Monday, January 28, 2008

Nigeria: The Curse of Reluctant Leaders

Before declaring his presidential ambitions, Nigeria’s leading Human Rights activist, Gani Fawehinmi, lambasted President Obasanjo for his frequent foreign trips. In his meticulous records, Gani tallied 86 trips the Nigerian leader has made abroad since his second coming to power.

Worried about the effects of the President's frequent junkets on governance Fawehinmi cried: “An absentee president is irresponsible to his duties and to his people. The press must take the lead in calling on this unserious president to perform his constitutional duties or resign.”

Obasanjo has spent 321 days out of the three years he has been in power outside the country on foreign trips. While some presidential trips might be necessary, it is unconscionable for a leader to spend almost one out of every three days outside his domain! This is especially so in a country like Nigeria where abysmal social services are crying for attention and where citizens, out of sheer frustration, are murdering one another with ferocity that would shame a nation of savages! Obasanjo excuse was that he was making the trips to drum up investment for the country. Only a moron would buy that argument.

The BBC World service recently held a call-in programme, Talking Point, for the Nigerian leader. My question to the Nigerian leader was: “Your Excellency have sought to justify your numerous foreign trips by claiming that you are seeking foreign investors. My question is which investor (foreign or local) would like to invest in a country that lacks the most basic of facilities? Nigeria's power supply is erratic at the best of times. While some progresses have been made in the telecommunication sector, telephone services are still woefully inadequate.

I would have thought that your government should have used the first few years to improve these services and also the security situation in the country before canvassing for investors.

I am saying this because almost all the countries you have visited have embassies in Nigeria and they are well informed about the situation in the country; they are not going to rush advising their citizens that Nigeria is an investor's paradise.”

Nigeria, in her troubled 41 years of independence, has produced eleven rulers, counting the second coming of the man popularly called Uncle Sege.

1. Tafawa Balewa (1960‑1966) C

2. General Aguiyi‑Ironsi (1966‑1967) M

3. General Yakubu Gowon (1967‑1975) M

4. General Murtala Mohammed (1975‑1976) M

5. General Olusegun Obasanjo (1976‑1979) M

6. President Shehu Shagari (1979‑1984) C

7. General Buhari (1984‑1985) M

8. General Ibrahim Babangida (1985‑1993) M

9. Chief Shonekan (1993‑1993) D

10. General Sanni Abacha (1993‑1999) M

11. President Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-)C

( M = Military; C = Civilian and D = Diarchy )

What all these leaders have in common was that in assuming the mantle of leadership, they all claimed to be reluctant. Their reluctances are made manifest by their gargantuan corruption and the colossal failure they have collectively registered. Not even the current regime which came into power singing the mantra of ‘anti corruption,’ and ‘transparency,’ has been immune from the cancerous infection of corruption and gross ineptitude. The government of Obasanjo was recently caught out in a clumsy attempt to bribe foreign journalists invited to improve Nigeria’s battered external image.

A Nigerian writer once wrote a book he called ‘The gods are not to blame.’ With abundant petroleum, gold, tin and other precious metals among her endowed resources plus an aggressively enterprising populace, Nigeria has all the ingredients to become a superpower in a very short time. One only has to browse internet newsgroups to see the incredible amount of human talents Nigerian leaders are failing to harness to improve the lives of their people. Biafra clearly proved what is possible given the right type of leadership. In the spate of three short years the encircled Igbos refined their fuel and built rockets and other gadgets that took many countries half a century to master. Alas, the technologies developed by the Igbos are rotting away at a museum at Umuahia in Eastern Nigeria!

The gods are certainly not to blame for Nigeria woes. Obasanjo recently opined that only God can solve Nigeria’s problem. This is a very silly statement and it all but characterized the attitude of African leaders to seek divine intervention in the affairs of man. This writer has lived in societies where mere mortals, using their intellect, have proven that we can adequately feed, clothe and house ourselves without the intervention of the almighty.

I also refused to subscribe to the idea that there are some defective genes in the Blackman that made it impossible for him to improve his lot on earth. Many of the Caribbean Islands have quality of lives that are far better than those obtainable in the richest part of Europe. They live longer than many people in the so-called advanced countries. They are all led by black leaders and the populations are overwhelmingly black. Nearer home, Botswana proved that it is possible to build success stories in Africa. Ex-President Ketumile Masire turned his tiny country into a debt-less country with $6 billion reserves.

