Saturday, March 6, 2010

Where are This Generation’s Political Leaders?

Sometimes, when you look at the road ahead and realise you are lost, it makes sense to go back to where you are coming from. Looking at the political road Nigeria is on today compared to where we are coming from, one cannot help but ask these lingering questions: Have we lost our political way? Have we made substantive progress in our race to political maturity after almost fifty years of independence or have we been meandering in a vicious cycle of ‘motion with little progress’? Can our politics ever create the ideal of ‘one Nigeria, one nation’ or will that remain a fantastical notion? Which political leaders will inspire and lead our country into the future we aspire? Where are this generation’s political leaders?

Political leadership is central, if not critical, to the direction, maturity, failures and successes of a polity and the progress or regression of a society. Today, our politicians are in the driving seat of our political journey, but the dangerous, tortuous and convoluted journey many of them have carried us on, leave us questioning what political map they are following, if any, and more so the authenticity of their drivers’ licenses.

If I were to think of an appropriate soundtrack for our political sitcom in the past fifty odd years, it would be the Bongos Ikwe soundtrack for Cock Crow At Dawn: “Will we ever get there? Will we ever make it? Will we ever hear the sound of the cock crow at dawn?” Why? Because, today, when I look at the political path Nigeria is on, I cannot help but think that we have lost our way politically, so much so that an attempt to peer into the future could be like gaping into a nightmarish black hole that morphs into a mass grave of lost opportunities, dead dreams and an ominous foreboding of worse things to come.

As such, since clarity about the future has been obscured by the thick miasma of political smoke and the reflections and deflections of deceptive mirrors that seem to characterise contemporary political leadership in Nigeria today, I have had to go back to where we were coming from in an attempt to make some sense of how we evolved into today’s political bedlam.

My journey to this past has been by reading the biographies and speeches of some of Nigeria’s foremost founding political leaders, and I daresay, I am amazed by the quality of leadership and clarity of vision they had back then, in comparison to the confusion and lack of foresight that most of our politicians seem to have today. However, though I must protest the absence of women in the available material (as if men did it all by themselves), it has been a most enriching exercise that leaves me with mixed feelings, often vacillating between inspiration and fear. Why?

Well, on one hand, I was inspired as I realised how dynamic, courageous, visionary, eloquent, focused, dignified and comported some of these young but very mature leaders were. On the other hand, it is scary to think that if all that political talent and leadership skills did not translate into a Nigeria that is at par with the most developed countries in the world today, what will?

I have been reading the speeches and the life stories of Nnamdi Azikwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Abubaker Tafawa Balewa, Chukwuemeka Ojukwu and Yakubu Gowon - all who had become formidable leaders in their thirties and early forties. Anid listening to the interests and the life priorities of the young men and women of the same age band today in comparism- within and outside the political sphere- I am forced to question if we have either progressed or regressed as a polity, and more so, as a society.

Think about it. When these young leaders mentioned above were in the international political ring wrestling the British for our independence, leading hundreds of thousands to craft and build a ‘new’ Nigeria and struggling with the teething pains, groans, grumblings and tantrums of an infant nation in their thirties, today most thirty year-olds display no substantive interest in nation-building or visionary leadership. Not when there are Range Rovers to be bought, private jets to be owned and champagne to be popped. Like a ferociously intelligent friend of mine said, “they drink so much champagne they have bubbles in their brains”. How can they think of our country’s future when they are more concerned about making enough money to sustain pretentious movie star lifestyles? In this generation, greed, hedonism and personal survival have to larger degree trumped public service and political vision in the boxing ring of Nigerian priorities.

In 1998, I remember sitting in the salubrious Arcadia Park in Pretoria, South Africa on a quintessential summer’s day. I had just seen the Leaonardo De Vinci exhibition and was still overwhelmed by how one man could be so brilliant and contribute so much to modern art and science at the same time. I was pondering who I could compare as an African Leonardo de Vinci when two shiny BMWs sped up violating the erstwhile serene ambience with thumping Kwaito music.

They came out with a few bare-clad ladies, opened their car trunks and brought out coolers filled with beer. Over the next few hours, they drank themselves to stupor in between fits of dancing, fighting, groping and grabbing. They partied like there was no tomorrow. Today, was their tomorrow. It’s all that mattered. Now, I had no objections to them having a good time, but I could not help but wonder, is this what Mandela was in jail for 27 years for?

Back to Nigeria. Today I look around and wonder if there are any politicians that we could equate with the stature, vision and chutzpah of the founding fathers and mothers of the modern Nigerian state. I am yet to find one. And that is not because they may not exist, but because some of our society’s’ norms and the political trenches, fences and layers won’t allow them to arise, and shine. So I look for the young women and men who may possibly grow into these large ‘shoes of leadreship’ in years to come, and yet I find only a miserly few who demonstrate that potential or show interest in such, beyond the financial rewards. Its a worrisome state of affairs.

Leaders are not messiahs from heaven. They are products of our societies and often can only be as good as the values our societies hold dear. If today our young women and men - who make up our polity and will shape our society’ future - are too engrossed in the ‘chop life’ syndrome, or living the Jennifian ‘bigs girls’ and Yahooze ‘bigs boys’ lifestyles, where will our leaders come from? How can they have clear vision and foresight with eyes blinded by the lust for luxury, and intoxicated minds?

How can they possibly lead us into a progressive future when they have lost touch with the struggles of our past or the visions of our collective tomorrow? How can they take Nigerian to the next level of growth, development, opportunity and security? How can they inspire a new Nigerian state committed to excel and ascend into its rightful place on the global stage, while ably serving the wishes of its people? As I look ‘back into the future’, I can only shudder as I ask: Where are this generation’s political leaders? “Will we ever get there? Will we ever make it? Will we ever hear the sound of the cock crow at dawn?”