The Legacies of a Leader Forty Years Hence-Our Then, Now and the Future By Jimi Bickersteth
“History is a tale of efforts that failed,of aspirations that were not realised.”- Henry Kissinger.
The thirteenth of February marks the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of General Ramat Murtala Mohammed, a gentleman officer and gallant soldier. His death was indeed a rude shock to a nation that was just putting together some smattering reforms to its socioeconomic life; and the much needed reorganisation and sanitisation of its public service for effective service delivery and a new epoch, particularly after the post-Udoji years of profligate lifestyle and wastage of public funds . It is natural, that our emotions are so intense and the memory lingers on.
It was an era during which Nigeria was espoused to a season of “Low profile” with spirit and liveliness, and had some sanity and discipline and a new direction injected into the Nigerian national life. (Little wonder that PMB in his first coming as head of state labelled his regime as an offshoot of the Murtala Mohammed’s administration). The consummate General was however unceremoniously cut down in what was arguably, a greed for power and flagrant group and selfish interest.
Forty years hence, Nigeria is still not where it should be and the occasion of the remembrance of that no-nonsense personage and character affords us the opportunity to draw some parallel and comparison of the characters of a soap opera, that government have been since then,and the charlatan characters it trumped up on to the Nigerian political and economic landscape.Forty years is a long time in a nation’s life, and the achievements of government during the period has been of very low quality, lethargic, and unfair to Nigerians.
The last administration and the tumultuous Pandora’s box from its augean stable is thus worth examining in the light of our today. That administration was world apart from that of the amiable and highly principled and motivated general, who’s leadership orientation bent towards transparency, accountability and discipline without attaching any primordial instinct nor allowing himself to be mushroomed by appointees, the real reason the nation today is experiencing a catalogue of sour grapes.
The intrepid and absolute silence of a nation left to scrimp and save, on the neat script (written in Switzerland instead of Otuoke),to defend the scorch-earth policy of the GEJ administration , at such a propitious time is irksome, and painted the picture of a man in a lurch, left isolated and standing alone. At the same time, the story of how the nation got to where it is can never be complete without copious reference to him, of course, some of those that shamefully benefited will resent any allusions to the baldness of his regime.
History is filled with leaders political or military, who ruled with drama and high tension, and bringing in their naivety and limitations untold hardship, suffering and all-fired nerve to complain to their people. His team, perhaps had the best of intentions for the country, but the high education paraded in that cabinet,belied the plebeian tastes of his socioeconomic and political drive and service delivery; with the effects of privatisation throughout industry seen in microcosm.
He certainly couldn’t have set out to fail himself nor planned to run the ship of state aground, but it could be seen that he allowed himself to be boxed into a corner:
i by his political choices
ii. by forces of religion and ethnicism and
iii. the vast gap separating the rich and poor. The aggregate of all of this by itself and put together are highly explosive keg(s) of gunpowder.
While he should be held responsible for the personal choices he made on the chasms which appears shallow at first but deeper and wider than imagined. The religion and ethnicism aspects, were not wholly his fault neither were they of his direct making; but principally, those of religious and political leaders, two oceans that met but do not mix,and who have so much latitude and failed to instil in their adherents and followers, a love strong enough to eliminate biases.
He realised too late to his chagrin that the most fanatical, the cruellest political struggles are those that have been inspired,coloured and legitimised by religion. It’s oft too difficult to believe in the sublime that religion has no bearing on reality, that is what it is. But by his mandate, the buck ends on his table, he is therefore, expected to accept full responsibility for the actions and inactions, it was the immense failure of some of his policies and choices and a strong inference, that supervision is weak and inadequate, that helped quicken his jet release from office, because if anyone is found liable and culpable, then logically by inference so is he.
Sometimes there’s a difference between facts and truth- truth based on information and briefs at our disposal. The nation should not as it is wont to do, focus on sins of commission- the wrong that was perpetrated, but what about the sins of omission- the good he failed to do. One seldom know ahead of time the full significance of what one do,don’t do or fail to do in our work, especially in this adventure of a lifetime and history. Where when wrong desire coincides with opportunity the battle can be especially challenging, and for a man too soft like jelly handling state affairs like chalk and cheese,he got broken like ice spring and thrown out like a dirty bath water.
He helped the nation feel good about feeling bad. He failed to realise while it lasted that the pursuit of truth is important. He made two mistakes any leader could eternally make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting. He was held hostage by his own friends, who probably did not know that running a successful administration is like a salmon’s upstream journey. He was goaded into oversimplifying the Nigerian self interest of a ruling oligarchy rather than the rational calculations of the complex interest of the larger population, in an immensely pluralistic and complex country.
The administration’s style of governance bred discontent to citizens that have been sentenced to adversity, and who began to focus too much on what they didn’t get, hence, it was too easy to forget all of what they did get. That administration’s worst sores were caused by crumpled roses, not thorns, as social breakdown and increased greed was phenomenal, rather than embrace intelligent conviction based on feelings of a real people with real problems and proffer solutions. To date Nigerians do not have fully convincing answers, but need action to get them there,and for the lessons he never learnt one will like to see him get his reward and comeuppance, the day of reckoning is nigh.
But, regardless of what’s been said or done in the past to make GEJ feel inadequate and insecure, he can hold his head high; just that he fell short of what’s required: the deliberate violation of specific extant rules,unintentional and often passionately motivated slips, provides a stormy backdrop in the Nigerian story- devastated by graft, corruption like greyhound unleashed on a nation living a lie, in turmoil and trembling like an aspen leaf.
