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Now more than ever Nigeria needs another Babangida

The SUNDAY Editor called me last Saturday after the election was postponed wanting to know if I will consider sending another aricle. I told him “No, my views will not change about APC/Buhari and PDP/Atiku even if there was no election.” As it turned out INEC fouled up. This is Nigeria!

“The most uncharitable critic of IBB, after experiencing four other administrations (Shonekan, Abacha, Abubakar and now Obasanjo) readily concedes that but for June 12, 1993, the man, IBB, would have been an untainted hero.” Chief Duro Onabule, Chief Press secretary to IBB.

I cannot agree more with my senior brother, Double Chief Duro Onabule especially now. Since 1993, Nigeria has been led by Military Heads of State and civilian Presidents who lacked most of the qualities which leaders of great nations must possess in order to achieve their manifest destiny. Another one of my seniors in the media, incomparable Dr Chidi Amuta, perhaps the living expert on Babangida, described him this way.

“Abidingly cerebral, consummately refined, infinitely resourceful, endlessly affable and with a candour that shuns emotional outbursts and belies his rock solid confidence.. a committed patriot, an engaged politician and an emerging social philosopher.” To all those attributes, mentioned by Amuta, one must add the following: courage, desire for justice, ability to assemble a great team and to allow each of them to work in their own field relatively unencumbered and to be innovative. They created more institutions than all the rest put together.

We leave out Chief Shonekan, GCFR, who was an unfortunate pawn on the chess board of military politics being played at the time. Egbon Shonekan was not given the chance to show Nigerians and the global community what sort of leadership he could provide. But, to his list of successors provided by Onabule, one must now add, Yar’Adua, Jonathan and Buhari to understand how much leadership deficit we have suffered from voting small people into the largest office in the land. The obvious question is: what is the basis for comparison?

“An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 105.

Every government is a new institution headed by the Head of Government. Almost, invariably, the quality of the government can be appraised by those appointed to important offices. Therefore, for the record and for posterity, published below is Babangida’s cabinet announced on September 10, 1985 – less than three weeks after taking power. Compare that with the one who was elected in March, came into office on May 29 and still took almost six months to select his cabinet and you will readily understand why we are going nowhere with this government. Meet Babangida’s cabinet od glittering stars.

  1. Lt-Gen Alani Akinrinade  —-    Agriculture.
  2. Lt-Col A.T Ayuba — Communications.
  3. Maj. Gen D.Y Bali — Defence, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
  4. Prof. Jubril Aminu – Education
  5. Rear Admiral Koshoni –Employment, Labour and Productivity
  6. Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi — External Affairs
  7. Major-Gen Mamman Vasta – Federal Capital Territory
  8. Dr Kalu Idika Kalu — Finance
  9. Alhaji Lawal Mala — Industries
  10. Prof Olikoye Ransome Kuti — Health
  11. Lt Col A. S. Ukpo — Information
  12. Lt- Col. J.N. Shagaya – Internal Affairs
  13. Prince Bola Ajibola — Justice
  14. Alhaji A Rilwan Lukman — Mines and Power
  15. Dr Chu S P Okongwu — National Planning
  16. Prof Tam David West – Petroleum Resources
  17. Lt Col Ahmed Abdullahi — Social Development, Youth, Sports and Culture
  18. Prof Emmanuel Emovon — Science and Technology
  19. Major Gen M.G. Nasko – Trade
  20. Brig J.I Useni — Transport and Aviation
  21. Air Commodore Hamza Abdullahi – Works and Housing
  22. Air Vice-Marshall A I Shekari — Special Duties.

Later, Hamza Abdullahi was replaced by Major Gen Mamman Kontagora as Minister of Works and Housing.

After that he assembled a Presidential Advisory Committee, PAC, which included the following:

Professor Ojetunji Aboyade, Cambridge-trained Economist, World Bank consultant and senior staff member of the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research, Chu S. P Okongwu, Harvard-trained economist and former World Bank staff and Dr Kalu Idika Kalu (KIK), University of Wisconsin, World bank Adviser to South Korea when the Asian nation was climbing past Nigeria. He blended that group of top brains with tested leaders of the Organised Private sector   — Chief Shonekan, Dr Michael Omolayole, Chief Eze etc.

Then he created institutions like the Peoples Bank designed to help poor business men and women which was headed by late Dr Tai Solarin. And the Federal Road Safety Corps whose first Marshall was our own Professor Soyinka. National Population Commission and National Planning Commission. Buhari has established no single institution.

Please compare the quality of the IBB team with the third rate cabinet which now serves Nigeria. Can the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, sit at any international conference on the same table with Prince Ajibola? Forget the Ministers of Finance Buhari foisted on the nation. Compared with those who held the position under IBB, who can they measure up to? Professor Jubril Aminu was Minister of Education. Malam Adamu Adamu is now the occupant of that position. The difference is clear. Professor Olikoye Ransome Kuti, World Health Organisation Consultant was Minister of Health.

