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DESPITE the establishment of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) in 1979, Nigeria has not shown significant qualitative impact on policy formulation, national integration, leadership recruitment and overall social, economic and political development. In its more than 40-year presence, the policy institute produced some three secret service directors general, including the controversial and still influential Lawal Daura, one head of state, Ibrahim Babangida, whose ruinous and unending experimentation took the country on a roller coaster, at least one police IGP, one Army chief of staff, and a few unremarkable governors. This paltriness from Nigeria’s top policy institute reflects Nigeria’s unusual ethos, a general lack of rigour, discipline and sacrifice that should have promoted qualitative difference in Nigerian leadership. Even when Nuhu Ribadu was compelled to attend the institute, it was to ease him out of his post as chairman of the EFCC, a disciplinary move that reflected the total lack of seriousness and imagination in the Nigerian leadership cadre and body politic.
There is no other institution dedicated to producing Nigeria’s next generation of leaders, or the next generation of thinkers. Before 1979, the task was by default left in the hands of individual political leaders, to wit, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Nnamdi Azikwe, and a few others whose degree of success in building capable successors was neither systematic nor remarkable. Together they conceived the future, built the next generation of leaders whose worldviews were nevertheless compartmentalized, and imbued them with the capacity to think, reflect, govern, research and dream lofty dreams and ideals. Between them, they produced a constitution that was more realistic than any the country has cobbled since 1978, conceived development plans that stood shoulder-to-shoulder with those of the Asian Tigers in the 1950s and 1970s, and before their zeal petered out into fatuity in the 1980s in the hands of unfit successors, kept the Second Republic at least on an even keel. The country has since gone downhill, producing mediocrities, monstrous politicians without common sense or capacity or values, and presidents who have no pretext to be called leaders of wards or local governments, let alone a complex, heterogeneous country of more than 200m people.
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In 2023, the next transition will be upon the country, but the issues of competence, values and national development have remained unresolved. Worse, with each passing year, and as NIPSS becomes less faithful to its founding ideals, the country will persist in producing incompetent politicians, technocrats, and businessmen. The rot is most visible in politics. Political discourse here, unlike in most serious countries, has taken the character of ethnicity, religion, and private, nepotistic relationships. Colonial Britain of course left a skewed and shameful legacy, which unprincipled Nigerian leaders have built on and venerated. However, many other countries, including China, United States, and a few other Asian countries inherited the same putrid legacies. These latter countries have risen above their colonial legacies, while Nigeria has sunk under its legacy. It is now in danger of carrying over that horrible legacy into 2023. It is indeed puzzling that ex-head of state Olusegun Obasanjo who conceived NIPSS in 1979 betrayed the institute’s principles and objectives when he had the opportunity in 1999 to redress the conceited wrongs he perpetrated during the 1979 transition, and the horrifying abuses and destruction perpetuated by his successors.
Nigeria has less than two years to the next transition. Can it produce enough men of character to midwife that transition? As far as the public is concerned, given the nature and temper of public discourse, the situation is indeed dire. There is at the moment no indication, given its trajectory and legacy in the last six years, that the Muhammadu Buhari government appreciates the issues that should guide and influence the coming transition, nor does it seem to have the discipline. Unfortunately too, there are only a few political leaders across the parties who understand what should be done, or who have produced men and women capable of envisioning the future and creating and nurturing an ambitious country that is regionally, continentally and globally competitive. It is not clear whether this last group of few men leaders can swing the transition in such a manner as to redirect the country away from the bizarre trajectory the current and past presidents have taken it. Nigeria is a weak and fading voice in ECOWAS, an inexistent voice and poor example in the Africa Union, and almost wholly irrelevant globally. Its internal wars and elevation of ethnic and religious projects and agenda have conspired to sap it of all its vitality and render it barren. If the politics of 2023 cannot produce a change, disaster will overtake the country not too long from now.
