Achebe, Nigeria and the Leadership Farce

from The University-Media complex

Chapter One

Nigeria: A Road Out of Serfdom

The problem with Nigerian civilisation may be said to be a failure of the intellect. The failure of Nigerian leadership, if there were any such category, is a subset of the collapse or absence of the Nigerian intellect. That is if the Nigerian intellect ever existed.

Fasua puts it this way.

One of our biggest problems – perhaps our only problem – as a people, is unoriginality. I don’t believe we have justified the schools we attended, much less the millions of certificates in our possession. And this shows every day.

This fact manifests itself in no greater detail than in a near universal Nigerian malaise: almost all Nigerians mistake oratory for a manifestation of genius. To the typical Nigerian, especially the “concerned professionals”, a fine prose stylist is by the fact of being so, a prophet of new ideas.

For the Nigerian, vociferous public moralism is synonymous with ingenuity. In summary, a bleeding heart is one and same with a wasting genius for the average Nigerian. Little wonder Nigeria’s “best and brightest” canvass by words or gestures that excellence in one thing is thus excellence in all things. In other words, they canvass themselves as universally exceptional geniuses.

This mix-up explains in part why many Nigerians are confident that Nigeria is like a broken dam, gushing out an overabundance of geniuses – in all aspects of human enterprise. From the Nigerian elite to her urban proletariat, the universal Nigerian conclusion is that Nigerians are spoiling for geniuses, of all kinds. For them, just as the waters are a land for fishes of all kinds, Nigeria is the habitat for all types of prospective excellences.

For instance, Osinbajo asserts that

Nigeria produces the best in every way; its citizens continue to shine in various ways around the world.

Then, to this rot of obvious self-over-assessment, is the opportunistic issue of the very promoter-scammers seizing the day thereof. First, the Nigerian orators who pass themselves off as geniuses, etc. are about a new business: it is the business of turning their public speaking assets into some form of monarchical or inheritance scheme or scam; so, what is actually called tribalism, nepotisms, cronyism etc. really are. However, they are also attempts to convert the public squares into private family possessions and connections.

The fact of this appears like opportunistic rashes all over the federation, from Abuja to Abia. However, the drive to turn the Nigerian State into a private fiefdom has found it most violent expression in what one thieving governor is doing in Owerri. After having stolen and “zumaed” the state blind, he is scheming to pass on electoral powers to his son who is a complete outlaw and an involuntary thief. It is a moot point that some insist the chap is also his brother or even son-in-law. Therefore, Nigeria suffers the twin tragedy of the mediocre trading to be passed off as geniuses, and of these “geniuses” plotting on the basis of their fooling the people to transfer power and offices to their sons, daughters, in-laws, and retainer plain outlaws.

The greater tragedy however, is not that the public is fooled: it is that one of our best and brightest sons, late Professor Chinua Achebe, is the campaigner-in-chief of this leadership deceit. Is it a deliberate or involuntary error? Does this distinction really matter? The fact of it is that Achebe has been the author of a forged leadership elixir that has been the basis of a nationwide assembly-line fraud. The Achebe fantastical idea is built upon an innocent fault, even lie. It is that Nigeria has everything right. She only lacks in leadership, essentially, and this lack has lasted generations, so, by default, the good leader who is thus a rare phenomenon is our redeemer, saviour, and genius.

That explains the leadership adoration and worship in Nigeria, which makes sense if we understand the Nigerian belief that leadership is the last mile to the country’s destination and how they have been too crippled to make it. So, whoever is that pair of legs – “leadership legs” – is in Nigerian terms a deity fit for worship. [Perhaps it is that we are not aware of the implications of our logics.]

