Posted December 22, 2006

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Making a Case for Buhari’s Leadership in Nigeria

By A. Austin Yekpabo

As a Nigerian on a sojourn in a foreign land, I was very thrilled to learn of the nomination of Muhammadu Buhari as the flag-bearer of All Nigeria People Party in the next presidential election.

Before commenting on Buhari’s leadership and why, I, like many Nigerians in the Diaspora are throwing our support for his candidacy, I will like to highlight some historical facts. Following the coup d’ etat that overthrew Shagari, Buhari was appointed the head of state of Nigeria in December 1983. This date is significant for me on many levels. Prior to the coup, I was scheduled to depart Nigeria for ‘my golden fleece’ in the land I have now made my residence for the past 22 years – a long time for anyone to be away from the land of their birth! But I had to delay my departure, due to no fault of mine for several months. I could have been bitter, but I saw it as the hand of God in my affairs, and as Shakespeare would say it, “there is a tide in the affairs of men.”

From 1984 through 1986 when I first returned home, there was a sense that things would finally be better in Nigeria; we had a purpose. I first noticed how much Nigeria had changed in only two years when my Nigeria Airways flight landed at the Murtala Mohammed airport in Ikeja, there was order and orderliness. There were queues, the normally arrogant immigration officers and custom agents were polite and I went through customs without anyone asking for a bribe to let me re-enter my country.

Much to my surprise, upon arriving in the heart of Lagos, the streets were relatively clean and once again, I saw people in queues in bus stops. Not too long after that, I witnessed what continues to amaze me to this day, an entire nation cleaning streets and their neighborhoods. For someone who had lived through the civil war and the corrupt and inept leadership of previous governments, I must say that I was, and continue to be amazed by how a leader could motivate a whole nation of people to embrace a simple act of queuing and cleaning as a prelude to making a nation shift its paradigm!

When I first discussed my amazement with my cousin who was then a university student, he could not understand the import of what the military government of Buhari and Idiagbon (who I cannot ignore in his contribution to the Buhari administration); I had just come home from a country where there was order, people waited their turn in post offices, one did not spend a lifetime in the bank to withdraw money, the list is endless.

On a personal note, my admiration for Buhari goes back many years to when I was employed as a technician at the oil refinery in Warri. When I met Buhari, he was not the usual military man in Nigeria who exuded arrogance. If anything, he was humble and unassuming. Quite frankly, he impressed me as an honest and a dedicated Nigerian, traits that I would say were ‘foreign’ in our culture. That was when I knew that he was destined for great things. It must be noted that I grew up in a generation when all we knew was nothing but greed and avarice, a generation that had been taught greed by our corrupt leaders. As a people, we became used to the incompetence of leaders like Gowon who I sincerely believe is the cause of all of our economic problems to this day. I cannot get over the fact that Gowon would authorize the Udoji Commission and the awards – the effects from which we are yet to recover, at least not until we elect the right leadership to steer the ship of our beloved country. How can one forget the congestion caused in our seaports and airports by excessive importation of foreign goods and how rice became food for the elite? Not to mention the advent of mobilization fees for government contracts, the unplanned urbanization of our cities, especially Lagos, how our farmers left the rural areas resulting in the decline of the agricultural sector, and so on. Even with all the corruption, the greed and the pervasive get-rich-quick attitude, there were and there still are, a handful of Nigerians that have not been tainted.

I am aware that everything I have enumerated above is not news to many Nigerians, especially most people above age forty. One might be tempted to ask why I think Buhari, with all his human failings, would lead us in the right direction? If he was such a respected leader as I have implied, why did the ‘sensible’ people of my beloved country not embrace him when he ran for the office of the president in 2003? These are all valid questions for which I do not have answers. What I do know is that a people will usually get the government that they deserve. Could it be that we forgot the much heralded War Against Indiscipline (WAI), the public campaign against indiscipline that his regime embarked on in 1984? From conversations I have had with some of my friends here in USA, most people still laud the WAI to this day as the one government initiative that instilled orderly conduct in both our public and private affairs since we became independent in 1960.

I want to make very clear that I am not singing the praise of Buhari. Like the rest of us, he has faults, I am sure. I cannot fail to mention where he failed during his brief regime. As head of state, while his WAI was very popular, support for his regime quickly ebbed as he resorted to severe tactics to stifle criticisms of his government, including the issuing of the State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No. 2, which gave the government the right to detain indefinitely without trial any persons it regarded as being a threat to the nation, and the Public Officers (Protection Against False Accusation) Decree No. 4, which essentially criminalized any criticism of government officials in the press.

Times, of course, have changed. And as a nation we have experienced a semblance of democracy and I doubt that the balance of power between the three bodies, the executive, legislative and judiciary will permit the kind of events that resulted in decrees 2 and 4.

