I wrote in my 2009 memoir – Service my country, that ‘Our country needs…leaders who are conscious of the future; who are not just satisfied with short-term gains.’ This re-echoes the widely quoted work of Chinua Achebe ‘the trouble with Nigeria’ in which he said
the problem with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.
I reiterate that Nigeria is in urgent need of leadership. Our President also recognises this. In his speech at the PDP presidential primaries on September 18, 2010, the President stated that
Our country is at the threshold of a new era; an era that beckons for a new kind of leadership; a leadership that is uncontaminated by the prejudices of the past; a leadership committed to change; a leadership that reinvents government, to solve the everyday problems that confront the average Nigerian.
Fortunately, the President also recognises ‘the vast potentials’ of his office ‘as a potent instrument for the transformation of our country.’ The President says he ‘discovered that by sheer willpower, [he] could end the long queues and price fluctuations in our petrol stations…. saving us huge amounts of funds spent on importation of petroleum products.’
Taking his initial propositions at the PDP primaries further, the president, said in his inauguration speech on May 29, 2011 that ‘by insisting that the right things be done, we could begin a turnaround in our power sector…’ Perhaps as a way to demonstrate his readiness to provide needed leadership, the President identified six areas in which he will lead the ‘fight’, towards the transformation of Nigeria, namely: healthcare, education (first class education), electricity, public transportation (efficient and affordable), jobs (through productive partnerships [presumably with the private sector and international partners]) and fight for future (possibly encapsulating the range of Nigerians’ aspirations). The President’s chosen policy areas draw substantially on the seven point agenda of his predecessor, form the basis for his transformation agenda and are aligned to the first implementation plan of Nigeria’s vision 2020: 20.
But what does it mean to ‘show’ leadership? Chinua Achebe says it is ‘rising to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example…’ In our President’s words, it is showing ‘the willpower to end the long queues’ of Nigerians: who are unable to access health care [which leaves us with high rates of preventable diseases, raises our maternal mortality levels and leaves us with some of the lowest life expectancies in the world], who are unable to attend school despite being of age, who remain unemployed despite attending secondary school, technical college, or a tertiary institution and acquiring some of the best qualifications the country has to offer. It is the ability to tackle headlong the problem of corruption which has plagued our nation since independence and slowed our progress, despite the vast potentials of our country, and to tackle headlong our security problems. Our President says it is ‘a leadership that reinvents government, to solve the everyday problems that confront the average Nigerian.’
Showing this kind of leadership does not require an attempt to resolve all our problems at once. To me, what it requires is adopting a systematic approach, providing a clear timetable with realistic milestones and religiously pursuing such a time-table. This is necessary because there are numerous problems competing for limited resources and requiring innovation in the development of problem solving models that work for us. Take health and education for example, could we focus our investments annually on developing six of our tertiary health and education institutions with the aim to position them as ‘centres of excellence,’ as outlined in the first implementation plan of the government’s vision 2020? Such an approach could over the course of four years, produce at least 24 functional health and education institutions across the country if painstakingly pursued.
It is important to note however that such as an approach is not a one-size-fits-all, and may not work for some sectors. In the power and petroleum sectors we need much more aggressive and multipronged approaches. In the past leaders have spoken about the need to ‘declare’ a sort of emergency in the power sector. Such a political declaration, although useful needs to be backed by clear direction and strong leadership provided by the President himself. Addressing the power and petroleum sectors require a more aggressive approach, simultaneously addressing policies and regulation, law enforcement and infrastructure. Some of these issues have been addressed in the roadmap for power sector reform and local content law, but what remains is the passionate drive by the President himself to ensure the attainment of desired results. In 2015, Nigerians will not be impressed by the number of new policy frameworks or amount of dollars expended on power projects, nor megawatts generation capacity but by actual electricity supply in their homes and businesses.
I believe that passionate, purpose driven and activist leadership is what Nigeria needs. The country’s problems are enormous, compounded even further by entrenched political and sectional interests. Our problems require a significant amount of time and resources to resolve in finality. However, without clear leadership, the kind of progress expected will not take place. It is a good thing that the President recognises this. What is required now is for him to act this recognition by providing the needed new leadership, holding ministers and heads of government agencies to account and personally championing economic, infrastructural and social development processes in Nigeria. Fortunately, the President understands the potential of his office as an instrument to facilitate our country’s transformation and renaissance. If we are to be of any reckoning internationally be it in 2020 or 2025, only purposeful leadership will take us there.