By Wole Olaoye
Our friends, Tamuno, Dike and Hadi are exercising their right to freedom of speech:
Tamuno: By now, Buhari should have visited Owo to commiserate with the people over the killings.
Dike: He should have visited Anambra and Imo for the same reason too.
Hadi: He can’t be everywhere. The VP already visited Owo
Tamuno: If he can’t be everywhere, why doesn’t he support state police so that the states can defend their people?
Dike: Even Zamfara and Southern Kaduna are crying for help. If only the president had gone there instead of jetting off to Portugal. He shouldn’t be missing in action at these critical times
Hadi: His officials are doing that. He doesn’t have to be everywhere…
Since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, the quality of leadership at all levels of governance has steadily nosedived. We throw scarce resources at problems believing that money opens the door to all solutions. We hardly pause to THINK. We would rather blunder our way to a dead end and then splash money to purchase solutions from foreigners who deploy their brains to fashion a way out of any given complex situation.
If only our leaders had a little respect for history, they would take cue from Mandela’s timeless assertion that,“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
Every administration ought to be concerned about the verdict of history. All great leaders keep an eye on how posterity will judge their words, actions and inactions. As we navigate our way to a new administration, despondency fills the land at all levels— from the village to the suburbs and the cities. Many people wish tomorrow was yesterday. They can’t wait. But wait they must. And that is why those running their last lap have to change gear and up their game, if only to satiate the people’s hunger for competence and empathy.
Management experts identify 14 words as defining leadership: Influential, Charismatic, Visionary, Servant, Inspirational, Humble, Sacrificial, Motivating, Rebellious, Trustworthy, Determined, Passionate, Creative, and Result-oriented. I cannot, in good conscience, associate many of our leaders with those lofty qualities. And that is the root of the problem: Low quality of leaders operating a bastardised system cobbled from a foreign sources.
It is bad enough that the military tampered with the parliamentary constitution which was the basis of Nigeria’s independence in 1960. On May 24, 1966, through Decree 34, General JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi, turned Nigeria to a unitary state controlled from the centre. He paid the supreme price. Nonetheless, his successors promptly adopted the system throughout the many years of military misrule and finally made a new constitution in their own image and likeness.
The pseudo-American presidential system which they have replaced it with, is alien to our circumstances and is largely responsible for the widespread insecurity in the country today. It is not designed for the Nigerian environment where we are blessed with 520 linguistic groups. The distinct ways of life of the various people making up the geographical space called Nigeria were taken into consideration in fashioning the Independence Constitution following a series of constitutional conferences.
The parliamentary system essentially makes it imperative for political leaders to be close to their people and to be responsive to their problems, otherwise they would lose their hold on power. The Nigerian variant of the presidential system now on offer is designed to impose emperors who rule by reigning, who lead by abdicating responsibility and who define regime security as collective security.
In the days of yore, a premier would be the first prominent visitor to the site of a disaster so that he could personally take charge and be seen by the people to be doing so. If he couldn’t do that immediately, he would send the relevant minister to do an on-the-spot assessment of the situation and report back to him. That was necessary, not just because the premier needed to plan for relief materials but also because he would be asked tough questions in parliament the following day and could be made to look totally alienated from the people.
By contrast, the presidential system allows leaders from the local government, state and federal levels to be far removed from the people. A local government chairman lords it over his people just as the state governor personalises the collective treasury and doles out favours at will. The president, of course, is the Kabiyesi-in-chief whose word is law and who does not have to accept responsibility for anything except to take credit when things seem to go right.
Tim Akano (firstname.lastname@example.org) describes the predilection of the ruling elite as “Pleasure without Productivity, Gains without Pains, Platinum lifestyle without Perspiration…. The Country dies when the two most thriving sectors of the economy are Politics and YAHOO+!” (Add hostage taking).
In such a contraption, the nation can only run on auto-pilot. The sad part is that the programmed navigation is based on false parameters and the nation’s craft is heading anywhere but the promised land. That is where our national security is at the moment. It is so frustrating that the Governor of Zamfara State, Mohammed Matawalle, has advised residents to obtain guns to defend themselves. Matawalle was following the footsteps of Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina who had earlier called on his people to arm themselves against the rampaging gunmen in the state.
The Nigerian state no longer has the monopoly of dangerous arms and ammunition. Terrorists have therefore carved out fiefdoms for themselves in our various forests where they run colonies of kidnapped victims, share ransom booty and plan their operations. They overrun the military and police checkpoints at will. There is hardly any difference between bandit-inspired terror and Boko-Haram-inspired terror. Not anymore! Indeed, the lines between Boko Haram and the so-called bandits have since thinned out.
Under the former parliamentary system of government, we had federal, regional and local government police. When the military collapsed it all into one monolith force controlled from the centre, something was bound to give. If the states and local governments had their own police force, each state would have collaborated with its neighbours to flush out the criminals from their forests. The introduction of Amotekun in the Southwest has shown that if the states had their own police force, they would be able to handle their own security better.
It is frustrating to hear some of the inane reasons being given by government partisans in defence of a centralised security arrangement. If the president has to superintend over everything from Abuja and the system is not working because it is impossible to do so, a reasonable reaction would be to quickly unbundle the police and redesign the security architecture.
It is the duty of every patriot in the public space to espouse ideas that can lift the nation out of the terrible circumstances we have all been boxed in. I have every reason to wish the best for Nigeria because it is the only country I can truly call my own. And, terrible as it all looks now, if we can just engage our cerebral faculties and quit the medieval games our political elite have been playing, there is an oasis somewhere ahead in this desert of sorrow, tears and blood.
In my piece, “About Time the Real Buhari Stood Up” (October 2017), I argued that, “It is not a good sign for any nation when there is a doubt as to where the buck stops. The joke during the Jonathan administration was that the country was being ruled by five women and that the president was thought to be the weakest of the five. (Wicked humour!) … These testy times in Nigeria call for a leader who can reach deep into his being to bring out the dormant qualities that can catapult the nation to achieve its potentials; a leader with Obasanjo’s native intelligence, Murtala’s doggedness, Abubakar Umar’s commitment to principles, Donald Duke’s organisational acumen, Mbakwe’s populism, Hassan Kukah’s cerebral expansiveness — and more.”
Perhaps it is now late in the day to make any fundamental change. But the president can resolve to finish strong by focussing on the little things that matter to the common people and decisively intervening on critical issues such as the ASUU strike (get our universities reopened) and the wooly petroleum sector where the price of diesel which powers our factories and mass transportation, has jumped from N240 to N800. These and other daunting challenges will demand his physical presence and stern supervision. Anyone who says this duty is beneath the level of the president wants him to continue ‘missing in action’ at critical times.
And history neither forgives nor forgets.
(Wole Olaoye is a Public Relations consultant and veteran journalist. He can be reached on email@example.com, Twitter: @wole_olaoye; Instagram: woleola2021)
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