Strong Leaders And National Development

Strong Leaders And National Development

Tuesday, May 5, 2015 4:38 pm

By Ademola Adegbamigbe

It was at a campaign rally in Kano. That time, the battle had not been won and lost. General Muhammadu Buhari, now the President-elect, was still begging Nigerians for their votes. Sitting beside him was Professor Yemi Osinbajo, now the Vice President-elect. As the two men looked through the window of their automobile, they saw a sea of heads, stretching far into the horizon, under the scorching equatorial sunlight.

With sweat cascading down their cheeks, many among the throng surrounded Buhari’s vehicle, waving and grinning, mouths showing different shapes and colours of dentition. Then Buhari gave Osinbajo elbow jabs, asking: “Yemi, what do you see on the faces of these people?” With creases of puzzle on the face of Osinbajo, he made to answer the question. However, Buhari answered it himself. “On their faces, I see great expectations. In other words, they expect us to perform.”

That was among the hoi polloi, who wanted a government that would improve their standard of living and give hope for their children. To them, survival here is what matters most; they care less about xenophobia in South Africa, what is happening in New York or Kiev or Tripoli or Benghazi. On the other side of the spectrum are members of the elite class who entered year 2015 with great apprehension, believing that it would be when the much predicted Apocalypse would be let loose on Nigeria or when hordes of demons would be unleashed on our country from hell to tear us into shreds- a Yugoslavisation of Africa’s most populous country.

That fear has become history with the peaceful conduct of that presidential election, victory of Buhari and the acceptance of defeat by President Goodluck Jonathan. History will show later whether he did that out of piety, altruism or a kneel-jerk response to certain subterranean forces. While hope is still plastered on the faces of ordinary Nigerians who surrounded Buhari and Osinbajo in Kano and elsewhere, another lorry load of worries has rumbled into town, driven by the elite. This time, it is not Armageddon they are talking about but certain landmines strewn already on Buhari’s path. There is the fear that the economy is so bad that it will be difficult for Buhari to fulfil his electoral promises. What with the revenue earnings from crude oil plummeting dangerously.

Another matter, as critics put it, is that Buhari might be held hostage by his own kinsmen who, for many years, have not been in power at the apex. With that development, these critics believe that the Yoruba upon whose back Buhari rode into power would be elbowed aside in the scheme of things. What collaboration have the North had with the West since the days of Afonja, the Aare Ona Kakanfo of the Oyo Empire, that the Yoruba have not received the shorter end of the stick? These analysts asked, buttressing their points with what happened in the First, Second Republics and the June 12, 1993. One of the biggest of all the fears being expressed is how deeply corruption has eaten into every facet of our society. Thus, such commentators argued, it will be impossible for Buhari, a Spartan, incorruptible individual to breathe down the neck of the hordes of sleazy political office holders and the panjandrums that populate the civil service.

The problems are enormous, no doubt, and the cynics are legion. However, once the challenges have been itemised, they can be prioritised and it will take strong will power to proffer solutions to them. This brings me to the concept of strong leaders and development. These are, however, not dictators but people who have ability to hold firm to their vision, notwithstanding obstacles. Buhari will not be the first to inherit a country with challenges, history has many of them and a few will suffice here.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk inherited Turkey which, after World War 1, rose, like a phoenix, out of the ashes of the defeated Ottoman Empire. However, his attempt to turn the country into a secular state was heavily resisted. In fact, Sheikh Said, a rich Kurdish, led a rebellion against his government, especially in the areas of Ataturk’s abolition of the caliphate, adoption of Western civil laws, erosion of religious orders, abolition of polygamy and embracement of civil marriage. Apart from certain parliamentarians that were against him, a plot to assassinate Ataturk in the city of Izmir was unearthed in 1926. In spite of these, Ataturk successfully carried out political, economic and cultural reforms that made Turkey a modern state. No wonder, in 1934, the Parliament conferred on him the title Ataturk (father of the Turks and this was, as Wikipedia put it, “forbidden to any other person”

Another leader who strongly stood against the popular practice of his time was former US President, Abraham Lincoln. After he became president in 1860, his greatest headache was the Confederate States of America, the southern areas that still wanted to stick to slavery (which the northern states of America had abandoned, a vice which, even before he became leader, he trenchantly spoke against. This vision was realised in the Emancipation Proclamation, for which Lincoln waged a civil war, preserved the union and laid a foundation for a strong economy. These were against all odds.

In his book, From Third World to First, the Singapore Story, Lee Kuan Yew, its strong leader, narrates the challenges he inherited when, in 1965, he became the leader of an independent Singapore. That country was part of the Federation of Malaysia. All of a sudden, the marriage broke down and, as he puts it, “we had been asked to leave Malaysia and go our own way with no signpost to our next destination… We inherited the island without its hinterland, a heart without a body.” In fact, independence for that country meant that the British (which, as Yew explains, developed it to a nodal point in its worldwide maritime empire), would withdraw. Thus, foreign press predicted economic doom for Yew and his country: Sidney Morning Herald, Sunday Times of London and others. Notwithstanding the obstacles and jeers, Yew turned Singapore to an economically buoyant country. He was strong. In his words: “I shared these fears but did not express them. My duty was to give the people hope, not demoralise them.”

Just like Yew, Buhari’s duty is to give us hope, to fulfil the expectations he saw on the faces of the rabble in Kano. Against all odds, he must stick to his vision, his party’s vision. It may not be possible to, in the face of the economy that is on topspin, achieve all on his plate, taking the problems one after the other will help. And against all criticisms, cynicism and catcalls, he must stick to them. I submit that he must deal with power first. This is because it is fundamental to the real sector of the economy. Then the petroleum crisis should be another on his priority list.

A situation where a country produces crude oil, exports it and imports refined products is a cave dwellers economic policy. Then other sectors can follow. To achieve these, expertise (other than ethnic, religious, political and other namby-pamby considerations) must be the factors he must observe in selecting those who will help him execute his policies. Pressure will come, no doubt, but Buhari must be resolute. The Transmission Committee he set up last week should help in prioritising what he needs to do.

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