On Qualification For National Leadership


By Uchenna Nwankwo

Nigeria’s 2015 Presidential election campaigns are getting murkier and murkier by the day and indeed disappointingly personal and vain. There is too much mudslinging and little or no enlightenment. Currently, loud and mischievous questions are being raised by the ruling party and its agents about Buhari’s qualification to lead the country. If they are not saying that he is too old for the job, they are telling us that Buhari cannot possibly be healthy enough for the task. They even presume to foretell and pronounce on the poor man’s longevity. Writing on the subject in a paid advert in the Daily Sun Newspaper of Friday, 06 February 2015, former Gov. Peter Obi of Anambra State declared thus: “All I am saying is that no progressive country of the world … like the U.S., the UK, etc, have ever elected anybody above 70 years of age since the inception of democracy in their countries”. It is all too bewildering. Surely, the level of obstreperous partisanship in the country is approaching its nadir.

It is as if Buhari himself had some premonition about this turn of event. In his Chairman’s Remarks at the occasion of the 50th Anniversary Lecture of Nnamdi Azikiwe Hall, University of Ibadan, March 20, 2014, General Muhammadu Buhari made statements that appear targeted at his traducers of today. Commenting on the appropriate age for national leadership, Buhari had this to say:

“The topic chosen for today’s lecture: ‘Youth and the Future of Nigerian Politics’ is particularly interesting in view of the recurring public debate, favourite among Nigerian men of letters of the merits of young leaders vis-à-vis old ones.

“I suppose this debate will go on and on and the protagonists will likely not accept the other side of the argument. A brief look world-wide in the 20th and 21st centuries at the success of leaders tells us that we should not hold any hard and fast views. China and Japan post-1945 had a history of very old people managing the affairs of these two great oriental economies. Mao Zedong and Chou En-Lai in their mid-to late seventies laid the foundation for their successor, Deng Xiao Ping to bring one billion people out of poverty into self-sufficiency in food supply and an economy second only to the United States.

“For several decades after World War II, Japanese politics restricted the position of prime minister to those between 75 and 80 years old! Considering the Japanese economic miracle it wasn’t such a bad idea.

“German post-war recovery and prosperity was led and guided by two old people: Konrad Adenauer who became West German Chancellor at the age of 73 and his Economics minister, G. Erhard.

Another 70+ General Charles de Gaulle led French resurgence after the war. In Britain three old men Churchill, MacMillan and R.A. Butler managed British recovery through the 1950s and 1960s.

In Saudi Arabia the last three kings ascended the throne in their 70s and 80s and see what transformation Saudi Arabians have enjoyed in the last 40 years. If you think that this achievement is solely due to oil resources take a look at Nigeria and consider what poor use we made of our resources.

“Looking at the other side of the argument consider the remarkable achievement of Lee Kuan Yew, a young man in his 30s when he assumed the premiership of Singapore. Today Singapore is a beacon of efficiency, growth, discipline and prosperity. Or the case of General Suharto of Indonesia whose administration lifted one hundred million of his people from stark poverty to reasonable levels of income and employment. A miracle, if ever there was one.

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“Consider also the impact of another young man, John F. Kennedy. In 1961 he galvanised and kick-started American technological achievement by inspiring oratory which led to [the] landing of a man on the moon and satellite communications which has transformed the whole world.

Your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, these cursory recollections from history teach us, I submit, one thing: Ability, competence and skill in politics do not reside in one particular age group. The ideal is to have a mixture of experienced people who will bring their wisdom to bear and young men and women with energy and vigour to cooperatively run an administration.” How true!

In Nigeria today, there is a new worrisome development in our relations of production. The Labour Force is being emasculated and marginalised through the payment of poor salaries and casualisation by their employers. Right now, virtually all our banks, the telecommunication (GSM) companies that are raking in trillions of naira from their operations, and many other big businesses in the country are all involved in this new casualisation practice and the payment of starvation wages to their workers. Most of our thriving private educational establishments pay as little as N10,000.00 per month per graduate-teacher notwithstanding the huge revenues they extract from their pupils or their sponsors. Why has the Jonathan administration done nothing to combat these enervating anomalies? How does the APC intend to tackle these problems as well as deal with the massive unemployment situation in the land if elected into power? These are the kind of issues we want the contestants to address in their campaigns.

Of course, it is not expected that political leaders must evolve all the solutions by themselves. But it is the business of political parties and their leaderships to peruse the works of researchers, writers, etc. and arm themselves with such ideas, expound their efficacy and apply them in policy formulation and governance. America’s President Nixon ran one of the most outstanding foreign policies in post-World War II U.S. history. But that is partly because he brought in a foreign policy guru, Henry Kissinger, on board.

Here, President Jonathan stumbled on a talented engineer, Prof Barth Nnaji, and brought him in as Minister of Power. For a while, our electricity supply seemed to improve, but then the same President Jonathan forced the Professor out over a non-issue. And the result: all the apparent gains in the Power sector collapsed. This goes to underscore the point that to assemble a good team is the hallmark of good leadership. That, to my mind, is the stuff great leaders are made of. Without the capacity to identify and appoint reliable and competent lieutenants, no leader can excel. And this appears to be the real problem with the Jonathan administration!

Secondly, a national leader must also have the capacity to deal evenly with all sections of the country. I am not particularly impressed with the half tenure (2011 – 2013) capital expenditure pattern of the Jonathan administration which I understand shows that it spent a whopping N497 billion on projects located in the North-central zone; N296 billion in the Northwest; N216 billion in the Southwest; N212 billion in the Southsouth, not including what is spent by the Niger-Delta Ministry as well as money spent for servicing Amnesty in the region; N116 billion in the Northeast and, lo and behold, N74 billion in the Southeast.

Thirdly, the Jonathan administration proposes to construct a Second Niger Bridge billed to cost N117 billion through a Public Private Partnership, with the Federal Government contributing a paltry N30 billion naira while the contractors will raise the rest of the fund and thereafter collect a 25-year toll tax from its users.

The Jonathan administration says it set out to construct two new bridges, across the River Niger and River Benue. These are the Loko-Oweto Bridge linking Nasarawa and Benue states, which is progressing satisfactorily, and the 2nd Niger Bridge, connecting Anambra and Delta States. It is worthy to note that the other bridge is being constructed without any PPP and without any toll tax on the users. My question is: Why the discriminatory attitude?

Finally, I think that President Goodluck Jonathan has an image problem; a serious credibility problem. Many Nigerians now doubt his sincerity and commitment to the wellbeing of the Nigerian state and its citizenry. People ask: what happened to the greedy plunderers of billions of naira of our Pension Funds during the life of this administration and other such extremely greedy looters of the national treasury? When will Nigeria rise above this kind of problem? It is extremely doubtful whether such a fundamental change and reversal of fortunes can manifest under the type of leadership offered by Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and his team!

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