Can Nigeria's leaders do the right thing?
August 16th, 2013
10:56 AM ET

Can Nigeria's leaders do the right thing?

By Orji Uzor Kalu, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Orji Uzor Kalu is a former two-term governor of Nigeria’s Abia State and Chairman of SLOK Holdings. The views expressed are his own.

A deadly attack on a mosque in Konduga this week is a reminder of how Nigeria’s bright future is under threat from destabilizing conflict. News of the attack, which claimed dozens of lives and that many believe is the work of Islamist militant group Boko Haram, is just the latest in a string of troubling incidents that the government seems unable to come to grips with. In June, at least 30 people were reportedly killed in an attack on a school, an incident that came soon after a state of emergency was called in three states. This worrying surge in animosity, fuelled by sectarian violence, has left many Nigerians wondering if the government can regain control.

Sadly, our leaders look incapable of rising to the occasion. Nigeria is being crippled by political infighting, creating tensions that too often lead to unhelpful and even damaging rhetoric. Political immaturity, and our failure to address differences amongst our diverse communities, is hurting the nation’s reputation in the international community, and is undoubtedly deterring future investment.

This immaturity was on display last month, when police issued an arrest warrant for lawmaker Chidi Lloyd. His alleged crime? Attacking another lawmaker during a free-for-all in the chambers of the Assembly. Regardless of the rationale, we should be united in our condemnation of such events, and demand that our politicians show greater respect for the rule of law.

Unfortunately, the very polls where we elect our lawmakers have been hijacked by disputes, clashes over ethnicity, religion and regionalism. Indeed, the presidential election two years ago exposed the huge divisions that lay between north and south, in ethnicity and religion – thousands fled their homes in northern states, while at least 800 hundred were reportedly killed in post-election rioting that swept 12 states.

The significant advantages for the incumbent party mean that the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate will likely be “favored” at the 2015 polls. But even for the ruling party, the deep divides in this country of 170 million people could undermine its prospects, especially if the opposition parties can work together and agree on a single presidential candidate.

And there are already signs that this could happen. In recent weeks, an alliance of half a dozen northern groups have organized and look set to forgo their own representatives in the interest of checkmating a southern candidate in 2015.  Yet although the intentions of the group might be positive, these political maneuverings risk looking detached from the realities and challenges faced by Nigerians at home and abroad.

An example of this detachment has been a tendency for the country’s leaders to see the presidency as something that should rotate between a northern and southern candidate, reflecting the divide between the country’s mainly Muslim north and mostly Christian and animist south. This tacit agreement is wholly undemocratic and not based on the virtues of the candidates’ policies.

Rather than squabbling over the details of a power sharing agreement, we as a nation need to rewrite the rule book to ensure a viable, socially fair democracy.  And any discussions of how those in power are chosen or operate when in office should not be conducted on the basis of intimidation or ethno-religious dominance. Instead, they should be undertaken on the basis of mutual respect, and an understanding of the diverse elements that make up our complex nation.

The reality is that there is growing resentment among ethnic groups left out in the cold from these power arrangements, with many justifiably feeling they have been cheated by these “gentlemen’s agreements.”

We must hold ourselves to a higher standard, and look ahead to 2015 as an opportunity to conduct a calm, fair and free poll. But for this to happen we will also need to hold a frank and open discussion about the issues that plague this country, and how our leaders will be held accountable on gaining office, whichever part of the country they hail from.

One way of breaking free of the usual and unhelpful north-south back and forth would be for the opposition to nominate a candidate from among one of our politically marginalized ethnic groups.  Indeed, this is a goal shared by a number of Nigerian NGOs, including Njiko Igbo, which is not affiliated to any political party but is instead dedicated to promoting a candidate from amongst the Igbo population.

Ultimately, I am hoping that Nigeria can move past the divisiveness that has held us back.  As Albert Einstein once said, “the world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” I’m sure that I am far from alone among Nigerians in hoping that our leaders can change the way they think of the future, too.

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Topics: Africa • Nigeria

soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. George patton

    I expect that sooner or later the right-wing politicians in Washington will be looking for an excuse to drag this country into Nigeria's conflict, too. Since the M.I.C. stands to make another fortune out of this war, this is inevitable!!!

    August 16, 2013 at 11:15 am | Reply
  2. SamB

    It is no news again about the attacks from Boko Haram members, FG refused to face this problems head on. The ruling party PDP is equally playing politics with the activities of this deadly sect all in the name of Islamic religion.

