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A leader Nigeria deserves

IT is not only Nigerians but also bewildered foreigners who wonder aloud why a country so blessed with human and natural resources is not presently challenging at the top of the summit of global economic powers.  Many reasons (for excuses) have been variously adduced to explain Nigeria’s relative underdevelopment, ranging from political instability to its heterogeneity. 

From colonial administration to parliamentary democracy and from military dictatorship to the presidential system of government, it has been a long running saga of missed opportunities.  The ultimate irony however, is that several countries had made appreciative developmental progress under similar conditions Nigeria stagnated or receded.

The point of convergence among informed commentators, however, is that the missing variable has been quality leadership.  Historically, no country had stumbled on development.  Societies that have developed faster than others have invariably been principally blessed with vibrant, visionary, selfless leaders, who worked hard to inspire their people to greater heights.

As the legendry Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, once told a Nigerian admirer, the secret of his country’s historic transformation from obscurity to the industrial frontline was doing the ordinary things rightly and consistently.

And as Dr. Henry Kissinger, the Prince of Intellectual Diplomacy, succinctly observed in his foreword to Mr. Lee’s great book, From Third World to First:  The Singapore story, “normally prudent, ordinary calculations can be overturned by extraordinary personalities”.

As 2011 approaches, the one question on every Nigerian’s lip is where we shop for that elusive leader most uncommon, a leader we can trust, a leader with a track record in transparent honesty, a leader dyed in integrity and self-discipline.  Where do we shop for that leader who, based on his or her antecedents, can lead Nigerians to doing the ordinary things correctly and who can lead us to rewrite the national development storyline?

Five great Nigerian leaders, among others, think we already have such a leader and it is based on their personal testimonies that I will attempt to situate the Malam Ibrahim Shekarau narrative.  For seven  years, Malam, the name his teeming supporters call him, to underscore their approval of his humility and political prudence, has governed Kano State with an exceptional level headedness and sense of propriety that set him apart from his peers.

First was former Attorney General and Honourable Minister of Justice, Kanu Agabi, SAN, who described Malam as the most honest Governor in Nigeria.  Mr. Agabi, one of the few trusted legal authorities of our time, and a man who would not be influenced by material favours in passing value judgment, praised Malam for his transparent style of leadership, which he rightly observed has re-introduced people’s trust in government.  Agabi described Malam as the most transparent and vibrant governor in the country.

Another great Nigerian leader and former President Shehu Shagari has also given his weighty endorsement of Malam’s impeccable record in public service.  President Shagari, himself the very embodiment of humility and integrity, said having followed Malam’s records in service these past years, was pleased with his performance.  “Those within and outside his party are commending his efforts.  This is a thing of pride to us,” said the elder statesman.

From the East came the voice of Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.  The Ikemba  Nnewi described Malam in flowering terms as the best governor in Nigeria and a man who can be trusted with power as President of Nigeria.

The Lion of African Literature, Noble Laureate and the conscience of principled politics, Wole Soyinka was so enamored of the Shekarau enigma that, in a rare gesture of solidarity to Government House, Kano, described Malam as the “The Last Man Standing”.

To Soyinka and the great masses of Nigeria, Malam is the last man standing on the side of good governance, justice and accountability.  According to Professor Soyinka, people who are passionate about democracy must symbolically and morally lend solidarity to individuals like Shekarau, who he observed, found honour in respecting the mandate they had been given by their people.

In another breath, the youthful and focused Chief Gani Adams, President of the Odua People Congress (OPC), after a tour of projects completed by the Shekarau administration, described the governor’s achievements in office as nothing short of “a miracle”.  Wondering why Malam chooses not to trumpet his achievements for the rest of the country to read, the OPC leader promised to intimate South West governor’s and opinion leaders about the phenomenal achievements of Malam.
It is easy to understand why these and hundreds of other notable Nigerian leaders, in politics, business, the civil society and other sphere have singled out Malam for lavish praises.  In seven eventful years, Malam has redefined the covenant between the people and their leaders.  Kano people trust their Governor.  They knew Malam’s background, even before he was elected Governor in 2003.

They trust his personal track-record and believe his sense of judgment.  How else could Malam, an ordinary school teacher, penniless and against the formidable odds, emerge from obscurity to defeat the powerful incumbent governor of the ruling PDP if Kano people did not trust him one hundred percent.

