Fixing A Fallen House By Okey Ndibe

Okey Ndibe
Okey Ndibe

I received a slew of responses to last week’s column which I titled “A Case For Abolishing Nigeria’s ‘Democracy.’” Most of the reactions came as emails, but there were a few phone calls as well. The most interesting response was from an anonymous caller. He wanted to discuss my argument that President Goodluck Jonathan was fundamentally ill-equipped to fix Nigeria’s crises.

“You made a very powerful point there,” the man said, before insisting that I did not go far enough. “The issue goes beyond the current president. In fact, it almost doesn’t matter who becomes president of Nigeria in the current circumstances, the result will be the same. Nigeria is arranged in a manner to ensure failure. Regardless of who is at the top, the culture of failure will continue to thrive.”

I usually don’t accept calls from blocked numbers, but I was intrigued by this particular caller’s insight – he identified himself as “a person who knows how things work in government.”

I agreed with him that the trouble was not Mr. Jonathan as such, but a deeper systemic disease. Still, I contended that the Nigerian presidency offers expansive powers and lends itself to imperial manipulation. For one, I reminded the caller, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo summoned the police and army to serve his often illicit designs, including massacres of innocents in Odi and Zaki Biam and the sacking of former Governor Rashidi Ladoja of Oyo State. If presidential powers could be wielded for ill, then what stopped Mr. Jonathan from using the same office to do extraordinary good?

“But you have to ask yourself, what was the man’s record before he became president?” the caller asked.

“Unimpressive,” I said. “And I’ve made that point in the past. Nothing distinguished him as a governor or vice president.”

“But you now suddenly expect him to do wonders?” the caller queried.

Not wonders, no, I said defensively. In fact, the president has turned out to be what I expected – and worse. But there was a part of me that somehow hoped that he would find a formula to outwit his past, to become the success story that nobody had any right to expect him to be, given his uninspiring record.

My (vain) hope was fueled, above all, by Mr. Jonathan’s “histories.” The first facet of this history has to do with the deprived circumstances of his upbringing. During his presidential campaigns, the man himself made much of his shoeless childhood. One somehow expected that a man sprung from such a dismal past would have a remarkable capacity for empathy. I expected – perhaps, hoped is the right word – that he would instinctively identify with the plight of more than 80% of Nigerians who today live his dire past.  

I also had my sights on the president’s broader history. One hoped that, as the first president to emerge from the Niger Delta area, Mr. Jonathan would be acutely aware of, and attentive to, his country’s developmental woes. The president’s region, after all, is a study in cruel irony. On the one hand, it’s Nigeria’s oil-producing hub; on the other, it is perhaps the country’s most economically depressed region. Even if the president did not have the temperament, inclination or vision to be a sane, sensible leader, perhaps there would be people close to him from his immediate region to nudge him (push, if need be) to reform a few things.  

Alas, nothing of the sort happened. Instead, Mr. Jonathan quickly settled into the familiar habit of Nigerian rulers, concerned with personal privileges. The former shoeless kid now scoffs at the idea of spending only 1.3 billion naira on presidential meals. And he just approved the expenditure of 2.2 billion naira to build a new banquet hall for his Olympian feasts! The child who grew up without a car did not hesitate to add to the number of jets in the presidential fleet. The poverty-ravaged youngster of yesterday now gallivants in spectacular wealth, but has done nothing to address unemployment and poverty in his country.   

“Look at those who surround the president,” he challenged, then paused for effect. “Name one individual who sees the president on a daily basis who can be called a visionary.” He allowed another telling pause, then drove home his point. “It’s possible that President Jonathan wants to achieve a lot for himself, for the South-South, and for Nigerians as a whole. But when you’re surrounded by people who won’t give you good advice, what can you do? And I can tell you that these same people around the president try very, very hard to shield him from hearing the truth. For example, if you manage to get through to the president and you offer him sound advice, that’s the last time his advisors will ever allow you anywhere near the man. That’s why any Nigerian leader – whether governor or president – operates in the dark about the realities on the ground. Those around them actually tell them that they’re doing a fantastic job.”

“And they believe it?” I asked.

“Why not?” the caller said. “After all, that’s what they hear on a daily basis from those who come close to them.”

