Fellow Nigerians, let me say categorically that there is nothing supernatural about our problems. Many countries have gone through greater difficulties and successfully scaled their hurdles through visionary and selfless leadership.
These leaders did not drop from heaven. They were regular human beings who understood the meaning of legacy and they were not concerned with reckless ego-tripping. Their agenda was crispy clear. They went about their mission methodically and meticulously. Our own leaders must learn useful lessons from other leaders who have worked tirelessly and assiduously and thus succeeded in making the impossible possible.
A reasonable person must try to learn what he doesn't know. Education is not just about going to school and obtaining certificates. It is much more than that. It is a complete package that makes every soul a better human being. A student must be flexible enough to pass through the school of life and also allow the school to pass through him. Unfortunately, it seems most of those our current leaders who went to school just went there to fulfil all righteousness, as well as to acquire, by any means, documents needed to get their choice political jobs in the future and live merrily thereafter.
But leadership is much more challenging, and demanding. Apart from personal skills, it is about the leader's ability to manage people and resources. It is about setting good goals and attaining them. A major factor is to lead by example, and not by mere preaching. The best form of evangelism is to build trust among your followers. Jesus had to float on water before commanding his disciples to follow suit. You cannot be awarded the title of a hawk and not be able to catch a few chicks every now and then. To whom much is given much more is expected. The tragedy is we've provided our leaders with all the good things of life but they have refused to reciprocate. And Nigerians are not even asking for too much. What we want is so basic that it shouldn't be difficult for serious and articulate leaders to provide.
Building a strong economy is a realisable task that must be performed. How do we go about it? There are two important principles that must be obeyed. The first is prudence and the second is discipline. You must never spend what you don't have. You must produce more than you consume. No matter how tempting, you must not waste resources because you never know what tomorrow would be. Once upon a time, our military leaders foolishly believed we had too much money. They did not understand the meaning of the proverbial "rainy day", and went on a spending spree.
A good business man must know his limit and be able to adjust upwards and downwards as the times dictate. Our leaders have never been able to adjust to our trying times. They have set the nation on auto-pilot and cruised permanently at the same slow, debilitating speed and altitude. For them, individual gains are more important than the collective. When we were buoyant, we blew it as if it was going out of vogue.
Our leaders invest in white elephant projects and other frivolous ventures that will not bear fruit. They had and even now have the opportunity to invest adequately in various forms of power generation, including nuclear energy, but they were restricted by rudderless disposition and limited ambition. When the then University of Ife presented a proposal to start its nuclear energy program in 1976, which was championed by a world-class physicist, Professor Abiodun Francis Oluwole, the exponents of Federal character soon took over. They chose to politicise the brilliant idea by insisting that Ife alone could not be allowed to run it, and another university, that did not indicate any such intention, must be allowed to start alongside Ife.
That was how Ahmadu Bello University came into the equation, and subsequently Nsuka and Sokoto also joined in. What was a serious affair was turned into childsplay similar to the game of musical chairs. The money which should have been used to concentrate on one giant dream was expended on a proliferation of splintered energy centres scattered across the nation with little or no co-ordination and harmonisation. In Nigeria, nothing is too important to escape the hammer of politics and ethnic jingoism. Worse still, the different programs are now controlled from Abuja by a central body, the Atomic Energy Commission of Nigeria.
There isn't any real data about its effectiveness or otherwise but what is plain to see is that it has failed woefully to contribute meaningfully to our power needs. Professor Bolaji Akinyemi had envisioned Nigeria as a nuclear power during his tenure as Foreign Affairs minister. He knew his onions but many did not understand his ivory tower language and scorned at the message and the messenger.
Our case is like that of a man who spends 30 years to prepare for madness. When exactly, we ask, is he going to run berserk and begin to bite trees? To build a modern Nigeria, we must start to erect enduring institutions strictly on merit. We must collapse those walls of shame that have stunted our growth and turned us into dwarfs in the comity of nations. It is the height of phantasmagoria to continue to do the same silly things repeatedly and expect a positive change. As Harold Robbins, the great thriller author would have put it: Dreams Die First. But ours need not die the way it has. We parade some of the best brains in all spheres of human endeavour. But those who won't perform won't want those who can to perform. They will erect barricades which accomplished pole-vaulters can't jump. There's nothing too difficult to achieve for Nigerians but we live in a Mafia nation.
Our leaders can rebuild our economy only if, and when, they decide to end the profligacy in the corridors of power. A poor nation cannot live as if all is well. My favourite way of putting it is that you can't practise capitalism without capital. You will look stupid at the end of the day. If European countries with their solid infrastructural base can practise austerity measures, Nigeria urgently requires something more drastic, and probably agonising to put us back on track. There is nothing on ground to suggest that our leaders think, or truly believe, Nigerians are suffering. Or that we need to acquire a sense of urgency.
They are just not ready to have pity on poor souls. The ratio of unemployment in Nigeria must be the highest in any oil-rich nation. Yet our leaders don't seem to see the need for a total overhaul of our Stone Age system.
We must also stop our dependence on imported products. When I visited India over 12 years ago, most of the products they consumed were made in India. If you called for a cup of tea in a standard hotel, up to four stewards may pour out but the tea would be made in India. The reason for them pouring out is simple; labour is very cheap. When I came out of the airport, I saw loads of ramshackle cars as taxis and like a true Nigerian I ran back to the information desk to ask where I could find more decent cars. The officer pointed at the same dilapidated vehicles and I had no choice than to enter one of them.
The surprise was that the car was actually air-conditioned but I had to pay extra for its use. We used to have assembly plants in Nigeria at a time we were not this big as a nation. Someone should tell us why it is impossible to return to those good old days of Peugeot and Volkswagen? What stops us from producing ordinary motorcycles? Why can't we produce our own generators in a country where every household desperately needs at least one. We are tossing away our resources on what we can easily produce.
I know the response from unimaginative quarters already. They will tell me it is not so simple but I will also insist that it is. All government has to do is find the will, intention and courage to kill our labyrinth of bureaucracy in Nigeria. A leader who's obsessed with winning a second term is not likely to venture beyond his comfort zone. However, he must realise that life does not begin and end with serving so many terms in power.
As a matter of fact, if he risks everything and succeeds where others have failed the people would even beg him to stay on. If it was possible and Constitutional, the Americans would probably have asked for, and voted, President Bill Clinton, for a record third term. When tomorrow comes and Mrs Hillary Clinton becomes the first female American President, it would not be strictly because of her apparent brilliance but also because of the incredible record of performance set by her exceptionally charming husband.
Why can't our leaders aspire to such lofty heights? We must spend the bulk of the money presently being wasted on politicians on developing our nation and for the common good of our people.
We must begin to look inwards and do things that can galvanise our youths into productive existence. This cannot be difficult if we have at the very top a man who is ready to sacrifice his personal comfort for the sake of all. When that happens, it would be easier to persuade lesser 'gods' to reduce their outlandish experiments. Since our return to democracy 13 years ago, we've continued to move at the speed of millipedes while the rest of the world has gone supersonic.