Fellow Nigerians, please permit me to refresh our memories a little. The story I’m about to tell started some 21 odd years ago. A few of us were seated at the home of Nduka Obaigbena, Publisher of ThisDay, somewhere in Ikoyi, Lagos, working and planning what would later explode on the African continent as the most influential media conglomerate, Leaders & Company. I had the privilege of being invited by the Publisher, Nduka, to be the pioneer as well as coordinating Editor. We had very tall dreams and I was able to recruit some of the core staff. It was in the middle of this onerous task that a news item hit us like thunderbolt. Someone had passed privileged information to Mr Obaigbena from Abuja, the seat of power and glory in Nigeria. He has always had access to serious and uncommon scoops.
I saw from the expression on his face that something major had just happened. Nothing excites a journalist more than oven-fresh news. Reporters reach easy orgasms from getting the first access to monumental reports. The Publisher turned to me and said “Dele, your Dad, Abiola, has gone to Abuja to pick up the nomination form to contest Presidential election on SDP platform!” I was not totally surprised as I had long seen it coming. I had even written a passionate letter to Chief Moshood Abiola about two years earlier after General Ibrahim Babangida lifted the ban on some politicians including him. Only a fool would not have suspected that Abiola had been in the Presidential incubator for many years preparing for this extraordinary moment. I had pleaded with him to join the progressive party against all permutations. On a regular day, Abiola would have been expected to join the NRC, the baby of NPN and the father of today’s PDP.
My argument was pure and simple. One, Abiola should join the party of his people so that he would not antagonise his own folks. Two, it is not in the character of conservative parties to pick and present good Presidential candidates. It has never happened in our country and it may never happen. There was never a chance in hell that Abiola would have been nominated by NRC. Also, I had projected that if Abiola lost the final election, he should never lose the filial bond of his people. We knew he stood a great chance but in Nigeria, simple Arithmetic can simply turn into a most complicated Additional Maths.
The meat of this tale is that Abiola was able to pick his form effortlessly, from a party that paraded some of his fiercest critics and probably haters. The Chairman of SDP at the time, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, also nursed Presidential ambitions. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar whose godfather, Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, was a staunch and formidable member of SDP, also had his sight on the Presidential ticket of the Party. A younger member of the party, Chief Reuben Famuyibo, also showed keen interest. There were several others with voluble ambitions. They were all able to express themselves freely in the true spirit of Democracy and as equal members of the same political fraternity. At the end of the day, after so much horse-trading, Abiola won and became the quintessential flag-bearer for SDP. The Chairman of the party, Kingibe did not resign or cross-carpet to the next party. Most of his supporters who were Governors did not abscond from the party. Yar’Adua did not threaten to pull out his massive weight of financial and human resources and donate it to NRC. Life was incredibly good in those days, as integrity rode supreme.
Abiola chose a theme that soon became the most popular mantra in Nigeria’s political history, “hope” by styling his campaign HOPE ’93. He had a clear and tangible manifesto, aptly titled FAREWELL TO POVERTY. His candidacy was believable and trustworthy. He did not rely only on his fabulous wealth or extensive fame; he connected to every citizen of Nigeria. He demonstrated his faith in Nigeria and carried every tribe, religion, gender and opinion along. He was of the opinion that a true President must believe in the totality of Nigeria with every fibre of his being. A tribal warrior and religious bigot had no moral basis upon which to run the Presidential race.
There was yet another lesson from this. Mr Obaigbena was a member of NRC who backed Chief Abiola’s opponent, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, while I supported Chief Abiola. We never clashed over politics though we worked in the same office. We met regularly, argued fiercely, but that was it. We all remained friends forever.
But times have changed. Internal Democracy has been sentenced to death. Tolerance has been nailed to the cross. A political party can solely dictate who becomes what without as much as a whimper from desperate old men and women and their even more desperate younger compatriots who are often too timid to protest. Politics as practised here has become monarchical where leaders are selected and coroneted rather than elected and inaugurated. We no longer have any principles and ideologies distinguishing one party from the other. It has even become very difficult to see leaders working for the betterment and general good of the people and society at large.
What we thought were problems confronting Nigeria in 1993 have turned out to be child’s play compared to what operates today. If Abiola used Hope as his slogan then, I wonder what he would use to capture the mood of this time. Executive recklessness has climbed to a record high. Legislative complacency has sunk to an all-time low. Judicial rascality has attained stupendous proportions. Media laxity has reached disgraceful magnitudes. Education has virtually collapsed. Insecurity has become the biggest headache. Infrastructural decay is mercilessly debilitating. We all seem to live in glorified ghettos. Power generation, transmission and distribution have never been so chaotic and it is a rare privilege to enjoy a few hours of uninterrupted power supplies. These are abnormal times likened only to a subnormal existence of decadence, deprivation, denigration and decimation.
