Nigerians say that they want the nation transformed into one of the leading nations of the world, but there are no signs that many of them truly mean it. Talk is cheap. Our actions since Independence do not support that view. Why do I think so?
Since October 1, a former Governor of Anambra State, Mr Peter Obi, has been top in national discourse. His name has been trending in the social media platforms. He delivered an inspiring speech at The Platform 2016, organised by the Covenant Christian Centre. In the speech, he spoke about how to cut out waste in governance. He based his speech on his experience as governor.
Obi explained that when he came into office in 2006, none of the 19 permanent secretaries and 18 state judges had an official car. Meanwhile, there was a budget of N150m for two bulletproof vehicles for the office of the governor. He used this money to buy Peugeot 406 cars for himself, as well as the judges and the permanent secretaries. The burnt Government House and Governor’s Lodge were budgeted to be renovated with N298m and N486m respectively, but he renovated them with N43m and N81m respectively. He had to close down the Governor’s Lodge in Abuja and Lagos because he saw them as waste and chose to stay in a modest hotel any time he was in Abuja.
He had to discontinue the building of a Presidential Lodge in Awka because the President only visits a state once or twice in four years. Obi flew economy class. He used no siren, carried his bags while travelling, cut down his entourage, endured verbal attacks for not sharing public money like Santa Claus, and got impeached twice for not allowing others to swim in public money.
The effect was that while most state governors left office with their states in debt, Obi left some N75bn for his successor. And till today, while most states – including oil-producing states – are unable to pay workers’ salaries and pensions and gratuities – Anambra even increased salaries recently. Obi was able to rid the state of kidnapping because of his investment in the police and community vigilantes. He was able to lift the state’s performance at the West African Senior School Certificate Examination and National Examination Council examinations to first position for three consecutive years. He gave the state a better road network than most states.
If you listen to Nigerians talk about the nation and the quality of leaders others countries elect as leaders, you will assume that Nigerians truly desire good leadership. No. Nigerians don’t want good leadership or governance. Three things are, instead, more important to Nigerians than good leadership and governance: 1. Ethnicity. 2. Religion. 3. Political party affiliation.
In considering those who would lead them, especially at the national level, most Nigerians prefer a person from their ethnicity or region, a person who shares their religion and a person from their political party above a person who has the track record of success in leadership and service. Even if the elected person is clearly leading the nation to nowhere, it does not matter to them as long it is “their man” that is in power.
In 1960 when Nigerians elected their first prime minister, Sir Tafawa Balewa was elected ahead of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo. If Azikiwe or Awolowo was elected the prime minister, would Nigeria had fared better? Azikiwe and Awolowo had proved as premiers of the regions as well as by their education and leadership records that they would have led the nation better.
In 1979, Mallam Aminu Kano, Azikiwe and Awolowo and Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim lost out to Alhaji Shehu Shagari. If Aminu Kano had won and governed the nation, would the result have been better? With his total commitment to the rights of the talakawa (the downtrodden) and women as well as opposition to ethnic bigotry, Aminu Kano showed that he would not engage in squandermania, in injustice and that he was not power-drunk.
In the 1993 election, the majority of Nigerians, for the first time, voted for the better candidate. Chief MKO Abiola had proved by his words and actions that he was a better manager of resources and had a clearer vision for the nation than his opponent, Alhaji Bashir Tofa. It seemed that the availability of only two parties helped the electorate to de-emphasise ethnicity. However, the military – led by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida annulled that election and ensured that it was not reversed until Abiola died in detention in 1998.
In 1999, it was transparently clear that Dr Alex Ekwueme had a clearer vision for Nigeria than Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo. Acquitting Ekwueme during his trial by the military, Justice Samson Uwaifo had said: “Dr. Ekwueme left office poorer than he was when he entered it, and to ask more from him was to set a standard which even saints could not meet.”
In addition, Ekwueme excelled at the 1996 National Constitutional Conference with his suggestions on the current six zones for the nation, derivation for oil-producing states and other points adopted. He was not power-hungry or egoistic. He had also led the G-34 during the years of Abacha clampdown on the opposition. But Obasanjo was chosen by his party. The excuse was the South-West had to be compensated for the injustice done to Abiola. But was that the true reason? Even when Obasanjo contested against Chief Olu Falae, it was doubtful that Obasanjo would give the nation better leadership than Falae, but Obasanjo became the President. He was good in office, especially on the economy, but his ego and love for power and control robbed him of the height he would have taken Nigeria to.
When Obasanjo was leaving office in 1999, the key figures who were angling to succeed him were Donald Duke and Peter Odili. The sentiment was that power should rotate back to the North. Obasanjo chose Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua and Dr Goodluck Jonathan and they became President and vice-president in an election that was flawed. If Obasanjo had chosen Mallam Nuhu Ribadu or Mallam Nasiru el-Rufai with Mr Donald Duke or Prof Charles Soludo/Prof Dora Akunyili as running mate, would the nation have had a more dynamic and result-oriented leadership?
In 2015, in spite of the long list of Nigerians that had recorded achievements in private and public life, Nigeria said that the only two people she found to run on the platform of the two main political parties were Jonathan and Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). And after the election, the majority settled for Buhari. If each Nigerian voter owned a company, and Jonathan and Buhari applied with other people to run such a company, would such a voter choose any of them as the CEO?
Even though many Nigerians want a prudent, frugal, honest, visionary, people-centred, and result-oriented leader and have been praising Peter Obi to high heavens, the day a person like him is presented like for president, the same Nigerians would withdraw to their shells and choose ethnicity, religion and political party above the good of the nation. That is partly why Nigeria has been regressing.
At the state levels, many states ensure that tried and tested people contest to be governors. But at the national level, the mediocre among us are put forward and vociferously supported to lead the nation, while “the brightest and the best” are appointed ministers and advisers. How can a sheep lead a pride of lions and achieve any meaningful results? But turn it around and allow a lion to lead a flock of sheep and see the difference it all makes.
Nigerians have the masochist syndrome. We derive joy from inflicting pain on ourselves. We say we hate to see our nation wallow in mediocrity but we consistently champion mediocre elements to lead the nation, and then pray for the best.