RAY EKPU IS EVIDENTLY AN ACCOMPLISHED MAN IN HIS CHOSEN JOURNALISM CAREER. HOWEVER, HE HABOURS A NAGGING INTEREST IN LEADERSHIP WHICH FOISTED ON HIM MANY FAILED EXPECTATIONS. LITTLE WONDER HE CHOSE IT AS A TOPIC FOR DISCOURSE AS HE TURNED 70 AND CELEBRATED 45 YEARS OF HIS CAREER.  AHAMEFULA OGBU WHO WAS THERE REPORTS

Many would think that the issue uppermost on Mr. Ray Ekpu’s mind is about journalism alone; but one of the revelations at his 70th birthday and celebration of his 45 years of active journalism was that the leadership question, especially of Nigeria agitates his mind to no end. The colloquium to mark his birthday and professional endurance centred on leadership.  

The tribute for Ekpu at 70 was delivered by Dr. Chidi Amuta on ‘Leadership and the burden of history’, and evoked a discourse that covered the failures of the Nigerian political experience and postulations on way out. However, Amutawho surmised the experience and trials of Ekpu, Dele Giwa, Dan Agbese, Yakubu Mohammed and Soji Akirinade of Newswatch fame as a combination of good leadership, professionalism and entrepreneurship also regretted their travails under the military regime which threw them in and out of prisons.

Amuta, whose text was delivered by Dan Agbese on account of indisposition bothering on health, took a treatise into the topic  anddescribed leadership as “the ability to develop a vision of community and the capacity to translate that vision into beneficial reality in a manner that carries the following along.”

According to him, “to envision an alternative higher reality, the leader must have the executive capacity or find those so equipped. To attract and carry the followership, the leader must be enlightened. To translate that vision into reality, the leader must have the executive capacity or find those so equipped. To attract and carry the followership, the leader must possess personal electricity or charisma in the form of oratory, personal carriage, integrity and connectedness to ordinary folks. The people must see aspects of themselves mirrored in the life and story of the leader.

“Perhaps at no other time in our national history has the issue of leadership presented itself so boldly in the front yard of national discourse. In spite of elections that fill various levels of public office in the land, our people continue to yearn endlessly for purposeful leadership. It has, therefore, become necessary to make a distinction between power and incumbency and leadership in the nation. There is, as they say, no vacancy in either Aso Rock Villa or the 36 state Government Houses across the land. Whether inspiring leadership is emanating from any of these locations is quite another.

“Make no mistake about it. The drama of power incumbency continues to rage all over the land. The sirens blare even louder; pomp and ceremony of public office are in full gear; the perfunctory rituals of government continue unabated. So also is the impunity of power, the arrogance of today’s men and injured ego and deflated importance of yesterday’s people.”

Amuta insisted that true leadership must be one that inspires and carry an undivided national along the path of self-realisation ; must be inspirational, innovative and empathic, adding that in words, action and personal conduct, a leader must touch the vital chord that unites the nation without recourse to ethnicity or class.

“True national leadership is perhaps best described and understood by what it is not. It is not water boreholes. It is not endless kilometres of roads or even kilowatts of electricity. It is not the meting out of casual cruelty on your perceived opponents or the shutting down of windows of opportunity to all except your friends, loyalists or kinsmen. Nor can we mistake as leadership the subversion of the popular mandate into an instrument for dividing nations along all imaginable lines. If anything, these traits create a hunger for genuine leadership in nations such as ours that are not afflicted,” he said.

He submitted that the rhetoric of potential greatness of the country was sounding like a broken record and mouthed by ignorant politicians eager to win elections which deepen the leadership crises. He further stated that “At 58, Nigeria is neither old nor young. My fear is that it came into existence with all the infirmities of decadent old age. Now in mature middle age, the nation is afflicted by a cocktail of ailments some of which can only be cured by killing the patient hence the loud cries for restructuring or even outright dissolution.

