He speaks with alarming frankness, a key feature that has become his defining hallmark in the often tense national conversation seeking to change the hazy direction of the Nigerian state. This is former governor of Anambra State Peter Obi. He believes with good reason that Nigeria is presently in recession because of cumulative leadership failure but holds that a more dangerous dimension to the nation’s quandary is the apparent, tame acceptance by the youths that this is normal. His words: “Our worst problem is the acceptance by the youths of this generation that this failed system of leadership is the norm.”
Unassuming Obi, who introduces himself wittily as a trader, spoke recently in Calabar, at the 7th edition of The Bridge Leadership Foundation conferences held on Saturday, July 15, 2017 with the theme, Made In Nigeria: Local Production, Global Market. While the capacity-filled magnificent Conference Centre waited in anticipation, the politician and business mogul compellingly laid out the basis of his positions.
According to Obi, “This is the only country where you make a man who has not even a bicycle a local government chairman today… then within six months he’s already bought some cars, built a big house, then invites a bishop or pastor to dedicate his newly-acquired levels. The man of God will not only willingly pray for him but also add that wherever he got the money would be multiplied … and the people would shout big Amen. Amen? Instead of immediately calling the police since we all know the source of the money.’’
The former governor lamented that such acceptance of impunity from the society has been the major reason the people entrusted with public positions to deliver appropriate services to the people turn around to rob same society blind.
“We have all failed you as leaders. You should rise up and take your country back. This impunity all over the place should not continue. It is your resources, your money. Don’t sit back and allow them mismanage it and land you into recession. We have no reason whatsoever to be in this mess.”
Pushing comparison with the US, Obi noted: “Yes we agitate for more states and the corresponding bogus political offices to man them. But taking the American state of Nebraska for comparison… this state has a quarter of Nigeria’s population, an annual budget of N1.3 trillion dollars, a GDP per capita of over $50,000(over 18 times bigger than our $2,000) has made a more than the combined budget of entire south-east and north east regions. But while this state has 49 congressmen, the south east and north east make up for 280 congressmen.
“’Let’s step into California… this state occupies a landmass that equates to half of Nigeria… it’s GDP is $2.6 trillion dollars (about 5.5 times bigger than Nigeria’s $480 billion), it’s per capital income is over $50,000 (more than 18 times bigger than Nigeria’s $2800). State of California’s last budget is $1.71 trillion dollars and at current rate of exchange about over eight times the Nigerian budget. Yet, this state has two senators and 53 members of House representing her in the US Congress. Our country has 108 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives, totalling 420 congressmen – all on full time basis. Americans pay their congressmen $12000 per annum – all serving part-time. But in dear country it costs more than ten times to maintain a congressman… all serving on full-time basis.
“So tell me… how can our country survive on such man-made excesses? We have to restructure, cut down on excessive cost of governance or this country completely collapses! The agitation we have all over the place is because of this failed leadership. It can’t continue like this. There must be serious commitment to restructuring!”
While the mainly youthful crowd applauded, Obi stated that leadership is not about titles or awards but rather taking responsibility and acting appropriately for the positive interest of the led. Commending ex-Governor Imoke for founding The Bridge Leadership six years ago, he appreciated further the vision and commitment behind the foundation. According to Obi, the The Bridge Leadership is an NGO committed to building generations of young people who are educated to become compassionate, entrepreneurial and engaged citizens empowered to take responsibility for their lives and for making a difference in the world.
He went further to tell the rapt audience that he believes this foresight by their former governor would end up making good leaders out of many of you. He mentioned he saw one sharp young man exhibiting a light mechanism he designed that would switch off light bulbs by activating four-word codes on his laptop. “That is our Bill Gates in the making,” he quipped.
The former governor fondly called Okwute continued by drawing inferences from the world leading billionaires who market knowledge like our young sharp man in appraisal. He listed brief histories of Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, et al and their corresponding owners. The process history of making of such great companies, many could buy Nigeria comfortably and without going bankrupt. He told the young people that they could be Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zukenberg and others if only they could employ focus and dedicated discipline to productive endeavours.
“I’m part of this. I was here at the inaugural edition. But I’m part of it now…I will contribute. Yes. We will identify exceptional talents and empower them,’’ the guest speaker added, drawing further applause. A leader is a learner. Don’t have anything to do with anyone who claims he knows everything. That person is the biggest fool around. Leadership is all about being humble and listening to your subjects in order to understand their problems,’’ the ex-banker got back to his major topic.
“And don’t make the mistake of thinking that all stars are leaders. No! Let me give you example with Real Madrid. Christiana Ronaldo is the star of the great club but he is not the leader of the team. Sergio Ramos is the leader. Ramos goes out of his way to take responsibilities for the team including making Ronaldo the star. Ramos passes the ball to Ronaldo, directs his team mates to do same. By so doing, Ronaldo shines, wins all the individual awards but Madrid as a team wins the trophies. Ramos therefore is a very good leader – marshals his team to get the best out of everyone for the collective good. The same could be said of Barcelona, who have Lionel Mess as their great star but as well, not the leader. This football leadership orchestra is how good leadership works in every department of life.
“In our country we’ve lacked such leadership pattern since independence. Yet most of us go by the titles, His Excellency. There’s the order of grades in any school of learning – poor, bad, pass, fair, good, very good, best and finally excellent. What is then Excellent about a set of people that landed the nation in present mess? What is distinguished about senators that plunged their country into present recession? What is Honorable about every one of us revered as such if our nation is in danger of total collapse?
“In recession our leaders move with excessively long convoys, even longer now than when there wasn’t recession. In recession we party every time, blow costs of governance over the top and hope to get out of it… it’s not possible! When they suggested bailout funds for governors I kicked against it. I did because you can’t pay the bill accumulated by the drunk while he’s still in the bar. We have to get him out of the bar first before attempting to settle his bill. Our pathetic case is just like a situation where lunatics have taken over the asylum.
“We can get things right but it requires discipline from everybody… self-discipline and focus. Let me tell you this – I import wine, very good wine but I don’t drink wine. I don’t take alcohol because I don’t want to get high on my own goods. Every bottle I personally take is affecting my own gain. So why should I rob myself?
“To make sure I subdued the temptation of consuming my own goods without paying for them, I stayed out of drinking any wine, whether it was offered to me free or not. That is the discipline required in leadership and entrepreneurship.
“We must stop celebrating mediocrity. Take back your country… for the society you abuse today will take revenge on you tomorrow,” Okwute concluded while the crowd stood in respect and appreciation with loud ovation.