Nigeria, the curse of leadership – Punch Newspapers

Emmanuel Nwachukwu

nigerian businesses in South Africa continue to reel from the recent xenophobic attacks on African migrants.  Unfortunately, these attacks, especially on Nigerians, are not just happening in South Africa.  There have been reports of xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in Angola and Libya.  Nearer home, Ghanaians are beginning to express disquiet over the increasing number of Nigerian migrants in their country, raising the spectre one day of ‘Nigeria must go’. For Ghanaians, it will be sweet revenge on the ‘Ghana must go’ ordeal of 1983, when on the orders of President Shehu Shagari, over two million immigrants from Ghana and neighbouring countries were forcibly expelled from Nigeria. Notwithstanding, Nigerians continue to take their chances abroad, because of the lack of opportunities here at home.

The Canadian Embassy is said to receive over 500 visa applications a day from Nigerians who want to emigrate to Canada.  The majority of the applicants are believed to be young professionals; the talents Nigeria needs to build the country.

At the root of our challenges in Nigeria is the perennial problem of leadership.  All across the continent, countries are making steady progress, whilst Nigeria is still struggling to provide the most basic public infrastructure.  Although we like to believe the contrary, the truth is that Nigeria is one of the least developed economies in Africa and indeed the world; a sad indictment on the leadership of a country that prides itself as the giant of Africa.  It is a tragedy that the continent’s largest oil producer should have more people living in abject poverty than any other country in the world.  Whilst poverty numbers in Nigeria are swelling, Rwanda has seen a year on year fall in the rate of poverty, from 57% in 2006 to 38% in 2018.  Literacy levels are up from 48% in 1995 to over 70% in 2018 and health care is available to all Rwandans, including the poorest of the poor, under the government’s health insurance programme.

All over Africa, countries are making progress, whilst Nigeria is regressing because of poor leadership.  In the 1980s, only 20% of Ghana’s population had access to electricity.  Today, Ghana generates more power than it needs, and is the world’s fastest growing economy, with a growth rate of 8.3%, according to the World Bank.  In 2018, Ghana opened the new Terminal 3 at Kotoka International Airport, a marvel for a developing country with a capacity for five million passengers a year.  The successes in Ghana, Rwanda and other progressive countries like Botswana could not have happened without leadership.  This is precisely what has been our curse as a country.

How does one reconcile the rhetoric about President Muhammadu Buhari fighting corruption with a cabinet made up of individuals that have had long running battles with the EFCC?  The minister for petroleum resources allegedly had 48 houses confiscated by the EFCC for corruption before they were returned to him, following a court judgement described as controversial.  This is the individual now charged with ministerial responsibility for the country’s main source of revenue. How bizarre!

We are led by a President who seems to ravel in the title ‘Baba go slow’ as if it is a virtue;    seemingly oblivious of the impact of his lethargy on the economic and social well-being of the citizenry.  The process of appointing a cabinet that takes other countries literally days to accomplish took our President six months.  This is not the mark of a government that understands the urgency and the enormity of the challenges facing the average Nigerian.  A similar process in the United Kingdom took Boris Johnson less than a day to accomplish, following his appointment as prime minister.

Unfortunately, our lack of progress as a country has not been helped by a populace that is unwilling or too timid to hold its leaders to account.  As citizens, we have been accomplices to our current plight by electing into office our second eleven and then complain when they do not perform.  A budget, for instance, that should take effect from January 1 does not get approved until the middle of the budget year.  Is it any wonder that it is hard to find any socio-economic index where Nigeria is not leading from the rear or in the top five per cent of worse-performing countries?

Having lost confidence in the ability of the Nigerian state to protect its people, some northern governors are now openly negotiating with bandits and terrorists to reduce the wave of crimes and killings in their states.  They do this in the full glare of the camera; even exchanging murderous prisoners in custody for abductees. Some remark that whilst the President was quick to quell, with the full arsenal of state, the claims of unfairness by agitators in the South and South-East, he pussyfooted over the more serious threat of marauding herdsmen, allowing it to become the monster it is today.  To borrow Senator Shehu Sani’s insecticide vs deodorant analogy, whilst President Buhari deployed the insecticide on one group, he used the deodorant on the other.  The result is that our highways have now been taken over by bandits, many believe are foreigners.

As hunger and poverty ravage the land, kidnapping has become one of the fastest growing industries in Nigeria with a police establishment that is underfunded, under-equipped and poorly trained.  It is unfortunate that at a time like this when the President should be speaking directly to the people to inspire hope, he chooses to be silent, preferring instead to talk to Nigerians through surrogates who report what he is purported to have said.

We have a President who acts more like a monarch than a fellow citizen.  In a democracy where power derives from the people, communication is a vital quality of leadership. There is no such thing as a quiet leader; this is a contradiction in itself.  Democracy is about accountability to the people and the President should be submitting himself regularly to press interviews on matters pertinent to Nigerians. President Donald Trump has probably done more press interviews in a day than Buhari has done in over four years in office.

Nigeria’s progress in the next four years of this administration would depend on the calibre of the President’s advisers and ministers, and his ability to effectively performance-manage his ministers.  He has the carrot and the stick. He must learn to use the latter in the interest of suffering Nigerians.

The creation of the new Economic Advisory Council, comprising first rate professionals and academics, is welcome.  The appointment is timely, and the President will do well to act expeditiously on the EAC’s advice, however difficult.  Whether Buhari succeeds this second term or not will depend on his willingness to listen and act on good counsel, even including the counsel of his wife, ‘the woman in the other room’.

Sadly, with rampant crime and poverty and a President aloof and cocooned in Aso Rock even from his ministers, the omen is not good.

Nwachukwu, a London based business consultant, wrote in via [email protected]

Twitter: @emmanwach17

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