Zuma and Nigeria’s endgame
What clearly is more tragic than the excesses of the leaders our nation is saddled with is the ease with which the citizens rationalise them. We do not take umbrage at the fact that our leaders who are supposed to deploy our resources to improve our lot have unconscionably appropriated them for themselves and their families. But occasionally, we are rebuked by fellow African countries. We are reminded that we do not need to go outside the black continent to get models of good leadership and citizenry. We do not need to go outside Africa to understand that it is possible for a nation to have stable electricity.
In most cases, these are nations that are not as big as Nigeria. For instance, Ghana has stable electricity, resulting in some industries relocating there from Nigeria. Yet, it is Nigeria that supplies Ghana gas for its electricity. We do not need to go outside Africa to understand that university students can have uninterrupted academic calendars. This is why Nigerians prefer to send their children to Benin Republic for their education.
Perhaps, we have become used to these aberrations. And that is why there should be fresh cases to remind us of our crisis of leadership. It is in this regard that we consider as cheery recent developments in South Africa. Nigeria was at the vanguard of the campaign to break the stranglehold of the apartheid regime that dehumanised black South Africans. Yet, in less than two and half decades after the blacks assumed the leadership of their country, they are now in a position to show Nigerian citizens and their leaders how to behave. This is why while Nigeria continues to provoke the contempt of the rest of the world due to the failure of its leadership, South Africans are telling Nigerians how to hold their leaders to account. South Africans are bristling with rage at President Jacob Zuma’s spending of some of the nation’s funds on the upgrade of his private Nkandla home. A court ruling has indicted Zuma and ordered him to make the refund and he has apologised to the nation.
Of course, Zuma behaved like a typical African politician. Instead of being bothered about how to improve the lot of South Africans, especially the blacks who are still wallowing in poverty after apartheid, his worry was how to upgrade his home. He is like Nigerian political leaders who neglect the citizens and rather deploy their state resources for their selfish ends. But it is a good development that Zuma has apologised. More importantly, it was the citizens who brought the conviction and made him to apologise. The challenge here for Nigerians is that if their leaders spend their time and the state resources on what negates the common good, it is the citizens who allow this as they often demonstrate a lack of capacity to check the excesses of their leaders.
For instance, it is clear that our leaders do not feel the pain of the citizens. Now, there is a crushing fuel crisis amid serial promises whose fulfilment is uncertain. This situation is worsened by the absence of electricity. Transportation is paralysed by a lack of vehicles. Even in those places they are available, the fares have gone up. The time that would have been productively used is spent in queue waiting to buy fuel that may not be available at the last minute. The officials of government cannot feel the people’s pain because they have at their disposal those facilities that guarantee their comfort and cushion them against infrastructural deficiencies that are the baleful consequences instigated by wrongheaded policies. Our political leaders have deliberately put in place structures that would enable them not to feel the pain of the people. This is why they made laws that guarantee them life pensions and other privileges for their entire families. After leaving office, they are entitled to official security, free medical services, state-sponsored vacations and accommodation in their states and the federal capital Abuja.
But the danger is that the citizens may not resist their marginalisation that has been going on for decades since political independence. This is because unlike South Africa, the structures are not there to challenge the excesses of state officials. How would there be such challenge when the so-called human rights bodies and non-governmental organisations are set up by political leaders? And even if there were some independent and patriotic groups that trenchantly pursue justice, the supposed arbiters of justice would not encourage them. If they do not allow themselves to be bribed to pervert justice, they succumb to the threat of being exposed and sanctioned if they insist on handling such cases. After all, the decay in the nation’s judiciary is thrown into sharp relief by the fact that some of the judges have been indicted for compromising their offices. But some of those indicted are merely retired to go home and enjoy their loot while those who are compromised and are still retained are manipulated to translate government’s whims into laws.
Faced with the failure of their government, the citizens, like South Africans, must not condone the excesses of their leaders. Why can’t the citizens keep on fighting against the iniquitous system that perpetuates a life of bliss for past political office holders while those they served are wallowing in penury? Why should they allow a warped court ruling that says that a former governor who is accused of corruption cannot be prosecuted in court? The unremitting suffering of the citizens now should make them to realise that the fact that they voted for change should not make them to think that all the revolting blunders of the government would translate into positive change for them.
They must put their leaders on their toes and it is only through this that they could make their wayward leaders to do the right things. In the long run, the pangs of the outages and fuel crisis would not be in vain if the citizens seize the moment as the endgame that enables them to understand that they should not blindly trust their leaders who would have no qualms leading them into a blind alley. They do not need to trust any leader before his or her satisfactory performance in office. He or she must earn the citizens’ trust through his or her good deeds.