Freedom and Responsibility by Dr. Obed O. Mailafia


The last couple of years have been years of exceptional turmoil and upheaval in our country. During the darkest days of our benighted republic, many courageous voices in this country and abroad were raised in defence of human liberty. Some of our patriots paid for their exceptional courage with their own lives while others suffered imprisonment, torture and exile, among other forms of persecution. And it is fitting that we honour those patriots who have given so much by way of sacrifice so that the light of liberty may never be extinguished in this long-suffering land of blood and tears. Throughout those days we have heard so much about freedom and about the Rights of Man. What I am about to say may cause some unease in a number of quarters: At the risk of sounding re-actionary, I should like to contend that perhaps it is time we heard less about rights and more about duties. One does not have to be a cynic to see that human rights are virtually becoming an industry, an industry whose primary stakeholders are not the Nigerian people but the international development set and their aid recipients. It is of course easy in human affairs for good causes to be hijacked by opportunists and other free riders.

Let's look at it this way. Human rights are a worldwide problem. True, indeed. They are not just an African problem, although African abuses tend to be more pronounced and exacerbated due to poverty, instability and civil strife. In recent years minorities in Ger-many, France, Belgium and the United States, have been the victims of all sorts of serious human rights abuses. Racism and fascism are highly endemic in the post-Cold War Europe. But these are hardly ever featured in the human rights rhetoric of the international development set. It is perhaps for this reason that the Singaporeans and the Chinese have always vehemently rejected the Western agenda of human rights. They have always insisted that there is a unique 'Asian Standard'. They have been wary of foreign human rights concepts that, if imported lock, stock, and barrel, are likely to do more harm than good to Asian stability and cohesion. According to this argument whilst Western liberalism puts emphasis on what the philosopher C. B. MacPherson calls "possessive individualism", the non-western approach tends to stress the precedence of the community over the individual. This is in fact the fundamental grundnorm - if I may use the Germanic juridical term - which underlies the African Charter of Human and Peoples' Rights. Not too long ago in England the human rights agenda was carried to a rather ridiculous extreme: Gays were demanding the right to proselytise in schools, and to do so using local council funds. I think we would all agree that this campaign for the rights of homosexuals and transsexuals would be simply baffling to most Africans, to say the least. I suspect that a time will come when our own 'activists' will begin to harangue us with similar demands. Our own human rights industry seems more than eager to impose on us agendas whose long-term purposes may have nothing at all to do with civil liberties or the well-being and stability of our republic or indeed our own understanding of the moral universe.

It is obvious that human rights cannot be divorced from the cultural and political context. A relatively young and in many ways experimental, country such ours has to tread with great care in this area. Where would China be today if it had succumbed to the demands of the students at Tiananmen Square? It would have spelt, in my view, the beginning of the end for the delicate balance that has held China together as a corporate entity since Mao and his fellow revolutionaries captured power in 1949. One fact that was hardly ever mentioned by the international media was that the students at Tiananmen were extremely racist in some of their demands. They had earlier attacked African students as Aids-carriers and had called for their immediate repatriation. Tragic as the bloody suppression was, I believe it was quite healthy for Chinese sovereignty that Beijing did what they had to do while ignoring foreign ranting about human rights. External support for so-called 'human rights' in China has more to do with fostering fissiparous tendencies in order to weaken a rising Asian colossus than about the humanitarian desire to protect individual liberties of the Chinese people. In our own country some of the so-called 'pro-democracy' - whatever that means - activists and organizations have been largely funded from outside. This, as far as I am concerned, greatly compromises their political and moral legitimacy. Oppressive and dehumanizing as it was, our situation was not the moral equivalent of Apartheid in South Africa, which the UN and the entire world community had condemned as a crime against humanity and a violation of the most sacred precepts of the law of nations. It was right and proper that the ANC and other anti-Apartheid groups sought and did receive support from external sympathizers. In this country we were faced with a military junta comprising of our own countrymen who had taken it upon themselves to lord it over us. They were a tiny band of criminals. As such, it was a domestic affair requiring a domestic solution. One is hard put to defend the view that some of these 'human rights' and environmentalist organizations are not merely part of the instrumental paraphernalia of the international development set in their eagerness to meddle in the domestic affairs of poor countries. A lot of gold, diamonds and emeralds and other precious stones are to be found in Southern Kaduna, the region where I was born. It would not be that difficult to get myself bankrolled here in London and re-packaged as a so-called environmental or human rights activist claiming to be fighting for my oppressed people, the Ninzam people, who inhabit the area. Loaded with pounds, Euros, dollars and Lord knows what else, one could then return home to pursue a rabble-rousing project, leading to chaos, anarchy and civil disturbance.