***

Achebe, perhaps serving involuntarily the interest of his class of colonialist opportunists, authored an apocrypha for them titled The Trouble with Nigeria. According to that apocrypha, the leader and not the scripture is the saviour. Therefore, with Nigeria and Nigerian scholarship, there are no attempts to generate new scriptures. The craze is for the manufacture or forgery of leaders or Caesars. It is a paradox that a superlatively great novelist like Achebe would be the one canvassing the production of more Napoleons and not Confucius or his kind, as the supreme task of his or indeed any epoch. [The fact is that a society is as developed as its production and mastery of culture; and culture runs the entire gamut, from Mathematics to the epic. It just follows that Nigeria is not in the big leagues of production and mastery of cultures based on the available records].

In all, it is Achebe’s ill-considered postulation of “it is leadership stupid” that unscrupulous persons are harnessing to their own self-serving purposes. They have converted “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free,” to you shall have a leader and a leader will get you feeling high and redeemed.

***

All that this chapter is trying to do is to foreclose on the incidence of transfiguring a man, even in the guise of a Caesar, into a scripture or god. We hold it as self-evident that whatever a man is, his writings must stand or fall on their own weights, internal and self-sustaining logic, and coherence. In addition, there shall never be a foreclosure to questioning the correctness of any thesis. We hold it that man as a living being, whether as leader or plebeian, is too much of a changeling to constitute a coherent scripture, therefore only his thoughts not his life constitute scriptures. This is especially so in the realms of gathering and sharing powers on earth. That is, no man shall be so unique he is not replaceable, if humanity is to forge ahead.

However, there is a dilemma. It is usual for Nigerians to venerate names. Thus, big names so-called cannot be censored by name for their errors. In the end alas, we speak of perpetrated social evils as if they have no known authors. Luckily, others have been through similar or index issues like this before. An American critic, Wendell Berry, expresses a similar even if less potent frustration. He writes:

I would have preferred to avoid controversy by setting out my own opinions without reference to the contrary opinions of other people. But my essay developed so particularly in response to the interviews I have quoted that it would be difficult and even dishonest to leave them out. Because I have no appetite for the enmity that often goes with literary controversy, I would like to say that I intend no disrespect toward these [writers] themselves, even when I obviously dislike some of their opinions.

Even more, it pays everybody to come to the knowledge that it is in the process of being contradicted that one makes progress in philosophy as Dr Nigel Warburton rightly affirms.

Since philosophy is the enterprise, we are here for and about, we declare that we hold no beefs with any parties or persons mentioned in this book. The fact of it is that ‘Truth emerges more readily from error than from confusion,” and all we want to do is to seize the day or take advantage of their “productive” errors as it were to help guide a misdirected nation towards the right.

The fact of it is that what we want to do is not peculiar: it is perhaps as old as humanity, but some of its dramatic illustrations are in the life and works of the following.

Ptolemy was one of the most influential scientists of his age for speculating and establishing a geocentric cosmological system. Being a powerful and influential mind, the entire known world believed him, and his pupils and many following him conspired to see and explain the world only in geocentric terms. However, the cognate point is that even when observations faulted geocentricism, Ptolemaic pupils stubbornly held to their grounds. More so, they developed wings of complexities and complications to hang on to and falsely explain their faulty worldviews. Finally, they explained nothing but they held on to their views.

Nevertheless, this state of error held sway until Nicolaus Copernicus upturned the geo-centrism with the accuracy of helio-centrism. In fact, it is alleged that the use of the word “Revolution,” in Copernicus’ thesis is the origin or popularisation of its current use.

However, even before Ptolemy was Aristotle. If one may recall, one of the most memorable encounters in one’s own book life was with a title, Resistance and Revolution by David V. G. Bell, I believe. I borrowed it from the public library in Owerri, which has now [I am writing in 2018] been destroyed by the barbarians in power. Many years later, one still recalls a quote from the book.

Never again will a Ptolemy or an Aristotle strangle scientific observation for 2 millennia. Thank God the tyranny of systems is finished.

Of course, the matter is neither of Ptolemy nor of Aristotle; the matter is of the human, all too human. This is shown by our continuing insistence of this demand for unquestioned reverence. For instance in our own modern time, Professor Sullivan observes:

The dilemma that was created is a very real one, and the way out, which was shown by Einstein in 1907, is an effort of genius of the highest order. It is difficult to say which one admires the more, the confidence and boldness necessary to put it forward, or the originality and imagination necessary to conceive it.

