“Leading from the Streets”

Magnus  Onyibe

The much-awaited public presentation of the book, “Leading From The Streets: Media Interventions By A Public Intellectual, 1999-2019,” authored by myself, took place at the prestigious Alliance Française/Mike Adenuga, Ikoyi, Lagos, with aplomb on Wednesday, 8th May 2024. It was a three-in-one event that featured the unveiling of the book, a panel discussion on the theme “Tinubunomics: What’s Working, What’s Not Working, Why, And Way Forward,” and honors bestowed on six exemplary leaders from outside the corridors of power for their contributions to society by Leading From The Streets and not corridors of political power.

The public presentation and unveiling of the book were attended by Gen. Yakubu Gowon, who served as the chairman of the occasion, the former governor of Ogun State, Aremo Segun Osoba, a media royalty, former Cross Rivers State governor, the effervescent Mr. Donald Duke, and the man who charted a path for me in politics, former Delta State governor and irrepressible national political leader, Chief James Ibori. Intellectual governors, Prof. Charles Soludo of Anambra State, and his Edo State counterpart, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, were unavoidably absent as they are outside the shores of our country, but they sent words and representatives.

The private sector was also well represented, with the Chairman of HEIRS Holdings/UBA, Mr. Tony Elumelu, represented by the company secretary of UBA, Mr. Billy Odum, as well as Mr. Nnamdi Okonkwo, GMD/CEO of First Bank Holding, in attendance, personally amongst many others such as Mr. Henry Imasekha, an investment banker/Chairman of Berkely Group, and Mr. J.K Randle, one of the foremost accountants in our country. Other private sector players, too numerous to list in this short piece, were well represented, and we are most grateful to all of them.

As one of the readers of the book pointed out, because it captures the socioeconomic and political developments in Nigeria between 1999 and 2019 in one volume, any researcher who wants to learn about the dynamics of change in the evolution of politics, societal issues, and the economy of Nigeria should plan to have the book as a companion because it would be a useful compass.

Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, who is the Chief of Staff to President Bola Tinubu, was unable to personally attend the event due to prior engagements but offered to send a representative to attend on his behalf. In a letter affirming his support for the book, he made the following observation: “By documenting history in books, we make ourselves part of the timeless fabric of humanity. That is as close to immortality as we can hope for.” He then concluded by stating: “For many years, you have been one of the preeminent public intellectuals in our country. I’m glad that your contributions through the years are now available in one easily accessible volume, and I congratulate you on this publication.”

The Rt. Hon. Gbajabiamila’s complimentary statement provides the answer to the question that has been agitating the minds of some Nigerians who have been wondering why I published “Leading From The Streets,” which was presented to the public on 8th May. As the Chief of Staff to President Tinubu rightly noted, the book chronicles my personal contributions to nation-building through media articles spanning two decades of Nigeria’s return to multi-party democracy now encapsulated in one tome.

The hope is that the nuggets of wisdom contained in the book would give confidence to the masses and nudge long-suffering Nigerians towards pulling their skills and resources together for the prosperity of the nation and her people. It is also expected to guide those leading from the corridors of political power presently and in the future to learn from the documented past records of their predecessors so that they can avoid the mistakes of the past occupants of the seats that they presently occupy.

There is a popular aphorism: “If you want to hide something from the black man, hide it in a book.” To the best of my knowledge, no convincing evidence has been produced to back up that adumbration.

So, I do not subscribe to that notion; hence, I embarked on the mission of democratizing access to the book, “Leading From The Streets,” by distributing over two hundred copies nationwide free-of-charge to governors, National Assembly members, the Presidency – Vice President’s office, and the office of the Chief of Staff to the President.

 The Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of major private sector firms in telecommunications, oil/gas, including major players in the financial services sector, as well as heads of development and money deposit banks, are also among those to whom invitations were extended and copies of the book were sent.

A significant number of ministers, heads of departments, and agencies of the government were also sent copies of the book via GiG Logistics, which is an indigenous courier firm competing with multinational logistics firms like UPS, DHL, FedEx, etc. For patriotic reasons, GiG is my preferred choice for distributing the books.

In fact, the preference for GiG is my way of promoting the “Made in Nigeria” or “Nigeria First” mantra, which, in my view, should define the government at this point in time when Nigerians are groaning under the yoke of hardship arising from ongoing reforms in the economy, especially as the masses are complaining about the high cost of governance and the increasing burden of more taxation being imposed on them.

