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Leadership and Accountability in Period Of Moral Crisis By Major General Muhammadu Buhari

December 15, 2014

Introduction: 1. Let me begin by paying tribute to the subject of this lecture: 

Alhaji Ahmadu Bello by common consent the greatest Nigerian of his generation. Ills place in the Hall of Fame is sati for all time. May his soul rest in peace. This lecture is primarily a result of reflection rather than strenuous research. It is at once dedicated to the memory of the Sardauna and a modest contribution towards a solution to our problems of leadership. We are living in very trying times: dissatisfied with the present, and unsure of the future. As a result, we desperately look to the past for meaning and succour, in all of human history. The past has frequently been a point of reference and a source of nostalgia. To many writers and historians in all ages and civilizations the past seemed good, noble, and great — the very embodiment of all contemporary aspirations. The very substance of the past — its images, its institutions, its artifacts, its exploits and the individuals who lived in it were portrayed as larger than life. In other words, the stuff of legends.


2. Thus, for those who feel unequal to the stress of today the past is a refuge in which present hopes can he kindled and recreated. But why should the past hold so much allurement for us? In part, the answer may be because there is so much going wrong today — poverty, corruption, indiscipline greed mid a glaring lack of accountability that we recall and prefer the simplicity and sincerity of the past. In consequence we have, as a community, fallen short 01’ our purpose; perhaps because we have never consciously defined and agreed on what that purpose is.

3. Whether it is the efficiency and effectiveness of the Native Authority system as compared to the rampant purposelessness of the present local governments; whether it is the quality of our former educational system at the lower levels compared to its current deterioration at all levels or the competence and integrity of the public service of the past compared to what is perceived today, it is the past that is being remembered with nostalgia. Indeed so pervasive is the concern about the failures of the present and the possibilities of the future that when Nigerians meet and talk about their country it is this nostalgia, the preoccupation with the past. That frequently dominates their discussions. It has in fact become the subject matter of much public and private discourse across the country. But not much comes from mere talk. Much more is required. Nigerians must liberate themselves from inaction and pious hope for a better future. The past, even the recent past, was no doubt great. But what have they made of the present? That’s the real issue.

4.  Why is there so much greed, corruption and indiscipline in Nigeria today? Why are all the legacies of the past decaying and crumbling as a result of so much neglect and lack of care’? These questions need answers. But they also point to one direction: the quality of leadership.

5.  So serious is this inadequacy and so crucial has become the search for answers that if all the current pro-occupation is about nostalgia for the leadership of past years and what that entailed, and the right effect is being made to rectify the situation, it may have been entirely justified. It is manifestly clear that there is today a dearth of leadership everywhere. And it is not just political leadership: today’ the quality of every variety of leadership — spiritual, social, national and international has deteriorated to the extent that in many countries, in place of the giants of yester-years the world has to tolerate and accept poor substitutes, pontificating over the affairs of nations.

6. Indeed, the social economic and political crises experienced locally and globally derive from this same lack of capable and visionary leadership that leads by precepts and with commitment to sacrifice and self—denial.

7. But besides the wrong-doing that prevents the country from getting the best in any situation, good leadership eludes Nigeria for other reasons. Some of these may be the result of our differences or the peculiarities of our history. We are all children of history; and very often we are prisoners of it as well. Often, also, prisoners of history are imprisoned more by their fears than by reason. Yet, imaginary or real, a prison is a prison and its walls are tough to break out of. Nevertheless, the new Nigeria we wish to nurture must break out of this prison shell.

8. Aspects of our history that have imprisoned us have included the differences in the approach of our regions to independence; in which those who wanted a proper understanding and respect for our differences wanted caution while those who dreamt of uniformity advocated haste. Each had its own merit, but though we could live, as we have been able to do this far, with the aftermath of the former, it is debatable if we could have survived the after effects of the latter. Yet this incident has continued to colour the view of some of us to sec the advocates of delayed self-rule as reactionaries while in fact our very history has vindicated them as veritable visionaries. If we had gone the way of haste, we would have had early independence but whether our unity would have survived the numerous disintegrative forces that followed in its wake remains doubtful.

9.  In addition to this, there is also the prison of tribalism and sectionalism that becloud the view and stop people from recognizing excellence if it doesn’t occur within theirown area. It is the same mind set at work when a section or ethnic group is stigmatized using one pretext or the other.

10. Furthermore, Nigeria is full of paradoxes. While individual Nigerians may provide the best specimen of the most strongly-willed persons around, we nonetheless display unbelievable passiveness in the face of injustice. Society displays little opposition against wrong policies. Why is this? What is the reason for this apparent docility? What has happened to the social and political conscience of the people of this county? What has happened to our people’s sense of justice and desire for choice?

11. Part of the answer is the grinding poverty which occupies people’s attention and allows them little time for the luxury of concern in bringing about changes. Individuals are busy trying to engineer one square meal a day. But it must have been clear to all governments that ruled this country that no reasonable growth and development statistically will have any meaning f nothing is done about the level of poverty the majority of the people of this country find themselves in today.

12.  Nowadays, not only does the focus of economic development lie in the sense of growth indicating a higher standard of living; but the whole concept of the process of development today recognizes the primacy of human resource above every other factor. But, this human capital has to be planned for, nurtured, educated and trained for the role.

