Lola on CNN.com: Nigeria needs more than new leaders to change

Nigeria needs more than new leaders to change

By Lola Adesioye, Special to CNN
October 1, 2010 2:20 p.m. EDT
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nigeria celebrates 50 years of independence on the 1st of October
  • According to Adesioye, Nigeria’s wealth is represented by its people
  • Nigeria’s transformation depends on mindset shift from the people and not just change in leadership, she says
Editor’s note: New York-based British/Nigerian commentator Lola Adesioye is a regular contributor of commentary and features to a range of media including The Economist, The Huffington Post and CNN. She writes for CNN.com as Africa’s most populous country marks 50 years of independence Friday. 
(CNN) — People are corrupt. The elite don’t care. The leaders steal from the people. Everything is falling apart and no one is doing anything about it. These are just some of the complaints regularly made by Nigerians about Nigeria.
There’s no doubt that these are valid complaints. Indeed, the car bombs which hit the capital Abuja Friday — — as the president and other heads of state gathered to celebrate the country’s 50 year anniversary — have highlighted that there are serious unresolved issues that Nigeria is contending with.
Widespread corruption, disenfranchisement of the people, greed and fraud have profoundly impacted the nation for years, resulting in a country that is operating well below its full potential in nearly every area.
Just last year, Princeton Lyman, the former U.S. ambassador to South Africa and Nigeria warned that the country risked becoming irrelevant if it did not catch up with other, better-managed African countries, such as Ghana, who are gaining prominence on the international stage.
As Nigeria celebrates 50 years of independence, it is clear that a major social and political transformation is needed if Nigeria is to move from being one of the poorest 20 countries in the world.
It will take more than a reshuffle for Nigeria to capitalize on its oil revenues (it has the capacity to produce over 3.2 million barrels of oil per day, yet only produces about 2.224 million due to unrest and security concerns in the Niger Delta); advance its technology sector, and massively expand the overall wealth and health of its general populace.
The old defunct way must be replaced with a new way, based on collaboration, a focus on the greater good and a bottom-up, citizen-oriented approach to leadership that will propel the country to greatness.
The real wealth of a country lies in its people and people is one resource that Nigeria has in abundance.
–Lola Adesioye
Nigeria’s transformation goes deeper than just changing leadership, building new roads, creating new policies or even having consistent power. The real transformation lies in the hearts and minds of every Nigerian, regardless of socio-economic status.
Lee Kuan Yew’s transformation of Singapore from a colonial outpost, poor in natural resources with no real national identity, to one of the most developed nations in Asia was based in large part on his ability to unite the Singaporean people and to engender in them a sense of pride in themselves as the ones to make the difference for their country.
Singapore provides a good example for the country and Nigerians must take the focus off the country’s problems and start talking about and working towards the country’s possibilities. It is time to start looking at Nigeria’s gifts rather than its deficiencies.
We Nigerians can provide a litany of opinions about what’s wrong with the country and what its problems are. Indeed, doing so has become something of a national sport. However, if regurgitating problems led to a solution, Nigeria’s issues would have been solved a long time ago.
Focusing on possibilities is not about re-branding — something which many Nigerians are skeptical about — nor is it about pretending that Nigeria has no issues. It is about looking at what can be done, what works, what is possible and what resources are available right now.
The real wealth of a country lies in its people and people is one resource that Nigeria has in abundance. It is with the people — all people — that Nigeria’s real promise for the future lies. Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew has often said that the country’s most valuable resource is its people and their work ethic.
Unfortunately, what Nigeria also currently has in abundance is disempowered and disenfranchised people, who are despondent, resigned and cynical about their country.
I assert that the continued focus on problems has led many Nigerians into what psychologist Martin Seligman terms “learned helplessness.” This is a sense of despondency and resignation whereby people come to relate to themselves as victims, locked into a system in which they are unable to make any difference or have any control.
In this state of mind, the situation becomes self-fulfilling — apathetic citizens do not take the actions needed to make a difference which allows those who do not have the country’s best interests at heart to continue doing business as usual, thereby reinforcing the powerlessness felt by the average person.
Looking at possibilities awakens people to the opportunities, resources and openings for action which can be hidden from view when we are feeling helpless. It awakens people to the knowledge that each of us must accept personal responsibility for having our communities work.
More than anything, it is about realizing and awakening the power of the human spirit as the key catalyst for major social transformation.
Empowered people take empowered actions. Focusing on problems has never been proven to empower anybody. It’s now time for all of us Nigerians to commit to looking at what is possible for Nigerians, to envision her future and to commit to working towards that.
Nigeria’s possibilities, not her problems, her strengths and not her weaknesses are where the key to a new future lie.

Lola in TheRoot.com: Nigeria and Democracy Inaction

[Originally published at TheRoot.com]

How long can Africa’s most populous country go on without a clear leader?

