If you ask ten Nigerians to tell you what they think the problem of Nigeria is, it is almost likely that seven of them will tell you the country’s biggest problem is that of leadership. This is the premise on which most Nigerians have built their mindsets when it comes to attempts at x-raying the problem of the entity called Nigeria. And quite frankly, many political analysts couldn’t agree more. They believe that we have been bedeviled by a succession of bad leaders who have often been too clueless to understand how to run a massive nation like Nigeria. At other time, the leaders with a bit of sense have been too immersed in corruption to care what the people thought of the government.
But a new school of thought has emerged. It holds a different view. It insists that there is now a much bigger problem facing us as a nation and greatly impeding the meaningful progress we would’ve made in our march towards impactful development and reaching our full potential as a country. This problem is that of between the Nigerian people and the political class. The political class either has no idea what their people want or they’re simply pretending they do, but lack the willpower to meet their expectations. Though, this problem did not just start today, it’s been with us since the days of Nigeria’s first democratically elected President, the late Alhaji Sheu Shagari, who got into power in 1979. The only difference is, it has never been this strong. Now, it is not just that there’s a disconnect between the governed and the government, the leaders and their people, it is now a matter of growing distrust and if allowed to degenerate further, it might spell the final nail in the coffin for our wobbling democracy.
But how did this whole issue of distrust between the leaders and the led start? Why did the people stop trusting the politicians? Why is it that they no longer believe their leaders when they make promises to them?
The distrust between the country’s political leaders and the masses cannot be more evident than now, when the youth embarked on a nationwide protests known as the #EndSars protest, and some of the leaders in the country tried to persuade them to sheath the sword and suspend the protest to allow government time to look into their demands, the young people expressly stated that they do not trust the government. They claim that, from the past experience, the government has been known to speak from both sides of its mouth. They agree with you on a decision only to do something totally different the next minute. Time again, when it is elections period, they come groveling before the people, begging for their votes and promising to bring paradise down from heaven to earth. Like a former chieftain of the APC, Dr. Muiz Banire, said recently, during a radio interview “every four years, they come begging the people for their votes, they promise to do all sorts for them, only to disappear once they get their votes and have been elected into office. They will not return to those people until it’s time for another election. The ones who were living among the people in the same community before they got elected into office, would move out from the area and go to settle in a highbrow area.”
Dr. Banire couldn’t have been more accurate. This has been the narrative of the Nigerian masses. Every election year, the politicians go running to the people, begging for their votes and promising them they would transform their lives and their communities in ways they can never comprehend. And even if the people had already made up their minds before then to ignore any politician who comes seeking their votes owing to the disappointments and dashed hopes they had experienced with previous politicians, they still end up casting their votes for them because of the carrots of money, packs of rice and other food items dangled at them. From the local council to state and federal levels, the story is the same. The politicians come, brandish campaign manifestoes they know they lack the will to fulfil, induce the people with money and other items, get their votes and disappear into thin air. And what do they do afterwards? They begin to enrich themselves. Within a matter of months, the local government chairman who only had an unattractive looking near rickety car to his name suddenly emerges with a brand new automobile, like those you only see driven by millionaires. In less than a year in office, he has built two houses and has withdrawn his children from the schools they were attending before being elected to a much more expensive one. And by the time he is in his second year in office, he again withdraws the children from school and this time, he sends them overseas to continue their education. Yet, he has done absolutely nothing to improve the lives of his people. The only people who benefit a few things, crumbs actually, from him, are the card carrying members of the party who throng his house everyday to scramble for crumbs. These are the party faithfuls and foot soldiers who sacrifice their entire time and energy running errands for the party and canvassing for votes as elections draw near. Outside of this group of people, other members of the community, including others who voted for the chairman, are not likely to benefit anything from him. The roads he promised to fix remains unfixed, the public schools in the area are in a shambles, he has not done a single thing on the list of many things he promised and he does not feel he owes anybody any apology, at least, not yet. He will apologise when another election year approaches. And this is where the distrust begins to grow. This is where the people begin to nurse a deep-seated resentment for their leaders and wish them nothing but misfortune.
There is no doubt that a lot of Nigerians harbour intense distrust for their leaders. For some, the distrust has transformed into something deeper, it has grown into anger, and sometimes intense resentment of the political class. And quite frankly, you cannot blame the people for feeling this way about politicians. Time again, they have been taken for a ride. The politicians come with their bagful of lies and promises. They promise that within their first year in office, there will be sufficient jobs for the millions of the unemployed youth spread across the country. They say they will turn the economy round with a magic wand and make provision of electricity and good roads as simple as ABC. But what do the people get in return? Nothing. All they see is a mirage of all that they were promised. And as far as the political leaders are concerned, they have invested a lot of money to realise their political ambitions, and now that they were successful at the polls, it is time to recoup their investments and reap the ‘fruits of their labour.’
At the ill-fated #EndSars protest that shook the entire nation to its foundation, one of the reasons the youth, gave as to why they chose not to suspend the protest until their demands were met is that they did not trust the government. They were certain that the minute they leave the roads and end the protest, the government would sweep their demands under the carpet and soon again, it would be business as usual. And they did not want their case treated that way, so they insisted they were going to remain on the roads protesting. It is unfortunate the protest was later hijacked by hoodlums, but before the break down of law and order, the government had said that it had heard its youth loud and clear and that it was ready to listen to them and dialogue with them. But what happened afterwards? Security agents went after some of the protesters to arrest them. Others who were not arrested have had their accounts frozen. Now, haven’t the youth been vindicated on their decision not to leave the roads until their demands were met because they didn’t trust the government? Can they ever be persuaded to trust the government at all? If the government had truly heard the youths loud and clear, like it claimed, why begin to hunt them down and hounding them into detention? Why froze the accounts of youths whom you have asked them to come and sit on the panel of enquiry, seeking to address and compensate victims of the defunct SARS unit of the Police? These irrational steps taken by the government have shown clearly why the leaders are no longer trusted by the people.
Sadly, our leaders may not realize this, but the trend portends huge danger for them and for the nation as a whole. If what happened during the #EndSars protest is anything to go by, then very soon, this distrust will transform into full-blown hatred and rage. Like Dr. Banire noted during the interview earlier mentioned, our political class now knows that its members have stepped on the toes of the poor and they are scared of an impending showdown. This is why, according to him, a lot of politicians no longer sleep in their homes for fear of being attacked overnight by their people. It remains to be seen how long they intend to continue to do this, but the only logical solution to this is for them to begin to gradually win back the trust and love of their people. It is only when this is done that they could have peace of mind and the unnecessary carnage and breakdown of law and order witnessed in the past few weeks would become a thing of the past. But the question is, do our leaders have what it takes to win back the trust of their people? Do they have the sincere intention to use their office to better the lives of their people? Will they ever come to understand that the only reason they are in office in the first place is to serve the people and bring to them the dividends of democracy? Only time will tell….