By Simon Kolawole
For long, I’ve been playing around with a few pet “theories” on how I think Nigeria is going to graduate from “third world” to “first world”. I often talk about “progressive graduation” — that is, Nigeria is going to develop in phases and stages. We’re not going to go to bed tonight and wake up tomorrow to discover that we have become the new Singapore. Given our internal challenges, especially our leadership struggles, I admit that this is going to be a painfully and frustratingly long process. For instance, it took decades to destroy the education sector and this cannot be repaired in one year. You cannot reduce dependency on oil overnight. The key factor, however, is to be sure we are making progress per time — not one step forward and two backward.
Another pet “theory” of mine is that for Nigeria to genuinely graduate from gutter to glory, we need a team of “competent and patriotic” leaders. Take note: competence AND patriotism, not competence OR patriotism. By competence, I refer to capacity plus track record. By patriotism, I mean putting Nigeria above personal or group interests. I have seen many Nigerian leaders who are competent but unpatriotic. They end up feathering their nests rather than focusing on development. Most governors are like that. But I have also seen patriotic leaders who are incompetent. They don’t steal, at least not brazenly, but they also have no clue on visioning. Countries that have graduated from underdevelopment were governed by “competent AND patriotic” leaders.
While I believe it will be a painfully slow process for Nigeria to move up, and while I also feel we need a leadership team made up of competent and patriotic Nigerians, I have also always thought we need a strong leader to lead the process. By “strong leader”, I mean the combination of a commanding personality, integrity and tenacity of purpose. I have always seen Nigerians as a people harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, even though everything to make Nigeria is here with us. We have the brains we need. We have the resources we need. All the ingredients of greatness are there for the taking. The only missing thing, I’ve always argued, is the competent and patriotic leader who will lead us from the front.
With all these at the back of my mind, I have been looking out for THAT leader since the dawn of this democratic dispensation. When President Olusegun Obasanjo assumed office in 1999, there was this enthusiasm in me. With his experience, I was quietly hopeful that this was the man that would lead the journey to the Promised Land. For all his failings, no president has opened up the Nigerian economy more than Obasanjo. He had a clear vision of what he wanted. His reform initiatives covering oil and gas, finance, industry and agriculture did a lot of good to the economy as evident in the number of businesses and entrepreneurs that emerged in a spate of four to five years. But Obasanjo’s inability to tame his demons ultimately did him in. He was not THAT leader.
When President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua succeeded Obasanjo, I was not too sure about his competence, but we heard a lot about his modesty. Unfortunately, ill health did not allow him to take off. To make matters worse, he did not build on Obasanjo’s legacy — partly because the people in his inner sanctuary misled him. He stopped the power projects and the Lagos-Kano rail, and reversed key policies made by Obasanjo. It did not take me time to conclude that Yar’Adua was not THAT leader. The moment he allowed his political financiers to destroy EFCC and disgrace Nuhu Ribadu out of the police, the signals were very clear that he had missed his way. Yet something inside me says he still would have been a good president but for his poor health.
President Goodluck Jonathan’s government was “brought in dead”. By contesting for presidency at a time the “North” strongly felt they had been short-changed, Jonathan had effectively signed for a turbulent ride — and he got it in full dose. But he did not help matters by failing to deal decisively with corruption and Boko Haram, thereby swelling the ranks of the opposition. Nevertheless, it will be unfair to say he achieved nothing in five years. The narrative is such that if power improves today, it is attributed to President Muhammadu Buhari’s body language — as if it was body language that built the power plants at Geregu, Omotosho and Papalanto and laid the gas pipelines. Although Jonathan recorded significant strides in several sectors, but he was not THAT leader.
Buhari appears to tick all the boxes: competence, integrity and strong leadership. This has raised the expectations of millions of Nigerians. Is he THAT leader we’ve been dreaming about? The question is for him to answer with his performance in office.
For one, in Buhari we have a president who is not materialistic. I don’t think Buhari will, at the age of 72, be seeking to buy his first private jet. If he has managed to live modestly for 72 years of his life, it will take a tragedy of Hiroshima proportions for him to descend to a life of greed and looting at this stage. If you believe, like me, that corruption is a major hindrance to our forward movement, then you are entitled to hope that in Buhari, we have a leader who will be a scarecrow to looters.
