Good leadership, effective economic management as elements of good governance

Benjamin Obiefuna Nwabueze

Good leadership
The qualities and credentials needed for good leadership can readily be identified. The primal credential is good education, such as would enable the leadership to combine “ideas and power, intellectualism and politics.” Leadership is a critical part of Nigeria’s problem of governance because the educational qualification prescribed for our political leaders by section 131(d), as amended by the National Assembly in 2010, and section 318(1) of the Constitution does not equip them to be able to combine “ideas and power, intellectualism and politics.”

In these days of widespread “expo”, certificate faking and general degeneration in the standards of education in our schools and colleges, primary six school leaving certificate prescribed by the Constitution for those seeking elective political office is really next door to illiteracy. A semi literate President or Governor is what the prescription tantamount to. What little literacy is acquired from the educational system at the primary school level is soon lost owing to the lack of a reading culture that pervades our society, caused to a considerable extent by the enthronement of wealth as the determinant of social standing and the consequent inordinate pursuit of it and of other mundane, non-intellectual pursuits. No one with this kind of thoroughly inadequate educational background can be expected to read, with understanding, the Constitution of Nigeria, laden, and it is, with difficult and perplexing concepts, or the books on constitutional law, political science and sociology where the knowledge of these concepts can be found. And knowing that he cannot understand them, he would have no inclination or disposition to buy the books or to read them.

The desire to accommodate educationally backward areas, which no doubt is the reason underlying the provisions, is no justification for prescribing such low level of educational qualification for election to the office of President, State Governor or member of the National Assembly. There is no State in the country today that does not have a fair number of university graduates.

The effect of these provisions is, lamentably, to entrench in the Constitution the intellectual poverty and educational inadequacy which has characterised leadership at the level of the presidency since independence in 1960 right up to the election of President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2007 (the first university graduate to hold the office of Executive President discounting the interim arrangement under which Chief Ernest Shonekan, a university graduate, ruled for four or so months) and the accession to the presidential office by Vice-President Dr Goodluck Jonathan on 5 May, 2010 after the death of Umaru Yar’Adua.

The low educational qualification prescribed for elective political leaders has resulted, sadly, in the relegation of intellectualism in government and politics in the country. Intellectualism is concerned essentially with the notion of “ideas”, i.e. the mental ability to comprehend ideas, and to reason or think them out. An intellectual is a person engaged in creative and rational thinking about the world, about humanity, about human relationships, and about the governance of human society; he is a person dedicated to the study and understanding of ideas that govern and shape our world, society, the organism known as the “state”, and generally to intellectual pursuits and interests. The power of ideas in shaping human life and in liberating liberalising and stimulating the mind is well highlighted in a book by Peter Watson titled Ideas: A History From Fire to Freud, first published in 2005, a tome of a book, 1117 pages, which everyone aspiring to govern and lead Nigeria should read.

Anyone aspiring to govern and lead Nigeria as President should also be a person with plenty of energy, a high amount of energy characteristic of the youth, the energy of youth, the kind of energy that will enable him or her to engage in the arduous task of mobilising the people for national transformation, mobilisation of the people for such a purpose being one of the most arduous tasks of political leadership. The wear and tear and stresses of life, coupled with health and other challenges, rob every one of us, after the age of 70 years, of the energy required for the job of governing Nigeria. Our Constitution should, therefore, prescribe an upper age limit for the presidency, say, 70 years or lower, as is the case in some countries of the world, and as is done for non-elective public officers in Nigeria.

In addition to the sort of education that would enable the leadership to combine “ideas and power, intellectualism and politics”, the type of leadership needed for our country has to be one, not only committed to democracy and constitutionalism, but also one at once dedicated, single-minded, selfless, disciplined, patriotic and highly motivated in the national interest with a deep concern for the public good/welfare, a leadership able to mobilise the various strata of society, and prepared to commit suicide by sacrificing its vested economic interest in the preservation of the status quo. It must be a leadership whose sincerity of purpose is so transparent as to induce people to adopt the desired new patterns of behaviour in place of the old ones and whose dedication to the cause is sufficiently total and selfless to inspire confidence, a leadership that is seen to be practising what it preaches. People cannot be persuaded by the leadership to be tolerant, honest, public-spirited, patriotic, fair-minded, law-abiding, devoted, disciplined, etc, if the leaders themselves do not practise those virtues. Far from inspiring popular change in the desired directions, a leadership that does not practise what is preaches, and is not seen to be doing so, creates disillusion and disenchantment among the people. It must also be a leadership that is able to impart to the society at large enlightened ethos and values and a national ethic of truth and morality, and has itself demonstrably internalised the ethic of humility and tolerance of differing opinions, an ethic that regards public office as a public trust and its holder as a servant of the people, not their master and oppressor, and bound to the people by the obligation of probity and accountability.