International forces know only too well that African political systems are weak and highly vulnerable to ethnic and sectarian manipulation. They also know that overloading the central machinery of state with all sorts of impossible demands would be the surest way of overturning the apple cart. It is a more economical and more effective means of undermining those societies than declaring outright war against the state. In our sister-country of Sierra Leone, much of the civil war there was financed by Lebanese and Syrian diamond smugglers, among other mercenaries. It was quite incredible that even Ukrainian soldiers of fortune, who had painted themselves with black ink, were to be found among the rebels. The same story goes for mineral-rich countries such as Zaire and Angola. Some multinationals are creating private armies to wreck havoc to African security in the name of defending private investment interests. A German recently had the effrontery to remark to my hearing that the state in Africa has no future. Slavery is a state of mind, just as freedom and independence are largely matters of political habit and social praxis. If we have the habit of constantly allowing others to denigrate everything African and to level the entire region as consisting of nothing but 'failed states'? to use a pernicious expression? then sooner or later someone somewhere would be called upon to legitimize the recolonisation of Africa. Unless we show clearly and rigorously that the state, the good state, should be protected and defended, we are simply playing the game of losers.

My point is that human rights must go hand in hand with commitment to civic responsibility and patriotism. Our own human rights activists have studiously avoided the all-important question of civic responsibility. From them we have heard next to nothing about the imperatives duty - about the duties we owe our communities, our families, our neighbourhoods and our country. Lest my critique is taken amiss, I would hasten to say that some of those who have been at the forefront of the human rights struggle deserve the highest honours that this country can bestow. A man such as Chief Gani Fawehinmi ? whom I would rank as our own Soc-rates and national gadfly - deserves more honours than an entire gaggle of brigadiers put together. Dr Beko Ransome Kuti is a genuine patriot and one of the great Nigerians of our generation. The work of the Civil Liberties Organisation, lead by gifted young leaders of the likes of Olisa Agbakoba (Senior Advocate of Nigeria) are deserving of praise and commendation. Our country is the richer that we can count such men among its citizens.

As it turns out, and to all intents and purposes, we are all human rights champions now. We all agree that all sorts of sordid and bestial things were done by Abacha and agents like Gwarzo, Hamza, Omenka and their cohorts. Killings, disappearances, hired assassins and mindless graft were the order of the day, thanks to the unhappy reign of these evil men. Human rights were indeed abused in Nigeria. And it is right and fitting that we condemn the vampire regime that started with the self-styled 'Maradona' (General Ibrahim Babangida) and reached its nadir in the illiterate Lilliputian called Sani Abacha. They were birds of the same feather, the one a logical extension of the other. Contrary to what some may think, Abacha was nobody's fool, demented though he was. The gargoyle spotting the ominous dark glasses simply carried to its logical and absurd conclusion the antediluvian system of rule based on shameless kleptomania which Maradona and his fellow travelers had earlier perfected. Why smile at people when you know your rule is killing them slowly? Why bribe them when you can simply corner the whole treasury to yourself? Why even pretend there is a military council? Why not simply rule as a military Sultan and arrogate to yourself the right over the life and death of all those who have the misfortune to call themselves your countrymen? Our self-styled "evil genius" was possessed of the same ruling spirit, although he camouflaged it with the false veneer of cosmopolitan refinement. In reality, his primary instincts were and remain those of the highway. Our military Sultan had the sense to do without those pretensions. I always warned my Yoruba compatriots that Abacha's real wish was to foment a war in the West, and that a war started in Yorubaland would have given him the best excuse to remain in power. He incarnated and personified the paradigm of irresponsibility in our country. He really did not give a damn if Nigeria survived or dissolved into the ether. What mattered, as far as he was concerned, was that he had arms to protect himself and that he had un-trammelled access to the national treasury. Even the outgoing Abdulsalam and his treas-ury-emptying cabaret cannot escape their share of the blame. It was unsoldierly and cowardly of them not to have owned up to the fact that that they and Abacha had all along been in the same game. Mariam Abacha said as much. Instead of owning up and seriously repenting for their sins at their moment of ungraceful departure, they proceeded to behave like bandits who had landed on a pot of gold. President Obasanjo would be well advised to avoid any future contact with "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves".

In our country far too many skeletons remain to be uncovered. I suspect that there are not a few robber barons that ought to be put behind bars. If you see them on the road driving by in a Rolls Royce and enjoying their ill-gotten wealth, never be tempted to envy them. Always remind yourself that this is blood money - money made from the blood and sweat of our people. Never give them any honours and always remember that these people are nothing but common criminals. It is a shame that we in Nigeria have lost our sense of values and have tended to defer to people who have lost the right to sit at table with elders and with all men of honour. As a basic minimum those of them who are known to have committed blatant acts of treasury looting should have been made to forfeit their statutory pensions. A criminal should have no rights that should only properly belong to law-abiding citizens. It is now a law in Tony's Blair's Britain that a policeman caught in corrupt practices would have to forfeit his pension or at least a large chunk of it. It is regrettable that the remit of the panel recently set up by the Obasanjo administration does not extend to the question of financial restitution going as far back as 1984. I suspect that some people are celebrating their having been left off the hook. Somebody somewhere is literally getting away with murder. Having said this, it is not my intention to paint every senior officer in the Nigerian military with a black paint. That would be grossly unfair to those of them who are patriotic and God-fearing professionals. In the course of my career some of the best Nigerians I have ever met have surprisingly been men and women in uniform. Outstanding officers such as Yakubu Danjuma, Yohanna Madaki and Ishola Williams can command any armies in any part of the world, including America, Britain and Russia. The Nigerian Army still reserves a modicum of dignity only because such officers and gentlemen such as these have served in it.