Yes, we’ve all heard these lamentations through the Ages but we can’t but continue to notice blood stains for as long as there are bed-bugs in the house. Our problems have defied solutions. How have we stopped talking? Many have asked me why I waste my time writing when nothing is likely to change. My response is always that Hope is the last thing to go before death. Nigeria will surely die the day we all give up. There is no question that most people see no light at the end of our dark tunnel. While it is hard not to share in their cynicism, we must carry on the struggle for a better and greater Nigeria.
I sincerely sympathise with whosoever heads this humongous project. If ill-prepared for the job, he may not even know where to start from. The challenges are too multi-dimensional and befuddling. But they are not impossible to tackle and conquer. The solutions are so visible to every eye and audible to all ears. What is lacking is the will and determination to change the way we all do things. There is nothing more difficult to change than change itself. I shall attempt a few postulations for whatever it is worth.
The first task for any serious and sincere leader is to work on the Psychology of Power. As soon as you get power in Nigeria, you become an instant demi-god. All the people who didn’t mind or care for your existence suddenly become your friends. These guys are power-mongers who understand how to manipulate an unwary leader to maximum advantage. When the leader himself starts to enjoy this process of vain-glorification he would naturally begin to live a very fake life. He is told by associates that it is his turn to enjoy power. His kinsmen inform him that it is also the opportunity for their tribe to feel the full effect of their great son whom it has pleased God to elevate. The leader is soon drowned in this cacophony of adulation and blatant idolisation. He forgets and is never reminded that his predecessors walked the same road and ultimately returned to relative obscurity because they built no lasting legacy. He is never told the repercussions suffered by his predecessors who were suffocated by the same supplicants. For a leader to survive and succeed, he must make a conscious effort to avoid the pitfalls of the past. However, he can only do so if sees beyond the praise singers and charts his own course with dedication and discipline.
The second is The Allure of Power. Nothing glitters more than power. When a leader who has never enjoyed life suddenly finds his way to power, his priorities are usually those things he lacked from birth. This is why many African leaders fritter resources away on flights of fancy. They are the most travelled in the entire world. They carry the largest entourage of hangers-on who have no business whatsoever on those wasteful trips. The idea is to carry them around and show them the unequalled largesse that the person in power can confer on whosoever it pleases him to favour. Enjoyment becomes the first point agenda and the only transformation indeed that is pursued with all energy.
The third is the Greed of Power. There are no saints anywhere but the level of greed is what has given our country a very big name in the comity of corrupt nations. Nothing is ever too small or big to pilfer. We steal in arrears and in advance. You hear stories of leaders making declarations of properties they are yet to acquire on their code of conduct forms. Stealing has become a game or competition. And we don’t bother to hide our loot. As soon as a pauper gets to power and makes his first money, he runs back to the village to let his people see that he has arrived in grand style. His house must be bigger than that of the King and the monarch is obligated to going to pay homage to the new Lord of the Manor. The poor villagers are happy and grateful to receive whatever pittance is benevolently thrown their way. In the meantime, the clock of service is ticking away and the next election beckons with nothing tangible to show for the four wasted years. The only gain is that Master has serviced his own greed and is now dreaming of four more years. Even when they get it, nothing ever changes because by then they have fully adjusted to the life of graft and are enjoying it immensely.
Unless a leader can tame power, power will tame him. He must be strong and resolute and have a clear understanding of what is at stake and the powerful vision to deal with it. Nigeria is not impossible to govern but a leader who is desperate to retain power only for the sake of enjoying its appurtenances would not be able to offer the country the right impetus needed to galvanise its people to the zenith of glory. A true statesman would treat all citizens as one and do nothing to divide them. He would never use State power and paraphernalia of office to harass, intimidate and oppress opponents in order to maintain his monopoly of power.
He must genuinely seek the stability of his nation and do nothing to collapse its fabric of unity. He must pick a few projects and execute them to the highest standards. He must work speedily at rebuilding our collapsed institutions and this cannot be done if the leader surrounds himself with very shady characters who no morality in their bones. There must be a deliberate decision to do things right even at great personal risk at discomfort.
A leader who will save our country must be aware of his limitations and shortcomings and surround himself only with the brightest and the best. Once the leader travels the path of enthroning mediocrity it is clear that something worse than mayhem will result. High court judges would be slapped black and blue. Party offices will be burnt. Hundreds of girls will vanish into thin air and life will go on as normal. Second-rate minds can never encourage excellence. Instead they will resort to bringing up those even poorer than themselves in intellect, morality and diligence. They do not want to be shown up for what they truly are or let those bright sparks steal their thunder.