Conceiving a great and ambitious nation is not a matter of chance as the Nigerian governments since the Second Republic have indicated. Cue China, Malaysia, Singapore, France, United States, Russia even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Rwanda, and a host of other serious nations which have settled their national questions and resolved their developmental logjams. Two examples should suffice to reveal that national greatness is not a product of ethnicity, nepotism, religion or chance. In 1945, after World War II, France under the visionary Charles de’Gaulle established the Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA), whose products are called Enarques. According to a French anthropologist, Irène Bellier, “The ideology was you’d raise a group of people capable of acting in the public interest… (people seized with the) spirit of reconstructing France and renovating the state.” It is not surprising that ENA produced four presidents, eight prime ministers, and a host of top business executives. Despite ENA’s influence, President Emmanuel Macron, himself an Enarque, announced last April his decision to scrap the elite training institution, promising to reform and replace it to meet the ideals of its founding fathers.
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To qualify for placement in ENA, a candidate had to be in his 20s, with a degree from one of France’s elite ‘grandes ecoles’, and must probably study for years in order to pass the written and oral entrance examinations in economy, law and international relations, particularly the so-called dreaded ‘grand oral’. Candidates must be deeply disquisitional and expansively knowledgeable. Hundreds applied every year, and only about 80 were taken. So, when Nigerians draw naïve equivalencies by pointing out the youthfulness of Mr Macron when he took office at 39, the youngest in French history, they forget or ignore his antecedents. Nigeria’s political crisis transcends age. It is a question of the aspirant’s capacity and character. World leaders who have made a difference, and have pushed their country to enviable heights, are not a product of chance and lazy ethnic and religious politics. If 2023 is not to chart the way to disaster, Nigerians must eschew the wrong values and principles in finding their leaders. Sometimes they seek pious men to lead them, forgetting the lesson of South Korea which traded off piety for leadership capacity, or Singapore and Malaysia which traded off some Western democratic principles for stability and development.
China has a different method of leadership recruitment. Right from Mao Zedong to the modernizing Deng Xiaoping, leaders had always paid special attention to producing and nurturing the next generation of leaders. Between Deng and current president Xi Jinping, the method became better streamlined, limiting the president to fixed terms. Unfortunately, President Xi has removed term limits, but has kept the rigour and standard of leadership recruitment sacrosanct. Recognising the power of Chinese exceptionalism, its presidents, operating under collegiate leadership, have had little choice but to produce the best and possibly the most competent leader who would satisfy nearly all the criteria they seek in the next generation of leaders. The emergence of President Xi himself illustrates this point. His predecessor, President Hu Jintao, had preferred Li Keqiang, who is now prime minister. But the collegiate felt that the then Mr Xi would be a better choice for his, in the words of former Singaporean leader, Lee Kuan Yew, “thoughtfulness and enormous emotional stability…a person who does not allow his personal misfortunes or sufferings affect his judgment”. Other world leaders were also quoted to have judged him as pragmatic, “the kind of guy who knows how to get things over the goal line” and a leader who “has sufficient reformist, party and military background to be very much his own man”.
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His emergence was not accidental, despite his chequered background as a son of a top Chinese politician purged during the Cultural Revolution. Tried and tested in Fujian Province, and then the neighbouring Zhejiang Province, Mr Xi was found to be both exceptional as a party and economic manager. By 2008, he was designated as successor to President Hu. Contrast this with Chief Obasanjo who nurtured no successor but brusquely designated former Katsina State governor Umaru Yar’Adua, as the next president. He then proceeded to rig the election in his favour. Goodluck Jonathan also did little to nurture new leadership elite, considering that he became president unprepared. Then consider President Buhari whose only qualification before 2015 was his rigidity, and to some extent piety. But no one asked to what purposes both the rigidity and piety had been applied. Worse, in six years, other than the brief and numbing attempt to raise new political elite to supplant the dominant elite in the Southwest, no conscious effort has been made to raise next generation leaders unencumbered by religion, ethnicity and other base, nepotistic considerations.
The failure of the state to entrench sound leadership recruitment ethic has led to sterility in Nigerian politics, where all manner of adventurers, perhaps with some money, have hijacked leadership and offered superfluities. State governments are not spared the same barrenness. With the exception of ex-Lagos State governor Bola Tinubu, no governor has avidly and copiously mentored a new generation of leaders, and none even now is mentoring a sizable number. Yet they all have the advantage of the history of the First Republic leaders to copy from. Chief Awolowo raised scores of next generation leaders before his passing in 1987, and they shone both at the state and national levels for decades. Sir Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, also raised scores of northern leaders who proved their mettle at the regional and national levels for decades. Why is there no longer deliberateness in nurturing the next generation of leaders? The consequence of this failure is felt more acutely in the Southeast, which has produced many fraudsters and empty politicians as governors and lawmakers, leading sadly to the almost total collapse of authority and role models. It was, therefore, a question of time before men like Nnamdi Kanu made a bid for power.