The main contention of this essay is that, having spent all these years asking what our country owes us, it is time our country demanded from us what we can and must do for her. We need to address ourselves to the following pressing questions: What is our responsibility as citizens in a free democracy? What are our duties as parents, as teachers, as community leaders, as civil servants and as politicians? Are there indeed responsibility-ties that inescapably go with freedom in a democracy? Isn't it obvious that freedom with-out responsibility would simply lead to anarchy? And where there is anarchy, society be-comes what the international lawyers call a terra nullius - a no-man's land devoid of constitutional order, law, morality and all the other requirements of civilised existence.

The real tragedy of our time is not merely that of human rights. It is also about the absence of responsibility. When the British departed in 1960 there were a few secondary school dropouts who found a military career as the best escape from a life destined for pedestrian obscurity. They suddenly and unexpectedly found themselves catapulted to the summits of power and leadership in our country, thanks to the vicious circle of military praetorian interventionism in the civil polity. They were now in a position to give it back to those who had been their intellectual betters at school. It was like a pig finding itself miraculously enthroned in the most royal and exalted of palaces. They knew in their hearts of hearts that they were usurpers who did not merit to be there, and they proceeded to behave exactly like people who did not merit those high offices of state. For most of them, responsibility was not a word that featured in the lexicon of public duty. Having tasted what Winston Churchill called "the ambrosia of power", they proceeded to behave with increasing recklessness and irresponsibility. A senior military officer once narrated to me how he shot and killed two suspected armed robbers in the vicinity of Yaba Bridge in Lagos. They had stopped him to ask for a lift as he was driving by. But he believed they were armed robbers. I asked him what happened next. He said of course he drove off, what else? Did he feel accountable to anyone? No. Was it his duty to report the incident to the police? Hell, yes. He had no sense of responsibility or accountability to anyone. And if I may give yet another anecdote, a tragic episode involving someone I personally knew very well. He was a major at the time and a university graduate to boot. He had accompanied his commander on a shopping spree abroad. This was in the late 1980s, before we had acquired our international pariah status. The civilian driver who picked up his luggage at the airport is accused of making off with one of the suitcases. The poor chap is taken to the army barracks for some 'disciplining'. The following day he is re-turned to his pregnant wife in a body bag. Did anyone take responsibility? No. Should anyone have been made to answer a few questions? By Jove, yes. A civilised society cannot be built on the foundations of self-help. That can only be the law of the jungle, a law fit only for barbarians. A civil order is built on the basis of the rule of law and of respect for the established machinery of justice in society.

It would of course be foolhardy to see the evil in military regimes while ignoring the culpability of their civilian accomplices. The professional military coup plotters have always insisted that in nearly every single coup civilians have always been directly or indirectly involved, either as instigators or financiers or both. Civilians must therefore take their full share of the blame for the evil perpetrated by military tyrants. Some of the soi-disant intellectuals among us have virtually made careers out of totting their CVs at the sound of every solemn proclamation of, "Our fellow countrymen?" From regime to regime, these miserable gold-diggers were always to be seen peddling their half-baked political theories for a mesh of naira pottage. They are our latter-day Sophists - those mercenary teachers whom the great Greek philosophers condemned. Many of our careerist politicians ? some of them with no known means of gainful employment - have been the political pimps of their military paymasters. Our politicians and intellectuals cannot run away from their roles as accomplices in the systematic destruction of our country. Some of our eminently distinguished citizens, figures such as Olikoye Ransome-Kuti and Eme Awa, have been the rare exceptions in an otherwise sordid record of intellectual collusion in military tyranny. It is salutary that some of our intellectuals heroically kept themselves from being polluted by Babylonian military harlot who fornicated so shamelessly with virtually all the members of our political class. At an international conference in the late 1980s, I once teased the late Professor Claude Ake with the suggestion that perhaps he was about to be "settled" by way of an Ambassadorship somewhere in Europe or North America. I still recollect his exact words: "God forbid!" It seemed the mere suggestion had made him literally sick. Professor Wole Soyinka, in spite of his occasional infantile outpourings, must be seen and treated as a national treasure. Almost single-handedly, he was the voice and conscience of our oppressed and long-suffering people in exile. Some of the pronouncements made by his enemies and critics make them look even smaller before the shadow of this patriot of world stature. At home, our most distinguished scholars - men such as Ade Ajayi, Bala Usman, Chinua Achebe, Tekena Tamuno - have maintained a Pharaonic dignity throughout the long night of the barbarians. They are the true moral sentinels of our country.

