There is one book making waves and receiving critical acclaim today. It is Tony Blair’s, A Journey. Blair was former British Prime Minister. The onset of his ministership introduced a shift in leadership style – he was clean, agile and all seemed to be well with his stewardship until the war in Iraq. Naturally as allies, he joined George Bush in the trenches using the-more-you-look,-the-less-you-see weapons-of-mass-destruction camouflage with which they ousted Saddam Hussein. But Blair was to bear the butt of the harsh criticism leveled at his government’s decision to go to war with Iraq. With the death of many British soldiers, his compatriots accused him of foolishly lining up behind the US in that war of attrition. They also accused him of sexing up evidence that indicated that there were really no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That was to lead to Blair’s fall. In retirement after three terms as Prime Minister, Blair has been busy. He took on the role of special envoy to the Middle East with the mandate to help boost the Palestinian economy as an integral part of the peace process in the Middle East.
I have not had the privilege of reading his book mostly because of the outrageous price of N7, 000 which it is being sold at Abuja bookstands. And since I could not afford it, I have opted to listen to critical reviews on CNN and the BBC. Snippets of the reviews indicate that that book is a collector’s item. He was said to have defended his ‘shoulder to shoulder’ role with George Bush in Iraq, gave startling insights into his disagreements with the Queen, and passionately discussed Lady Diana’s death in 1997. But Tony Blair has not been the only Prime Minister or President out of office to write books, autobiographies or memoirs. The practice seemed to have begun in the tiny island of Elba where Napoleon Bonaparte was marooned. Quite normally too, most past presidents and prime ministers write books, give speeches on international podiums and become ambassadors for their countries outside of their countries and generally put the benefit of their experience on ground for the uplift of humanity. Take the example of Bill Clinton: after office in 2001, he wrote a bestseller, My Life, secured the release of two Chinese-Americans accused of spying, was very visible in South Africa for the World Cup on behalf of his country, has supported many foundations and is still active outside his country for his country. His wife also, Hilary, out of office as First Lady has written her own book, ‘A Life’, contested the US presidency and currently works as part of an administration she wanted to preside. Clinton’s deputy too, Al Gore, has been useful to his country. According to Encarta, ‘after losing the presidential race, Gore continued to campaign on behalf of the environment. Through lectures, writings, and a documentary film, he sought to raise awareness of global warming. The film An Inconvenient Truth (2006) gave him a platform for illuminating the dangers of climate change before a wide audience. It received an Academy Award for best documentary. Gore shared the prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and donated the rest.
What about George Bush and his secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice? Both have been busy working on their memoirs and taking steps to improve the political environment they left behind. In fact, as notorious and as hated as he was here, George Bush was in Nigeria sometime this year. He too has written a book called Decision Points and Rice is working hard at hers, which is expected to be in two volumes. The significance of all of this therefore seems to be that the preparation for service to humanity actually begins in one’s country but ends on a global platform. It also seems to lend credence to the templates of leadership as outlined in Ali Mazrui’s The Trial of Christopher Okigbo. The history professor’s verdict is that would-be leaders are not ordinary people but individuals responsible to their immediate environment first, then to a universal community.
But in Nigeria the exception is always the rule. Two individuals, two of them former presidents, two of them former soldiers have turned all of these principles upside down. While we may exonerate Olusegun Obasanjo to some extent, the same cannot be said concerning Ibrahim Babangida. After he handed over power to President Shagari in 1979, Obasanjo retired to his farm, became a key member of two international bodies, Transparency International and the Eminent Persons Group, EPI. He even aspired to the Secretary Generalship of the UN. This same man became a president again and even attempted to continue on a third term as president. Has he written anything significant after his presidency? Has he aspired to lead on a global platform after his second time out as president for two terms?
But what are Nigerians saying concerning IBB? Here is one man who shot his way to power. Here is one man whom fingers point at concerning the ‘institutionalization of corruption’, the murder of Dele Giwa, Mamman Vatsa, Gloria Okon and several of Nigeria’s finest officers and the annulment of an election he conducted, considered the ‘freest and fairest’ by Nigerians. More than a decade and half after he stepped aside, has IBB too written any significant thing? Has he aspired to lead on any international platform? Has he supported any international effort on either the environment or poverty reduction? I don’t think he has. Others have but not IBB. Rather, he has thrust himself once more at us seeking to be president once more and perhaps rival President Obasanjo’s record as a former soldier and president.
I see IBB as a man with a lot of self respect. I suppose most Nigerians do too especially when we consider the fact that ‘little children’ like Nasir El-Rufai and Ribadu, who served in the Obasanjo government as FCT Minister and EFCC Chairman are also contesting with an agbalagba like him to be president. From the look of things, neither El-Rufai nor Ribadu will be angling to retain their former positions the way IBB rubbishing himself as a northern champion and as an apostle of an anachronism called zoning. If he would quietly eat the humble pie and take heed, IBB should look for openings and opportunities on any international body and invest his wealth and experience there. He would leave a better legacy there than forcing his way back to power again.