The year 2024 is flying by with the speed of light and the lunar Gregorian calendar is moving at a frenetic pace. Another confirmation of the axiom of ‘time waits for no one’. No matter your intentions and convictions that you are reading this is a big privilege and opportunity by divinity because the oxygen of life is still in us, and we don’t take it for granted. So many folks saw the start of this year, 2024, but are no more in this aqua at this material point in time. More than money in any currency (Naira, Dollars, Euro, or Pounds Sterling) in the bank, cars in the garage or houses in the estate, the biggest asset of humanity is to be counted among the living and having circulation of oxygenated blood around our body. As they say, health is wealth. Even the Holy book admonishes; ‘for a living dog is better than a dead lion’ (Ecclesiastes 9 v 4 following).

In this first quarter of the year, there is a palpable feeling of `de ja vu` pro max across the length and breadth of Nigeria. I do not want to sound like a broken record. I am sure you, my dear reader, know and feel the part as the ‘circus-and-drama’ that is leadership in our country goes on. In my recent opinion piece, Tales by Moonlight Democratia, my cognate proposal was laid on the table. It elicited varied responses from the ridiculous to surreal depending on the ‘web link’ of each respondent. As one that places high premium on feedback and feed forwards, I have taken the pains to ‘comb’ each response, dissect and juxtapose the themes inherent therein. No man or woman is an Island. Many years ago, as a teenager, I attended a symposium at my Alma mater, Edokpolo Grammar School Benin City. One of my all-time intellectual mentors, The Rev. Fr. Theophilus Uwaifo (of blessed memory) propounded; “No one has monopoly of knowledge. It is only Professor Joel who believes that what he does not know does not count as knowledge” (unquote). Those words resonated with me greatly and have formed part of my moral compass.

Again, referring to my early years, there is a table game we played with friends. Many will remember Monopoly, Ludo, etc, but this is called Snakes and Ladders. The game is a treacherous business. One win gets you up the ladder, and a loss takes you all the way back down. Please note the latter, a loss takes you all the way back! I am sure dear reader you can relate. That game mirrors the terraqueous called Nigeria today. Ours has become a case of one step forward and a million steps backward. It has become a case of perpetual motion without movement. The nation seems stuck in the mud, and it`s like watching a movie on rewind. There is no discernible progress in virtually all critical sectors that drives human development. So, the question is, who are the snakes preventing Nigeria from climbing the ladder, growing, and reaching the podium among the comity of nations? Your guess is as good as mine!

In the human terrestrial and spiritual domains, nothing happens by chance. The extant `Laws of Nature` are set in such a way that pressing the right buttons puts it on auto pilot. Like I posited in my last opinion piece, what differentiates the developed, developing countries from non-developing nations is the application of leadership. It is not religion, ethnicity, population, or location. The best example in our world today is South Korea and North Korea. Both nations are the same people, same location, same ancestry, and DNA. You can even refer to them as two sides of a coin but see what leadership has done to North Korea. According to (2022) South Korea’s nominal gross domestic product (GDP) amounted to around $1.48 trillion while that of North Korea was approximately $26.8 million. South Korea’s nominal GDP was around 57 times greater than that of North Korea. There is no gainsaying that leadership is 99% the problem of Nigeria. We get our leadership right; the country will be fine. I can tell you that for free.

The Nigerian political elites, their acolytes and hangers-on are the only happy demographic at the moment. These `uncommon homosapiens` are loaded to the hilt, living affluent and ostentatious lifestyles. They allocate humongous state resources to themselves while leaving crumbs for the greater majority of the citizens. The political class from the federal, state, and local governments are flexing on the commonwealth of our people. The country is on the cliff edge as poverty ravages the land, insecurity overwhelms the space and a dark cloud hover over the national firmament. The government of the day continues to grapple with a legitimacy problem among the generality of citizens who remain unconvinced with the way and manner of their ascendency.

There is a seeming air of disconnect especially at the federal and state levels. Nearly one year into the new administration, Bola Tinubu the poster face of the government has not been able to inspire the citizens towards a national reset and rebirth. The President is yet to have an `undoctored` media engagement with the Nigerian people who in truth are his supposed employers. The usual gung-ho honeymoon period/feeling often associated with a new government in power have not been felt in this dispensation. Loathe him for whatever reasons, even the last administration of Mohammadu Buhari enjoyed that `new sheriff` in town` and `body language` fragrance for three months. I stand to be corrected.

Away from the federal level, state governments in Nigeria should wake up to their responsibilities. Although, we understand in practice that there is nothing Federal about the Federal Republic of Nigeria, our federal system is only in semantics and on paper. In reality our current system is nothing but unitary in every sense of the word. This pseudo-federal system as being practiced have made the Governors (with the exception of a few) mere onlookers and underhand benefactors of this very flawed failing system. Many of the state Governors have turned themselves to `tin-gods` in their domains yet depending on monthly handouts from the centre at Abuja. It was Warren Buffet that posited; “the chains of bad habits are too weak to be felt until they are too difficult to be broken”. It is high time state governors and other key actors at that level put on their thinking caps, create, innovate, and deliver for the people they are meant to be serving. They are to serve and not to be served.

If Nigeria is to experience a total turnaround where there will be guaranteed happiness for the majority of citizens and not just a few, the ruling (ruining) class must stop the fast acceleration of the `Nigeria vehicle` towards the abyss. They must apply the brakes instanta. The optics of Nigerians being reduced to palliatives collectors – bags of rice, indomie – is sickening and heart wrenching. How on earth did we get here? For those who care to listen, the indices are there, our country is on a precipice. Poverty, hunger, insecurity pervades the land. The issue of insecurity must be dealt with holistically. Government should rise up to its cardinal responsibility as enshrined in the constitution to protect lives and property. Dr Richard Montgomery, British High Commissioner to Nigeria put it succinctly at an event in Abuja recently, “There can`t be prosperity without security, nor can there be long term security without prosperity”.

In conclusion, solving the myriads of challenges besetting Nigeria and the reset of the country is not rocket science and is also not insurmountable. First, the government at all levels – federal, state, and local government must give the people they are meant to serve a sense of belonging. The country does not belong to politicians, elites, or a few cabals alone who constantly cook only their meals in their own very special kitchen. Secondly, the resources of the country must trickle down to all and sundry. A conducive environment must be created for industry and productivity. The current consume and consumption for self atmosphere must end and move to produce and production milieu for the people. Yes, the people need to make sacrifices (they have always done since Adam), but so too should the rulers. They too must make sacrifices and stop the wastage of the nation’s wealth. The cost of governance must be reduced completely by 80-90% in all ramifications and at all levels (federal. state and local government). Ladies and gentlemen, are we still looking for the snakes that dwell amongst us?

A country like Nigeria does not really need a bicameral legislature. Having 3 senators or representatives only (whatever nomenclature we wish to call it) from the 36 states and FCT is enough. Similarly, a change to a parliamentary system instead of this winner-takes-all `emperorlic` presidential system that is not working may just be the magic wand. We must cut our coat according to our cloth. Thirdly, Nigeria needs to build institutions which will outlive personalities and individuals. The vital organs of nationhood like the judiciary (rule of law), police, electoral body, banking, education, healthcare, power (electricity) has to work seamlessly. In a speech to the British House of Commons in 1948, Winston Churchill stated unequivocally; “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. Seven decades later, those words remain relevant. A stitch in time saves nine. This is not preaching to the choir. Res ipsa loquitor.

Dr Agbons is Lead, Institute of Leadership and Good Governance