13. It is not mere large numbers of people, but a large number of highly skilled, motivated manpower which is the engine of progress. Without these attributes, a poverty-stricken populace, instead of helping push the engine of growth and development, constitutes a clog in the wheel. And in many ways, instead of helping growth the poor who consumes but is unable to contribute proportionately easily becomes the cause for dragging the whole society down.

14. Without access to basic needs — primary healthcare; clean water and food; education and without purchasing power the poor becomes easy prey to manipulation by the nation’s elite. Wrapped up in their exclusive isolation, the elite for example - technocratic, business, religious and traditional — give out divisive calls while the people suffer. This is not leadership. It is expected of leadership to help raise the living standard of the generality of the population for a more balanced and saner society. I would like now, to look a little more closely at aspects of our society under the following random headings. These are by no means exhaustive because our problems involve more than the points enumerated and these are by no means mutually exclusive. I would like to touch on the Military, Politics and Politicians, Public Accountability, the Economy, Public Moralityand Crisis Management Military


1. For much of the past three decades the military has been at the helm of affairs in this country. Since the first coup d’etat in January 1966, soldiers have taken over and, except for brief periods in late 79 and early ‘80s, they have been the leaders of the land. During this period, the military has rendered notable service to the country. This was possible because by its training and virtual seclusion from society, the military had been partly isolated from much of the divisive tendencies prevalent in the society. As a result, it possesses certain attributes which in the Nigerian context makes it best suited to preserve the unity of the country and to, as it were, impose unity upon a reluctant populace split by parochial elite interests. Even though today, with the benefit of hindsight, we realise that our experience of the military in government has been a mixed blessing, we must also acknowledge that the nature and importance of that service was such that it could only have been rendered by the military class.

2. The special attributes which the military possesses are: first, its special expertise, having received some of the best training available, and by virtue of which it controls the instruments of force — a fact that enables it to coerce society to obey its rulings. Second, its constitutional responsibility for the defence of the nation has inculcated in its members a measure of nationalist character and a national leadership not commonly seen in any professional group in the country. Third, its feeling of corporateness, its command structure and its espirit de corps have helped in gluing the cleavages created by crises and conflicts in the society and in charging it with a mission.

3. However, long after the job is done and finished with, the workman is still hanging out there in the fields. The military has accomplished a historic duty — the defence of the nation’s territorial integrity and ensuring the unity of peoples and sections of the country. The civilians are entitled to say:

“Well. Military, thank you. It is lime you left the stage for democratic, electoral politics”.

However, it must be stated that none of the military governments came of their own volition. They were pushed, cajoled, encouraged and welcomed by the civilians, both those in active politics mid out of it. Nonetheless, it is clear that a global consensus has emerged that democracy, however adapted, is the choice and any country or any institution within a country that rejects this does so at great risk of international isolation and abuse. Democracy does not take root easily, and is full of short-comings. But, it remains still the least evil of any form of government in our time.

Politics and Politicians

1. Still, even after recognizing and accepting this worldwide democratic consensus, we must be clear about what it is we want. Certainly what we want is democracy not as an end but as a means to the end, which, for us, is good governance, economic development and happiness for the greatest number of our people. Moreover, it must be democracy that lasts. There is need to have an attitude and a spirit inculcated in the people — leaders and followers alike. It means accepting and having in place the principle of one person. one vote; arid the principle of the rule of law, before which everybody is equal; instituting freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and several other attributes.

In addition, elections must be properly conducted and they must be demonstrably free and fair. In laying down the foundations of this type of democracy, there are clear steps that must be followed.

2.  First, people must be educated on the nature, demands and limits of democracy. Then, a credible electoral system must be put in place and allowed to work. What this boils down to is that people must be given the freedom to choose and change the leadership according to the rules.

3.  Unfortunately from our experience, many Nigerian politicians are not bothered about these fundamentals principally because they arc not true democrats; they arcdemocrats of convenience — extolling the virtues of democracy when they campaign, rigging the election when they vote, crushing the opposition when they win, and betraying public trusts when they rule. That is no democracy; that’s the rule of the jungle, with the added burden of having to vote for it. Conversely, when they lose, politicians refuse to accept the verdicts and invite the military to return!

4.  For our politicians and indeed for all of us there is an urgent need for a change of heart. If all professions, as the saying jocularly goes, are conspiracies against the laity, this is certainly more true of politics than other professions and more true with respect to Nigeria than other places. For, if the truth must be told, much of rulership in this country has been one long, shameful story of betrayal of trust.

5. If our politicians wish to be taken seriously then, they must follow laid down procedures, install and allow to operate a system of accountability and respect the checks and balances designed to reduce their own excesses. In addition, in order to contend properly for power and keep the military and attendant instability at bay, politicians must unite and end the sad Fragmentation that has rendered their class ineffectual and unable to avoid being tossed around by the very class they wish to replace.

6.  But it is not the politicians alone who should beware. The truth today is that Nigerians arc in danger of losing faith in both the military and the politicians. Salvation however clearly lies with democratic politics; but a drastic and total change of attitude and practice must be exhibited by politicians before people’s faith is restored in a democratic system.

7.  Nigeria’s First Republic lasted five years three months before it was overthrown by the armed forces. Instead of seeking to correct the lapses seen, the soldiers decided to rule. If they had only sacked the government, that, in any case was performing relatively well, the story of democratic politics will have been different in the country today. But the Second Republic was even shorter - it lasted four years two months. Though it operated a different system from the “Independence British” parliamentary model, the experience gained would have gone on to strengthen and improve the practice of partisan politics. Unfortunately, the American executive presidential system tried in the Second Republic didn’t prove better than the system jettisoned. The Second Republic was doomed from the start on account of incompetence, impatience with the new system which politicians were unwilling to nurture, failure to be fair, grossest corruption and near total indifference to the needs of the country.

