Every great nation is built on a strong moral foundation. No nation succeeds without, as Plato put it, a “healthy soul”, where reason, passion and will drive leaders and citizens to defend their nation’s best interests. Equally, no nation succeeds without a moral compass, without a robust sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. But Nigeria is a nation where might is right, where the powerful can get away with anything. Nothing has exposed the national soullessness and moral-vacuum more than the emergence of Bola Tinubu as Nigeria’s president and the indecorous manner in which he formed a “government”.
For context, I have just read Dr. Segun Aganga’s superb book, Reclaiming the Jewel of Africa. He makes a strong case for far-reaching reforms of the political and governance structure of Nigeria, saying: “Restructuring is not about if but when and how.” But the book’s overarching theme is the need for a values-based society. Dr. Aganga, a former minister, argues that “the bedrock of a prosperous nation and future leaders is the value system of society,” adding that unless the values of integrity, honesty, patriotism, etc., form the foundation on which Nigeria is built, “the nation will fail woefully”.
Hardly anyone can truthfully fault Dr. Aganga’s ideas. Yet, most Nigerians are not passionate about integrity and honesty in politics and governance. Nigerians, it seems, suffer from Stockholm syndrome, a psychological condition in which a victim identifies and empathises with their captor and their goals. Nigerians accept and tolerate the impunity of the political class, their captor. But this psychological condition doesn’t only afflict the mass of the population, but also the “attentive public” – the intelligentsia, commentariat, etc!
In his book, There was a country, the legendary Professor Chinua Achebe devoted a section to what he termed “The role of the writer in Africa”. Professor Achebe posited that the writer shouldn’t be indifferent, saying: “If a society is ill, the writer has a responsibility to point it out.” He said “(t)here is a moral obligation not to ally oneself with power against the powerless”, adding: “An artist would not be someone who takes sides with the emperor against his powerless subjects.” Achebe went on to say that the writer should “ask the hard questions” even if doing so “causes a few headaches”.
Well, on the role of the writer, particularly in the Nigerian context, I belong to the Achebe school. I would not spend my time writing weekly newspaper columns unless they speak truth to power, ask the hard questions and offer perspectives on the way forward. Even in the West, where the society is healthier, writers don’t genuflect to politicians and tolerate their impunity. As The Economist magazine once said: “The questioning of institutions and received wisdom is a democratic virtue, and a sceptical lack of deference towards leaders is the first step to reform.” Put simply, speak truth to power and ask the hard questions!
So, here are my “hard questions”. Why do few recognise and talk about the irreparable damage that Tinubu’s emergence as Nigeria’s president and the impunity with which he formed a government void of integrity have done to the soul and moral bearings of this country? Tinubu is the most controversial president in Nigeria’s history, and his government is the most integrity-deficient. Why are those normal?
Take the man himself. For the first time in its history, Nigeria has a president whose name, age, early education, tertiary education, and ancestral roots are subjects of raging controversies; a president once entangled in a drug-trafficking case in America, who forfeited $460,000 to the US authority; a president whose source of stupendous wealth and the credibility of that source set tongues wagging. Tinubu said he attended primary and secondary schools, but later said he didn’t. He blamed “needless errors” for discrepancies in his INEC form in 1999, and now blames an unnamed clerk of Chicago State University for “several errors” in his recently-issued certificate!
The president of Nigeria should never be associated with such a miasma of dubiety. Here’s another “hard question”. What’s the message to aspiring future leaders of Nigeria: that they can make the wrong choices in life, live a less-than-honest life, and still become president provided they have deep pockets and can manipulate the system? No one who truly loves Nigeria can ignore the damaging precedent that Tinubu’s emergence as president set for the moral bearings of this country.
Think about his choices in government. Tinubu installed Godswill Akpabio as Senate President and made Abdullahi Ganduje his party’s national chairman. In April, the EFCC asked Akpabio, a regular “guest”, to report for questioning. Akpabio’s lawyer said he was “suffering from pneumonia and cardiac arrhythmia” and needed medical treatment abroad. Yet, that didn’t stop him from running, with Tinubu’s backing, for the Senate presidency. As for Ganduje, he’s facing trial for allegedly receiving bundles of dollars from a contractor as shown in a viral video. The defensive mantra “innocent until proven guilty” insults the perceptive mind.
And Tinubu’s cabinet? A lot has been said about how it’s the most bloated in Nigeria’s history and arguably the most mediocre. But it’s also the most integrity-deficient. The cabinet’s ex-governors face allegations of corruption and/or mismanagement; some other ministers are also dogged by questions of integrity. In 2020, the Senate rejected Hannatu Musawa’s nomination as board member because she “absconded” from the youth service without an NYSC certificate; this year, Tinubu got the Senate to confirm her as minister without completing the mandatory service, a slap in the face for thousands who completed the service without a job! But integrity didn’t matter in Tinubu’s ministerial choices.
Last week, Bloomberg published a story titled “The US targeted his assets. Nigeria made him Budget Minister.” The global media outfit was referring to Atiku Bagudu, former governor of Kebbi State, who is facing an ongoing forfeiture lawsuit in the US in relation to his alleged role in helping Sani Abacha loot billions of dollars from Nigeria’s treasury. Of course, only Tinubu can make a notorious accomplice in Abacha’s plundering Budget Minister!
Hard question: who are the conscience of the nation, the custodians of its moral values? Hardly any! Even most religious leaders ally themselves with power, however acquired. Yet, Nigeria can’t succeed without a soul and a moral compass!