Between Joaquim Chissano and Olusegun Obasanjo

by Femi Sobowale

That former Mozambique President Joaquim Alberto Chissano, is a world apart from Nigeria’s league of ex-presidents is an understatement. Having won the first prize ever awarded to retired African head of state for excellence in leadership, the 68 year old African statesman is a testimony that something good can come out of Continental Africa after all. The prize, worth about $5million, and funded by Sudanese mobile phone millionaire, Mo Ibrahim is in recognition of Chissano’s immense contributions to Mozambique’s political and economic development, without making himself a multibillionaire like many Nigerian leaders have turned themselves into.

For the records, Chissano shares some similarities with Obasanjo, which include ascending power after the tragic death of former President Samora Machel in 1986. Ten years earlier, then Major General Olusegun Obasanjo became Nigeria’s military head of state following the assassination of General Murtala Muhammmed in a bloody coup. In mid-1970’s, while Obasanjo, at 39, ruled Nigeria, Chissano at 35, took office as Prime Minister of the Transition Government that led Mozambique to the proclamation of its National Independence on 25 June, 1975.

Politically, Chissano has an edge over Obasanjo when morality and dignity are at stake. In 2004, even with the country’s constitution allowing him to stand election, he decided otherwise, and retired voluntarily. Conversely, last year, Nigeria’s Obasanjo tried all the tricks in the books including arm-twisting of his political enemies, especially former governors to force himself on Nigerians via elongated tenure otherwise known as the “third term agenda.” That singular act effectively rubbished his reputation as the first Africa’s military leader to hand over power to a democratically elected government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari in 1979.

Chissano’s coveted prize comes at a time when Nigeria is grappling with the effects of a national disgrace in the form of official corruption involving elected politicians at the highest level of her legislative arm of government. His achievement is a lesson for Nigerian leaders to learn, and probably have a change of heart and put in motion those ideals that make a nation great. One will be right to state that the level of corruption in official quarters in Nigeria can not continue at the rate it is now without something giving way. The nation can still be great if the leaders and the followers alike are ready to achieve greatness, by exposing corrupt Nigerians, even if they are our immediate relatives.

It is regrettable that Nigeria, with enormous human and material resources is lagging behind in this type of venture. Being the giant of Africa is not enough, if the required leadership with transparency as exemplified by Chissano is missing in Nigeria’s quest for political and economic advancement. With the advantage of having the best brains any country can be proud of in all areas of human endeavors, Nigeria can lead the world in many aspects of life if only the so called leaders can allow the country to achieve her potentials, as opposed to vending for their portions of the national cake.

The services of Nigeria’s heroes past may not be in vain if the present crop of leaders and the generality of Nigerians including the much marginalized masses take the country seriously in their determination to succeed. Situations where average Nigerians are contented with having the crumbs from the master’s table should stop, and be replaced with a sense of dignity, even in the face of abject poverty. Until Nigerians are prepared to end the era of what belongs to the government belongs to nobody, they will continue to get stuck with the type of leaders they have right now.

Nigerians are blessed, if only we can jointly refuse to call a spade something else, especially when Nigerians are deeply involved in the corrupt practices that earn the country the worldwide bad reputation for the crime of a few individuals. It is disheartening when foreign media choose to castigate Nigerians stereotypically, based on the fraudulent activities of some people who may not even be Nigerians, given widely reported cases of foreign nationals buying Nigerian traveling papers. Nigerians can only lick their wounds because those documents apparently got into wrong hands through dubious Nigerian Immigration officials.

The country is greater than individuals, and only the best is good for our dear Nigeria.

Nigerian leaders have to change their attitude and orientation towards improving the lot of Nigerians. They should cultivate the will to lead Nigeria to the El Dorado. And they must start NOW.

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