8.   The Third Republic never took off despite the costly and elaborate transition programme put in place to midwife it. The political class lacked the astuteness to alter fait hut accompli put before them by the military. In 37 years of independence. Nigeria has had eight separate coups with ten different governments. On reflection, it is clear that we haven’t given our politicians enough time and chance to mature. And we unreasonably expected maturity from them while in fact they are political infants. One hopes that future leaders - military and civilian alike - will display a lot more maturity in handling the public trust given them.

Public Accountability

4. It is an understatement to say that there has been a clear lack of accountability in the conduct of public affairs in this country. The public service, as the executive agency of the government of the day at its various levels - at the federal, state and local levels - wields enormous powers, where the government of the day allows it to function within the normal guidelines and regulations laid, and the activities of public officers affect everyone, but the public has virtually no knowledge or control over what they do in a regimewhen the public have no representatives in a legislature because a legislative assembly does not exist. With such ignorance and in the absence of legislative monitoring, controlof public officers and ensuring accountability become impossible tasks for the public. Generally, however, it is well known that there is a lack of information about everything official. And availability of information for the asking is the first requirement in trying to establish a basis for accountability.

2. The public is entitled to know how choices were made on its behalf and be able to know what policies, activities and development projects are approved by the appropriate agency. In addition, they must have access to the estimates made for public expenditure and the actual incurred expenditure in order to ensure that public officers arc limited by approved estimates.

3. Even when all these transactions have been carried oil lawfully, the public is entitled to demand that they must be properly kept in the appropriate books of account and independently audited and accounted for. Unfortunately, this has not been done in the recent past.

4. The last time the annual financial account of the Federal Government were prepared and submitted for audit was, I understand, in 1980. And at the 1984 conference of Auditors- General of the Federation and States’ Directors of Audit, it was revealed to the astonishment of no one that eleven states last submitted their annual accounts for audit in l967!  During the tenure of our government in 1984-85 we instituted a programme to update audited accounts and publish them. But this was soon washed away.

5. What all this means is that there is an overriding need today to subject relevant public accounts to the scrutiny of auditors. Though there has not been much of auditing within the last decade or so, ostensibly because the accounts themselves are not being prepared, the lack of independence for the auditor severely limits what he can uncover or what query he can expect to have answered. And whether we like it or not if we really desire to see a positive change in public officers the audit department is one of the first places to put right. Let us do it before it is too late.

6. Over the years Nigeria has established the dubious reputation as a place where nothing ever gets done until money changes hands, as a result of which it has become the country with one of the highest cost of contracts in the world. Projects executed in the country have often been priced more than 300% above what obtains in other comparable developing countries. Within the country construction contracts are routinely inflated several fold while, for supply contracts, mere inflation is nowadays not sufficient. Corrupt Nigerian public officials and unscrupulous supply contractors have devised the so-called zero-supply system in which a contract for supply is awarded; but. at the end, while supply is zero, payment has been made in full. The accounts have been cooked beyond the historic-cost-verifying knife of the auditor. Thus, 100% of approved estimates have gone into unapproved pockets: and the records show that everything is correct and proper.

7. This state of affairs presents the accountancy profession in Nigeria with a grave challenge. Our accountants must rise to the challenge. Certainly the true and fair view of the state of affairs which the accounts are supposed to reflect is not fiction. It is supposed to be the truth as seen on the ground, and not as figures or signatures on payment vouchers or in ledger books. They must audit reality and insist on not being satisfied with perusing fictional figures, or they will end up being accomplices in the crime of official thievery that is being committed daily against the people of this country. If there is Truth Accounting, we should begin to practice it. Our auditors must stop crowning embezzlement with the toga of legality by saying these figures reflect truth and fairness when we know the money has been stolen.

8. With or without our accountants but better with their cooperation, we must insist on the concept of getting value for money. And whether new legislation will be required or a new accounting system has to evolve, the public has the right to demand to know the measure of the economy, the efficiency and the effectiveness with which publicinstitutions operate. Of course, there are requirements to satisfy before value is got for money.

9. First, there is need for consistency in policy planning and clarity in stating policy objectives so that we always know what we are doing and why. This can only he done it’we have a purposeful public service in place. No doubt recent events have badly dented the service, but these are not irreparable or irreversible.

10.  The public service must be guided to its apolitical efficiency of yester-years. Restoration of the title of Permanent Secretary is a small but important step in return to normalcy as far as the Civil Service is concerned.

11.Besides permanence, the question to ask is whether the service is being readied for the great task before it. After receiving so much battering and the loss of its efficiency and integrity, there is the feeling that a lot must be done to revive it and make it relevant for Nigeria’s needs of the 21st century. Second, there is need to keep adequate and timely records of all events and transactions and make these generally available to the public so that we can always review performance against objective. Third, there is need for a greater selective involvement and use of management consultants so that project formulation and execution become speedier and more cost-effective. Fourth, we must create a more open, sane and deregulated system so that we can achieve efficiency without sacrificing national interest. Fifth, everybody here knows that no one will part with his hard- earned money for mere figures on a piece of paper, so why should the government? Thus, unless public trust is held with the same care, concern and attention with which we hold our own property, getting public officers to be accountable will be an impossible task.

