By Mark Adebayo
“I do not fit for this office and never should have been here”
_ Warren G. Harding (the 29th President of the USA).
The search for genuine leadership for Nigeria has been a strenuous and ceaseless one due to the excruciating leadership failures that this country has endured since flag independence. The right leadership would avail the country the right direction, the right direction would lead Nigeria to the right path of growth, development, progress and justice. The right, competent and patriotic leadership is what Nigeria needs for a revolutionary departure from her moribund nationhood.
Leadership is everything for a country, an organisation and a family. Leadership is the critical factor in the destiny of every society. Leadership is the lead ship that determines the fate of the rest of the fleet in a battle. Any country that gambles with its leadership choices is a country doomed to failure; it can never blossom to the full extent of its potentials.
To seek and get the right leadership for Nigeria is not only a historical duty but also a contemporary necessity.
Last week, yet another patriotic effort to re-engineer Nigeria’s viability as a country was birthed and christened “National Consultative Front”. Most of the names mentioned as masterminds of the NCF are no mean personalities. They are those who have established themselves as men and women of integrity and highly successful professionals, veteran politicians, experienced activists, youth organisers and accomplished academics.
I’ll like to talk about just a few of the dramatis personae involved in this latest initiative for national redemption before I delve into the question of leadership that this article seeks to fundamentally address.
In any organisation that Comrade Wale Okunniyi – NCF’s Head of Secretariat – features, you must know that it’s not a regular or common project that’s in the offing. It most certainly would be something that has a tendency to flow against the currents of the ordinary or the simplistic. Veteran Ché, as we fondly call him in activists’ circles, is an intrepid battle general with many scars to show for it but remains tireless all the same. From student unionism of the late 70s and 80s to Civil Society and Labour collaborative actions, to the June 12 struggles, Wale has never shied away from the hottest battles to get Nigeria on the track of justice, fairness and development. You may accuse him of overzealousness, but Wale treads where angels and demons alike trepidate to stand.
Whatever you find Oluremi Comfort Sonaiya, a retired Professor of applied linguistics and arguably the most popular female presidential candidate that Nigeria has ever produced through KOWA Party, identified with, you can bet that it has to do with integrity, patriotism, selflessness and programmed to achieve the most noble of human objectives. She has a tireless faith in Nigeria and has refused to sit back to watch things degenerate without being involved by donating herself to any serious efforts directed towards getting the national equation right. You cannot doubt her sincerity. You cannot question her integrity. And you cannot miss her anger against the established order of chaos that has bedeviled Nigeria.
Anywhere you find Professor Pat Utomi, a man with rich academic and political pedigree, you know there is no frivolity involved. Professor Utomi is a brilliant academic, a committed patriot, and a great inspiration for a disciplined commitment to achieving useful purpose. Through his writings, speeches and actions, you see an incredibly resourceful man deeply knowledgeable in things that matter.
I can only describe Madam Obiageli Ezekwesili’s concern for Nigeria as that of a mother pained to the marrow about the waywardness of her “prodigal son” but nonetheless refuses to give up on him no matter how battered she gets while trying to rescue her lost son until he comes to his senses and returns home. Let me demonstrate how invaluable Dr. Oby Ezekwesili is by how Professor Remi Sonaiya perceives her. After paying nonrefundable One Million Naira to obtain KOWA Party’s nomination Form to participate in the Party’s 2020 presidential Primary, Professor Sonaiya told me that even if she won the primary and Oby decided to run for presidency thereafter, she would step down for her because she said she believed Madam Oby would do a better job than she could. It was an understatement to say I was shocked. So, when I described Professor Sonaiya as selfless, I know what I’m saying. By the way, the Party’s leadership had decided that female aspirants should pay half of what their male counterparts paid, but Professor Sonaiya insisted on paying the same amount as her male counterparts. She said she didn’t want to be treated differently from them and wouldn’t accept any special treatment. In Dr Oby Ezekwesili, we find another committed patriot with unquestionable determination to speak truth to power and take necessary actions to right the wrongs of society. Her contributions and sacrifices in starting and sustaining the Bring Back Our Girls movement that gained international traction remain indelible. You see a passionate patriot who is not looking for “something to eat”.
High Chief Peter Ameh, the immediate past President of the Inter-Party Advisory Council, is a new breed but experienced politician with incredible capacity to mobilize forces behind a cause he believes in. He is a vibrant voice of political inclusivity and Pan-Nigerian solutions for the Nigerian challenges.
Comrade Isa Aremu is a formidable labour leader with decades of active engagements and experience. He is a brilliant mind with uncommon intellectual depths in the socioeconomic and political realities of Nigeria. Workers speak highly of him with admirable appreciation.
Jude Feranmi, NCF’s Youth contact person, is a restless and energetic young man with an insatiable appetite for the panacea required to save Nigeria and goes about his actions with a certain commendable panache including writing books to mobilize Nigerians, especially members of his own generation, behind a direct action to achieve Nigeria’s redemption.
