On Nigerian Leadership

Posted: April 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

By Patrick Wilmot
May 30, 2006
While politicians fiddled about the third term in Abuja, hundreds of citizens burned in Lagos. No one knew how many died, their names, their circumstances, or those they left behind. And no one cared. Since the assassination of Murtala Muhammed in 1976, Nigerian leaders have asked what their nation could do for them personally, not what they could do for their nation.

When General Gowon was overthrown in 1975 he had no house and possessed only £15,000 in a single account. When Murtala was killed he also had no house and probably less in monetary terms than Gowon. Their successors specialised in accumulating wealth, becoming richer every year while their citizens sunk deeper into poverty. In 20 years China’s absolute poor sank from 56 per cent of the population to 12 per cent. In 30 years Nigeria’s rose from 20 per cent to over 70 per cent. Today China is a world power, Nigeria a basket case.

In no other country in the world, with the possible exception of George Bush’s America, do leaders show more contempt, less compassion, for their poor citizens. If a man who has stolen billions from the nation announces a party to celebrate a successful operation on his ingrown toenail in Europe, every Big Man from the farthest corner of the country rushes forth like rats from their holes in search of cheese. An explosion at one of these “society” weddings, naming ceremonies or funerals would decimate the entire ruling class.

Meanwhile, the poor die or are forgotten. In many poor countries corrupt leaders are indifferent to the fate of the poor. In Nigeria, leaders hate their people, as Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld hate African Americans in New Orleans. While they seek power at all costs, this has been separated from purpose and no longer serves the people. The billions earned from petroleum have not been used to build factories, schools, hospitals, generating plants, refineries, roads, railways, trams, or water systems but mansions and foreign bank accounts.

In Abuja, there was bargaining about the price of a vote to keep failed politicians in office while hundreds of citizens were incinerated in Lagos. There were rumours of US$1 million for a senator’s vote while citizens burned to death trying to make a few naira from a jerry can of petrol. Callous politicians probably smirked that these “criminals” deserved what they got for sabotaging oil pipelines. While fraudulently awarding themselves 90 million naira “rent” money to add to the billions they had stolen, they had no time to reflect on why citizens would risk their lives for a few hundred naira.

Poor Nigerians are very aware of the dangers of siphoning fuel from pipelines yet they continue. They know that thousands have died before them but persist – to put food on the table or a roof over the heads of loved ones. They lack the tools and skills necessary to drill holes in the pipelines: the sabotage is organised by men with tankers and equipment who fill up then leave hundreds of the little people to scavenge and die. The danger of petrol is not the liquid itself but the vapours they cannot see, which require any kind of spark, from a motorcycle, cigarette, or static electricity.

Police and “intelligence” agencies are supposed to catch the real saboteurs, the bunkerers who deprive the treasury of billions of dollars a year. But in Nigeria the police and “security” forces protect those in power rather than the citizens they are supposed to serve. They rig elections and spy on political “enemies” rather than protect the nation and its citizens. The inspector general of police spoke of new patrol boats which were nowhere to be seen near the scene of the tragedy.

Will there be an independent Commission of Inquiry which will get to the bottom of how hundreds of citizens were burnt like garbage? These Nigerian citizens were thrown into mass graves, into trenches dug from the earth, as Europeans bury animals at the outbreak of epidemics. In the age of DNA testing no one thought of identifying remains so that loved ones would could honour their departed. We know not who they were so we cannot join mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters in mourning them. To those in power they were of no consequence and could be disposed of as rubbish.

Many Nigerian politicians, especially those with a military background, possess modern farms where they raise livestock. They provide nutritious food, clean water, sanitary housing, the latest medicine and the best veterinary services.

They have an interest in the welfare of their animals because they want to make profits. If they had the same interest in their citizens Nigeria would be a far better place and 70 per cent of the population would not be classified as dirt poor. The world knows this: when they interviewed me on Al-Jazeera TV, the first question the presenter asked me was, “Did poverty cause this?”
In a truly democratic society the politician has to take an interest in the citizen because s/he has the vote. But in a country like Nigeria where power is captured by uniformed or civilian thugs, the citizen is surplus to requirement and can burn to death without notice or compassion.

The irony is that most Nigerian power holders come from poor backgrounds like these latest victims of neglect. They know the horror that poverty breeds for men, women and their loved ones but don’t care. They pretend to be religious but no religion sanctions contempt for the poor, or preaches love for the obscene wealth the potentates of Abuja worship.

May the souls of these victims rest in perfect peace.


This piece is a political commentary by Dr Patrick Wilmot.  A former professor of sociology at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria and writes out of London.

  1. Louisa First says:

    An ingrown toenail, also known as onychocryptosis or unguis incarnatus, is a painful condition of the toe. It occurs when a sharp corner of the toenail digs into the skin at the end of or side of the toe. Pain and inflammation at the spot where the nail curls into the skin occurs first. Later, the inflamed area can begin to grow extra tissue or drain yellowish fluid.^

    Our personal web site

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