12.  But if, as we always say, virtue is its own reward, lack of virtue in public officers has today become for this nation more than a punishment. Besides depriving the public of its resources and the benefits accruable as a result of them, lack of accountability has unleashed a chain reaction of repercussions that have in turn created their own special problems.

13. Today this lack of accountability has for instance helped to create wide distortions in income- distribution throughout society. And because little is being done to the culprits, this has also fueled the scramble for appointments, especially to ‘executive positions which, because of the same lack of accountability, enable their occupants to do much as they please. The mad rush for the presidency and the unending clamour for its rotation derive directly from the rich pickings which lack of accountability confers on it. This is a very serious matter which ought to be remedied. But more serious are going to be some of the longer-term after-effects on the younger generation that did not know that at one time a system of accountability existed in this land.

14. It was lack of accountability that threatened to turn us into a nation of arsonists torching down many public buildings in order to cover up some fraud or shady business. In the mid 70s the Federal Ministry of Education went up in flames: in 1983 the Nigeria External Telecommunication tower was burnt. I believe Ministry of External Affairs was also torched around this time! The Federal Capital Development Authority finance department followed suit in 1985, while the Ministry of Defence was burnt down in 1991. In between, so many finance and audit departments have been burnt down, but because of the extent of collusion between those who will investigate and those who will order it and those who will approve the findings little ever gels done besides the thunderous rhetorics at the swearing-in of the investigation panels.

15. The prosperity which embezzlement and other fraudulent practices conferred, especially in the recent past, is a direct result of this failure to investigate and punish. In general, corruption and every aspect of the lack of accountability benefits from the fact that ours is a nation that doesn’t ask the right questions. But in some instances, there is no need to ask questions because the evidence talks louder than words.

16.  Public officers controlling votes, awarding contracts or belonging to task forces enforcing any kind of law are today lords unto themselves. They do as they please and generate revenues for themselves and their families, and they compete with each other in erecting mansions and indulging in conspicuous consumption - with money largely derived from public sources.

17.  Moral absolutes that used to be the pegs on which our society’s values, norms and mores were anchored had by design and default been abandoned so totally that one could, with justification, wonder whether it would ever prove possible to revive public morality. Neither the hold of religious precepts, nor the sanction of public shame, nor yet the eyes of society, the fear of the legal system’s many penalties nor even secular civic pride or the plain responsibility of being human would make people behave according to the rules and follow laid down procedure.

18. But when did the rot in our character actually start? At some point in time, certainly in the recent past, a materialist ethos seemed to have replaced all time-honoured values, it turned honest hardworking, homely folk into creatures worshipping money. Almost everyone is today lying prostrate in prayer before the Temple of Materialism. Officialdom isn’t saying the truth if it says the polity is secular. Why? Everyone practices the religion of money in or out of office! It is as if some divine curse had been invoked on the country as thieving tendencies take control of the conscience of public officers, and a get-rich-quick mania seizes the imagination of the rest of our people. The leadership that is supposed to be the refuge that would think out solutions introduced, perfected and christened the so-called Nigerian Factor, linking the name of the country for ever to corruption and instituting the culture of Settlement. It quickly became clear that almost everyone had a price and it was paid.

19.  Public officers behave as if both divine and secular laws were put in the statute books as mere sport. And with advertised impunity, those given trusts betrayed them, those given public offices abused them; and the majority of those given guardianship over any matter of significance compromised their positions. It has become so bad that it is looking as if there are hardly any honest people left.

20. At the same time, the culture of hypocrisy has also been perfected. Everybody, including those perpetrating fraud, complain, as if the fraudulent practices that exist are committed by extra-terrestrials from outer space.

21. Yet, this society that is complaining is the one that should be squarely blamed. No other society to my knowledge tolerates such outrage, while our own positively encourages it. Nowhere else in the world can one find a society tolerating the theft of its precious resources in broad daylight with nothing happening to the thieves. A day in the office, as far as the general public is concerned, often means eight hours of converting public resources to private purses. Few societies seem to reward embezzlement with“honours” as does our own.

22.   Instead of putting rascals on trial we put them in positions of leadership - in the community, in the cities, in the states and in the whole country. Is it therefore any wonder that we are at this impasse - perplexed, bewildered and at a loss?

A society that rewards criminal behaviour and applauds the display of a vicious mindset is yet to embark on the path of honour and reform of its affairs. Where we go from here depends entirely upon what we make of the current situation. Are we going to arrest it or are we going to let it consume us? And what we choose here will determine what fate the country has in store. But there is no doubt that we will not 

progress as a society, nor be able to build the kind of economy we desire without reforming our society. We must change immediately if the business of governance is to have any meaning and relevance to the long-suffering people of this country.


1. The story of the economy has been a very sad one. Its great potential has been shattered by an astonishing degree of embezzlement and a perennial failure by its managers to turn policies into projects or, on the rare occasion when they attempt, to do so cost-effectively. Arid it is a long story because since the passage of the first generation of leaders we have been bedeviled by this managerial incompetence. It has been a series of lost opportunities.

2. The best opportunity presented itself in 1970. The nation, under the military had just concluded the war to preserve the unity and territorial integrity of the country. The populace was supportive of government efforts; the international community was generally friendly, non-hostile or feeling ashamed depending on individual country’s attitude to the civil war; oil was on the verge of becoming crucial and Nigeria had plenty of it. Very soon, as one Permanent Secretary then said, money would no longer be Nigeria’s problem: the problem would be how to spend it.