It is then clear that there is an issue of dominant mental environment, which a researcher has to mobilise against. This environment suggests that great scholars should be turned into deities and never challenged, not even in their errors. Actually, what is being canvassed – involuntarily – is that their truths and authority and persons and reputations be inseparable, consolidated as one, and made irreproachable.

Yet, it is that a man’s truths and his reputation for truths are not the same. Truth is as established: reputation is a prospective clearance of his past and future assertions. There are and can be no such prospective clearance and clearings in the search for truth. That may be in religion, but it is not the way to go in Science and History. That is, the only sacred thing in scholarship is that all scholarship must be made open to never-ending interrogations or questionings.

Therefore, the idea of electing star professors as a Ptolemy in our post-modern era is completely passé. At this point, we might as well remind ourselves as follows. Nigeria needs a revolution, and a complete change of direction and understanding. Little else will cure the Nigerian curse of underdevelopment than a change of cognitive directions. [This is what we are about to attempt in this vexed issue of leadership.]

***

Let us start with the conclusion and next head to the proof. The facts are that Achebe – as a fabulist – is as good as Homer. The entire world acknowledges that and it is true, but Achebe as a metaphysician, is at best, a tinkerer who is sometimes too glib to merit a second reading.

But why and how does Achebe achieve so much resonance as a philosopher when he never was? First, I think it is because Achebe is like most great artists, a high impact prose stylist. His writings appear so believable at every reading, but if investigated for logic, you may find several deep craters in his premises or claims. Second, I think it is timing. His leadership conjectures achieved something of a first-mover advantage, or enjoyed the advantage of coming just at the nick of time. Well, Achebe it appears is quite seasoned in this. His novel, A Man of the People, was also a just-in-time hit.

Let us interrogate the Achebe first-mover investigative errors. His essential claim is that Nigeria’s only or main problem is leadership failure. We hold no beef when this is believed but our issue arises when someone tries to rationalise it. [We have written about this several times and are happy to report that not one party has challenged us so far.] What we will add is a certain Confucian angle, which we consider germane and insightful.

Barbarian tribes with their rulers are inferior to Chinese states without them.

Our position is that the point is unassailable and that the fact of it is still observable today. However, we have to first state that Confucius was not being racist and that the matter is not about genetics. Civilisation and walled cities are not ethnic lines, and though it is not popular, civilisations and walled cities have actually cast out fellow ethnics who did not measure up, culturally. All through time and place, ethnics have been known to be divided into the civilised and the non-civilised.

A famous example would be the Fulani. There are two Fulani subsets. One set is settled into a civilisation and some have come to run great kingdoms, perhaps empires, etc., while the other is the cattle and/or pastoral Fulani. These ones wander through the forests and live like gypsies. They are forever on the move, neither knowing homes nor settled civilisation. However, both are Fulani.

Of more modern expression of the eternal question, an Israeli historian writes:

Thanks to the appearance of fiction, even people with the same genetic make-up who lived under similar ecological conditions were able to create very different imagined realities, which manifested themselves in different norms and values.

The point to note is that being Chinese or Greek or civilised is a choice, a cultural choice, or task. Thus it is possible for former barbarians to become Attic, Sinicised and/or civilised. The same experience is with us today. Egba Yoruba who founded Ogboni, which is today a pan-Yoruba worldview, once considered the Oyo-Kwara corridor Yoruba as are-oke. That is, literally those who lived up hill, or in other words Bushmen or semi-barbarians. This was especially so in the beginning, but with time, such distinctions are now gone and all Yoruba are now civilised.