Professor Anthony Kila is a fully loaded academic vessel with an uncompromising resolve to fight for rescuing the Nigerian soul from the path of unmitigated perdition.
Names like Balarabe Musa, Colonel Umar Dangiwa Abubakar (Rtd), Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Femi Falana (SAN), Adesina Fagbenro-Byron, Rt-Honorable Ghali Na’aba, Tanko Yinusa and others that space cannot permit listing here are not people given to frivolities. Where vultures gather, there must be a lifeless body as the attraction. But where men and women of noble character congregate, there is an ineluctable presence of a noble venture as the cynosure. Although, few of them have, in their own wisdom, distanced themselves from the new organisation by giving non prior “consultation” as excuse, they did not deny the necessity for such a movement as NCF and definitely cannot deny their involvement in the conception of it even if they disagreed with its manner of delivery. I know because I’m involved. What’s important is that, whether by a natural process or induced birth via a caesarean section, the child was not a stillborn.
NCF is a reminder of Nigeria’s leadership deficits that must be fixed to forestall the crumbling of the cookie. Jean Paul Sartre wrote that “Avoiding action, and refusing to act, is also an action. Refusing to choose is as much a choice as choosing is”. The citizens of a country in deficit of leadership and good governance have a choice to stand up to their reality and resolve it in their favour or simply watch as their country succumbs to the destructive impact of leadership failure.
When Nigeria became an ‘independent’ entity from the British on October 1960, it ignited the hopes of the African continent and blacks all over the world. Being the most populous concentration of blacks in the world and richly blessed with many natural resources, the black world looked up to Nigeria as the flagship of the black man’s freedom, his prowess, ingenuity, development, nationalism, history, civilization, culture, progress and ultimate ascendancy to global leadership within a decade or a little later. But sixty years after, all that hope has virtually vanished. Nigeria is currently floundering on the ocean of crisis of identity between a failing state or an already failed one. For instance, Nigeria has lost its monopoly of the possession and use of legitimate force within its territory. Terrorists, killer herdsmen and bandits have demystified our security agencies by roaming freely, kidnapping, robbing, raping, and, sometimes, executing scorched-earth operations against communities and towns and holding firmly to territories within Nigeria despite this government’s infamous refrain of Boko Haram having been “technically defeated” – whatever that means. It’s meaningless, actually, except for its falsehood value. A smokescreen that majority of Nigerians have seen through, especially the Northerners who bear the direct daily brunts of the incessant murderous escapades of these criminal, terrorist gangs.
Nigeria’s infrastructures are an eyesore and a heartache. Compared to countries on the same pedestal some sixty years ago, like Singapore, Turkey, to mention just two, Nigeria is a backward country with scuttled expectations under the burden of myopically incapacitated leaders who successively mortgage her progress through incompetence, massive looting of the country’s wealth, cronyism, nepotism and destructive ethnoreligious bigotry which divides the country against itself along ethnic and religious lines. The scourge of ethnoreligious nepotism in government has never been as pronounced and barefaced in the political history of Nigeria as the current regime of President Muhammadu Buhari has exhibited since 2015. Despite vociferous public outcries against such divisiveness the president has remained stubbornly impervious to concerns being raised but, instead, aggravating the situation further.
I read somewhere that “In corrupted governments, the place is given for the sake of the man; in good ones the man is chosen for the sake of the place”. Except professional competency determines government appointments, the country cannot make any meaningful progress.
The hopes raised at independence have crashed and splintered into tragic smithereens. It has again raised the whole debate around whether the black race is “a cursed race” that cannot manage its affairs successfully.
I wept when I read what Andrew McCoy wrote in his book, African Revenge, when analysing what usually happened to African countries almost immediately after independence from the colonialists. He concluded that “As soon as a white government is replaced by a black one, law and order break down… Africa is turning slowly black from the equator outwards, going to the dogs…”. His outbursts might be condemned as racist gabbing or informed by apartheid sentiments, but the African score sheets do not disprove his claims.
The summary of sixty years of independence is that Nigeria is a country suffering from “multidimensional poverty”. That’s the scorecard of Nigeria’s political leaders since flag independence in 1960. None of the rulers who have managed the affairs of this country is free of guilt in the way this country is today. I make bold to say that Nigeria has never had the ideal leader – competent, creative, patriotic, incorruptible, decisive, hardworking, visionary – at the national level since independence. None has had a stellar performance of exemplary leadership with a lasting legacy of development. None has generated patriotic passion in the citizens around a common national cause. None can be exonerated from the corruptible influences of power. There is no president or head of state of this country that could be said to have served this country at the the expense of self for the good of the greater majority of Nigerians. It is either they’re repressive and corrupt or incompetent, ‘tribalistic’, divisive, confused, and outrightly useless. I can put a name to each of the negative characterisation here. Each of the rulers has one or a combination of the negative attributes listed above. None has a clearly identifiable outstanding performance in office except for media propaganda and official window-dressing to paper over gaping cracks of leadership failure and unpardonable wastages.
