(Vanguard of Sunday, October 1, 2006)
We are 46 years old today as a politically independent country. Constitutionally, those born on October 1, 1960 are more than qualified to stand election as president of this country.
This age qualification is one of four key areas where you must have a pass mark before you can fight to occupy the highest office in the land. The fight is worth it because while perched up there, you can overlook everything that is happening at the national level, the state level, even the local government area level.
As the only person whose one electoral ward is the whole country, you can do what you like with the resources, the people, even the land they claim to be products of.
But need we anchor our demand for qualification for this highest office on the fact that someone is not less than 40 years old; that someone has the equivalent of a school certificate; that someone has not been sent to jail for a criminal offence; and that someone has met the health qualification of not being declared insane!
If we demanded more qualifications, especially in the area of values of the polity to imbibe, we would be more serious with governance today. So, in another four years, we would be 50 years old as an independent country. And what songs would be there on our lips to sing?
See why for some time now I have been trying to latch on to something we can all accept as our take-off programme to make this country what it can become? See why I have given the better part of four weeks to discussing the Vision 2010 effort, not because it is the only trial run we had had to get this country going, but because it was the most comprehensive, ordered, orderly and domesticated way for us to take off?
Even Abacha did not start seriously the process of letting the vision take off by launching it. If we had taken the correct cue, we would be somewhere in the medium term plans, not even those that were meant to be tackled immediately after the establishment of the structures that were designed to sustain the dream and constitute its driving engine.
I believe we always have taken the driving engine of this country for granted, and still do. Everything is anchored on government, an unproductive contraption that finds itself presiding over the sharing of milk without plans for feeding the cows that produce the milk.
We refuse to let government do what it knows best – creating the environment for all stakeholders in the polity to pull and push for what is there to legitimately pull and push for. We cannot focus this octopus that is Nigeria, the big, sturdy elephant with all the parts of that huge animal – the soft tail, the rocky legs, the smooth tusk et al.
Government is incapable of seeing it all. No one can see it all. Even where we think we are trained hunters, we fail to recognize that there is a difference between killing an animal and sharing its meat. The meat is the dead animal, but we are dealing with people, with the living parts of a living entity.
Nigeria is alive, kicking, and must grow. We have been trapping it, tapping its resources, raping it, killing it, living on it; never for it.
Because we have been stubbornly refusing to live for it, preferring to live on it, we find it unavailing to do first things first so that we can have a country that would be alive to be grown; alive for us to depend on, for us to be proud of, for us to be happy to bequeath to our children, their children and their children’s children.
We distribute parts of the animal we refuse to feed, and forget that when we have feasted on the meat, we shall all stay without an organized and coordinated means of livelihood, and die of hunger borne of lack of vision.
It is the vision that would have taken us to a defined destination by the year 2010. We are four years away from that 2010 and what have we? Chaos.
I did not tell you where you can find the whole document because I thought you would have at least surfed the Internet to know if it has found its way there. Oh yes. It has, and God bless those who funded its presence on the net.
Everything we need to know, to do, is there. But what of the structures to do them? They are all there too, with time slots for creating and implementing them.
Today we are 46 and the content of the President’s speech ought to be weighted against what we have achieved with the vision we would have been prosecuting since 1998.
And what would we have done? The first simple task has had to do with leadership and our President ought to be telling us what progress we have made in this direction. The truth is that without a credible leadership we can never get anywhere with anything.
A credible leadership is not proof of the presence of a good or active president. It is the visible and palpable presence of the Rock that stabilizes the polity. The Rock is not a person. It is an institution.
In our arrangement, it is the Executive, the Legislature, the Judiciary and the People who empowered all others. They must all have something in common to look at, to look for, to hold in their arms as a growing baby that must be nourished to grow.
All four constitute a leadership structure that must be celebrating from year to year what it is that has been done in respect of that programme all the stakeholders know is there to be executed.
The President is therefore not giving information on what he wants to do or how he has done it. No. Everyone should know what he was assigned to do and that it ought to have been done.
He should be telling us where on the road taken we are at, what roadblocks, if any, we have encountered, what arrangements have been put in place to tackle the problems.
All these are there in the Vision 2010 programme, because it is a flower that unfolds as you do your bit from month to month, from year to year, from one period of review to another period of assessment.
An organized people would have had an organized forum to infuse this vision. The National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) would have been the meeting place of all our leaders for at least a two-month national brief on the Vision before they assume office.
So, as the President speaks to us today, can he be boldly telling us that our leaders have done what other leaders worldwide are expected to do — demonstrate exemplary conduct both before and while in office so as to set the moral tone for the rest of the society.
From what is before the Senate of the National Assembly, I mean the report Mr. President has sent across on how the Vice President ran the Petroleum Technology Development Fund and related matters, and the Vice President’s pre-emptive response, it is obvious that our leadership at the Federal Executive level has lost out to Nigerians in the bid to restore hope in them that things can be different from a past that has been presented to the world as managed by leaders and governments that lacked vision, that were inept and corrupt.
And like the Vision 2010 Document itself recognizes, “No nation can make progress with the cancer of corruption corroding its moral, social, cultural and economic fabric. Corruption must, therefore, be eliminated if the society is to make any meaningful progress.”
No one can deny that this Administration has done what is humanly possible to stem the ills that corruption and other social ailments breed. But today, as the President speaks to us, the perception is that nothing has changed and that leadership by example still eludes us.
We must come back to the basic truth that where actions of government and other institutions are properly streamlined, the opportunity to take advantage of your post and position will be reduced if not eliminated.
It can therefore never be too late to rebuild trust and confidence in the leadership at all levels in our country. But where we insist that governance must be a business and not service, and fight over who next should preside over the sharing of the meat of an elephant we are killing, then we have not started to make amends as we march to 2010 when we would be 50 years old as a nation.
(Vanguard of Sunday, October 1, 2006, and Democracy Watch: A Monitor’s Diary, Vol. 2, pages 205-208)