Do intellectuals have any responsibility in the making of great nations? Yes, of course, they do. The founders of the American republic ? George Washington, John Quincy Adams and Thomas Jefferson ? were as much intellectuals as they were practical men of the world. Thomas Gariggue Masaryk, the revered founder-president of the former Czechoslovakian republic was a distinguished philosopher. Our own nationalist leaders in Africa, among them Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Amilcar Cabral and Julius Kambarage Nyerere, were serious and disciplined thinkers. The task of national guidance, moral as well as intellectual, has been the province of the men and women of ideas since Aristotle, Kautilya and Ibn Khaldun. The guidance of nations is the most sacred role of the intellectual. Never called to be a millionaire, the scholar nevertheless accumulates billions in terms of the wealth of memories stored in the hearts and minds of posterity. Who will remember the Sultan of Brunei or Bill Gates after a thousand years? Probably nobody. But I can assure you that the names of Newton, Plato, and Einstein will remain imperishable as long as Reason remains the defining quality of the human species. The thinker's role is exalted because he lives not for the material comforts of the present but for the timeless ideals of eternity. The role of the intellectual is to be the guardian of Rea-son, justice, morality, and the common good. His or her vocation is to teach and to warn and to inspire to higher human purposes. The intellectual keeps ever before him the vision of Truth, Goodness and Beauty. He is the exemplar of all that is noble and refined in all human excellencies. When he loses such a vision he betrays his calling. When a lecturer forces a female student into a corner where she has to compromise her womanhood in order to pass an exam, he clearly falls below the minimum standard in his profession; he ought to be dismissed at once. When a professor grovels shamelessly before little men in uniform he does a profound disservice to the intellectual world community. And we must of necessity look askance at this deference to inferior men. When, like the immortal Okigbo, the intellectual sides with his own little 'tribe', pitting "Umuleri against Ugwul-eri", or "Ijaw against Itsekiri", "Kuteb against whoever", what are we to make of it? I think we have to conclude, as Professor Ali Mazrui does conclude in the Trial of Christopher Okigbo, that the intellectual has tragically failed in his vocation as guardian of the Universal.

What about the responsibility of the politician and the civil servant? What is the responsibility of all those charged with the task of managing our public administration? We cannot escape from the simple fact that the political class has been the paradigm of civic irresponsibility in our country. Under the present dispensation, some of the Old Guard are returning in full force, some of them sadly with their old chicaneries in tow. They still predominate over the so-called 'new breed' politicians. In the second republic parliamentarians required bribes before they could even read a draft legislation, let alone approve it. The Speaker himself moonlighted as a car importer; parliamentary votes had to be paid for by way of cars or coloured television and videos by the hapless Shehu Aliyu Usman Shagari. And who would forget the gun-totting rogue who once taunted his op-posing interlocutor with a gun during a full session of parliament? If a British MP had the nerve to show a gun in parliament, his actions would be considered an act of high treason against the British nation and against the mother of parliaments. How sad that in Nigeria's second republic it was laughed away as a rather baroque display of eccentricity. And more recently, a former mercenary-arms-dealer-turned-senator had the chic to stop the senate from sitting through the technicality of a court action. Somebody somewhere is unaware that parliaments the world over are protected by constitutional law from judicial action. In the United Kingdom parliament is supreme, and not even the Queen in all her royal majesty can stop the House from sitting. This again illustrates the lightness with which individuals in our country can hijack institutions of state and paralyse the machinery of government for the sake of frivolous gains. Recently reports alleged a massive bribery scandal in the House of Representatives in my home state of Kaduna. Where is political responsibility in all this?

In the matter of civic responsibility, our lawmakers must set the example by unfailingly and consistently upholding the law of the land. In England parliamentarians have legal immunity for whatever they do or say in their official capacity. But they lose such immunity when they violate the laws of the land. A recent case is that of Jonathan Aitken, a former senior minister in the government of Prime Minister John Major. Two weeks ago he was sentenced to prison for eighteen months for lying about who paid his Ł1000 bill during a private stay at the Ritz hotel in Paris. He had taken a national daily, the Guardian and its editor Alan Rusbridger, to court for libel. He lost. In the course of the proceedings it transpired that he had perjured himself and lied consistently. He was charged for perjury and sentenced. Scion of the great newspaper baron Lord Beaverbrook; an old Etonian and graduate of Oxford university; a successful businessman and founder of a multi-billion pound merchant bank; a Privy Councillor and adviser to the Queen; a debonair and handsome womaniser who jilted Caroline, daughter of Mrs Thatcher. The world was quite literally Jonathan Aitken's oyster. Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first intoxicate with the fateful wine of hubris. Haughty and arrogant, he became entangled in the chains of his own deceits. Once a powerful minister and seen by many as a future prime minister, he is today an inmate of Belmarsh prison, a jail for common criminals. While one is almost tempted to feel sorry for him for going to jail for what many would consider a mere indiscretion, it is nevertheless a landmark case for British justice and democracy. It means that no matter how politically exalted or well connected anybody may be, he or she cannot be placed above the laws of the land. It reminds one of a remark by Alexis de Tocqueville, to the effect that in its essence democracy is about equality before the law rather than about the equality of conditions.

