By Bayo Oluwsanmi
The editors of Time probably had Nigeria in mind when in November 1987, in a cover story they asked “Who is in Charge?” The editors answered their own question, saying “The nation calls for leadership, and there is no one home.”
Where have all our leaders gone?
In the words of Warren Bennis “They are, like the flowers of the haunting folk song, “long time passing.”
All our leaders we once loved and respected are dead. Obafemi Awolowo who put the old West on the map of trailblazer as “First in Africa” is gone.
Aminu Kano who championed the cause of the Talakawas (the poor) and lived his life like one of them is gone. Zik of Africa, the flamboyant and gifted orator of all times is gone.
Alfred Rewane the entrepreneur par excellence and philanthropist extra ordinary was killed. Bola Ige, the Cicero of Esa-Oke was murdered.
Gani Fawehinmi, Senior Advocate of the Masses (SAM), activist, and legal surgeon is gone. Tai Solarin, social critic, humanist, and educator is gone.
The stage is littered with fallen leaders.
Where have all the leaders gone?
Why do we need leaders? Simple answer: 160 million people cannot be together or get along without leaders.
It is stating the obvious, we cannot function without leaders. The quality of our leaders will determine the quality of our life.
President Barack Obama recently delivered the first State of the Union address for his second term. It was a speech of “movement leadership” that inspires and persuades.
Mr. Obama with feisty humility was at his oratorical best. Full of explosive ball of energy and with ringing clarity, he mapped out the journey ahead for the next four years.
As I watched Mr. Obama I was tranced into looking for a Nigerian President that will tell us what he’ll do and where we’re headed.
Part of the built-in accountability measures of the Presidential system invented by the Americans is the annual State of the Union address by the President.
The political basis for the State of the Union address is in the US Constitution.
The President “shall from time to time give to the Congress information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” (Article II, section 3, clause I).
The State of the Union address has undergone some name changes. From 1790 to 1934, it was known as the Annual Message.
However, from 1942 to 1946 it was informally called the State of the Union address. Since 1947 it has generally been known as the State of the Union address.
In spite of the racist arrogance and unyielding opposition of the Republicans, Mr. Obama took a stand for what is right.
He reminded his political foes – the GOP – that leadership is service… “What are we waiting for?” he bellowed, “so let’s do it!”
It has not been easy for Mr. Obama taking a stand for what is right when the hallucinating right wingers remain the biggest impediment.
The landslide victory of Mr. Obama in his reelection proved that standing on the side of people may not be popular with anti-people GOP but it is always profitable.
One of the enduring tests of leadership is that the proofs are always in the doing. We can grasp our dreams and translate them into reality by action, not by contemplation.
Leaders learn by leading, and they learn best by leading in the face of obstacles. As weather shapes mountains, so problems make leaders.
One of the most visible gifts of a leader is his ability to use his experiences to grow in office.
Two examples readily come to mind:
Before he became president, Teddy Roosevelt was described as “a clown.”
Walter Lippman dismissed Teddy Roosevelt’s cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt as “a pleasant country squire who wants to be president.”
The Roosevelts are now regarded as two of America’s best presidents.
After years of experimenting with all sorts of political systems, we finally settled so it seems, for the American brand of democracy – the presidential system.
Like anything copied, imported, or stolen outright by Nigerians, there is always the albatross the “Nigerian factor” that mars or muddles the core utility of the thing that we sheepishly imitate.
By excluding checks and balances and other features that guarantee accountability, the framers of the 1999 Constitution did not apply either common sense or wisdom.
Instead for the new system to be a transition from oppression to opportunity, it has become a legal euthanasia that snuffed life out of our people.
What we have now is a ruling class that has become an insurrection against the ideas and ideals of a democratic government.
The federal governments we’ve had since independence had foolishly pursued shadow instead of substance.
Once upon a time, we were conscripted into farming under the aegis of Operation Feed the Nation Program.
I was in lower six of higher school certificate course. All students of higher institutions were mandated by the then Obasanjo military regime to work on farm for the entire summer holiday.
The government promised the nation that the program would lead to food sufficiency and hunger would be banished in Nigeria forever.
Armada of fertilizer ships jammed the Nigerian ports. Most of the fertilizer became dung hill even before they could be shipped to farms where they were needed.
Another military imbecile came up with the People’s Bank. The main objective of the bank was to make credit accessible and affordable for small businesses.
The start-up capital of the bank was depleted before it could grant any loan to any customer. No small business was created through the bank.
The wife of same military tomfool who came up with the People’s Bank hypnotized as it were, Nigerian women with her pet program called “Better Life for Rural Women.”
Well, as far I know no life of any woman in my village became better as a result of the program.
Nigeria Water Basin Authority gulped so much money that by now every hamlet in Nigeria especially in the arid areas should be flooded by irrigation waters.
Under the Jonathan administration, the pursuit of shadow over substance has taken on a viral sensation. The GEJ administration is synonymous with shadows: using shoes for hammers, newspapers for umbrellas, and a finger nail to tight a screw.