“The consequences of past leadership missteps and failures now haunt us all. Our highways are dangerous; our urban streets are dark alleys hiding sinister possibilities as no one knows what lies in wait; the frontiers of freedom have been fenced by a rampaging insurgency while squads of killers sometimes difficult to name have rendered life in our villages even more capricious, brutish and short.

“A nation that started out united and hopeful is today torn along all known divides just as the number of optimists has dwindled into miserable insignificance. Our youth walk the streets in quest of nothing in a land full of work but with no opportunities to find work.”

He analysed several regimes in Africa and their effects on their people which range from sufferings to tragedies as well as good narratives of those who salvaged theirs from hopelessness to prosperity like Rwanda of which he noted, “Today’s story of phenomenal progress in Rwanda must be understood against the horrid backdrop. National integration has been re-established even though the scars of genocide remain. Rwanda is today prosperous, neat (no plastic bags since 2008) and orderly country. The economy has grown by an average of seven per cent since 2010, lifting millions out of poverty in less than 10 years. Per capita income has more than tripled while Rwanda now ranks above Italy and Greece. It is in the regional top spot in the World Bank’s latest Ease of Doing Business index. So much for strong, purposeful and visionary leadership.”

He said the same of Botswana which now ranks highest in diamond production and has through good vision by its leadership, avoided resource curse by improving the lives of its people with the economy and high literacy level in addition to having the lowest corruption indices in Africa.

The lecturer blamed the organisers of the January 15, 1966 coup for the leadership crises of the country as he reasoned that they should not have expected them to find bearing within six years after independence, adding, “It remains the height of youthful delinquency and professional rascality that that coup took place. It is an unfortunate precedent which opened an unfortunate chapter of leadership disruptions that have plagued us to this moment. Clearly then, our national history has not allowed us to evolve the leadership we need.”

He said the time had come for strong institutions, pointing out that having a happy nation was predicated on getting the leadership that fulfills the aspirations of most Nigerians before advancing four grounds as a possible solution to the leadership challenge.

“The use of affidavits and other sworn instruments to prove the age and educational qualifications of seekers of high political office should be banned by law. Those who cannot remember when they were born or what schools they attended and certificates obtained have no business leading anybody.

“The concept of zoning or rotation on geo-political basis of the presidency and other key political offices by political parties should be outlawed. It is in conflict with the spirit of the constitution which rejects all forms of discrimination among Nigerians. If anything, the political parties should zone the leadership to merit which can now be found all over the country. We need to enthrone political meritocracy now if we are to become competitive in the world.

“It is time for the National Assembly to review and amend the constitutional guarantee of immunity to high political office holders. Equality before the law is an elementary requirement of all democracy.  A polity that allows an unfit person to occupy high office cannot also grant them immunity from prosecution. We also must quickly ensure true equality before the law.

“Leadership requires tutelage. We should resurrect the defunct Centre for Democratic Studies to continuously train and orientate elected public officials on the rudiments of democratic governance,” he concluded.

The colloquium was moderated by Agbese while Professor Bolaji Akinyemi was Chairman of the occasion. The panel of discussants who gave different insights into the problems and ways out were Ms. Yemi Adamolekun, DeboAdesina and Sam Omatseye while Chief Yemi Ogunbiyi, Obong Victor Attah, Dubem Onyia and Kingsley Muoghaluall contributed from the floor.

While Adamolekun said it was about looking dead because we did a lot of analysing situations without actually doing enough to change things, Omotosho said leadership style in the country bordered on deceit, a reason little or nothing has changed, adding that   there was a dearth of statesmen among the leadership. Omatseye described the leadership style of the country as totally imposed and tribally run.

Emmanuel Ekeuwem, Secretary to the Government of Akwa Ibom State said the problem with Nigerian leadership was that it ran on a cumulative level of mediocrity whereby the best and the prepared were sidetracked.

Attah disagreed with Amuta that there was no quality leadership, insisting that he tried in his time and handed over power seamlessly in a way that engendered development but regretted that the trend was reversing even in Akwa IbomState where they had achieved a good template, adding, “unless we hand over power through elective process that enables people to choose, leadership will continue to fail.” Onyia submitted that the problem was that democrats were yet to take power in the country as those in charge were largely recruited but not committed democrats.

