Many African countries look up to Nigeria for inspiration; President Kagame’s speech during his recent visit to Nigeria confirmed this as much. While making it clear that a forward-moving Nigeria will translate to a forward-moving Africa, the Rwandan president’s speech focused on the need for government and citizens to join hands in the fight against corruption in Nigeria. Indeed, Nigeria’s progress transcends the responsibility of the President and the ruling class to include that of every responsible citizen.
The dual responsibility of government and citizens in nation building is aptly captured in the famed Biblical story of Jonah. Prophet Jonah was sent to the sinful city of Nineveh to inform its inhabitants that God will destroy the city in 40 days due to their atrocities. After Jonah’s attempt to flee from God’s errand was thwarted in the belly of a fish, the prophet proceeded to Nineveh.
At Nineveh, Jonah walked through the streets declaring the coming judgment of God in response to the City’s iniquity. It is recorded that citizens of Nineveh began to repent and tear their clothes in penitent mourning. Yet, that was insufficient. It was not until the king of Nineveh himself “arose from his throne and laid his robe aside, covered himself in sackcloth, and sat in ashes,” that it became clear that a fundamental shift was about to occur in God’s earlier declared judgment against that City.
Following his heartfelt repentance, the King of Nineveh further issued a proclamation making repentance a matter of national policy. Those citizens who did not earlier repent were now mandated to do so. Nineveh was saved from God’s wrath as a result.
Historically, deep-felt transformations that have occurred in nations have taken the combined efforts of citizens and government. In South Africa, the evil apartheid policy could not be defeated, despite years of citizen rejection and advocacy against it, until that pressure compelled F.W. De Klerk to declare it null and void.
Across Africa, the founding fathers and citizens that fought against colonial rule could not do much to topple that oppressive system, until the colonialists themselves acceded to the demand to hand over power to nationals.
Singapore rose from third world to first world within a space of 30 years owing, not only to the determination of Lee Kuan Yew, but to that of a select number of citizens who believed in his vision for a Singapore that is built on meritocracy, pragmatism and honesty. During a speech he made at the Africa Leadership Forum in Singapore’ on November 8th, 1993, Lee Kuan Yew said: “Once a political system has been corrupted right from the very top leaders to the lowest rungs of the bureaucracy, the problem is very complicated. The cleansing and disinfecting has to start from top and go downwards in a thorough and systematic way. It is a long and laborious process that can be carried out only by a very strong group of leaders with the strength and moral authority derived from unquestioned integrity.”
He further noted that, “Our first goal in Singapore was to shape the government into an effective instrument of policy. This requires strong, fair and just leaders, who would have the moral strength to command the respect of the people. Unity in the core group of leaders helped to send clear signals to the people thus avoiding confusion that would have arisen if the team had bickered and split.”
Examples abound on how governments of different nations around the world, even great leaders have been able to accomplish little when paired with majorly unwilling citizens. On another hand, examples abound where citizens have been willing to negotiate national transformation but have not been able to do so due to the absence of a strong central leadership to galvanize such desires.
Where does Nigeria stand in this situation? One hesitates to take a stand owing to lack of data to assist in objective and unbiased analysis. Anecdotal evidence, however, will point to an assumption that there are many citizens who desire change, who wish to see the nation on a progressive path to growth that is founded on strong character and principles. It is one thing to desire change, however, and another to actively pursue change by being the change one wishes to see in his world.
While the Nigerian state must stand on guard against corruption by employing all within its power, we need more Nigerians (in addition to the many who are already on that path) to say no to bribing police officers, buying pirated copies of CDs and DVDs, buying mobile phones – that could have been stolen – at ridiculously cheap rates, paying their way to high examination scores at all levels of education.
We need lecturers to stop abusing female students; we need more selfless millionaires and billionaires in Nigeria, wealthy citizens with a high sense of social responsibility and a low penchant for conspicuous consumption. In short, as Nigerians, we need to look inwards and seek a moral compass to guide us to our promised land.
In the story of Jonah, it was the repentant citizens who brought word to the king of Nineveh about what was going on in the city – the king of Nineveh has little choice but to comply with an ongoing popular movement. Indeed, in many instances, governments can only withstand a popular movement against corruption for so long before giving in to the whims of the masses.
In all, as more and more citizens begin to actively and widely model and champion a corruption free society, the onus will still lie on leadership to fast track and make it a national policy. As President Kagame aptly captured it in his speech to Nigerians, “Corruption needs to be tackled from the top down. This is not only the fairest approach, it is also the most effective, because it empowers the public to join the fight and hold leaders accountable…”
As more and more Nigerians declare that economically, things are getting tougher, and this translates to social unrests and a high level of insecurity, there is need for quick and urgent steps to be taken to turn back the hands of time, to reverse the danger that looms ahead.
Chika is founder and executive director of African Child Press www.africanchildpress.org @Africanchildprs (twitter); africanchildpress (instagram)
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