Guess what folks, I have started my own re-branding! This piece was prompted by a lot of things going on in my dearly beloved country of origin – Nigeria.
About a year ago, we had a “new” Information Minister foisted on the nation in the person of Prof. Dora Akunyili. I remember distinctly that she was a “Dr.” when appointed to NAFDAC, but I guess NAFDAC is an educational institution and she was subsequently awarded a Professorial seat there! But that is a discussion for another day. So, pronto, she set to work and came up with our new mantra – Nigeria, Good People, Great Nation.
Events have however started unravelling the import of the mantra ever before it could even gain acceptance, so I am taking up the initiative and providing us with a new mantra – Nigeria, Heart-less Leaders, A Hapless People. Lest some take umbrage at my proposed slogan, I would expatiate on the obvious – that we indeed have a heart-less leader at the moment and that we are abjectly hapless (till we take matters into our heads, heart and hand to turn things around).
A Chronicle of Heartless Leadership
I think it is something of a poetic justice that the political leadership of the country finds itself at the moment with a leader who, at face value and matter-of-factly speaking, is heart-less. From the time preceding our independence, we have been saddled with Nigerian leaders who figuratively were (and still are) heartless.
Whilst our Anglophone neighbour to the West, Ghana, pretty much elected the best man to rule them at independence, we just had to pick the least qualified of the lot – an Arabic teacher – to lead us. I will be quick to point out, I have absolutely nothing against the “Northerner”, however, I have everything against a situation where Sir. Ahmadu Bello would “appoint” Sir Tafawa Balewa to lead the country after leading his party to victory at the polls. (So, you see, God-fatherism did not start with the Sarakis of Kwara). Regardless of other virtues that the Sardauna of Sokoto may have exhibited in his life-time, I think this was a pretty callous thing to do to a nation in its infancy. I would ask anyone who object, would you hand your baby over to the house help, right after delivery, whilst the mother goes catering to other “important issues”?
From that point on, the trajectory has been that of a stone sculpture trying to swim. “Operation wet i e” was followed by a bloody coup and an even bloodier counter-coup, capped by a civil war. If we had an opportunity to rectify things, it was under the bachelor Head of State – Gen (Dr) Yakubu Gowon. However, youthful exuberance (he was 29 when he became head of state and was sacked at 38) made him embark on all sorts of projects – white elephants, black elephants, useful elephants and elephant carcasses.
That chance was frittered prodigally and a palace coup and a bloody attempted coup later, our heartless leaders saddled us with the first Baba Go Slow – Alh. Shehu from Shagari village in Sokoto. It is difficult to accuse Alh. Shagari of corruption, in light of the scale of larceny that goes on in the country today, but his capacity for ineptitude was unmatched until perhaps the present regime. With heartless lieutenants like Alh. Umaru Dikko (who once proclaimed that Nigerians were not poor because they were not feeding from dust bins), you didn’t have to be personally corrupt to ruin the country.
I may make excuses for Buhari / Idiagbon, but zeal without applied emotional intelligence brought about their government before any appreciable impact could be made. However, they did not leave before bringing heart-aches to a few lives and making some really expensive mistakes. A good case in point is the cancellation of the Lagos Metro project by their government, which eventually cost the country so much money (by way of damages awarded by the Hague) that the actual project cost was being rivalled by the damages awarded. Many laud these pair as the epitome of honest leadership, but forget that when they were ousted, Idiagbon was on Hajj with his 14-year old son (despite having passed a law that barred minors from pilgrimage).
Just when we thought things could not get worse, like an avalanche of latrine waste, the nation was heaped with the worst of the Kakistocrats, the gap-toothed evil genius and his eventual successor, the kleptomaniac Mallam Sani. Their exploits do not need to be re-told here.
In many ways, I have a soft spot for the Otta farmer. In my own opinion, in terms of infrastructural developments and fiscal discipline, the first 6 years of his tenure were the best the country has seen (in my life time; Gen. Gowon having been in power long before I was born). My opinion is hinged largely on 3 things – fuel availability for much of his tenure, the telecoms industry deregulation and the national fiscal discipline that obtained for much of his tenure (with the resultant repayment of Nigeria’s foreign debts).
This does not say much in Baba Aremu’s favour, but it speaks volumes about the quality of Neanderthals who have ruled the nation before him. But it seems, from the moment he negotiated and paid off the nations debt, something woke up in him. I have yet to find the words to describe it, but how a man would appoint Ribadu, El-Rufai, Okonjo-Iweala and others of similar mould to work with him for the first six years and then turn around and select Baba Go-Slow to succeed him beats me.
