Acting President Yemi Osinbajo was in Garki Market, Abuja, recently. He interacted with sellers and buyers on that occasion. Some Nigerians had since enumerated the benefits when a leader left the comfort of his office to be among his people as Osinbajo did. But I thought his visit had greater significance, and that cabinet ministers and state governors should emulate him in their areas of operation. I shall state my reasons.
The roles of a leader are many. He leads. He administers. Many Nigerians feel good being in position as leaders. They do all they can to get promoted into leadership positions. But not many administer. Instead, they occupy positions, enjoy the perquisites, and watch things degenerate around them. They’re quick to give excuses why things don’t work. They don’t ever state what they do to make the system work, leave it better than they met it. I had stated this on this page before: It is one reason a school principal would watch as the structure collapses in the school he should administer, and then blame government for not doing anything about it. Then, what’s he administering? The principal of the secondary school I attended had a way of mobilising parents, students and the public authority closest to where my school was located in order to maintain the school structures. She worked indefatigably. I still desire to have her honoured at the next opportunity I have.
To administer isn’t only the role of the leader. He leads by example. He has a duty to uphold the values and morals of the society, showing how this is done. This is our greatest challenge in Nigeria. Our values are lost. That is because those who sit in leadership positions denigrate values. Many of them have no morals. No principles. No personal integrity. Anything goes. By their action, they degrade self-worth, hard work, pride in working to earn a living. In our system, the one who labours is the fool; those who do nothing productive but display material wealth are smart. We’ve raised a generation of people who like to look good but are reluctant to earn it. Those in leadership positions set this example.
I’ve heard it said that the leadership can’t be better than the followers, because they come from the followers. I state that followers can’t be better than the leadership, for they mostly copy what the leaders do. It’s a cycle. Leaders corrode first by their examples. Once followers see that leaders permit anything, that there are no sanctions for looters, they too dedicate themselves to the worst practices. More of a kind is produced among followers in the process, and it’s from this set new leaders emerge. The cycle continues. We all know the point where serious degradation of values such as hard work, honesty and integrity began. We knew administrations that contributed to it the most by their actions. We knew when ‘settlement’ began, for instance. As such it is with whichever administration that’s in office a turnaround should start. For when the leadership changes tune, followers know it and align themselves accordingly. This is where the current government has much more to do than administer. It has the duty to set the value and moral tone. Otherwise, every good intention it has faces an insurmountable hill.
There are several ways to get this done. There is the policy level. The legal. The prosecution. The deterrence process is good, necessary because there would always be the recalcitrant. But the best, the most enduring efforts are those that target the mindset of citizens. Every wrong practice starts from the mind, and it’s in the mind it’s best confronted. Steps taken to change the manner people think, conduct themselves, see public office, public funds, honest labour, are as important as the policy which ensures public officials are deterred from looting. And they don’t take much to achieve. Words, actions, examples by the leadership are part of it.
At the time the Acting President visited Garki Market, I had expected him to do much more than he did. I wanted to see him take the measure for beans from a shop owner and sell beans to a Nigerian. I wanted to see our leader take the apron from the meat seller, take the knife, cut the meat, sell to a citizen and wipe sweat from his face as he did. Why? He sends a message. I’ve been amused at the thought process behind some of the things we say in this country. Some of them sound logical on face value. Meanwhile, they contain the seed of what has landed us in a situation where young people neither want to work nor start small and grow big. People raise the alarm that a university graduate drives a commercial vehicle. They show pity that a graduate sells pepper. But I prefer that graduates do these things. Why? He’ll do it differently because he’s educated. He’ll think of better packaging. He’ll think of world class standards. When there’re opportunities to take loan and expand the business, export pepper to China, a graduate has the mental capacity to handle it. And in a few years, he’s a CEO, his company quoted on the stock exchange. However through the wrong way we see things, we’ve sown seeds that make people consider themselves to be above certain jobs.
We’ve raised citizens who’re too proud to start small and grow. Everyone wants to wear nice suit after their first certificate and sit in the most comfortable office. They fail to realise that in the private sector that the CEO actually began by walking from office to office to sell his product or solicit for jobs for his one-man company. Rather than start something of their own, Nigerians want to get a paid job and sit in comfortable offices, enough of which don’t exist. Others want to take up government appointments, enough of which we don’t have. I think it’s ridiculous that a graduate would say he has nothing to do five years after school. What’s the essence of the education if a graduate cannot look at his environment and come up with something he could do that people would be willing to pay for? You mean this graduate cannot inform parents around that he’s able to give children extra lessons at home if they need such? The first work I did after I completed my NYSC programme was to start home tutorial services, because I noticed that the environment where I had served needed such. From this small beginning, I began to pursue my other dreams, until they took shape.
Lack of desire to strive draws all manner of negatives for this nation. Nigerians engage in crime. They lose their lives in the effort to get to Europe illegally. Over 37,000 Nigerians reportedly made effort to cross to Europe through North Africa in 2016. Note that no one can successfully travel from Nigeria’s South and pay for a boat ride on the Mediterranean Sea with less than N50,000 in his pocket. That’s enough to start something small here. Instead, Nigerians prefer to travel and do the same small things in Europe. As an undergraduate at the University of Lagos, I had attended one of the late May Ellen Ezekiel’s TV shows that were shot in the Law Auditorium of the school. There was this pre-recording commentary about why Nigerians preferred to go and do the same small things they wouldn’t do here in Europe. Bimbo Olusola Sowoolu, the show Director from NTA, had said it was because the remuneration was in hard currency. True. But I hasten to state that our values, our tendency to belittle people who do honest but small things, make citizens flee to do the same small things in Europe.
For me, one of the most beautiful sights is a person who’s at his duty post, doing what fetches him honest money. It doesn’t matter to me the kind of job, or how small. For it’s the person who’s conscientious in doing the so-called small job well that will do the big one well. This is the message, the image I want our leaders to project to Nigerians. The reason I wished the Acting President actually took on the role of a Nigerian who was proud of doing his job at the time he visited Garki Market.