How many parliamentarians in Nigeria's second republic did openly take bribes and per-form other illegalities under cover of presumed parliamentary immunity? While our MPs are the watchdogs of the other arms of government, the judiciary, the police and the Fourth Estate should also be watchdogs of the dignity of the legislature and its members.

And what about the civil servants? It is a known fact that the large-scale corruption for which our country has become notorious throughout the world has been done with the connivance and sometimes direct participation, of our civil servants. It is an axiom of management science that bad leaders prefer to work with incompetents and inferior minds. With the sort of intellectual and moral bankrupts who have been ruling Nigeria in the last fifteen years, it is not surprising that those who have risen to the highest positions in the public service have tended to be not men and women of ability. There was indeed a time when our civil service was as good as any in the world. Sadly, this is no longer the case. The evils that civil servants can do are particularly pernicious because they can operate from the shadowy background of bureaucratic anonymity. It would be interesting to study civil service files over the last fifteen years to find out what advice civil servants gave to the military oligarchy. But there are also stories of hope. A diplomat of my own generation, known for his high ability and integrity, was invited to work in the Presidency. Given that these regimes are by nature terribly uneasy with those rare individuals who combine intelligence and virtue, a few millions had been secretly deposited in his bank account without his knowledge. When he discovered it he raised questions about its provenance. He was told that "the powers that be" felt he ought to have some compensation for all his pains. To their astonishment, he did the most 'un-Nigerian' of things: he turned it down. He politely but firmly asked that the money be withdrawn at once otherwise he would have no choice but to leave the government. They complied. And it was not as if he was from a rich family. He was just a humble young man who happened to have a conscience and who believed in his country. Similarly, a top advisor during the Shagari regime, a professor, was once offered vast sums of money from the public treasury. He vehemently turned it down. He refused to be corrupted. Now, these are stories of genuine heroism that have gone virtually unsung and unremarked. This however cannot absolve our higher civil service of collusion in some of the systematic pillage of our country. In our fledgling democracy civil servants must awaken to their constitutional responsibilities. Anti-corruption slogans alone will not do the trick. We would probably need a system of judicial review as currently obtains in English constitutional law. It is a system that exposes governmental actions to judicial scrutiny while protecting citizens from ultra vires actions and governmental highhandedness.

What about the youth, on whose breast, all the hopes of the future rest? Joseph Mazzini, that great prophet who championed the national rebirth of Italy, remarked that it is the youth that bear in their hearts the sign of the future. Sadly, the behaviour of our youth gives us little or no hope. Students in our universities have constituted themselves into all sorts of atavistic cults, terrorising campuses and even killing fellow students and their lecturers. To the best of my knowledge, there is almost no other country on earth where such a phenomenon occurs. Some of our youth clearly haven't understood the meaning of responsibility. Young men and women who see the bringing down of buildings and the burning down of every movable object as the only means of expressing political grievances clearly have a long way to go in understanding the imperatives of civic culture. Our democracy will survive only if we embark on a complete re-education of our country, focusing in particular on the youth that will inherit the mantle of leadership in the next generation.

In the building of the new Nigeria of our dreams, the practice of freedom must go hand in hand with the practice of responsibility. It is one thing to have a good constitution; it is quite another to run the affairs of the land in accordance with its letter and its spirit. A constitution in itself does not a republic make. The building of a democracy has to be a slow and sometimes painful process, involving surgical operations here and there, weeding out bad eggs, locking out a few scoundrels, mobilising men and women and creating a moral and intellectual climate which facilitates the flourishing of the rule of law, commerce, industry and the arts. We can succeed in this effort if we begin not on the basis of rights that we can demand as just deserts against the state. We have to begin with the claims of duty. I believe that Rousseau erred in claiming that "Man is born free". I believe the opposite: Man was born not free but in chains ? the chains of duty. It is in everyone fulfilling his or her duties that society and indeed civilisation as we know it is built. Without social order the claims of liberty will have little or no meaning. Every citizen and indeed anyone in a position of power - be he a judge or politician or civil servant or policeman or customs official - must always ask first and foremost: what are my duties? To whom am I accountable and for what? What do I owe Nigeria? What are my inescapable duties to my parents, to my family, to my relations, to my community, to my church, to my mosque, to my profession, to my patients, to my pupils, to my clients, to my managers, to my workers, to my country and to my people?

