The cowardly nature of Nigerians against their leaders manifested with the outbreak of COVID-19 in Nigeria. When some political leaders or their relatives announced that they had contracted the coronavirus disease, many Nigerians, especially on social media, were jubilant. Their argument was that God was punishing Nigerian politicians for their corruption, mismanagement, greed, insensitivity, and irresponsibility.
Many wished the politicians dead for all the pain they had caused Nigerians over the years. Politicians were derided for not building well-equipped hospitals in different parts of Nigeria. Nigerian politicians had always banked on flying out of Nigeria to Europe, North America or Asia for treatment. For example, Daily Trust reported on Monday that after gulping 13 billion naira in five years, the State House Clinic was found unfit to treat the Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari. Similarly President Muhammadu Buhari and his family do not use it. So what happened to the money?
The COVID-19 pandemic had made all countries to shut their borders, making it hard for politicians to jet out for medical treatment. Countries where Nigerian politicians would have gone to were overwhelmed with the unimaginable number of cases that they would not have time to take care of any Nigerian politician seeking medical attention. Nigerian politicians would also not want to travel abroad during the pandemic for fear of contracting the disease. So everybody – rich and poor, famous and unknown – had to stay in Nigeria.
There was another argument that after this pandemic, Nigerian politicians would learn the bitter lesson of upgrading the medical facilities and other infrastructure in Nigeria for their use and the use of others in times of emergency, since nobody knows what the future will look like.
However, when some of the infected politicians began to recover from COVID-19, the story changed. Some Nigerians began to argue that COVID-19 in Nigeria is a scam. “If it is not a scam,” they ask, “how can someone test positive last week and then test negative this week?” But it is not hard to confirm if COVID-19 is a scam or not. Anybody who thinks that the coronavirus disease is a scam should visit the patients at any isolation centre without wearing any protective gear, shake hands with them, hug them, and then come back and tell us about the scam.
No doubt, the depth of misrule in Nigeria has become a source of frustration to many Nigerians. Over the decades, Nigerian leaders have carried on like a gang of bandits without conscience. But all through human history Nigerian leaders are not the worst leaders that have ruled a country. The difference between the masses of other countries and the masses of Nigeria is that they take their fate in their hands, while Nigerians sit at home and ask God to punish their leaders with diseases, tragedies and deaths. The result is that other countries succeed in creating a change that transforms their countries, while there is no positive change in governance in Nigeria.
The excuse some give is that when people protest against bad leadership in other countries, they are not shot at with live bullets. But that is false. In the recent Arab Spring, protesters in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya were shot at and killed, yet they refused to back down until they achieved their mission. Some even set themselves on fire in protest. Similarly, the recent protest in Sudan recorded 246 deaths, while that in Hong Kong recorded two deaths. Despite the violence against the protesters, they refused to budge.
However, in Nigeria, the same people who complain about bad leadership will wish one politician dead because he is not from their ethnic group, religion or political party, but defend another bad politician because he is from their ethnic group, religion or political party. Musician and social crusader Charley Boy (Charles Oputa) was almost lynched in August 2017 when he led #ResumeOrResign campaign to Abuja to demand that Buhari, whose whereabouts were unknown for many months, should resume work or resign as president. To his Northern kinsmen and fellow APC supporters, there is nothing Buhari can do that will warrant any attempt to ask for his resignation or even criticise him. Anybody who does that is an enemy that should immediately be verbally or physically attacked. That applies to other leaders from other ethnic groups too.
Because our politicians are aware of how ethnicity, religion and political affiliation have divided us and castrated us, they know that it will be almost impossible to have a united mass action against them. They are, therefore, encouraged not to change their ways.
Given the way our country is run, in the event of our top politicians contracting the coronavirus disease, they will get preferential medical treatment over other Nigerians. If there is only one ventilator in any location, and many patients, including the political leader, need it, that ventilator will be made available to the politician first. Therefore, except for those with existing chronic diseases, the Nigerian politicians have a higher chance of surviving COVID-19 infection than other Nigerians. It is, therefore, meaningless to pray that they get COVID-19.
We are running a system that promotes corruption, poor leadership and retrogression. The Nigerian politicians are merely taking an advantage of that system to feather their nest. If that system or structure is dismantled, the Nigerian politicians will lose that advantage, and Nigeria will be better off.
Comfortingly, in all this crisis of COVID-19, many Nigerians have shown their humanity in a wonderful way. Individuals, communal associations and religious groups are distributing food items, cash and materials like face masks and sanitizers to people. This is to ensure that those whose daily income is affected by the lockdown will not be adversely affected by hunger. Even online, people are sending money to others to cushion the effect of the lockdown. The attitude is that this pandemic needs to be jointly defeated and quickly too like was done to Ebola in 2014. Luckily, it seems that the predictions made about the devastating effect of COVID-19 on Africans may not come to pass. It seems as if nature knows that Africa already has its unfair share of man-made disasters. Having a terrible COVID-19 experience will be overkill.
Finally, because Nigerians are cowardly, gutless and helpless, the only weapon they have is to sit inside their homes and offices and pray that “God” will punish their leaders with illnesses and disasters. So whenever a leader faces any serious illness or disaster, many Nigerians rejoice that their prayer has been answered.
But the same illnesses and disasters (cancer, coronavirus, diabetes, heart failure, kidnapping, road crash, plane crash, etc), which happen to Nigerian leaders also happen to other Nigerians (good and bad, rich and poor, young and old, male and female) who are not in power; which shows that there is no evidence that the illnesses and disasters that befall Nigerian leaders are God’s punishment. Those who laugh at leaders who fall ill or face disasters are not immune to the same illnesses or disasters. The leaders even have more resources to take care of themselves than those who mock them and wish them ill.
Nigerians should stop the display of cowardice and pettiness and confront their leaders rather than waiting and praying for God to punish their leaders for them. God is not an employee in Nigerian Limited, neither is He an attack dog owned by Nigerians.
If we can’t confront our leaders like other countries do, let us keep quiet as cowards and acknowledge that we are cowards. For example, I know that I am a coward. I don’t pretend to be something else.
— Twitter @BrandAzuka
– Onwuka, a respected columnist, writes for The Punch