Osoba disagreed with Amuta on banning affidavit bearing politicians from contesting especially based on age declaration, pointing out that for parents not educated enough to keep birth dates, affidavit became inevitable. He, however, blamed Chief Olusegun Obasanjo for the descent into near anarchy of the leadership system, insisting that when he grabbed power from the Action for Democracy governors by crook was when democratic governance and good leadership plummeted. He however assured that with the amendment to the Electoral Act and if signed into law, things would turn for the better in terms of good leadership.

Akinyemi blamed the winner takes it all syndrome for the political hubris in leadership and advocated a middle ground where the winner and loser would agree. On the clamour for restructuring, he said it was not going to be easy for those holding certain benefits to give them up but that it would be better for them lose some than lose everything if the country continued the way it was going. He lamented that vote counters rather than voters were determining the winner in elections and wondered why the amendment to the Electoral Act that admitted electronic voting was yet to be signed.

Ekpu who watched proceedings with stoic silence had before delivering his speech, announced that he got a surprise from President Muhammadu Buhari and read out the birthday message to the audience. He said it was a surprise because he was not expecting him to have remembered his birthday out of his crowded schedule.

Done with the message from the President, the  icon said he practiced journalism of facts and figures, robust but fair commentary. He advised that “support for or blind opposition to any government is a danger to society. Groveling sycophants or tyrannical enemies of the government do more harm than good to society because they mislead and misdirect the government and its peoples. In every government, there is almost always a gang of muscular sycophants who tell the oga at the top what they think he wants to hear, not what he needs to hear. There are several people in the public service who take unlawful and illegal actions. Their explanation is always ‘I am taking orders from above’. This is what is called Nuremberg Defence. Nuremberg Defence does not exculpate anyone from liability because it is unlawful, if it is illegal, it is illegal.”

In what he christened his contribution to the subject of discussion, he said he chose it because he believed that leadership mattered and made all the difference. He recalled the lamentation of Golda Meir of Israel that of all places on earth, Moses chose to lead them through a long journey to come to a desert.  Ekpu observed that good leadership turned around Israel and today, though surrounded by hostile neighbours and without natural resources, produced more startup companies than Japan, India, Korea, Canada and the United Kingdom.

“Compare Israel with Nigeria which had a 30-month civil war that also brought a great deal of adversity to the people of Biafra. We did not turn that war, that adversity, into an opportunity to become a second or a first world country. Nigerian soldiers had access to arms, food, fuel, everything, they wanted but Biafrans did not. They had to create Ogbunigwe, manufacture petrol and kerosene and salt with their bare hands and crude technology and perform several works of wonder to survive. There was even a Dr. Njoku who produced some vaccines after the war but nobody looked in his direction. The popular notion was that General Yakubu Gown would assemble those Biafra scientists and challenge them to refine their inventions. But politics took over and killed the idea because it would have meant that the Igbos were smarter and more brilliant than everyone else. So we, all of us, lost the opportunity to take Nigeria into a higher development realm. We are still at ground zero, the semi-permanent place of the third world. We are still called underdeveloped country although we try to give ourselves the comfort by calling ourselves “developing country”. So leadership is central to our development and would have been central to our entry into the land of fulfilment if we got it right,” he lamented.

He further wondered if the failure of development and fulfilment in Nigeria was due to colonial rule but answered that it would be futile and foolish to continue to blame the colonialists who left over 57 years ago. On military rule, he said some Asian countries were developed by the military while in Nigeria out of 12 military state Governors investigated for corruption, 10 were indicted, only two were declared uncorrupt while funds stolen by former rulers and stashed in foreign accounts were still being traced. He advocated punishment for those who circumvent the constitution while approving humongous salaries for themselves.

Ekpu lamented the failure of presidential and parliamentary systems of governance and wondered why. He blamed the leaders and the led for the quagmire, adding that if both uphold the constitution, the country would soon breathe the fresh air of expected developments. In the end, it was clear he has more than a passing interest on the subject of leadership.