The peace and harmony that we long for, the prosperity that we seek will only come about if each and every one of us feels truly responsible and accountable for their actions. Our country, once the pride of Africa, now lies in tatters. Our people are clothed, like the Biblical Lazarus in rags and ashes - with multiple afflictions of hunger, disease and penury. Nigeria, once the proud jewel of Africa, is now its monumental shame. I have been privileged to travel to many parts of the world, and I can say without any fear of contra-diction that my beloved country, more than any other, evokes strong feelings of repulsion in almost every corner of God's earth. How did we come to such a sorry state? Is it global conspiracy? Is it the shadowy machinations of world imperialism? I am inclined to think it is none of the above. I believe the cause lies in our failure - individually and collectively - to take responsibility for our actions. Pampered by the illusory wealth of petrodollars, wealth we did not create with our own sweat or our own wit - we have developed a mindset that believes that the world owes us a living for doing nothing. With our twisted values and convoluted beliefs, cheating and hustling are considered best business practice in our national ideology. We seem to believe that we do not need to exert ourselves and we do not need hard work and disciplined application in order to become rich. Our national sickness is the failure of responsibility; responsibility of those in power and the responsibility of citizens.

With the election of President Olusegun Obasanjo there is a palpable sense that a new culture of responsible leadership is beginning to emerge. He himself has apparently undergone a spiritual rebirth, having undergone a baptism of fire in the dungeons of Abacha's Gulag Archipelago. I am inclined to think he really means what he says about rooting out corruption and helping Nigeria 'rise again'. One can't help but be moved by the wonderful memories of the hand-over of Saturday the 29th of May. Some of us, not usually of a lachrymose nature, simply couldn't hold back a few tears. One got this strange Hegelian feeling that, perhaps, after all, there is such a thing as a Universal Mind guiding the destinies of men and nations. Clearly, a new spirit is abroad in our land. Per-haps the African Renaissance that Thabo Mbeki has spoken about may not be such an illusory chimera after all. Mbeki, a disciplined intellectual thinker, is now the new President of South Africa after the departure of the legendary Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. A relatively young statesman, he embodies my concept of responsible leadership. Our own Olusegun Obasanjo has extended to him the hand of fraternal friendship and solidarity, so that together they can help our continent move forward. Noble sentiments no doubt. But I dare say that no leader can succeed alone, however well meaning, however capable. He has to work with parliament and cabinet and the civil service. He will have to deal with the members of his party. Pressures and demands will mount. He will need good advice from virtuous intellectuals and worthy citizens. But the president cannot stop the student who wants to cheat in his examinations. He cannot personally oversee every traffic war-den or policeman. He cannot check every accountant who is hell-bent on cooking the books. He cannot stop every single drunken lorry driver on the highway. He cannot stop the hand of every civil servant that is determined to take a bribe. What he can do is set the tone and create the right moral atmosphere. Democracy requires creative leadership; but above all it demands that everyone take responsibility for his or her own actions.

I am inclined to believe that the train of our national progress has only temporally gone off the rails. The next few years will see whether we are able to get the wagons back on track ? in resuscitating the economy, in reforming the financial and banking system, in crime prevention, in restoring civil harmony and in building sound and effective institutions. But the engine of progress will never start without the oxygen of a vibrant civic culture. This is the ingredient that is vital in ensuring that things will work ? that the taps have water and that electricity does not fail. If the taps don't run and the lights fail some-one must be held to account. If there is no fuel and the refinery fails someone must be made to take responsibility. These things are basic requirements of modern civilisation, not luxuries. It does not take magicians, Mallams, Marabouts or Babalawos to run a country. It takes ordinary people with moderate brains and some basic grasp of organization and management. And such people must have the courage of their own convictions and the guts to "kick a few asses" if necessary.

Nigerians of all walks have remarked ad nauseum that ours is the most difficult country in the world to govern. I strongly disagree. I have always contested such a proposition, based as it is on an undemonstrable axiom. India is probably even more complex than we are in terms of its diversity. And yet India is moving fast up the ladder of industrialised societies. As far as I know, Nigeria is not such a difficult country to rule. The present anarchy in the Delta and other regions, for example, is largely due to poverty, neglect and political emasculation. Give the people freedom and a capacity for political self-expression; allow them to take responsibility for their own lives and their own development. Provide clean drinking water, clinics, jobs and education for their children. Who on earth would want to go on rampage and for what? Sadly, Nigeria for the last thirty-nine years has been ruled on the basis of oligarchies of one shade or the other. People have a right, as John Locke would tell us, to take up arms against unjust governments. It is their historic, moral and legitimate duty to do so. There are also those who have claimed that their own part of the country has a "natural talent" for rulership while the vast majority of us must of necessity content ourselves with being 'followers'. A prominent politician from the Old Guard once made this arrogant and bogus claim; he was and is a vacuous and loquacious drone whose only claim to fame is the ability to eloquently recite prepared speeches. There are mercifully few Nigerians who any longer believe in this satanic apostasy. The logic of events has overtaken by quantum leaps and bounds those oligarchs who have held back the progress of this country for nearly forty years. Now they must only watch and see, but they will not be allowed to spoil the show. Of course, they will try to use religion, ethnicity, regionalism and other familiar types of manipulative and diversionary tricks. But they will ultimately fail. They will fail because Nigeria and Africa are far bigger than any one section, group, cabal or Masonic Lodge.

