As Chinua would say, trouble with our politicians

Chinua Achebe

Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. In his 1983 masterpiece The Trouble with Nigeria, he acknowledged that the problem with his country was not the land or climate or water or air or anything but leadership.

Our politicians do not play politics in the interests of the nation but to advance their selfish interests, to the detriment of the people.

Lest they don't know, however, it is utterances like those by some two senators at a recent political rally, and others elsewhere at various times, that led to the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-70 and the ethnic and religious tensions that have dogged the populous West African country for the past 55 years.

From the time the civilian government of President Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was toppled in a coup in January 1966, power has been concentrated in the hands of the military – save for the short and troubled reigns of Shehu Shagari, Ernest Shonekan, Umaru Musa yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan.

Independence national leaders like Ahmadu Bello, the conservative then-Prime Minister of Northern Nigeria, just like our above-mentioned Kenyan leaders, failed the test on leadership early and planted the seeds of discord that still dog the country.

His personal and political persuasions immensely helped to shape the country’s future, diametrically dividing it into the Muslim north and Christian south to this day.

Cut down to size

Bello would at one-time bellow (pun intended) that the Igbo were dominating everyone and needed to be cut down to size. In one particularly unfortunate incident, he loudly and unapologetically said during a press interview that if you put Nigerians in a concentration camp, an Igbo would try and emerge the leader of the camp.

Unfortunately for him and his ilk, the generals were taking a keen interest in the divisive talk by the political leaders. And when they couldn’t take it anymore, they seized the nascent power from the civilians in 1966 and killed all the elected leaders, including Bello, Balewa and senior military and police officers and their spouses. Only the president, who was out of the country, survived the purge.

Fighting to secede

The following year, the infamous civil war broke out with the Igbos fighting to secede from the federal republic. An estimated three million civilians would be killed in the two-and-a-half-year pogrom. Then-military leader General Yakubu Gowon however acknowledged that there was no victor in the war that threatened to decimate the country.

But the generals have never really gone back to the barracks since, and when they do, they always come back to power – of course camouflaged as latter-day democrats.

Chinua Achebe, in his 1983 masterpiece The Trouble with Nigeria, acknowledged that the problem with his country was not the land or climate or water or air or anything but leadership. Our leaders should take a refresher course in leadership lest they pull the country down as the independence leaders did to oil-rich Nigeria.


Mr Kamau is a human resource management consultant and author. [email protected]

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