To: Nigeria’s Ph.D President
From: Brazil’s Fourth Grade Education President
Subject: Lessons in Leadership
By Bayo Oluwasanmi
The 2011 July 17th edition of America’s most influential and authoritative CBS weekly Sunday TV program “60 Minutes,” had a segment titled “Brazil’s rising star.” It was an inspiring and incredible story of profile in courage of Brazil’s President with 4th grade education, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva who brought Brazil from extinction to existence.
In disguise, the “60 Minutes” program is a timely unintended memo on leadership to Nigeria’s first president with a doctorate degree as he ploughs his way through the murky economic troubled waters of Nigeria.
The story of the home boy president affectionately called Lula by Brazilians is a testament to the truth that it’s not the education we get, but the empowerment we give that makes a difference to others.
Brazil is a huge country slightly larger than the continental US and covers nearly half of South America and the continent’s largest nation. A former Portuguese colony, Brazil declared independence in September 7, 1822. Brazil is the only Latin America nation that derives its language and culture from Portugal.
Born October 27 1945, Lula served as the 35th president of Brazil from 2003-2010. Lula had little formal education. He didn’t learn to read until he was 10 years old. Like children of some poor families, he quit school after the fourth grade (equivalent of our own primary four) in order to work to support his family.
He entered the labor market at age 12 as a shoe shiner and street vendor. His first formal job was at 14 in a copper processing factory as a lathe operator.
Lula’s life story echoes that of many Brazilians: a poor boy from an impoverished region that made his way to find work in the industrial belt of Sao Paulo.
On February 10, 1980, Lula and a group of academics, intellectuals, and union leaders founded the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) or Workers’ Party. PT is a left wing party with progressive ideas created in the midst of Brazil’s military government.
Brazil’s past mirrors a parallel image of Nigeria’s immediate past of missed opportunities and misplaced priorities.
The interview with Lula was done by one of “60 Minutes” best, Steve Kroft.
In his introductory salvo, Kroft with his missionary-fervid voice, starts with a
damning prologue of Brazil’s past: “For decades, the joke about Brazil has been that it’s the country of the future – and always will be,” said Kroft.
“Despite enormous natural resources, it has long displayed an uncanny ability to squander its vast potential.” “As the US and most of the world’s countries limp along the crippling recession, Brazil is off and running with jobs, industry, and resources,” Kroft said.
At a time when the world’s best capitalist economies were in turmoil and devout giants of the faith struggled to write a befitting elegy for a revered system, Brazil is an exception.
Listen to Kroft:
“While most of the world is consumed with debt and unemployment, Brazil is trying to figure out how to manage an economic boom… it was the last country to enter the Great Recession, the first to leave it, and is now poised to overtake France and Britain as the world’s fifth largest economy.”
“With the World Cup and the Olympics on their way, Brazil is about to make its grand entrance on the global stage.”
“With most of the world’s economies stagnant, Brazil’s grew at 7 percent last year, (2010) three times faster than America… with vast expanses of arable farmland, an abundance of natural resources, and 14 percent of the world’s fresh water.”
“Eighty percent of its electricity comes from hydropower,” (President Jonathan are you listening?) “it has the most sophisticated bio fuels industry in the world, and for its size, the world’s greenest economy.”
“Brazil is already the largest producer of iron ore in the world, and the world’s leading exporter of beef, chicken, orange juice, sugar, coffee and tobacco – much of it bound for China, which has replaced the U.S. as Brazil’s leading trade partner.”
To gauge the pulse of a Brazilian on the perception of Americans about Brazil, Kroft asked one of the newly minted tycoons, billionaire Eike Batista: “How do most Americans see Brazil?”
Batista replied, “They think Buenos Aires is the capital of Brazil, so they mix us with you know, other countries around South America.” “The most powerful country in South America?” Kroft said.
Batista said, “GDP-wise, we are bigger than all the other countries together. And you know, in the last 16 years, Brazil has put its act together. This is it. Hello, time for Americans to wake up.”
