Nigeria Must Be Rescued From Bad Governance – Fayemi

August 16, 2012

Ekiti State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi

No doubt, Nigeria since independence has battled to survive as a nation under poor leadership, amidst threats to her existence. SINA FADARE presents the views of Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State on critical issues as expressed recent lecture.

Leadership challenges

Nigerians mistrust and distrust their leaders, whether they are politicians, captains of industry, faith-based clerics, media watchdogs or civil society activists. I suppose as an active participant who has been asked to reflect on current challenges in the polity, my task is not to bemoan the fate of our troubled institutions in the polity.

A progressive participant-observer in my view would want to call attention to what must be done to increase the population of those who access power with a view to serving the people and launching the country on an irreversible path of development. He would want to reflect, for example, on what is the place of values in politics? How can transactional politics be replaced by transformational leadership? How should institutions of state be strengthened to ensure effective checks and balances? What should be done to promote internal democracy in political parties? How should leaders and the led work together? What systems and processes should be put in place for genuine empowerment of the citizens towards the attainment of full rights? In short, how can excellence become the habit in our beleaguered nation?

It is for this reason that I strongly believe that leaders be they politicians or non-politicians should worry because their ability to lead effectively is being seriously undermined by the desertion of average citizens from the public space, deepening the crisis of legitimacy in the country. Yet, this lack of legitimacy cuts both ways. When we the people withdraw our trust in leaders or discountenance politicians, we make our democratic institutions less effective and risk making ourselves ungovernable.

People’s expectations

For too long, our political culture has perpetuated the myth that strong leaders can bring about change singlehandedly – rather than convert the formal authority derived from legitimate electoral mandate into a process of democratic renewal. In my own view, real leadership ought to involve motivating people to solve problems within their own communities, rather than reinforcing the over-lordship of the state on citizens.

The authoritarian residues of politics continue to see leaders as magicians with all the answers to societal problems – hence the immeasurable disappointment when they fail to leave up to this exaggerated expectations.

They hoped for real and immediate dividends in employment, clean water, affordable shelter, accessible health care, improved education, reliable and consistent power supply, rehabilitated roads and food on the table. While we generally enjoy a qualitative air of freedom in the last decade, there is still despair, despondency and disillusionment about material dividends of this democracy. Strong institutions The most practical way to link individual choice to collective responsibility is to participate in the institutions that influence our lives. We must ensure that formal and informal institutions are democratised and giving more responsibilities for exercising state power. To do it well, we have to see Nigeria as a permanent enterprise that has to be fought over and restructured in order to provide cover for all Nigerians.

Understandably, if you make political discourse more negative as some do – you deliberately turn ordinary people off politics; more people grow cynical and stop paying any serious attention to politics. This experience is not unique to us in Nigeria; in fact it is the crisis that democracy is experiencing all over the world, with low turnout at the polls and scant regard for political leaders. Yet, if we as citizens choose not to play a part in this process of activism in our communities and our state, we will get the politicians we deserve, allow the hijack of the political realm by special interests, religious bigots and ethnic jingoists only keen in the promotion of their narrow agendas. So, being political is being patriotic and we all must be ready to leave our comfort zones to embrace active engagement.

Developmental democracy

Genuine democracy ought to rest on a much richer ecology of associational and organisational life and should be nourished and reproduced through everyday struggles of the citizens. Operating in the practical field of politics, I have come to realise how detached many citizens are from the institutions and structures that should ordinarily empower them to engage the state. To enable the citizens to engage, they must feel and actually be empowered to have oversight of their own state agencies and functions. They should be given local input and control in a genuine and open, not tokenistic and patronage-based, manner. Giving communities a role in their own development is the essential part of dismantling the command mentality which plagues our country today.

There is no doubt that the democracy we are enjoying today continues to be threatened by severe internal contradictions. Nowhere are the limits of the democratic project in Nigeria more apparent than in the question of creating appropriate institutional arrangements for the political accommodation and management of social diversities and difference. By its very nature, democratic politics has radically altered the existing social boundaries and divisions, accentuating hitherto dormant identities and conflicts. The consequences of the relationship between the two have not only posed a challenge to those who seek to understand these dynamics, it has also placed a question mark on the very viability of Nigeria’s democratic enterprise. The lethality of many of these conflicts has been transformed in scope and intensity with the unrestricted availability of small arms and unemployed youths.

As long as the country is not lucky to have visionary leaders who can see beyond the immediate and proffers solutions to the lingering national questions that are daily begging for answers, quest for way forward will always be a centre of focus in any national discourse.

Security challenges

With bombs going off incessantly in the Northern part of the country in particular and an increasing level of panic in other parts of the country, thinking of innovative ways of accommodating social diversity in a democratic frame is a challenge that is at once intellectual and political and it is perhaps the greatest challenge to democratic transition and security in our country today. Consequently, it is my view that we must at least see what is happening in Nigeria today as an outcome of the nature of the country’s democratic transition. It is an argument for treating Nigeria’s democratisation project as a work in progress, not as a condition for hopelessness.

Poverty in Nigeria has not bred radical politics, but radical religious, ethnic and opportunistic agendas. Those who in the last decade would have eked out a living in the informal economy, are beginning to turn to the criminal economy to effect direct redistribution of wealth through the rising tide of terrorism, armed robbery, assassinations and kidnappings which form the backdrop to an increasingly brutalised society. Unemployed youths, when they do not become criminals, join vigilante organisations which supplant the job of the security forces by dealing out direct justice – at which point this threatens the state’s supposed monopoly on the legitimate use of force? Also, beyond this, they become thugs-for-hire, abused in their vulnerability by their scheming elders, who expend them in gang fights over electoral wards or dispose of them for a few hundred Naira in order to destabilise towns and cities for sectarian advantage.

Way forward

The immediate challenge for all of us is to concentrate on how to rescue our people from bad governance. Unless the critical mass of our people cutting across age, gender, zones and party and political affiliations adopt the same positions, with a more clearly defined collective agenda, the current approach to solving our problem will not suffice.

There is an urgent need to build coalitions and permanent platform in the public sphere that is beyond party and personalities, but all embracing enough to those who subscribe to the core values of integrity, honesty and dedication to transformation in Nigeria. The task of such an allembracing platform must not be limited to reforming the institutional framework of the state alone. It must also focus on leadership and conduct in public life; the constitution and the legal framework of the federal state; human rights, militarism and civil violence; public sector management, transparency and accountability as well as visible economic progress and wealth creation for the ordinary citizens.

I am convinced that the ordinary people in Nigeria are committed to democracy and genuinely want to see it work. Herein lies my hope about the future. This hope is certainly not bleary eyed optimism. It is not even the optimism that the crisis of governance in our land will simply disappear or that journalists will stop being cynical; it is not the hope that political impunity would stop being the name of the game, overnight. I am talking about the hope of our founding fathers in the struggle for independence and freedom. I am talking about their unshaken belief in our inalienable right to rule ourselves.

We need leaders who have a clear vision of the future, who see character as destiny, who advocate values-driven reorientation, who don’t just mouth transformation, who are compassionate about changing the decrepit plight of our people, who act with integrity and ethics, who create an entrepreneurial mindset and capabilities in followers, who see leadership as service and responsibility and who are not content with mediocrity. We must move away from transactional politics to transformative leadership.


This article was first published in National Mirror on August 16, 2012.

Last modified: August 16, 2012

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