So, for much of our history we have been saddled with pretty much heartless individuals in one capacity or another, it is rather befitting in an ironic way that it is being culminated now with a man with some exotic heart malady.
I do not gloat at the physiological sufferings of a fellow man, in so far as he is just that, a fellow man. However, I am forced to take a different path when that said man embodies all the executive powers of state in a country where just about everything that could go wrong has been “Maurice-Iwued” to go wrong. (If you wonder what Maurice-Iwu means, ask me later).
Any nation that is burdened with the number and quality of leaders as chronicled above is definitely an unfortunate nation. It hurts me to call my country unfortunate, but the lot of the nation is misery and would continue to be if no redeeming qualities can be found in the leadership.
It is however very easy to blame “the leaders”, but I am of the opinion that a nation is deserving of the rulers it gets. When American got complacent with prosperity, they found themselves with a moron in the White House for 8 years. When the got tired, against all conventions, they voted in the son of a black immigrant. So I do not lay the blame solely on leadership, for the leaders today were but followers yesterday. So I question, who are we?
I question the people who would leave the worst to govern – whether in uniform or not, I do not care. If the military must rule, why did it have to be a Bacchanalian, illiterate hedonist like Mallam Sani? If the NPN had to come to power in 1979, for crying out loud, why did it have to be the Alhaji from Shagari village? If PDP (terrible as they are) had to rule in 2007 and power had to shift to the North, why the monumentally inept UMYA? If Zik or Awo could not be trusted by the British at independence, why some bumbling teacher from Bauchi?
For an Okotie-Eboh who was made finance minister, there was an Akintola Williams who was qualified as a chartered accountant! This is a trait that continues to the present. In AD (later AC), I was aghast when Lanre Towry-Coker (former Lagos commissioner for works and a renowned architect) was passed over by Tinubu for the Lagos Island chief area boy, Musiliu Obanikoro (ex-Lagos Island Chairman, under whose watch the City Hall was burnt). The parallels go on and on. And by the way, Obanikoro later defected to the PDP.
When would we, as a collective make up our minds to give responsibility to only the most qualified and the most deserving? Until we learn to do that and make it a way of life, we would simply morph from hapless followers to heartless leaders.
I do not claim the monopoly of wisdom. In fact, I am rather hesitant to ascribe any wisdom to myself. I can only point out what I feel are the steps we ought to take to get out of this hazy quagmire.
- We must appreciate the power in our choices.
- We must learn to pick the best in every situation, even in bad situations. Like I said earlier, if there had to be a coup in 1993 to oust Shonekan, why did it have to be Mallam Sani? The good results we get (or do not get) are simply the culmination of the choices – good or bad – that we have made.
- We must hold leadership accountable. The barons of England forced King John (Lackland) to sign the Magna Carta which invariably forms the bedrock of the rights we enjoy today in the United Kingdom. Whilst UMYA may not be accessible to many people, the councillor and traffic wardens appointed by various councils in Lagos for instance are readily accessible. Where there are grievances with their leadership, we should learn to confront them.
- We must not be apathetic to governance and politics. The bad decisions taken by the successive governments mentioned above have brought the country and its citizens to the point where we are now. If all that we can do, is talk and write, then let us all do it. Eventually, the whispers become rumbles and the rumbles would cause some to tumble out of their lofty offices.
- We must cease to celebrate the wrong things and people. I do not want to go into another sparring session with Chief Dele Momodu, but his magazine (as it is today) is truly representative of the Nigerian definition of celebrity. Christmas is around the corner and guess what, “Nigerians from all walks of life” would be tumbling over themselves wishing every manner of government officials merry Christmas. It is even worse on Independence day Celebrations – and it’s going to be 50 next year. Why would I want to place an advert in the papers to congratulate David Mark for instance? What has he done for the country? Or in the case of the celebrated photo album published by Bob Dee, why would I want to celebrate Terry Waya?
Underlying all of these is a need for a good system of education – both formal and informal. Whilst the government cannot be trusted at the moment to sort out the mess that is our formal education system, each parent can take the responsibility to bring up their wards with a set of values and value defining system what would uphold the lessons stated above.
Maybe after all is said and done, we may truly become Nigeria, Good People, Great Nation.