What about this retired army general will make him a good leader of our once great nation in this 21st Century? What exactly is leadership and is it manifested? “Leadership”, as I understand it, is a normative concept to which “rulership” is not necessarily synonymous. While I do not intend to delve into leadership theories and philosophical epistemologies, I will like to question the prevalent beliefs and the disconnection whereby anyone who assumes power or attains prominence is described as a leader. In Nigeria, especially in the political arena, many of us have erroneously considered everyone that held a political position, whether elected or self-imposed, as a leader. Leadership as a concept has varied definitions as varied as the disciplines of sociology, psychology, social psychology, organizational behavior and political science. For the purpose of this article, and also because of my comfort level, I will use the definition that applies in the study of organizational behavior.

A leader is someone with a vision, someone who can build coalitions, and teams, someone with a sense of purpose, who knows how to direct people to achieve great things. Simplistic as this may sound, only a handful of people know how to articulate an ideology congruent with the values of his or her followers. Buhari, as head of state, in my personal view clearly demonstrated that he could inspire a nation of people to strive for a better future, a future to which we all had a moral right. Unfortunately, his regime was cut short.

In a nation that has been plagued by the discords of ethnicity, religious and tribal sentiments, there is no better time for the kind of leadership that I strongly believe that Buhari will provide with the passion, the zeal and the determination he has brought to all of the public offices he has held in the past. Past behavior and performance are usually predictors of future behavior. I cannot think of too many African leaders who would have accepted his last defeat at the polls with the equanimity with which he has. Is that not indicative of the strength of his character? He has not allowed his ego to get in the way of his quest for the ultimate prize of leading this nation destined for greatness. He has showed that he is not too self-centered, he has intestinal fortitude!

I am aware that the task of leading a complex and complicated nation like ours requires more than a one-person leadership. In fact, one-person leadership is a contradiction; leadership is collective, leaders and followers must be partners and they must coexist, acting in consort with one another. To this end, I am imploring this retired army general to tap into the vast human resources of our great nation to find capable, competent and honest Nigerians, wherever they are, whether in USA, the UK or Australia, to join him in this onerous task of transforming our country to a nation of which we can all be proud.

To make us a great nation, Buhari must encourage dissent. Leadership is dissension and the greatest nations in human civilization have been the ones that recognize that people have divergent views. Just as I, a Christian from Edo state can openly declare my support for a northern Muslim without fear, so do I expect other people to support whomever they so wish.

Leadership is causative. In this case, I am advocating the leadership that will affect the motives of every Nigerian and thus alter the course of our history for the better. We have lived below our potential for far too long. Many among us, especially those to whom we entrusted our destiny, have pilfered our resources for individual gains. What happened to the promise of our oil wealth? What happened to the groundnut pyramids of Kano and the cocoa farms in western Nigeria? Gone are the oil palm plantations of Sapele! The only news coming out my country in the world press is about corruption, international Internet scams and the numbers 419 have become synonymous with the country of my birth!

What we need in this 21st Century is leadership that is morally purposeful. Leadership that is goal-oriented, with our leaders and followers pointing the way to a brighter future for this nation blessed with human and natural resources - a future in a country that my four children will proudly call their home. Like me, there are millions of Nigerians living in foreign lands, Nigerians who have left the motherland because of what our leaders have done to our country. It is time for us to return and join in the rebuilding efforts.

The nomination of Buhari could not have come at a better time. I applaud the outgoing president, Olusegun Obasanjo for holding on to the great promise of democracy in spite of all the odds. It is this great promise that I truly hope a transformational leadership will maintain for us. A leadership that will elevate us and take place on a moral level, not a moralistic one, so that the ruler and the governed rise to live more principled lives.

I recognize that I may have provoked an unending debate by my position. But I am merely seizing the opportunity of the time of the year, the time of goodwill to al, the time to voice my opinion about someone I consider a true leader. Someone for whom I am willing to make the personal sacrifice to see them get elected to the highest office in my homeland. It is the time of the year for us to reflect on events that occurred during the previous twelve months, and we begin to formulate plans to accomplish our hopes for the coming year. We each have our own points of view about aspects of life---our careers, our families, our jobs, our politics, our religion, our country, our world---we are very fortunate to live in a culture that has grown from the days of political reprisals to where we are today. Not all people in the world enjoy such freedom. I am glad to be able to comment on the politics of my country and I look forward to 2007, the election and the opportunity to serve my country in any capacity, should I be called upon to do so. We have much in our lives for which to be thankful and I am thankful to be a Nigerian!

In 2007, I fully expect that a new government will be elected in Nigeria. While I sincerely hope that we elect Buhari, as I am convinced that he is the most qualified, I will personally throw my support for whoever emerges as the victor, as I anticipate that my country will grow and prosper to new heights. Such accomplishments--both historic and future--result from an unusually capable, dedicated,

A. Austin Yekpabo is a doctoral candidate of leadership at Delaware State University and an adjunct professor of management at Eastern University, both in USA.

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