“How about all the criticism in the press? All the hue and cry in the streets?”

“Again, what the president hears from his people is that the press and other critics are being used by political opponents. They’re told that the silent majority is solidly behind them.”  

It was a portrait of the Nigerian ruler as a prisoner of sorts to his mischievous advisers, men and women driven by a hunger to feather their nests by misleading their boss. But whose fault is it in the first place? Does anybody force a governor or the president to choose rogue advisers? Did Mr. Jonathan – like his predecessors – not go out of his way to cultivate the company of advisers versed in singing the tune he loves to hear?

At the end of the call, I was more convinced than ever that Nigerians can no longer afford the expensive toy that’s been mislabeled “democracy.” The Nigerian house, to echo Karl Maier, has fallen – and it requires sustained radical, visionary action to fix it. After more than 12 years, there’s no sign that the “democratic” apparatus has a clue how to begin addressing the country’s basic problems (for example, passable roads and toilet facilities). And yet, Nigeria must confront deeper, perennial crises in other sectors. These include a profound pollution of values; a largely collapsed education system; a healthcare system that’s a mockery of humans; an absence of a minimum understanding of what it means to be a Nigerian citizen; a festering sense of insecurity created by the rampant, unchecked use of violence; and the rising rates of unemployment – compounded by the production of hundreds of thousands of graduates who are unemployable.

Those who run Nigeria’s “democracy” are too concerned with what they can put away in their guts to conceive viable answers to these crises. That’s why I insist, again, that the country needs a different path: the enthronement of a class of technocrats willing to fix a troubled edifice.

Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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Ur right. It was invading

Ur right. It was invading colonialists that formed nigeria by force. Its time for freedom

Nigeria Oh Nigeria

Okey, you have said it all. The fact here remains that GJ had decieved helpless nigerians during election time that he had no shoes and had experience childhood poverty. He must know that his own share of pain and rot awaits him after he leaves office and his remaing years on earth. He should ask those past leaders about how they are fairing now. Someone should tell him. He shall reap what he is sowing now. It was as a result of past leaders' actions or inactions that made GJ experiece childhood poverty and he has choosen same path in his time and currently letting 80% of Nigerian children to live a life of continuous poverty. He will never exscape the consquences like the past leaders. I have alway told my friends that Nigeria was structured to fail and that GJ cannot change that. Okey, you have confirmed this today. Nigeria has gone to far to fail or succeed. This is my take.

Re- Esa ma miliki o

This is one of the best comments i've read in recent time. Now am
convinced beyond reasonable doubt that Nigerians have a very great
sense of humor. Ride on buddy, ko maa circulate.

Re: No such thing as a benevolent dictator

There are countless examples of benevolent dictatorships - good and bad. By bad, I mean those that started good but turned bad after the Dictators outlived their usefulness. The likes of Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein and Mubarak were "good turned bad" that enabled the rapid development of their respective countries.

China is the best example of a good dictatorship where a powerful central authority, supported by an army of technocrats, is forging ahead with the development of the country without democratic pretence.

Nigeria has foolishly adopted the expensive Presidential system without planning for the huge recurrent expenditure relative to our meagre GDP. And then our feeble attempts at it actively hinders our development. Talk about shooting ourselves in the foot twice!

First grow the GDP, educate the populace and real democracy will follow, not this current demo-crazy.

@Anonymous9, How does 52 years of failure strikes you?

“Yes Nigerian politicians should be criticzed, because they are clueless, but do writers on SR know more than them?”

What is this crumbs catcher by the name Anonymous9 yakking about? What?

Why shifting the blame from those dead beat looters politicians that ruined this country to us that have ran nothing, occupied nothing and legist rated nothing? Yes we have the privilege to claim that we know better than a known failed politician cos, you cannot score a person first without testing that person. How does 52 years of failure strikes you?

My friend, I don’t mean to be on the attack, but if you sincerely believe what you just wrote here, then those politicians looters have done a great job in accomplishing their agendas is my take on you.

Fixing A Fallen House? Esa ma Miliki!

