By Suyi Ayodele
At the funeral service for late Chief Adekunle Ajasin on Saturday, November 15, 1997, this is what the late Primate of the Anglican Communion, Abiodun Adetiloye, said about Nigeria and its leaders. The fiery Anglican priest told those who gathered to honour the former governor of old Ondo State, at Saint Andrew’s Cathedral Anglican Church, Owo, venue of the funeral rites, why, despite the natural resources God blessed Nigeria with, the people live in abject poverty. In the congregation on that fateful day was the equally now late General Oladipo Diya, who was then the Second-in-Command to the expired tyrant, General Sani Abacha. Adetiloye said while other nations with less mineral resources protested to God for being partial to Nigeria by depositing several natural resources in the country, God told the placard-carrying nations to calm down and wait to see the type of leaders He would appoint to Nigeria to manage all the resources deposited in the land. The Anglican Primate saw our present conditions years ago. He asked everyone to look around and do personal assessment of how well their leaders had managed those resources in view of the abject poverty traversing the country in a three-piece suit. That sermon was preached 26 years ago. Adetiloye told those who gathered to listen to him, that God gave Nigeria locusts as leaders to manage its resources. Locusts do no other business; they simply waste every vegetation they invade. So, it has been for Nigeria. If you are not too comfortable with this fact by the late Prelate, just take a look around your neighbourhood and tell your next-door neighbour what you see.
The Nigerian lethargic leadership has made the jobs of religious leaders simple. With the present conditions of the Nigerian masses, pastors and imams alike don’t have to stress themselves asking their congregants to live right to avoid what the Christians call Hell, and their Muslim counterparts refer to as Mashiu Nari (مأواه الجهنم او مثواه النار). I don’t think anyone who lives in present-day Nigeria, who goes through the pains that are visited on the people, will still desire to be somewhere else worse than this place. You may not like the sound of it: Hell, or Mashiu Nari is here with us!
Mr. Peter Gregory Obi, the Labour Party (LP) presidential candidate in the 2023 presidential election was in Benin last Thursday for a colloquium held in honour of the national chairman of LP, Mr. Julius Abure. In his goodwill message at the event, Obi reaffirmed what Primate Adetiloye said over two and half decades ago. The former governor of Anambra State noted that with the natural and human resources Nigeria is blessed with, the nation had no reason to be poor. He went ahead to say that while he never claimed to be a Saint himself, he boasted that he had not been found doing the wrong thing. Then he dropped the clincher. As much as God was generous to Nigeria in terms of human and natural resources, the Creator did not give the country good leaders, he quipped. Here is how he put it: “All resources,l anybody, there is nothing wrong with Nigeria; Nigeria has one of the best in terms of land, weather, God-given resources and the people. One thing God has not given Nigeria is good leaders; if we have good leaders, we would do better. A country like Nigeria has no reason to be poor if not because of leadership….” Obi appeared, at that event, to understand where our problem lies. He blamed the politicians for our woes. Hear him again: “The reason why the country is failing today is lack of plan; and when you talk about lack of planning, you are talking about lack of implementation because we politicians, when we are campaigning, everything is sweet and good. But once we have the opportunity, we would bring out our true side and start doing the opposite and reserve our pride for implementation.” Nothing could have been more truthful!
Sir Wilson Leonard Spencer Churchill was the United Kingdom (UK), Prime Minister twice from 1940 to 1945, and 1951 to 1955. His leadership qualities, especially how he managed the post-second world war UK, remain a reference point till date. His numerous speeches on quality leadership and good governance are seminar papers for students of social sciences. Speaking of the great leader, an American writer, speaker and businessman, James Strock, in a November 29, 2022, article titled: “10 Winston Churchill Leadership Lessons”, says: “There is an ultimate test of leadership: would events have turned out differently but for their service? Churchill is one of the rare leaders of history who undoubtedly passes this demanding test. The history of England, the history of Europe—indeed, the history of the world, would have turned out differently but for his individual contribution of service in 1940-41.” Not yet done, quoting Geoffrey Best, who Strock describes as “one of Churchill’s most effective recent biographers”, the American writer pens these words again of Churchill: “By the time Churchill died, Britain was fast turning into a land in which such a man as he was could never again find room to flourish, with a popular culture increasingly inimical to his values and likely therefore not to notice or properly appreciate his achievements….In the years 1940 and 1941 he was indeed the savior of the nation. His achievements, taken all in all, justify his title to be known as the greatest Englishman of his age…” He added a caveat thus: “That is not to say he was always right. He could be disastrously wrong and wrong-headed”, but everything put together, Churchill remains the best the UK ever had. This opinion is reinforced by the popular Cambridge scholar, Sir Geoffrey Elton, who says of Churchill thus: “There are times when I incline to judge all historians by their opinion of Winston Churchill—whether they can see that no matter how much better the details, often damaging, of man and career become known, he still remains, quite simply, a great man.” Adetiloye, titled his referenced sermon “Teach Us to Number Our Days”, taken from Psalm 90:12. On Pa Ajasin’s tomb at the Saint Matthew’s Cathedral Anglican Church, Owo, is written this epitaph: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them (Rev 14:13)”. Do our leaders really care about what people will say about them after they are long gone? Do they give a thought to what my people call Àtubòtán (Hereafter)?