Installed as the people’s own Governor and enjoying massive popularity rating, Malam devoted his first four years rewriting the books of accountability and probity in public service.  In his inaugural speech on 29 May, 2003, Malam announced a policy of zero tolerance toward corruption and has since laid the institutional framework for transparency and accountability in the state administration.

At the foundation of this policy is the Societal Re-orientation programme, an attitudinal change programme for ethical rebirth and moral repositioning.

The way government conceived it, and the way Kano people accepted A Daidaita Sahu, was that while government lived up to its obligations to its citizens, the people lived up to their civic responsibilities.  Much has been written about Kano’s relative low crime rate and other positive security reports but a lot of credit must go to the Societal Re-orientation programme of the administration.

Kano under Malam became the first state government in the country to establish a Directorate of Public Complaints and Anti Corruption.  The objectives of the Directorate are to foster accountability, social cohesion and to guarantee the rights of the weak and vulnerable members of the society.

In terms of transforming and modernizing Kano, there is a healthy debate going on presently which is titling to the conclusion that Malam is the greatest Governor to have governed the state since its creation in 1967.  What were witnessing in Kano is a carefully planned and reasonably phased modernization process unprecedented in the annals of history.

The conception, planning and construction of the Kanawa Trade Centre in the state, a partnership of the Shekarau government and private investors, will effectively take Kano to the status of an international business and commercial destination.

Conceived as a one-stop business and leisure centre, the sprawling edifice, located just 10km before Kano metropolis, on the Kano–Zaria approach, and occupying 350 hectares of land on final completion, the Centre will boost 15,000 retail shops, 78 big, medium and small ware houses, a World Trade Centre with 20-Storey twin towers, a glossy shopping mall, parking space for 7000 cars, a Five State Hotel with Conference facilities, Galleries for art and craft, Cinema Halls Gardens, Recreational centres, Restaurant, a Trailer park for 400 vehicles, Residential and Industrial estates, Clinics, Police Post, Mosques and Pedestrian Walkways.

It will rephrase the economic landscape of not just Kano but the entire Northern Nigeria, a monument to Malam’s visionary leadership.

It is the same story in Education, Healthcare delivery, Agriculture, Food security and Empowerment.  In the education sector, Malam engineered a revolution in the state by abolishing tuition and other school fees for the girl-child and the physically challenged persons in the state.

The Kano educational miracle has been boosted by 250,000 new enrolments in the state’s primary schools, new 350,000 students into secondary schools while school enrolment in tertiary institutions has been increased to over 50,000 augmenting the new education policy is the recruitment of new qualified 14,343 Teachers into the state’s primary schools, new 5980 Teachers and 9000 non-teaching staff for its secondary schools and while additional 453 senior and junior staff were hired for science secondary schools.

In terms of infrastructural  uplift, the administration has established 364 new Primary schools, constructed additional 192 classroom blocks and rehabilitated 206 classroom blocks, built additional  241 secondary schools, upgraded 85 JSS to SSS and constructed new 826 classrooms.  It has also rehabilitated 185 Laboratories, furnished 199, equipped 185 and purchased instructional materials/equipment worth N300m for its secondary schools.  It has also spent over N1.5billion on local and overseas scholarship and bursary awards covering all field of scholarship.

Malam has endeared himself to the people and restored their faith in government by pursuing a progressive human development agenda.  Early in the administration, he set out to offset the huge pension liabilities piled up under previous administrations.  Kano’s 4,500 Pensioners were a sorry lot in May 2003 when Malam came to power.  They were owed backlog of gratuities and other entitlements.  Theirs was a life of misery and deprivation.

Malam not only released funds to settle all the claims of pensioners, he directed the Pension Board to ensure every Pensioner receives his entitlement by the 20th of the month.  The Kano State government has spent over N30billion in meeting its pension liabilities.

The sincerity, seriousness and speed with which the Kano pension crisis was resolved have since become a national model.  The administration has put a song on the lips of this class of Nigerians previously neglected.  Now workers in the state’s public service happily look forward to an honourable retirement from service, knowing full well their entitlements will be met at the point of disengagement.  Other state governments now dispatch study teams to Kano to study the pension payment model.