    August 16, 2013 at 11:17 am | Reply
  3. SamB

    Good men like OUK should be given better political roles to play in 2015 general elections, so that some of this problems could be solved with better approach, Nigeria President is just too weak and confused about the solutions to Boko Haram activities.

    August 16, 2013 at 11:20 am | Reply
  4. George Okeke

    Laughable, why is Orji Kālu is referring to our leaders as if he is Mark Anthony, Orji remember you were once and still an integral part of this failing project called NIGERIA, it's quite sad that in my Great country Nigeria, once a politician serves out his/her term in office and maybe further excluded from the ruling caucus, they turn fierce critic of the ruling government. All you wrote were exceptionally and absolute correct, but your last sentence made a mess of this very impressive and thought provoking article. I am a Nigerian and of course from your tribe, you served out eight years in office as a Governor of a state though turbulent, what did you do with enormous State allocations and of course the huge internal revenues you were getting= form a defunct and a baseless political party, buy choice properties all over the world, further expanded the business frontiers of your business conglomerates, Orji you are part of our leaders, have you changed the way you think?

    August 16, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Reply
    • Sonny Chux

      George, you were right. Orji Uzor Kalu is acting like a Mark Anthony, while he is a well known state treasury looter.

      August 16, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Reply
      • ocube

        The hypocrisy of CNN is mind boggling!!!

        August 17, 2013 at 6:16 am |
    • Peter Kelechi

      Orji Uzor Kalu is one of the finest political leaders we have presently in Nigeria. He may have his shortcomings being a product of a deeply corrupt Nigerian political system, but when compared to most of our political leaders today, he stands out. Unlke the likes of Obasanjo, Jonathan and others, Kalu was a successful multi billionaire business man before he became a governor, and he was one of the best during his era 1999 to 2007.

      August 17, 2013 at 12:22 pm | Reply
  5. Ekanem Edet.

    I believe the writer of this article ( Orji Uzor Kalu) stands indicted for financial crimes in his country (Nigeria). Like many African administrators past and present he is accused of looting the funds of the state he managed for 8 years while the people he governed roil in poverty. It is widely accepted that he remains free due to the corrupt Nigerian judicial system.
    Should CNN (which has these facts) or any international forum give such a person a pedestal to launder his image?

    August 16, 2013 at 2:41 pm | Reply
    • Peter Kelechi

      Ekanem, it is silly and irresponsible for you to make such a comment on an international forum without due verifications. For your information, it is on record that Kalu has lost more in politics than any politician in Nigeria. SLOK AIRLINE, HALLMARK BANK, SOUTHGATE BANK, Several OIL WELLS etc are few of his loses due to his couragous opposition to Obasanjo's 3rd term ambition

      August 17, 2013 at 12:37 pm | Reply
  6. Phelix Unger

    A thief is a thief, I can't change that and I have no voice in the Nigerian struggle for trust worthy leadership. I do however agree with the statements made by the author, peace and proper and equal justice for all the citizens of Nigeria has to be perferable to the choas that seems to be swallowing a great nation that is capable of so much more.

    August 16, 2013 at 5:30 pm | Reply
  7. Nkechi Dimgba

    Nice piece by the great Iroko of our time.

    August 17, 2013 at 12:41 pm | Reply
  8. Livy Agwunobi

    Orji Uzor Kalu writing about how to make Nigeria great! Can someone come over here and hold me to prevent my dying from laughter! Shame on us. Shame on us.

    August 17, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Reply
  9. Effiong Nkanga

    It is a common practice for many politicians to criticizes the very political system they built while in power, the moment political wind changes direction. I wish the ex-governor used his position to set an example of good leadership while in office, but unfortunately, he used the opportunity to massed wealth for himself.

    August 17, 2013 at 7:15 pm | Reply
  10. j. von hettlingen

    Nigeria is huge country with over 250 ethnic groups and languages. It is a leading oil producer, yet more than half of its people live in poverty. Few Nigerians, including those in oil-producing areas, have benefited from the oil wealth. Boko Haram in the North has separatist aspirations, prompting reminders of the bitter civil war over the breakaway Biafran republic in the late 1960s. Niger Delta activists demand a greater share of oil income for locals. The current government under Goodluck Jonathan hasn't done much to combat corruption and tackle insurgency.

    August 18, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Reply
  11. sadam


    August 18, 2013 at 5:02 pm | Reply
  12. luculux

    rorchids, hincor,

    May 22, 2018 at 1:31 am | Reply

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