12 June 2014

Nigeria: 'Negligent Leaders Are Sucking Nigeria Dry'

With attacks killing people almost daily, Nigeria's government is grappling with questions as to why violence and lawlessness plague the country. DW spoke with author Lola Shoneyin about the roots of the problems.

You paint a picture of Nigeria as this massive economy with plenty of money, yet still very much rife with poverty and violence.What's behind that contrast?

We've gotten caught in a vicious cycle. It's poor leadership - you have leaders here who don't seem to care about providing basic amenities for the people. There are so many people out there, and the government doesn't seem to be doing anything to facilitate social mobility.

What enables these negligent leaders to stay in power?

Once power gets into the hands of people who are selfish, they will do everything to keep the status quo. It's all about selecting people who will protect the ill-gotten wealth that they have managed to milk from the country. We just end up recycling these leaders who continue to suck the country dry without doing enough for the masses.

President Goodluck Jonathan has been accused of not doing enough [about] the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls by terrorist group Boko Haram. What's your take on the The tweet that launched #BringBackOurGirls"Bring Back Our Girls" social media campaign? Is it something that looks good but is not really doing anything to help?

Short of taking up arms and heading into Sambisa Forest, there isn't much these people can do, and that's been their frustration. They're sitting out in the streets saying, "Government, you're the people who have the power to do something. Why aren't you doing anything?"

Nigeria has been shaken by a series of terror attacks

But there are such massive triumphs here, just on the social level. People now know and are getting to understand that they have a voice, and this is something that's very important for the Nigerian people, because there is a sense in which you become numb. It's great when people finally start understanding that they do have a voice and that there can be power behind that voice. These are the things that make democracy work.

What needs to change?

There's so much division, when it comes to ethnicity for instance. Even with Boko Haram, it is also very much a religious issue. But how certain people are only interested in supporting those from their own ethnic groups, or those who belong to the religion they belong to, these are the things that are holding us back.

If we grow the middle class, and if we had an enlightened middle class that expects leaders to be accountable, that's how we're going to develop a sustainable democracy.

Lola Shoneyin is a Nigerian poet, author, and activist on issues plaguing Nigeria. She has published three volumes of poetry, and her first novel debuted in the United Kingdom in May 2009. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria.

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