"It looks as if we are in a vehicle that is going down hill, and the driver and the conductors are fighting so that they cannot even apply the brakes and they don't even know that they are not just drifting down hill, but there is a precipice, which they are going to fall into. The state of the nation is very precarious" -Dr. Uma Eleazu, July 2019
In the Igbo society, one of the greatest honours to bestow on a person is 'Ikwa Ya Na Ndu'. Literally, it means giving a befitting burial honours while the person is still alive. It is usually reserved for people who have achieved so much and have been of such service to society that people would want to let them know exactly how they are regarded. It is the ultimate show of respect and gratitude by the society. In that context, the personality that is our focus today eminently qualifies and in my own little way, I would like to use this column to honour Dr. Uma Oke Eleazu, on the occasion of the celebration of his birthday. I resolved to use this column today to 'Kwaa Ete Uma Na Ndu' in a literary form.
He is an elder statesman from Ohafia, in Abia State. He may not look it, but last Wednesday, June 16, 2021, he turned 91. It is no exaggeration to say that he is among the last of a vanishing breed. Rarely, theoreticians are hardly doers and vice versa. It is in very rare cases as in Dr. Eleazu, that you see the seamless combination of both attributes. His career longevity is remarkable and Nigeria has only a handful of his kind who practice what they preach.
Dr. Eleazu graduated with a first degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Kings College, University Of Durham in 1962. Two years later he earned a Master's degree in Applied Economics from the same University. In 1965, he proceeded to and bagged another Master's degree, this time in Public Administration from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He subsequently earned a PhD in Public Administration from the same UCLA in 1968. He came back to Nigeria immediately after the civil war and since then, had served in various capacities in both the public and private sectors before his official retirement. Upon retirement, he found time to expand his pursuits into several other fields. He has been a teacher, consultant, writer, commentator, and so on. As an intellectual, he has been prodigious in his writings and commentaries on the direction of the Nigerian economy and society.
When Dr. Eleazu came back to Nigeria, it was not difficult for him to make his mark in the difficult world of industry, where the country was struggling to find its path to import substitution and self-sufficiency. He was the alter ego of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, a platform that brought together the fledgling group of manufacturers in an environment of poor electricity supply, inconsistent government policies and unstable exchange rate. He was masterful in the way he argued the case of the group and before long, it became one of the most visible positions in the Nigerian economy.
One thing that stands Dr. Eleazu out from his peers is his ability to mentor younger ones . He is a community leader, a religious leader, and an Elder in the church, His association with the younger generation is remarkable, and, in my opinion, is responsible for the wealth of information and knowledge at his disposal. In 1993, Dr. Eleazu offered to run for the presidency of this country under the platform of the Social Democratic Party. Dr. Eleazu has so many books and academic works to his credit. These notwithstanding, the most impressive thing he has done, in my own opinion is his latest work. While honouring this rare breed on his 91st birthday, we have taken liberty to showcase and review his flagship book presented last year to mark his 90th birthday. Even though the presentation was delayed by the Pandemic, towards the end of the year, he was able to finally present the book, "Nigeria, As I See It: Reflections on the Challenge Of Leadership". Here we go:
The well-packaged book is a very serious work of 418 pages, written in very simple prose format that makes for easy reading. Frankly, it is a book that one picks up and won't be able to put down until the last page. It is divided into twelve chapters. The book starts on the first page with a preface where the author gives account of what happened with the Abia State governorship election in 2015. He recounts how some young men from his village, came to meet him to express their frustration on why prominent people from the town, including himself, were not showing interest in the governance of the state, which according to them, was responsible for why they were not getting their fair share of democracy dividends. He recounted what he and others had done in the past to engender good governance which yielded no fruits. He challenged them to come up with a credible
candidate and if they did, he would convince other elders to lend support. Not too long after, the youths came back with Yours Truly, and the elders genuinely gave their blessing and support. In his words, "Alex did all the right things according to law; he campaigned vigorously and had widespread support but, towards the end of the campaign, we started hearing from a shadowy group in PDP that there was some document called the "Abia Charter of Equity" that zoned the governorship this time to Abia South and that the candidate should come from the Aba-Ngwa axis." On the basis of this, the anointed candidate of the then outgoing governor was imposed on the party while Yours Truly went to secure the ticket of APGA in order to contest the election. In his own words, "On the polling day, people trooped out and voted massively for Otti... .. Mr. Alex Otti won the election. Even INEC figures showed that he won in 14 out of the 17 LGAs."
He then goes further to narrate how the then outgoing governor, now Sen. Theodore Orji and PDP stalwarts, against all decency and decorum, criminally stormed the Collation Centre in Umuahia and intimidated the Resident Electoral Officer and Returning Officer into announcing Ikpeazu as the winner. He gives an account of how Yours Truly approached the courts, won at the Court of Appeal, a victory which was eventually reversed by the Supreme Court. With the questions Dr. Eleazu raised in the book, there is no doubt that he is of the opinion that both the electoral and judicial systems needed overwhelming reforms. While I appreciate the courage of Dr. Eleazu for documenting his account of the Abia 2015 governorship election for posterity, I also want to put it on record that Dr. Eleazu never contacted me before publishing this work. I was surprised that at his age, he had all the information which I can confirm, is a true reflection of what happened.
