Title: The Route to Power in Nigeria, A Dynamic Engagement Option for Current and Aspiring Leaders
Author: M. J. Balogun (2009)
By ANTONIA TAIYE SIMBINE
Published by Palgrave Macmillan, this highly well researched and aptly presented 264-page book of 11 chapters, with a foreword by Nigeria’s first Executive President Alhaji Shehu Shagari, is generally about the many problems bedevilling this nation but largely about how leaders were, are made and unmade, which affects how they try to resolve the issues plaguing Nigeria. For people with interest in the progress and development of nations, the story is awful, being that there are no clearly set ways or agenda guiding this process. Instead, it is either about the person with the gun being master, first come first served, winner takes all, which part of the country one hails from, the loudest noisemakers getting the most chance or opportunity, and selection or elevation by connection. The book begins by conceptualising leaders as essentially about power and/or influence in society. Accordingly, it sees leadership as the capacity to envision a future that a growing number of people find sufficiently worthy of their time and resources. This entails affirming a position, propagating a set of values, igniting emotions, commanding loyalty and admiration and bequeathing enduring legacies (to followers) in environments similar to Nigeria’s.
The country is diverse, a factor which poses serious challenges to leadership but at the same time helps curb authoritarian tendencies as leaders spend time bargaining and managing conflicts of allegiances and transacting business with friends and foes. Within such a complex environment, what can engender progress is not constant change in personalities at the helm of affairs but the existence and survival of institutions. Thus, leaders come and go but rarely find on arrival or leave behind on departure a set of enduring values. The Nigerian situation is worsened by the fact that sovereignty that ought to belong to the people and from whom government derives its power and authority had for long been confiscated by military juntas or civilians oligarchies.
As a result, Nigeria still has a long way to go to bridge the gap between formal structural precepts and effective institutional behaviour. According to Balogun, time is of the essence in the institutionalisation process, providing opportunity for learning from mistakes and for practices to mature based on the experience in rolling with the good and the bad. Take the issue of security where a state police commissioner’s responsibility to a state governor is in conflict with his responsibility to the Inspector General of Police, IGP, who is in turn responsible to the President of the federation, with implications not only for law and order in a federal system but also for the conduct of free and fair elections which ought to throw up leaders. Despite the observed deficiencies, necessary adjustments for improving state security have yet to be put in place. Similarly, lack of institutionalisation of parts and the party process as seen in overwhelming influence of party elders, godfathers and strong men, as well as the lack of internal and grassroots democracy and cohesion within parties which the author discusses in relation to the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, all point to the lack of and need for institutionalisation as well as time for such a process to evolve.
The paramountcy of values and institutions could not have given opportunity to struggle for power veiled for instance in zoning, which the author describes as a nebulous, vaguely defined, but suffrage-preempting and power-confiscating concept. This description is apt in that zoning can and is deceptively interpreted depending on time, who is concerned and where they hail from. This was seen during Vice President Jonathan’s ascendancy to the position of President (following late Yar’Adua’s illness and ultimate demise) and subsequent candidacy in the 2011 elections that were issues hotly debated and which almost disintegrated the PDP. Residues of the issue are believed in some quarters to have resulted in the deliberate plan to ensure that Jonathan’s tenure is not peaceful since the announcement of the results of the presidential elections last April.
In any case, personal leadership can also be said to be at play when leaders overwhelm state institutions with their utterances, actions or inactions. Former President Obasanjo’s reference to the 2007 elections as a do-or-die affair is a case in point. Similarly, President Jonathan’s proposal for a seven-year single term presidency seems an obvious case of leaders overwhelming state institutions since the benefits of the suggestion will be difficult to glean, coming from him, at this point in the political history of both the country and ruling PDP. Within the context of zoning, such a suggestion can be misconstrued. Much more critical is the fact that the nation does not have a way to stop a future president railroading his whims on the people and suggesting a change, for instance, to a two-term seven-year tenure. In instance such as this, strong civil society organisations, CSOs, could be useful impediments to retrogression.
