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For West African leaders

West Africa, of which Nigeria is the biggest, should not be where it is. It should have gone farther. My trips around the sub-region have largely made me ask the question: When are we going to start? I have also come to the conclusion that the buck stops at the table of its leaders for its sorry state.

The blame for its stunted growth is no one but theirs. And, perhaps, a complacent citizenry.

And the rain started beating us from the dawn. The leaders of the region at independence were treated as demi-gods because they were the founding fathers and, as such, considered as life presidents.

So, it was a taboo to talk about succession. This led to the coups d’etat in the sub-region. Those violent interventions did not resolve the issue.

Democracy should be seen as a necessity and not otherwise. Quasi-democracy that many of the countries in the sub-region operate is not doing us any good.

The elite should work towards ensuring that clear mechanisms are put in place for the good of democratic institutions.

The value system, which emphasises accountability, transparency and hard work, must be promoted. Only people who can provide the basic needs to the citizens should be allowed to get into power.

As a follower, I am ashamed that people still get into power and become overnight billionaires. Gone are the days when people were challenged over ill-gotten gains.

Now, all over the sub-region, leaders who had nothing before coming into office suddenly become overnight billionaires, owning businesses everywhere and stashing money in numbered accounted oversees.

Worse still, the lucre of office even gets into their heads and, as their tenure winds to an end, they plot how to stay in office for life.

Where that is impossible, they move to install their lackeys whom they believe will protect their interest. Some even want to install their sons.

An ex-president in the sub-region was brought into power by a coalition. He had no money of his own during the electioneering campaign.

But the people believed in him and did all within their means to ensure that he defeated the then President. However, once he got hold of power, he bared his fangs.

He distanced himself from those who helped him into the office and vowed that his party would be in power for 50 years. To ensure this ’50-year-reign’, he tried to install his son as his successor.

For me, the sub-region has not given women their place in politics. Equal opportunity for the genders remains a dream. There is no doubt that women should not be discriminated against.

There are many examples all over the world to show that women can work miracles and excel where men have failed. Expectedly, the issue of getting women more involved also raised the question of how women who are in office have fared.

The exploits of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a former Liberian President, who cleaned the mess that men created, should be enough for the sub-region to give our women the chance to rule.

Significantly, leaders in the West African sub-region need to be reminded that power is transient, no matter how they try to make it otherwise.

The inglorious role of the opposition in making leaders see themselves as more than humans needs to be addressed. Several cases abound of opposition politicians who, after elections, jump ship to join the ruling party rather than stay on course as political watchdogs, keeping the governments in the sub-region on their toes.

The lure of being close to the powers-that-be, thus ensured that otherwise critical voices are silenced.

The leaders in the sub-region do not see the people as the ultimate. And it is not too late for the people to take back their rightful position.

Collectively, we must ensure that our leaders do not take us for granted. We must ask for our dues and ensure we get them. While not asking us to be violent, when we insist and refuse to be intimidated, the leaders will have no choice but to let our will prevail.

Examples abound in more advanced societies where the people have had their way by grounding the government through non-violent means.

Now is the time for us to let the likes of Wade know that they are our servants, and once they try to become something else, we would not hesitate to show them the exit.

Also critical to the challenges drawing down the sub-region is the state of the judiciary. It is an issue we all must find a way around.

In the sub-region, judges are said to shamelessly collect bribe in the open. Cases of bribery and corruption in the bench in the sub-region are rife.

Except for a few instances, it is a taboo for individuals or groups to win cases against the state. The state is god and should not be defeated. If this madness continues, leaders in the sub-region will continue to ride roughshod over the people whom they pretend to be representing.

The judiciary in the sub-region needs to be revitalised and made truly autonomous. The deepening of electoral reforms, reinforcing legislative autonomy and enforcing constitutional provisions are also germane.

The ECOWAS Court should be given all it needs to be able to bite. It is toothless for now. No thanks to leaders in the region.

Nigeria should be leading by example in all ramifications. One of Nigeria’s neighbours is the Benin Republic, a small country.

Compared to Nigeria, the Republic of Benin is extremely small. But it also seems to have been able to use that to its advantage. Social amenities work in Benin, far better than they do in Nigeria.

The beautiful-looking traffic lights are religiously obeyed, even by motorcyclists. Some roads, not just major roads, are paved with interlocking blocks to ensure longer life span.

The tollgates are the international standard and toll payers see that their money is used to maintain the roads. All these happen in a country where what largely passes as petrol filling stations are the common sights in northern Nigeria: jerry cans of petrol hawked from the roadsides.

To add salt to the injury of Nigerians, Benin Republic has a better supply of electricity. ‘Big Brother Nigeria cannot vouch for 24 hours of uninterrupted power supply.

Many areas in Nigeria have not had electricity supply for months, and the Distribution Companies (DisCos) often insist that they pay bills for service not rendered. Ghana is even a better example in the area of infrastructure.

My final take: We deserve better in the sub-region and the time for us all to work towards getting the best is now. Not tomorrow.


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