What has become crystal clear over the decades since independence is the fact that our people - the Nigerian people - are a highly energetic and resourceful lot. When talent and energy are not given full expression, they lead, as the Freudians tell us, to all sorts of mental sicknesses and destructive regressions. Create a sound government and a stable, enabling environment. Weed out the bad eggs in the civil service and put honest and hardworking people in the administration. Make the public service a merit-based system for both recruitment and promotion, as is the case in India, Britain, France, Korea and other civilised countries; promote excellence and punish indolence and corruption. Make the social and economic environment right and see the wonders that will become of Nigeria. It could quite easily become a technological-industrial state of the first rank in a matter of two decades. It is not magic or voodoo; it is science and in fact common sense. Sadly, it has been our singular misfortune that nobody who understands concepts has ever ruled Nigeria. The only exception is probably Olusegun Obasanjo. The greatest tragedy in life is for a great people to be ruled by monkeys. If you let your country be ruled by monkeys you will sooner or later end up as a land of monkeys. Even the best among you will soon begin to behave like monkeys ? even if only as a survival mechanism. Such a country, I dare say, will be fit only for monkeys to live in. Having been ruled by "goonies" who understand only guns, dollars, booze and girls our country has gradually turned into a paradigm of the banana republic. Someone called it "the Zairinisation" of Nigeria. The first task required for the moral and social regeneration of our country is to raise the standards of public life and of public accountability in general. And we must do so sooner rather than later; and by action rather than mere platitudes. Our people have suffered in-describable pain and hardship for too long. One cannot blame them for being impatient for change. As the minutes of this century's clock tick hurriedly to the end of our millennium ? a millennium of oppression, murder and war ? where do we as a people want to be as we gaze at the dawn of a new era? Two paths diverge in the woods, to paraphrase American poet Robert Frost. There is the road of barbarism folly, and of Reason and civilisation. What historic choices are we going to make? Quo vadis?

I believe we have no choice but to pursue the path of progress and civilisation. We have no choice but to raise our standards in every sphere of our national life ? in education, in the provision of social services, in banking and finance, in high culture, in scientific re-search, in industrial capability, in the quality of leadership and in the public administration. In the coming decades our people would have to survive in a highly competitive and in many ways more brutal, global economic system. The post-Cold War order is gradually taking the form of a Darwinian jungle in economic, political and military relations. I call it the Triumph of Capital. In the emerging global hierarchy of states Nigeria and indeed Africa is being consigned to the ghetto of international capital. The resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire as embodied in the European Union - a political grouping with no instinctive affinity with democracy or global ethics ? may allow the fascists of yesterday to re-package their world ambitions in ways more difficult to isolate and deal with. They will want all the resources which God has blessed Africa with. But I doubt if they will be keen to see Africa come out of the woods. Nothing in their international economic policy gives us any reason for optimism. The Chinese and the Asians in general have read the writing on the wall and they are re-assessing their world economic and financial relations. It would amount to an act of historic suicide for Africans to persist in their post-colonial illusions, looking constantly to others to come and help them out of their miseries. According to Richard Joseph, noted African-American scholar and friend of our country, "the natural and human resources in Nigeria are just so profound that if it can be free from those things that have crippled it, there is no limit to what this country can do". I was in South Africa last year, visiting Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria. I was astonished at the level of infrastructure and industrial development in that country. They have excellent highways, world class universities, fantastic cultural centres, schools, hospitals and other facilities. The only thing that reminds you that it is Africa is the glorious sunshine, the soft breeze, and the faces of our African brothers and sisters. It struck me that what does actually make a difference is not the land but the people. We are blessed with everything else except that rare stuff of which great leaders are made. With the possible exception of South Africa, Nigeria is the only country in Africa that has the potential in terms of human capital and resources to become an inwardly directed and inwardly generated global player.

But we would be jokers if we imagined that those who have arrogated to themselves the roles of masters of the universe will sit idly by and see us move forward industrially and technologically. Through corporate exclusion, financial manipulation and media propaganda, Nigerians the world over are being vilified as the "most corrupt nation on earth". It has been alleged, for example, that Bechir Ben Yahmed, the Tunisian publisher of Jeaune Afrique (a magazine with close links to French intelligence), has gone so far as to suggest that Nigeria should not be connected to the global information highway because of its corrupt reputation. And he had the bile to say this soon after meeting in Paris with the outgoing Nigerian head of state. Every Nigerian abroad is adjudged to be a potential criminal, be he or she a neurosurgeon or a doctor of divinity. Of course, there is no denying that some of our countrymen are involved in all sorts of shameful financial chicaneries. But such people are not the majority. The majority of Nigerians abroad are highly educated professionals and they are contributing quietly and humbly to the progress and prosperity of their host communities. The world media evidently prefers to focus on the really bad few among us and then projects these as the blanket label for all Nigerians. This wholesale slandering of an entire nation and people may be seen as evidence of an international conspiracy to undermine Nigeria as a potential world player and leader of Africa. We must resist it at all costs.

