By Eric Teniola

TO mark the first anniversary of his presidency on May 29, 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari, granted a rare television interview. In an answer to a question on the National Conference of his predecessor, President GoodlluckJonathan, held in 2014, President Muhammadu Buhari declared: “I advised against the issue of National Conference. You would recall that ASUU was on strike then for almost nine months.

The teachers in the tertiary institutions were on strike for more than a year, yet that government had about N9 billion to organise that meeting (national conference), and some (members) were complaining that they hadn’t been paid. I never liked the priority of that government on that particular issue, because it meant that what the National Assembly could have handled was handed to the conference, while the more important job of keeping our children in schools was abandoned. That is why I haven’t even bothered to read it or ask for briefing on it, and I want it to go into the so-called archives.”

I am sure that statement was made in error. His critics charged that the statement was overbearing and disdainful. We are told everyday that no knowledge is lost. Marie Julie Romney wrote that “no knowledge is lost, only sheathed in a sea of perfectly complacent heedless things”. Bipin Kumor G. J. added that “seek the knowledge, and everything else will find the way to you”. The statement drove away some people with genuine intentions who may have wished to give advice to President Buhari’s government. The statement gave an impression further that the President will not seek advice from anyone. A government, like any organisation, requires collective leadership.

A common mistake leaders do is to act and behave that leadership is not a team sport like rugby or netball or football. True collective leadership is what happens when several capable people with complementary strengths and competencies, sharing common high values and character, and centred around a compelling purpose and vision, combine to provide direction among a company of people and contribute to their success.

It requires specific conditions for the success of the whole: trust, shared power, transparent and effective communication, accountability, and shared learning. It is based on the recognition that without the diverse gifts, talents, perspectives and efforts of many, sustainable change is difficult to achieve. Collective leadership is a process. It is dependent on the relationships among the human parts in the system, whether that system is two people working together, a team, or a whole organisation. Leadership is not a one- man show. It is the responsibility of every leader to bring everyone on board. No matter how powerful you are, you need friends. In fact, the best leaders are those who search for friends and seek their advice.

How can one throw into the dustbin the job of over 400 delegates who took part in the National Conference of 2014? Certainly there must be some useful suggestions in their report. We are nearing anarchy in this country now. The solution does not lie in violence but in dialogue. In the light of current events in this country, there is an urgent need to convene a national conference so that we can sit down and talk about the future of our country. I remember a famous quote by Sir Winston Churchill’s biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert, who quoted the former British Prime Minister as saying “jaw-jaw is better than war-war”. We must not allow this country to disintegrate on our heads. There is need to talk.

Since 1999, apart from President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (August 16, 1951-May 5, 2010), only President Muhammadu Buhari has failed to convene a conference. President Yar’Adua could be excused in that his health and eventual death robbed us of the opportunity to assess him properly. He was President from May 29, 2007 till he died on May 5, 2010. He spent his last nine months attending to his health. On February 21, 2005, President Olusegun Obasanjo, convened the National Political Reform Conference. The conference was organised by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Ufot Ekaette, while his office was the secretariat of the conference.

Chairman of the conference was Justice Niki Tobi(July 14, 1940 – June 19, 2016), while the deputy chairman was Alhaji Sule Katagum from Bauchi State and Ishaq Oloyede from Ogun State was co-secretary. The secretary of the conference was Matthew Hassan Kukah (69) born in Anchuna, Zangon Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State, an area that has seen so much unrest and oppression.  You cannot come from Zangon Kataf and not be radical. Their story is a sad one.  Bishop Kukah is the current bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sokoto. The assistant secretary of the conference was Mr. Akin Arikawe from Igbotako in Ondo State, who retired as a permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Finance. Arikawe is now a finance consultant in Abuja. I served as the media coordinator of the conference.

Those who attended the conference included Anyim Ude, Ayodeji Otegbola, Awaisu Kuta, Helen Esuene, Barnabas Gemade, Wale Oladipo, Martin Elechi, Aliyu Akwe Doma, Sule Lamido, Murtala Nyako, Ibrahim Shema, Jonah Jang, Adams Oshiomhole, Abdullahi Ganduje, Olusegun Adesegun, Yakubu Lame, Humphrey Abbah, Kabiru Turaki, Emeka Anyaoku, Barnabas Gemade, Afe Babalola, Kema Chikwe, Mathew Kukah, Olusola Saraki, Adamu Ciroma, Garba Nadama, Joshua Dogonyaro (Lt. General), Fidelis Oyakhilome, Ebitu Ukiwe and Chukwuemeka Ezeife. Others were  Victor Malu, Joseph Wayas, Bassey Asuquo, Matthias Offoboche, Edwin Clark, Martin Elechi, Nimi Brigss, Peter Okebukola, Wale Babalakin, Nkoyo Toyo, J. Idachaba, Bala Usman, Garba Nadama, Adebayo Adedeji, Matthew Mbu, Hassan Adamu (Wakilin Adamawa); Murtala Nyako, Samuel Ogbemudia, Maiji Maina Lawan, Don Etiebet, Jerry Useni, Olusegun Adesegun, Ike Nwachukwu, Chekwas Okorie, Shehu Sani, Mike Ozekhome, Umaru Shinkafi, Auwalu Yadudu, Paul Unongo, Albert Horsfall, Wale Babalakin, Ibrahim Tahir, Ishaq Oloyede, Peter Adebiyi, Abdulkadir Orire, Tony Nwoye, Baba Dantiye, Smart Adeyemi, Nduka Obaigbena, Bello Mohammed, Ibrahim Haruna (Major General), Femi Okurounmu, Joe Irukwu, Don Etiebet, Ajibola Ogunshola, Isaac Shaahu, Senator Francis Ellah, John Dara, Leedum Mitee, Adeyinka Adebayo (General), Jerry Gana, Kanu Agabi, Iro Dan Musa, Joy Ogwu, and Fola Adeola.

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