3 December 2012

Nigeria: Leadership Persons of the Year 2012 - Sultan Muhammad SA'ad Abubakar III and John Cardinal Olorunfemi Onaiyekan

Amidst the man-made bloody chaos, natural disasters, human misery and official incompetence that defined 2012, a few Nigerians stood out - men powered by principle and faith in the chequered promise of a new Nigeria.

We combed the arenas of politics, business, the arts, academia, sports, science, philanthropy and faith in search of them. The LEADERSHIP Person of the Year is the person that has impacted the country the most, for good or ill, within the period. The task of finding such a person - or persons, as it turned out this year - was no less challenging than it had been in previous years.

The year arguably represents yet another bloody page in our national history, with despair writ large. It was a year that saw professionals with doctorate and master's degrees scrambling for jobs as truck drivers. Often working at cross-purposes in the face of extreme terrorist threats, security agencies shot themselves in the foot, tossing critical inter-agency synergy to the dogs. While the electricity and petroleum sectors competed for honours in blatant corruption, under a hostile business environment, industries continued to pine. Successive investigations of critical governance deficits, initiated both by the national parliament and presidential directives, turned out to be contrived charades. Then, the floods!

A largely bereft political elite completes the picture of a country in regression. It was from this befuddling maze that we made our choices, recognising that while some forces remained agents of socio-political and economic retrogression, others represented untiring, compassionate catalysts for progressive change. In choosing the LEADERSHIP Persons of the Year 2012, we were closely guided by its cardinal rule: the personality or event that impacted Nigeria most, for good or bad, in 2012.

Mindful of history and the media's compelling responsibility to sustain a progressive society anchored on freedom, justice and fairness, LEADERSHIP Board of Editors and its top management voted Sultan Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar III, Sultan of Sokoto, and John Cardinal Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, Archbishop of the Catholic Diocese of Abuja, as LEADERSHIP Persons of the Year 2012.

In spite of the shocking deficits in nearly all the parameters by which human development is gauged for this period, Sultan Abubakar III and Cardinal Onaiyekan emerged as powerful moderating voices that fundamentally prevented the country from tipping over the cliff to disintegration. Soldiers of their different faiths, they reined in their flocks; they spoke in the face of extreme provocation by those who wanted to use religion as a bait.

After 13 years of unbroken civilian rule, corruption and impunity at various levels of governance remain a defining feature of our national life. But by far the greatest challenge to the Nigerian state in 2012 remains the security challenge. In this regard, one of the greatest contributions to the survival of the country within this period is the intervention of Sultan Abubakar III and Cardinal Onaiyekan. They acted without guns but used the power of appeal to their flocks to hold back when the natural instinct of self-preservation was: to take up arms and fight for their different faiths.

History sufficiently demonstrates the consequence of religious wars. In choosing Sultan Abubakar III and Cardinal Onaiyekan, we closely analysed the consequences of adherents of Nigeria's two major religious faiths taking up arms against one another, a scenario that was all too real given the intensity of the provocations.

In making these choices, the fact was not lost that visionaries who stick out their necks and principle to push interventions that can help troubled societies regain their sanity, provide healing in human relations and evoke hope, must necessarily be recognized and feted periodically because they represent pinions for the survival of humanity. The duo of Sultan Abubakar III and Cardinal Onaiyekan represent such pinions in 2012. Fired up by their convictions, they strove to maintain some Christian-Muslim detente in the face of terrible odds and unprovoked intra- and inter-religious killings.

In a year in which violence and insecurity appear to have become the new normal, and the harbingers of death and destruction were coming up with even more cynical ways to ply their trade, the country's two largest faiths have been put to the stiffest test yet.

2012 is the year when religion could have sounded the final death knell for the country. We have been spared the grief, not by politicians who are mostly either incompetent, clueless or both, but by the works of two exemplary spiritual leaders whose words, actions, gestures and comportment remind us of what leadership really means.

Sultan Abubakar III and Cardinal Onaiyekan are soldiers of faith who have deployed their voices of reason to sustain our fragile peace.

Their good works did not escape the Nobel Committee, which actually nominated them for the prestigious Peace Prize this year.

Not only were these two truly distinguished persons enthusiastically nominated by the LEADERSHIP Board of Editors, they overwhelmingly won the award as LEADERSHIP Persons of the Year 2012 for their outstanding roles in the daunting task of peace-building.

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