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Agenda for an ideological leadership

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This piece responds to the critical substance of the feedback to my piece on Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Unlike the first essay, I am no longer compelled to explain why I felt it urgent to signal what we have called the Tinubu factor in Yoruba and Nigerian national affairs. In a political clime that is almost bereft of strong, focused and consistent ideological leadership, it is very hard to ignore someone who has consistently built up a profile of ideological opposition as a political framework, especially given what I have called the precarious future of the Yoruba in Nigeria. I am not sure it is possible to write the history of democratic rehabilitation and consolidation without dedicating a chapter to the valiant achievements of the pro-democracy movement, from NADECO, to Afenifere, and to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. It is true that Tinubu’s starting point is the political dynamics and dynamism of the Southwest, in the spirited mold of his political forebear, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. But it will be very hard to pin on Tinubu the charge of an ethnic chauvinist, even as it is evident that there are serious gaps in his politics that is in the best interest of many that he should rethink given the outstanding struggle that the true progressives must get right if we will ever be able to reclaim the Nigerian polity from those whose indiscretion, unwisdom or disposition look like is already destroying our commonwealth. His nationalist credentials are solid and unwavering. I have argued that the Tinubu factor in Yoruba affair is a political script that is meant to rejig the Southwest as the bastion of a federalist restructuring of the Nigerian lopsided federal arrangement.

In my preceding piece, I referenced the governance achievements of Lagos State as a Southwest phenomenon whose foundation was laid by Tinubu, and followed up significantly by Babatunde Raji Fashola and currently by Akinwunmi Ambode. In that piece, I asked the question: What can be done with or gained from Tinubu’s political capital as a significant dynamics come 2019? I then followed that question immediately with the statement that the type of political capital Nigeria requires for a significant national reform is definitely not one that deploys charisma for the purpose of dumb electoral victory. On the contrary, there is the need for an ideological arrowhead that could serve as the rallying point for a progressive recalibration of politics around which we can redefine democratic governance in Nigeria. In this present article, I want to take my earlier question to its logical conclusion as a framework for enunciating a model of leadership and national political agenda that could be deployed to reclaim Nigeria from those whose sinister objective is to undermine the collective weal for personal aggrandizement.

Leadership is a delicate and complex phenomenon that requires careful measures of sophistication, prescience, vision, dedication, strategic foresight and political acumen. But any aspiring leader must equally be subjected to the boisterous context of politics that often does not spare even those who have good intentions and have worked very hard to realise them. Nelson Mandela has reached a global heroic level of near-deification, but the perception of his political achievements in South Africa is at best ambivalent. Bola Tinubu is also a politician who has had to be pulled repeatedly through the political mud of acrimony and allegations of ulterior motives. But I argue that all these do not in any way undermine any effort at putting together a template of engaged and conscientious leadership from his political dynamics.

The starting point of such a reconstructive leadership project is Tinubu’s oppositional political consciousness and ideological understanding of politics. Tinubu has never minced words about his commitment to the restructuring of the Nigerian state along the line of a genuine fiscal federalism that allows the states and the local government to pursue policies that would embolden their democratic governance. At some significant point, Lagos State, under Tinubu and Fashola, became a constitutional menace to the federal government in its bid to legitimately contest significant issues bordering on governance. Tinubu’s political stature and capital in the Southwest could also be interpreted as an effort at strengthening the zone’s governance dynamics as a counterweight to the lopsided federal framework that has stifled Nigeria’s progress since independence. Yet, Tinubu has not been able to escape the perception of a hidden personal ambition to become president, even at all cost. But I consider that his oppositional political stance is sufficient to override this perception.

When the APC came into existence as a formidable political party that had the sole objective of ending the PDP reign of impunity, its success was as a result of its capacity to cut through ethnic, regional and religious barriers that have usually been the impediments to a truly pan-Nigerian coalition of progressives. With the earlier successes of the APC, we are alerted to a simple fact that what Nigeria requires are development-minded leaders who do not shy away from hard and radical solutions to fundamental national problems. But the strength of such a leader can only be solidified through the exploration of political options that build dynamic networks and coalitions across ethnicity, class, regions and religions.

A possibility is the necessity of a grand coalition of professional elite that could reduce the debilitating political behaviour of the traditional elite and their anti-national attitudes while taking the steam out a dysfunctional politics of self-aggrandizement and corruption.

