Yusuf Turaki is a Professor of Theology and Social Ethics and also one of the conveners of the Nigerian Indigenous Nationalities Alliance (NINAS). In this interview by ISAAC SHOBAYO, the Middle Belt leader speaks on failed leadership in Nigeria, among other issues.
After over 60 years as a sovereign nation, Nigeria is still underdeveloped, what are the problems, issues that politicians need to address and correct?
The problem with Nigeria is its endemic proneness to crises, conflicts, and violence as rooted in its history, ethnography (ethnicity), geography (land), and diverse religions and cultures. As a nation-state, Nigeria has been shaped, conditioned, moulded, and defined, first by its own internal primordial social factors, such as ethnography and ethnicity, geography and land, and religions and cultures, and secondly by some external social factors: Islam, British colonialism, Christian missions, and post-colonial politicians and soldiers. The combined impact of these social forces on Nigeria has been both positive and negative. But the question of Nigeria as a misgoverned and mismanaged nation-state with all its challenges and prospects requires that drastic measures should be taken to create a meaningful and effective national ethic and a conducive and viable nation-state with a strong national ethical structure to guide and moderate the conduct, attitudes, behaviours, and social lives and practices of all Nigerians and all institutions and organizations that affect both humans and society.
Our greatest obstacle to nation-building and national transformation is that of leadership-followership conflicts rooted in ethnic, religious, and regional rivalries as rooted in ethnocentrism and primordialism. Before and after independence, the national political leadership seemed to lack the legitimacy to rule and lead its followers. Whether by a ballot box or a barrel of a gun, leaders come to power, but they do not command followership or loyalty across ethnic, religious, or regional boundaries because the followers hold them in high suspicion and disrespect. Political leaders are not trusted or respected across the national divide. Both the followership and the leaders are torn apart by ethnocentrism (ethno-regional, cultural, and religious rivalries).
Nigerians will be going to the polls on February 25 to elect the next president, what qualities should they look out for in the candidates?
All politicians who stand for election are deemed qualified, but not all have the qualities to develop and transform Nigeria. There is a great difference between qualifications and qualities. The majority of Nigerians go for qualifications and thus vote based on people’s qualifications and not on their qualities. Quality defines both moral character on the one hand and transformational skills on the other. But here is the problem. Good and moral people may not have the transforming skills that can develop and transform both humans and society. Well-trained professionals, bureaucrats, and politicians may not have the good moral character that can build both humans and societies based upon sound national ethics, laws, and order. The two are complementary and necessary. We elect politicians who have both qualities: good moral character and good social skills. Therefore, Nigerians should elect politicians who have both qualities.
A good transforming politician has a good moral character as well as social skills to develop and transform specifically both human beings and societies. We have a lot of politicians who are not transformational political leaders. And Nigerians usually vote for them en masse. This is the reason why Nigeria is still underdeveloped due to a lack of good leadership and good governance.
Someone defines leadership in general as the ability to influence others to do what you want, regardless of the consequences. Leadership in this sense is strictly a matter of influence, whether good or bad. The basic leadership quality that is identified is influence or power. The morality and ethics of influence or power are not usually considered especially important. The focus is on what influence and power can achieve. A leader can influence people to achieve good or bad ends. Seen from this perspective, leadership can be acquired by both good and wicked people. The focus of this type of leadership is on ensuring lasting and powerful influence upon the followers or people. Leaders in general may not have the skills for managing or administering people or institutions for peace and harmony. They rely heavily upon the power that authority gives them and upon the power of their influence upon people, society, and institutions. What differentiates good leaders from bad ones are the results, or consequences, of their leadership, whether good or bad.
Therefore, it is wrong to base the principle of voting only on the influence and power that a politician has. It is also important to note, conversely, that leadership is more than just cultivating a godly character, a disciplined, moral lifestyle, and having spiritual qualities and qualifications. Even though this is good in itself, it is not good enough. In addition, there is a need for having or acquiring human and social skills. Our main goal is that of developing and transforming humanity, communities, institutions, nations, and creation by using human and social skills. Specialized human and social skills are needed in dealing with people, communities, institutions, organizations, and the nation. These human and social skills are additional skills beyond both political qualifications and moral and spiritual qualities.
