Professor Anya. O. Anya is not your regular professor. He is a scientist, academic and has sat on the board of several corporates at different times. So, when he speaks, he speaks from a position of a rounded technocrat. He spoke last week at TheNiche 2019 Lecture. He interrogated the theme: Business and Accountable Governance; The Obligation of Leadership. Another eminent Nigerian and boardroom guru, Dr. Christopher Kolade, among other cerebral minds were on hand to burrow through the dodgy labyrinth of Nigerian leadership. 

Their conclusion: Good leadership is absent in Nigeria, but good leadership is possible in Nigeria. Good, accountable leadership can only be achieved if we enthrone the culture of meritocracy. Good leadership is beyond the present configuration of political elite – APC, PDP and similar political elite cocoons. They also surmise that within the present Nigerian state, those who can give Nigeria good leadership are available but such persons have been redlined from the stage of leadership. Their place taken by clowns, jesters and jingoists.

One common strand in the submissions of various speakers is that Nigerians are capable of offering good and progressive leadership. In other words, the problem is not lack of personnel or leadership skill. They exist. The challenge is to point them out and ‘engraft’ them onto the leadership stage. It will take a fight because those who are illegally occupying or have illegally occupied the space are still profiting from the messy broth they brewed in the name of leadership hence will not easily give it up.

Most of the speakers contended that Nigeria’s founding fathers failed to build a national foundation; a foundation founded on the charter of equity and nationhood. Their efforts were prompted and fuelled by fervid advocacy for self-rule; and once self-rule was achieved, it became a case of ‘to your tents O Israel’. They further contended that adopting a Federal system of government was not in itself a bad idea. What became a bad plot and gave our Federal system a woeful colouration was our inability to domesticate the concept of Federalism to cater for our diversity and plurality.

The regional system was only work in progress and it delivered incredible result but was all too soon  truncated by the military junta. In the main, it was the intrusion of the military and their poor grasp of civil liberties which form the building blocks of good governance that finally nailed the coffin on whatever existed in the country as good leadership. Without a doubt, the military in political leadership was a curse, not a blessing. Their claim to correcting the infractions and absurdities of the civilian government remains one of the most deceitful heists visited on humanity by man. But we cannot continue to cry over the looting high-noon matinee of the uniformed intruders whose subsisting badge of being in office is owning oil blocks, bloated offshore bank accounts and estates in the lucrative property markets of US, UK and the United Arab Emirates.

To meaningfully make the most of the leadership inertia visited on post-Independence Nigeria, we must mirror the efforts of the civilian political elite. The chief operators of the nation’s democracy from Shehu Shagari to the incumbent Muhammadu Buhari failed to disconnect themselves from the failure of the military ruling class. It is somewhat understandable because it is basically the same clique that either moulted their military uniform for Agbada or have somehow continued to recycle themselves or their ‘disciples’ within the same political leadership space.

The end-point is a thoroughly fouled up environment that neither makes for human capital development nor socio-economic growth. And here they are: Yakubu Gowon, Olusegun Obasanjo, Shehu Shagari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, Abdulsami Abubakar, Umaru Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and now Muhammadu Buhari. These men failed the nation and the people. They all had peculiar comparative advantages during their tenure but none, without exception, was able to rouse Nigerians to the true call of nationhood. None planned beyond their tenure; some never even planned. Leadership chanced upon them and they simply muddled through the waters until they exited. None created an environment that could trigger sustainable development.

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Progressively, they sullied the system with incompetence, bigotry, corrupt tendencies, among other systemic aberrations. But worst of all, as Prof. Anya put it, none was able to “mobilise Nigerians beyond the political parties, beyond ethnicities and other diversities and, beyond the limitations of the Nigerian situation” They offered the Kabu-kabu concept of leadership: motion without movement leadership or in some cases, no motion at all. The incumbent Buhari government stands out as the most divisive, most incompetent and by far the most uninventive government since 1999. It has borrowed more money than any government and has little to show for its borrowing frenzy. Nigeria’s Debt Management Office (DMO) tells it all with creepy statistics. By 2015,  Nigeria’s debt profile was a little over N12 trillion, but the same now stands at about N25 trillion. On top of this, Nigerian roads top the global worst roads chart. The economy still runs on generator; workers are still poorly paid; healthcare, education and potable water remain luxuries. You cannot build a nation like this.

The political elite’s clear and manifest lack of capacity ensured that Nigerians rarely excel in Nigeria. Yet, when the same Nigerians find their way to other jurisdictions with development-friendly indices, they excel. At home, the Nigerian military have found it extremely difficult to defeat a rag-tag army called Boko Haram. How can we lose 837 soldiers (minus thousands of civilians) to Boko Haram in six years when the same military officers excel to the acclamation of the world when they go for international peace-keeping operations? Why is it that a third grade student in a Nigerian university who found his way into any Western university suddenly transforms to a genius? Why are Nigerian youths excelling and topping their classes in US, UK and Asian universities; building scalable computer applications, innovating light-years-ahead technologies when back home, the same youths could not as much as make a pencil?

You see, the problem is not with Nigerians. Nollywood sprouted and surged to global recognition without support from government. Several Nigerian youths excelled and are still excelling in the highly competitive global sport circuit without support from government.

Individually, Nigerians can stand their ground. They have raised bars of excellence across diverse frontiers in Europe, Americas and Asia. The problem that has beguiled the nation sits in the bosom of a selfish, visionless and deliberately incompetent political elite. Whether it is APC, NPN, UPN, NPP, PDP, or what have you, the operators remain the same: a clan of wolves. The way out? Anya says: “Nigerians must start again by instituting a new programme of national regeneration, restoration and renewal by committing to non-violent communication.

To achieve this, Anya prescribes that the wise elders and insightful statesmen must support the brilliant and industrious youth who are prepared to rebuild the nation from the foundations.

The Giant of Africa has crawled for too long. She needs to start walking, running and possibly fly. One man built modern Singapore (Lee Kuan Yew). Nigeria needs just one man to rouse the rabble and drag this giant out of its self-induced stupor. We must find this man!