There is no argument about the fact that acquiescence and docility on the part of the followers are parts of our problems as a nation. Obi also pointed this out in his Benin engagement when he intoned that while the locust leadership stole and wasted public funds, the masses “celebrate them”. But the greatest problem, in my opinion, is the insensitivity of our leaders. The type of people that we have had and still have in positions of authority in this nation, especially from 1999, when the present ‘democratic’ dispensation began, are too unfeeling; they are simply far removed from the pains of the people. The last two or three weeks have been very troubling for Nigeria that one begins to ask if we have effigies at the top of our affairs. While we are still debating the insensitivity of members of the National Assembly who are acquiring Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs), worth N168m each as their official cars, because, as they argued, “our roads are bad; and not motorable”, another one was dropped on us by the Executive arm, which submitted a supplementary budget of N2.176 trillion to the National Assembly for approval, without a single line item on the list having anything to do with how to ameliorate the harsh economic condition of the poor people, or to build any of our moribund or decaying public utilities. All the supplementary budget, presented less than 60 days to the end of the year, contains items that have to do with the personal comfort of the president, the vice president, and the wife of the president. How will any rational mind justify a budget of N4 billion apiece for the renovation of Dodan Barracks, Lagos official residences of the President and Vice President? How much will it cost to build new official residences for the duo, if indeed, that is our priority at this moment? What exactly will the president and the Vice President be doing in Lagos such that they must be quartered in buildings “renovated” at the cost of N8 billion naira? President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s residence in Ikoyi is less than 10 minutes’ drive to Dodan Barracks. Are we saying if he has any business to stay in Lagos for a day or two, his Bourdillon Street mansion is no longer befitting? Where, for instance, will he retire to after his tour of duty as president? Is it just the case of what my Ekiti people call “Àdá aládã poo lòra igi” (it is another man’s cutlass that is used anyhow to cut any tree).
The nation’s economy is gasping for breath with the oxygen running out, faster than we can imagine. The economists in and out of the government told us that only Direct Foreign Investment (DFI) could bail us out. We did not question their submissions. But tell me, which foreign investor would put his resources in an economy, where the first budget the DFI-infested government would present is one which allocated a whopping N1.5 billion to buy official cars for the president’s wife? Just last week, like common japeries, wives of former and current governors gathered in Ibadan, Oyo State, for what they termed: “First Ladies Against Cancer”. I asked, like the Cross River State correspondent of Daily Trust, Charles Eyo, once asked Chief Femi Fani-Kayode: who bankrolled the Ibadan junket? How much of Oyo State Government funds were expended on the hosting of the “First Ladies”? What about the other ‘First Ladies’ who attended the event with their aides, who paid for them? What is the relevance of governors, or president’s wives to the day-to-day running of the government? We had a national disaster on April 14, 2014, with the mass abduction of our daughters in their school in Chibok, Borno State, and what did we get as the immediate reaction of the leader we elected to protect us? Mrs. Patience Jonathan, the wife of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ), was the one who summoned the parents and teachers of the abducted girls to Aso Rock Villa, where she made her risible “Daris God ooo”, remarks! What is the use of N1.5 billion cars for the wife of the president, when Nigerians are stranded at bus stops waiting for non-existing public transport? Did Nigerians elect the president and their governors alongside their wives such that separate offices are created for them at the expense of our common patrimony? So, a sensible foreign investor reading all the charades would still bring his funds to be eaten up by locusts?
A friend sent to me some videos of a retired Naval officer, Commodore Kunle Olawunmi, who, while explaining the desirability of the N5 billion presidential Yacht included in the supplementary budget, said that the yacht was meant for the president to inspect the nation’s Navy’s war fleet known in military parlance as “Flag showing, or Fleet Review”, a ceremonial parade of the Navy’s war ships arsenal. Good enough, the retired military man, who is now into academics, expressed misgivings about the newness of the yacht, and its actual cost, which he said might be just a fifth of the budgeted cost. On a personal note, I don’t have any problem with the president having a presidential yacht as it is the practice in other countries. My issue with this one is the timing. Is this what we need now? What is the use of our president inspecting the warships on the fleet of our Navy from a N5 billion yacht, when the same Navy has not been able to halt the daily theft of our crude oil from the high sea? Were there no Navy and its fleet of warships when a vessel siphoned our crude, sailed off, undetected, only to be apprehended in faraway Equatorial Guinea, which does not boast of one tenth of the fleet of our Navy? How about the pirates who torment seafarers unchecked by the ‘war ship’ that the navy would want to showcase at a “Fleet Review”? At this period of our economic woes, which is more desirable between a ceremonial presidential yacht and naval equipment that would make the monitoring of our international waters seamless for our military? The one they labelled “clueless”, GEJ, as reported by Daily Trust newspapers in its June 30, 2010, edition, received a proposal for a N3.3 billion presidential yacht by the Navy, and he shot it down by the stroke of his pen! Who inserted that item into the supplementary budget? Who vetted the budget before it was sent to the National Assembly? Why has no head rolled for causing the president such an embarrassment such that his government had to explain? While those who should know have given us the definition of what a presidential yacht is and that is the practice all over the world, the Presidency came up with its usual slatternly explanation that calling the N5 billion yacht “Presidential Yacht” is a mischaracterisation. One wonders why it is difficult for the president’s aides to come to terms with the fact that the issue with the yacht is not about its desirability or ownership, but the wrong timing of either the Navy or the Presidency purchasing the yacht. To add to the insult, one of the key figures in the government, Senator Ali Ndume, the Senate Chief whip, announced on a live television programme that the yacht had been purchased, and delivered, but only to be paid for! Can anyone beat that! Pray, which company, and which country, released a N5 billion ship to an insolvent economy like Nigeria’s? When will those in power accept that the Nigerian people have some level of intelligence? When will our leaders at all levels of governance start to write their names in gold? When exactly will they begin to number their days to acknowledge the vanity of their whims and profligate desires?