Poor leadership has been a major issue in Africa. This has unfortunately but inevitably stunted the growth of the continent and consequently reversed its trajectory as an economic power house in the committee of nations. This is no less for Nigeria, the largest nation in West Africa and arguably the most populous on the continent. It has been argued in some quarters that her “premature” independence, total lack of genuine patriotic zeal for the nation and the frequent military incursions into governance were the principal factors that militated against leadership development. While these may be valid argumentative points, it is feared a more potent underbelly singularly or in conjunction with the above listed may have been ignored totally to the detriment of the country’s development – tribal favoritism or to use the more popular coinage, tribalism.

Nigeria is one of the most heterogeneous nations in the world. It has as much as 250 different ethnic groups with the Hausa, Igbo and the Yoruba as the major tribal ethnicities, all with varying cultures, religious beliefs and practices. This diversity was a source of worry to the colonial overlords who faced the diversity firsthand when they tried to introduce their brand of governance in the Northern and Southern parts of what is now known as Nigeria. While their efforts succeeded perfectly in the North because of the pre-existing style of governance in those parts, and mildly in the West, it was a total failure in the East which resulted in several conflicts.

The colonial overlords whose major aim was to purloin the resources in their colonial territories for repatriation to their home country perfected a system in the North which failed to replicate in other areas with as much success. This ultimately to led to the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates for no other reason other than administrative convenience without due consultation of the indigenous stakeholders. Suffice it to say that the administrative convenience in the North endeared the Northern part of the country to the hearts of the colonial overlords and pretty laid the foundation for the hand-woven emergence of favoritism into our national fabric.

Tribalism ordinarily is a mere word which refers to a way of thought, behavior, loyalty, as well as other shared traits of a person in relation to a particular group of people with similar cultural traits. These cultural traits include, but are not limited to language, customs and beliefs, religion, geographical location of origin, etc. It is not unnatural for a person to show preference to a person or a group of persons with whom he shares a sort of kinship or cultural bond as can be experienced from the nucleus of the family unit. However, this preferential behavior falls short when introduced into a larger society which comprises of other persons from different backgrounds with varying languages, customs, beliefs, and/or religion with a common goal or objective. A smorgasbord of varying cultures requires a more meritorious approach in order to succeed.

In the Nigerian parlance, a person is said to be tribalistic if such a person displays preferential treatment towards persons who may be considered kin in one way or another as listed above against the rules of merit and decency. In a particularly heterogeneous society such as Nigeria, this is no less so. The cardinal rule should be guided by rules of merit and decency and possibly backed by legislation for enforceability if we are to rid ourselves of this invisible menace.

As Nigeria tries to untangle itself from the grips of underdevelopment from years of leadership abuse, corruption along with other debilitating factors, the fresh leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari has been severally accused of tribalism with regard to his choice of persons to man a few key responsibilities under his administration. It was alleged that he was fostering a Northern agenda based on his appointments which seemed to be directed preferentially at people from the region.

President Muhammadu Buhari

In fact, there have been reservations from several quarters; Ohaneze Ndi Igbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural group who were known to be largely in support of the immediate past president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan alleged that the current administration was punishing the region for their electoral choice by not having sent any political appointment their way.

In a similar vein, the former ruling and now opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have joined in, insisting that the President revoke his appointment of the current Acting-INEC Chairman without any credible evidence showing that the said appointee was appointed for any other reason other than extensive experience and demonstrated competence in areas of expertise in relation to the appointment.

What is grossly misunderstood by these petty insinuations is that this administration is trying to focus more on meritorious and competent appointments as against the old order of handing out appointments as political gifts to unqualified party loyalists, political jobbers and hangers-on. This practice of politically gifting appointments is what led Nigeria to the rut she is in today and is unsustainable if the menace of corruption is to be curbed in order to foster the much needed development.

The president has thus responded to the critics who labelled him “Baba go slow” in reference to his delay in appointing cabinet ministers by stating that he preferred to go “Slow and steady” in order to ensure the right people are selected for the heavy task at hand; and true to his words, his steady growing assemble of competent professionals is nothing short of amazing going by their track records.

So it came as a surprise when some persons of Igbo extraction mocked the president’s appointment of the Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) which they perceived to be an attempt to pacify their clamor for a presidential appointment of Igbo extraction. They stated that the newly appointed gentleman in the person of Mr. Emmanuel Kachikwu, a native of Aniocha North Local Government (an Igbo-speaking community) in Delta State which shares a boundary with Anambra State – one of the dominant Igbo-speaking states was a none-Igbo. Of utmost concern was the blindness demonstrated towards the appointee’s impressive resume and proven track record.

In truth, poor leadership is not the major drawback to development in a nation as diverse as ours. Segregated thinking as stated above is the silent but ubiquitous elephant in the room that has so pervaded our national consciousness much so that we have unconsciously accepted the mediocre standards that come with. Little wonder that the adage which says the finger that points in accusation is usually oblivious of the other three on the same hand which points accusingly right back, rings so true.

It is high time we faced the reality – history and perhaps fate has lumped us all together as one nation for a higher purpose; one that we are yet to see or even come close to realizing because of our base sentimentality and for the first time in a long time, we actually do have a leader who wants to do the right thing. What have we got to lose by throwing in our support with the determination that the gospel of change which is our collective responsibility is actually possible?

The nation that wants to fly must let go of dead weight.