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The risk we take

By Rotimi Fasan
THERE is something definitely rotten about Nigeria which comes from the very top of governance. Considering the high concentration of power at the centre, such rot is bound to and does have spiralling effects on other members of society well beyond its point of origin.

Which then means that Nigerians take a lot of risk when they live under the ministration of the bunglers who rule in their name.

The one-eyed person, we are told, is king in the country of the blind.

But where those in leadership position are not even in possession of such eye, or when, indeed, they are blinder and have far less to recommend them than those they pretend to rule, there is then much to worry about.

The cake for such vexing lack of awareness, that strange genius for ineptitude must of late go to the very man at the top, our dear own President Umaru Yar’Adua.

Like most Nigerians who followed events in New York where world leaders under the aegis of the UN gathered to address issues of pressing concern to the world, I had wondered why President Yar’Adua’s face could not be seen at the General Assembly.

Every leader observant of the gradual but perceptible changes taking place in the world was in New York.

Muammar Gaddafi of Libya who had for decades shunned the UN used the platform provided by his position as the current chair of the African Union to deliver a  90 minutes ramble that was originally billed to last for just 15 minutes.

Gaddafi seized the moment to turn world attention to his country even as many took to the streets in New York to protest against his presence.

Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinajad, whose country lives under the looming shadow of a possible UN sanction if not military attack from the United States for its attempt to become a nuclear power, was around to argue his case.

So-called advanced countries like the United Kingdom, Germany and China were there. Not even the undisputed leader of the so-called free world, the United States of America, was left out.

Despite its central role in the establishment of the UN in 1945, America has over the years developed an antipathy for the world body that belies its pioneer role in the rise of the organisation.

Successive Republican administrations, especially the last one of George W Bush, had sought to operate independently of the UN which they saw as a hindrance to America’s police man role, a bad investment with a lot more losses than profit. But under the Obama-led Democrats, things are taking new turns and shape.

Well before he became president, Barack Obama had advocated, as he does in The Audacity of Hope, for greater American involvement in the UN with the hope that the country would adopt a less unilateral approach in the pursuit of its interests.

In his first appearance in the UN as President, Obama sought to give practical expression to his advocacy, taking a central and more proactive role in the activities of the UN than any American president in the last two decades.

Contrary to what many would think, Obama believes that America would be safer and freer to pursue its own interests if it engages the UN at a more multilateral level than it presently does.

Yes, as every leader worth their name went West, determined to protect their countries’ interests, our own President Yar’Adua turned East. On other occasions when others had gone North then would Yar’Adua commence a race South.

Therefore, as every other world leader converged in New York, Yar’Adua was for the umpteenth time ‘Away Without Leave’, to wit, he was nowhere to be found. One actually thought the man had simply chosen the time to take yet another bed rest that we have come to accept as part of his schedule.

But when news came, it became evident that the one Obasanjo liked to call Umoru had taken a jaunt to his new playground: Saudi Arabia. As if that was not enough injury on its own, the President decided to add the gratuitous insult of allowing himself to be used to launch, in graphic terms, to open a new university in the desert country.

At a time Nigerian universities had been shut for four whole months following industrial disputes over funding among other matters- at a time the Federal Government took the unprecedented step of boycotting talks meant to resolve the crises in these universities- indeed at a time when Nigeria’s educational sector had been completely shut down as primary and secondary schools have also embarked on strikes of their own- it was at that time that Nigeria’s President chose to go open a university in Saudi Arabia when his counterparts were in New York charting a new world order!

Nothing can be more damning to Yar’Adua’s credentials as a leader. The awkwardness, the disgraceful irony of his position ought to have been clear to him.

But such insensitivity, such disturbing lack of awareness is only possible in a Nigerian leader. What this means is that our President couldn’t care less whether our universities or the entire educational system remains shut till kingdom come or, at the earliest, after his tenure ends which may be after a second term he seems determined to secure, in good health or otherwise, performing or not.

And when the fancy takes them, the President’s supporters as well as his minders are quick to tell us he is the first graduate to rule Nigeria, as if that on its own is proof of something out of this world.

This is what I meant when I talked about the risk Nigerians face from their leaders, people whose very presence in government endanger the future of hundreds of millions.

Before the latest Yar’Adua blunder, Nigerians had been shocked by Sam Egwu, the Minister of Education, who while trading accusations with the Academic Staff Union of Universities for embarking on strike to call for better funding of education and paltry salary increment allegedly decided to splash hundreds of millions of naira on his wedding anniversary.

What’s the next embarrassment in store for Nigerians?


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