‘Nigeria is unfortunate to have leaders who hear but do not listen’
Dr. James Akanbi is the General Overseer of God’s Mercy Revival Ministries (GOMERM). A prolific writer, Akanbi has authored over 30 books including the best-selling Bombers of Hell, Anointed Eagle, Unravelling the Mystery of Divine Selection and Kingdom Principles. An accountant and Harvard-trained strategist, he spoke to GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR on what lessons the federal and state governments should pick from the EndSARS campaigns.
What lessons would you say are derivable from the events of these past three weeks, the protests, the wanton destruction and looting?
They have written a report sheet for the Presidency. It shows there is something the youths can do for a better Nigeria. They’ve just told us how well or how bad they have performed. They have been able to place us on a particular premise where the failures of the government have been able to come up. If the government is wise enough, it should pick some lessons out of this. They (people in government) need a lot of seminars on modern leadership. It is obvious that our leaders who campaigned and won election on the mantra of change do not know what change means and how to manage change. They don’t know about the intentionality of change. They don’t know about the graduality of change. They do not know about the purposefulness of it. They do not that there is need for communication. They do not know there is need for diplomatic engagement of the people before you make a change to happen. That is what has just been revealed now.
What does the wanton destruction of properties in a country just coming back from the throes of lockdown as a result of COVID-19 pandemic portend?
Destruction of government property is not the way to go; it will still compress and depress the economy further. In fact, it is an opportunity for some people to abuse their office again. They will come up with outlandish costs to fix these things again. Indirectly, we are punishing ourselves. These are not protests of ideology; they are protests of violence. There are some protests of ideology that get the results. For the few days that the protest was on, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) suffered that is in addition to the effects of COVID-19 pandemic. If we are not careful, in the next three years, Nigeria may not be able to get out of all these.
Basically, the police is said to have orchestrated the crisis. What kind of reform will you suggest for the force?
Our police has a lot of half-baked professionals and semi-illitrates. The police need a lot of graduates as the bench mark for training. Policemen may say they attend courses, the question is, who are you teaching? We all know that secondary school is for basic knowledge. The first and second year in the university is for more comprehension. Synthesis starts from the fourth year. Until you get to 700 and 800 courses before you begin to do things wisely. How can you be teaching a secondary school leaver the art of governance and you think he is going to comprehend it? He can’t. Some of the things we blame police for, we should blame the system for them. The way people are nominated into the police force… you are going to get the wrong people. These are some of the lessons government has to pick. If you have a policeman that was introduced by his traditional ruler or local government chairman, he will think twice before getting involved in shameful actions.
Consequent upon the protests many states have set up judicial commission of inquiries into police brutality. Do you think Nigerian youths will be willing to wait for that period of time to get their desired results?
The little training that I have from Harvard on Strategic Leadership tells me that change must never be abrupt. The transition from SARS to SWAT was too rash, too brash and too hasty. Any change that will be meaningful must be international, must be with gradually and must be with a major pragmatism. There was no sufficient communication, no tactical engagement of the citizens and you move straight to a change like, do you think the people will trust you? That is where they messed it up. They think they can bring a kind of veil upon the people and say look you want disbandment of SARS and now SWAT is coming. No. I would think and expect that the police would just transfer the function of this SARS to another unit with a new modus operandi, get them to actually move strategically underneath and then come up later and announce the new body that is taking over some of the functions of the disbanded SARS. The moment they came up with that swift change, the people were no longer ready to trust the government.
That was where the trust broke. The people then said this government is not ready for action unless we back it up with some level of resilience and some violence, because when you have a government that only hears but does not listen, then you need some element of force to make them to listen. That is a very crucial thing in leadership. You don’t only hear; you listen. Nigeria has been having leaders who hear, but do not listen. They have been taking the populace for a ride and that is why this set of people has said we must back up our demand with some element of force. It is wrong, but it is as a result of the past of the government. In these six months that some states have set as deadline for their judicial commission of inquiries, I can tell you, everything that is involved in their demands cannot wait for six months. There are some that can be done in double quick time. When people see some pragmatism in the government action, they will begin to reason, but when you take the whole thing to six months, people know that government is looking for a cool off time. Before six months, what stops the President from inviting people with proven cases of police brutality to Aso Rock for lunch or dinner? He should personally handover compensation to them and apologise on behalf of the government.
