The recent demise of Prof. Chinua Achebe is tremendously sad because he was a global icon, born and bred in Nigeria, who spoke fearless over several decades about the decay in Nigeria. However, his death is monumentally disturbing because with his passing, one more Nigerian hero has died without any foreseeable replacement or a sense of belief that he can be replaced or almost replaced.
In January 2012, the nation protested the increase (masked as deregulation!) in fuel prices. After a few weeks, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) called off the strike after agreeing to an almost 50% increase in the pump price of petrol. At that point, there was dismay in the land –people cried that if only NLC was led by someone like Kokori or Oshiomole, there would be no sell-out on the demand for a reduced fuel price. What was instructive is that the foregoing names are those of labour leaders of time past who led Nigerians to fight oppressive government pronouncements and the mention of their names simply meant that Nigerians were disappointed in the current quality of opposition.
Put another way, Nigerians long for the days they had heroes to mobilise them who gave them a sense of hope, even if what was hoped for never materialised. For instance, Frank Kokori as the former secretary-general of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) gave Nigerians a sense of hope when he stopped production of crude oil which brought the late Nigerian dictator Gen. Sani Abacha to his knees. Granted, he did not succeed in removing Abacha, but the nation was captivated and there was a sense of hope that the strike action would bring an end to the dictatorship.
Another hero was Gani Fawehinmi who fought tirelessly for the common man and had numerous stints in prison during decades of crusading against various military dictatorships. Since his death in 2009, Nigerians have been asking: who will fight for us? Who is so selfless that he is willing to risk his life and jail to fight for the common man? The answer: to be determined.
What tends not to be said, but which is implied, is that no Nigerian president in the recent past has inspired the nation. I listen to President Goodluck Jonathan and I baulk at the lies and illogical statements that I expect to hear. The president goes on CNN and announces that Nigerians are happy with the reforms in the power sector at the exact time that there was no power in the homes of millions of Nigerians. He tells the country that his administration is committed to fighting corruption and pardons someone that symbolises corruption, Diepriye Alamieyeseigha. He promises respect for the rule of law and ignores pleas to reinstate Justice Ayo Salami to the Court of Appeal.
Before Jonathan, there was President Olusegun Obasanjo, a man who is the antithesis of everything he professes: devout Christian –unforgiving tyrant, democrat –supervisor of the worst elections in Nigeria, peacekeeper –Odi!
The list of uninspiring leaders is endless. In Nigeria, after a leader has failed in office, he goes to seminars and conferences advocating good governance and preaching against societal ills. The problem is not only with leaders but the common man who starts out as an advocate for the masses and is compensated with a juicy position by the government he claims to be fighting only to become an advocate of that government.
Why are we not producing heroes? Fear, poverty and greed! Nigerians are looking for the next set of heroes who will lead them and make them ignore whatever shackles were holding them back. At the moment, our best bet may be the Diaspora where poverty is largely absent and a genuine wish that Nigeria would one day become like the foreign countries where they reside, overrides any innate fears or greed.
Wherever the heroes come from, if they do appear, Nigerians should embrace them and encourage them. Only then will they have the fortitude to continue to do more and eventually achieve more for the nation.