Fixing A Fallen House?
Which house?
Fallen to where? When? How?
GEJ is creating wealth in Otuoke, we are soon getting ?Walmart in Lokoja, the security situation in Abuja, Jaji and Maiduguri is getter better and better. As we speak, corruption fight is being strangulated by our law makers and GEJ's cronies Orubebe, Adoke, Diedjani and Tampolin. Our foreign reserve has never been so utilized by a few who buy their private jets - cash and carry. God is no doubt hearing the prayers of the millions of Nigerians who are calling unto him daily. Why is Okey complaining?

It is time to celebrate with Obey not Okey!


Benevolent dictator

Tlig, I so much agree with you that these theives and looters where once among us. We are the ones who praise them for making it. We are also the ones that will talk bad about them if they served the country with open heart and the fear of God. The fact is the gerberal public set the stage for all these happening now.

splendid work

Work splendor! Keep it up.

There's no such thing as a benevolent dictator

When will we learn? Nigerians and their yeye buzzwords sha! The latest, annoying one seems to be "benevolent dictator". What's that exactly? Guys, get up off your asses and get to work. Do as little to as much as you can; even if all you do is convince your inner circle to be law-abiding and honorable, you don try. We all need to sacrifice- I hate how most of us like to think we aren't in any way part of the problem. The leaders are a product of the same society that is peopled by yourselves. They grew in the same community, attended the same schools and breathed the same air. Let's all get to work and stop with this dangerous nonsense about a benevolent dictator. This was the same way we encouraged the military back years ago and look how that turned out? I can't believe you guys sometimes- the same institution that gave us cold blooded killers like Abacha and Murtala and blood curdling thieves like IBB and OBJ would now produce a benevolent dictator abi? Black man, na wa for you!

@Anonymous9, U made little sense, procrastinate for crude oil

@Anonymous9, You made 3 comments without making any meaningful comment; except your demonstrable penchant to procrastinate on fixing of Nigeria. You are the type that wants Nigeria even if all in it are getting dehumanized or dying; so long as oil revenues are flowing. You get yourself tormented with your figments of imagination as you imagined what Ndibe have in his mind. Suggest what to do to fix Nigeria, do not tell people that Nigeria's time shall come, the way people like you do.


"For example, if you manage to get through to the president and you offer him sound advice, that’s the last time his advisors will ever allow you anywhere near the man"...Like seriously?I seriously doubt that!If he likes good advise and gets it(from someone),what in the world can stop the president from getting in touch with this fellow again.In this GSM era?Which bloody adviser will stop the president from seeing that person?
We are just yet to see if he means well for the country(thus far).Period!

Nigeria Has Reached Point Of No Return.

Okey,thank you for your effort.The truth is that Nigeria was designed to fail from day one the British formed the entity called Nigeria.Nigeria is a time bomb.the reason why there is so much corruption in the system is because they already know that we are strange bed fellows.EVEN THE TECHNOCRATS CAN'T FIX NIGERIA.Once they come in,the system will corrupt them.The only solution is for Nigerians to agree to disagree and go their separate ways.He who has ears let him hear.

Okey, I agree that the

Okey, I agree that the edifice needs a fix but how and when. Somebody should call for a parallel assembly of these technocrats perhaps somewhere abroad even as close as Ghana so they can start the deliberations. Akin to the transitional councils we saw in Benghazi and those of Syrian descent who were recognized by pockets of the west not too long ago. I think we have written and talked enough, we must start to ACT. If we need signatories let"s start collecting such.

Okey, I agree that the

Okey, I agree that the edifice needs a fix but how and when. Somebody should call for a parallel assembly of these technocrats perhaps somewhere abroad even as close as Ghana so they can start the deliberations. Akin to the transitional councils we saw in Benghazi and those of Syrian descent who were recognized by pockets of the west not too long ago. I think we have written and talked enough, we must start to ACT. If we need signatories let"s start collecting such.


Had GEJ embarked on reversing the poverty that ravages his Nigerdelta, if he had initiated avenues to remedy the dwindling good habitats for his oil producing people many of whom are now deprived of their habitats by oil exploiters; if GEJ had embarked on making the seaports and airports in his southsouth area become a business hub in Nigeria... etc,. But alas, it seems that GEJ may vacate office and yet, people in his area may still come in and go out of Nigeria, move goods in and out of Nigeria from ports outside the southsouth zone.
Worse, if GEJ goes in 2015 as he proposed, and most likely to exit, he may be Nigeria's first leader to be hurled into prison. First, some of his kinsmen may not bat an eye lid against those who may torment him because he is believed to have usurped some people's political power position. GEJ wake up!

