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Aberration in governance

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Last week I argued in favour of restructuring of a different kind. Instead of harping endlessly on the re-arrangement of the political and the economic structure of the country as the antidote to the country’s perennial malaise, a situation brought about by the elite’s do or die competition for power and influence, I thought that there is something else we should look at.

And that something has nothing directly to do with how to share the cake, who gets what and by how much or whether we should move slightly apart (as in Emeka Ojukwu’s confederation proposal) or get closer still or sit down at a round table, all the ethnic wizkids, the wizards and all the ethnic jingoists in the country, to negotiate the dismemberment of this great county.

Even that question can be answered in due course if we tarry a while to think out a solution which has no bearing with creating more states or collapsing the current states into a few geographical regions, or state police and resource control. Or, come to think of it, whether or not Nigeria is a country, a nation, or “mere geographical expression” and whether there is even unity that can be or cannot be negotiated.

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Sometimes, nay, most of the time, we as a nation given to garrulousness, face the danger of failing to identify the real problem and resort to treating the symptoms as if they are the real cause of our problems. Many people out there think the current economic recession that is hampering normal life and living has to do with the way the country is structured. Others believe Boko Haram could not have happened under the Utopian arrangement that would bring about a newly reformed and re-structured Nigeria.

It appears to me that some proponents of structuring are willing to swear that Niger Delta avengers and a variety of other militant groups including the cattle herdsmen who have acquired the franchise for all manner of criminality would not have a safe haven in a restructured Nigeria. But they are fatally wrong because there is no part of this country today that does not boast of its patriotic elements, of its bright and the brightest sitting side by side with its worst and unpatriotic elements, it’s most despicable characters and assorted criminals. Slice any part of the country today and the blood that oozes out is a mismatch of the good, the bad and the ugly in equal proportion.

They would be missing the point if they insist that the only structuring that would work is the one patented solely by them. And the point, which some of us have harped on endlessly time and time again, has to do with leadership. Leadership at all levels, national, state and local government levels that would engender good governance. That is the answer. And I daresay that is the same point the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, professor of law and a cleric in the house of God, made last time and he was laughed out of court for being a turn coat, for not supporting their popular position.

Leadership, and this bears repeated emphasis, is central to the resolutions of the issues raised at all national fora from pre-independence time to now, including all the national conferences that have been held so far. And until the issue of leadership is resolved, the Nigerian question, whatever it is, cannot be adequately and satisfactorily answered in my view.

In government great leadership requires great vision which inspires the leader to rouse the nation and put it on the path of greatness. A great leader must set great goals, must think big and dream dreams and set high targets; he must have the ability to drive his people to move mountain. Above all, that leader must have the capacity to translate his vision into reality. And this includes leadership at all levels.

But what is the situation today. Since the return to democratic rule in 1999, there seems to be a unanimity of views that we have suffered greatly from leadership deficit. Many of the leaders at all the levels of government came into office grossly ill-prepared. Those who prepared to govern seemed always to fall by the wayside while those who went in apparently to try their luck, got anointed.

I remember what a former military governor of one of the states in the North Central Zone said of the governors in the military era. They never knew they were going to be handpicked for the position of governors since it was a military posting. In this words, they went to government houses confused and they left the place scattered. His hyperbole was obviously meant to illustrate the fact that they were not given the chance to prepare. It was not part of the military manual. But the truth is that many of them actually turned out to be great and impressive performers leaving legacies of successful tenure.

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The fault, the major fault I would say, lies in the leadership recruitment process. Many leaders under our democratic process emerge today without serving any apprenticeship, not having gone through any tutelage and devoid of any administrative experience. When we switched over from the Westminster parliamentary model to the United States presidential system of government in 1979, we settled for the primary election system as well. Candidates for the parties wishing to control power emerge through the delegate system.

In the USA, the aspirants have the opportunity to sell themselves to the delegates, telling them what they were capable of doing to improve their lot and the general wellbeing of the state or the country. But in Nigeria, it is sufficient that the aspirant has enough money in his war chest to buy votes and to use thugs and intimidate his opponents. The crown goes to the highest bidder, not necessarily the best and most prepared to serve.

That is why many state governors get to office today confused and handicapped. Even to pick their team, which is the most important yardstick for determining leadership quality, they find themselves faltering. They find it difficult to pick the best and the brightest because they do not want their advisers to upstage them. They hardly realise as Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, as governor of Lagos State and a few others realised in their time, that it was the governors who take credit for the good advice of their brilliant aides. After all, the buck stops at their respective tables.

The other day, at a national television debate on President Muhammadu Buhari’s leadership style, some contributors had berated the EFCC for putting suspects in handcuff. One of the contributors, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, former minister and Peoples Democratic Party chieftain, surprisingly endorsed President Buhari’s anti-corruption stance and urged the people to support EFCC. He said this was not a PDP matter. “If you don’t want to be handcuffed, then don’t steal,” he said. He admitted that under the presidential system, the governors had too much power and they could use it to enrich themselves corruptly, and with absolute impunity.

Since absolute power is said to corrupt absolutely, Nigerian constitution provides for checks and balances. Unfortunately the state assembly members who should provide the check and the balance in their oversight responsibility, have invariably become appendages of the executive and in the chummy relationship with their excellences, there is too much “rub my back and I rub your back” for public comfort.

This absolute lack of probity and accountability is enhanced by the fact that the budgeting system is flawed in its making and flawed in its execution. Many, if not most of the projects at state level, are contractor driven. The projects are not provided for in the budget but they get priority attention not because they add value to public good, but because there is money to be made.

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I submit that the clamour for restructuring that has become a national sing song with sonorous lyrics and tune, must start with the leadership recruitment process that will make it difficult for people with dubious wealth from gaining access to public office.

I wish to recall the vow that President Buhari made when he was receiving his certificate of return from INEC after winning the presidential election last year. He said his administration would make it difficult for people to buy their way into public office. Recently he was also credited with this quote: “Instead of putting rascals on trial we put them in positions of leadership in the community, in the cities, in the states and in the whole country.”

I say good talk but I urge the president to shine his eye and watch his back.


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