Even among the Igbo, there are issues. A former Senate President, Dr Chuba Okadigbo, once characterised non-Anambra Igbo as Igbo of the hinterlands. That was a chic dig on them as semi-barbarians. Meanwhile the greater Enugu peoples are generally – and derogatorily – styled as Wawa, which used to mean bush or uncivilised peoples. Interestingly, Wawa is now an epithet of pride for these peoples. [This transition or revaluation of values is by the way important. America we may all recall started life as a derogatory term.] The Enugu peoples too have become “civilised”: of course, they are as Igbo as Eshi, the paterfamilias of the Igbo.

It therefore makes sense that we take Confucius for what he says, which is that uncultured peoples, whether Chinese or not, are even with rulers unable to rule themselves meaningfully.

Of our many modern experiences that affirm Confucius, there is the case of Italy. In the seventies, Italy changed prime ministers as quickly as a mother would change diapers for her charge afflicted with dysentery. Meanwhile, Italy as an economic proposition neither went down nor out; and today, despite the long run of political – not cultural or civilisational – instability, Italy is one of the top ten biggest economies of the world.

The fact of the difference between the political and the civilisational is important. The difference will explain why America will survive Donald Trump, its current president: that is, despite Trump, America will remain essentially American. But Nigeria has not survived intact or better health, the incidence of any of its leaders beginning with Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu and the genocidaire General Yakubu Gowon. All data show that Nigerians have got worse with each new leaders

***

This case of Italy is tale enough. Italy in several of many and sometimes back-to-back seasons was unstable in terms of leadership or political turnover, but despite Italy’s industrial rate of leadership/political parties turnovers, Italy as a polity or civilisation stood firm. Why? Its cultural assumptions – cultures and civilisations – are sturdy, well founded and on the ascent. So, the roles and necessity of the leader is necessarily circumscribed, and as this civilisational push tends to infinity, the need for leaders whittles towards zero. That is almost to say that the less civilised a people are, the more leaders they need, because logically we get civilised to dispense of leaders.

Thus, Bertolt Brecht, a German dramatist was right.

Pity the country that needs heroes.

Perhaps, he is about more than he is consciously saying. Ironically again, civilisation and being civilised, is in the works of Buddha not Caesar. This fact holds despite Caesar appearing to be the face of things and even minting coins with his visual imprimaturs. To paraphrase, the Chinese thinker, Lao Tzu,

When Buddha does the work, Caesar says I did it myself.

Thus, one can say that the less Caesar [heroes], the more development. The corollary also holds that the more Buddha, the more development; and this is despite appearances and Caesarisms.

***

This fact of the leadership/hero-free quota for development is even more ably illustrated with Japan. According to Karel van Wolferen an expert in Japanese politics,

Seated above the weak parliament, the Japanese prime minister… in theory has opportunities to exercise great power. But in fact his power does not permit him to do things that foreigners, including foreign governments, expect a prime minister to be able to do…. His immediate power is for all practical purposes limited to dissolving the Lower House. If he tries to do much more, his rivals in the LDP, along with the ‘opposition’ parties, would almost surely combine to bring him down.

He continues:

If cabinet members were to insist on exercising the kind of power the formal rules give them, they would in nearly all cases run into insurmountable bureaucratic sabotage.

***

Not too down the list of hero-free accelerated development, must be Canada. Americans use to joke, insightfully that in Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Canada has at last produced “a political leader worthy of assassination” etc. Of course, the Americans had Canadian fifth columnists to thank for that insight. Before and possibly since him, Canada had always elected non-dramatic, perhaps non-leadership kinds to run shop, and Canada has been run successfully, just bureaucratically, sans heroes like all British outpost white countries except America, which rebelled. [For all practical purposes, Switzerland and Austria are such modern hero-free, bureaucratically led countries too].

These countries have dispensed with heroes as leaders and are doing well. In fact, of Switzerland, the ‘’joke’’ goes:

The University Media Complex: As Nigeria's Foremost Amusement Chain

In Italy for 30 years, under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love. They had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock! However, Switzerland also produced Jacob Burckhardt.

