MY first reaction was to dismiss it with a wave of the hand, to say that he did not say so or that if he said so, he did not mean it or that, in any case, he was misquoted, to paraphrase Candido of the New Nigerian fame. But Professor Yemi Osinbajo, a cleric and a professor of law, spoke last Saturday as the Vice-President of this great country. From all accounts and given his impeccable background and standing, he cannot be accused of being one of those who talk first and do the thinking later. He deserved to be believed and I do believe him. But not in toto, not unreservedly.
Speaking at an annual dinner of the Apostles in the Market Place in Lagos, the vice-president confessed that he and President Muhammadu Buhari have been finding it extremely difficult to get the right persons that could handle nation building tasks for the present administration. He regrets that their administration was operating in a system “where the norm is corrupt behaviour across all the arms of government.”
I am saying that this country has many Buharis and Osinbajos, enough of them, to make the desired difference. But will the system allow them to flower and triumph?
For emphasis and possibly for the avoidance of any doubt, permit me to quote him extensively: “I have had several long discussions with President Buhari, the key issue always is finding the right persons for any task; a tough task indeed in a corrupt system.” President Buhari and his vice president are in good company of other visionary leaders who had come to power determined to translate their vision into reality for the good of their respective countries. As I have had occasion to say recently, such leaders, to succeed, all require trusted and capable staff to implement their vision. In fact, having won an election the true acid test of leadership is their ability to assemble quality staff, getting suitable people to help them run the affairs of government which is even more difficult than campaigning and winning the election.
President Richard Nixon of the United States did a study of contemporary world leaders and came to the conclusion that most of the successful leaders of his acquaintance “have been highly intelligent, highly disciplined, hardworking, supremely self-confident, driven by a dream, driving others, all have looked beyond the horizon. Some have seen more clearly than others.” The mark of a great leader, unique to almost all these leaders, he says, is the willingness to pick people who may be smarter than he is. The smart and intelligent staff will challenge and inspire with their idealism and sheer intellect. A good leader will profit from their contribution. He takes the credit after all the buck stop on his desk.
One more endorsement of Osinbajo’s position – more appropriately his lamentation – comes from former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who equally suffered staff recruitment blues on assumption of office. Says he in his book titled Testimony: ‘‘My first step was naturally to choose my team, especially my chief of staff. In governing, there are really only two difficult things to do – but they’re very difficult. The first is choosing the right colleagues. No doubt the hardest thing to do is know how to decide among those close to you. You have to put the right person in the right place, and if you make a mistake you must fix it right away.”
The question to ask is what makes the difference between us and these other people? Why did they succeed outstandingly in this enterprise and we seem, almost always, to be failing and falling woefully when it comes to leadership recruitment? Is it solely the result of the environmental factor, what Vice President Osinbajo calls the corruption-ridden system or the inability of our wise leaders, including President Buhari and his vice, to spot the difference?
I submit humbly that the system, as Osinbajo rightly pointed out, has a role to play. But I also submit that the greatest problem comes from the inability of our leaders to be meticulous enough in their search for the right men and women of character and integrity imbued with sufficient patriotism and desire to serve this country selflessly and help in the task of nation building. Such men and women, scattered all over this country and in the diaspora, are not given the opportunity to make their contribution. I am saying that this country has many Buharis and Osinbajos, enough of them, to make the desired difference. But will the system allow them to flower and triumph?
Our leadership recruitment process is, to say the least, appalling. The premium is on money, plenty of it. If you aspire to any responsible position in this country today, the question that they will ask you first and foremost, is ‘do you have the money?’ The question is not whether or not you have the ability, the capacity and the strength of character and the intellect required for that position. Money is the only deciding factor. And if you answer the question in the affirmative, there is no follow-up question. In other climes, in other societies, questions as to the source of your money are valid. But not here. Here, in our own environment, it is enough merely that you have the money.
If your answer is in the negative – that you have no such money – then no dice. You can go and sell your intellect and integrity and your capacity to the angels. Na integrity we de chop?
We are still basically a country where honesty is not the best policy. And I can give a catalogue of Nigerians in public office who have had to suffer and die in penury because they stood up to their corrupt bosses. For example, I know a Customs officer who arrested a smuggler and dutifully informed his boss of this huge seizure. Instead of commendation, he got condemnation. He protested when the goods were released cavalierly to the owner, a sacred cow. Instead of a reprieve, he was demoted and punished for his temerity. Further protests led to his sack both from work and ultimately from this world. Those who punished him for his honesty and enterprise grew in the system and had a lot to show for their dishonesty and crooked ways. They were celebrated with traditional titles.
I think Osinbajo is honest enough to know that it is easier today for a camel to pass through the proverbial eye of the needle than for an honest man and woman imbued with sufficient patriotism and integrity to aspire to public office in this country.
For another example. The story was told of a rector in one of the federal polytechnics some couple of years back who went to Abuja to attend the inauguration of his new council members. After the ceremony, his new chairman called him aside to intimate him of his expectations. He needed to make as much as N100 million in the next one year. The hapless rector was utterly speechless. Unknown to the rector, some of the chairmen paid some hefty money to officials of government to get the appointment. Those who paid for positions would need to recoup and make profit.
When President Buhari collected his certificate of return from Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, one major promise he made in his speech was that he would make it difficult for people to buy their way into public office. He will need to keep his promise to translate Nigeria into an Eldorado with the support of his able deputy, Professor Osinbajo if his vow does not become the promise made by and the hope given by Tantalus.