doubtful, because the people see themselves as overlords!

So, when we take agitations for restructuring, constitutional review, or overhaul as matters of urgency without which Nigeria cannot survive, I wonder how much thought we have given it. That is not to say that these demands aren’t valid and of value to the survival of our already troubled country, but they pose questions as to what would happen in each of the federating units if this same leadership mindset continued to operate, true cum fiscal federalism and all. Wherever you look at today, you find copious evidence of a lack of understanding of the import of leadership in those who occupy public offices. See a few examples.


On Saturday, two people were said to have been killed in Surulere during the All Progressives Congress primaries for the council elections in Lagos. This was reportedly because of some politicians’ insistence on deciding who becomes what? The trouble that drove Prof Ben Ayade of Cross River State from the Peoples Democratic Party is also said to have been related to council elections. As it is, if a governor cannot select everyone who contests elections in his state, he tackles the other elephant, and the people suffer for it. Nigerian leaders appropriate the people’s rights to choices by imposing their own lackeys.

But the trouble with our leaders is not just about the desperation for power. What is worse is that they are mostly clueless as to what to do with power. Increasingly, unemployment is killing the country at 33 per cent, over 100 million citizens currently live in abject poverty, 13 million children are out of school, their parents have no food to eat, and violence has literally taken over the country. So, even though they are mostly control freaks, craving and claiming every level of authority in sight, Nigerian leaders fail to govern right and bring succour to the people. They only assuage their own egos and lord it over the same people who are the very source of their power.

The South-East region of the country is currently walking into an insurgency that is tending towards terrorism. This is mostly because governors, having learnt nothing from the past, were either sleeping on duty, flexing muscles with political opponents, or turning the instruments of office against the people they were voted in to protect. Now, the chickens are coming home to roost and the environment is becoming too hot for anyone to handle.

Earlier this week, an aide to Governor of Niger State, Sani Bello, announced that his principal had travelled out of the country shortly before 200 students were abducted by bandits in the state. The statement said he went on a security mission, without giving any indication as to when he would be returning. This is at a time when the governor should be leading from the front. It truly could be that Bello had reached his breaking point having shouted himself hoarse seeking assistance from the Federal Government. But isn’t the worth of leadership measured with how competently the ship of state is steered at moments like this?


In April, 20 students and two staff members were taken from Greenfield University in Kaduna State. While Governor Nasir el-Rufai maintained his no-negotiation with bandits posture, parents of the hostages went as far as Abuja to seek help from the Federal Government, yet none came. Forty days later, 14 people, whose families were able to raise a total of N150 million and procure eight new motorcycles, were released. Before then, five of the abducted students had been murdered in cold blood while a few others whose parents have yet to raise the required money are still held.

Now, it is okay for a government to insist on not negotiating with bandits, but such government must provide viable alternatives. To abandon young Nigerians, who wanted nothing but an education and leave their families to slug it out with criminals created by the carelessness of the state is no mark of compassion that is fundamental to leadership! It is in fact unheard of in a society with claims to any form of government. Bandits ran the lives of these families over the past few weeks, they became the government and turned Nigeria into a jungle where every man is for himself.

So, while there are loads of things that should change in the 1999 Constitution, a lot needs to change about the leadership selection process and the mindset of Nigerians, leaders and the led about their individual roles in a democracy. If constitutional amendments, the structure of governance, unbalanced federation and such were the main issues, state-owned educational and health facilities wouldn’t be so run down. The University College of Hospital, Ibadan would be a global health centre, which the world could look up to for credible inventions. But deficient leadership has cut the country short on these fronts.

Real leaders do not live in denial; they confront issues and seek sustainable solutions. They are purposeful and transformational in their minds. They realise that leadership isn’t just about the perks, bragging rights, security votes and the opportunities to frolic on state resources. They see leadership as a platform for building legacies, of making impact and instituting a culture of justice, equity, and shared prosperity. The people of Nigeria must also realise that public office is not a communal bazaar and that those elected must be held accountable.


If we do not settle these fundamental deficiencies, different parts of Nigeria will remain the same regardless of structural adjustments and what affects one affects the other in spite of structural changes. Nigeria is where it is today because of incompetent, selfish and haughty leadership, which is not just all around the country but also not be taken away by any constitutional reform.

In fact, in the last couple of weeks, ordinary Nigerians have trooped out in different places across the country to protest the level of poverty and insecurity in the land. This indicates that they are exposed to the same level of misgovernance, which will not abate even after all the structural amendments. After all, the United Kingdom operates an unwritten constitution!


Adedokun tweets @niranadedokun



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