3.   Since independence, the overall performance of the national economy, was one of non-sustainable unsteady expansion. The annual average growth rate during the first plan period, 1962-63 was 5.1%. It rose to 6.7% in 1963-64 but fell to 3.8% in 1964-65. It rose again to 5.7% in 1965-66 and fell again 4.2% in 1966-67. The performance of the economy was more buoyant during the Second National Development Plan (1970-74) period, indicating an average growth rate of about 8.2% per annum. This average, however, hides wild fluctuations from 18.4% in 1971-72, to 7.3% in 1972-73 to 9.5% in 1973-74 and 9.7% in 1974-75. During the Third National Development Plan the GD experienced its highest rate of growth, but it was to become growth without development. And the crisis began during the Fourth National Development Plan.

4. And from the period of the oil boom government had taken up position as guardian of the economy by taking control of it commanding heights. Without taking a proper comprehensive look, it embarked on and then abandoned several economic development strategies. The cash-crop export-led strategy of the colonial era gave way to a regime of import-substitution but this didn’t succeed as planned, nor did the process of indigenising the ownership of business enterprises lead to the development of adequate managerial skills.

5.  Due to collusion and other sharp practices and its inherent limitations the indigenisation strategy failed to attain its objectives, and, in the process, it only helped to reduce the quantum of foreign investment in the economy. Then came the introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) after the collapse of resistance to the dictates of the international Monetary Fund (IMF). And instead of a graduated 60% devaluation of the Naira, the national currency experienced its greatest humiliation. Henceforth, disaster descended on the Nigerian people.

6.  The new value of the Naira - unrealistic, indefensible and the result of utter lack of patriotism is perhaps the most painful and most enduring act of official recklessness and lack of regard for the economic well-being of Nigerians.

7.  With one announcement the government pauperized the majority of the people of this country. In a way the devaluation of the Naira occasioned by SAP has contributed more than any single measure in destroying the moral fibre of Nigerians. Beside its direct effect on people’s savings and purchasing power, the devaluation of the Naira has had other more far-reaching effects on the economy.

8. From 1986 to 1992 inflation grew nine-fold. Even though the GDP grew by 5.4% per annum during the same period, its rate of growth declined to just a little over pre-86 level of 2% per annum. But for the people there was deterioration in their standards of living as real wages continued to decline.

9.  For too long people have been short-changed by dishonest leadership and irresponsible elite. All too often this has been buried under a cover of ethnic, sectional and credal differences; and this has so far been quite convenient for the elite. Perhaps the failure of government and the injury to the people will become more glaring now that concern for the well-being of people has been moved to centre-stage. If our future leadership wishes to be and remain relevant, people must be the focus and beneficiaries of all government activities. Henceforth, therefore the question of growth and economic development must he linked to the changes in the objective conditions of the people of thecountry and not by an impressive array of mere figures or other economic indicators.

10. As one development economist said, the questions to ask about a country’s development are three: what has been happening to poverty? What has been happening to unemployment? What has been happening to inequality? If all these three have declined from higher levels, then beyond doubt this has been a period of development for the country concerned.

11.  But poverty in Nigeria has for the past decades been increasing and is now pervasive; unemployment has reached record levels as thousands of our university graduates roam the towns without work to do and inequality resulting from several distortions has been deepening. The middle classes have all but been wiped out.

12. However, for the first time in several years Nigeria’s economy has begun to show signs of recovery. But the journey has not been painless or without costs. Currently Nigeria’s economy is reeling under the crushing weight of an external debt of about $30 billion and a domestic debt of more than N100 billion; and in spite of the measure Central Bank financed budget deficits (more than N120 billion during the period of structural adjustment alone), there is little on the ground to show for it. This is a far cry from the real self-sufficiency of the early post-independence period, before the spoilt directionless affluence of the early to mid- 70’s. Nigeria’s first generation leadership had wisely made agriculture the focus of its industrial development policy. In 1966, for instance, agriculture accounted for 66% of GDP but this share has, in the face of the rise of oil, steadily decreased to about 40% today. From a country self-sufficient in food production, Nigeria became a net importer of food. We supplied palm seeds to Malaysia a little over 30 years ago. Today Malaysia is the world’s largest exporter while Nigeria can hardly satisfy its domestic demand. Thirty years ago Nigeria was the world’s leading exporter of groundnut and the third largest producer of cocoa. Today cocoa exports are negligible and the country doesn’t even satisfy its internal groundnut market.

13.  However, what the experience of countries like Malaysia teaches is that with a clear plan and efficient management of resources, which Nigeria has of recent lacked, they are able to soar so high. We have a lot to learn from them. However, in the era of international deregulation, competition and lessened government interference in the economy, Nigeria will do well to carefully study its options before embarking on ill-thought out policies that will become tomorrow’s disasters. I am not unaware of the problems these countries are currently facing. This is entirely another matter and does not in any way weaken the argument that their methods are worth emulating.

14. Accordingly, the best course for the Nigerian economy is to diversify and reduce its dependence on oil; and, at the same time drastically curtail the dominance of government even in some of the so-called commanding heights of the economy. This diversification will have several components. One, like the Nigerian economy of the immediate post-independence period, the new effort must be hinged on the development of agriculture as the centre of economic and industrial policy. In the 60s agriculture accounted for more than 60% of the GDP and it employed more than 70% of the nation’s workforce. Today, owing to oil-induced neglect, agriculture accounts for just 40% of the GDP and employs two-thirds of the working population. How will it be revived to its earlier levels?