Benevolent Dictator

We need to ditch this very expensive "Democratic Experiment", at least for a while. It can be argued that, as an investment, the returns are pretty shabby and we should not persist with it simply because it is fashionable, or, it is the mantra of the Western powers.

Our realities are starker! and do not lend thmeselves to democracy. We need to fix the society first, elevating the average Nigerian to a certain level of education and well-being before revisiting it.

It is sad that the Ancient Greeks were far more organized as a society than we are today even given the centuries that have passed since the birthing of the democratic system.

What we need is a system that empowers a benevolent Dictator surrounded by a cadre of technocrats. I don't think we can find such a Dictator among the big bellied eggheads within our Military but a select group can organize the security backbone to a Civillian Dictator.

And then I woke up ...

A nation guilty?

What Okey's caller succeeded in saying is that Goodluck Jonathan is a product of the Nigerian system and to an extent a victim because an empty China piece can only contain what is put in it.
All over the world,leaders are held prisoners,that is why it is said that "it is lonely up there". It is only a leader with vision and charisma,that emits glow of success that keep lesser mortals at bay.Kenny Rogers sang "sometimes you got to fight to be a man".


I will like to declare that my tone however hash or hurting is not meant to hurt the authors feelings. Hate and contention I never intend to generate. Even anyone oppressing me today will never be subjected to the same situation if my condition changes. How could I then hate a brother. I will only contend issues with him!

I quote Okei Ndibe, "The Nigerian house, to echo Karl Maier, has fallen – and it requires sustained radical, visionary action to fix it."

Yes it is in ruins, but I call all truth loving people as a witness that Nigeria will be fix but not by the help of Ndibe´s essays! It is actually inspite of it. Nigeria cannot be fix by people secretly coveting influence. Not by people that uses literary prowess to camouflage their "me-and- my-people-first" base instinct. It will be built very soon even if Okei Ndibe stopped writing for Nigerians today!


It will soon be built by people that know that progress of a nation transcends yearnings of individuals. People that will sacrifice their greatest ambitions for the good of many. People that will give even if they will not be thanked.

Most of you that think you are trying to build Nigeria are scarsely in this category. The only difference between u and the current slaves on the throne, in the name of politicians, is that you do not yet have the political power. And only you the writers know, and are good in your own eyes. If u people really know, we would´ve seen it in your articles. What you write shows that u do not have a tiny idea how nations prosper.


You don´t even know what makes the prosperous countries where you are exiled tick. If you want to genuinely take part in fixing Nigeria. First find out what made America great and teach us openly and then we would know you are part of the builders.

Yes Nigerian politicians should be criticzed, because they are clueless, but do writers on SR know more than them? I shout again openly that it is nevertheless out of this bunch the people who know more than Ndibe will come out and fix it. Would you then later say yes we fixed it? No! You people only know secret personal ambitions and influence peddling!

Nigeria is not created for herself only. How could then people preoccupied with me, myself and my people be her builder?

People died for civilian rule

What exactly are you calling for? Surely not a military takeover. Nigeria would get better but everyone has to play their part including the civilians. We can protest, we can sponsor political candidates, we can sue to get the constitution changed. There's a whole lot that we can do in a democratic dispensation that wouldn't be allowed under military rule (which is really the only alternative close enough to your worrisome prescription). Many of us seem to believe we can just sit on our hands and everything would work out for the better; nope, not even in "advanced" countries does this happen. We all need to be willing to sacrifice in order to make things work.

Re: A fallen horse

Personally the day I heard about his shoeless story is when I knew we were done for. Someone who grew up poor is plagued with the fear of being poor again. That is what brings about the amassing of stupendous wealth that transcends generations. Another person however who grew up in a middle class home, let's say of civil servant parents in the city is taught contentment and hasn't that fear of poverty so is able to think on hw to improve living standards better than the one who grew up poor and is myopic. Sadly of all our leaders but a few were born into middle class families, almost all of them grew up poor. The question is how can we fight poverty of the mind??

Okey is still day-dreaming!