The finer point is that Switzerland despite having failed to produce great or dramatic statesmen has remained as stable, rich, and technologically advanced as any nation in the world, and they have been this for the last 500 years or more. The takeaway is that those who have the luck or curse of leaders or of Caesars have not done better than the Switzerland types who dispensed with such.

That is to say, a country can be run bureaucratically and work. How? The answer is by organising a civilisation first before wanting a country. Getting a Buddha before hunting for a Caesar is the right functional and working formula.

If we took matters back home, the following is a self-evident record: before the white colonisers came, the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria, Yoruba, Hausa-Fulani and Igbo, ran several shades of leader-centric or discounted-leadership governances and governments. Leader-centricism was least in Igbo land, almost to the state of leaderlessness or nation-statelessness, so-called. Igbo ran an earlier form of the plural polis or city governments. We hold the Igbo position as highly evolved, even prescient. Perhaps the world is coming back to the vision of the Igbo founding father, Eshi, who it appears was a scholar.

It is apparent the vision of Eshi is now on. Somehow, the world is returning to the city as a unit of independent governance [A famous city mayor says so at least]. Now, despite his evident self-interest or amusement, he was right.

The 19th century was the century of empires, the 20th was the century of nation state, the 21st is the century of cities and mayors.

If we returned to the big three of Nigerian politics, it is clear that none of the three was technologically or sociologically better off or higher. Therefore, it may be assumed that the active ingredient could not have been leaders or leadership since Igbo were almost leader or empire free and freed. Additionally, there are no records that the military resistance to British conquest was stronger or more successful in the north or southwest with their strong state or nation state wide strong leadership cadres than in the East of the Igbo.

Of course, the efficacy of any system is indicated by its ability to defend itself from external and internal aggressions. If System A can fall as easily as System B against an external enemy C, then it is just as well run or led as the other even while that other [System B] has no emperors or kings.

What then is the basis of Achebe’s leadership claims or is it ahistorical? Our guess is that Achebe suffered the curse of one man trying to transfer or trade on the IOUs he is owed in his undoubted areas of genius – the fable – into another, historical accounting and metaphysics.

Perhaps Achebe was supposing that for him as a novelist of genius, his eye-level views were penetrative enough and no further investigations would be needed. Achebe probably forgot one thing: man is a tools-made and tools-making animal. That is what qualifies us to be Sapiens – civilised. These tools come in the form of technology, which Aristotle termed organon. An organon is a mental and a non-physical aid or tool of inquiring into reality. For example, classification or taxonomy is a tool of organising and understanding reality.

At this stage, we plead to illustrate the matter of the impact of tools and organons on man and his understandings. Christopher McDougall runs this story in one of his books:

Dr. Davis put me on a treadmill, first in my bare feet and then in three different types of running shoes. She had me walk, trot, and haul ass. She had me run back and forth over a force plate to measure the impact shock from my footfalls. Then I sat in horror as she played back the video.

In my mind’s eye, I’m light and quick as a Navajo on the hunt. That guy on the screen, however, was Frankenstein’s monster trying to tango.

Any morals?

I guess one can put it this way. One’s eye, personality or immediate levels perceptions of even himself or the most apparently simple issue may be inadequate or in error, and one must have the capacity to introduce organon, tools, technologies, etc. in his quest for ceaseless precision, over data, over realities, and even over our fancies.

The above tale signally illustrates this, with the point being that the insights or conclusions that raw data may yield are like delectable consorts that have to be wooed and charmed to open their innermost reaches and secrets. Those reaches and even riches may not be spotted about their fanciful faces or mascaras. We must woo insistently and without ceasing.

Often if you rushed to data without guile, without equipment or technology, data may become like the woman who would not require your advances. That is, you cannot analyse dry data; you must weight and wet them appropriately to build beyond the sheer quantities, and the wetting of data comes via technology and organ on; that is, through [intellectual] tools.

It is thus given that in understanding and thus advancing civilisation, what is important is more in our production of libraries, the bookshelves of the wise, and the mining of the press. We will be more advanced and better off as a people via the manufacturing of technology and organ on, than in the production of Caesars or Midas’s.

