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By Senator Iroegbu


The process and manner with which people, societies, countries and organisations around the world and across generations, govern themselves, is vital to their level of development and status in history.  This implies that governance is a catalyst to human civilization.

According to UNESCO, governance refers to “structures and processes that are designed to ensure accountability, transparency, responsiveness, rule of law, stability, equity and inclusiveness, empowerment, and broad-based participation. Governance also represents the norms, values and rules of the game through which public affairs are managed in a manner that is transparent, participatory, inclusive and responsive. Governance therefore can be subtle and may not be easily observable.  In a broad sense, governance is about the culture and institutional environment in which citizens and stakeholders interact among themselves and participate in public affairs. It is more than the organs of government”.

(1)There are also, styles, types and philosophies of governance, which include: democracy, civil or military rule, dictatorship, authoritarianism, totalitarianism, traditionalist, monarchism, liberalism, conservatism, aristocracy, socialism, federalism, unitarism, republicanism, among others.

While most western and Asian countries have been able to define and advance the course of governance, their counterparts in Africa and particularly, Nigeria, are yet to find their bearing.

Governance: The Nigerian experience 

Nigeria has experimented with various approaches to governance since its amalgamation in 1914. The country has evolved from the self-governance during the colonial system of indirect rule, to the period of the post-colonial era of parliamentary democracy, military interregnum and the subsisting presidential system of government – adopting a systemic trial-and-error method in over 100 years of existence.

Nevertheless, the country has also managed to anchor its governance approach on two cardinal ideals of democracy and federalism.

As a pluralist society, Nigeria strives for “a political system that guarantees opportunities for citizens to choose and replace their leaders or representatives via free and fair elections; that respects and protects socio-economic, political and cultural rights of citizens as well as guarantee acceptable level of active involvement of citizens in decision-making”(2) .

Unfortunately, this has remained a mirage from independence in 1960 to the nascent democratic dispensation since 1999.  Governance in the country has grown worse despite changes in systems, leadership and structures with many scholars including Chinua Achebe proffering diagnosis on the “trouble with Nigeria” (3). The general consensus is that good governance is virtually, the missing link in Nigeria’s democratic experience. This now begs the question: why good governance has remained elusive in Nigeria. Why is governance such a difficult task in Nigeria?

Nigeria: The un-making of a nation

To do justice to this topic, proper diagnosis on why good governance has remained difficult in Nigeria will require philosophical, academic and historical approaches. On the surface, we can mention deep-rooted corruption, lack of patriotism, ethno-religious hatred, divisions, among others, but these are rather symptoms of structural and systemic defects, which can be narrowed down to the following three keys issues:

Soul-less nation:  The damning verdict about Nigeria was given by some of our founding fathers including Chief Obafemi Awolowo who said in 1947 that, “Nigeria is not (yet) a nation” but “mere geographical expression” (4). This was seconded by Sir Ahmadu Bello who described the country as “the mistake of 1914” (5) and Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd), agreed in 1966 that the “the basis of (Nigerian) unity is not there” (6).  The point is that these statements were laden with implications but nobody did anything to change the tide. Awolowo and others were honest enough to alert that Nigeria is an artificial entity hobbled together by the colonial masters for their selfish interests but remained silent on practical steps to resolve the quagmire.

According to the alarming summation of these pioneers, Nigeria lacks a soul – an important element that gives a country life and by implication, passion and spirit of patriotism. Tragically, these leaders failed to address these fundamental cracks at the formative stage.

It should be noted that nationalism and patriotism does not connote absence of injustice but creates spiritual bond and an intangible cord of belief in citizens for their country. This is why patriotism is high among citizens of countries with philosophical, cultural, spiritual and ideological principles, deliberately created to infuse a sense of satisfaction, ownership and greatness for the nation. For example; France or French society are guarded by and takes pride in the principle of egalitarianism, equality and fraternity further molded by the policy of Lacite (secularism). In the same vein, Israel and Jews are bounded by a sense of kinship, collective suffering, greatness and strong belief as the chosen one; US anchored their greatness in American dream and land of opportunities; while Britain prides itself in its ideals, language and civilization. These in turn breathes patriotism and loyalty from both the governors and governed for the nation.

Unfortunately, we cannot say Nigeria has ideology, principle, philosophy, ideals and national ethos that bounds her people as a nation.  The country lacks national culture.

 Systemic failure: Nigeria simply lacks a system. It has experimented with many but has failed to adopt one. The country is a federation just in name but unitary in practice; a democracy in name but dictatorial in practice; secular in name but highly theocratic in practice; republican in name but with strong allegiance to certain powerful monarchs. The list is endless and no governance can succeed in such a confusing system.

Consequently, the country has a chronic systemic problem that has created identity crisis for both leaders and followers.  The British were smart enough to realize that Nigeria is a complex and pluralist society with entrenched regional differences, and adopted a system that eased their administrative duties in the three dominant regions.

Unfortunately, this cannot be said about the post-colonial Nigeria that have neither abandoned nor improved on the British legacy. The result is that nothing can work in this state of confusion.

Leadership failure: The third factor which was elaborately defined by the late literary icon, Chinua Achebe in his prophetic book: “The Trouble with Nigeria”, is the failure of leadership. In fact, this should be the key to resolving the issues enumerated above. The paradox however, is while the two factors stated earlier prevents emergence of a true, patriotic and nationalist leaders/leadership, the latter is required to effectively address the former. Hence, the country is in a quagmire and a vicious circle of cause and effect. For Nigeria to get its governance right and match towards nationhood and explore its huge potentials, require a selfless, fearless, impartial and visionary leadership like Jerry Rawlings of Ghana who spared neither friends nor foes and Lee Kuan Yew who moulded Singapore with the needed soul for nationhood.



There is no doubt that Nigeria is at a crossroads in our quest for nationhood, and at the heart of this is the need for good governance. However, this cannot be achieved in absence of patriotism, loyalty and service to the nation. Unfortunately, the factors that endear citizens to the soul of nationhood is lacking, including the right principles, ethos, philosophies and ideologies that galvanizes the people to believe in as well as die for the country. Our founding fathers, though brilliant and nationalistic, failed to formulate one. Added to this, is total systemic failure and lack of true leadership.

In a nutshell we need a well-defined national values, ideology, principles and guiding system as well as true leadership. I will sum this up with a classic quote from Achebe that:

“The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise up to the responsibility; to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.

“In spite of conventional opinion Nigeria has been less than fortunate in its leadership. A basic element of this misfortune is the seminal absence of intellectual rigour in the political thought of our founding fathers – a tendency to pious materialistic woolliness and self-centred pedestrianism.”

“Spurious patriotism is one of the hallmarks of Nigeria’s privileged classes whose generally unearned positions of sudden power and wealth must seem unreal even to themselves. To lay the ghost of their insecurity they talk patriotically.

“But whereas tribalism might win enough votes to install a reactionary jingoist in a tribal ghetto, the cult of mediocrity will bring the wheels of modernization grinding to a halt throughout the land. “

The above quotes are very apt with the prevailing governance situation in Nigeria.



  1. UNESCO,
  2. Achebe, Chinua: The Trouble with Nigeria, Fourth Dimension Publishing Company, Nigeria, 1983
  3. Gilbert, Lysias: Democracy and Good Governance: The Missing Link in Nigeria, 2014
  4. 5,6-,73490.0.html, Need for Sovereign National Conference, 2011


Senator Iroegbu is a senior journalist with THISDAY, a social commentator, public affairs analyst, publisher, media consultant and development knowledge facilitator.

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