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National Defence College, Strategic Leadership and Asiwaju Tinubu

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Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s lecture, delivered on Wednesday, January 25, 2017 at the National Defence College, Abuja was still trending on social media even by last night. Apart from the reports on the lecture after it was given, some newspaper organisations published the text of the incisive lecture in bits and pieces.

Others published it in full. Asiwaju Tinubu spoke to participants of Course 25 of the college on the topic: “Strategic Leadership: My Theory and Practise”. The course participants from 11 countries, including Nigeria, and a few invited guests were in that hallowed hall of the college that afternoon in Abuja listening to the All Progressives Congress National Chieftain, who was at his best as he gave the speech. Let me briefly touch on some highlights of the paper here.

Asiwaju Tinubu emphasized the significance of vision in leadership, saying excellent strategic political leadership is based on commitment to a political vision, which is another way of saying a leader must stand for something, a leader must have a positive dream. “A leader must have a coherent objective in mind. Strategy and tactics are then fashioned to work toward that vision. This is an essential consideration. There cannot be strategic leadership without a conscious objective”.

He lamented that political leadership in Nigeria had generally fallen short in this regard. “Leadership has been short-sighted and fixed on narrow, immediate objectives. Because of this, leadership has been more transactional than strategic in nature.”

He advocated that leaders must focus on the “substantive results and long-term consequences of their policies and actions”. He said fixation on the details of numerous transactions could produce a mirage of control and order over every event and episode. “Excessive control over individual parts comes at the sacrifice of harmony of the whole. The parts do not fit well together because they were not created as a unified whole”.

Some may ask: has Asiwaju Tinubu demonstrated he could do things differently from other leaders? Does he engage in strategic planning and implementation as he preached in the lecture? The answer may not be far-fetched. Just cast your mind back to his role along with others in chasing out the military from governance and, with the resurgence of democracy in the land, how he was the only Alliance for Democracy (AD) Governor standing after the 2003 poll.

How, as it turned out, he was the one who saw the bobby trap of the wily President Obasanjo and who survived the deception, and how he and a few others in 2015 forged the opposition coalition that unseated a PDP incumbent from power for the first time in our country’s political history.
He spoke in greater details about these events in his lecture.

“During the 1980’s and 1990’s, a progressive politician like me was at extreme odds with the military. This opposition was not against the military as the military. It was against military governance. Military governance was diametrically opposed to the democratic Nigeria I envisioned. The permanent aim was to attain democratic governance.

“During this period, the strategic objective had to be the exit of the military from power. Tactics would be devised to meet the moment. The tactics ranged from cooperation with the military during the SDP/NRC aborted transition to outright protests at home and seeking international condemnation of the succeeding military regime when it sought to perpetuate itself in power”.

He added: “When that regime became increasingly brutal, tactics changed. Some of us were arrested and detained; some of us went into exile. We could not contest muscle for muscle against the regime. Instead, we engineered a strategic retreat to be outside the regime’s strong reach.

“From this distance, we still did an effective job canvassing the nation and international community to support democracy and freedom. Our words were akin to long range artillery or air power. The military controlled the ground but we held supremacy in the air waves. We were winning the battle for the hearts and minds of people.”

He explained that he was opposed to the military not as an institution per se, but only because the hierarchical and centralized command inherent to the military was ill suited for democratic governance. “We worked to ease the military from the political arena. There would be no recrimination or backlash against the institution. Once the military was out of politics, my opposition to the military ended”.

Talking about the 2003 episode, when the PDP dangled an alliance before the AD, he said the proposal was that if the AD supported the PDP at the presidential level, the PDP would not oppose AD governors at the state level. “Because of my strategic perspective and the previous legal confrontations I had with the federal government due to its overreach, I rejected the proposal.

It sounded too easy to be good. Sadly, some of my colleagues lost sight of the long-term objective; they were enticed to chase after short-term promises. Those promises were hollow. My friends chased themselves into a corner. Their non-opposition to the PDP at the presidential level would be repaid with deception.

The PDP outflanked them in the gubernatorial race. Lagos was to be the only state with an AD governor”.
Leading into the 2015 election season, he said progressive politicians throughout Nigeria and across party lines recognized the nation was in deep trouble. “Corruption was rampant. The Boko Haram menace growing.

The economy was unbalanced and government policy was not providing the right growth catalysts despite favourable oil prices. PDP governance had overstayed its welcome. The people were ready for change. And we must develop the strategic leadership and determination to achieve the change.”

He saw the imperative for opposition parties to form a merger and not an alliance as they tried unsuccessfully in 2011.
“Standing as separate parties, we could not best the PDP. We had tried that path; it led to defeat in 2011. A strategic rethink was needed. To attain the goal of ousting the PDP and placing Nigeria on the road to progressive governance, the strategic linchpin would be the merger of opposition parties.”

And leading the vanguard of that merger of opposition forces, his eyes were fixed on the ultimate goal: cutting the PDP’s boast of ruling for 60 years to just 16. That dream was achieved. The rest as they say is history.

Asiwaju Tinubu also pinpointed the dissonance between vision and strategy in our political economy, saying it is the bane of the economy. “We have so much talent in the nation but it has not been engaged and engineered to function in unison. Fiscal policy does not mesh with monetary policy. Trade policy undermined industrial policy, thus ease of doing business is inhibited. Overseas peacekeeping missions do not always harmonize with core foreign policy interests”.

This is what some reports in some media platforms interpreted to mean a vicious criticism of the monetary policies of the Buhari-led APC administration, which he is a part of. But the seeming criticism was in a context. Even though he believes that as party leaders, they must speak truth to power, he admits no system is perfect. “In each, exist some contradictions. This is but evidence of the imperfection of human nature itself”.

All that and more had been reported by the media. What has not been well captured is the way and manner Asiwaju presented the lecture. His delivery was as lucid and seamless as the lecture was fecund. He gesticulated left and right in synch with the cadences of the speech.The presentation was masterly, just like the high-pitched lecture.

From the point he arrived, along with his entourage, at the premises of the National Defence College in the Central Business District of Abuja, the high premium placed on the lecture was easily discernible. As he arrived, Asiwaju Tinubu inspected a guard of honour mounted by a brigade of the college.

The Commander of the college, Admiral Alade, led him to his office where they exchanged pleasantries. On the computer, he took him through the setting and arrangement of the college. From Admiral Alade’s office, he was led to the hall where the course participants and invited guests were already gathered.

And then, Asiwaju rose, and in measured steps, he mounted the rostrum. He later took questions after the presentation. Point is the APC National Leader was again on the big stage and, again, he rose to the occasion.

*Tunde Rahman is Special Adviser Media to Asiwaju Tinubu.

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