By Eric Teniola
AS a nation, Nigeria has neither been blessed with charismatic leadership universally acclaimed or generally acceptable to all. Nor has Nigerians been fortunate enough to have such a great leadership imposed. A charismatic leader must fire the imagination of the people and reflect their collective ego with pride. There is no historical necessity for this to happen in a heterogeneous society such as Nigeria, but if it did, it will assist the process of restoring national self-confidence and arresting further decline of the nation.
The handicap of inappropriate training, orientation and motivation is not peculiar to the military. It is difficult to imagine the fate of the nation if it were handed over to the Civil Service or a group of private companies to manage as the new ruling class accountable to no one. On the one hand, the experience of January 15, 1966 when permanent secretaries had to run their ministries without commissioners for over a year, shows the limitation of government by civil servants. On the other, a bunch of inexperienced people do not necessarily provide effective political leadership in government simply because they label themselves politicians. The test of the maturity and the survival of any political process is the viability of the institutional arrangement for selecting the right and capable people to provide political leadership and succession in an orderly and generally acceptable manner. The right military leadership must be prepared to civilianise itself and justify its retention of power not by force but by consent and by mobilising people. Col. Nasser of Egypt, Kamal Ataturk of Turkey and Fidel Castro of Cuba are nation builders with a mission, not military rulers seeking to remain in office by a monopoly of coercive power alone.
The paradox of our recent history is that if the Nigerian military is not trained or psychologically and mentally equipped to give the nation the required national political leadership, how do we explain the fact that since independence on October 1,1960, the military would have ruled the country for 20 years out of the 30 years of independence in 1990? The answer lies in their exclusive monopoly of coercive power and the fragile nature of the socio-political institutions in the country, coupled with the culture and tradition of the people themselves who readily dance to the tune of those-in-power. John Galbraith in The Anatomy of Power and Max Weber in Law in Economy and Society treat power as ”the possibility of imposing one’s will upon the behaviour of other person”….”Some or some group is imposing its will and purpose or purposes on others, including those who are reluctant or adverse. The greater the capacity to impose such will and achieve the related purpose, the greater the power”.
Such power is enforced by coercion and punishment, or by competition, or by persuasion or a mix of all the above. Of greater relevance to our analysis of the Nigerian phenomenon are the sources of power: personality, property and organisation. The state apparatus and the military establishment and bureaucracy are powerful groups in Nigeria, the latter chiefly through inefficiencies and errors of omissions.
Contrary to general impression, the power and influence of the bureaucracy has increased. Its capacity to do evil and deprive the individual of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, is almost limitless. When I was a young officer, I was in charge of accident claims for members of the public whose vehicles were damaged by government vehicles, especially military and police vans. In law, the citizens have no redress against the government. So the compensation was considered as ex-gratia. One of the principles enshrined in government policy and practice then was that when there was an element of doubt and conflict of interest between government and the private individual, the doubt should be resolved in favour of the individual. This was often significant in the determination of the quantum of ex-gratia compensation payable. These days, the bureaucracy is so powerful and disorganised that when your vehicle is overrun by a military or police van, you are beaten up or charged to court for resisting the beating. Nobody compensates you for your damaged property. How then do we blame the armed robber for not respecting the property rights of other members of society?
To continue with the power groups, the political class, religious leaders and the mass media, according to Galbraith, suffer from the illusions of power. So do the captains of industry and the publicity- conscious Nigeria multi-millionaires, on the one hand. The multinational corporations on the other, exercise more power and influence than they publicly admit. The distinction between the ruling class and those who suffer from the illusion of power is very important from the point of view of understanding the political process and balance of forces.
In the Nigeria situation, the power brokers are bane of progress and the stability of the nation. I am yet to see installed in Lagos a Federal Government whose head does not feel that he is bound in chains and is not fee to implement the social programme which he feels convinced, will save this country from eventual disintegration.
I had the rare honour to serve under and work closely with seven successive Heads of State and Government in this country and I can claim to know the remaining two reasonably well. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, on the recommendation of the late Sir Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister, formally appointed me to act as Permanent Secretary in July 1963 and I served as Permanent Secretary when the late General Aguiyi Ionsi was Head of the Federal Military Government in 1966. I worked closely with Alhaji Shehu Shagari as Permanent Secretary to the Ministries of Economic Development and the Finance when he was the Federal Commissioner for both Ministries under General Yakubu Gowon. As Secretary to the Federal Military Government and Head of Service, I served under General Gowon, General Murtala Muhammed and General Olusegun Obasanjo. The other two Heads are General Buhari and General Babangida. Of the nine, General Gowon and Alhaji Shehu Shagari probably lamented most the apparent limitations on their powers. The only exception which proves this rule is the short dramatic spell of the late General Murtala Muhammed. If only Nigerian knew how frustrated and powerless some of their Heads of States felt and to what extent they grumbled and wished they had enough powers and the leverage to do what was expected of them. Who are the power brokers and groups that paralyse the Heads of State and immobilize them? Some of them will speak out at the appropriate time. Otherwise, when the timing is right, those of us now outside the corridors of power will be in a position to set the records straight without embarrassing anybody.