Complementing this gesture to pensioners was a drastic review of the welfare of Kano workers.  Malam upwardly reviewed workers’ minimum wage from N5,700 to N6,500 and approved an increase of Basic Salaries by 12.5 percent.

Professional working in the Education, Health and Judicial sectors have a special salary package approved for them in recognition of the special service and specialized training they have.  Workers in the state also enjoy a 50% salary bonuses during Ramadan and Eid-el-Fitr (Ramadan/Ram Bonuses).  Today workers’ salaries are paid promptly and regularly.

In seven years, Kano State has witnessed tremendous transformation in human and physical terms.  It was on the strength of this trust that Kano voters made Malam the first Governor in the state to win a re-election in 2007, again defeating the PDP.  Only recently, a team of Nigerian Governor’s Forum Peer Review Tour Team which was in Kano to assess projects executed by the Shekarau’s government expressed astonishment at the level of infrastructural development it met on the ground in the state.

Developing human and physical infrastructures apart, the administration has developed a dynamic and functional blueprint to guide its policy formulation and implementation.

The Kano Economic Summit aimed to tinker new strategies employing the strengths and human resources of Kano people to prepare blueprint for prosperity.  The core recommendation of the group included the establishment of an Independent Power, an expanded revenue base, development of agriculture, commerce and water supply and reconstructing the state’s crumbling industrial and economic infrastructures.

Government addresses those recommendations thorough a careful conceptualization and execution of its budgetary priorities since 2007.  In prioritizing the reconstruction of Kano’s economic infrastructures, the Shekarau administration in 2009 committed N16billion to the Land and Physical Planning sector, out of which N8billion was earmarked for road.  Work is in progress on the reconstruction and upgrading of 15 major roads and other economic cross roads within the Kano Central Business District under the Roadmap Programme for Economic Development.

These new urban roads include Zoo road to Shagari quarters road junction by Gidan Zoo, B.U.K. road (from Gidan Murtala round about to Kofar Kabuga) Club road, Bello road, Niger Street, Post Office road, Bank road, Lagos Street, Airport road and Murtala Mohammed road.

A further N5billion was earmarked for the general provision of infrastructure within the Central Business District while N1.5billion was provided for the payment of retention money, completion of on-going and take-off of other new roads.

As part of the State Government’s urbanization programme reflected in its 4-year Rolling Plan, N300million was earmarked for the construction of Gwarzo township roads in collaboration with the Gwarzo local government council.  Other towns slated to receive similar attention within the plan soonest are Rano, Danbatta, Wudil and Gezawa.

The Kano State Government is concurrently pursuing an ambitious ICT programme by initiating a Consultancy partnership with Multimedia Development Corporation of Malaysia, at the behest of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB).  It has dedicated one of its landmark structures, the Bayero House, to become the fulcrum of its ICT Park.

Experts believe that with its abundant human resources, the ICT route would bring Kano faster to the prosperity kingdom and engage its youthful population.  N200million has also been set aside to support the establishment of micro-finance banks by entrepreneurs and communities across the state which will assist enterprising organizations secure a solid foundation for micro-finance banking enterprise.

Malam’s towering political profile however derives more from his democratic credentials and personal integrity.  This is a new breed political actor with a different approach.  When supporters say “Malam has no enemy”, it is not the absence of feverish opposition they are talking about because that is in abundance in Kano.  They are acknowledging the man’s style of politics.

The civility with which he treats opponents is disarming.  Malam is highly tolerant and this disposition has created an ambience of competitive politics and freedom from harassment for everybody.  In Kano, perhaps only in Kano, opposition parties win local government council election because such elections are free, fair and credible.  A visit to other states indicates a winner-take-all mentality.  Many state governors in Nigeria do not brook opposition.

This is exactly the kind of leader we need today in Nigeria.  Malam is accepted across the Nigerian divide.  He has been various honoured by esteemed universities and traditional leaders all over the country.  An articulate and consummate public speaker, Malam is the toast of academic and intellectual audiences in Nigeria and abroad.  Nigerians in the Diaspora cannot get enough of his sound bite in lecture circuits all over Europe and America.  In seven years, Malam has proved he is the man to lead Nigeria.  He is our own Lee Kuan Yew.

Mr. Sule is SSA on Media and Public relations to the Kano State governor.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.