In a Nutshell, Nigeria Can Work

10 Feb 2013

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Simon Kolawole Live!:

I’ve spent the past few weeks discussing what I call the Nigerian project – that is, our hope of conquering the misery of economic and political underdevelopment to become a prosperous and peaceful nation. I started the discussion with an argument that there is nothing happening in Dubai or Singapore that cannot happen here. All we need is a visionary leader to drive the process. The leader, as the chief architect, will articulate the vision. No country develops by accident. There is always a well thought-out master plan. However, we must accept the reality that Nigeria will not develop overnight or even in eight years. Therefore, the “visionary leader” must build a team of “actualisers” who will continue to run the race after he or she has left the scene. Continuity and consistency are very crucial to the development of any country. India, China, Singapore and Malaysia are good examples of this.

In the follow-up articles, I wrote on the need to develop a workable industrial policy to diversify the economy and create millions of jobs. Our non-oil income can and must overwhelm our oil income. I also took on the opposition, asking them to market themselves as the better route to the actualisation of the Nigerian project. Corruption was the focus of the last two articles. In the first one, I pointed out how corruption is ruining our chances of developing, especially “hyperinflation of contracts” and “outright looting”. I then took on the elite in politics, civil service and private sector. They collude to raid the public treasury, thinking they are having fun – but they are indeed prisoners in their mansions, yachts and jets. It is in their own interest to move from collusion “to loot” to collaboration “to develop” the country, I posited.

In a nutshell, I am confident that Nigeria can make it, in spite of all these daunting challenges. I know I am not as optimistic as I used to be, but I am optimistic all the same. A little optimism is enough! To be honest, our problems appear insurmountable. As you are tackling one, another surfaces. There seems to be a competition on who can destroy Nigeria the most. The executive is trying its best to loot the country dry; the legislature is striving hard not to be outsmarted in the race to the bottom; and the judiciary does not want to be left behind in the sleaze. The private sector is a willing accomplice – sometimes the mastermind – in the game to ruin Nigeria. Politicians are manipulating everything possible to achieve their selfish goals. There are times you ask yourself: who really is genuinely interested in the progress of this country?

In my subdued optimism, though, I would like to make a few points as I round off the series. If Nigeria is going to change for good in a democratic dispensation, something has to give. I will explain myself. One, the “visionary leader” may emerge through an imperfect electoral process. If we are expecting clean elections to produce that leader, we may have to wait forever. My hunch is that the leader will emerge ostensibly as a “stooge” but then develop a mind of his or her own in the national interest. We saw it with Dr. Chris Ngige in Anambra State. He played the fool to get to power but became a “man” once he became governor. We can say that of many governors who ditched their godfathers on assuming office. The only snag, though, is that many of them are not development-minded. They are worse than their godfathers. But the person who is going to lead the change we desire must, of course, be development-minded.

Two, and this is a repetition, Nigeria will not develop overnight. We are never patient with our leaders. We easily write them off. Yet, there is no perfect leader anywhere. Sometimes, good things take time. What we need is to be sure of the leader’s direction, to be convinced that they know what they are doing. Let’s face the fact: we won’t go to bed one night and wake up the following day to discover that Nigeria had suddenly developed! The problems we are facing in education, power, healthcare and roads today did not start yesterday. Decades of neglect and underinvestment led us to where we are now. In other words, we must temper our expectations. With all that Governor Babatunde Fashola has done in Lagos (and I can testify that he has done a lot), he still hasn’t solved half of the problems! The caveat here, then, is that the leader must inspire us to believe in him or her in spite of the enormous problems and challenges. You may choose to call that “credible leadership”.

Three, the “visionary leader” will have to be strong-willed. The Yoruba will say it is not easy to extract the nut from palm kernel. Interests are entrenched. The leader must step on toes to inspire change. Nobody is going to lead change in Nigeria by being a weakling or soft-touch. We need leaders who will take decisions without minding whose ox is beheaded as long as those decisions are in the national interest. This is where former President Olusegun Obasanjo ultimately got it wrong. He was a strong leader who could take decisions and not look back. But he was undone by his own contradictions as he began to use state power for selfish ends. He allowed vendetta and narrow ambition to ruin his work. The “strong leader” is the one that will use power for progress. He will have to take tough decisions. The process of transforming Nigeria is going to be painful. There are plenty sacrifices to be made by all, including the leaders themselves. Nothing is called gold until it passes through fire.

All I have been saying about the Nigerian project for several weeks can be compressed into a nutshell – leadership. I often employ two signs in judging a leader – the quality of the cabinet and the commitment to anti-graft war. We need competent and sincere leadership. A competent leader will assemble a competent team. A sincere leader will tackle corruption headlong to free our resources for development purposes. If we get these two things right, we will progress in geometric proportions. Nigeria can work. Honest.

And Four Other Things...

As the Super Eagles take on Burkina Faso today in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations today, my prayers are with them. They started the tournament slowly and, at a stage, my enthusiasm was mellowed. But they have got better with every match, and the victory over Cote d’Ivoire seemed to have energised and taken them to another level altogether. Against Mali in the semi-final, it was an incredible rain of goals. As we face Burkina Faso today, we are the favourites – which could be a dangerous tag. The Eagles must shake off the favourites tag and play the game of their lives. We need that trophy badly. Desperately.

I am so excited by the decision of the opposition parties to finally merge ahead of the 2015 general election. It is coming 13 years late but better late than never, as they say. In 1999, the opposition parties controlled 15 states to PDP’s 21. If they had merged then, I’m sure they would have expanded as a strong unit over the years. Last week’s birth of All Progressive Congress (APC) is the first step. The next is an articulation of better, feasible alternatives to PDP’s policies and programmes. I think our democratic experience is just about to get better.

On Friday, gunmen killed nine female polio vaccinators at two health centres in Kano. No group has yet claimed responsibility but it is believed that they are religious extremists. Some parts of Northern Nigeria had lagged behind in polio eradication because of a belief that the vaccines had been engineered by the “Big Satan” (United States) to sterilise young Muslim girls in order to reduce the population of Muslims. Don’t these guys know that by killing Muslim vaccinators, they are also reducing the Muslim population? But we’re not dealing with rational minds, in any case, and I hope Bill Gates is not regretting devoting billions of naira to the eradication of this scourge in Nigeria.

A Christian pilgrim who visited Israel and Palestine last year has accused the Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission (NCPC) of cheating the pilgrims. Ms Efunbola Coker, a lawyer, accused the commission of putting Nigerian pilgrims in shabby hotels and compromising their safety and comfort. Despite paying a huge sum of money to enjoy this experience, Coker said what the commission did was nothing short of ripping off the pilgrims. I don’t think this allegation should be swept under the carpet by whoever should look into it. It is a shame, a big shame. 

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