Dr. Orji Uzor-Kalu,
At the 2012 Prof. U.A. Ijalaye lecture at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Faculty of Law, Ile-Ife, former Abia State Governor, Dr. Orji Uzor-Kalu, amongst other speakers, maintained that Nigeria’s problem remains that of leadership, reports Gboyega Akinsanmi
Nigeria, last week, marked her 52nd Independence Anniversary, which was accorded a low-key celebration. This, however, has been the pattern of celebration since the Boko Haram insurgence a few years ago. Apparently, the rationale for low-key celebration was mainly due to what many believed to be threat of calculated attacks against enemies of the state.
But shortly before the anniversary, critical issues undermining the country’s corporate existence and socio-political stability had dominated public space, most of which specifically centred on rebuild a vibrant economy and stable polity. But the diagnosis of such public discourses had not been different from what Prof. Chinua Achebe once described as failure of leadership.
The same came to the fore at the 25th anniversary of the Prof. U.A. Ijalaye Annual Lecture held at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, in Osun State. Ogunbanjo Hall, the venue of the lecture, was full to capacity. A sizable number of dignitaries like former Abia State Governor, Dr. Orji Uzor-Kalu, Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, Dean of the faculty, Prof. Olu Adediran and ex-President of Equity Chambers, Mr. Kennedy Amos among others.
The lecture, entitled: “Leadership: Key Factor for a Better Nigeria” offered an opportunity for the academics and decision-makers alike to dissect Nigeria’s socio-political crises and chart a new path towards realising her national objectives and preserving her core values, especially in the age when diverse challenges clog the country’s march to sustainable growth and development.
After Kalu delivered a thought-provoking lecture, there was indeed a harmony of thought among participants that Nigeria’s problems “are neither economic nor political. It is simply a crisis of leadership deficit, which gives rise to her economic woes and political malaises that now threaten corporate existence.” It was on that note that Adediran said Nigeria “is a country in want of visionary leaders.”
Digging into the country’s troubled history from the First Republic to the present one, Kalu establishede from the writing of great minds that there “is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character.” He, however, pointed out that a country of over 160 million people blessed with great natural and human resources “has no leader”.
Kalu’s position appeared novel, perhaps for one major reason. He drew profound inspiration from former President Nnamdi Azikiwe, ex-President of Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo, Dr. Dozie Ikedife, US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Mr. Herman Cohen and Prof. Chinua Achebe among others, whose findings at various epochs showed that Nigeria “is simply facing a crisis of bad leadership”.
In 1965, for instance, Azikwe argued that the leaders of the nation’s various communities “are servants of the people of Nigeria. They were selected to strengthen the bonds of national unity. Their main task is to promote understanding among the various tribes of Nigeria. So long as they faithfully do this, so long shall they have proved themselves capable of enduring the complicated problems of leadership in Nigeria.”
Azikwe’s standpoint was not quite different from what Achebe once opined in 1983 that the trouble with Nigeria “is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water, or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example, which is the hallmark of true leadership”.
These findings have not really changed since Nigeria’s democratic transition in 1999. When asked in a recent interview, Ikedife only said: “Please, don’t make me cry. Nigeria has no leader”.
Views from Diasporas are not encouraging too. This was evident in the comment of Cohen who said Nigerian leadership since 1999 “has been disappointing,” a reason Kalu said there was the need for a rethink on how to move the country forward.
The former Abia Governor remarked that it “grieves my heart when disparaging remarks are made about leadership in Nigeria.” According to him, “what makes it more tragic is that usually the remarks are true. This kind of comment breaks one’s hearts. But the regrettable thing is that the comments are true. The same thing is being said.
“It means our country is in the grip of bad leadership, and until we extricate ourselves from that evil grip, we will not make much progress. But should we then stay in the valley of sorrow and despondency- bemoaning Nigeria’s fate forever? For 52 years, we have been lamenting. What then is the way forward?”
Kalu thus offered some thought on how Nigeria could be sailed from her present shore of misery to the land of blessings. He saw the way out in the twenty-seventh independence speech of General Ibrahim Babangida, who said in 1987 that a leader who wishes “to convert the people must commune with them. Such leaders needs rebirth; undergo a new mode of existence and share the same experience with the people.”
But the ex-governor made a reference to the administration of former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who fit into Babangida’s definition. He said Yar’Adua “had all the qualities needed to transform the country. He had a good vision, a good approach to leadership in Nigeria. He wanted to be a servant leader; somebody who will love Nigerians, and serve them with all his might.
“But there was a problem due to his health. If my good friend, President Yar’Adua had been healthier, he would have served Nigeria very creditably. Unfortunately, he died in office, and we are still where we are today, groping for direction, like the children of Israel in the wilderness for 40 years,” Kalu said.
He argued that any leader deficient of the qualities x-rayed above has no doubt “betrayed the sacred trust of his office and position”. He therefore likened this to Achebe’s perspective that no person “gets into leadership lightly or unadvisedly, because it demands qualities of mind and discipline of body. In other words, leadership is something you plan for; you get groomed for, and consciously go into.”
But Kalu said the idea was an aberration in Nigeria. He was of the view that even when some tried “to groom successors, we discovered that we were grooming monsters that were willing to kick us out of office before they learn the qualities of leadership. Let’s consider some of our past and present leaders and how they ascended into office.”
He rhetorically asked: “Why does Nigeria get reluctant leaders? Is this country cursed or jinxed? Why do those who scrupulously prepare for leadership never get it? We know of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the best president we never had. We know of Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola, the man who wanted us to bid farewell to poverty. We know of many others who had prepared and groomed themselves for leadership. They never got it. But the reluctant ones get shoved into office and power”.
Kalu’s lecture elicited debate, all of which shared his position that a failure of leadership “is Nigeria’s greatest challenge”. The Apetu of Ipetumodu, Oba James Adegoke for instance harped on the need to rescue the country from the brink, which he said, could only be achieved through inputs from all Nigerians. He thus urged the guest lecturer not “to abandon the ship of the Nigerian state at these critical times.”
Ooni of Ife also said Nigeria needs a man like Kalu in power while he urged him to continue to provide leadership.
Amos, however, pointed out some considerable measures of persecution, which Kalu suffered in the hand of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo. He attributed to Kalu, the courage to ask critical questions bordering on development and governance of the country.