The way and manner Nigeria is being governed since independence in 1960 shows that elected politicians and public office holders pursue self interest rather than national interest. And any country where the leaders pursue self interest instead of national interest does not progress. This is why the country is stagnant instead of developing. What is national interest? According to Momoh (2005), national interest “is the interest of the nation”. According to the Nigerian Press Council (1996) “The national interests cover the whole range of subjects from sovereignty, unity, and security of state to communal amity, economic stability, and the standards of decency and morality”.
Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution titled: “Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy” encompasses the national interest of this country. Section 14 sub-section 2(a) states thus, “sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this constitution derives all its powers and authority. Section 14, sub- section 2(b) states, “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. Section 15 sub-section (1) states, “The Motto of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress”. Thus, national interest shall be summed up in the following words: sovereignty, welfare, unity, faith, peace and progress. In a nutshell, national interest is anything that concerns and affects all Nigerians. It is the common aspirations of the various ethnic nationalities that constitute the Nigerian State.
However, having known the meaning of national interest the question now is, what then is self-interest? According to the Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, self- interest is “concern for one’s own interests or personal advantage”. With the meanings of the two concepts above, we can see that successive government officials in Nigeria are driven by self-interest instead of national interest. As mentioned above, sovereignty is a national interest issue in the sense that sovereignty belongs to the people. For this reason, military coups that subvert an elected president are crimes against the masses that gave their mandate to the president and a violation of national interest. On the hand, rigging of elections by politicians is also a crime against national interest because they are occupying political offices without the mandate of the electorate. Welfare is another national interest issue because it affects every citizen of the country. The aim of every government is to ensure the welfare of its citizens. Welfare is about the health, safety, happiness and prosperity of the masses. This is achieved through the provision of hospitals, security, employment opportunities, social security to the unemployed people, provision of enabling environment for businesses to thrive, etc.
Unity is about discouraging ethnic, tribal, sectional, regional and religious sentiments and pursuing a common goal that brings all the ethnic nationalities together. Faith is also a national interest matter because every Nigerian belongs to one faith (religion) or the other. So, people’s faith or religions must not be tampered with. One other issue of national interest is peace. Everybody needs peace because without peace there cannot be development. It is when there is peace that people can go about their normal businesses and fulfill their ambitions. Progress is also a national interest issue. Progress encompasses all areas of developments such as infrastructure: good roads, water supply, telecommunications, schools, power, functional transport system, houses, etc. All these put together are the things of national interest to all Nigerians.
A country where national interest is dominant, both the leaders and the citizenry work towards achieving the national interest which is their common goal. For national interest to be achieved, the leaders play a vital role since they are the ones that enact, interpret and execute the laws with which the country is governed. A country that has leaders who have national interest at heart, usually execute programmes and projects that move the country forward. Where national interest prevails, annual budgets are implemented and capital expenditure which is the lifeblood of development usually outweighed recurrent expenditure which is basically about salaries and allowances or overheads. Infrastructure such as good roads, power, houses, functional transport system, water supply, schools, telecommunications, etc, are the focus of leaders that have national interest at heart. This in turn translates into the establishment of industries, firms, companies, small scale industries, cottage industries, etc. With industrialization, there will be job opportunities which will reduce crimes drastically and there will be no need to spend much money on security matters. When the crime rate is low there will be peace and the citizenry will go about their normal businesses without fear of attacks.
Infrastructures are the drivers of development across the globe. But when leaders pursue self-interest, money earmarked for infrastructural development is diverted to private use. Also, provisions of functional hospitals are the concern of leaders that have national interest at heart since they and their family members also attend the local hospitals like other citizens of the country. Moreover, when leaders chase self-interest, the hospitals become decay since they can afford foreign hospital bills for their family members. Education which illuminates the mind is taken seriously, well funded and equipped for them to produce qualified graduates that can compete favourably with their counterparts from other climes. This happens when leaders believe in national interest because their children attend the institutions at home. But when leaders pursue self-interest, the education sector is neglected because their children and wards do not attend the institutions in the country. Therefore, lecturers are allowed to go on strike in perpetuity while the leaders stand aloof without showing remorse because they have nothing to lose since their and wards do not attend the local institutions. This has made our institutions become dilapidated as there are no books in their libraries, engineering workshops have no tools for students to practice with, laboratories are empty and unemployable graduates are churned out yearly!
Meanwhile, a country where the leaders pursue self- interest, nothing works since their concern is what they can grab from the system. Self- interest encourages corruption and ineptitude. There will be no infrastructure since the money budgeted for such things are usually diverted to private bank accounts in foreign banks. In addition, where there is no national interest, there will be no water as money budgeted for the provision of water is diverted to personal use by the leaders. Since the leaders have enough money with which to sink boreholes that supply water to them while the masses roam the streets in search for water to buy from water vendors. Likewise, security is the exclusive preserve of leaders since they are assigned security officers to protect them through the tax payers’ money while the masses are left to protect themselves through prayer and fasting. Where self- interest prevails, houses are not built for the masses, rather leaders build houses for themselves alone while the masses are left to sleep under bridges and shanties. Leaders who seek self interest instead of national interest are not troubled if there is no supply of electricity. This is due to the fact that they have enough money to buy giant sound proofed generators for their homes at the masses live in darkness.
Where self interest is dominant, there is nothing like the commonwealth of the people which will benefit everybody. This is why the railways are not functioning because if they do function, the egocentric trailer owners will lose their haulage businesses. So, they prefer the railways to die than for them not to make money from their trailers. It is the same reasons why the crude oil refineries are not functional. The leaders prefer the importation of refined petroleum products than to refine the crude oil locally which will benefit the masses immensely. Under importation, subsidy funds can be collected above the quantity imported or for what is not even imported. By so doing, leaders become moneybags and even become richer than the country itself. This is exactly what is happening in Nigeria today.
Another problem with a country whose leaders have self interest is that they award contracts to their friends, relatives and cronies even though such people do not have the prerequisite for such contracts. And after the award of such contracts, both parties simply share the contract funds and such projects are not executed but anybody will be punished for such actions. When leaders pursue self-interest, the judiciary which suppose to be the last hope of the common man, becomes corrupt and justice is denied the poor while moneyed get justice. In fact, no institutions work in a country where leaders pursue self interest.
Thus, from all indications, Nigerian leaders pursue self interest instead of national interest. This is why corruption is endemic in the country and nothing works. The hospitals are dead; the education sector has collapsed; the roads are bad; the refineries are not functional; no potable water; no electricity supply; no security; no houses; the cost of living is unbearable etc. However, to ensure national interest, the judiciary must be upright in its duties so as to punish corrupt people. When corrupt people are punished, that will serve as deterrent to others and they will avoid corruption.