Our society, the Nigerian society; the society of our birth and childhood; is in search of Father-figures. There is a dearth of icons who consciously and unconsciously inspire the younger generation to aspire to Olympian heights by dint of hard-work and self-discipline. The people I see in my mind’s eye in the not-too-distant past, are those who taught us, while we were yet impressionable lads, that there was no way to attain dignity via indignity. They were those who urged us to see the nexus between the means to an end, and the end itself. These men and women are an endangered species today.
It has been stated severally, and I do not hold a dissenting opinion, that to correctly predict the fortunes of a society; you only have to find out the quality of people idolised by the young. People get influenced by others around them, rightly or wrongly. Whether at home, at school, at work, or in the wider society; there are persons whose conduct, by virtue of their status in society, serve as a benchmark or reference point on which personal choices of many, are based. For most young people, if a parent or teacher says something is cool; then it is cool; irrespective of the deluge of contradictory positions held by others.
When one looks around our sociopolitical milieu with a little more than a passing glance, one is sure to find that many of those whose opinions should matter, have themselves been ensconced in an atmosphere where the line between what is a societal norm and what is abhorrent, has been increasingly blurred. There are a plethora of justification for all manner of ills in the land. Nothing seems abominable any longer. What propels the young these days, at the risk of making an inductive generalisation, is a desire to, in the lexicon of the streets, hammer big-time. By hammer, I refer to the experience of coming to sudden affluence, anchored on some chance occurrence based on largely, but not necessarily, illicit activity.
You know decadence is upon your society when a teenage music sensation commands more influence than parents, teachers, the clergy, and what have you; not because of the quality of virtues he personifies, but because he has an array of obscenely expensive automobiles and other material possessions. I remember, when as students in High School, we were concerned about our performance viz-a-viz the performance of the brightest students in class, and we were naturally taught to explore only legitimate means – ie study – to address our shortcomings in academics. Our parents and guardians need not induce teachers to give us undeserving grades. They didn’t have to comb the nooks and crannies of the town in search of “special centres” for us.
Other than the larger than life tales of the nationalists: Nnamdi Azikiwe’s oratorical eloquence and love for a united Nigeria; Obafemi Awolowo’s political sagacity and populist leanings; and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa’s gentlemanliness and uncommon command of the Queen’s English; we had the literary prowess of Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, the mathematical feats of Chike Obi, the philanthropy and business acumen of Moshood Abiola, the legal esotericism of F.R.A. Williams, and the many travails of the Senior Advocate of the Masses, Gani Fawenhinmi, to name a few iconic figures; we were motivated by our contemporaries who shone brightly with distinction in academics.
We weren’t just interested in passing with as many “A”s as possible in internal and external examinations; we were interested in having earned the grades, so much so that, there were no iota of doubts as to our pedigree and credibility. I remember having a school Principal, Chief A.E. Egobueze, who would ensure the the best student in a promotion examination for a given year, was awarded a scholarship in which the Principal personally paid the tuition fees for the ensuing year for that student. We were taught that there was dignity in labour, and that integrity surpassed the possession of material wealth. We were taught that the society prided a good name as more honourable than the possession of worldly goods. We were taught that politics was about governance and that the words of a man, should be his bond.
But what do we see today? Our leaders are in an internecine quest for primitive acquisition of illicit wealth, while the society suffers. They have constituted themselves into ethnic champions. Five decades after political, or flag independence, if you like; and Nigeria is still in search of that Nigerian who is not reduced to being a regional fief, who masks his personal interests as the interests of a part of the country. We have politicians who belong to one political party in the morning, and another in the evening. We have a government that rewards terrorism in the guise of amnesty programmes, while responsible and law-abiding young men and women are neglected.
In a previous piece in this column, entitled “The De-Materialisation of Success, we sought to retool the minds of our readers to the proper meaning of success. What we consider a success, and who we consider successful, and the indices that account for our estimation, are key elements in charting the course of a nation. We have to determine who our leaders are. Is leadership merely synonymous with holding office, irrespective of the process of ascension of office, and or without regard to an individual’s conduct while in office? Is every officeholder qualified to be termed a leader? Does one have to hold office to show leadership?
Who are our leaders and icons today? Are they objects of our admiration and emulation because they pride the virtues of honesty, integrity, and accountability, over and above rank and the grandeur that comes with it; or are they our role models because we have been conditioned to esteem possession of wealth and power, as indications of success?
We must began by calling a spade by its proper name. One who criminally assumes office, or corruptly enriches himself or herself, from the resources of the commonwealth, is no other than a thief, and should be treated as such. We cannot have a society where a cow thief has his limbs amputated, while those who plunder our collective till to the tune of billions of Naira, are accorded State and National honours. The task before each of us, is the reevaluation of the persons we hold in high esteem as leaders. Are they worthy objects of our respect?
I am @efewanogho, on Twitter.