This SARS we are talking about was not a creation of the Nigerian Police? Were there no supervisors? Nobody can be blaming those operatives on the field. What about their supervisors? Where was the government when the bruatalities were taking place? The whole thing that happened now just reveals that our leaders are very much far away from the realities of modern governance. Do they want to tell us that have not been hearing of these brutalities before? Where was the Inspector General of Police? Where was the President? Did SARS create itself? There were individuals who were supposed to call those guys to order. Nobody was doing anything. Now the operatives are the sacrificial lambs, but some people have prospered from their excesses and the government was looking them. The IGP and commissioners of police were looking at them and did nothing. This shows that our leaders are far away from modern governance.
Nigeria has changed. The earlier the government addresses itself to this, the better. Things can no longer be like the past. The election that is coming can no longer be like the past. The people have found their voice. The way they have been able to articulate two of the demands -the #EndSARS and #EndPoliceBrutality is a serious matter. It means, there are some Nigerians that can articulate some ideology and it becomes a rallying point for the society at large If this set of people become fully align to their cause, it means they can vote in a president. The best thing is for the government to sort out this matter on time so that the negative elements in the society will do more damage otherwise we will be in a big mess.
The Nigerian people have not been able to trust the government. They view whatever promise the government is making with some cynicism. They think the government has not been very sincere with the citizens. What we are seeing is the accumulation of such mistrust and distrust from the past that is actually playing out now. If the government had been trusted in the past, we are not going to have this type of situation. If it were to be in other countries, the moment the government came out and said we have heard you and can you just give us a time frame and we will back with you, if they had been faithful in the past, the people will pick it up from there and everybody will go back to their place. I have been in the UK and the US, at times when issues like this are going and I have seen that just one single address from either the Prime Minister or the President had actually taken the people back into their homes. The problem we have here is the mistrust and distrust that have been there all these while. The government has not been able to come up with an articulated speech and idea about any issue and follow it through. They have not able to do that in the past. So, it just the harvest of that kind of leadership problem that we are just having now. Under a normal situation, the moment the SARS was disbanded, it should be over. That was supposed to be the real antidote, but the problem of the suspicion is the reason we still have the youths on the street.
The President has to own up that they were not trust worthy. It is not about him alone. It has been on over time. The President has to own up to some errors of the past in governance and he should make a definite promise that the governance is on a new turn, having seen the anger of the youths of Nigeria.
Why has the leadership of the church and other religious leaders not been in the forefront of holding government accountable to the people?
The problem is still with this government. I am so sorry about that. Look at the body language of a person like Pastor Adeboye, General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. He does not need to speak before you know what is actually going on. Papa Adeboye went to Aso Rock for a discussion with Buhari, I do not need to read their communique to know that Buhari did not listen to the man. Daddy GO came out and became a protester, he started talking about restructuring. I know him; he would have discussed that restructuring with Buhari privately. He is not someone who would want to engage you in public. He is not that kind of man. I am sure the kind of body language of the President that he noticed at the meeting told him to move to the street and go and tell it in the public. Some of the things he is saying now I know he would have outlined them on the table. People have taken protest to Redemption Camp before to tell him he is not saying something about the killings in the country, but he is someone who believes in private engagement of the authority. I know the last meeting between him and Buhari did not end well and that is why we are having the body language that makes people think he is no longer the statesman he used to be. For me he remains the same. He is the focal point of the church world in Nigeria to speak to authority.
One way or the other, a focal point for Christians was able to engage with the President at Aso Rock, but I am not sure the meeting ended well. No communique from that meeting till today, which shows something actually went wrong and the G.O. and opted to use the social and conventional media because the government was not listening. In the past I will agree that there was not leadership point that spoke to government from the church. The situation has changed now. There is no Christian in Nigeria today that does not recognise the hegemony of Papa Adeboye. He would always say in public that whatever CAN and PFN are doing has his blessings. That is leadership. He must have put his point on the table and it must have been synchronised.
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