Nigeria: Literature, Leadership, Citizenship Issues


The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example, which are the hallmarks of true leadership. (Achebe)

Literature, leadership, citizenship issues of modern Nigeria

by Chin Ce, 2005 Writer of the Year 
​Writer of the Year, ALJ 2005.

A SMALL, neglected pamphlet dots the reference section of the Nigerian national library. The Trouble with Nigeria by Chinua Achebe begins in a language and tone that would annoy its countrymen, particularly the political cheerleaders:

There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership. (Achebe)

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Coming to power in 1999 with boasts of a new deal for his countrymen, Nigeria’s  Olusegun Obasanjo, typical of the military that tutored him, declared a campaign against corruption. Two years in the same course his country was to rank in the hall of infamy as one of the most corrupt in the world. It was not long after that this president reconciled his brief epiphany of public accountability with the corruptive demands of his own political survival in office as foisted by military-fiat constitution. Few Nigerians would forget his glib dismissal of the international exposition that the highest corruption emanated from the central government of the nation where the retired general had full control. It smacked of a remark by a central character in Children of Koloko that “all this grammar of development didn’t belong to high matters of state since it didn’t quite put the food on his table.” (41)

Also Read ‘The Art of the Younger Poets.’

Nothing, however, would more please the beneficiaries of Nigeria’s brand of democracy than the aphorism: ‘the worst democracy is better than the best military rule’. The mediocrity of this thought and its overall acceptance among themselves seem the prevailing order of a society with hardly any signs of transition – which leaves little to wonder why they run the worst democracy in the world.

The literature of Africa holds memories of such an era the populace should be glad to put behind them. But the literary accounts of that time depict an attitude of citizen complicity in an obvious state of anomie. And so the Nigerian republic, contrariwise, kept a steady, geometric progression in public corruption set to drown her nationalities in the pool of its own affliction.

During the eighties and nineties, there was spirited campaign for army generals to continue the leadership of the country under a civilian arrangement. Government-owned radio and television stations would point to an American general who became president as one example. But they never acknowledged that in 1948 General Dwight Eisenhower, while discouraging efforts of supporters to nominate him for presidency summarized the dominant views of the professional military. He had insisted that ‘the necessary and wise subordination of the military to civil power will be best sustained and  people will have greater confidence that it is so sustained, when lifelong professional soldiers, in the absence of some obvious and overriding reasons, abstain from seeking high political office. (14)

And so with the conspiracy of May 1999 that grafted a general onto civilian leadership, Nigerians have paid the price of untold suffering and hardship which the turncoat visited upon his people, with public outbursts so foolish, so uncharitable, and comparable only to the legendary notoriety of Idi Amin of Uganda.

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Ethnicity and Falling Education Standards in Nigeria

Nigeria’s multiethnic composition has been stated as the single most constraining factor in the evolution of that nation state. Its decline to civil tyranny under successive governments only confirms the desperate attempts since the first coup d’etat to keep a collapsing federation together.

Undoubtedly the country has the largest concentration of ethnicities in Africa numbering well over three hundred and fifty two. The domination by the majorities on the point of still debated numerical strength has engendered such angst that while the bulk of revenue generated through oil exports come predominantly from so-called delta ‘minorities,’ infrastructural development from oil income is squandered by Lagos and Abuja ‘majorities.’

Official history now proclaims that Nigeria survived a fratricidal war of national unity but this was merely a war of attrition by mutually antagonistic leaders and self-serving decision makers at home and abroad. The conditions that led to that war have since replicated in far worse dimensions. Massacre of other ethnicities continues in the northern states such as Kano, Kaduna, and Jos. In fact, every northern state in Nigeria has enjoyed the barbarity of slaughtering the southern nationalities for reasons of religious differences and political disagreements rooted in primordial ethnic bigotry. Where political murders and inter-tribal rivalry have not blown into another war they seethe in the cauldron of competing forces striving for petty advantages to the detriment of the whole.

Inordinate ambitions and primordial loyalties still remain the hallmark of Nigerian national and political existence – leaving out international sport competitions where citizens seem to respond to a common purpose. But there, too, the sports ministry, like electric, power, steel and other national establishments, insures its endemic failure with nepotism and corruption…

Ever since the educational sector blazed in ruins by Northern-backed incendiary using the quota system, an avid ethnocentric admissions policy as a rule became entrenched in Nigerian tertiary institutions. Universities funded with ‘federal’ resources began to clamour for mere sectional advancements in a country that claimed to have fought to preserve its ‘unity’. It was not long before other nationalities in their exuberance copied the Northern policy. Thus the 1990s witnessed the final crumbling of all that constituted its educational heritage as foreign nations began to decertify the plethora of degrees awarded by Nigerian universities after 1989.

The sanction led by the United States may have been appropriate in that the nineties was the apogee of bastardies in public educational systems. While the national institutions were overrun by ethnic lords of their various localities, the state universities, sprung with the haphazardness of state creations, were determined mainly to produce as many graduates as can compete in federal labour positions. Standards and procedures for admissions were jettisoned for entrees that could never have passed senior high. In some educationally-disadvantaged states (one of Nigeria’s jargons for elevating mediocrity above merit and quality), these half-baked certificate holders became teachers in their turn. Having neither the diligence of ‘frogies’ who went to school nor ‘polished’ to any degree whatever, the local champions simply filled the vacant slots of their state towers as of right. Nowadays it is common to find positions like departmental heads and faculty deans occupied by ‘acting’ misfits, or sitting professors with hardly any research contributions to society. Some universities in their rush to award higher degrees begin their postgraduate programs with barely a backward glance at prior undergraduate competency.

Full Essay available in Bards and Tyrants: Essays in African Literature by Chin Ce and distributed by the African Books Collective


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