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Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Leadership without Conscience


SIMON KOLAWOLE

Incredible. I recently discovered that I spend most of my time thinking and talking about Nigeria. If I devote half of the time to making money, I would be richer than Bill Gates and Mike Adenuga combined! I don’t know why but I’ve noticed that, indeed, wherever two or three are gathered, Nigeria is usually the topic of discussion. Last Monday in London, what was supposed to be a quiet dinner with my friend and IT consultant, Aminu Hammanyero, at a Malaysian restaurant turned out to be another round of discussion on Nigeria. As we reflected, lamented and regretted, I pushed my pet thesis forward once again – that Nigeria is like this because we have always had the wrong people in power. The day the right people lead us, you would not believe it is the same Nigeria that has been universally derided and declared as hopeless.
Almost every ingredient needed to make Nigeria a truly great nation is available – a co-operative populace which we often label as “docile”; fantastic geographical balance which makes the North and the South so complementary in agricultural and industrial production; abundant human resource (go to advanced countries and see the way Nigerian professors, engineers, doctors and other professionals working over there are rated); abundant mineral resources; and a potential melting pot of multi-ethnic, multi-religious groups that, barring elite manipulation, are very capable of living together in peace and unity. The missing ingredient is, and has always been, leadership. We’re like sheep without a shepherd. We’ve always been saddled with unprepared and buccaneering leaders who spend most of their time pilfering and politicking without a care in the world for the progress of Nigeria.
As we finished attacking the Malaysian noodle dish with forks and knives, Aminu told me he had an appointment with former head of state, Major Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, and asked if I could accompany him. Why not? The last time I saw Buhari was in March 2001 when I interviewed him for TheWeek magazine, of which I was Editor then. I have nothing but respect for Buhari who, along with Major Gen. Tunde Idiagbon, provided a semblance of leadership for this country to the disgust of the predatory elite. To be sure, I was unhappy with the termination of our democracy in 1983 as well as their “dictatorship”. In fact, I was all too happy with the “democratic” posture of the man who overthrew them in 1985, Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB), who swiftly abrogated the anti-press Decree 4 and threw open the detention cells of the Buhari government for all the whole world to see.
I will not tell lies or pretend here – I was relieved on hearing martial music on August 27, 1985 and the coup speech: “I, Brigadier Joshua Nimyel Dogonyaro, of the Nigerian Army, hereby make the following declarations of behalf of the Nigerian Armed Forces…” However, looking back today, I have nothing but anger and regrets. The first real chance to transform this country was truncated by IBB. He ended up committing every crime he accused Buhari of, and did even more. No government has undermined human rights more than IBB’s. All the politicians who were jailed with their loot confiscated by Buhari were released, given a pat on the back and re-integrated into the ruling class by IBB who paraded himself as a democrat. Most painfully, nobody has been able to successfully accuse Buhari and Idiagbon of corruption up till today. When Colonels Abubakar Umar, Lawan Gwadabe and Abdulmumini Aminu went to arrest Buhari in Daura, his hometown, on the eve of the IBB coup, they were shocked to discover the modesty of Buhari’s country home.
Even though I only began to fully appreciate Buhari when IBB started to show us his true colour, it was a Buhari interview I read in TheNews magazine in 1994 that finally melted my heart. Asked about the perceived highhandedness of his government, Buhari replied: “I agree we made a lot of mistakes, but they were genuine mistakes… we were in a hurry to change Nigeria.” I shook my head in pity. The motive was the progress of Nigeria, not personal benefits. Nobody is going to bring about fundamental change in Nigeria without taking tough actions which we would consider as “highhandedness”. Jerry Rawlings was notoriously highhanded in Ghana, but his country is today a reference point in transformation. The political elite which held Ghana captive had to make way for the country to make progress. Ghana is telling a different story today. Nigerian elites are now rushing to Ghana for “sanity”.
Motive matters. Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo was also highhanded, only that it was not for the sake of Nigeria. His shenanigans in Anambra, Oyo, Rivers and the National Assembly were not for the progress of Nigeria but for self-aggrandisement. No matter what we count as Obasanjo’s achievements, he lacked the moral launch pad to transform Nigeria. That is why corruption boomed astronomically under him. His government should rank as the most corrupt in our history (IBB is a saint, compared to Obasanjo). Our refineries never worked because of the fuel-importing ring Obasanjo created to lubricate his political machinery. Even the power projects were riddled with scandal and so we still don’t have electricity. For eight years, Obasanjo failed to tackle our basic needs. Without a moral foundation, no attempts at economic or political reform will turn Nigeria into a great nation. Free and fair elections cannot be guaranteed.