Effective management of the economy
It cannot be doubted that effective management of the economy is necessary to bring about economic growth, economic development and national transformation. No doubt too, Nigeria has, over the years since independence in 1960, achieved a good measure of economic development in terms of infrastructural development, etc, yet the development, such as it is, is not of a type and quality to transform the country into a developed state in the sense of the advanced countries of the world.

With a per capita income of $2,177, compared with $3,570 for Indonesia, $5,273 for South Africa, $8,649 for Brazil, and $9,502 for Malaysia; with electricity generation of 4,000 megawatts in a population of 180 million people compared with 40,000 megawatts in South Africa (population 50 million), 120,000 megawatts in Brazil (population 210 million); with 29 million Nigerians out of job as at 2016 (with unemployment rate of 14%); with the country’s national debt now at a point where more than 60% of government revenue is spent on debt servicing; and where our poverty rate now stands at 63%, Nigeria is not, in any meaningful sense, a developed, but rather an underdeveloped, state. Sani Abacha’s Development Vision 2010, President Yar’Adua’s Development Vision 2020 and President Goodluck Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda amount to not much than an unrealised dream. Any claim, based on such dream, that Nigeria is anything other than an underdeveloped country or that its economy has been, or is being effectively managed is fanciful, indeed a fallacy.

Professor Kingsley Moghalu, in his Goddy Jidenma Foundation Lecture 2017, titled The Challenge of Economic Growth in Nigeria, minces no words about our economic situation. After an insightful examination and review, he admonishes us to acknowledge “the reality that Nigeria will not achieve economic development and transformation on the current trajectory of its politics. The present political leadership class simply does not have the skills and the background that are fit for the purpose. Technocratically competent and visionary political leaders are what it will take to reposition the Nigerian economy for sustainable growth and transformation.”

Professor Moghalu spoke as an independent, informed expert analyst, and his views should not be lightly dismissed.

We may, for the moment, discountenance, as coloured by partisan political interests and motives, the verdict on President Buhari’s management of the economy by former President Obasanjo, who scored it low and below expectations, as well as the response by Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information, who gave it a good pass mark, but we cannot discountenance the verdict of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, an independent, non-partisan body. In the latter’s Address presented to the President on 8 February, 2018, as carried in the Vanguard of the following day, they said: “We…..come to you…..to share with you the feelings of the multitude of Nigerians at this moment. We work with the people at the grassroots and, therefore, have first hand information about what they are going through. There is no doubt that when you came into office, you had an enormous amount of the goodwill of Nigerians, since many saw you as a person of integrity who would be able to bring sanity into a system that was nearly crippled by endemic corruption.

“Nearly three years later, however, one has the feeling that this good will is being fast depleted by some glaring failures of government which we have the moral responsibility to bring to your notice, else we would be failing in our duty as spiritual fathers and leaders. Your Excellency, there is too much suffering in the country: Poverty, hunger, insecurity, violence, fear….the list is endless. Our beloved country appears to be under siege. Many negative forces seem to be keeping a stranglehold on the population, especially the weaker and defenceless ones.

“There is a feeling of hopelessness across the country. Our youths are restive and many of them have been driven by unemployment to hard drugs, cultism and other forms of violent crime, while many have become victims of human trafficking. The Nation is nervous.

Just as we seem to be gradually emerging from the dark tunnel of an economic recession that caused untold hardship to families and individuals, violent attacks by unscrupulous persons, among whom are terrorists masquerading as herdsmen, have led to a near civil war situation in many part of the country.”

Our dear country is bleeding to death. It needs a leader to save it.

•Professor Nwabueze, Constitutional lawyer and Chairman of The Patriots, sent this piece from Lagos

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