Contrary to what some people want us to believe, the greatest challenge facing the Nigerian state since its independence in 1960 is the dearth of competent, selfless and visionary leadership.
The country has suffered from the leaderships’ inability to turn its vast potentials into real wealth for the people. The problems the country is facing are the effects of poor quality of leadership that has failed over the years to transform the national wealth to commonwealth.
Bad leadership has plagued Nigeria with each cycle of change of government, particularly at the centre, raising peoples’ hopes and dashing their expectations. This unfortunate development had always got translated into bad governance at all levels, particularly at the centre, which is the most powerful because of the enormous resources it controls.
From 1960 when Tafawa Balewa ruled until recently, the story has been the same except for the six months that the country was headed by the vibrant, fearless, and dynamic late Murtala Muhammed.
Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Tafawa Balewa, Sardauna Ahmadu Bellow, and Chief Obafemi could aptly be described as Nigeria’s first and best leaders but, in retrospect, they seemed not to be ready for the challenge of foundational nation-building, after ‘flag’ independence was negotiated with the British colonialists 1960. Consequently, these glorified leaders who are remembered today by Nigerians with great nostalgia allowed petty rivalry and inter regional conflicts to truncate Nigeria’s march to unity and greatness. It is undebatable today that had those independence leaders laid the proper foundation for the country’s unity by eschewing the differences that existed among them, Nigeria would by now be regarded as one of the most developed countries.
Unfortunately, they did not and what followed, including the military coups and counter coups of 1966 and the ensuing civil war of 1967 to 1970 decimated Nigeria’s human capital and material resources and stagnated its economic development.
That sad development also sowed seeds of ethnic distrusts that is still germinating in spite of the ‘No Victor, No Vanquished’ end of war proclamation of the then government headed by General Yabuku Gowon (rtd).
The Gowon-led administration administration of 1967 to 1975 was economically blessed. But the limited vision of the administration hindered it from maximising the booming oil resources for Nigeria’s national development.
The administration of Gowon witnessed oil boom and, with that, came so much money for Nigeria which the administration failed to invest in the development of critical infrastructure that could have propelled the industrial and other sectors’ development in the country.
Rather, the Gowon-led administration, remembered today for having so much money it did not know what to do with it, kept reneging on its promise to hand over to civilians and, eventually, got sacked by the military in 1975.Gowon was replaced by the patriotic, progressive, visionary and energetic General Murtala Muhammed, now late, regrettably, ruled for only six months.
Spectacularly, though Muhammed ruled for only six months, because of his progressive ideas and pragmatism, Nigerians, today, remember him as the best leader the country ever had, not as a Muslim or northerner from Kano state. Rightly too, today, Murtala Muhammed is remembered by the fresh breath he injected into the national life and his dogged stance against corruption.
No doubt, the respects accorded Murtala and the esteem with which Nigerians hold him with, demonstrates the fact that the problem with Nigeria does not lie in the zone where the leader comes from or his religion. The problem has to do with whether the leader knows the country’s problems and if he does have the courage to take needed decisions to solve the problems.
General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd) who succeeded Murtala Muhammed is, perhaps, the luckiest living Nigerian alive, yet, arguably, he is a man who has refused to etch his name on stone. National leadership was thrown on him twice in 1976 and 1999, without any overt or convert political manoeuvring from him.
Probably, the only time he struggled to lead Nigeria was in 2003 when he contested for a second term of office on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Had Obasanjo used the eleven years specially given to him by God to rule this country, properly harnessed and channelled the country’s resources for its development and worked to unite and develop the country and its people, he would have become not a kingmaker, but a political god.
But he wasted his God-given chances in power, achieved very little both in terms of nation-building and material development.
In fact, had Obasanjo properly utilised his time and chances in power, his condemnations of the administrations that succeeded him, his cries and lamentations over the nation’s inability to achieve socio-political and economic development would not have been necessary because he would have set the country on a solid and sustainable path of progress.
