Nigeria: Good people, great nation, thieving leaders

When the late president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua appointed the late Professor Dora Akunyili as a minister, many had expected her to be assigned the health ministry portfolio. This was because of her stellar performance as the director general of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) where she battled counterfeit drug dealers like an Amazon that she was. Dora herself expected a posting to the choice ministry but her principal thought otherwise. There would have been nothing wrong in appointing a pharmacist as health minister. During the Abacha era, a pharmacist was appointed as secretary of health. The appointee was the renowned pharmacist, Julius Adeluyi.

Prof. Akunyili was a woman I admired for her uncommon courage. Her enemies were our killers. Or how else would you describe counterfeiters who funnel “alubo” into capsules, carve chalks as analgesics, package pure water as drips or import fake drugs from China and India? After surviving an assassination attempt when a bullet located her headgear where she sat on the back seat of her official car, one would have thought that she would chicken out of the war front. But No! Dora fought a great fight until she was shipped out of NAFDAC and made a minister of information and communication.

Many wondered how she was going to transform herself from a square peg into a round hole. How could a pharmacist manage information machinery? But Dora transformed and did the best she could during her brief tenure. There were several information ministers before her who came from the media background that passed through the ministry like a snake slithering across the rock with no trace. However, Dora left a legacy that many will remember her for – the mantra: Nigeria, good people, great nation. Many disagreed with the slogan because it was inconclusive. They then added clinchers like “…selfish leaders”, “…rudderless leaders”, “…thieving leaders.”

Today, Nigeria marks 54 years of independence from the colonial masters after about a century of subjugation. At independence, many, including yours truly looked forward to a great nation. As kids, we were old enough to admire the great founding fathers of Nigeria like the great Zik of Africa, an epitome of intellect; Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Golden Voice of Africa; Obafemi Awolowo, the inimitable sage; Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto with his turban of wisdom. I cannot forget the federal minister of finance, Festus Okotie-Eboh. Because my friends and I loved the throat-soothing peppermint that was popular in those days, we corrupted Okotie-Eboh by referring to the government money bag as “Okotrebor.”

Peeping out from their graves, the aforementioned nationalists must be appalled by what has become of the nation they fought the colonialists hammer and tongs to wrestle from them. They must have dreamt of a country where things would work like in England: superb rail and air services; good road network; uninterrupted power supply; running taps; dedicated/ productive workforce; self-sufficiency in food production; healthcare delivery that is all-encompassing; social security; efficient armed forces and police; affordable housing scheme; functional education at all levels; a beehive of industrial and technological activities; exportation of goods/services and above all, be rated as the happiest people on earth.

But alas! Nigerian folks are the saddest people under the sun. This country is richly endowed in terms of human and natural resources. The most blessed destination on earth is Nigeria. It is said that Nigeria harbours all solid mineral resources you can find anywhere in the world. Its lands are fertile and can grow any kind of food and cash crops. There are abundant raw materials that can make it self-sufficient industrially and technologically. Above all, it is stupendously rich in black gold.
However, the discovery of oil has turned out to be our nemesis as a nation. Because the oil and gas sector throws up easy money, successive leaders after independence relegated agriculture and the solid mineral sector to the backstage. Rather than use the huge cash accruing from oil to transform the country into an El-dorado, our leaders at all levels over the years have transformed Nigeria into a den of thieves.

Virtually every Nigerian in a leadership position is there not to serve but to steal. I can count the honest ones on the tips of my fingers. I was appalled by the disclosure on the cover page of the Daily Trust of Monday, September 29, 2014 which splashed a roll call of ex-governors facing the music for allegedly stealing public funds. About 14 of them were on parade. They have collectively salted away a total of N169.5bn and they are currently facing everlasting trials at various courts where justice can be equated with a vehicle without an accelerator… it moves at its own pace! A couple of them are ensconced in the hallowed chambers of the Senate enjoying their loots and making laws for “the good” of the country. One of them is even returning to the Government House in one of the South-west states in a few weeks from now. Many more governors currently serving out their second term would soon join the despicable rank.

The late Prof. Akunyili knew Nigerians like the back of her hand. Nigeria has been denied the greatness it deserves to become 54 years after independence. Nigerians are good people, too good to hold their thieving leaders accountable for their heists; too good to go after these callous elements once described by the former Ghanaian President and a famous anti-corruption Czar, Jerry Rawlings, as worse than armed robbers. Armed robbers, he argued, steal from individuals but corrupt elements rob the nation. And Nigerians are so good that they would vote in an inept and corrupt leader over and over again!

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