***

Are leaders then unnecessary?

No.

Perhaps they are like the value zero. They are some kind placeholders to help us the more to be able to manipulate things. The point is to understand the full and exact measure of things in themselves and in relation to others. If we did, it would be clear that a Buddha must precede a Caesar if we are to achieve a civilisation. If this order-dependent procedure is reversed and a Caesar comes first, then you will have a monster with power but without control [a Caligula or if you came back home an Nzeogwu, a Gowon, a Murtala Mohammed, and the rest]. These men were Caesars not born of or nursed by Buddha.

Just as Midas turns everything he touches into gold or abundance only to die of hunger, the three and more Nigerian Caligulas have turned Nigeria’s abundance into perpetual famine and ceaseless bloodletting. It is all in the iron lore. Without Buddha preceding, every Caesar and every Midas is a fool unto himself and a curse unto his connections and humanity.

In other words, to provision for the production of Caesars, not Caligulas, more and more attempts must be made to generate the many more Buddha and culture, a priori. That calls for the acceptance of Ptolemy and others as stops [not destinations] and as rungs of the scaffold, not the building.

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2 Comments

  • Michael Ndubuisi Asiegbulem Posted April 24, 2019 4:24 pm

    The author, Jimanze Ego-Alowes is absolutely on point by asserting that the problem of Nigeria and any society for that matter is not leadership, thus debunking the earlier claim of the world renowned author, Prof Chinua Achebe, who claimed in his book that the problem of Nigeria is leadership.

    I believe that the society is a product of man, and man is a product of the educational system. I believe also that development is the byproduct of problem solving. And education offers one the tools for problem solving. Therefore, a society lacking in the noble culture of problem solving and knowledge creation cannot produce quality leaders hence sustainable development.

    In his new book: The University-Media Complex. As Nigeria’s Foremost Amusement Chain, Jimanze Ego-Alowes exhaustively and authoritatively exposes Nigeria’s education industry largely represented by the universities as failing to build in the citizens the image and culture of Buddha, to purge them of hero-leadership mentality for Caesers, citing numerous examples of nation states that don’t necessarily depend on their leaders alone to make progress.

    I recommend this book to everyone who desires progress for the simple reason that no nation anywhere can develop without first experiencing a knowledge revolution. This book is it.

  • Biko Agozino Posted April 25, 2019 6:35 pm

    You misunderstand what Achebe theorized as the problem of leadership. The concept does not denote the praetorian guard or aristocratic maximum leader. If you read The Trouble With Nigeria carefully, you will notice that Achebe also critiqued poor intellectual leadership by scholars who bragged that they were ready to steal technology from the West if they would not transfer it. Achebe chided them and challenged them to be original in the quest for know-how rather than wait and pray for the cargo-cult to give them technology. What Achebe was describing to dim-wits is known as hegemony or intellectual and moral leadership, according to Gramsci. The Nigerian elite believed that power came from the barrels of the gun or from wuluwulu by civilian rulers. Achebe wrote as a national leader of a revolutionary political party that was trying to mobilize the ordinary people to change the country for the better with the people playing leading roles at every level through consent and not by force. You are entitled to your critique of Achebe based on your misreading of his concept of leadership but your reading is factually wrong. I have also critiqued Achebe on that book with reference to his mistaken critique of Azikiwe as one of the troubles with Nigeria. If other Nigerian intellectuals can make a fraction of the original contributions that Achebe made to knowledge, theory and practice, Nigerian universities would be teaming with innovation rather than be subjected to your abusive yabbis.. You make me laugh at your ignorance when you wrote that Achebe was more successful as a novelist than as a social theorist. He was even more distinguished as a theorist otherwise, his theoretical essays would not have attracted serious debates by scholars in different fields. His advise to you would be to write your own story if the story you are looking for cannot be found among his own books. You have a PhD but that does not mean that you should Pull Him Down to make yourself look great. Keep up your own efforts to learn more and to write more.

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