Nigeria: An Appraisal of El-Rufai and his Epistles on Leadership
By Godwin Onyeacholem
The ongoing series in some publications titled “In Search Of Leadership” by the irrepressible Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai are, without doubt, an engaging read to which every conscious citizen ought to pay grave attention. Reason is that somehow the unnerving question of leadership in the open-ended debate – albeit unofficial – on how to salvage a country clearly perched on the edge of fragmentation, is steadily assuming a larger-than-life dimension.
At no time under this wangled democracy has the dialectics on leadership been more gripping, more encompassing, more tormenting and more insistent than this distressing moment. To that extent, El-Rufai is perfectly right to have weighed in with his perspectives on an issue that endlessly agitates the minds of genuine patriots who desire not just the survival of Nigeria, but also the deployment of her amazing potentials for progress in a more meaningful fashion.
Yet, there are some issues to confront in the submissions he has so far put in the public domain. They are randomly discussed in this piece both as a way of provoking further insights on leadership, and nudging memories towards appraising the role El-Rufai himself played as a leader in the civilian administration of the very recent past.
It is heart-warming that the former boss of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and later Minister of the Federal Capital Territory in the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, duly acknowledges the proverb that a “fish starts to get rotten from the head”. Meaning: Nigeria’s worsening multi-faceted problem is the work of post-colonial leaders who have had the opportunity to grab power and govern the country over the years.
It is difficult to accept his theory that had the wobbling and floundering First Republic not been aborted by a military coup in 1966, the country’s stability would have been assured and the democratic culture would have taken firm root. Lodged in the DNA of an average Nigerian leader, it seems, is the proclivity for unremitting greed.
Rather than see an enlarged picture of a socio-cultural environment of equal opportunities, Nigerian leaders naturally envision a twisted, prohibitive space of incorporated corruption, where only they and their friends and associates steal from the commonwealth to enrich just themselves and their families.
Such is the level of greed – so much so that since 1966 there had been several opportunities to construct positive national ethos and move in an alternate direction that would have transformed the country in the mould of its contemporaries like Malaysia and Singapore, but the leaders stuck to their old grooves and the result as everyone can see is that the country has been the worse for it. Over the years there has been intense motion in all spheres of governance, but none indicating movement. Maybe, except, the military regimes of Murtala/Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari.
Of course, in recruiting leaders for these times, education, experience and pedigree are important as El-Rufai pointed out. But there are assets much more important than these which he failed to mention: ethical and moral standing. For instance, leadership conscription must focus more on values instead of academic qualifications and other considerations. As he himself knows, virtually all those perpetrating today’s unconscionable fraud, cornering millions, billions and trillions of public funds that could have been used to improve the lives of the people boast superb pedigrees and impeccable academic credentials.
If El-Rufai would be honest, in very many ways, many of those highly pedigreed and qualitatively educated young men and women like him who found themselves in government at different times have disappointed beyond description. This time out, Nigerians must “shine their eyes”. They must now be guided more by the values their leaders embrace and promote, not whether he or she possesses a string of degrees. The absence in any society of leaders well-fortified by ethical and moral armour is bound to leave such a society in a state of anarchy, no matter how high the academic qualifications of the leaders.
That is exactly what is going on in Nigeria of today. The colossal ethical and moral deficit for which leaders of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have become notorious since 1999, has ensured that the country’s democracy remains nothing but a sham.
Unfortunately, El-Rufai and many others like him who are now moralising also exhibited a fair share of this deficit when they served in the administration of Obasanjo. Boldness and courage, two qualities he has enjoined Nigerians to look out for in selecting new leaders, failed him repeatedly when it most mattered.
Knowingly or unknowingly, together with equally articulate and well-informed men, like the former anti-graft czar, Nuhu Ribadu, and the combative, Femi Fani-Kayode, he rubbished and abandoned “transformational” leadership which with hindsight he now finds healthier, and championed and advanced the deleterious “transactional” leadership of Obasanjo, which unarguably laid the foundation for what the Yoruba would call Awada kerikeri (comic entertainment) that now passes for governance at every level.
He talks about public service skills at the federal level as an ingredient for good leadership. I disagree. The real leader can come from anywhere. He or she does not have to have public service experience. In any case, the kind of public service that exists in Nigeria now has completely lost it. Nothing like “service” is going on in any of the public institutions. What goes on now in the name of public service is unrestrained stealing from the public purse.
But one totally agrees with him that with regard to the situation the country finds itself. We should “stop passing the buck to God”. After all, nowhere is it stated in any modern literature that God helped certain countries to fix their crumbled roads, rebuilt their dilapidated schools, equipped their hospitals, provided employment for their teeming jobless, ensured adequate water supply, built refineries, guaranteed constant electricity and then finally dropped down from the skies to organise elections that would be described as free, fair and credible in the eyes of normal people.
As he says, and he is in order, the envisaged leader should ignore all requests for state creation and recognise that something needs to be done about the current federal structure to ensure federalism in its proper name. However, rather sadly, El-Rufai seems comfortable with the amendment of a constitution that is nothing other than a military decree when a majority clearly favours the writing of a brand new, people-driven constitution that will draw up fresh protocols for co-existence of the diverse peoples of a new Nigeria.
Also, one does not think it’s in any way about “strong, dedicated advisers and inner circle” as he advocates. Nigerians saw it in the past and El-Rufai was in the thick of this clique. For one, it’s about the leader – the man or woman who steers the ship of state. What values do they believe in and want the people to imbibe? That is the key to taking the country out of the woods.
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