Nigeria and the need for strong institutions

The near-constitutional crisis precipitated by the Independent National Electoral Commission’s issuance of a certificate of return to Dr UcheOgah as the duly elected governor of Abia State, despite the appeal filed by Dr OkezieIkpeazu against a Federal High Court judgment, which declared him unfit for the election, has again brought to the fore Nigeria’s need for strong institutions. Many powerful Nigerians have scant respect for institutions; they conduct their affairs in a manner that suggests that they are bigger than state institutions. This, more than anything else, has slowed down the nation’s advancement strides.

During his tour of some African countries in 2012, President Barak Obama of the United States of America had spoken about the need of Africa for strong institutions to ensure its development.

Shortly after Obama’s statement, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former president, made a snide remark about the nation’s parliament at both the state and national levels, saying they comprise of rogues and robbers.

The erstwhile president had said, “Today, rogues, armed robbers are in the state Houses of Assembly and the National Assembly. The judiciary is also corrupt. During my tenure, many of the corrupt judges were removed, some are still there. If the Judiciary becomes corrupt, where is the hope for the nation? Justice, no doubt, will go to the highest bidder.”

The correlation between the two statements is straightforward; Obama’s speech was an endorsement of the progress Ghana had recorded in its democratic journey, while Obasanjo’s observation was a knock for Nigeria’s failure to match the expectation of the world. But the connection goes beyond that; Obasanjo’s treatise is the conclusion of Obama’s exposé. Obama spoke of what should be done; Obasanjo spoke of how it could be done.

The natural question is why is it so difficult to have strong institutions in Nigeria? The answer is simple; Nigeria lacks strongmen and is, consequently, unable to build strong institutions.

When Obasanjo said, “Integrity is necessary for systems and institutions to be strong,” he was in effect saying strong institutions could only be built by men of integrity and character. Like begets like; it is only those who have strength of character that can build strong institutions.

Ghana’s immediate past is not any better than the current experience of Nigeria. Ghanaian economy was run aground by greedy rulers; corruption and nepotism became a way of life, while rule of law was thrown to the dogs. But the situation has since changed. Now, Ghana is a model. Its embrace of good governance has resulted in development. Now, everyone wants to identify with the country’s success.

The credit for this transformation goes to Jerry Rawlings.Rawlings started as a military ruler who had the will to change Ghana. His strength was not in his military background but his character. He walked his talk; he was able to punish infraction because he refrained from committing same. Rawlings was able to build a new Ghana because he rose above sentiments. He placed himself so much above sentiments that when leaving office after eight years as an elected president, his party lost the presidential election, a rarity in Africa. Right from the time Rawlings became Ghanaian leader, Nigeria has become Ghana’s antithesis. Nigeria has been sliding steadily into a banana republic, while Ghana is becoming a virile and veritable nation. In the past, Ghanaians longed to be in Nigeria, but now Ghana has become Nigerians’ Mecca.

Unfortunately in Nigeria, weak people are at the helm of affairs. Our leaders are integrity-deficient, morally bankrupt and primordially sentimental. They worship at the altar of lust, offer sacrifices at the temple of perfidy, pay obeisance to the god of self-indulgence and genuflect to tribal and religious demons. They fail to understand that occupants of high offices should be above board. A leader that will build strong institutions must understand the demands and responsibility of high office.

A leader sets the pace and shows the way. But if all he does is render the lullaby of corruption and play the card of nepotism, the people are left with no choice but to dance to his tune. Rot in a fish starts from the head. Paradoxically, while weak institutions protect weak leaders, strong institutions are the bulwark of the society and its systems. So, there is no motivation for weak leaders to build strong institutions; it will be self-defeating. A man’s action is a reflection of his conviction; a corrupt man cannot crusade against corruption; a weak leader cannot advocate for strong institutions.

One way to strengthen institutions is to build an effective justice system such that anyone caught acting contrary to the laws of the land finds no shield anywhere. This will not happen naturally; it will happen when political leaders, especially at the highest level of government, are courageous enough to step on toes and punish every breach. But how can leaders with soiled hands come to equity?

Building strong institutions starts with a strongman who is able to say no to his weaknesses and is ready to curb the people’s excesses. The institutions initially will require the protection of strong leaders from manipulation but eventually they get so strong that they no longer need the shield. Then, on their own, the institutions can defend the people’s patrimony without being at the mercy of a few persons, including the benevolent strongman. That is what happened in Singapore.

Until we have leaders, who are strong in character and can discipline themselves, the hope of having strong institutions will remain forlorn.