Nigeria Matters

Leadership 101: Bullies Are Not Leaders

During the tenure of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s, it appeared the government was on reform high. Everything in its path was slated for so called “reforms”. With a self described “reform minded economic team”, the government deployed its energy and resources into any and everything: be it Abuja, CBN, Foreign Debt, Procurement & Due Process, Solid Minerals, Education etc. While a section of the public applauded these efforts, the fundamental concern of many was the lack of focus, authenticity and sustainability inherent in these reforms. Without getting into the issue of lack of focus and sincerity, the sustainability question is coming home to roost, few months into the new administration of President Y’aradua.

Take a look at the national polity in general, and an emerging trend, in the form of the undoing of the reform programs (whether we agree or disagree with these reforms are beside the point) initiated by the Obasanjo administration, is taking shape. Have you seen Ribadu lately? Even the code of conduct tribunal seems to have gone to sleep, with the Attorney General singing different tunes as if he were the personal lawyers of the ex-governors. A cursory look at the so called economic revival program will reveal the inherent failure in Obasanjo’s lack of willingness to give the ownership of his reform program (probably due to a lack of sincerity or vision) to the people.

For example, the decision by the education ministry to abolish JSS certificate, merge some institutions of higher education, make polytechnics to be degree awarding institutions and “privatize or concession” the federal government schools/colleges were one of those “in-your-face” policies that were the trade mark of the previous administration. Be it as it may that some of these policies might actually have been positive, the adversarial posture of the administration while initiating or executing them did not put the programs in good stead to survive the next administration.

Leadership is serious business. Leadership is an important element in a democratic institution, where change is the norm. In fact, the power of a leader in a democratic system being derived from the people can only be sustained if the people’s support is cultivated. Hence, regardless of the value judgment of any policy- political, economic or social, a leader must always strive to secure the support of the masses, the goodwill of the elites, while ensuring the nation’s interest is protected in the process. Bringing people together, taking people along and allowing people to buy into your programs as such become the ultimate task and challenge of any government interested in long term development. More than seventy years after FDR introduced Social Security in the United States; it remains a matter of public discourse and concern- not to be scrapped but to be improved. That speaks volumes of the quality of leadership provided by President Roosevelt when the policy was initiated.

Taking the concept of leadership with vision further, we can examine the underlying psychology of change. For one, change does not come easy to any institution no matter how small. Changing a small group is big enough challenge not to talk of a nation. In fact, changes cause people to fear, because any system in steady state will have both beneficiaries and benefactors. These constituencies are bound to resist in the face of change, unless they are taken along and the benefits of change are clearly explained and understood by those it will directly affect. Most of Obasanjo programs, positive or negative, were hardly subjected to debate in the polity, neither were the true feelings of all taken into account when executing them; the tactics of course was to force them down our throat like military high command hoping that somehow it will perpetuate itself when all is done. This tactic backfired in the face of the current CBN chief, when the redenomination policy was attempted earlier in the life of the current administration.

No doubt, the previous administration’s greatest failure was an inability to institutionalize change compounded by a lack of vision and foresight. Piecemeal reforms will easily be undone but structural changes are likely to be perpetuated; hence to reform Nigeria, we must start from the most important elements. First, the electoral system which is the gate keeper into public service must be reformed to ensure that the vote of the people is reflected in our choice of leaders. After this has been achieved, the new authentic leadership will then reform the constitution- the general structure of the country that is. Hence, it will amount to putting the cart before the horse, if the currently morally deficient political leadership tries to amend or rewrite the existing 1999 constitution.

Subsequent to this, it will make sense to kick start the reformation processes necessary to restore our nation. Perhaps we can then reform the education system, FCT, security, economy and so on without avoidable rancor. In truth, it is quite possible that these elements will no longer require wholesale reforms or they may have naturally fallen into place after the two most important reforms (electoral and constitutional) have been properly implemented. As an example, there might not be a central police to change after the new constitution; neither might Abuja be of such importance to warrant expending our national energy on its reformation after a reasoned negotiation of the union during the constitutional drafting process (centralized vs. devolved question).

Excess Crude Account

One of such decisions that Obasanjo displayed an absence of good leadership was the matter of an excess crude account. There is no doubt in my mind that majority of well meaning Nigerians prefer that the country save surplus money instead of splurging them, especially when such spending is being spearheaded by governors with sticky fingers. However, Obasanjo with his draconarian style of leadership- against the letter of the law- refused to take advantage of this widespread thinking but instead took the adversarial standpoint. It was on this count he was recently taken to the cleaners by Governor Ahmed Tinubu of Lagos – fortunately or unfortunately.

If the President had leveraged his positional power to influence the governors, the country could have been bequeathed with a constitutional amendment to tackle the statutory shortfall inherent in his actions. Evidently, just like many countries earning billions from the current oil boom, we could initiate a sovereign investment account instead of the current state of affairs where such incomes sit dormant in the central bank. The returns on such investment account can fund national initiatives in energy, health, social security as well as infrastructure and in like manner ensure money is saved for the rainy day. Of course, a “future generation account” will not be out of place, because the oil we have today will not be available forever. But alas, the President failed Leadership 101 as usual. We pay for it with dangerous policy reverses and the continued depletion of people’s faith in government.

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