Few examples will suffice.
Remember the fanfare, photo ops, and propaganda that accompanied cassava bread on the breakfast table at Aso Rock?
We were told cassava bread would overthrow the regular bread in a bloodless coup so much that there would be no trace of remains of white and wheat bread. Today, we’re not sure what’s on the breakfast menu at Aso Rock.
The principal argument by the Jonathan administration for removing the subsidy on gasoline was that the accrued savings would be used for job creation.
After a bitter internecine war over removal of the subsidy, a still born baby named SURE-UP was born.
How many jobs have been created by SURE-P? Your guess is as good as mine. The multitude of the unemployed still clogs the arteries of our streets.
On power supply, the government action is more laughable than annoying. Repeatedly, the Jonathan administration keeps promising that the next year would be better than the previous one.
The number of megawatts that would jolt supply to desirable level oscillates precariously whenever anyone confronts the administration on the issue.
The goal post for the year when we will enjoy 24/7 uninterrupted power supply is being moved from year to year.
On tourism, the government mantra is that Nigeria would become world’s number one tourist’s destination.
With the unrelenting insurgents such as Boko Haram, armed robbers, kidnappers, abductors, rapists, and non-existent infrastructure; the government is yet to figure out the magical logistics with which to attract plane loads of tourists to Nigeria.
The money spent on trips to wooing investors from abroad is large enough to industrialize the country. What happened to the foreign investors?
The government wants to spend N60 billion for 10 million phones for farmers. According to the Federal Department of Agriculture, the e-wallet project will educate, inform, and communicate with the farmers in the rural areas on the latest and best practices as well as current prices of commodities in the market. Hogwash!
I bet, Nigerian farmers need to reach out and touch their counterparts in America, Germany, Canada, Afghanistan and other nations for consultation on subsistence farming.
The First family spent N500 million only for about 5,000 guests for the “resurrection” thanksgiving service for the First Lady.
Never mind that Aso Rock and other propagandists denied that the First Lady was ever sick. They maintained that she was away for a deserved rest. Who is fooling who?
Please don’t bring corruption into the family of the shadows. No one with sanity plays with fire. It is politically toxic! Leave corruption alone.
But there comes a time in the history of a nation such as ours when incompatibility between shadow and substance becomes unbearably evident.
A time when we have come to realize that grafting shadow with substance is like putting a new patch onto an old garment, or trying to pour new wine into old bottles.
The administration is bogged down and buried in illusions that erased the promises Mr. Jonathan made to the people. The promises do not satisfy the hope it raises.
Nonetheless, we’re being persuaded to accept illusion and deception (shadows) as reality without questioning. Damn if we talk, damn if we don’t!
The Jonathan administration’s shadow versus substance vis-à-vis Nigerians can be likened to a famous passage in Plato’s Republic.
Plato pictures a multitude of men as prisoners in a subterranean cave. Their backs chained to a fire, looking at the shadows cast by the fire on the rocky wall they mistake them for realities.
The Greek philosopher concludes that “real knowledge and wisdom” only begin when we reject these shadows and climb the steep sides of the cave and fight for the real things.
Why do we have to cling to the shadow when the substance is within our grasp? We have become shrunk with fear that we’re contented to the consigned cave the oppressors built for us.
What’s the state of our union?
Is anyone in charge to tell us the state of our union? The attack dogs will be quick to charge us for political blasphemy and rebellion for demanding for a state of the union address.
The reality of the shadow we’re in is that life seems to have mocked us. Happiness in a tantalizing way has escaped us.
Life is full of anxieties and fears for our people. Their life is cramped and fettered by circumstances imposed on them. They’ve become strangers in their own country.
They have become slum dwellers. Their life is divided between grinding toil and sleepless nights. The more they toil, the harder life becomes.
A useless life is as good as an early death. A dreamless sleep is permanent death. What would have become breakthroughs became breakdowns.
For the crippled and the invalid, life is marred by broken loss and sorrow. For many, life is narrowed and impoverished by sickness.
And yet for others, life is full of illusion with promises never fulfilled.
Where have all the leaders gone?
We cannot drive a car forward by looking at the rear view mirror.
Where are we coming from? Where are we headed? Who is going to liberate us from crude symbiosis of cluelessness and blindness?
Who is going to light the sure fire of resistance and rebellion in us to reclaim our civilization and humanity? Have we been castrated by fear and paralyzed by inertia and phobias?
Who is the leader that will give us a guiding vision? Who is the leader that we give us passion?
Who is the leader that we give us integrity – self-knowledge, candor, and maturity? Who is the leader that we give curiosity and daring?
Who is in charge? And who is the leader that will lead us?
A leader with boldness and benevolence who will chart a new and guided course for a new Nigeria. A leader who is not a political noise. A leader who is not a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
A real and authentic leader who will shape life rather than being shaped by it.
“These are hard times in which a genius would wish to live…” Abigail Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson, “Great necessity calls for great leaders.”
Where have all the leaders gone?