Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Nigeria's mettle under new leadership

By Dr. Ben C. Ogwezi

"As we search for a new political system or modify the system that failed, the self-help crusade will enable each constituency to identify political leaders worthy of representing it." This writer examines current political and social trends in Nigeria.
The news was that Nigeria had rejected the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan facility. Simply stated, the reason for the rejection is wisdom; the knack for seeing things as they are and doing things as they ought to be done. Nigerians, according to media orchestrated anti-IMF opinion polls see the the IMF loan as a monster which will eventually devour the people it is expected to rescue. The general's hands were literally tied and as a matter of patriotic necessity the government acted partly in response to the opinion polls and rejected the loan.

Rephrased, the survey question was: "What is the IMF deal and what can Nigeria achieve without the IMF money power?" The result was that 45 per cent of Nigerians responded "Don't know"; 10 per cent had "No opinion on the issue"; and 45 per cent requested that the survey question be explained.

Some wit has said that the freedom of the press these days is the freedom to be sure that all the propaganda is on one side and the Nigerian press role on the IMF loan debate confirms this wit. Nigeria, I believe, finally got a government that works; militriocracy, the government of the people by the people with the army watching.

President Babangida's approach to leadership raises optimism. a leadership style borne out of the experience of his predecessors and the type of optimism that inspired a legendary church minister into actions in search of the causes, effects and solutions to his country's menacing problem: a high divorce rate.

In search of solutions, the church minister reached for the holy books, scanned through, and wrote prescriptions in a book form with a decree titled "The ten commandments on how to save a marriage." When the church minister's wife divorced him, the minister reached for the holy books again, scanned through and re-wrote his prescriptions with a new title, "The ten suggestions on how to save a marriage." His third wife's divorce on the grounds of incompatibility did not deter the legendary church minister from a search for positive change. The minister reached for the holy books again, scanned through, and wrote his last prescriptions with the title "The ten hints on how to save a marriage." Experience was the church minister's guide.

Thanks to President Babangida for restoring freedom of speech; the precious jewel Nigerians regard as a continuous obligation. Now we can hear prescriptions on Nigeria's problem from the church ministers, soothsayers, market women and everybody who cares; including the takers and the mafia. The consensus, it appears, is that there will be no re-run of old sins because as a nation we mortgaged our conscience and became our own enemy. We also seem to agree that the answers to our problems are around us and in order to sort out the answers to those menacing problems we need political stability.

Let us consider our options in strategies as we support President Babangida's programme to establish the much needed political stability and liberate the economic strength of this shrinking giant called Nigeria. Before the Western style development theories got a firm grip on the way we live and think, Nigerian communities lived by self-help and networking. Self-help provided community needs such as roads, community centres, court houses and other necessary amenities. Networking enabled neighbouring communication and commerce between communities.

More than 60 years of colonial rule and 25 years of political tango called independence have left many communities and villages in Nigeria in a sort of economic limbo. Should some of our ancestors and great community leaders rise from their graves and see the way we live. they might be appalled that we have not added to or improved the technologies they left behind including the pit latrine. With the current series of unstable governments and the country's economic backslide, it will be safe to assume that by the year 2000AD, the source of water supply in many countries will remain the mosquito- infested bore-hole well.

Self-help Brigade

Consider this brief scenario. Two handicapped individuals discovered that their prevailing conditions will not prevent them from reaching a common destination and achieving their respective goals. One was blind and the other a cripple. In order to achieve their goals they must help each other overcome his handicap. The blind person reached out for the wheel chair of the cripple and by his action became the viable force that provided appropriate mobility to the cripple. The cripple in return literally became his eyes and ears as they passed the crossroads until they reached their destination.

Many communities in Nigeria are now in the positions my two handicapped people found themselves, and must commit their resources towards self-development and networking to help each other. A commitment to national transformation must begin with the power of economic collectivism which community self-help strategy provides. History provides abundant evidence where communities such as the Shakers and the Israeli Kibbutzim in the 1800s were able to produce profitable and quality goods sold throughout Europe to provide themselves some degree of economic security.

Reflecting on the merits of this self-help strategy and on the overall state of our country's economy, the opinion leaders, entrepreneurs, industrialists and concerned indigenes of Plateau State at home and abroad have embarked on the community self-help approach to deal with our current economic problems from the grassroot level. Independent of the revenue from the federal and state coffers the citizens are mobilising resources to plan and build viable industries, provide jobs and some basic necessities of life for the people and Nigeria.

This effort of concerned citizens reminds one of a similar spirit of communal efforts credited to the people of Awo-Omama Community of the good old Eastern Nigeria. Concerned Awo-Omama indigenes were able to to organise and mobilise their sons and daughters at home and abroad not as a political force but to provide for their community and Nigeria some necessities of life that were overdue from the federal and state governments. It worked.

Reflecting on the merits of this self-help strategy and on the overall state of our country's economy, the opinion leaders, entrepreneurs, industrialists… have embarked on the community self-help approach to deal with our current economic problems from the grassroot level.

The indigenes built macadamized roads, technical and grammar schools, and health facilities, just to mention a few of their enviable commitment to progress. They demonstrated that at the worst of times, few burdens are heavy when everybody lifts.

When a group of villagers from Ogboko and Ideato local government area of Imo State held the state's Commissioner for Information, Mr Linus Akunnakwe, and his entourage for three hours this year by barricading the Uraghi bridge, the people were trying to make a point. According to the news source, the people said they built the bridge by communal effort without any 'Kobo' from the state government. The truth is that the people of Ogboko could. make their bridge a revenue venture by collecting fares which would be diverted for other community development projects.

The community-based strategy does not excuse the federal and state governments from responsibilities to the taxpayers of any community. It will redirect our energy from political mischief to healthy competitive spirits toward development. As we search for a new political system or modify the system that failed, the self-help crusade will enable each constituency in the future.

New leaders are likely to emerge and leaders who cannot mobilize and manage resources at the grass root level would have limited or no business seeking leadership roles at the state or federal level. Nigeria, I believe, can no longer afford leaders who get sworn in and cussed out. Leadership must be earned and we must change just in time for the challenge of the next century.

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