A nation whose civil/public servants allegedly stole approximately nine billion dollars and another two billion dollars doled out as political patronage; such slush funds stashed all over the place and everywhere but the peoples purse, add this to pipeline vandalism, illegal bunkering, NIMASAgate, subsidygate- all drain pipes and channels of looting, siphoning and money laundering, that has the nation balanced on some dangerous edge while it remains largely unproductive.
There is no point in pummelling GEJ, who showed he was not really up to the ingenious and creative challenges needed in socioeconomic and political engineering. His was a classical example of how life is a never ending journey that is filled with shades of gray. No one has it figured out, much less an administration that worked on the cutting-edge of multiple templates . Hence, was booted out after six disastrous years.
Now, cameo PMB, and as a first step PMB must ruffle feathers of the dinosaurs aka cabals in the corridor of power. All this, limited money and extended obligation have never stopped a man who really want to do something. He has acquired the carteblanche, in every way- able to go on the political and social and economic fabrics of society, the mass appeal and support from Nigerians should give him the 00mph to keep going.
To define the Nigerian future after this sixteen year septum;a future with the trappings of glory, the nation must during this trying time decide her fate. The PMB’s administration appears to be trying hard, at least in the media, to recover some of the loots and at the same time block the leakages, and in doing this, one hopes that when corruption decides to fight back as it usually does, PMB will not be encumbered and thus be immobilised by forces which he is either unwilling or unable to control.
It is equally important that PMB learn to recognise the things most likely to cause stress for the nation in his decision making. Knowing this will help him to feel more in control: the more on top over his life and the situation in and around the nation’s future all of us will feel.
The nation’s political and military leaders and their cronies take everything and spoil everything leaving our colour deepen in anger, telling us, “things will get worse before they get better”, hiding their own quick wits to get the better of us. However, we are still nauseous with relief of the “Changeover” of May 29th 2015 and awaiting for the spasm of the rumble of 16 very uneventful years to pass; one cannot but pity those septuagenarian leaders, who still partake in the mindless fleece of our commonwealth, who does not know it’s time to go home and to entrust the treasured keepsake into those stronger and abler hands.
The young and more able have had their grounds cut off from under their feet, their heads dropped like a rose on a broken stem and in the absence of responsibilities have become frivolous and with no thought in their heads except to lead a merry time with masques and theatricals, and look on as their aged fathers share billions of our petronaira. Tomorrow’s world is made from today’s youngsters, it would be no better than its men, and a boy is a boy , the only way he’ll become a man is for somebody to show him the way and tell him that he must become an adult in his attitude. There is no apple-pie order to do this than for the youths to strive to make a case for themselves, nobody will do it for them.
As the nation’s ship appears to have wrecked in a storm at sea, going down with all hands, PMB must have to see things clear from his mind’s eye and dispassionately so. The whispers of graft and corruption in high places have increased in tone to outright scandals, and for the nation’s revival and resurgence,economy must be the rule.
As another month goes by and then another, life continues at the same slow pace, but changes must take place,especially now that our young citizens are demonstrating the absence of honesty, hardwork,trust,truth and such like virtues.
The stock market collapse and the consistent fall of the naira against the dollar, in spite of effort to shore it up,are merely the first of several detonations , the government have to look for solutions to the causes and possible remedies for this and the nation’s other economic crisis; for which the outgone administration could not effectively get the wheels of industry and fortune moving but instead was mired in charges of corruption. PMB need to set up and back a new set of economic and social measures, prominent among which are measures to fight poverty, to counter unemployment with work and to provide a social safety net.
Going by what is on ground, it is never too late to be what we might have been,the NASS just need to help assist the nation to institutionalise policies to lift us out of the economic doldrums. In doing so, it has to be cautious, and conservative in thinking,having in mind the conservative feelings,traditions and values of a traumatised people, whose chief business is business and commerce. It should create the most favourable conditions for dead and ailing industries, encourage the birthing of new ones, and there should be no uncertainty and tentativeness in guaranteeing Nigeria’s manufacturing in one field after another a monopoly of domestic market, an environment hitherto, toxic and unfriendly.
PMB’s eight months vacillation and hastening slowly can be understood within the context of:
a. The absence of any valid structure from his predecessor(s) on which to build an enduring polity,
b.the conflicting and neutralising pulls of the demands of a leader and statesman on one hand out to prove a point and on the other,that of a partisan politician, whose position within his party and the power blocs and bricks imposed on him obligations which were always not consistent with:
i. the military style of a General Mohammed for instance and
ii. the larger interest of the state or helpful to the promotion of such interest.
But he must do what he must; the essence of leadership is to have vision. If he keeps looking at what is, we may never attain what could be . A french proverb says”There is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience.”PMB listening to your conscience will keep you from going the wrong way.
PMB is to take greater responsibility for the welfare of the nation and its people; as measures addressed to and fostering economic well being would strengthen liberty and democracy, and anything outside of this will shortlived the romance. Why?Because the people had grown tired of unemployment and insecurity, of seeing their children hungry and starving while they sit helpless.
Lucky enough,Nigerians have an unpretentious man big enough for the job, and he must react and respond to new challenges,impulsive, he must prove willing to make quick decisions about the problems he is faced with.
Adieu, the Generals General.#
Jimi Bickersteth is a blogger and a writer.
He can be reached on twitter