As I was saying, we caught up with Buhari and chatted with him for nearly an hour. We discussed Nigeria and nothing else. The General is obviously very bitter with events in the country, particularly “Ido-Osi” (the new name for vote inflation) and the attitude of the ruling government to the development of the country. He said he was not surprised US President Barack Obama was going to Ghana and not Nigeria. “When President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was busy reversing policies and cancelling international agreements, he failed to realise the outside world was watching him. I was also not surprised Nigeria was left out of the G-20 summit. When I became head of state in 1983, I announced that we would honour every international obligation, even though some were entered into wrongfully by the previous government. But an agreement is an agreement,” he said.
He spoke on the Obasanjo years with disappointment and disbelief. “I worked with Obasanjo from 1975 to 1979 as petroleum minister. I had never worked with such a hardworking and honest person. He had the interest of Nigeria at heart. You just couldn’t cope with his pace. He could be on his feet for 24 hours. But the Obasanjo that ruled Nigeria between 1999 and 2007 was completely different from the one I knew. He spent the first term travelling all over the world. He spent the second term thinking of how to rule Nigeria forever,” Buhari said. He narrated his first argument with the former president at a Council of State meeting in 2001. The issue was the refineries. Hear him: “I said when I was the petroleum minister under him, we used to hold tenders for turn around maintenance (TAM) of refineries. There was no favouritism. There were no fuel queues because we made adequate preparations for the maintenance works by getting bids for fuel import contracts to cover the gap.”
He continued: “I also said, Mr. President, when you came into power in 1999, you said our refineries were not working because somebody was awarding fuel import contracts to his family members. Two years on, Mr. President, who is getting the fuel import contracts? Are the refineries working now? He interjected and tried to stop me. The then Vice-President Atiku Abubakar came to my rescue. He told the president that as the chairman of the economic team, he had not heard such a submission from anybody before then. He asked the president to allow me conclude my contribution. But my advice wasn’t accepted in any case.”
Buhari, now a democracy convert (he contested for presidency on the ticket of ANPP in 2003 and 2007), lamented the state of the nation. “I recently got hold of the figures of our income from 1999 till now, it’s incredible. How come we don’t have basic infrastructure? Why are our roads still like this? How come our education system has collapsed so dramatically that only those with money can send their children to good schools? Why are our hospitals in such a terrible state that only those who have money can get good treatment, usually abroad? Why should Nigeria be like this with all the money that we have? After asking myself all these questions, I came to the conclusion that our leaders do not have conscience. That is the crux of the matter. If our leaders had conscience, Nigeria would not be in the state it is now.”
To buttress his leadership argument, he said: “I was in Calcutta, India, in 1972 for my staff training. I remember that the same way refuse collectors come around in the morning was the way undertakers were going round every morning collecting dead bodies for burial. India was facing harsh economic and food crises then. Yet, with purposeful leadership, India had become a different country in a matter of 10 years. When I became head of state in 1983, I was amazed to discover that Nigeria was importing rice from India. That is what purposeful leadership can do. India is bigger and more complex than Nigeria by far. They have more ethnic groups, more religions, more political parties, by far a bigger population, but all these have not impeded their progress. They, along with China, are the emerging global economic powerhouses.”
Dear readers, I hereby stand my by argument – that the day the right leaders emerge, there would be no stopping Nigeria from attaining greatness. But how would they emerge with the way things are going, with the way the country is structured, with fake intellectuals and heartless looters calling the shots in almost every sphere of our lives? I don’t have an answer to that, honestly. But if there is bad, there is good too. If there is darkness, then there is light. If there are bad leaders, there will be good leaders one day. I don’t for one second think that predators will rule Nigeria forever…

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