By Dele Sobowale
“A leader is best/ when people barely know he exists…” Lao-tsy, 6th Century AD. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ p 124).
LAO-TSY, one of China’s greatest philosophers and sages lived at a time and in a country in which even your worst enemy would acknowledge whatever you do that is right. For that matter, your best friend would tell you to your face, and not behind you, what you did wrong.
None of those two acts of courage and pursuit of truth exist in Nigeria today – especially among the political class and their camp followers. That leaves the independent assessment to those of us who are non-partisan; who carry no party card and who are privileged to write columns and influence public opinion. In one week, I found myself praising the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria for his overall good performance in the last two years and carpeting him for forecasting that recession will end in June. The latter is not his business; it is like a player in a game predicting the outcome of the game. That is foul play of the worst kind.
“I hold that man in the right who is most in league with the future”, said Henrik Ibsen, 1828-1906, (VBQ p 71), who was one of the earliest futurists. Few people in public office, in Nigeria and elsewhere have a capacity for thinking of measures that will actually result in the transformation of their societies. Most are like those working on the Federal Government’s “give-away” programmes. They can only think of giving away cake they don’t help to bake.
This series continued last week with a focus on the Ministry of Transportation which is the only Ministry totally “in league with the future.” Its cardinal focus is on the wider expansion of Nigeria’s railway system which had been neglected since 1960. Yet, there is no single one of the top twenty five largest economies, even South Africa which we claim is smaller, but acknowledge is more advanced, which does not run its economy on a robust rail system. This is not the time and place to discuss how Nigeria with the ninth largest population and eleventh largest land mass became a trailer, tanker, and 911 economy – resulting in tremendous losses of lives and goods on our highways and adding enormous costs to our finished goods and services. For instance the chief reason Nigerian rice or any other finished products cannot compete with imported rice is the transport cost and the massive losses associated with transporting rice on Nigeria’s pot-holes called roads.
One Minister, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, had taken a good look at all these and together with the President had embarked on ensuring that the railway system is strengthened during the first four years and to make the process of expansion irreversible by making arrangements that will make it almost impossible for successors to abandon the projects once they get underway. By the time he is through, the sharp reduction in the number of those behemoths rambling through our highways will be reduced. Most of them will no longer undertake those long, tiring and murderous journeys which tear up our roads, increase the carnage on the roads and produce more widows and orphans than even Boko Haram and herdsmen put together. Increase in commuter and commercial use of railways will transform lives along all the areas of Nigeria rail lines pass through, reduce cost of living and promote faster economic growth.
In a master stroke, the Ministry signed a concession agreement with General Electric, GE, to handle the Lagos-Ibadan line for a start. GE is the best of the best globally when it comes to building locomotive engines and it also has an enviable reputation for running global standard operations, for transfer of technology and for social responsibility. Nigerian fortunate to be employed by GE, if they are willing to learn, will never regret it. In the days of one of its legendary Chairmen, Watson, in the 1970s, GE was the one Fortune 500 company where every American graduate wants to work and from which people exited to bigger jobs elsewhere.
To demonstrate their commitment to Nigeria, GE, had first of all donated some coaches to the Nigerian Railways which should make more comfortable rides possible. In addition, the company is partnering with the Miller Centre in Santa Clara, USA, to combat maternal and child mortality in sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria will be the major beneficiary of that partnership.
What is puzzling is why the Minister of Transportation has not been receiving the accolades he deserves for all he has accomplished in two years. The only answer to that is that Mr Amaechi is too self-effacing. Like salt in a good pot of soup, he thinks his work speaks for him. Nothing can be further from the truth in Nigeria’s political and social environment. Here in Nigeria, irrespective of what you achieve, if you don’t blow your own horn, nobody will blow it for you. Worse still they could blow the wrong tune. Furthermore, political opponents and rivals for the President’s attention are always eager to downplay or mis-interpret your greatest achievements.
Of one thing I am certain. In eight years time, if not sooner, Amaechi’s work in giving Nigeria a more robust railway system will become the best legacy of the Buhari administration. In fifty years, after the other parts of Nigeria would have been linked, some people will certainly remember the quiet man who started it all.