Beginning with Lord Lugard, the man that amalgamated the Southern and Northern provinces, Nigeria has been ruled by ‘second‑rate’ men obviously promoted beyond their abilities. Aside from his notorious ‘pacification’ of natives in the service of British Imperial army, Lugard had no other experience to recommend him. He was a captain in British Imperial army before he swindled his way into the Royal Niger Company, and ended up becoming Nigeria's first Governor‑General. Captaincy is not a superior officer's rank in any army. Before then Lugard was in the employment of Cecil Rhodes, the man who stole a country and named it after himself. Lugard’s sole experience before then was his infamous extermination of Indians during the British conquest of India. He was so ‘successful’ in that ignoble endeavor that when Cecil Rhodes and Dr. Leander Starr Jamesson and the other pirates decided to ‘pacify’ the people of Monomotapa (South Africa), they brought Lugard to do the dirty job. It was on the neck dripping with Africans and Indians blood that the job of administering Nigeria was first entrusted. Lugard was succeeded by a succession of brutal colonial administrators whose sole purpose was to make the conquered territory safe for British exploitation.

Tafawa Balewa, the first indigenous leader was a ‘lieutenant’ of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, in the latter's own word. Balewa never dreamt of leading Nigeria and the mantle of leadership was thrust upon his head by the unwillingness of the Sardauna to leave his Northern fiefdom. Aguiyi‑Ironsi was the next unprepared leader cursed to rule the country. Ironsi became leader because he was the most senior military man after the first coup of January 1966 failed. Ironsi was clearly a mediocre ruler who seemed not to know anything about public administration. It was a good riddance to bad rubbish when his ineffectual rule was terminated in the counter-coup of July 1966. Gowon was a low‑level officer who helped organized the coup to excise the North from the Nigerian federation. There is no reason to suggest that he planned to rule Nigeria. Only Murtala who came after Gowon could be said to have possessed any idea what he wanted to do when he gained the rein of government. And his rule energized the whole country. Obasanjo, Murtala's deputy, who became Head of state when the latter was killed, was a lackluster leader who didn’t possess the dynamism of his predecessor. Shagari was a disaster as far as public‑administration was concern. He also was another unprepared leader whose ambition was no bigger than representing his senatorial district in Sokoto state. Shagari became Nigerian leader only because the two contenders in his party were unable to compromise. Shagari and his ministers ruled Nigeria like a conquered territory and treated the Nigerian treasury like war booty. He was later to blame foreign residents for Nigerian woes and sent many West Africans packing. Many Nigerians danced when Shagari’s kleptomaniac rule was terminated by the army in 1993. General Buhari who came after Shagari was a purely fascist ruler, who knew not which direction he wanted to take the country except that he wanted to build a hell on earth for Nigerians. Babangida who took over from Buhari was the epitome of corruption, inept leadership. He brought Nigeria to the brink of dis‑integration to satisfy his personal ambitions. Abacha, that dark-goggled ogre, bastardized the rulership of the nation so badly that his death while panting atop his Indian ashewos was believed by many to be God’s intervention to save the country.

The second coming of Obasanjo was also not due to any effort on his part. He was drafted in to pacify the wounded egos of the Yorubas after the death in custody of Chief Abiola.

I know that ‘ifs’ are useless tools in analyses, but I will continue to lament the signal inability of Nigeria to produce a single leader with vision in all her forty-one years of existence. Given her high population, the course of Nigeria’s and Africa’s destiny would certainly have been more positive if Nigeria had, just had, been blessed with a visionary like Kwame Nkrumah!

Nigeria has not had the good fortune to have a leader that was prepared intellectually, emotionally as well as mentally to lead her and that has being her tragedy and, by extension, the tragedy of the continent. If the nation with a quarter of the population of Africa can succeed in building a viable entity, it would provide the impetus to lift the whole continent and enable the black race to join the rest of humanity.

While his people are feverishly organizing for a second-term for him, Obasanjo recently said that he is seeking the guidance of the almighty in making his decision. We can only guess what leaders like him are going to tell their creator when asked why they so badly mismanaged the affairs of their nations and, in the process, sentenced their fellow beings into lives of penury amidst plenty.

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