By Suleiman Yakubu

We have always blamed our leaders for our woes, and ascribed every misfortune which has befallen us since independence, 57 years ago, to their selfish attitude. And we may not be far from right. We all know the story of the Nigerian and African leaders, and their parochial attitude of holding on to power to the detriment of their nations. In the present political dispensation, 1999 to 2017, most political leaders, mostly governors were accused of various acts of corruption.

In his usual beautiful prose, Ray Ekpu tried to describe our leaders in the Newswatch magazine of August 11, 1986: “Perhaps it is the nature of politics that more often than not, some men get to the seat of power that should appropriately have been dung-cleaners at a piggery. And when they get there, they tend to trivialise a sacred duty searching for artifacts of self-aggrandisement, throttling fundamental freedoms, killing the vibrancy of their nations, assembling personal wealth and engaging in the fostering of primitive grandeur. Such has been the story of many African countries, the story of vultures and vampires.”

It is okay to blame our leaders but can we, followers, honestly say that we have been above board? Can we in clear conscience say that the role we are playing towards building our nation is the best we can offer? Have we also not followed our own interest to the detriment of others at one point or the other? Have we indeed done better than our leaders? And, in fact, are we not guilty of producing some of the leaders we have, especially in the recent past, by selling our votes and remaining nonchalant in the face of electoral malpractices? Perhaps we have the type of leaders we deserved and we, as followers, must begin the process of change.

The average Nigerian follower is part of the Nigerian problem. For instance, why do many Nigerian youths who are jobless, prefer to be political thugs, rioters, and to cause destruction of lives and properties, instead of being apprentices at some mechanic workshop or trader’s shop? Why do they prefer to expend their energies and intellect in unholy activities like prostitution, stealing, pipelines vandalism, armed robbery, kidnapping, militancy, and terrorism among others; instead of settling for honest, though sometimes menial means for livelihood. Poverty is not enough excuse for one to be an armed robber or kidnapper. There is just no excuse for taking another’s life, and it is therefore not fair to hold leaders for it.

Some followers who should be pillars of our society also indulge in sharp practices and undesirable attitudes. It is difficult to understand why some lecturers ‘sleep’ with their students before they pass them. The case of some journalists who shamelessly demand for ‘brown’ envelopes before they report a story, or even threatened to distort it, is pathetic and not different from blackmailers.

Civil servants are no less guilty. Some of them demand for bribes before they do their jobs. Clerks can sometimes be especially mean; they sometimes hide contract files and demand for bribes before they move such files. They also sometimes even treat their colleagues unfairly by hiding their files, to delay their entitlements. This is the story of average Nigerian follower. Some of our nurses who should be full of the milk of human kindness treat patients like enemies. Our police are the most corrupt of the bunch; they demand for bribes with reckless abandon. There is virtually no segment of our society that is not enmeshed in corruption.

The common man: That petty trader, petrol attendant, furniture maker, tailor, mechanic and so on must stop sharp practices and trying to cut corners. The man who steals N500 and he who steals N100million are both guilty of the same thing, they are both thieves. If we concentrate on leadership alone we are only wasting our time because when those who are coming up get to the top, they will definitely be as corrupt as those they succeeded. It is therefore, foolhardy to expect that simply by bringing some politicians to book, we can destroy the cankerworm of corruption. It is not working and that is why the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and other anti-corruption agencies are still overwhelmed by the level of corruption in our society.

If we as followers do our part, and insist on accountability, things must change. If we frown at their excesses and refuse to partake in their feast of dishonesty things will change. Unfortunately, the Nigerian follower worships money, in fact, it is all he lives for. He sees nothing wrong with the administration of a man who refuses to do anything about the deteriorating state of infrastructures, schools, and hospitals, as long as the man gives him his share of the loot. We, followers have failed to put our leaders on their toes because of greed. And come to think of it, it is sometimes the pressure of followers that pushes leaders to develop kleptomaniac tendencies.

It is true that at 57, we are still not where we ought to be considering our enormous human and natural resources. We have had a string of bad leaders, but we also have many irresponsible followers. Powerless as we may seem, there is a lot that we can do within the constitution to check the excesses of our leaders. There are also many democratic instruments that can be employed to make leaders accountable for their deeds.

At 57, there is still no real development in Nigeria because most of her leaders and followers have not been patriotic enough. The only way we can come out of the dark pit of underdevelopment is either for leadership to drag followership out of it or for followership to push leadership out. Nigeria cannot make it out of her present quagmire except we all play our parts well.