Dr. Eleazu succinctly agrees with Chinua Achebe that the problem with Nigeria is leadership. "Why do we elect people who will fail? Why do we allow mediocre candidates to run for office? Election after election, results are manipulated to produce mediocre leaders. Any wonder then that things do not work, the author queries. His submission therefore is that until we fix our faulty leadership selection process, the society will make little or no progress.
He gives account of his early years where he grew up without clarity as to why he was a Nigerian as against what he was taught, which was that he was from Bende Division in Owerri Province of Igbo land. While some analysts had expressed sympathy to the author's generation for not truly understanding their Nigerian origin, it is instructive to note that today's discourse has tended more towards the new generation of Nigerians seeing themselves more from the prism of ethnic nationalities than the Nigerian nation-state. This can also be gleaned from the agitation for separation and self-determination, coming from several ethnic nationalities in the country. Dr. Eleazu stated unequivocally that he was a follower of Azikiwe, the Zik of Africa. Somehow, from his account, Zik lived ahead of his time because out of all the nationalists, he was the only one that pushed not only the Nigerian Agenda, but a pan-African Agenda.
Election violence is not a recent thing as recorded by the author. He recalled when thugs attacked him at Oshogbo, while on a campaign trail with Dr. M.I. Okpara and also during another campaign trip to Gboko where he was mercilessly beaten and dispossessed of his belongings. He likened what happened towards the 1964 elections as war. Dr. Eleazu spent some time dealing with the theoretical aspects of leadership. He then discusses the First Republic in great details. First, he establishes the rationale for colonialism which was to prospect raw materials for the industrialisation of Europe in the 19th Century and establish markets for their finished goods. Understanding the interests of the colonialists was important to also understand that the wellbeing of the colonies was not in the contemplation of the colonialists. The amalgamation of Nigeria by Lord Lugard which happened in 1914 was merely for the administrative convenience. Lugard's successor, Sir Hugh Clifford, according to the author, did not believe that a Nigerian Nation existed even though it was his responsibility to manage it as the Governor General. Clifford referred to Nigeria as a "collection of self-contained and mutually independent Native states". Over 100 years after, it is instructive that not much seems to have changed and it does appear that Sir Clifford was right.
The author goes further to give an overview of the the 3 leading Nigerian Nationalists, namely Azikiwe whom we had mentioned earlier, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello. Each of them had different views about Nigeria, independence, and political organisation. He goes further to document that the North-South rivalry has been here for a very long time. In his own words, "the question of whether each region should develop as an independent state or Nigeria developing as one nation-state remained very topical" If this question was topical in the 1940s, it is even more so today. Azikiwe assumed leadership of the NCNC when Herbert Macauley died in 1946. The NCNC was more of a Pan Nigerian party. From the Pan Yoruba group, Egbe Omo Oduduwa arose the Action Group between 1950 and 1951 led by Awolowo. The Northern People's Congress was formed in 1948. The race for independence was then intensified even though the Sadauna of Sokoto wasn't convinced that the North was ready. Dr. Eleazu dedicates a chunk of his work to Constitutionalism and explains that a constitution is to a country what an owner's manual is to a computer. Where the owner of the computer refuses to operate it according to the instructions in the manual, he may not get the best performance from it.
He rigorously explains how federalism was arrived at and why our founding fathers believed it was the best system for the country. He, however, believes that the country decided to operate federalism in word only, while running a unitary system in deed. On the electoral system, he contends that a good system is measured by its ability to produce good leadership while one that produces people with questionable character or those lacking leadership qualities, is not desirable.
Independence came in 1960 and indigenous leadership was installed. No sooner had the leadership taken over than crises upon crises reared their ugly heads up. The political parties were at war with each other and with themselves, most of the elections held in different regions ended in a fiasco and the census conducted at that time became controversial. In Dr. Eleazu's words "political leadership in the First Republic lacked the moral courage to do the right thing at the right time. Members of the elite spent their time creating power bases for themselves while neglecting the essence of their being in politics - the welfare of the people who were now being used as canon-fodder". The rudderless nature of the ship of state created the conditions for the military to intervene in January 1966. He also gave an account of the civil war but insists that the handling of the post war lessons was not properly done, leaving the country haunted by the ghosts of the war. He did not miss out the role of Britain in the war and its commercial interest around oil. The author then navigates readers through the leadership trajectory from Gowon in 1970 to Buhari at present. He is clear that blurry vision, poor commitment and personality issues made it impossible for successive leaders to deliver on the social contract of well being of the nation and its citizens, safety of lives and property and engendering equal opportunity for citizens.
Dr Eleazu concludes that leadership has failed Nigeria and Nigerians. He however does not fail to recognise pockets of successes in some states and gives credit to the leadership of those states. He insists that performance has all to do with the person, the passion and preparation rather than the usual excuses about resources and funds.
I must declare that this book is a must read for anyone who is interested in understanding the history of our country and why it is the way it is. You don't have to take my word for it. Just get a copy and see for yourself.
This column salutes Dr. Uma Eleazu, the intellectual colossus and true captain of industry, at 91, and wishes him continued good health and peace of mind. We also thank God for the strength He gave him to produce this masterpiece even at this age. It is a challenge to everybody else who has been procrastinating on putting down their thoughts in the form of a publication.