I read your script hoping you would finally postulate that we should collapse the system and go our separate ways. Alas, you still believed Nigeria is redeemable. How? The man who says Ebele is a prisoner of his Advisers and that the media publish what his detractors say is talking nonsense. May be the caller was Abati, you will never now. Was Ebele a President from birth not to believe the Press again? Was he the last shoeless kid in Nigeria?

The problem of Ebele is not only that he lacks vision for national leadership but he is not intellectually and mentally equipped to be President. I am told the man has not read a single book, front to back, since he acquired his Ph.D. degree from 1950 textbooks. What do you expect from such a person?

My friend let us collapse the system and go our separate ways and to your tents O Israel. Otherwise keep writing, hoping for change which will never materialize in your lifetime.

Okey Ndibe have hit the nail on the head once more

The first question to be asked is, do we still need this democracy of ours that makes mockery of humanity? Here we are with a president who is completely out of touch with the feeling on the main street.
Surrounded by inept sycophants, corrupted elements that stinks to the high heavens, how will he ever get anything right? The problem is not only the lack of leadership on the part of our President, but an entrenched system designed to perpetually live the nation in a complete state of coma. Heaven help us all........Okey have said it all.

The next step is to vote PDP out of power

If your assistant or store keeper breaches your trust,the first thing you do is to fire him or her before trying to find out how to plug the loop hole.

The next step in Nigeria's development is to vote PDP out of Aso Rock in 2015. Some other party should take over. And if they mess up, Nigerians should vote them out in 2020.

It is only with electoral accountability that Nigeria can grow. Even PDP is tired of their own bullshit.

I knew from 2010 that we were

I knew from 2010 that we were in for a rough ride with Jonathan. I feared how we would 'live' with this man for another 4 years, knowing how gullibe Nigerians are, that he would be voted in in 2011. The tell-tell signs were there for any blind to see. And it came to pass. Since I was born more than 40 years ago, every Nigerians ruler has promised us roads, electrcity, water, education, healthcare, security etc. And as at today, none of these exists anywhere in Nigeria. In 2015 same idiots would come to make same promises and Nigerians would happily troupe out to receive them in campaign grounds and believe them and you tell me Nigerians are not the most stupid people on earth? The problem is inherently not with our leaders but us the so called followers.

Okey you got it spot on, the

Okey you got it spot on, the advisers to GEJ are the biggest fraud in this nation, the subsidy fraud has exposed the underbelly of the actors in collaboration with Aso rock apologists . A revolution is long overdue we are seeing a little stability in forex which for me is due to the stoppage of paying unsubstantiated claim from our common wealth in the name of subsidy. Like it is being said the politicians are thinking of the next election and not the next generation. God will help us all.

In contrast to President Joyce Banda ...

...the Malawian who became President under similar circumstances as Johnny Dumbo. She has put the presidential fleet of cars and their only aircaft up for sale, cut salaries by 30% and hitches a "ride" or goes to work with public transport. And she has no Ph.D, just common sense! She's a person with "humble beginning" who remembers where she came from and those she left behind, a true story! The fools who believed a "fairy-tale" and voted this clown and the Crumbies who defend his daily gaffes owe us unreserved apology. Dumbo is "un-natural" catastrophy, a curse. PDP jinx! Ugly OBJ should be tried for treason bcos of this moron he rigged onto us with the sole aim of protecting his looted interest. The number of articles currently running on this site about corruption attest to the level of decay under Dr. Dumbo, the Utuoke Fisherman. 2015 may be too late, Dump Dumbo now !! Impeach the Clown and tow him back to his restive enclave in the Zoo where he escaped from pronto!

Hmmmmmmmmm......well said!

Hmmmmmmmmm......well said!

Nigerian a fallen house? I disagree!

There are people with real minds, very real minds I mean, who believe the Nigerian Project is a reality. This category of people know that it takes time and faith in government to succeed.

There are others, the likes of Ndibe, who are more patrotic than others. The latter group seem to think that the more negative of government they are, the more positive they contribute to government.

I can't be more disappointed at the heavy words of Oke Ndibe on Nigeria's government. If Oke actually knows how to run government, he should return to Nigeria and show us an example - contest in the poll, lead a University or start a business and let others judge his acumen.

Otherwise, maybe he should renounce his Nigerianship!!