Change in the Nigerian context has always been an interesting discourse, bearing in mind the fact that the nation’s history is filled with very many experiences that remain talking points till date. The colonial Nigeria experience gave way to the independence era; the era of nationalistic zeal, when the likes of Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa held sway as great ambassadors of the nation through their visions and inspiring concepts for a greater Nigeria. These legends of Nigerian nationalism were moved more by the undiluted passion to serve their fatherland and build sound institutions based on equity, justice and unity rather than the selfish motivation to corner the nation’s wealth.
In a schism of history, this illustrious era was displaced by the military’s intervention into the nation’s politics. The military era also came with its peculiarities and changes, instigating a sharp departure from the way the nationalists conceived leadership and governance. Up till 1999, when the military bade the nation’s polity goodbye, the popular consensus among most nationals was that the nation enjoyed more freedom and the expression of fundamental human rights in civil rule, even though, there are those who extol the military for their discipline and organization. This disparity in opinions was one of the very effects of change. People react to change in differing ways and this continues as long as the constancy of change remains.
But one fact that must be accepted is that by 1999, when the military left, the nation’s political reputation was fragmented and very poor in the international community’s perception. This had to do with issues hovering around the bastardization of the nation’s human rights record by the military, especially during the reign of the late Gen. Sani Abacha. When change came on board in the incarnation of an Olusegun Obasanjo regime, tireless efforts by the former military Head of State to woo the international community opened up a can of worms concerning the horrible stashing away of the nation’s petro dollars in foreign accounts by Gen. Abacha and his cohorts. Obasanjo’s efforts represented the genesis of change in the perception of Nigeria by the international community, especially the Commonwealth of Nations, which had earlier sanctioned Nigeria, after the hanging of environmentalist and writer, Ken Saro-Wiwa. Again, the re-acceptance of Nigeria into the Commonwealth fold as well as the nation’s reconciliatory moves through the famed Oputa Panel, brought hopes for a brighter future. Obasanjo inherited a Nigeria that was very ill and on the brink of collapse due to internal strife, collapsing national institutions and serious corruption in high places. Embezzlement of public funds through money laundering was the order of the day and the new civilian regime had to adopt tactics to tackle the situation. Obasanjo settled for technocrats for his cabinet in his eight-year rule. One of such is former World Bank Managing Director, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Okonjo-Iweala’s first notable involvement with public service in Nigeria was her roles in helping the country harmonize information on its debt. Her selfless effort in this regard saw the establishment of the Debt Management Office. Later, as a Federal Minister, she was instrumental in formulating strategies for a successful negotiation of Nigeria’s exit from the debt owed the Paris Club, saving the country US$18 billion in the process. This was given maximum effect with the sovereign credit ratings that followed. Fitch’s rating and Standard and Poor’s returned a BB- rating on Nigeria, thus signaling the re-emergence of Nigeria as a player in the global financial system. Okonjo-Iweala was convinced that Nigeria needed a paradigm shift in her fiscal policy and thereby instituted a philosophy of prudence and fiscal discipline as opposed to the wanton and unbridled spending spree that was the culture prior to her appointment. This did not go down well with many who had been enjoying the tea party that Nigeria’s finances was reduced to, however, it must be recognized that her attempt at changing the status quo was in the interest of the nation. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has proved that Nigerians can engineer the change they desire only by a change of attitude and appetite. Her return to the Jonathan administration has impacted positively on the economy, even though the fruits are not ripe yet. Her role as leader of the Nigerian Economic Team has seen the presentation of national budgets that encourage manufacturing and other productive ventures rather than consumption and indiscriminate importation. At least, to a large extent, Nigerians are gradually adapting to the new fiscal policy, which is expectedly greeted with complaints of hardship and austere living conditions. But for the Harvard and MIT-trained economist, it is better for the country to make sacrifices now and enjoy later.
