By Hassan Gimba
“Our problems are man-made; therefore, they may be solved by man. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.” – John F. Kennedy
Nigerians have written millions of words in books and opinion articles in magazines, newspapers, journals, etc., about the problems of, or with, Nigeria. Appearances in celluloid regarding this issue also have consumed countless meters of celluloid.
Writers have written about Nigeria’s problems, even though some Nigerians see them as part of the problem – for not writing enough. Politicians who everyone thinks are the problem have themselves cried about the problem, with solutions seemingly beyond their grasp. Filmmakers, artists, singers and poets have all pointed at the problems. Soldiers that have retired their epaulettes have spoken and written about the problems despite some historians tagging them as the beginning of the problems. Leaders have always talked about those problems as if we sent them there to lament.
Among the retired soldiers, there are a few privileged to be many things in one. Some of them are politicians as well and leaders for sure. Retired General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida is one from such a rare class. He recently offered a solution and his solution is to do with the type of leader we should have in the future.
And his insight is a welcome development. It is time we Nigerians shifted gear from lamentations and pointing at where we went wrong to how to right those wrongs. Till the rivers run dry and the world ceases to exist, problems shall never end. Problems became part of man the moment he took a bite of that apple and was banished to earth to come and find the solution that would take him back. And so, seeking solutions for problems must be our habit.
However, just as Albert Einstein said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them”, therefore we have to think differently and divorce ourselves from all the things that have pinned us down to where we are now. As pointed out by many who took it upon themselves to be pointers at problems, Nigeria’s problems are all condensed into one–leadership.
And maybe it is this that informed General Babangida, arguably one of Nigeria’s greatest leaders, to opine that individuals in their 60s should be the focus of Nigerians as potential presidential candidates in 2023. IBB, as he is fondly called, the apostle of the new breed, said that the person should be one with contacts across the nation and who had been traversing the geo-political zones, marketing their acceptability and capacity.
“I have visualised a good Nigerian leader”, he said. “That is a person who travels across the country and has a friend virtually everywhere he travels to and he knows at least one person who he can communicate with.
“That is a person who is very versed in economics and is also a superb politician, who should be able to talk to Nigerians and so on. I have seen one, or two or three of such persons already in their sixties.”
Well, it is better to do something than nothing and, therefore, we must commend him for starting a discussion along that line. As IBB himself often said when he held sway as our maximum ruler, “It is better to act than not to… history can forgive you for making the wrong decision, but not for not acting at all.”
But what is in a number when it comes to quality leadership and leadership qualities? History has recorded many outstanding leaders who conquered the world and left it in a blaze of glory before they were out of their 30s. God made Jesus (AS) great in his thirties. Billions of Muslims and Christians venerate him. Chaka the Zulu was a great king and leader who conquered southern Africa and placed his people, the Zulu, among the best. He founded the Zulu Empire and, for twelve years before his assassination on September 22, 1828, he moulded his people into a dominant fighting force never seen before in southern Africa. He was 29 when he became King and he died at 41. He made all his exploits when he was in his thirties as well.
Mao Zedong, known as Chairman Mao, was the founding father of The People’s Republic of China and he laid the foundation of modern China. He was not 60 when he founded the People’s Republic of China. He was 56.
Cuba’s Fidel Castro was 33 when shaping the destiny of Cubans fell on his lap. He made Cuba one of the greatest humanitarian and most educated nations in the world. Muammar Gaddafi of Libya was 27 when he started taking his country out of the woods. Dr Martin Luther King who raised the consciousness of Blacks was assassinated when he was barely 39. Dr Muhammad Mahathir, perhaps the greatest leader Malaysia ever had, became prime minister first at 56. Lee Kuan Yew, often referred to as LKY, is recognised as Singapore’s founding father. He became prime minister at 36.
Likewise, history has recorded late starters who shaped the world at the twilight of their time, between 70 and 90 years. In-between there were many more.
But do we even need to go far? General Yakubu Gowon, the apostle of “No Victor, No Vanquished”, did very well when he took over a crisis-torn nation in 1966 at 32. General Murtala Mohammed, who our nation still revers, was 38 when he took over from Gowon. IBB himself was 44 when he pushed out General Muhammadu Buhari and assumed leadership of Nigeria. He did everything and left before he attained 60. He will be the last person to say he did not do well as military president.
Therefore, it is no more about age than it is about capacity. What we should look for is capability. I quite agree that a president should not be provincial and should not be governed by any such sentiment in the pluralistic country that Nigeria is. Most leaders, unfortunately, are clannish – an attitude that has helped in accentuating our primordial divides.
Our next president does not have to be an economist to succeed, but he must be able to identify good and patriotic aides to be delegated responsibilities. And sanction those who cannot perform. He does not have to be a soldier, but he must be ready to support our armed forces to the hilt to ward off internal and external threats with ease. Such a man need not be 60 or above, but must be visionary and intensely want Nigeria to mend, and have a workable idea of how to.
He must be a man who can assuage frayed nerves, smoothen rough edges and make every Nigerian have a sense of belonging. He must be a man capable of resuscitating a dying institution and breathing into it the elixir of life. Such a person can heal the wounds of our country, cover it with the shroud of fairness and dispense justice to all.
All Nigerians must search for a leader of this description and support him irrespective of where he hails from. Henceforth, we will lay out the attributes of the leader we need and hopefully contribute to this national discourse.
By Hassan Gimba