“Every great achievement is a dream before it becomes reality,” says former American Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. Kissinger was commenting on the miracle of Singapore, the tiny South Asian state that rose from poverty to prosperity. A nation with no natural resources and a land mass of not more than 640sq km, has today become one of envy in the comity of nations.
A nation that works for its people and the outside world, attracting thousands of tourists globally who never stop marvelling at the dramatic turn-around in the fortunes of a people once hemmed in by more ambitious and prosperous neighbours like China and Indonesia , and derided as a place where no quality products or services could ever come from.
A nation of fakes and the substandard. But all that was yesterday. Today the new Singapore is the delight of all visitors and the dream of every forward-looking nation. From engineering to the financial sector, jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities, the country is a far cry from what it used to be. The man who dreamt the great dream of achievement; who turned his dream of a great nation to reality was Lee Kuan Yew.
Undoubtedly its most charismatic leader to date, Lee Kuan Yew literally turned stone to bread; desert to savannah, and dust to gold. Singapore’s amazing rags-to-riches story , as widely known, is essentially the story of one man’s vision, and his bulldog tenacity to make things happen, leave a worthy legacy for his people. Lee declares triumphantly , albeit boastfully, in his expository narrative FROM THIRD WORLD TO FIRST: The Singapore story, “we have left behind our third world problems of poverty.”
Who would not be boastful in Lee’s shoes? From when he first assumed office as prime minister in 1959 to when he quit power, his country’s GDP rose from a paltry $400 dollars to $12, 200 dollars in 1990, and has been on a steady rise since then. There is also the story of Brazil’s labour leader-turned-politician Luiz Inacio da Silva, popularly known as Lula.
Lula shot Brazil from ground zero to a pedestal of respectability where it is no longer looked down on by other nations. Brazil may not be in the first world or the class of super advance countries, but it is certainly not in the class of poverty-stricken third world countries. Brazil’s technology, agriculture and youth empowerment makes it a nation on the upward rise. Lula quit the stage in 2011 after serving a constitutional two terms, and leaving his imprints in the hearts of his people.
He said he was fired to offer his best because he needed to prove that labour leaders could also make good administrators. “If I failed, it would be the workers’ class which would be failing; it would be the country’s poor who would be proving they did not have what it takes to rule,” he said, while reminiscing on his stewardship. In the two instances above, what happened to the countries was its leadership edge.
Focussed and creative leadership; leadership that made service to the people the fulcrum of its policies and actions. Leadership made all the difference. Leadership turned poverty to prosperity; hopelessness to hope; hope to reality. Leadership is certainly everything. Without the right leadership, Singapore and Brazil would not be where they are today; Ghana and South Africa would not be challenging us to the leadership position of Africa.
The United States of America, the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe would not be the attractive destination point for our army of youths in search of the better life. In Nigeria, we should never get tired of talking about leadership. Leadership is the reason we are where we are as a nation where nothing works, where basic amenities of life remains a pipedream, where youth and graduate unemployment has assumed an embarrassing dimension, where infrastructure decay stares us in the face.
A nation helplessly and hopelessly in the vice-grip of criminals and other outlaws. With the right leadership or rather, with the right people in leadership positions, we could be nearer to realising our full potentials as a truly great nation. Indeed, we were once on that path to greatness when we had Chief Obafemi Awolowo at the helm of affairs in the West; Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in the East and Sir Ahmadu Bello in the North. These men dreamt great dreams for their regions, and we saw the results.
We saw the economic boom. We witnessed the renaissance in the West where free education was an article of faith. We saw how Bello educated a generation of northern elite. Now sadly, we see the decline in the bomb-crazy youths and almajiri. We see uneducated graduates with degrees that only announce their illiteracy in all parts of the country, including Awo’s beloved Western region. From a generation of brilliant, job-discriminating Nigerians, we have plummeted to a generation of unemployed and unemployable Nigerians.