By Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ojeifo
I woke up on December 2, 2016 and thought seriously about Nigeria, about our inability to make significant leaps in our developmental efforts. Using my imagination, I drew up a cabinet list with the calibre of leaders I thought could move our nation forward. The list followed no particular pattern, no federal character; just men and women I believe embody the kind of character and competence we need for leadership and good governance. When I posted the list on Facebook, I prefaced it with this question: “Are these the sort of people who can do well for our country?” I intended to hear the views of my readers. While a good many commentators praised my selection as being forward-looking, others thought we should to give our young people the opportunity to try their hands on national leadership instead of recycling old and tired fellows. A few other commentators argued that the problem with Nigeria is not with young or old leaders, but about a prebendal political system that is impervious to change. The Nigerian political system has been so corrupted, a commentator noted, that even a Barrack Obama would not succeed in Nigeria.
For the sake of offering a context for this discourse, my list had Messrs Babatunde Fashola SAN and Peter Obi as president and vice-president respectively. The following made my list of cabinet ministers: Finance: Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Mr Fola Adeola. Budget and Economic Planning: Prof Chukwuma Soludo. Attorney General/Justice: Mr Femi Falana SAN. Transportation: Mr Osita Chidoka and Mr Innocent Chukwuma (founder of Innoson Motors). Women Affairs: Ms Chimamanda Adichie. Works and Housing: Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. Power: Prof Barth Nnaji and Dr Sam Amadi. Labour and Productivity: Dr Tunji Olaopa. Health: Prof Babatunde Osotimehin and Dr Ali Pate. Agriculture and Rural Development: Dr Akinwumi Adeshina and Prof A.S. Bamire. Environment: Ms Amina Mohammed. Foreign Affairs: Amb. Prof Joy Ogwu and Amb. Dr Martin Uhomoibhi. Petroleum Resources: Dr Ibe Kachikwu and Engr. Prof Michael Adewumi. Mineral Resources: Hon. Waziri Aminu Tambuwal. Niger Delta: Ledum Mitee. Culture and Tourism: Mr Donald Duke. Education: Prof Pat Utomi and Prof Abdulganiyu Ambali. Youth Development: Chude Jideonwo. Sports: Austin Jay Jay Okocha. Science and Technology: Messrs Philip Emeagwali and Leo Stan Ekeh. Interior: Prof Attahiru Jega. Information and Communication: Mr Olusegun Adeniyi. Trade and Investments: Arunma Oteh. Defence: Dr Kayode Fayemi and Lt Gen Azubuike Ihejirika.
The choice of Dr Kayode Fayemi as defence minister on my list may jolt many people and even cause the military establishment to raise eyebrows. But it is purposive. If it ever happens in real life, it would be the first time a “bloody civilian” would occupy a position that has long been reserved for retired senior military chiefs. For the sake of making a point, Dr Fayemi holds a doctorate degree in War Studies from the prestigious King’s College, University of London, where he specialised in civil-military relations. He was also a former Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, a research and training institution dedicated to the study and promotion of democratic development, peacebuilding and human security in Africa. With such a man as defence minister a round peg in a round hole we will eventually notice that defence is more that guns, bullets and boots; but more about human security and intelligence.
Will such a list of men and women of proven integrity ever happen in Nigeria? I believe that many people will even contest my qualification of these individuals as “men and women of proven integrity” as a ground for nullifying it. Whatever the case, I stand on the side of pessimism. Dirty politics will never make it happen. As we have seen in Nigeria, the appointment of political officeholders into sensitive government positions is not a matter of character and competence, but of party loyalty and other extraneous considerations, such as tribal and religious affiliations. In the end, mediocrity trumps merit.
Chinua Achebe was right when he wrote in his 1983 monograph, The Trouble with Nigeria, “Nigeria…is a country where it would be difficult to point to one important job held by the most competent person we have… We have displayed a consistent inclination since we assumed management of our own affairs to opt for mediocrity and compromise, to pick a third and fourth eleven to play for us. And the result: we have always failed and will always fail to make it to the world league. Until, that is, we put merit back on the national agenda.” After more than 30 years since Achebe published his monograph, we are still unable to put merit on the national agenda! For those who argue that the problem with Nigeria is with the political system and that unless we change the system even the best of leaders cannot function in Nigeria, I dare say that it is good people that build strong and durable institutions. Institutions and systems do not build themselves, much less change themselves; good people do. So we need good men and women to build strong institutions.
to be Continued Next Edition
Nigerian youth, education, and future of leadership
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By Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ojeifo