Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Nigeria: helping our leaders build a nation

by Dr. Ben C. Ogwezi

With the fresh breeze of the new era of Babangida administration generating a renewed interest in national affairs, this writer examines the age-old problems of the country and offers solutions.
Four men may meet under the same lamp post; one to paint it pea green as part of a great municipal reform; one to read his breviary in the light of it; one merely because the pea green post is a conspicuous point of rendezvous with his young lady; and the last to embrace it with accidental ardour in a fit of alcoholic enthusiasm.

For the lamp post substitute the political entity, Nigeria, and for the four men substitute Nigeria's regimes of your choice whether the regimes were enthroned or dethroned. Think also of Nigerians in their tribal and political persuasions. Include organizations such as the military, the infamous Rafindadi's N.S.O. and the moral minority thinking of their notions of what is best for Nigeria. This cohort is not so different from my four men at the pea green lamp post. To many critics of Nigeria's leadership, these men might be shrewd strategists with an agenda and no vision.

In Murtala Muhammed's tenure Nigerians probably found both agenda and vision. This is manifest in our memory of him. To many, he was a leader to be remembered and other leaders to condemn. We have such harsh words for our leaders such as "arrogant dictator" for Buhari and "little Hitler in green fatigue" for Idiagbon who reminds the Ibos of "pompous" Ukpabi Asika. While "flamboyance and squandamania" represent some critics view of President Shagari's good intentions, cynics condemn the hopes and aspirations of Dr. Gowon's "liberal dictatorship".

Had Murtala's pilgrimage to leadership not been short, Nigerians would probably not have such kind words for him or immortalize his name. Cynics would have found transgression and misdemeanor. Popularity, according to a political satirist, is really a matter of whether people like you wherever you go or like you whenever you leave. How else would one explain that we needed to launch another War Against Indiscipline W.A.I., which was Murtala's legacy? Murtala's exist demonstrates that there's so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it was difficult to tell just which of us ought to reform the rest of us.

We now have President Babangida whose strategy is to balance the ledger, be fair but firm. Drawing from the experience of his predecessors, he has made it possible for Nigerians to take part in many decisions affecting the nation. As of now, we are taking part in goals and agenda setting by way of contributing to debates on how to solve the problems of the nation.

President Babangida understands leadership and understands Nigerians. He understands that the trouble with being a leader today is that you cannot be sure if people are following or chasing you. By his strategy, he wants to turn our weaknesses into strength, our obstacles into stepping stones, and our disasters into triumph. As long as we are now a part of these goals and agenda setting, responsibility and accountability would be shared in proportion to individuals' role in achieving these national goals. In an ideal world, that is what should be.

Nation building is akin to the general plan of a football play. The captain of the team does not win by himself. You will find that the big potatoes are on top of the heap because there are a lot of little potatoes holding them up

We have all heard the cry, "somebody has to be the boss," and I suppose no one will seriously disagree. But it is dangerous to confuse the chain of command or table of organization with a method of getting things done. It is comparable to the diagram of a football play which shows a general plan and how each individual contributes to it. Each player must not only fully understand his part and it's relation to the group effort; he must also want to carry it out.

Nation building is akin to the general plan of a football play. The captain of the team does not win by himself. You will find that the big potatoes are on top of the heap because there are a lot of little potatoes holding them up. These proverbial potatoes symbolize co-operation. Cooperation and not disillusion is our better choice if we are to attain the objectives of President Babangida. Choice, not chance determines the destiny of a nation.

Flaws In Communication Flows

Let us examine the choice available to us in communication. In order to perform its surveillance function, the Nigerian media has in the tradition of the Western press portrayed Nigerians as the worst homo sapiens God created. It will be safe to argue that Nigerians born and residing in Nigeria in the last 10 years grow with a deluge of negative information about Nigeria and being Nigerian. Nigeria, you will agree, has been woefully portrayed as a country of corrupt, unproductive, lazy and untrustworthy people assembled by the devil's design in sub-Sahara Africa.

Although the surveillance function of the media must not be reduced to a state of passivity, the information we communicate can be an instrument of power, a means of education to serve the ends of oppression or drill human beings into uniformity. The surveillance function is necessary in order to keep history alive, expose vice, inanity and ineptitude in government.

