Leadership and the Nigerian question, Yahaya Bello’s panacea

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Leadership and the Nigerian question, Yahaya Bello’s panacea

By Ayo Olesin

The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails -John Maxwell

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Much has been and is being said about the state of Nigeria as a nation today. How we ought not to be where we are; how our natural resources have remained underdeveloped; oil earnings squandered; youths roaming the streets despondent and frustrated; how poverty is ravaging the land; how no one can sleep with both eyes closed and how indeed our continued well being and existence as a nation now faces an existential threat.

Of course, the ready answer at almost every turn is leadership failure that has undoubtedly rolled back even some of the gains made in the early post-independence era. Some observers had predicted a strong bright future for Nigeria in 1960 when optimism about our vast potential for greatness was justifiably high. At that period Nigeria was ranked on the same scale with countries like South Korea, but when the basic developmental indices of both countries are compared to day it is clear who missed the train. Again, that underlines the massive leadership failings that have reduced Nigeria to the butt of jokes amongst the comity of nations even within Africa where it was once touted as a giant.

Yet, many will agree that the answer to reversing this concerning state of affairs lies within. It is about strong, visionary, committed and prudent leadership that has largely eluded Nigeria as a nation right from the outset but of which many in the older are quite familiar being direct beneficiaries of its impact and which legacies are still visible till this day. Clear vision, hard work, prudent resource management and commitment to work for the greater good, ordinarily the remit of a every responsible government, resulted in vast improvements in social and economic infrastructure at the level of the sub nationals, then known as regions and some still yearn for the good old days

However, something of such is happening today in Kogi State, a most unlikely part of Nigeria hitherto considered a backwater of sorts and not particularly relevant apart from the occasional furore thrown up by bitter politics and ethnic rivalries.

Indeed, a revolution of sorts had already taken place and continues to consolidate albeit quietly, precipitated by the dynamic, dedicated and courageous leadership being provided by Governor Yahaya Bello.

Rev Theodore M. Hesburgh, who served as president of the University of Notre Dame, for 35 years said famously that “the very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” This typifies the underlying Bello’s underlying philosophy broadly outlined at a recent seminar organized for journalists in Abuja, where he took the opportunity to clear any doubts about what can be achieved within a relatively short period by one man, driven by a singular purpose to leave an enduring legacy in political leadership while also lifting, encouraging and empowering others to join hands in that same direction. And by his own self admission, he seeks no laurels; rather he prefers that the results speak for themselves.

Having risen suddenly to political limelight as the youngest ever elected state governor at 39 in 2016 after a successful business career, Bello set about his task with a singular mindset to chart a new course for his constituents by bringing “proportional and accelerated development” to their doorsteps – being the overarching charge of his manifesto as condensed in the New Direction Blueprint.

One of the major tasks was to address the terrible security situation in that axis – a crucial link accounting for 80 per cent of road traffic between the southern and northern parts of the country that had been overrun by highway robbers and kidnappers. By simply supplying men of the police force with hundreds of vehicles and communication equipment and other tools of the trade as well as building an internal security intelligence mechanism, peace has since returned to that state and its communities allowing for increased economic activities and doused social tensions.

Another nut that was cracked wide open was the issue of an “obese and sickly civil service” as Bello aptly described it. As Harriet Harman, a British politician and former cabinet member noted, “not all civil servants admire strong political leadership. But if you want to change things for the better you need strong political leadership”. Bello followed that principle and swept that Augean stable clean of unsavoury characters that collected multiple salaries or were on the payroll despite living and working in other states; already pensioned apart from deceased persons. Corruption fought back with negative media campaigns suggesting that people were being thrown out of jobs the governor prevailed and the today the state ranked as one of the nine with positive employment numbers by the NBS and top three in transparency and accountability in public funds management by the World Bank and other agencies

Bello points out that infrastructure development has taken a new turn with roads, bridges, markets schools, a mega factory and other projects have been completed with many more still underway in earnest such as the Ganaja flyover in Lokoja and reference hospitals in Okene and district hospitals in Geju, Ajaokuta and Isanlu as well a teaching hospital in Idah. In addition is the Confluence University of Science and Technology Osara.

While Bello does have a demonstrable down to earth approach to matters, he is a man who stands his ground even if it goes against the grain. The governor came under a lot of heat for his stance on COVID-19 during the height of the pandemic, insisting that it was more like “malaria” and refused to set up testing and treatment facilities like other states. He was very much against the lockdown of the economy, which he blames partially for the gloomy economic indices that Nigeria is grappling with today. However, he appears to have been vindicated in a way as the state was the least impacted by infection (many argue that this was because testing was not done). For him, this stance only validates his position that “leadership needs an evolving synergy and lots of courage and commonsense to overcome any threat to the led.”

Perhaps most central to these wins is his peculiar leadership style, which has enabled him weld together the diverse political interests in the state, eliminating decades of entrenched ethnic rivalry and animosity and fostered a sort of cooperation never seen before in that part of the country. Tribe, religion and social strata are no longer criteria for valuing people or attaining positions. Indeed, it’s a matter of what you can do to build the state and this applies to non-indigenes, some of whom are playing strategic roles in government.

This flows from his belief that Nigeria itself can make much better progress if diversity is better managed to facilitate national healing and also give the nation a wider spectrum of choices, make it more competitive globally. For Bello, the bold steps taken to reconfigure the socio-political dynamics in Kogi state marked by deep divisions that existed for decades only demonstrates quite convincingly that it is by working together that Nigeria can leverage of her diversity and covert this to strength.

He was emphatic on the lost opportunities brought about by decades of mismanaged diversity, which has now made this attribute quite toxic and deployed as an “instrument of exclusion and coercive politics as well as marginalization and discrimination” resulting in a citizenry working at cross-purposes and “a nation that is practically as her wits end”.

This anomaly, according to Bello can be cured by the emergence of a new crop of leaders, who clearly understand the dynamics and are prepared to work towards national healing especially with the next general elections due in 2023.

Bello pointed out that five key considerations need to be taken into account in choosing the next occupant of Aso Rock Villa starting with a departure from a seemingly emerging gerontocracy at the apex of political leadership and looking out for youthful leaders, who possess that natural force and physical energy needed to elevate amongst national leaders.

Secondly, Bello believe leaders need to be courageous and have foresight in order to be able to able to take critical even if hard decisions required to serve the interests of citizens.

With insecurity pervasive nationwide and headlines dominated by news of kidnappings for ransom, killings by terrorists and other outlaws, robberies, politically motivated violence, with far reaching impact on the economy and social wellbeing, Bello pointed out rightly that any future leader must come to the table with proven ability to enforce security, unity and peace in all nooks and crannies of the country.

Perhaps, much more crucial is ability to manage diversity, an area Bello believes that Nigerian leaders in the post-independence era have failed. Pointing out that youths occupy a predominant position in distribution of public offices in Kogi State, with women also account for 35 per cent while people with special needs are adequately represented, Bello posited that the state of the nation today places a burden on leaders to “act intentionally towards national healing and cooperation.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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