We now have “IFA”, that’s his nickname from Medical College, as Health Minister. He will leave no positive legacy. Depend on it. Major General Mamman Kontagora completed more roads and buildings in three years than Fashola will in ten years at the rate he is going. Prince Tony Momoh was Minister of Information then. He did not acquire a reputation for lying. Bolaji Akinyemi was Minister of External Affairs and all knowledgeable Nigerians were aware that Nigeria had a foreign policy. Ask Minister, “Whats-his-name” what Nigeria’s foreign policy is and you will draw a blank. What about Buhari’s Minister for Transportation? But, should this continue?

Obasanjo’s team was the closest in quality to the best and brightest IBB called to service. But, OBJ and PDP did not allow the Ministers to express their ingenuity. Yar’Adua and Jonathan collected mostly bench warmers with a few creative individuals included. But with Buhari, we have reached the lowest limits of mediocrity in public service appointments. Few are known to Nigerians.

The President himself was a poor specimen from the analogue age. He reads very little; has few or no original ideas about governance and is confused by figures. So, his decisions can only be based on instincts – which are poor substitutes for sound judgment.

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An analogue age President has gathered together a team just as wedded to a bygone era. In the digital age – where events move at the speed of light – a slow thinking President is a liability to his nation. Unfortunately, Buhari does not know his limitations. More unfortunate still, those around him who are aware that the man is the best leader for the 18th century will not tell him the truth for selfish reasons. If not for the purpose of remaining Vice President, will Osinbajo honestly say that his boss is the leader Nigeria needs now in the Age of Trudeau in Canada and Macron in France?

Nigeria, more than ever needs a new leader who combines several attributes now lacking in Buhari – great intelligence, creativity, vigour, competence, modernity and the ability to spot talent and make use of it, irrespective of where it comes from – instead of looking only at Daura and in-laws. Let me point to an example of what creative leadership can procure for a nation.

Nigeria entered the Gas Age under Babangida with the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Company when the price of crude oil plummeted to under $10 per barrel and never rose above $15 – except during the brief Gulf War. And we entered without putting down a kobo. That was smart thinking. Today, we are all the beneficiaries of the revenue from natural gas. Interestingly, Buhari was Minister of Petroleum under Obasanjo during that military regime. It never occurred to them to propose development of our gas potential.

Every month when the FG and the states share revenue, one component of the monthly bonanza is the Value Added Tax, VAT. When Kalu Idika Kalu first advanced it under IBB, the Know-Nothings leading the Nigerian Labour Congress almost had him lynched. I was one of KIK’s few supporters then. Today, there is no way the Minimum Wage can be contemplated if VAT is abolished. In fact, one of the sources of revenue to fund Minimum Wage is increased VAT. Given the trillions of naira which governments have shared since VAT started, monuments should be erected in every state for IBB and KIK. We need new IBBs and KIKs – not the inept cashiers appointed as Ministers of Finance by a leader weak on team selection and motivation.

With all the noise Obasanjo makes and his condemnation of his successors, he left no major legacy after eight years in office. For twenty-six years Nigeria has been led by unimaginative leaders who can only perform if the price of crude rises above $100 per barrel. Otherwise, they are bereft of ideas. The Nigerian economy grew by 1.93 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year and they promptly announced that their policies are working. They failed to acknowledge that the price of crude was also at its highest since Buhari took over. When crude price was low they offered that as excuse for poor performance. The self-deception is symptomatic of a worse affliction. When leaders deny the truth about a bad situation, it means they have no intention to change. That refusal to change a losing team and bring fresh players by Buhari with new ideas is what will eventually endanger Nigeria.

“Everything that is done in the world is done in hope.”—Martin Luther, 1483-1546.

As one of Buhari’s strongest supporters in 2011 and 2015, I was not unaware of his limitations. The hope then was that, if elected, he would assemble competent people to handle the most important Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs, while he concentrated on going after ALL the looters. The coalition of the CPC and ACN deepened that hope. Cerebral people like El-Rufai (he is intelligent, just not wise), Fayemi, Tony Momoh, Fashola, Ogbeh, Ajimobi, etc in the APC would be allowed to shop for the brightest and best which Nigeria can produce and given as free a hand as possible to perform their “magic”.  The first forty appointments, without consultations, dashed all such hopes. When cabinet selection was delayed with the silliest of reasons and we still ended with low grade materials, it was obvious we were back to the Dark Age.

“Show the light and the people will find the way.”

West African Pilot (Zik’s newspaper) in the 1950s-60s.

We need light in more ways than what “NEPA” can provide. Right now, our leader is not even holding up a candle. He is groping in the dark himself.

 


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