I predict that the coming century will be an even more dangerous one for Nigeria and for the African people in general. If we realised the dangers ahead we would shake off at once the stupor which makes us behave with the licentiousness of drunken sailors. We would get to work straight away. We ought to remember that no civilisation was ever built by moneychangers, mere contractors and "area boys". Great nations are built not by hoodlums but by men of integrity and character; men and women of knowledge and ideas; men of quality and industry. Simple, ordinary, hardworking men and women toiling quietly in the villages and in the cities, men and women who are respectful of the law and who possess civic virtue. I am quite convinced that not all is lost, and that we can even make for ourselves a nation as great as the ancient Egyptians have made in times past. We must reject the international propaganda that makes us feel nothing but shame about ourselves, our country and our people. Liberty, coupled with justice and responsibility ? pressed down with courage and optimism - should be the bedrock on which we build the Temple of Humanity in our New Africa. It really does not matter where we stand at the moment. What really matters and matters so desperately, is where we are going, where we have set our sights. China at the turn of the century was nothing more than a creaking behemoth of unruly warlords, gangsters, opium addicts and other disreputable potentates. Today the country is at the threshold of an economic and technological take-off that has astonished her friends and foes alike. Some observers believe it would not be too long before the mantle of world leadership passes from the Americans to the Chinese. Given that no major seismic change in the world balance of power has ever taken place without major tensions, vigilance for us must be the eternal price of liberty. Nothing in this amazing universe of ours is fixed like the stars forever. The laws of nature and of nature's God show that that Scientific Man, Economic Man and Political Man does operate according to discernible and predictable principles. Once these are understood, mastered and harnessed we can create, through social engineering, an environment that will allow our people to unleash their creative energy.

But of course, we could equally choose to do business-as-usual, playing our little games of tribe and religion and sectionalism while others are hurrying to colonise outer space. If we persist in our follies our people would continue to get poorer and poorer. Poverty is a hungry and bottomless pit. The late Chief Moshood Abiola once told us at a dinner that, as a young man, he knew what poverty was and he hated it. Poverty is a rapacious beast, a leviathan that devours all talents and saps the creativity energy of nations and peoples. Its rapacity has no end. If we do not change our ways we would simply continue to go down and down the drain - until we are out. We would remain miserable beggars at the tables of the rich, constantly seeking escape from our misfortunes through cultism, religious fundamentalism, tribal wars, and even cannibalism. Those with any talents to sell abroad will swiftly vote with their feet. The Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevski once ob-served that there is no depth to which men may not sink. In the great famine of the 1980s, for example, the starving Ethiopian refugees were so famished that at night, in the parched, dark open spaces, hungry hyenas used to come and take them one at a time. First a child, then a mother, and so on. They didn't even have the strength to cry. There was only the silent wailing of those who dwelt in the valley of the shadow of death. Nigeria wallows under such a curse and yet we do not realise it. Recently a commentator wrote in the Guardian: "The other day, a man drove over a burnt human body in Mushin, Lagos. He was later to say that when he felt the thud under his tyres, he thought he had actually ran over a dead dog." The sorrow that passes all sorrow is that the majority of our people live lives that are no better than the lives of dogs. The average dog in Europe and America gets more nutrition and enjoys a better quality of life than the average human being in Africa. We should not deceive ourselves. What we have is no longer a country worthy of the name. It is a sprawling monstrosity of lawlessness and anarchy and all sorts of social evils, a place akin to what the philosopher Thomas Hobbes termed 'the state of nature'. Our situation is quite reminiscent of the ancient Melians, of whom the Greek historian Thucydides said: "the strong took what they could and the weak granted what they must".

The task before the new administration is a stupendous and onerous one. It would be foolhardy for anyone to under-estimate the challenges ahead. We must affirm that this government and this president deserve the trust and support of all people of goodwill. Tough and often painful choices will have to be made in the coming years. It might even be necessary to wield the stick rather than the carrot from time to time. Nigeria's gradual descent into nihilism does call for extraordinary measures. I agree that human rights are sacred, but I also believe that we cannot afford the luxury of hair-splitting legal-constitutional niceties while Rome is being reduced to ashes. Statecraft is not the province of mere lawyers or those who make a living from legalistic hair-splitting. To echo Achebe, the yam of rights would not go down smoothly without the palm oil of civic virtue. It requires no less than the re-education of an entire generation of Nigerians. A rather mischievous pupil once asked the philosopher Aristotle to tell him the best way to go to Rome. The Master replied that he should ensure that every single step he takes leads to Rome. We should not and must not be overwhelmed by the task ahead. We must simply ensure that every step we take from now on is in the direction of greatness and national honour. The Martiniquan poet and statesman Aime Cesaire has reminded us that humanity's work is not yet ended, and that we did not come into this world to be merely spectators or parasites. We must therefore work and work, as if the whole of humanity's destiny depended on us. To labour for one's country is the ultimate labour of love. Africa and posterity demand no less from us. And in this journey of a thousand miles, God's work must also be ours.