As it’s the wont of many religious Nigerians, the last swearing-in ceremonies of new and returning leaders across the federation did not lack prayers and heavy doses of positive wishes. These Nigerians rolled away the parchments of failures of the outgone rulers and those of them who managed to secure second term, a la President Buahri, el-Rufai, Wike, et cetera. And with the instrument of prayers and overwrought wishes these long-suffering Nigerians unfurled new scrolls with which to begin to chronicle the positives of the new beginnings.
To be sure, prayers and good wishes, especially for newly emplaced leaders, are not necessarily untoward. But when you look at the source of the inspiration for the renewed hope of these Nigerians all you see are mere wishes founded on the illogic of a people besotted with what the late Chinua Achebe in his seminal essay, “The Trouble with Nigeria,” insightfully describes as “cargo mentality” – this being, as he renders it, “a belief [wish] by backward people that somebody, without any exertion whatsoever on their own part, a fairy ship will dock in their harbour laden with every goody they have always dreamed of possessing.” Unable to understand what role they have to play in the governance process, too many a Nigerian escapes easily into the igloo of prayers and fine wishes, expecting those activities to serenade them with the goodies of good governance.
In Oyo State, for example, where Seyi Makinde of the People’s Democratic Party took the reins of power from the two-term governor Ajimobi of the All Progressives Congress, many are those who fervently generously showered the new governor with prayers and are still in overdrive mode of dispensing wishes. Given the way many Oyo folks got beside themselves with prayers and wishes for their new leader, anyone who did not know would think ex-governor Ajimobi performed averagely in his eight years in office because he didn’t have enough good wishes and prayers. It seems for most of these Oyo folks good wishes and prayers are all that Governor Makinde needs to birth the geese of good governance for their collective happiness and wellbeing. Your classic cargo mentality.
But those Oyo people are wrong and are balking up the wrong tree. Neither prayers nor good wishes solely will propel Governor Makinde to deliver good governance. From Abuja to Zamfara perplexing mountains of evidence abound to support the view that prayers and good wishes do not catalyze good governance. For far too long the affairs of Nigeria at different levels of governance have been, and are still being, managed by myopic, illiberal, and visionless minds. When a people are richly blessed with such antediluvian minds, no magic of prayers and charm of kind wishes would transform their existential conditions. They either have modern and visionary minds for leaders and consequently record progress; or they have the uninspiring types generously available across Nigeria and become a reference point in how not to lead decent life.
Like Nigerians in other states, Oyo people have to come to the unvarnished realization that the affair called governance is a science. It thrives largely on solid logic, deep thinking, constant re-examination, and increasing reflection. Not on wishes and mawkish abdication of responsibility projected as supplications. It’s either their new governor has the right ideas and discipline and a thinking coterie of aides and mounts the hill of success; or he lacks all these and then comes a sad cropper. If his policies and logic are of eras gone by and so are unsuitable for addressing the challenges of his time, no amount of patriotic wishes will stem the raging tide of failure to come. In other words, Governor Makinde does not need the scaffoldings of prayers to engineer a modern Oyo where schools are not laboratories for the production of dull minds and where workers are not slaves.
If Governor Makinde succeeds (as it is the wish of his base and other well-wishers), it will not be because wishes and prayers prevailed. However, should he connect with the demon of tokenism and the ogre of narcissism (like his immediate predecessor), no one should scapegoat prayers and wishes and bemoan their short supplies. The last time I peeked into Nigeria’s history, I found out that not one of the gelded minds who ruled it at different levels suffered deficits of wishes and prayers.
Let the people of Oyo don their critical and thinking caps if they want a government that will transform their existential aches. If they prefer infantile complaints and self-wonding adulations, they will have to live with what would amount to a celebrated transition devoid of impactful transformation. Oyo people should understand that in avoiding Ajimobi’s choice of successor and voting instead for Makinde they have expressed their conviction that the new governor will take them on a more beneficial path that his predecessor could not walk them through. If that is the case, succumbing to mere wishes and prayers for him to do the job appears contradictory and unhelpful. They have to put on their thinking cap and play the role becoming of citizens in a democracy. They must learn to remorselessly put the feet of their new governor continually to the fire. They must lob hard questions at him and refuse to be lovers of easy answers. They must critically examine his policies, their viability, and impacts on their collective lives from time to time.
Similarly, Oyo people will need to modestly and sensibly appreciate Governor Makinde’s stellar outings when they are evident. They owe him measured commendation. But that spirit to praise and celebrate his fine feats must not dwarf the mind of constructive criticism. Coherent, constructive, and consistent criticism is one of the best actions the Oyo people can’t abjure as their new governor settles down to the work he promised them is not above his ken. It’s not their duty to see his brilliant performance as favour. No, they are his employers and he is the employee. They should encourage him with good words when he delights their hearts with productive programmes. And when he veers off the path he is employed to walk, they must not use lavender language to call him to order. He is only a governor at their pleasure.
Here is where Governor Makinde comes in. He must always remember he was not elected to talk down on the people and give them unprofitable lessons in the act of fawning and genuflection before a constituted but unprincipled authority. The people already have their priests and preachers who cater to their insatiable religious needs. He should rather be to them the secular leader who ministers socioeconomic change to their lives. To be that kind of leader, he can’t find his people’s criticisms harrowing and displeasing. He can’t take umbrage when they speak about how some of his policies hurt them. He must truly listen to the wisdom in their critical engagements of his policies. He would miss the point if he thinks the mouths of his spokespersons and not the lives of the people will constitute the measure of his performance. Governor Makinde cannot prioritize prayers and good wishes as the resources he needs to shepherd the state excellently.
More, the new Oyo helmsman needs to surround himself with thinkers and structured minds who have the courage of their convictions. While he can’t avoid the sycophants and the grossly incompetent given the coalitions that inspired his emergence as candidate and governor, he must ensure that he has more of aides whose minds are alien to the fripperies of surface thinking and shallowness. If he is unable to cobble together a team of bright and progressive minds, he must never pretend not to know where the rain of depressing performance began to beat him. And if his leadership lacks the force of personal examples, he must not expect history to be kind to him. Governor Makinde must consistently align himself with the Socratic imperative of self-examination, constantly reviewing his actions and moves, rather than depend mainly on the good wishes and prayers of his beleaguered people, especially his over-joyous base.
All in all, effective governance does not come from mere positive wishes. The Oyo people and their new governor must forge a common front that allows them to work together. They must feel very free to agree and disagree. Each must responsibly take up their duties. The governor’s policies must be viable and must address the core aches of the people. It is of this that good governance come; not from supplications, wishes, and cargo mentality.
Ademola writes from the University of Manitoba, Canada.