Herbert Macaulay, a Nigerian and Mahatma Gandhi, an Indian, shared a couple of traits. Apart from fighting for the independence of their countries, both men groomed leaders who would carry on from where they stopped. The comparisons, however, end there.
If the two men were to peep from the clouds and view the territories they restlessly toiled for, while Gandhi would be smiling over India which is developing fast, Macaulay would be despondent over the rot taking over his beloved country.
He would no doubt be shocked by the present day Nigeria, a geographical mosaic, now ravaged by hunger, disease, wonky infrastructure, power failure, an economy that is on a tailspin and a terrible education sector. He would see militants who defy the jaws of crocodiles in the Niger Delta to wallow from creek to creek, looking for oil installations to bomb to press home their demand for resource control.
This nationalist would hold his breath as he sees gun-wielding robbers and other desperados pouncing on unsuspecting and hapless victims. Most disastrously, his heart would break because his country lacks charismatic, strong, pragmatic and honest leaders who prepared for office, have vision and can galvanize the country to a level of greatness that matches its endowments and potential.
Analysts say it is not that Nigeria does not have a leader. The problem, however, is that President Umar YaríAdua is simply not charismatic, and was not prepared for power when it was dropped on his laps; a situation that led to his lack of agenda for solving Nigeria's problems. Worse still, watchers of Nigerian politics argue that because Yar'Adua is weak, medically and in temperament, those around him are having a field day, selfishly creating power centres for themselves.
Max Weber, a German sociologist, way back in the 1920s defined charismatic leadership as one resting on "devotion to the exceptional sanctity or exemplary character of an individual and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him". He said charisma is a certain quality of an individual's personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated and endowed with supernatural, superhuman or at least specifically, exceptional powers or qualities. Weber added that charismatic people have a remarkable ability to distill complex ideas into simple messages, using symbols, analogies to "inspire organizational renewal and obtain extraordinary performance from organizational members".
At critical points in a nation's history, charismatic leaders rise to the challenge, driving the ship of their state to a safe harbour. But at a period when Nigeria is receding to the dark, stone age, this, according to concerned analysts, is lacking. The nature and conduct of Nigerian presidential aides, the President's wife, his ministers and the country's legislators at all levels, are not reassuring.
Chinua Achebe, the Nigerian celebrated novelist, writes in his booklet, The Trouble With Nigeria, that the problem of the country is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. He writes: ì"A leader's no-nonsense reputation might induce a favourable climate but in order to effect lasting change, it must be followed with a radical programme of social and economic re-organization or, at least, a well conceived and consistent agenda of reform which Nigeria stood, stands in dire need of".
During the period of depression in the United States, in the 1930s President Franklin D. Roosevelt came out with an agenda, entitled "The New Deal", which created crash employment that put money in people's pockets. Winston Churchill, through word power emboldened his people to face the menacing hordes of Adolf Hitler's army. Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, tilted his country towards secularism. Also, Gandhi was to India what David Ben Gurion was to Israel.
Nelson Mandela who weaned South Africa from apartheid, demonstrated a large heart when he negotiated with and accommodated his persecutors in a multi-racial government. In its 21 July 2008 edition, Time published an article written by its Managing Editor, Richard Stengel, drawing eight lessons of leadership from Mandela. Stengel who collaborated with the former South African leader on his autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom wanted other world leaders to emulate the former South African President whose conduct defined courage as beyond the absence of fear, but "inspiring others to move beyond it".
Another lesson is that leaders should lead from the front, without leaving their base behind. Also, one should lead from the back so that others will believe they are in front. Stengel wanted leaders to, like Mandela, know their enemies, keep their friends close and their rivals even closer. He admonished leaders to smile, because appearances matter. Stengel wanted leaders to be pragmatic, since nothing is black or white and that quitting is necessary when the ovation is loudest.
Can President Yar'adua do all these now that Nigeria is in dire straits? Can he, with well written and well delivered speeches inspire his people? What are those phrases he has given Nigerians that can be in the class of "I have a dream"; we will stay here and salvage it together; give me liberty or give me death"? Or is Mr President not at sea without a compass?, an Abuja-based contractor wondered recently.
However, those who belong to the President's camp argue that Yar'adua has a blueprint popularly called the seven-point agenda. These cover energy, agriculture, wealth creation, transportation, land reforms, security, and poverty eradication through education.
On power, the President promised to declare an energy emergency to move power production from its below 4,000 megawatts currently to 30,000 megawatts by 2011 and 50,000 by 2015.
He also vowed to ensure that Nigerians are able to feed themselves by achieving self sustainability in food production.
The President resolved to ensure good network of roads, rail lines and provide water transportation. On land ownership, Yar'Adua said he would champion the amendment of the current land laws which place it under government ownership.
All these notwithstanding, Nigerians are yet to witness any respite from the ravaging ailments, over one year into Yar'adua's government. Olakunle Abimbola, in his "Republican Ripples" column in The Nation in June 2008 explained: "President Yar'Adua's seven point agenda would appear, at best, the rich imagination of some hired consultants. The one who should breathe life into it, the President himself, appears patently unprepared, both for the rigorous thinking that went into its conception and grinding chore its implementation would need."
An illustration of dislocation between idea and implementation is in the power sector. After the President vowed to declare an emergency, he told the nation a year after that there was no law to back it up and that Nigeria had sold all its gas for export.
Achebe's argument that Nigerian leaders do not see what is happening outside is also applicable to Yar'adua. As Achebe puts it: "One of the penalties of exalted power is loneliness. Harnessed to the trappings of protocol and blockaded by a buffer of grinning courtiers and sycophants, even a good and intelligent leader will gradually begin to forget what the real world looks like.This is the exact opposite of Haroun al Rashid, an 8th century Caliph of Baghdad who, as Achebe narrates, went incognito into the streets to feel and see things for himself.
By nature, analysts wave off YaríAdua as a loner who has no friends across the zones. Worse still, he does not know what is happening outside his power base. Abimbola argued that Yar'Adua is cocooned in the rarefied luxury of Aso Rock, in the unhurried, golden city of Abuja. "That, it would appear, has had a telling effect on his scorecard after one year," Abimbola said.
Another problem with the Nigerian leader is, according to analysts, his weakness. "He is a figurehead President," an Aso Rock source told TheNEWS. This, as watchers of Abuja politics have posited, has propelled his wife, Turai, into a more visible and assertive role that overshadows her husband's. Founder of the Youth Empowerment Foundation, "Mama", as she is popularly called, recently organized a workshop for 36 state governors on what her supporters called "Towards a Common Nation Goal". And apart from holding meetings with former first ladies, she is reaching out to her counterparts in other African countries. Last week, she was in Owerri to launch the National Women Coalition on AIDS, NAWOCA, a pet project of Chioma, wife of Governor Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State. When her husband visited the United Kingdom recently, TheNEWS gathered, Turai organized a press conference, assisted by a female politician, Toyin Fagbayi.
For these and more, Emmanuel Onwubiko, a public issues analyst, wrote in ThisDay of 23 May 2008 that the Attorney-General of the Federation should sponsor a bill legitimizing her office and those of 36 state first ladies. That was a roundabout way of saying that however laudable her activities are, Turai is operating illegally, especially under a husband who sets great store by the rule of law.
Yar'adua's loneliness and weakness, as an Aso Rock source put it, has seen the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Babagana Kingibe; National Economic Adviser, Abubakar Tanimu and others scheming for power bases and pursuing their individual and disparate agenda. An extension of this is, the same source disclosed, the cold war between