Following closely in this paradigm shift concept is former Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido, whose emergence and reforms have led to gory revelations of the monumental rot that had permeated the banking sector in Nigeria. Sanusi uncovered the sick and compromised state of the so called consolidated banks and took decisive steps to forestall a total collapse of the banking sector while simultaneously safeguarding depositors’ interests. Corruption and personal aggrandizement amongst bank chiefs as well as arbitrary loan regimes were discovered and for the former First Bank Group Managing Director, it should no longer be business as usual. One of Sanusi’s greatest achievements is his emphasis on Risk Management culture in the Nigerian banking sector. In a 19 January, 2011 editorial, Nigerian Tribune observes: “SANUSI’s entry into the seemingly rotten system with his wealth of experience from the regulated side of the “coin” critically redefined banking architecture, including governance, operations and systems ethics. His administration is critical of lack of transparency in the manner recapitalization was implemented with doubt over whether or not banks actually raised fresh capital as claimed. He is also tackling issues of excessive risks with depositors’ fund head-on with the corporate governance reform and the initiation of specialized risk buffer system against toxic assets in the obviously troubled system.” Sanusi’s reforms have changed the “business as usual” syndrome in the Nigerian banking sector by instilling more discipline and accountability. On several occasions, he has had the rare courage to raise alarm over the huge cost of running the national assembly in Nigeria, insisting that such huge expenditure drags the economy back. Sanusi will continue to remain relevant in the economic landscape of the country with his change-inspiring efforts in the Nigerian banking sector.
Professor Attahiru Jega, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has also brought a new lease of life to the electioneering process in Nigeria. Before his appointment, elections at all levels in Nigeria were associated with all forms of lawlessness ranging from snatching of ballot boxes, intimidation through use of armed thugs, bribing of electoral officers and the renting of crowd. It was so bad that only godfathers could guarantee the victory of candidates at elections. When Jega came on board, he made the process very transparent by involving both the local and international media, who strictly monitored affairs. He also involved the nation’s security agencies to ensure that they were not used as instruments in the hands of desperate politicians. Professor Jega also ensured that all State Resident Electoral Commissioners were men and women of proven integrity and this paid off in several instance when the influence of godfatherism was rubbished by the transparency and the choice of the people.
In the area of governance and the delivery
of the dividends of democracy, few governors have shown innovation and a departure from the usual with their laudable strides and approaches to leadership and governance. The governor of Osun State, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola has done creditably well since he assumed office in 2010. His youth empowerment initiatives, urban renewal projects and revenue generation drive couple with a strategic corporate image revival for the state, stands him out for recognition. A former activist who believes in the principles of equity and justice, Aregbesola has always insisted that the aim of governance is to better the lives of the people. Having served meritoriously as Commissioner for works and Infrastructure in Lagos, Aregbesola left no one in doubt of his capacity to deliver the dividends of democracy to the people. He has received praises and accolades from within and outside the state and country for the new orientation his government has been inculcating into the indigenes of the state, especially the youths.
Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State is one governor that has also done excellently well going by the testimonies of the indigenes of the state as well as the structures he has put on the ground in the state. Governor Akpabio only recently received a Congressional Medal Award for Outstanding Leadership from Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee, who received the blessings of President Obama. According to a statement by The Diasporan Star, African Diaspora’s First Tabloid, in its Special Supplement on Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria: “Governor Godswill Akpabio is one of the new generation leaders in Nigeria who have utilized their education and youthfulness to make enduring generational statement through their prudent application of state resources to advance the material, and human condition of their citizenry.”
Akpabio’s massive flyover projects, bridges and road network construction as well as beautification and job creation efforts in Akwa Ibom State have flown over the stomach politics of some of his peers and been applauded. For Akpabio, state resources are meant for the advancement of the state and its people and not for godfathers and other political jobbers who have the stock in trade of ripping states of their resources. Akpabio represents a generational shift in values bordering leadership and people-oriented governance.
The pedigrees of these great Nigerian personalities go to show that it takes courage and passion to impact positively on this generation. No nation on the face of this earth can attain meaningful development if everyone fold their hands and accept the state of things without questioning the status quo. Positive change will come if there is the sincere resolve by individuals to better the nature of things. Perhaps NITEL would not have collapsed if someone had dared to make a change. Perhaps Nigeria Airways would not have gone moribund if there was a strong force that stood to question things. Passivity will always end in inertia. Unless there is a sincere and pragmatic resolve to change things, positive change in itself will remain elusive.