Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie

Former Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie, has described Nigeria as a nation without leaders.

He argued thatguing that all available indices including high level insecurity, abysmally low quality of life of the average Nigerian, in sharp contrast with the opulent lifestyle of politicians, offer little or no hope to even the most incurable optimist in the land.

Okogie said in an open letter on Monday titled: “A Nation Without Leaders”, saying that when a nation is in turmoil, those who had faith in God must pray.

Given clear indices that Nigeria is in turmoil, “Okogie said we pray: Gracious God, grant that our leaders become wise, and the wise become our leaders. But it would be irresponsible fideism to simply pray and fold our arms. Those who pray must think, and, having sought and obtained answers to right questions, they must act intelligently.”

The 81-year old cardinal, in his latest letter made available to Vanguard on Monday, maintained that as the nation navigates from one turbulent season to another, “it has become inescapable to inquire: what is the quality of leaders—of the men and women at the helm of affairs—in our beloved Nigeria? Can it be said that those at the helm of affairs—at federal, state, and local levels of government—are sufficiently competent to navigate the ship of state? Do our leaders fit the bill?”

Painting a gleam picture, he said the high level of “insecurity in our land; the abysmally low quality of life of the average Nigerian, in scandalously sharp contrast with the opulence in which past and political office holders live; the self-serving and malevolent demagoguery that accompanies unitarist, secessionist, and xenophobic agitations in our country; the propagation of the stubborn myth that one’s ethnic community is marginalized by all other ethnic communities, when in fact every ethnic community is marginalized by the incompetence of our leaders; the acceptance of this myth by young, discontented but gullible Nigerians: these and many other indices offer little or no hope to even the most incurable optimist in the land.

“Instead of devoting their mental and physical capacities to governance, our leaders are seeking their own interests. Nigerians bear the excruciating burden of being ruled by politicians who simply care less about Nigerians. The burden is increased when they have to listen to religious leaders who whip up emotions and deceive by using the name of God, claiming visions and miracles. We do not care about our legacy, we care only about the power we wield, the wealth—often ill-gotten—we display, and above all, the pleasure and affluence we seek,” he stated.

According to him, “what do we make of a country where an individual owns a fleet of private jets while an overwhelming percentage of its citizens cannot afford a bus ride to the market? What do we make of a country where the wealth of the land, wealth that belongs to the people and not to government, is used to provide security for government officials, while there is no security for the average man or woman in the street? “We have the police and the military; we have assorted security agencies with exotic names.

“Yet, Nigerians are robbed and murdered in their homes, abducted on the streets, at the mercy of gangsters, ritualists and cultists in their neighbourhood, while the police is helpless to the point of non-existence. The only sign that there is policing is when policemen and women extort money from Nigerians, often at gun point,” he said.

Continuing, he said: “Our security agencies need to get the sequence of their steps right. Thorough investigation must precede an arrest, diligent prosecution with evidence must come before conviction in a lawfully constituted court. That is what obtains in other climes. But in our own Nigeria, media trial is fashionable.”

According to the cleric, “suspects are paraded on prime-time television, guns and bullets are displayed in front of them, the police spokesman presents them to Nigerians and pronounces them guilty in front of television cameras. Case closed. Nigerians are not asking for any follow-up. They hear of no trial, no conviction, no sentencing. What has happened to numerous suspects paraded on television in this country?

“While we seek answers, to these questions, we note that, from time to time, Amnesty International raises alarm about extra-judicial killings in Nigeria. Are Nigerians satisfied with the response of the police? Why is it that once suspects are paraded and presented as guilty—and the legal and moral propriety of the parade is another bone of contention—we very rarely see them in court? Is there no law that says a suspect must be charged to court within 48 hours? Why then are suspects kept for days and weeks and months without trial?

“It is in the same vein that we must ask: what has happened to so many public office holders pronounced guilty by the EFCC and DSS in the media before they were even charged to court? We know that some of them were set free by the law courts. We also know that government reacts with a familiar refrain: “corruption is fighting back”.