15.  In this there are important issues to contend with. There is the question of funding and the backwardness of agricultural technology available to Nigerian farmers. This must be addressed urgently to raise productivity and ensure adequate rates of return. Two, a coordinated policy on rural development must be put in place in order to arrest the rural-urban drift so that enough manpower to till the land stays on the land. Effort must also be put by the government to complete the numerous irrigation projects lying across the country, and launch irrigation as an alternative or adjunct to rain-fed agriculture. A two pronged approach to agriculture is necessary. Large scale projects must conform to time honoured internationally accepted requirements of viability. Small farmers need timely inputs and access to small-scale credit.

16.  In addition, the Nigerian system must be in possession of a rehabilitated and carefully maintained socio-economic infrastructure. The economic system in particular must be modernized to the standards of the 21st century so that it can compete, attract foreign funding and expertise and he able to create a modem financial system. Such a financial system will be able to raise all the capital that will be needed for the massive investment that will become necessary. We can then move from an emerging to a significant market.

17.   Moreover, the Nigerian economy must accept that the commodity of the future is information. The sooner therefore it provides for the eventual adequate computerization and the installation of complete information systems the better. Any economy left behind by the information revolution will not be able to easily catch up. Furthermore, appropriate linkages must be put in place so that the increased agricultural productivity feeds agro-allied industries. In addition, the government will need to keep up its efforts in the exploitation of the country’s vast solid mineral resources, chiefly the metals and precious stones that abound across the country.

18.   Finally, there should be a plan for the development and extensive training of the nation’s human capital resource for two reasons. Primarily in order to develop the manpower necessary to run a modern economy; and then in order to break into the manpower export group. In this the ECO WAS sub-regional zone looks at captive export market for Nigeria. However, in order to achieve any appreciable success in this endeavour it is necessary to embark on a massive revival of education. If education was not the first casualty of Nigeria’s failure, it was the most dramatic. Standards had fallen so quickly and so completely that it began to look as if there never were any standards at all!

19.  Clearly the next dispensation must devote a large chunk of the national resources to this sector and seek to rehabilitate it at all levels. While the necessary details can be worked out later, there seems to be an urgent need to rationalize the number of universities and the type of number of courses each could offer. This should be done with expanded enrollment to cope with the great number of graduates the new economy will require.

20. While financial accountability is the one that has such a hold on popular imagination, other aspects of accountability are equally as important; and their breach may be devastating. For instance, there are the important areas of religion, law and order and the press.

21. Unless the press, for instance, is accountable, there is very little hope that other areas - especially of leadership - will behave if only out of idea of exposure. I have always been of the opinion that Nigeria’s press is among the freest in the world. This is no exaggeration. Around the world, this freedom is tempered with responsibility. Only in Nigeria is a journalist able to write what he wishes in spite of the facts and go scot-free. In other parts of the world, particularly in the United States and the UK, whose practices the Nigerian press wishes to copy, the journalist is generally a highly trained, conscientious, responsible professional who is guided by a Code of personal ethics and a professional code of conduct. In Nigeria neither of these appears to be demonstrably manifest.

22. The Nigerian journalist is also lucky and perhaps professionally the worse for it - that Nigerian newsmakers exhibit a noticeable loathing for litigation such that victims of libel and slander prefer to silently curse their slanderers rather than sue and prolong their own agony. And as professional associations or forum for media professionals - the Nigerian Union of Journalists, the Nigerian Guild of Editors and the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria have really taken their time as far as enforcing any measure of professional decorum on the practice of journalism is concerned. Under their very eyes characters have been slandered while countless innocent citizens have been libeled.

23. The practice of journalism in Nigeria - much like the general attitude of the average Nigerian to anything public and official - has been unable to shake off the adversary role that pioneer anti-colonial struggle gave it. To many a journalist, facts are not sacred because, to begin with, he doesn’t even know the facts. And even comments are not so free, because they are often paid for. It is clear that the press must do a lot more in order to redeem its image in the eyes of Nigerian public.

24.  Today, this nation must find a way of making journalists behave responsibly without restricting the people’s right to know, and indeed without trampling on the rights of the journalists themselves. Without being able to do this, there is no hope that transparency and accountability will ever have a permanent place in the governance of this nation.

Public Morality

1.   Religion is the anchor in the lives of the majority of our people. Besides giving meaning and direction to us, it serves as a means of succour and support against the turbulence and vicissitudes of life. It gives people a value system that inculcates a sense of right and wrong and which ultimately becomes a more effective anti-crime saviour ofsociety than any armed police force. Somehow, unfortunately, despite the attachment of our people to the letter of their faith and their readiness to defend it with all their strength. there is no corresponding concern with its spirit; and, consequently, this has not translated into Nigerians becoming their brothers’ keepers. And nowhere is this failure so glaring as in the way and manner officials treat matters entrusted to them by virtue of their public office. Yet they are not shunned by our religious leaders. Our Ulama and priests will pray for and bless every charlatan, bless every accursed occasion or deed so long as there is someone to foot their bill- Our society must reject this and quickly put these miscreants and pseudo- scholars out of business.

