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Lessons in leadership – Part 1


Olusegun Obasanjo

There is a deep-seated problem with leadership in all spheres of our national life arising from how this concept has been widely conceptualised and understood in terms of the exemplary individual with supernatural ability or a magic wand.

This approach dominates discussions in traditional and social media, in universities, in conferences and seminars and in political circles.

Former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida, themselves no slouch in these matters have sadly been the chief promoters of the superman leader.


Obasanjo who has written off all leaders before and after him is currently on the hustings in an elusive search for messiah.

Babangida’s prescription was scarier: Buhari should be succeeded by a young man with Obafemi Awolowo’s vision, Ahmadu Bello’s charisma, Nnamdi Azikiwe’s eloquence and Obasanjo’s courage of conviction.

As pundits Obasanjo and Babangida appear eminently qualified to offer opinions on our search for leadership. But is there such a thing as going too far?

Of course! Especially when Babangida prescription imitates a nursery rhyme! If all the men are one man, what a great man that would be…

It’s easy to blame present and past leadership for the way things have turned out because it takes the blame off oneself, but the only problem is how each person contributes to the problem. Did you vote on basis of clan, tribe or religion and expect a good economy and prosperity?

You are not blameless. Did you fall for Lai Mohammed’s sloganeering or Tinubu’s political permutation?

You are not blameless. Did you vote for Brother Jonathan just because he is from Southern Nigeria? You are not blameless. Did you abstain because APGA was not on the ballot? You are not blameless.

It is time to put aside our prejudice, Babangida’s deeply flawed prescription, and ignore Obasanjo’s proposal for an intervention force.

Nothing will come of these. We should rather spend time to understanding the type of leadership that will take us to the promise land or the red flag that should set us running for the hills.

Poor leadership doesn’t exist because people are malicious but because we do not take time to choose leaders we need. Our primal instincts take hold every time we make a leadership choice.

Any surprise that we elect people who exhibit a crude form of “wanting” – which takes the form of impulsively taking or grabbing without any awareness of consequences – a primal instinct!

A deep dive into our history will demonstrate leadership and lack of leadership in different spheres of our national life and different sectors of the Nigeria economy.

Leadership in most sectors were provided by men and women who did not behave as if the solution to their problem lies in the external environment – in an attractive market, formulating the right strategy.

The type of folks Chris Zook, author of Founder’s Mentality described as exhibiting behaviors typically embodied by a bold, ambitious founder – taking ownership and treating a business as one would treat his own.

Let’s start from the oil and gas sector, the bastion of the Nigerian economy.

Three countries amongst others set up national oil companies in late 1960s and early 1970s to assert national rights over their resources.

Indonesia set up PT Pertamina in August 1968. Malaysian set up Petroliam Nasional Berhad (Petronas) in 1974 and Nigeria in 1971 set up the Nigerian National Oil Corporation (NNOC) and on 1 April 1977 merged the Nigerian National Oil Corporation and the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel to establish Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

Petronas and PT Pertamina are ranked amongst Fortune Global 500’s largest corporations in the world.

Petronas with business interests in 35 countries and 103 wholly owned subsidiaries has been the most profitable company in Asia.

NNPC has remained a loss making, corruption ridden organization which every regime in history has tried without success to reform – a clear case of absence of leadership.

A typical LNG train takes about seven years from conception to final investment decision.

That Nigeria took 35 years to build Nigeria LNG Limited; that Brass LNG Limited and OKLNG Limited have been on the drawing board for 15 years and 11 years respectively after the government has spent over $2billion is failure of leadership.

That Nigeria LNG Limited previously a top quartile world class LNG facility is currently one of the least cost competitive LNG companies in the world is failure of leadership and a major cause for concern.

LNG in Nigeria has spurned an abundance of heroes and villains. Col. Muhammadu Buhari, Petroleum Minister and first chairman of NNPC and Chief Festus Marinho, pioneer MD, NNPC established Bonny LNG Limited with 60 per cent shareholding for NNPC, Shell Gas B.V (10%), British Petroleum (10%), Philips Petroleum Worldwide Gas Limited (7.5%), Agip s.p.a (7,5%), and Elf Aquitaine du Gaz (5%). BLNG was the biggest and most ambitious LNG project in the world – a six-train facility – which they drove all the way to final investment decision.

Their successors, President Shehu Shagari and Dr. Alex Ekwueme failed spectacularly when they declined to take a final investment decision despite overwhelming evidence that it would be in public interest to do so.

At the time they declined in 1981, over $18 million has been spent on BLNG, Nigeria required equity contribution of N1.3 billion for a project which the bankers had pledged.

It remains a puzzle, even today, why that regime shied away from an investment that would yield thousands of jobs, make Nigeria the LNG capital of the world, provide the country an estimated $230 billion over a 20 year period, and all the raw materials or feedstock – ethane gas – for the nation’s proposed petrochemical project.

It was estimated that BLNG would provide 320,000 tonnes of gas yearly for the petrochemical project. Failure to build BLNG meant that this gas was flared with repercussion to the environment until NLNG was built 18 years later.

That the government liquidated Bonny LNG Limited in February 1982 and restarted LNG project three months after owing to public uproar was clear evidence of lack of leadership.

Yet there were some shining examples: Buhari who taking over power in 1983 restarted the LNG project with Marinho setting the stage for what eventually became Nigeria LNG Limited.

Chief Gamaleil Onosode, first Nigeria LNG Limited’s chairman who secured the commitment if International Oil Companies to build Nigeria LNG Limited when the country was still a pariah state.

Mbanefo is a visiting member of the Editorial Board of The Guardian.

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