• At Ray Ekpu’s 70th birthday colloquium, experts analyse and dissect nation’s unending political crises
Tope Adeboboye and Ismail Omipidan
Since its independence in 1960, Nigeria has been bedevilled by a ceaseless run of seemingly intractable challenges.
Over the years, sundry factors have been brandished by different experts as reasons for the country’s stunted socio-economic and political growth. In the opinion of many, the chief culprits are Nigeria’s leaders, past and present. Some others have also canvassed that the citizens should share a sizable part of the blame.
On Monday, August 6, a number of eminent media personalities from across Nigeria as well as some political actors converged on the Agip Recital Hall, MUSON Centre, Lagos, to again dissect the unending leadership question in Nigeria and proffer fresh solutions to the challenge. The event was the 70th birthday colloquium of one of Nigeria’s most celebrated journalists and media managers, Mr. Ray Ekpu, former editor-in-chief of Newswatch magazine. Ekpu was also celebrating 45 years of a scintillating and invigorating journalism practice.
It was an event that brought together several generations of Nigerian journalists – from the ancient to the old to the modern. Members of the Ekpu family were also at the event, which was chaired by Nigeria’s former minister of foreign affairs, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi.
The colloquium lecture was delivered by Dr. Chidi Amuta, former managing director of The Post Express newspapers.
The programme commenced with brief introductory remarks by Akinyemi. The guest lecture, titled “Leadership and the Burden of History,” was presented by Mr. Dan Agbese, another founding editor with Newswatch.
In his lecture, Amuta described leadership as “the ability to develop a vision of community and the capacity to translate that vision into beneficial reality in a manner that carries the followership along.” He noted that though leadership positions are occupied across the country by elected or appointed individuals, Nigerians continually yearn for purposeful leadership. He contended, therefore, that there is a notable distinction between power incumbency and leadership.
In his words, there is quite an expansive gulf separating genuine leadership and incumbent power.
“True leadership consists in the ability to inspire and carry an individual nation along the path of self-realisation. It is inspirational, innovative, empathic. In words and actions and personal conduct, endless kilometres of roads or even kilowatts of electricity.”
He regretted that, since the post-civil war years, public discourse in Nigeria has been plagued by the crisis of leadership. The former university teacher posited that the country suffers from the lack of a coherent national vision and sense of mission.
He pooh-poohed the argument in some quarters that Nigeria was still a young country at 54. To him, the country was neither young nor old. He insisted, though, that the age of nations was hardly the determinant of development and prosperity.
“If that were true, the most advanced nations would be the oldest,” he noted. Countries like Egypt, Greece and Portugal, which have been in existence for centuries, are certainly not in the league of great, powerful and prosperous nations, he asserted.
Regretting that Nigeria was now haunted by the consequences of bad leadership, Amuta noted that the disillusionment in the land has culminated in the loud cries for restructuring or even outright dissolution of the country.
But the lecturer said all hope was not lost for Nigeria. He said the eternal optimism of Nigerians was a loud voice crying for the emergence of true national leadership.
The lecturer listed some world leaders that virtually destroyed their countries. The hall of shame, Amuta said, houses folks like Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti and Haile Mengistu Mariam of Ethiopia. He, however, singled out Rwandan leader, Paul Kagame, as one leader that has offered strong, purposeful leadership, which has now rescued his nation from the brink of tragic failure to a new sense of direction.
In his view, the foundation for Nigeria’s current leadership woes was laid by the colonialists with the insincere amalgamation of 1914. The founding fathers who later took over were actually interested in and fought for separate regional self-rule.
Amuta regretted that during the struggle for independence, Nigeria clearly lacked a leadership model on which the new, independent nation would be built, unlike the situation in countries like Kenya, South Africa or Singapore. He also praised the leaders of Botswana for that country’s positive turnaround, in spite of its meagre natural endowments.
He contended that the widely held view that Africa needs strong institutions might not be as simple as it seems. For instance, Amuta said, Nigeria’s leaders emerge and promptly privatise the institutions of state! He noted that political parties in Nigeria hardly present fit and proper persons for leadership positions, preferring only those with the ability to win elections. He described the political parties in the country as mere “gatherings of contingents of crass interest rather than ideological movements.” He declared: “I doubt that this type of political party culture can ever produce a credible national leadership.”
Amuta enumerated some issues that must be promptly implemented from Nigeria’s books if the country would ever get on the path to greatness. He suggested that the ban by law of affidavits to prove the age of those seeking political offices; the concept of zoning for the presidency should be outlawed; a review by the National Assembly of the constitutional guarantee of immunity on certain office holders, and the resurrection of the defunct Centre for Leadership Studies.
He praised the host for his enviable string of stellar accomplishments in the field of journalism, just as he praised the co-founders of Newswatch, Dele Giwa, Dan Agbese, Yakubu Mohammed and Soji Akinrinade, for engendering a revolution in Africa’s media space.
All the speakers also praised the wife of the host, Mrs. Uyai Ekpu, for standing behind him all through his days in active journalism.
The next session, during which a panel of discussants dissected the lecture, was moderated by Agbese. Members of the panel were Sam Omatseye, chairman, editorial board, The Nation, Debo Adesina of The Guardian newspapers, and Ms Yemi Adamolekun, executive director of Enough is Enough.
Also speaking at the event, veteran journalist and former governor of Ogun State, Chief Segun Osoba, explained that Nigeria would have started tackling its leadership problems by now but for the setback recorded during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Osoba alleged that Obasanjo illegally eased out the governors elected on the platform of the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD) in 2003, adding that, since then, there was no one to question Obasanjo’s activities at the Council of State meetings.
Osoba also called on President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the amended Electoral Act into law. He said the act provides for the transmission of election results electronically from the various polling units directly to the Independent National Electoral Commission’s central system.
His words: “I want the President to sign the act so that the issues of 1.9 million votes or 1.5 million votes can stop. Let everybody be part of the system and monitor it so that somebody will not collect N5,000 and sell his or her right to politicians.”
Ekpu’s children later mounted the podium to read excerpts from some of his writings in Newswatch.
There were a number of dignitaries at the event, including former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah; former Minister of State for foreign affairs, Chief Dubem Onyia; secretary to the state government, Akwa Ibom State, Emmanuel Ekuwem; professor of political economy, Pat Utomi; veteran journalist, Chief Tola Adeniyi; presidential aspirant, Prof. Kingsley Moghalu; president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mrs Funke Egbemode; publisher of Vanguard newspapers, Sam Amuka; commissioner
for information, Lagos State, Mr. Kehinde Bamigbetan; deputy managing director, Thisday newspapers, Kayode Komolafe; former deputy managing director, The Sun Publishing Limited, Mr. Steve Nwosu; former presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, and many others.