2.   More importantly, we must also forcefully resist those who wish to set out society on the path of religious conflict. The recent past was unfortunate, the present is Not Good Enough; and it is our duty to create a future that should become a model for all multi-religious societies. We must get together or we shall all get it together. Our two principal religions share a heritage that ought to be used to forge links between our Muslims and Christians. Both arc revealed, monotheistic faiths that teaches tolerance and peaceful co-existence. The recent visit of the Pope was a good sign of tolerance and mutual determination to put past mistrust aside.

3.  Christianity preaches love and is founded upon love and belief in the one true God as the life of Jesus Christ (AS) symbolizes. Islam means peace and submission to the will of the same one true God. The life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW). who, during his life time, interacted, received and discussed issues of theology with Christian priests right inside Masjid an-Nabawi, his mosque and the second holiest sanctuary in Islam, should be sufficient as an indication to the type of brotherhood and tolerance that Islam teaches, demands and practices. If nowadays this type of interaction doesn’t exist, Muslims must search their souls, and ask themselves if they indeed copy the example of the Holy Prophet in their dealings with the People of the Book, as Christians are called in Islam. In the same vein our priests must be able to know that Islam is very different from what missionary education teaches, and to distinguish between the agenda of Christianity and the agenda of western imperialism. The Qur’an teaches Muslims that among those closest to them are the Christians.

4. Perhaps it can with justice be said that the problem of leadership is most acute in the domain of religion; because, more than in other areas leadership in the religious sphere tends to lead from behind. Leaders seem to wait to determine what the Mob wishes to hear, and they tell exactly that. But the Mob is frequently a blood-thirsty creature which has no place in the scheme of any of our civilized monotheistic faiths.

5.  Whosoever therefore in the name of either religion preaches intolerance is clearly an adherent of neither, and our society must evolve a way of unmasking the hidden agenda at work. We must understand provocation while it is being planned and stop it before it happens. We must educate our zealot to learn that his rights end where those of his neighbour begin. Everyone must be made to accept that we are all one vast family under the lordship of God; and it is He alone who can pass judgment over His bondsmen.

6.    Knowing this, we should try to heal the wounds of past conflicts whether caused by provocation, sour memories of history, external instigations or plain accidents. For the future I wish to suggest that Christians and Muslims must break down the barrier of suspicion, hostility and misunderstanding; and the best way to do this is by directly talking to each other. It is certainly time to begin a dialogue between Christianity and Islam at all levels - individual, communal, national and even international - to reassure ourselves, save our present, preserve our future, and have a basis for hope here and in the hereafter.

7.  We must always remember whether we believe in destiny or not, we will all die. Whether we believe in the hereafter or not, we will all go there. And whether we call ourselves secular or whatever, the truth is that ours is a very religious society, however short on example and however long on precept. And we should be proud of the fact that we are religious. We are not one bit impressed by the evolving legacy of this modem permissive godlessness which wishes to reject all kinds of authority. Freedom must limit itself or be limited by force when anarchy threatens to result. In obedience to God we recognize and must always uphold the necessity of the existence of the family unit, of the indispensability of organized society and leadership; and we accept the authority of parents, elders and those in constituted authority who promote justice.

Crisis Management

1.   The feeling of alienation and dissatisfaction has not, and will not be solved by state creation. If anything, it would seem to expand with new creation. It is but one symptom of the failure of our common leadership for solutions to our current problems. A study of the First Republic will be a rewarding experience. I now wish to return in a little more detail to the subject of our lecture today: Ahmadu Bello, Sardaunan Sokoto.

2. We have a lot to learn about the art of managing differences, and forging lasting bonds of unity from the true master of the game, the late Premier of the Northern Region. Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, Sardaunan Sokoto. The life of the Sardauna epitomizes for us the best example of how to put to work the very attributes of leadership we desperately need today. Ahmadu Bello was a man of commanding presence, with a very serious sense of purpose. He was extremely hardworking and always demanding no less from all hissubordinates and other public officers. The accounts of those who worked directly with him was that he was competence and diligence personified.

3.  Today, with the benefit of hindsight, to say that the Sardauna had vision would be the understatement of the year. He and his group were men for whom planning for thefuture to outline a vision of what they waned their land to be was a moral imperative. And the ‘sent about it with religious devotion, because they sincerely believed in what they‘ere doing. For, the Sardauna, in fact saw the leadership role he was playing as a trust given to him by history and by his people. But more than anything else, the Sardauna led by example, because he believed he was playing out a role entrusted to him by destiny. For this, perhaps because of his background, he was ready to make any sacrifice. Of course in the end he paid the supreme sacrifice - he laid down his life for a cause he believed in and led, and, in many ways symbolized for his people. History is witness to the fact that he headed a government that was accountable to the last penny; and he carried out his duties with great dignity, grace and infectious humour. It is to the eternal credit of Ahmadu Belle and a testimony of his great skill as a leader that most of the crises that would bedevil the North and the country in general could only rear their heads after his death This was because in life he embraced all irrespective of tribe, religion or status - and he led by example. His legacy and the edifices he put up during his tenure today stand testimony to his great vision.