Imagine that one day President Barack Obama disappears. It is rumored that he has gone to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment of a condition that nobody is quite certain about. After three months, the public starts to speculate as to whether or not he is still alive. As a result of failing to follow the correct constitutional steps to ensure that the country would be run in his absence, Vice President Joe Biden has been unable to take power. The country is leaderless, in political turmoil, and Americans are left wondering what is going on. Nearly four months later, the protests of a despondent and resigned public prompt some action and Biden steps in to run the country. Shortly after that, Obama reappears–still not telling anyone exactly where he has been, nor the truth about the current status of his health. Access to him is limited and first lady Michelle Obama starts taking interviews on his behalf.
It sounds bizarre. Unthinkable, even. Yet this is exactly what has been happening in Nigeria since late November when the president, Umaru Yar’Adua, left in secret to go to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment, leaving the country teetering on the brink of a political crisis, calling into question the very nature of Nigeria’s democratic process and sparking a new sense of urgency for change and reform within the country. He has not addressed the public since November 2009, when he left the country to have inflammation of the lining around his heart treated. No one heard from him in February, when Vice President Goodluck Jonathan became acting president, or since Yar’Adua’s return to Nigeria last week.
How did we get here? In 1999, after years of military rule which followed Nigeria’s independence from Britain and failed experiments in democracy, the country finally embraced civilian rule and the democratic process. However, the self-serving attitude and actions of a supposedly democratic leadership, which often seems to be no different from that of the former military rulers, continues to prohibit Nigerians from fully reaping the fruits of democracy and from having the country run at full capacity.
Let’s be clear what “not running at full capacity” means. It means that Nigerians are now used to power outages that can last months. They have become used to sitting for hours in traffic on roads with gigantic pot holes and no road signs in which innumerable vehicles, people and perhaps even a random animal jostle for space. They have become used to the corruption that has become a part of the fabric of everyday life, and the incredible gap between the poor–who can live on top of each other in shacks–and the rich–who live close to them in compounds and mansions. They have become used to substandard education and universities that spend half of the year on strike. They’ve become used to their leaders enriching themselves out of the pockets of the people who they are supposed to serve.
These problems didn’t always exist. My parents often talk of a time–in the 1970s–when Nigeria functioned well. However, the negative effects of military rule, particularly that of General Sani Abacha between 1993 and 1998, took hold and have not fundamentally been altered by democracy. Abacha was responsible for many human-rights abuses, as well as a slow but steady increase in corruption and a lack of investment in Nigeria’s infrastructure. Despite some efforts from the president who came before Yar’Adua, the corruption has continued.
It is a tragedy that Nigeria–nearly 50 years after its independence from colonial rule–is still falling so far behind its potential. Just a few months ago, Princeton Lyman, the former U.S. ambassador to South Africa and Nigeria, said that Nigeria risked becoming irrelevant as other, better-managed countries, such as Ghana (where oil has recently been discovered) rise to prominence on the international stage.
Yar’Adua’s 2007 election was controversial. Many Nigerians believe that he is essentially a puppet who was handpicked to lead by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and that election rigging ensured that his party–ironically called the People’s Democratic Party–won. Since his election, a number of undemocratic incidents have damaged Yar’Adua’s public image. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, an anti-corruption body which seemed to show that Yar’Adua was doing something positive for Nigeria, was undermined by the ouster of its chairman, Nuhu Ribadu. After having successfully prosecuted hundreds of Nigerian corruption cases, Ribadu was sacked by the Nigerian Police Force two weeks after close friend of Yar’Adua, River State governor James Ibori, was charged on 170 counts of corruption by the EFCC. One of those counts alleged a $15 million bribe that Ibori had offered to–and was refused by–Ribadu. Ribadu now resides outside of Nigeria, essentially in exile.
If there is indeed anything to be gained from what has been going on, it is that Yar’Adua’s absence has sparked an outrage in Nigerians. For the first time in years, people have not just been talking about what’s going on, but taking action. Protests and newspaper articles are part of that. Many organizations dedicated to change have sprung up, including the nonprofit Nigeria Leadership Initiative (NLI), of which I am a member. NLI is made up of Nigerians, both inside and outside of Nigeria, who are dedicated to transforming leadership and values for the benefit of the Nigerian society. Political action also has an important role: Just this week, Nuhu Ribadu announced that he would be setting up a shadow government. That’s the kind of action that Nigeria needs.
There is much that’s going on in Nigeria that is great. Recent years have seen a real boom in business and cultural activities in the nation, and many Nigerians who were born or educated in the West have been returning in droves, bringing with them new ideas and attitudes. It is now in the hands of Nigerians to be cause in the matter of helping the country become a fully functioning and fair democracy that works for the greater good. We all have a vision that we wish to see come to life, so that Nigeria can be a shining beacon of African success. If the leaders won’t do it, we, the people, can and must.