Many Nigerians seem not to be satisfied with the presidential campaigns, especially the front runners in the APC, LP, and PDP. What is your assessment of the campaigns?
There could be many reasons why many Nigerians are not satisfied with the presidential campaigns, especially with the front runners. We must consider very seriously, the problems of political, economic, and social development of the Nigerian state and society. Nigerians want good governance and good leadership. Nigerians want Nigeria to be strong politically and economically. Nigerians desire Nigeria to lead Africa. Nigerians are hopeful that one day Nigeria will become a veto power at the United Nations. With these lofty ideals in mind, we may ask, ‘Can Nigeria ever attain a level of good governance and good leadership?’ What have been the major obstacles hindering Nigeria’s attainment of good governance and good leadership since independence in 1960? Social scientists, politicians, military strategists, religious leaders, and even ordinary Nigerians have all become experts in identifying and analyzing the symptoms, the woes, and the ills of Nigeria that are attributable to the bane of bad governance and bad leadership. Nigeria has evolved over the past six decades to become one of the most corrupt nations in the world, a nation without moral and ethical standards, and a society in which ethnic and religious militias, bandits, chaos, conflicts, crises, indiscipline, moral and spiritual decadence, social and institutional decay, and insecurity have replaced the rule of law and the absence of a national ethic. All these have much to do with the hidden programmes that govern the behaviours of ethnic and religious groups, cultures, individuals, and regions.
With this background, what hope do Nigerians have?
The question is: can this crop of politicians turn things around for the better? Do they have both moral character and human and social skills for developing and transforming the seminal animal zoo called Nigeria?
Nevertheless, Nigerians are going to vote in their usual way and manner, according to their ethnicity, religion, region, money, and patronage. Overwhelmingly, they are not going to vote for transformational political leaders that can develop and transform both human beings and society, but for those who have influence and power and for various sub-national interests. There is a strong aversion to the unfulfilled political campaign policies of seasoned politicians and powerful political parties. The youthful political rejuvenation is the social factor that has injected life into the current political campaigns. Politicians need to take this political tidal wave and new social movement very seriously. We can see that some politicians are in themselves the problem, given their backgrounds, such as moral character, human and social skills, and the baggage of political parties.
Insecurity is one of the major challenges confronting the country today. Can the likes of Atiku Abubakar, Peter Obi and Bola Tinubu tame the monster if elected president of this country?
Any of them has the potential to secure the state, but a few are capable of transforming the Nigerian state into one that is secure, peaceful and harmonious.
The choice of the right person will be the political default for Nigerians. Ethnicity, religion, region, money, and patronage are social factors that may prevent Nigerians from making the right choice of a transforming political leader.
Did you subscribe to the belief of one of the governors in the North-West that the votes of Christians in the North are insignificant?
Nigeria is multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-cultural; if any Nigerian ignores the social context and the social impact of this national reality, he or she will be imprisoned by the haunting social ghost of being out of tune with Nigeria’s God-given creational and natural reality.
For any Nigerian to say that the votes of Christians in the North are insignificant is unpatriotic and demeaning, and such a person is out of step with the divine and natural reality of the solidarity of all human beings. This is primitive modernity, like a primitive person coming from the Jahiliyya period into modernity. It is like how village people carry the village into the city. It is better to stay within the domain of numbers or population than to be biased and judgmental. Christians form a very large minority group in the North, numbering over 30 million. This number, if computed electorally, could win a presidential election. As it has been demonstrated, it is largely Northerners who are killing Christians using different war fronts. And so, that is why they say that Christians are insignificant. They can be denied their political rights, human rights, ancestral land rights, religious rights, and even the right to live and live peacefully.
The problem that Christians face in some states is that they have been structurally rigged out of general elections, electoral wards, and federal constituencies. Christians in the North are looking for and praying for the emergence of transforming and national politicians that will restructure the North politically for freedom, equality, rights, and justice that have been denied them. Boko Haram, ISWAP, Fulani herdsmen and militias, bandits, and other terrorist groups have decimated and destroyed Christian communities across the North. This is the real meaning of Christians being considered insignificant by some Northern religious and ethnic bigots. Christians are a significant part of the North, being indigenous and the descendants of true Africans and true Nigerians.
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