If there is any Nigerian wondering why the country keeps moving in circles since it regained political independence from Great Britain in 1960, a quick look at the level of preparedness of the leaders who have ruled the country successively over the years will give such an individual a clear answer. While the Asian Tiger countries are now busy taming the moon and befriending Mars, Nigeria has remained glued to the starting block.
This lack of progress shouldn’t come as a surprise because unlike the Asian Tiger countries who have a rich history of sound leadership, what the citizens of the most populous black nation on earth have had, as leaders, over the years are ethnic champions and political opportunists who ascended the highest throne in the land, not because of their leadership qualities but largely due to their loyalty to the cabals that have held the country hostage since its independence. To drive home this point, a brief historical survey of how the country’s leaders have emerged since 1960 might be necessary.
It is generally known that the nation’s first Prime Minister was the late Sir Tafawa Balewa. However, what has not really been explored is the fact that he was not the one meant to be the Prime Minister. In the aftermath of 1959 general election, where it became obvious that the first Prime Minister would be a man of Northern extraction, Sir Ahmadu Bello who was the premier of the Northern Region and who was expected to take up the leadership mantle declined the position based on his unwillingness to relocate from Kaduna to Lagos. Thus, his deputy Tafawa Balewa who has never prepared for the position was eventually sworn in as the country’s first Prime Minister.
And after the failed Kaduna Nzeogu’s coup of January 15 1966, the mantle of leadership fell, albeit unexpectedly, on the laps of General Aguiyi Ironsi. His lack of preparation was obviously displayed for the seven months that his regime lasted. Further more, after Ironsi’s assassination by the aggrieved young northern soldiers, led by Lt. Colonel Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, the country was left without a leader for 48 hours as a result of raging debate on who should be the country’s head of state. While the most senior military officer in the land was Brigadier General Banjo, the coup plotters did not hide the fact that they were not going to cede power to an officer who was not born and bred in the north. After 48 hours of political hiatus, Colonel Yakubu Gowon, an officer of Northern extraction became the head of state. Of course, Gowon’s reign coincided with the oil boom era of 1970s but the nation’s leader wasn’t prepared for this unexpected prosperity. Therefore, while the Asian Tiger countries on the one hand used this period to lay the foundation of their future prospects through the implementation of sustainable development projects, the Nigerian leader on the hand embarked on white elephant projects that were not synonymous with development. It was in this period that the National Theatre at Iganmu, National Stadium in Lagos, among others were built. In fact, Nigeria was so prosperous at this time period that Gowon stated complacently that “Nigeria’s problem has nothing to do with money but how to spend it!”
General Gowon himself was ousted from power through a bloodless coup in 1975 while he was attending the Conference of African Heads of State and Presidents of the Organization of Africa Unity (OAU) in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia.
After the assassination of General Murtala Muhammed by Colonel Buka Dimka in a botched coup of February 1976, Lt. General Olusegun Obasanjo, who initially went into hiding upon learning that he would become the new head of state, was forcefully imposed on the troubled nation.
Again in 1979 when the country returned to the American model of participatory democracy, the funny nature of how the country’s leaders are being chosen was conspicuously displayed. While the likes of late Nnamdi Azikiwe and late Obafemi Awolowo showed the expected level of preparedness for such sensitive office, none of them were going to win the election because the northern clique who have held the country hostage for a long time had decided that power was returning to the north. After many unsuccessful search for a qualified candidate from the north, the clique eventually settled for Alhaji Shehu Shagari whose goal was to become the senator of the Federal Republic, and not the President.
Fast forward to 1999 when the country was being returned to civilian rule after the sixteen years of military rule, the retired and active military cabal who have always been the ones to determine who gets what in the country handpicked General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd). For a man who just returned from four years imprisonment, he did not hide his lack of preparation for the job when he initially rejected the offer by saying “How many presidents will you make of me!”. But like his predecessors, Obasanjo eventually accepted the offer and ruled the country for uninterrupted eight years.
Upon leaving office in 2007, Obasanjo imposed late Umaru Musa Yaradua, a man who in his own words, had never nursed any ambition to be president, on the nation. Yaradua’s deputy, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, was also another man whose only qualification for the highest office was more of his loyalty and simpleton attitude than the necessary experience, leadership qualities and relevant exposure the job demands.
The situation was so terrible that towards the end of Jonathan’s administration, the large swathes of Nigerian citizens had reached a unanimous agreement that no meaningful development could take place under the watchful eyes of the inept administration. But the confused nation appeared not to have learnt its lesson learned yet. After all, the major lesson of history is that people don’t learn from history for no sooner had the leadership selection process ahead of 2015 general election started than the same ugly vices that have assail the country since independence reared its ugly head.
It would be recalled that some disgruntled power blocs from the six geopolitical zones had come together in an uneasy political alliance. To capture power from the ruling party, an achievement that was yet to be attained in Nigeria at the time, it dawned on the major opposition party that a viable candidate with large followers would be needed for such feat to be achieved. Thus, rather than making experience and the leadership qualities the yardsticks for the selection, nepotism and tribalism took the front burner. This was what led to the emergence of General Mohammadu Buhari (rtd) as the presidential candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in the 2015 Presidential election. A lot of issues and objections were raised against the then candidate Buhari, in which range from his age, health, exposure, and ability to cope with the multifarious challenges that beset the country on a daily basis. However, all these objections were swept under the rug by the media savvy opposition who promised the country heaven and earth while the candidate himself hardly spoke coherently for 15 minutes on any issue while the campaign lasted.
Two years into President Buhari’s administration, the country is still moving in circles and virtually every statement made by President Buhari in the heat of late President Umaru Yaradua’s health crisis in 2010 is now returning to hunt the man who is now facing the same fate that befell the late President.
While I reserve the analysis of President Buhari’s administration for another column, what is obvious from the above analysis is that, should the trend continues this way, Nigeria may never emerge from this cocoon of misery. However, lessons from other land show that these challenges are not insurmountable, what is required are leaders and followers that will be truthful to themselves. The system that encourages the recycling of old wine in a new bottle should be brought to an end. And from all this, another thing that is also clear is that, weight not fare well as a nation if we don’t stop electing accidental and ill-prepared leaders.