Yesterday, the Savannah Centre held a policy dialogue on leadership, governance and the security challenges facing Nigeria. As usual, it was a very high-powered event with lots of interesting food for thought and above all good proposals on how the country can move in the direction of progressive change. In his opening remarks, the Chairman of the Centre, Professor Ibrahim Gambari started with the observation that like the Chinese, we should see every challenge as an opportunity that would allow us to go upwards and forward. No challenge is above solution. He also made the important point that our country is too focused on elections rather than what happens in the four years between elections, which is governance. Not long after the 2015 elections, actions and strategies started being focused on the 2019 elections, rather than what is happening to governance and what can be done to improve it.
The West Africa Director of the Ford Foundation, Innocent Chukwuma addressed the challenge of security. He was of the view that we tend to focus too much on the generic causes of insecurity and gave the example of the simplistic association often made between poverty in the North-East and the Boko Haram insurgency. Looking at poverty indicators, Sokoto State is almost as poor as Borno State but yet there is hardly any violence in Sokoto. There must be issues that are related to the governance roles played by both the political and traditional leadership that have prevented high levels of insecurity in Sokoto, he affirmed. On a wider level, he drew attention to our asymmetrical federalism in which all security agencies are federal, while state governors who are the chief security officers in their states have no control over any of the security agencies.
The discussions were held under Chatham House Rule but I got the permission of the key speakers to make attribution to the key concerns they raised. The keynote speaker was Professor George Obiozor who drew attention to the suicidal nature of Nigeria’s leadership since independence. Rather than seeing leadership as an opportunity for influencing the people to galvanise development, their focus has been narrow and centered on their primordial interests – ethnic, regional and religious. He argued that history teaches us that national unity is never a given, countries must work for it and when necessary negotiate it. He added that it was nonsensical to say that national unity is not negotiable. Our reality, he said, is that the past was better than our present, while our future is uncertain. To attain the future we deserve, we must get out of self-delusion and restructure the country, he concluded.
In his response, the former Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole cautioned Obiozor for what he called his dismissive attitude towards Nigeria. He questioned Professor Obiozor’s assertion that there is no evidence of change by drawing attention to the improved security situation in the country. Under Jonathan, soldiers were running away from battle because they had no weapons to fight but today they are fighting and winning the battle against Boko Haram, he argued. He added that there is clear amelioration in terms of good governance. Oshiomhole affirmed his belief that Nigerian unity is indeed non-negotiable and that the people are committed to unity but the elite are divisive for their selfish purposes. On restructuring, he argued that we have been doing that continuously. At independence, we had three powerful regions and the elite clamoured for a multiplication of states to improve their chances and so we created 12, 19, 21 and today 36 States. The Nigerian elite, he concluded, has developed a character of lamenting against the very propositions that they called for and obtained. Rather than lament, they should work to improve Nigeria.
In his own contribution, Dr. Usman Bugaje argued that we shouldn’t look at political leadership without a consideration of the instrument that produces them – the political party. During the First and Second Republics, we had strong leaders because the parties were strong, led by people with vision and integrity and were in a position to direct elected leaders to carry out the programmes of the parties. Today, godfathers, who fund and control the parties and imposed candidates for elective positions, lead the parties. The qualifications for leadership today are money, sycophancy and blind loyalty. He drew attention to his own party, the ruling APC. He said that at the last delegate’s conference of the APC, many of them were illiterate who could not even vote by themselves and had to get others to help them vote. No due diligence was done for leadership selection and even people with known criminal records got elected. When you declare your intention to contest, the first question you are asked is whether you have money. That was how mediocrity and financial resources became the key attributes for success within the APC, he noted.
To improve the quality of leadership in the country, Dr. Bugaje proposed that the following challenges must be addressed. Political parties must have things they stand for so that people know why they should or should not vote for them. They must have ownership; that is, the members of the party rather than godfathers must be in control of the parties. Thirdly, parties must develop crowd funding approaches to pay for their activities, so that the stranglehold of moneybags is broken. The fourth challenge parties must address, according to Dr. Bugaje, is that standards for leadership selection must be set so that criminals and illiterates are no longer able to control political parties. Finally, parties and citizens must be able to set goals for governmental action with clear performance indicators so that governmental work can be assessed and punished or praised, depending on performance.
At the end of the proceedings, my good friend Fatima Wali strongly advised the Savannah Centre against inviting only men to speak on their panels. A Centre that claims the value of participation and inclusiveness must strive to ensure that its activities adhere to the principles it enunciates.
Mr Ibrahim is a professor of Political Science and development expert