Nigerian Elections 2015: The Leadership Challenge

03/26/2015 04:16 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2015

When Keith Richburg wrote the sensational book, Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa, many people claimed that he was pandering to an essentialist narrative of Africa and Blackness. Keith recounted the barbarism he saw in many parts of Africa, the brazen brutality of African war lords, the conscienceless corruption of African gate keepers who parade themselves as leaders, and the brutality of African despots. As an African American whose ancestors came from Africa, his home coming to Africa left him heartbroken to see the wretchedness of life in Africa as a result of the failed leadership and the failure of Africans to live together as brothers and sisters. Thus after seeing the bodies of so many Africans littered on highways and floating on the rivers as a result of wars, violence and hunger, Keith thanked God that his ancestors entered that slave ship and got to America. A different sentiments, however, was expressed by President Obama when he addressed a joint assembly of Ghana's parliament in 2009. Obama noted that Africa is confronted with the crisis of leadership, and that the future of Africa will depend on how Africans embrace a new way of living together in their respective countries. Indeed, like Obama many Nigerian and their African brothers and sisters want to live in a continent which respects human rights, the rights of minorities, and affirms cultural pluralism, the dignity of differences among Africans, grants a good life for all and harnesses harness the rich potentials and gifts of Africa. Obama warned that a new narrative for Africa cannot emerge unless Africans addressed the failed leadership and the collapsing social and economic structures which have kept most Africans down. A similar sentiment was shared in his last speech to parliament before he retired as President of South Africa by Nelson Mandela. The late icon begged African leaders to embody a new spirit of service and sacrifice in order to reinvent the soul of Africa. It is no longer enough to blame the West for the problems of our continent or the racism which still shapes most narratives about Africa and Blacks. Slavery, colonialism, racism and neo-imperialism and the unjust global order dictated by the globalizing cultural and economic dominance of the West are still terrible global structures which have diverse, direct and deleterious consequences for Africa. However, as the Yoruba people of Western Nigeria say in a proverb, 'the rabbit which steals into my barn to eat my yam and cassava, will come back again unless I firm up my fences and close the hole in my barn.'

Africans must begin to discover from within Africa a new force, a new voice and a new narrative of inclusion and being in the world today. And it begins with the quality of leadership of African states, and the anti-hegemonic counter narratives and praxis emerging from ordinary citizens, religious institutions, social capitals, civic and cultural groups and some burgeoning neo-gramscian groups who are rejecting the scary conniption of state operatives in many African countries like Nigeria in the face of opposition or resistance to the structures of injustice and oppression in the land.

There are many main issues in these elections for me including the question of national security, Boko Haram, and the general concern about the security of lives and property of Nigerians. There is also the problem of Nigeria's over dependence on oil and her adoption of exogenic death-dealing economic orthodoxies from Western economic institutions which continue to promote the merciless neo-liberal capitalist economic principles of exploitation of the poor and greedy accumulation of capital by a few. This explains why the gap between the poor and the rich continues to widen in the country, while most ordinary Nigerians live in heart wrenching and unacceptable conditions of suffering and pain. There is in addition the burden of failed leadership and corruption in public and private life in Nigeria. Added to these are the unresolved question of national unity and unworkable constitutional structures of federalism which continue to promote injustice, marginalization, and unhealthy competition and power struggle on how to manage and appropriate the national wealth.

Nigeria is a richly blessed country. The wealth of Nigeria is not simply her national oil wealth or her rich deposit of mineral wealth or her rich vegetation and fertile arable land. The wealth of Nigeria is above all in the quality, ingenuity, creativity, resilience and spirituality of her citizens. The NY Times reported recently that Nigerians living in the USA of all immigrants who come from different parts of the world to the US have proven to be the most successful. According to the New York Times, "About 380,000 Nigerian immigrants and their children live in the United States, up from 25,000 in 1980. They have settled in metropolitan areas like New York, Houston and Washington, and as a group, they are far more likely than the overall American population to receive undergraduate and advanced degrees, according to a 2014 analysis done for the Rockefeller Foundation and the Aspen Institute." When placed in an enabling environment most Nigerians like their African brothers and sisters tend to flourish. Why can't the leadership in Nigeria and Africa provide such enabling environment for Africans? This is why it is important for Nigerians both at home and abroad to ask themselves as to go to the polls why Nigeria with so much wealth has remained a poor and beggarly country? Why can't Nigeria develop her own economic prosperity module like Singapore? Why is it that the diversity of cultures, languages and religions instead of being a source of pride, creativity and celebration is always a source of division, stereotyping, and polemics? Why is it that our social services are in decay and our power sector has remained epileptic and comatose? Why is it that Nigerians find it hard to work together and are easily eaten up by rivalry, in-fighting, intrigues, and other negative vices which hamper mutual collaboration, co-operation and community? Why is it that many people in Nigeria cannot obtain basic and affordable health care and that our young people are dying before their primes and our elderly people spend their last days in penury and in tears because of poverty and neglect? Why is this richly blessed land constantly failing her citizens and failing to rise to her destiny? What economic model is being offered by any of the parties which will mitigate the impending economic crisis following the steep drop in oil prices?

Not only has Nigeria not evolved a workable political structure for governance, the country has not also created a healthy framework for the emergence of good leaders.

Failed leadership and corruption in public and private services are the twin evils destroying Nigeria and most Nigerians know it. The irony of it all is that if you asked the current President what he considers the main problems of Nigeria he will say that it is leadership and corruption. No one accepts responsibility for the rot in Nigeria and everyone blames every other person but themselves for the rot.

Unfortunately, no one ever gets punished in Nigeria for being a bad leader or for corruption. When it comes to corruption in governance, Nigeria runs a patron-client exploitative and prebendal system. Our leaders are not our servants; they are our masters. We the people of Nigeria are unfortunately clients to our leaders and fall on our knees in propitiation to them to receive crumbs from the master's table when we all should be eating at the same table. Most Nigerian leaders are scions hewed from the same political tree and the change from one party to another by politicians is often driven by selfish or clannish interests rather than on the basis of principles and ideology. The leadership failure seems to me to be a challenge not only to Nigeria but the entire continent of Africa. It is the platform on which Nigeria will stand or fall. How the two leading candidates in the presidential elections embody the qualities and values Nigerians aspire toward is still unclear to many Nigerians few days to the election. But a people always brings about the kind of leaders which they deserve. If there is a leadership deficit in Nigeria it is logical to adduce that it is because of the quality and character of the Nigerian people because leaders often are the embodiment of the character, culture and values of a people.

There is a global fight for the soul of Africa; there is a global recognition of the riches of Africa, but there is also a certain feeling among non-Africans that something is wrong with Africa.

It is that sentiment that led Richburg to write his searing critique of what is going on in Africa and why he thinks Africans may be the greatest enemies of Africa today. The general negative characterization of Africa this way might be exaggerated and consistent with a sad pattern of stereotyping but Africans have work to do to change this image and that requires doing something about the low quality of leadership in Africa. I think that the greatest enemies of Africa are African leaders. The future of Nigeria and the outcome of these elections are all tied to leadership for instance what kind of character and ideal will candidates display during and after the elections--either as winners or losers. But the more fundamental concern of most Nigerians is the need for a new leadership in Nigeria across the board which can bring about a country of which all Nigerians will be proud to say in the words of the old National Anthem: Nigeria, we hail thee.