4.  We are unlikely to match his achievement But we can at least try. For the first time in the history of the country a comprehensive strategy has been developed for confronting the future. This followed the admission by government and everyone alike that the record of Nigeria after more than three and a halt’ decades of independence is unimpressive in relation to its potential. The strategy visualized the Nigeria we wish to create and set out a blue-print and an action-plan to realize that vision. The Vision 2010 Committee which drew up the strategy has since submitted us report. Its conclusion and goal is that by the year 2010. Nigeria will have transformed into a country which is “a united, industrious, caring and God-fearing democratic society, committed to making the basic needs of life affordable for everyone, and creating Africa’s leading economy.”

5.  Specific aspects of this vision definition include Nigeria attaining annual GDP growth rate of not less than 10% and an inflationary rate of less than 5%, while the agricultural sector should be able to guarantee food security and the manufacturing sector contributes at least 24% to GDP. Nigeria wishes to improve the external image by becoming a corruption-free society by 2010, and by improving its status in the international financial system where by then the Naira will have attained convertibility. No doubt these are very optimistic targets and though there is the potential to achieve all that and perhaps even much more, the one vital ingredient that will make or mar the whole arrangement is the leadership question.

6.  The aspiring leadership must be able to inspire loyalty in the followership and imbue it with the desire and willingness to follow and be law abiding. It must set the example for people to follow. And though it has often been said that people get the leadership they deserve, it is even more true today that leadership determines the I followership it gets, because only responsible leadership can beget a responsible disciplined community. The leader must be the embodiment of the people’s aspirations and hecompetent upright, of positive disposition, able and willing to take bold, painful, unpopular decisions and be able to meet unpleasant situations with tact and equanimity as and when required. The leadership must symbolize the qualities of sacrifice, integrity, patriotism, competence, vision and the acceptance of the spirit and burdens of democracy. The leader and his group need not only to be good leaders in die perusal political game or in ruling the country hut they must also be good losers who will respect the voice of the people when it speaks.

7.  The leadership must be able to guarantee peace for the land and prosperity for the individuals within it. It should be clear that at all times and in all places the issue that isabsolutely non-negotiable, is the question of law and order. To many, it has now become quite desperate as they live everyday in fear for their lives with armed robbers, secret cult gangs and assassins on the prowl. And whatever system of governance the country finally settles for - parliamentary or presidential - the bottom line is that the system must be allowed to work under the protection of the new leadership. And as it operates, it must be seen to do so with demonstrable freedom and exemplary fairness.


1.  As we have seen Nigeria has been blessed by God with the abundance of natural resources land area, mineral, animal, water and forest resources. By virtue of its population and size it has also been placed in a leadership position on the African continent. Of recent it has begun playing a positively activist role in the West African sub-region as is expected of it. However, because it has lacked capable and effective leadership over time, it has consistently tailed to realize its full potential. As a result its resources have continued to be flittered away even on good causes because of irregularities and indiscipline.

2. Corruption and indiscipline and a lack of accountability are the hallmarks of our society today with the result that the country’s achievements have received little recognition. This observation remains true whether governance is in the hands of the military or the political class.

3.  But much as we attempt to institute accountability and curtail corruption in the public sector, this attempt will almost certainly fail if something drastic is not done about the value of the Naira on the autonomous foreign exchange market Since the introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programme, the value attached to the national currency is so unrealistically low that people’s pay packages have lost their meaning. Today’s monthly salaries hardly last a week for much of the workforce. In addition, this greatly reduced real wage is to pay increased costs as inflation raises the prices of food, transportation, healthcare: ever-increasing school fees, rent and rates and other necessities. On the one hand, while the elite in society lead opulent lifestyles, thanks to corruption; the majority of the people on the other hand, have to survive on perpetual debt. If this goes on for much longer the Nigerian public will lose confidence In the future.

4. The leadership attributes required if we are to emerge from this crisis, must he such as will confer moral authority on the leaders so that it becomes clear that he embodies the esteemed values of integrity, honesty and a readiness to undergo hardship and suffer deprivation on behalf of the public or on behalf of what he believes in. The society has the duty to nurture these qualities in potential leaders. Improving the pay packets of public officers is one way of reducing temptation; but, in general, there is a need to create an environment that is generally accountability-friendly, so that it strengthens the positive characteristics required by people who will eventually lead it.

5.The leader must be competent and sound in the art of managing people and resources; and must properly understand his mandate and the nature of leadership in the context of highly pluralistic society like Nigeria. He ought to be capable of bringing out a vision of what he wishes to achieve and have the requisite knowledge to solve the problems he is likely to encounter; or he in a position to rely on experts for this.

6. Leadership attributes cannot be complete without a good sense of fairness and its ability to manage crises as and when they arise. But the most crucial attribute that the leader needs is that of personal example, and it is perhaps the most difficult quality of all. He should lead by example. In other words, the leader must have and at all times be able to  demonstrate personal integrity and wholesome character which can inspire respect and loyalty, lie must be honest and trustwoi1h that his followers will always be sure they can trust him and will never have anything to fear from him. The leader must have nothing to fear from accountability by conducting himself in all situations in a manner that he can always defend and won’t mind being investigated. In other words he can render back trusts in his charge without failure or embarrassment.

7.  With all these the leader is reads’ to lead, and he must do this with faith in God, courage and resolution. And may God, in I us His infinite mercy, help us.

8.   I thank you very much for your patience and attention.

The full text of General Muhammadu Buhari’s lecture Of 15th May, 1998 was researched and compiled by SAMUEL ARUWAN of Blueprint Newspapers Limited
[email protected]


Delivered under the auspices of AREWA HOUSE, Centre for

Historical Research and Documentation, Kaduna

May 15, 1998