After Obasanjo, came in the late Alhaji Shehu Shagari, a democratically elected president, who lasted between 1979 and 1983. Though Shagari did surround himself with several colourful politicians such as Paul Unongo, K.O. Mbadiwe, Umaru Dikko, Olusola Saraki, his administration’s achievements were uninspiring and colourless.
Debatably, the discernible features of that administration were the colours of corruption, electoral violence, cronyism, and austerity measures introduced by the then National Party of Nigeria-led government.
Again, another attempt to achieve greatness by Nigeria disappeared. The country became almost lawless, institutions became heavily corrupt and embezzlement by politicians was the order of the time.
Consequently, the objective conditions needed for change of government became manifest and the military struck, citing corruption and maladministration by the civilians as reasons for the coup.
The military government that overthrew Shagari was headed by General Muhammadu Buhari, who came in with some encouraging leadership attributes. He had the charisma, boldness, energy, zeal and dynamism needed by a leader in Nigeria to make the needed changes felt.
Though he was accused of trampling on human rights and lack of respect for the rule of law, Buhari’s military tenure was characterised by a relentless fight against indiscipline, corruption, and internal and international economic sabotage.
Probably, the Buhari-led administration’s lack of respect for human rights and other stern but necessary and patriotic programmes and policies incurred the wrath of the people and set the ground for its overthrow.Then, came General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd), the military president who ruled from 1985 to 1993. To many people, the infamous Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) introduced by his government laid the foundation for Nigeria’s present economic hardships.
Characteristically, Babangida, otherwise known as Maradona, dribbled everyone through an endless political transition programme and, eventually, dribbled himself out of power in 1993.
In between 1993 and 1999 when power finally was returned to civilians, Chief Ernest Shonekan, undemocratically appointed by Babangida on the eve of his stepping aside in 1993, Generals Sani Abacha and Abubakar Abdulsalami ruled as military leaders.
While Abacha’s government was particularly vilified for its human rights abuses and corruption, Abdulsalami, whose administration was hailed for keeping its promise of handing over power to the civilians in 1999, was no less corrupt.
Abdulsalami was succeeded by Obasanjo, whose cumulative years of eleven years both as military and democratically elected Nigeria’s leader have done little to develop the country.
He was succeeded by the late Umaru Musa Yar’adua. Yar’adua did not last long and some of his achievements include the reversing of the fraudulent sale of Nigeria’s assets by the Obasanjo government to cronies at give-away prices.
The late Yar’adua discarded political loyalty for the sake of the nation and reversed the sales which could have mortgaged the country’s future into the hands of a few.
Yar’adua pioneered the policy of returning unspent funds to the national treasury at the end of fiscal year. He is also the first president in the history of Nigeria to declare his assets before assuming office. These policies and actions endeared him to majority of Nigerians.
Though good luck catapulted Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to power in 2010 and left in 20115, five years after, Nigerians are still counting the misfortunes suffered during his administration.
Rightly or wrongly, Jonathan was often described as a clueless leader under whose watch the level of corruption was risen to the sky. Insecurity, insurgency and other forms of criminal activities somewhat became features of the administration and Nigeria became one of the most corrupt countries on earth.
Nigerians, who wanted no more, voted in Muhammadu Buhari during the 2015 presidential elections. As president, Buhari is still working to reverse the misfortunes visited on the country by not only the administration of Jonathan but also other governments that did little or nothing to help the country and its army of masses.
However, some argue that among the shortcomings of the Buhari-led administration is its neglect of meritocracy and competence in appointment into public offices as well as unfair resource allocation among the zones.
There is also the feeling among some Nigerians that, under Buhari, Nigeria is still one of the most corrupt countries in the world while others are unhappy with the presence of dishonest and corrupt politicians around the honest and respectable Buhari.
Commendation, however, goes to the president for his recent granting of financial autonomy to the states’ House of Assembly and the judiciary. This measure taken by the president would go a long way in charting a completely different path for democracy to thrive better in Nigeria.