I do not by any stretch of imagination suggest that corruption will disappear under Buhari — or that there will not be traces of corruption in his team — but I suggest that impunity will take a back seat henceforth. Why is this significant? Well, I believe we already have good policies in place to transform Nigeria. We have good laws to turn Nigeria around. We have the resources to move Nigeria up. Nigeria’s potential is insanely colossal. We are generally not short of policies or good thinking. Of course, many policies need fine-tuning and updating, but on the balance, we are not short of good policies. What we have so often lacked is the discipline, the tenacity and the patriotism to pursue these policies for national benefit. We often get slaughtered by greed.
Nigeria is blessed with brilliant scientists, technologists, educationists, economists, doctors, accountants, engineers, intellectuals, name them. We don’t need to import any foreigner to help us. What has been holding us down is this shackle of corruption — not corruption in its simplest form, but the impunity of it.
My argument, therefore, is that all Buhari needs to do now is offer us strong leadership and watch Nigeria “explode”. Let public resources stop ending up in private pockets. Let policies stop gathering dusts on the shelves of ministers. Build a pan-Nigerian consensus to make us a great land. No part of Nigeria should be excluded, no matter their perceived offence. There should be no vendetta. There should be no hubris. All that matters is building a great country.
I am desperate to see Buhari succeed. We have been searching for THAT leader since 1999 and I believe Buhari fits the bill. We do not want to be disappointed once again. The day is still young for Buhari. He must avoid the mistakes of his predecessors so that Nigerians will not start shaking their heads in regret yet again. In the Bible, John the Baptist must have had some reservation about Jesus Christ when he sent a message to him, asking: “Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?” Millions of Nigerians have invested their hopes in Buhari. It would be sad if they start asking him the same question so soon. We must break out of this cycle of leadership struggles. That is why Buhari has only one choice: to lead us aright.
AND Four OTHER THINGS…
FAYOSE’S TATTERED THEORY
Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti state has come up with another of his patronising theories: that no hungry person will appreciate a tarred road. He was defending his latest condescending ritual of distributing rice and vegetable oil to beggarly enthusiasts. What Fayose doesn’t know is that when you tar a road, you empower transporters, farmers, traders and other citizens so that they can fend for themselves. A tarred road opens up rural communities and creates economic opportunities. You have to teach people to fish rather than give them fish because you want to keep them eternally subservient to you. Backwardness.
FEEDING THE POOR
It is heart-warming that Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo has, once again, outlined the social investment policies of the Buhari administration. These are: one-meal-a-day for primary school pupils and conditional cash transfer (CCT) to 25 million extremely poor households. If properly implemented, these policies will not only tackle extreme poverty, they will create millions of jobs, particularly in agriculture and related services. We would also be addressing problems related to early years education and nutrition. I don’t know if government has counted the cost and how it will be funded, but I know it is achievable and can transform Nigeria radically. Promising.
“ON THE LOOSE”
What exactly is the offence of those who put together a document called “My Covenant with Nigerians” for President Muhammadu Buhari during his campaign? The president’s media office has described them as being “on the loose” because the document did not “originate” from Buhari. I have read these documents again and again and there is nothing “on the loose” or criminal about them. They’re fantastic. It would appear Buhari does not like the dates attached to the promises, but you don’t throw the baby away with the bath water. The drafters must be feeling unappreciated, to say the least. Harsh.
I’m relieved that President Buhari has finally made his assets public after so much back-and-forth arguments. We were initially told we needed to wait for the Code of Conduct Bureau to verify, but apparently that was some red herring. However, the PDP has requested that a photocopy of the full declaration be made public, not just a summary as released by the president’s media. They surely have a point, but am I the only who chuckled? President Jonathan inexplicably refused to publish his own assets and Buhari has now seized the moral high ground, no matter how delayed and “scanty”. Lessons.
- This Best Outside Opinion was written by Simon Kolawole/Thisday