Nigerian media must take another giant step as a matter of responsibility to the nation. Among those steps are to present Nigeria in justifiable positive light and raise optimism where doubt seem to prevail. Such media functions contribute to the greatness, progress and uniqueness of many developed countries such as America and Japan.

In these countries, the media takes "time-off" or devote greater portion of the messages informing the citizenry about positive contributions the ordinary citizens, community leaders, the entrepreneur, industrialists, and the government in power are making.

Such information to the public instills a sense of hope, pride and direction. It also illustrates that although there are some few bad eggs in the basket, there are many citizens willing to put extra effort to salvage their country from its quagmire. What people hear and say about their country have a contagion effect. It runs through the veins like a sour grape.

Nigeria is not a place for the weak and lazy. Nigerians are survivors. We have survived colonialism, civil war and will rise above today's economic dependency and political disarray. Contrary to the patronizing and cynical Western consensus that Nigerians have made a hash of their independence, we have achieved much in a very short time. Having received meagre colonial inheritance of infrastructure, public services and trained manpower, we have vastly improved our access to education, health care and industry.

For example, the total enrolment in Nigerian Universities rose from 3,681 students in 1962/63 academic year to 91,116 in 1982/83 and the number of universities rose from 5 to 16 in 1985. As people in a hurry to "catch up" with modernization, Nigerians have made mistakes in judgement. If Columbus was alive to see America emerge as a world power, he would probably give us a morsel of wisdom. "A real patriot," Columbus might say, "is the fellow who works for his country's future instead of lamenting in its past." Past experience should be a guide post and not a hitching post.

Nigeria has many "model citizens"; men and women who have made a difference, can make a difference and are making a difference but their presence and contributions go unnoticed. The media ignores them and in our annual national honor roll, the Presidents and State Governors ignore them. Being a copy cat, our definition of who should be invited to Dodan Barrack at the end of the year to be honoured for his or her contribution to the society depends on if he or she has ties with the ruling class or served Nigeria in the United Nations or similar organization. For a country that is in need of positive change, everybody matters, even those who stand and cheer.

The "model citizens" include a mail carrier in our Post and Telegraph ministry who has distinguished himself or herself by dedication to duty without complaining or waiting to be bribed or persuaded to perform; a civil servant who retires or is retired without blemish in his or her work record and so distinguished himself or herself in the community or served as a conduit through which other productive civil servants emerge, an industrialist who through innovation or sheer luck comes up with a new way to improve the quality of our goods so that a "made-in-Nigeria" product competes with a "made-in- Japan" product in the world market.

The "model citizen", also includes a peasant farmer who has worked all the year round and produced enough of his crop to feed his immediate family and his community. In recognition of the peasant farmers, Jefferson once wrote: "Cultivators of the earth are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country, and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds." As we search for ABIDJAN answers to our problems, the media must focus attention on the "model citizens" and their contributions.

The print media, for example, must devote special sections or inserts as a matter of routine on features, and news report on innovative activities by individuals and communities. An insert is a medium for presenting different messages and means of reaching information seekers who have probably not been adequately reached or appreciated.


One remembers a course of instruction in the school curriculum in pre-independence days called simply "Civics". It was the colonialists' way of teaching some basics on good citizenship, social consciousness, collective wisdom, patriotism and character building. The course content provided a wide range of topics such as responsibility and accountability, the cost of violating public trust both to the individual and the society, a bit of political history and consequences of certain erroneous political decisions. In short, "Civics Education" is a course in civic responsibilities.

In my opinion, there is a need to re-introduce and emphasize a course of this nature in our elementary and secondary schools. It will help the younger generations develop analytical mind, encourage them to strengthen the future course of this country. In this direction, Nigerian educators must challenge their intellect and panels of educators set up in the universities, colleges of education and state education ministries to prepare textbooks and education programs that will begin to address some objectives of what we all mean by "War Against Indiscipline".

A war that has not been won and will not be won by gunshots and scare tactics, other strategies must be evolved. Strong and good leadership are essential and this article does not contest the "good-leader" theory. Leaders, I believe, are imperfect people we call upon to perform perfect missions.

talking drums 1985-12-02 The spy swap Sousoudis for 8 Ghanaians and families