Professor Tam David West captured it so succinctly when he declared that “Our governors are irresponsible, they are kleptomaniacs, they are corrupt. Our governors are unpatriotic, they are selfish, megalomaniac. They are thieves. The governors are richer than their states in a comparative sense, just like Mobutu Sese Seko was richer than his country. If they are not, let them come and declare their assets in public” (THE PUNCH, October 7th, 2008. The last page).
This is a factual summation of Nigeria’s leadership tragedy since flag independence. The opinion of this respected academic of blessed memory is also a valid description fit for all who have ruled Nigeria whether civilian or military especially at the national level. All of them wear the same garment of irresponsible and failed leadership. Nigeria did far better when we operated regionalism and the Westminster system of government. The wonderful achievements of the Regional governments were reversed and destroyed by the military fiat of unitarism that successive civilian administrations inherited but unwittingly retained. The unitary system crushed the rapid development of the regions and holds down progress ad infinitum.
Nigeria’s search for leadership has led to many struggles, initiatives and a different concourse of perspectives. Gaining traction for some time now is the call for the urgent and comprehensive restructuring of the country in order to free it from the domination of one part of the country over the others and activate a process of each zone developing at its own pace. That, essentially, is believed would make for some balance and justice in the deployment of the country’s natural resources, policy priorities, and address the whole challenges of marginalisation being alleged by the South.
The more radical elements want more than mere restructuring. They want the Nigerian state dissolved in favour of the emergence of several separate independent states where each of the peoples in those spaces could feel equal, appreciated and safe. This was the fear expressed by Professor Wole Soyinka as published in the TELL magazine of July 14, 1997 where he said “If this (political) situation is not resolved very very quickly, I foresee the resolution of this crisis terminating in (armed struggle)… and before you know it people like myself are going to be pushed aside by the violent elements within the opposition….) I strongly believe that it is the success of moderate organisations like the NCF and similar initiatives led by responsible, level-headed and patriotic elements that can forestall such an outbreak of violence in the near future. Nobody can blame those who want their own countries if they don’t feel treated right in a country where they find themselves – especially within a colonial contraption that defines Nigeria’s emergence as a country by amalgamation in 1914. Many now consider that action, with the benefits of hindsight, a huge error that must be corrected through restructuring or, better still, self-determination.
Kenuli Saro-Wiwa wrote from prison in 1995 that “Injustice stalks the land like a tiger on the prowl. To be at the mercy of buffoons is the ultimate insult”. That’s the kind of hopelessness that injustice breeds in the minds of citizens. The conditions that warranted that expression are unfortunately still subsisting in today’s Nigeria.
Nigeria’s democracy is definitely not structured in a way to produce the best human materials that Nigeria can boast of through the process of regular elections. In a situation where the votes don’t count and where or when they count the votes go to the highest bidder who can buy the highest number of voters or the winner is the fellow who could mobilise and unleash enough machinery of lethal violence and rigging, responsible, competent and patriotic contestants are automatically rigged out because they lack the capacity to match the financial war chest of their opponents or have not degenerated, by choice, to the level of moral decadence that their opponents have descended into. I learnt practically that good manifestos and noble intentions plus impeccable pedigrees cannot win elections in Nigeria. Nigerian voters are fixated on immediate gratification of how much you can offer now and not whatever good policies you have to execute in office.
For people of character and competence to ascend the country’s leadership, the whole electoral processes have to be totally overhauled to favour merit over muscle. For as long as money, violence and powers of incumbency determine who wins what in our elections as currently obtains, we can never get our leadership recruitment processes right and rogue politicians will continue “capturing” power and destroying the country.
Responsible patriots cannot afford to play politics the way Groucho Marx defined it when he wrote that “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies”. Rather than the art, we need the precision of the science of politics that can produce elections with the certainty of the American elections that Theodore H. White commended when he wrote in his book, The Making Of The President 1964, that “Power in America comes from voters – their quiet, nonviolent expression of taste or conviction”. He went further to write on page 160 of the same book that “Power in America rises in its primitive form from the citizens voting their will at secret polling places”.
I salute the spirit behind the emergence of the NCF. Hegel wrote that “The great man of his age is the one who can put into words the will of his age, tell his age what its will is and accomplish it. What he does is the heart and essence of his age. He actualises it”.
Every hand must be on the table for a revolutionary redirection of Nigeria towards a reinvigorated economy, a just and progressive society piloted by selfless, patriotic, competent, and visionary leadership.
All who have ruled Nigeria at the national level are in the same category as the American 29th president quoted at the beginning of this piece – Warren G. Harding. They were/are not fit for Nigeria’s leadership and shouldn’t have been there in the first instance. However, they are more unfit than Harding because they were/are not as forthright in admitting their unfitness as he did.
Nigeria, we fail thee.
But it’s time to hail thee.
Arise, o compatriots.
I rest my case.