Talking about China’s dependence on Brazil, Batista said Brazil has to match the Chinese appetite. “You have everything they need,” Kroft said. “Yeah,” Batista responded: “You need a Brazil to basically fulfill the Chinese needs.”
Brazil now has “a substantial manufacturing base and a large auto industry. Aviation giant Embraer is the world’s third-largest aircraft manufacturer, behind Boeing and Airbus and a main supplier of regional jets to the U.S. market.”
“We are walking into a phase of almost full employment. “Already we have created this year 1.5 million jobs.” (Hello President Jonathan). “It is incredible,” Batista said.
“Brazilians put up with incredibly high taxes on almost everything, and have high tolerance for corruption, bureaucratic red tape … harbors a secret love affair with incompetence,” (my emphasis, isn’t this Nigeria?). Now it’s beginning to look like
Brazil might have the last laugh,” said Kroft.
Continued with Brazil’s misplaced priorities in the past, Kroft said “Brazil has seen periods of prosperity before, only to have the bubbles burst. It spent billions in the 50s and 60s moving its capital to a barren savannah near the middle of the country where it built Brasilia, a futuristic city right out of “The Jetsons.”
“Then it borrowed billions more to develop the country’s interior. Corruption and ineptitude eventually led to a financial collapse. 2000 percent inflation and, at the time, the largest financial rescue package in the history of the International Monetary Fund.”
“Then a few years later, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva walked into the president’s office. Known simply as “Lula,” he is a former metal worker with a fourth-grade education…” (emphasis mine).
“When he was elected eight years ago on his fourth try, Lula was a firebrand labor leader with socialist tendencies. Some predicted another Hugo Chavez.”
“But he left office at the end of last year (2010) with 87 percent approval rating and much of the credit for turning the country around.”
Kroft with President Lula
Kroft asked Lula, “When you took office, there were many businessmen, both in Brazil and abroad, who were very nervous about you, who thought you were a socialist and that you were going to take the country sharply to the left. Yet, these people now are among your biggest supporters. How did that happen?”
Lula responded, “Look, every once in a while I joke that a metal worker with a socialist background had to become president of Brazil to make capitalism work here. Because we were a capitalist society without capital.”
He added, “If you look at the bank’s balance sheets for this year, you will see that the banks have never made so much money in Brazil as they have during my government, but the workers have also made money.”
So how has President Lula managed to do that?
Lula told Kroft he has “found out something amazing. The success of an elected official is in the art of doing what is obvious. It is what everyone knows needs to be done but some insist on doing it differently.” (President Jonathan, can you hear President Lula?)
“One thing obvious to Lula was the social and economic chasm separating Brazil’s rich and poor. He gave the poor families a monthly stipend of $115, just for sending their children to school and taking them to doctors.”
“The infusion of cash helped lift 21 million people out of poverty and into the lower middle class, creating an untapped market for first-time buyers of refrigerators and cars.” (Hello, President Jonathan!).
“But he was also far friendlier to business than anyone expected. Lula encouraged growth and development, and maintained conservative fiscal policies and tight banking regulations that left Brazil unscathed by the world financial crisis.”
“Eduardo Bueno, a colorful commentator and best-selling author of popular Brazilian history, told Kroft, “Lula was the right man at the right time it seems. You have to admit… he’s a kind of pop star.”
“What’s his (President Lula) secret?” Kroft asked. “He’s streetwise,” Bueno said. “He knows what he wants. He knows how to deal with the rich. He charms President Obama.”
Kroft asked Lula, “There are people that believe that once you are gone, Brazil may revert to its old ways. Will the momentum continue, once you leave office…?”
Lula said, “If there is something I am proud of, it is to have told my people that we are not second-class citizens, that we can get things done, we can believe in ourselves, and then people have started to believe.”
Meanwhile, 150 miles off the coast “lie what are believed to be the largest discoveries of oil found anywhere in the world in the past 35 years.”
“Economists from Goldman Sachs no less are predicting that Brazil – along with Russia, China, and India – will dominate the world economy in the 21st century,” Kroft said.
President Jonathan, leadership position is not a spectator position!