The greatest challenge facing the Nigerian nation is not restructuring, insurgent militancy, corruption, economic recession, youth unemployment, or energy crisis, but the dearth of selfless and visionary leadership. There is a crisis of bad governance. All myriads of problems the nation is facing are the effects of poor quality of leadership that has failed over the years to transform the national wealth to commonwealth.
It is obvious that bad leadership seems to be plaguing Nigeria with each cycle of election raising hopes, and dashing expectations; translating into bad governance at all levels particularly at the Federal, which is the most powerful because of the enormous resources it controls. From Tafawa Balewa till date, it has been a paradise lost, except for the 201 days interregnum of the vibrant, fearless, and dynamic Late Murtala Muhammed, whose portrait adorns Nigeria’s twenty naira note.
The quartet of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Tafawa Balewa, Sardauna Ahmadu Bellow, and Chief Obafemi could aptly be described as Nigeria’s first and best four, but in retrospect, they seemed not to be ready for the challenge of foundational nation building, after ‘flag’ independence was negotiated with British colonialists. Not surprisingly, they allowed petty rivalry and inter regional conflicts to truncate Nigeria’s march to greatest.
The pioneer coups and counter coups of 1966 and the ensuing civil war of 1967- 1971 not only decimated Nigeria’s human capital and stagnated economic development, but sowed seeds of ethnic distrusts that is still germinating in spite of the ‘No Victor, No Vanquished’ end of war proclamation of the Nigeria government under General Yabuku Gowon.
The Gowon administration of 1967-1975 was economically blessed, just like its helmsman, Yabuku Gowon, who attained power at age 29 is presently blessed with good old age. But the limited vision of the administration hindered it from maximizing the booming oil resources for national development. The administration failed to look beyond the oil boom. History has been unkind to the Gowon administration as the main issues it is remembered for is having much money it did not know what to do with it, and reneging on a promise to hand over to civilians in 1975; an incident that eventually became its cul de sac.
If you ask most of the older generation Nigerians, Christian or Muslim, Northerner or Southerner, Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa/Fulani, who is Nigeria’s best Head of State, they are likely to refer to General Murtala Muhammed, a Muslim Northerner who straddled the political saddle for only 201 days. History has not judged Murtala by the thickness of his military toga or ethnic, religious inclination but by the fresh breath injected into national lethargy, in spite of his ideological limitations. The lesson here is that the real issue in our leadership challenge is not a Northern/Southern; Christian/Muslim; or Igbo/Yoruba/Hausa President; but the ‘President Right’ that not only knows the problems, but bold to take iconoclastic decisions to solve the problems.
Olusegun Obasanjo who succeeded Murtala Muhammed is perhaps the luckiest living Nigerian alive. National leadership was thrusted on him twice in 1976 and 1999, without any overt or convert political manoeuvring from him. He was truly called to serve on those two occasions. The only time he pursued an ambition was in 2003 when he succeeded himself for a second term. If the General turned Chief had used the total 11 years he was privileged to be Nigeria’s Head of state for egregious achievements, he would have become a political god in the likes of Nelson Mandela or our own Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo once described as the ‘best President Nigeria never heard.’ But Chief Olusegun Obasanjo blew up his three chances in power, just like a kid will blow up millions of dollars won from lottery. Obasanjo’s present cries and lamentations over the national socio-political and economic bereavement are tears of a crocodile and lamentations of a prodigal leader.
Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Nigeria’s first civilian administration (1979-1983), now an aged national statesman, surrounded himself with several colourful politicians in the likes of Paul Unongo, K.O. Mbadiwe, Umaru Dikko, Olusola Saraki , but the administration’s achievements were colourless. The only discernible colour was the colour of corruption, electoral violence, cronyism, and austerity measures. Another attempt at greatness was fizzled away, providing an alibi for the military that midwived the civilians to power to return and boot them to hospital beds and prison cells.
General Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s present President, brought more energy, zest, and dynamism into his first tenure as military Head of State, than now as a civilian president. The first tenure was characterised by a relentless fight against indiscipline, corruption, and internal and international economic sabotage, though also accused of several human rights abuses. Maybe age has catch up with President Buhari; while he has fulfilled his political ambition of returning to Aso Rock, the nation is still awaiting the dividends of the messianic fervour, hosanna chorus, and halleluyah proclamations that propelled him to power. The administration continues to trumpet its fight against corruption as its greatest achievement, but a more successful fight against poverty and youth employment will make its bid for a second term smooth sailing.
General Ibrahim Babangida who once described himself as an evil genius is Nigeria’s longest serving Head of State (1985-1993). The Structural Adjustment Programme introduced by his government laid the foundation for Nigeria’s present economic miasma. Rather than lay a legacy of good government, he was dribbling everyone through an endless political transitions programme, until he dribbled himself out of power in 1993 under the false notion of stepping aside.
Generals Sani Abacha and Abubakar Abdulhaman military interregnum before the 1999 return of power to civilians were typologies of government in power. Abacha government was particularly vilified for human rights abuses and massive corruption. Chief Earnest Shonekan was like a passenger in government, and the forces that put him there as a stop gap removed him seamlessly after his government filtered away.
The immediate past administration of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan is still being tried by its successor for perceived misdeeds. Good luck brought Jonathan to power just like the number 6 of the ludo dice is the ace number in a ludo game, but the nation is still reining in the misfortunes of his personal luck not translated to national greatness.
2019 will produce another (or same) occupant of the presidential seat. My concern is will it usher in a President in the class of Kim Dae-Jung who pulled South Korea from the brink of economic catastrophe transforming the Asian country to a strong, industrialised nation.?
When will Nigeria produce a Nelson Mandela, to liberate us from internal apartheid that allows 469 distinguished and honourable men and women to appropriate almost ¼ of the nation’s resources to themselves, making them richer than most local governments in Nigeria? When will a Mandela arise and sacrificially lead the nation out of internal captivity of Nigerians by Nigerians?
Babalobi writes from Lagos,