“So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.” – John Lewis.
As the United States of America celebrates the life and memory of Congressman John Lewis, a revered figure whose passing drew mourners together from across the country’s vast partisan divide, it’s worth pausing to ponder over what leaders at all arms, levels and tiers of Government nationwide can and should do to leave lasting legacies in Nigeria’s socio-political and economic firmament that will remain like items of immemorial myth in the minds of Nigerians.
The general consensus is that in recent times Nigeria has hardly had heroes occupying positions at all arms and tiers of government. This is quite salient especially against the backdrop of the assertion by Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn that one of the meaningful warnings that history gives a threatened or perishing society is the lack of great statesmen. Nigeria‘s popular euphemism – Giant of Africa has not materialized despite the plethora of manpower and mineral resources at its disposal. The erstwhile prestige, standing and influence in the comity of nations has been practically obliterated as Nigeria remains bogged down by a hodgepodge of self inflicted socio- economic and political problems. Tragically, politicians, ruling elites, religious leaders, traditional rulers, corporate hawks, top civil servants, contractors and hangers on of all hues and shades have amassed stupendous wealth from concessions, access to government coffers, waivers, contracts, privatization, constituency projects, reliefs etc, while the remaining 90% who are the homeless, the orphan, the vulnerable, the hungry, the girl child, the poor, the worker, the child laborer, the physically challenged, the aged, the destitute, the woman and the refugee flounders in unspeakable penury. A situation that is fundamentally unjust, socially calamitous, morally reprehensible and economically unsustainable. From within and outside, millions of Nigerians have become disillusioned and have virtually lost confidence in the country as it grapples with a cornucopia of challenges ranging from corruption, underdevelopment, crime, insecurity, unemployment and poverty
Nigeria’s most vital resource is Nigerians-. Nigeria has the largest youth population in Africa. Public service is a very important aspect of any nation’s sustainable development strides. Therefore, public office is an opportunity for the occupants of such office or position to make positive impacts on the lives of Nigerians and development of Nigeria. Nigerian Leaders have a responsibility to adequately and equitably advance the welfare and wellbeing of Nigerians which has been largely neglected over the years, As a matter of urgency, ensuring that the state lives up to its duties entails approaches that focus on the poor and most vulnerable and leveraging same for human-centered development, engaging in inclusive and holistic change processes and dismantling systems of institutionalized corruption, prebendalism, cronyism, and inequality which has disadvantaged majorities of Nigerians.
Like John Lewis, the time has come for the emergence of inspiring, dedicated, considerate and altruistic leaders who will sincerely and tenaciously work to actualize what Nigeria can and must be. Leaders with the heart of service ,faith in project Nigeria and ethical mission to confront and put an end to oppressive status quos and principalities in order to free Nigerians from the shackles of poverty, manacles of illiteracy, grip of destitution, straitjacket of diseases, chains of misery and quicksand of wretchedness. Nigerian leaders who possess the right mix of empathy, compassion, altruism and sensitivity to represent, advance and champion the progress, welfare, interests and needs of Nigeria and Nigerians. Nigerian Leaders whose goal is the establishment of a stable , decent and pluralistic Nigeria that can guarantee basic health, housing, educational, social security, nutrition, employment and decent life for all Nigerians. Leaders who through sweat and fervor stand up, speak up and speak out for social justice, equality, fairness, development, governance, service and against favoritism, corruption, arbitrariness and nepotism.
Nigeria was a strong nation bound by the chords of social solidarity, moral sensibility, natural conscience and brotherhood in the not too distant past. Nigerians must understand that we are all somewhat linked with and, dependent on one another- North, West or East. Regardless of religion, language, age, gender, social background, ethnicity and political affiliation what binds us together is the mutual pursuit for peace, progress, togetherness, life, harmony, prosperity and mutual coexistence, The foundation of nationhood is built when people- youths, pensioners, workers, businessmen, politicians, executives, farmers, traditional believers, Angas, Ijaw, Ikwerre and Nupe interact, interface and unite around common causes and goals which sets the stage for the dominance of social unity, public good, national identity and collective dignity.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the unbelievable dignity of Nigerians in the face of massive suffering, poverty and misery and exposed the fundamental weaknesses in our socio-economic and political systems. This further emphasizes the quintessence of critical thinking for the purposes of recalibrating, rebooting and reconfiguring our entire polity in order to truly put the lives and welfare of all Nigerians in the front burner of governance. This also demonstrates the need for more commitment on the part of Nigerian leaders to strengthen Nigeria’s democratic institutions such as an independent judiciary, fair electoral system, people centric legislature and sensitive governments etc in order to enhance the development of a fairly egalitarian Nigeria. The pervasiveness of the proclivities to defend rights and liberties of all Nigerians- rich, poor, old and young, create equitable systems that captures collective interests, build security architecture and judicial systems that safeguards and protects all Nigerians are desired qualities.
The reiteration of the values of hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, diversity and tolerance, loyalty and patriotism is significant. Nigeria can only be better and stronger if we individually and collectively work hard to surmount its array of challenges with our leaders in the vanguard of this charge by striving to promote shared common purposes which unite us, emphasize what binds us together, eschew all that divides us and remove disincentives to equity, nation building, hardwork and fairness. Nigeria won’t work without people having freedom of association, access to economic opportunities, sense of belonging, equality of treatment and basic liberties and freedoms. Nigeria has become corrosive and a fertile ground for oppression and injustice because of widening inequality gaps, some people are regarded as untouchable, others are regarded as above the law or are seen as better or more equal than others and when debtors of AMCON who collected huge loans and squandered same on frivolities are going about unprosecuted , getting political appointments and even contesting for elections because they have powerful connections and they are close to people in power. Femi Osofisan ‘s remarks sixteen years ago that no country ever gets better unless its citizens are prepared to first undertake the necessary struggle, and make the requisite sacrifice, that it would take to make that country improve is still very relevant in 2020 Nigeria.
There are no quick fixes, short cuts and back routes to Socio-economic and political progress asides planning, implementation, consistency, leadership, honesty, coordination, transparency, accountability, selflessness and determination. Development is essentially about having the correct leaders, citizens, mentalities, processes, mechanisms and institutions, not about platitudes and prayers. It can neither be decried nor legislated. As a precursor to even development, Nigeria must in the words of Femi Osofisan wean itself from the hundreds of dead ideas, decayed habits, decadent customs and corrupted practices that have continuously cluttered our culture and brought impediments to our development. And the most pernicious and the most pervasive among them, in his view, were the corpses of tradition and orthodoxy; the cadavers of religiosity and fatalism; and the open sores of complacency.
Finally, Nigerian leaders should exhibit tremendous vision and insight through their lifestyles and policies in order to inspire millions of Nigerians to go the extra mile to bring about the desired change that Nigeria sorely needs. They should recollect Femi Osofisan’s admonitions that posterity is what matters in the end and death is like a distillation process, in which the true worth of any individual finally receives its polish, and the man of honor attains his apotheosis. That is what will make their names live on after they have gone, that is what is the kernel behind the immeasurable tributes to John Lewis and why he will be celebrated for centuries to come. The onus is on Nigerian leaders to be on the right side of history, be peaceful in all their actions, imbibe the spirit of service, show utmost love and concern , do the needful, try their best for the people and the country and leave ensuring legacies and indelible footprints in the sands of time so that when their times come we will say like America said of John Lewis that they will walk with the winds
Tinuoye Adekunle Theophilius is a Manpower personnel at Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies, Ilorin, Nigeria, and also an external faculty associate at the Global Labour Research Centre, York University, Ontario, Canada.