Colonialism left so many evils in Africa. One of its unfortunate legacies was how it created and enabled a ruler-subject system of governance that twisted the mindset of Africans towards the conception of their political rights and civic responsibilities. The colonialists had absolute power and treated the natives as subjects, not as citizens. This dichotomy is important to note because being a citizen assumes you have full rights and freedom that subjects don’t have. Subjects in the colonial contexts had no agency and had to be unreservedly submissive. This system was vital to the colonialists as they needed to create a sense of dependency that would make the people pliable to rule and exploit unhindered.
The colonialists were be-alls and end-alls and their subjects were all too grateful, in an unalloyed sense of everlasting peonage, to be blessed by their rulership. Foremost African academic Professor Mahmood Mamdani has written extensively on this topic. The crux, however, is that as we entered a post-colonial and post-modern Africa, successive African leaders carried over the colonial political and social configurations which have now left the continent perpetually in the 19th century. And the damage is more mental than physical.
Mental because although we have largely dismantled the colonial systems of governance, the collective African mindset is trapped in that era of servitude and deference to constituted authority with little sense of personal rights and responsibility. This conditioning has provided the perfect leeway for modern African rulers to do as they like without any protestations. That is why when they build a bridge or pave 1 kilometre of road at an immense cost to taxpayers, the people roll out the orchestra to sing their praises. That is also why some people are online and offline defending their political rulers, over-rationalising their bad behaviours, and bullying others to be grateful for the bare minimum they unconscionably squeeze out. As for the rulers, they have come to expect to be served rather than to serve and are comfortable in their deep insouciance because the people are content with the bare minimum.
As Nigeria the giant of Africa marks its 63rd independence anniversary, I am reminded again that for Nigeria, and by extension Africa, to truly develop, we would need a mindset shift from being subjects to citizens: citizens who fully grasp the extent of their rights and responsibilities and are actively involved in nation building. That is the first and most important step to developing Nigeria. The way I see it: the average Nigerian does not completely comprehend their role in building the Nigeria of their dreams – a consequence of the “subjects” conceptualisation of their national identity. They expect development to be top-down, flowing from the rulers to the people instead of the more ideal bottom-up that emphasises self-leadership, accountability, integrity, and personal responsibility.
Everybody expects their leaders to do something and nothing gets done if the leaders don’t act or enforce compliance. This has eventuated a culture of national apathy and unpatriotism where no one really cares about the national interest and people are more than happy to mismanage, destroy, sabotage, and steal public properties and resources. After all, they belong to everybody and nobody in particular. No sense of ownership, personal responsibility, and accountability as a citizen of Nigeria who ought to place national interest above personal concerns.
Some of our people will build houses over drainages and block the flow of water, leading to flooding when it rains. Our cities are overflowing with dirt because everybody is dumping everything on the streets without any care. That’s the attitude of subjects: they care less because they believe they have no part in the system. The Nigerian mind needs to be transformed to believe and act like citizens with stakes in the country. We need to start thinking in terms of what is good for the collective.
As Billy Graham famously said, “If wealth is lost, nothing is lost; if health is lost, something is lost; but if character is lost, everything is lost.” Nigeria has lost decades of developmental opportunities due to the absence of the right mindset and character towards nation-building. The country is not going to develop if the people do not switch their minds from exploiting the system to building it for the good of all. Corruption is unstoppable because there are people giving it life. What if you stopped giving and accepting bribes, driving against traffic, littering the streets and highways with rubbish? What if you dealt with integrity and accountability daily as a Nigerian? Imagine how Nigeria would be transformed! Citizens seek the good of their land. Be a good and patriotic citizen of Nigeria.
Happy Independence Day, Nigeria!
Godman Akinlabi is a global preacher, author, and leadership expert inspiring purposeful living for social transformation.