If the Southeast has become a wasteland, the North is even worse. Decades of atrocious leadership provided by undisciplined and untutored politicians disconnected from the principles and philosophy of Gamji have led to shocking inequality, religious excesses, and social oppression in the region. The crises simply and naturally transformed into insurgency and banditry, further exacerbating want and hunger in a region already suffering from acute deprivation and poor leadership. Any positive and beneficial carryover from the Gamji era has virtually been wiped out. The obsessive quest for national political power, which underscored the politics of Sir Ahmadu Bello, has led not to the wellbeing of northerners as the First Republic leader designed, but to irresponsible private aggrandisement and conspicuous consumption. The core North is now perched on the horns of dilemma, unsure just how to calibrate their Middle East-type caliphal interest in religion and the mordernising, if not secularising, demands of the moment.
The Southwest has been fairly fortunate but not totally immune from the depredations overwhelming the country. Asiwaju Tinubu has had mixed success finding and nurturing the next generation of leaders, but he comes closest than any living politician to the First Republic standard of mentoring future leaders. Some of his protégés and associates, particularly those of them from Lagos, demonstrate skills above the national average, and have therefore received national recognition. But they have not necessarily reflected in their actions and statements the loyalty that enables them display the character needed for next generation leadership. The protégés and mentees may have functioned above the national average, but they appear more competent than they seem because of the zone’s enlightened and activist public who has helped to forestall the predatory and feudal inclination that hobble politics and governance in the Southeast and core North respectively. On the whole, however, even the Southwest governors and lawmakers have found it hard to shake off the contaminating and decaying influence of national politics. However, the Southwest has also managed to sustain the structural integrity of its politics, away from the crass mercantilism and republicanism of the Southeast and the unresponsive theocracy and arch conservatism of the core North. This silver lining has ensured some measurable economic progress in the region, and helped to stall the chaos and restiveness pulverizing the rest of the country. Under Chief Obasanjo, the Southwest was headed in an abominable direction. Asiwaju Tinubu nurtured young technocrats and supported those he could not directly mentor in order to reclaim the region from conservatism and make it resistant to the anarchy overtaking Nigeria.
Since it is impossible to develop the leadership base needed to sustain and advance the next crop of leaders for 2023 and beyond, and since most parts of Nigeria are bedeviled by poor leadership, and will continue to be afflicted in the foreseeable future, both the electorate and the presidency must join hands to salvage the situation. They cannot afford to approach 2023 cavalierly. If disaster is to be avoided, they should disavow the ethnic and religious calculations that have diminished the Buhari presidency and portrayed the Nigerian elite as irresponsible and criminally negligent. The presidency will intensify counterinsurgency operations in the Northeast, and fight banditry in the Northwest as desultorily as it has managed to do so far, but unrest will not be completely stamped out before the general election. The presidency will also be interested in who becomes the next president, but it is not clear-cut what peripheral and extraneous criteria will influence the weighty direction in which they will go – whether they will succumb to religious machinations, given their natural inclinations, or collapse under the primordial obsessions of ethnic exceptionalism. Serious countries pay attention to the next generation of leaders; Nigeria has paid attention to criminally foolish and unimportant private interests. Here, the prejudiced presidency is as guilty as the ignorant and emotional public.
There is a tendency to look towards technocrats to get the job done. This is unavoidable. But it is also indispensable to focus on the character, temperament, open-mindedness and secularism of the next leader. He does not have to be a saint, and he does not have to prove religiosity. But he must love people, be empathetic, accommodating, and visionary, and of a tested past. A few aspirants may be banking on their party hauling them into office through party network and structures, a mistake the presidency must dissociate from. It proved counterproductive in the past. The aspirant himself must have his network of friends and associates all over the country, and he must have the innate quality of consensus builder and compromiser.
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