This type of grand coalition of professionals immediately addresses the looming aspiration of a mega-party or even the urgent rehabilitations of the APC as a truly national party with patriotic intents and objectives. There is no politically-minded Nigerian who is not aware of the porous ideological matrix that allows politicians to move arbitrarily from one party to the other. Thus, even though the APC began as an oppositional party with a straightforward objective, its ideological credential was tainted by the ease with which even former members of the PDP were able to infiltrate its ranks. But it is precisely at this ideological juncture that the APC could ever hope to succeed. And such an ideological template is already laid out by Tinubu’s political activism itself: the APC must reinvent itself as a party of progressives who are dedicated to rethinking Nigeria as a truly federal state with a viable vision of good governance. One good way to go about this is to establish and nurture a core of scholars and intellectuals and professionals who could be saddled with the task of exploring and deepening the ideological content of the party and its policy implications.

Leadership is almost always ideological. But an ideological leadership must also be expanded beyond the confines of one person to encompass a critical mass of others dedicated to the same vision and committed to making it work. This cannot be too difficult despite the angst that many scholars feel when confronted with the antics of politicians. When we talk of the Left and the Right in the political and ideological lexicon of the West, we are actually speaking to a critical alliance that brings politicians together in intellectual cahoots with scholars. Thus while an intellectual like Thomas Friedman could backstop the politics of Barack Obama, another like Charles Krauthammer is definitely a right intellectual whose views is deeply Republican.

Apart from building a grand coalition of professional elites and scholars as the nexus of an ideological reawakening, one other avenue for deepening this ideological dynamism of a progressive leadership is to initiate an inter-generational dialogue that leverages a cross-cutting alliance across generations of Nigerians in an attempt to consolidate an appropriate ideological framework that is grounded in, and exploits solid insights from, both the old and the young. The understanding of Nigeria’s present and future is disarticulated between one generation and the other. In most cases, what goes on from the young to the old is a trajectory of constant recrimination on who is responsible for Nigeria’s predicament. However, an ideological leadership cannot move a nation forward based on blame trading. What should be done is to initiate conversation around historical and development specificities that could be re-interpreted as points of progress rather than as impediments. Inter-generational mud-slinging has no democratic or development value, except a perceptive leadership converts the blame energy into a concerted dynamism of discourse and conversation that could liberate negative energies into positive emotion about the future of Nigeria.

Such an inter-generational dialogue around Nigeria’s greatness and future will serve to draw all and sundry into a conversation from which most have been excluded for too long. To achieve this requires significantly that the APC or the planned mega-party must first justify its good intention through the establishment of a viable youth wing that is vibrant and promotes significant programmes of adult-youth learning schemes, multi-pronged mentoring dynamics, strong community works and outreaches underpinned by patriotic voluntarism. In fact, in the APC, we should begin to nurture the hope of reviving the strong nationalist antecedents of the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM). Presently, there seems to be no party that gives sufficient attention to the aspirations of the youth. On the contrary, the youth constitute dispensable cannon fodder for furthering the corrupt vision of the ruling elites. If the APC must lead Nigeria from a progressive standpoint, then it must commence by paying due attention to the Nigerian youth.

But there is a more fundamental issue which, it seems to me, constitute a greater challenge to the efficiency of an evolving ideological leadership model. And this is the urgency of translating regional dominance to a national project that could transform Nigeria’s democratic governance. Ideology is only effective to the extent that it leads to significant and pragmatic reconstruction of the governance architecture of the state. Ideology is significant, in other words, because of its policy relevance. Thus, a good ideological disposition ought to become relevant as a springboard for moving democratic governance forward, but good governance must in turn necessarily be a function of a reform dynamics hitched to a an efficient change management trajectory. However, this cannot just be due to political common sense. On the contrary, it requires a strategic model founded on shared vision and robust networking across the entire Nigerian political space. A creative leadership strategy must engage with a vibrant and solid change management framework that constitutes the foundation for operational and functional efficiency in transforming governance for the sake of the populace. One of the effective elements of such a change management strategy is to put in place some institutionalised rules and dynamics that determine the criteria and qualifications for appointments and promotions in crucial government positions. Without these, the government would be deprived of the critical mass of functionaries who could assist in birthing the vision of good governance.

Nigeria urgently needs an ideological leadership as a condition for achieving democratic and development progress. A leader is always the critical factor, even in institutional renewal. With Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, we can begin to piece together some fundamental elements of what the leadership deficit is all about, and what Nigeria requires to transcend it in order to strategically outline a development direction we have been waiting for since independence.

Dr. Olaopa Executive Vice-Chairman, Ibadan School of Government & Public Policy (ISGPP).



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