After the unveiling of the book by Gen. Gowon, GCFR, alongside other dignitaries, the panel discussion on the theme “Tinubunomics: What’s Working, What’s Not Working, Why, and the Way Forward” commenced. It generated tension as one of the panelists, Mr. Bala Zarka, a chartered accountant and leader of the Ikeja Lagos district of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), declared that “Tinubunomics” (an encapsulation of the reform politics of President Tinubu) was not working.

He became emotional in denouncing the reforms and almost drowned out the voices of the other panelists, including the moderator, Prof. Anthony Kila, Ms. Ayo Obe, a renowned civil rights lawyer, Mr. Sam Omatseye, Chairman of the Editorial Board of The Nation newspaper, and Dr. Dakuku Peterside, former NIMASA Director-General, who was co-opted into the panel.

As the other panelists pointed out, some of the policies are working, such as the removal of a substantial part of the subsidy on petrol pump prices and the devaluation of the naira, which are responsible for more money currently flowing into governments at subnational levels. Hopefully, the funds would be optimally utilized by governors through channeling it into developing the rural areas where the masses reside.

Petrol subsidy removal is also programmed to be the source of funding for the recently introduced Student Loans Fund, with Mr. Akintunde Sawyer as the Executive Secretary and Mr. Jim Ovia, the founder/Chairman of Zenith Bank, serving as the Chairman of the board. Without being said, it is expected that Mr. Ovia, who birthed Zenith Bank as the founder, a financial institution that has been a phenomenal success, will bring his magic touch to bear on the student loan initiative.

In my estimation, the positive effect of that policy can only be equated to the late sage Obafemi Awolowo’s introduction of free education in the Western Region when he was the premier, which leapfrogged the region into the stratosphere of prosperity in terms of education and socioeconomic development compared to her peers in the Eastern and Northern regions.

Overall, while Bala Zarka’s outburst reflects the anger of a sizable proportion of Nigerians on the streets who deem “Tinubunomics” (the incumbent government’s reforms) as not working, a significant number of Nigerians, represented by other members of the panel, see “Tinubunomics” as working, though not perfect. They emphasize that one year is too soon to objectively assess government policy. In light of the hightened level of hardship the policies are wreaking on the masses, in their view, some of the policies aimed at correcting past mistakes can be better implemented.

Remarkably, President Tinubu has proven to be a listening leader, as he has made efforts to give a human face to some of his policies by adjusting the amount of subsidy removed in petrol prices and naira devaluation. He has also done so by slightly adjusting the electricity tariff recently increased for those in the higher rung of society—band A consumers. He has just suspended the obnoxious cyber security levy which the CBN had imposed on the banking public while he (the president) was abroad wooing potential investors into our country.

The administration is also easing the palpable pains being experienced by the vulnerable members of society by way of palliatives handed to the masses directly and granting bridging loans to state governments as a buffer against the rising cost of living. With the incumbent government promoting Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) use for mass transit buses to ease the cost of transportation, the masses may soon heave a sigh of relief.

Although some of the highlighted initiatives are still in the conceptualization stage, they hold promises to alleviate and ameliorate the pains currently being endured by a critical mass of Nigerians.

Understandably, the most critical element currently missing is patience, which is required from Nigerians to enable the policies driven by Tinubunomics to attain maturity. And l join the incumbent administration in pleading with our compatriots for time to enable Tinubunomics  attain maturity.

 On the flip side, the masses who are fast running out of patience are also demanding good governance and accountability via reduced cost of governance from the incumbent administration.

And president Tinubu has committed to that, but typical of government policies, they take time to manifest.

As the 35th president of the United States of America, John F. Kennedy, stated during his inauguration in 1961: “Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You, But Ask What You Can Do For Your Country.” Our country appears to be in a similar socioeconomic and political situation that the US was in when President Kennedy made the speech that inspired Americans to resolve to pull the country back from the brinks economically. Similarly, for the good of all Nigerians, both those leading from the corridors of power and the ones leading from the streets, we all have to find a common ground/equilibrium so that our economy and country can take the much-awaited leap forward.

•Magnus Onyibe,an entrepreneur,public policy analyst ,author,democracy advocate,development strategist,alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy,Tufts University, Massachusetts,USA and a former commissioner in Delta state government, sent this piece from Lagos, Nigeria.

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