By Chuma Nwokolo
In his book The Trouble with Nigeria, ancestor, Chinua Achebe, wrote ‘the problem with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.’
I think he was wrong. Our biggest problem is the failure of followership. Nigeria will be healed of her troubles if followers were awake to their responsibility to elect, to audit – and where necessary, to recall their political leaders.
Unfortunately, the Nigerian followership is asleep.
Today, our land is plagued by bad governance, kidnappings, murders and insecurity. This is the season of both Known and Unknown Gunmen, when young men go to work and don’t come home. When women are neither safe on the streets nor on their farms.
Yet, however bad it may seem today, history reminds us of the three hundred years of the transatlantic slave trade when we experienced a longer, more brutish season of kidnapping, murder and insecurity in the land.
But there is a difference between now and those days when slave raiders roamed the land burning villages and kidnapping young people.
The difference is this invaluable power which we the people now have to control national society and leadership. It is the nuclear power of the ballot box, which we ignore at our peril. When a nation gathers on election day to speak their mind, and remains there, to protect that speech, they roar with a voice that an army cannot silence.
But our people are asleep.
Some may argue that The People have a more immediate and fearsome power, the power of civic disobedience, the power to strike, to constitute a mob and take things into their own hands. But power is nothing without control.
The power of the mob can be abused by mobsters who replace the autocracy of bad leadership with the autocracy of known and unknown mafias who are not accountable to anyone.
The power of the ballot box, exercised and protected by an enlightened and responsible public is the combination of power and control. It is the difference between the nuclear bomb that destroys society and nuclear-powered electricity that transforms society.
The ballot box may be slower, but it is surer. It is the difference between anarchy and progress.
But our people are asleep.
It was not always like this. The Igbos, like the Masai of Kenya and the Oromos of Ethiopia, evolved the age-grade system that infused elements of gerontocracy and odinala into their governance systems, systems that allowed relatively small meritocracies to hold their own in a world of hegemonic empires.
People were born into age grades and as they grow, from childhood through teenage and adulthood into old age, they mature from street cleaning, through civic defence and governance into elderly consultants.
From childhood, civic involvement is not an option and even children who default in age grade responsibilities like street sweeping can expect their households to pay fines of chickens imposed by other children. And the adults in the community sanction such fines.
The payoff is that by the time the children are adults and ready for governance, a lifetime of civic involvement in the community has shaped their perspectives on the public interest. Because they have been together for so long, each age grade knows which individuals are worthy of the highest leadership responsibilities, and which ones cannot be trusted with the communal purse.
To give wings to our democracy, we must rekindle this indigenous spirit of civic involvement by each and every member of society, which has been nurtured in the soil of our centuries of age-grade governance.
Because there is another dimension to the sleeping followers: too much sleep clouds our eyes, so that when we wake up every four years and stumble to the ballot box, we elect and re-elect the wrong people, the same charlatans who have put us into crisis in the first place. We are the eagles who have spent so long in chicken cages that we think we are chickens, constantly electing other chickens to rule us.
The problem with Nigeria, fairly and squarely, is not the chickens in power. It is the eagles that put them there and leave them there. The problem is the people who decide to sleep on election day. The responsibility of electing eagles to the place of leadership is ours and we must wake up to it.
The worst leadership in the world, who have no fear of God, can be taught the fear of the People at the ballot box. In the days and weeks and months leading up to elections, we must seek out the eagles for the place of leadership, and on election day, despite every shenanigan or enchantment or juju, we must resist the temptation to sleep away our future.
Because it is time to wake up.
Chuma Nwokolo is a lawyer and writer. He is the founder of the BribeCode, a nationwide campaign to eradicate corporate corruption by adopting the bill, the Corporate Corruption Act, which he devised and presented to the National Assembly in 2015.