The book thus goes further and undertakes a resounding examination of civil society groups in the country and their role in throwing up leaders. According to Balogun, CSOs in Nigeria, being severely underdeveloped (pp 64-73), have not been able to help matters. Interestingly, in examining the diverse interests that CSOs try to push, the author sees the nation’s diversity as an advantage and goes to suggest that each group should instead expend energy on coming up with a vision which defines its own place, while fully acknowledging the presence of others in Nigeria’s multi-cultural setting.
Such a setting can partly be tamed by well-managed elections that are another burning issue that the book touches on. In the author’s opinion, despite the election management body’s ineptitude, poor planning and logistical inadequacy, the deficient elections of 1999 were better organised than the 2003 or the 2007 elections that he considers were a complete sham. It is a shameful truth that the author observes when he points out that notwithstanding the elaborate legal and institutional arrangements for the conduct of elections, the major determinants of success in political leadership contests in Nigeria are and still remain money, godfathers, and violence. In the particular case of ‘godfathers’, Balogun says until their reality and significance is fully grasped, and the problem solved permanently, Nigeria’s leadership recruitment challenges would continue to be intractable.
Furthermore, he opines that elections will remain a herculean task where the head and members of the electoral commission are beholden to the government of the day, and the law enforcement agencies are more than willing to condone electoral malpractices. In that kind of a scenario, the voice of the people will never be heard and new-breed politicians (viz: those who, proceeding from the diversity of Nigeria, frame and share a vision of a country where competence and contributions displace tribe and tongue as eligibility for leadership positions) will rarely be thrown up. It is only such leaders that can succeed in connecting citizens to the state.
Citizens/electorate can be classified into three. The first is the silent majority that takes its disempowerment as natural, and has remained largely apathetic in the face of its systematic disenfranchisement. The second group is entrepreneurially inclined, who knows that the system is defective but is prepared to acquiesce with the imperfections so long as the system meets their short-term demands for food and financial handouts, for job placements, for lucrative but non-performance contracts and other wherewithal of life. The third group from which godfathers recruit their thugs and foot soldiers to rig, rough up opponents or engineer civil riots and disturbances has given up on the hope of reforming or working within the system, but is prepared in more ways than one to help sabotage or wreck it. These, we are told, take delight in casting stones rather than votes, having lost hope in voting at free elections or nailing down decent jobs. There is urgent need to (re) connect these people to the state, especially those in the third category that are most likely also in the numerical majority and which Balogun admits need special attention.
Unfortunately, the author does not say how precisely to take care of them. Much more importantly, how can we deal with these and other issues in the face of debilitating cynicism? How can we convert rage to positive civil action? How does the country face the challenge of generating the resources needed to meet the people’s basic needs, including jobs, infrastructure and security?
This leads us to issues related to the Nigerian man and woman, which the author engages in an incisive and compelling discussion in chapters 6 and 7. He points out that uplifting the standards of living of people, based on a comprehensive, coherent and long-term programme and social policy and notwithstanding differences, is the overall war that Nigerian leaders should face. Moreover, whatever vision is crafted needs to be turned into a shared vision and is the real measure of good leadership. Such a programme and social policy in my view should not be from a so-called removal of petroleum subsidy programme. Balogun thus provides some suggestions – channelling investment into directly productive areas or where improvements are likely to impact positively on the economy; law and justice administration; water supply; health and education; as well as developing a character of productive consciousness in both private and public sectors. Very importantly, he says the country cannot and should not continue to be a Father Christmas, particularly to neighbouring countries.
Based on all the above, the author further proffers several suggestions for developing/identifying good leaders towards tackling some of the very serious malaises affecting the nation. Paramount for me is the place of research and planning that the author identifies stating that whatever programme a government settles for needs to be preceded by rigorous feasibility studies and incorporated in a broad vision of hope as well as be widely shared. In short, the era of planning without data and facts need to be jettisoned.
He propagates the useful concept of the identity value of citizenship that calls for matching benefits with costs. The concept provides a framework for coupling purpose with hope, and for reconnecting the people not only with the state, but also with its institutions. As primordial instincts are natural, the author proposes that they should not be wished away but ways found for citizens to also see benefits in the civic public domain through institutions that respond to their needs. This will pay leaders more in that citizens’ closer identification with their country will increase resulting in commitment to serve and defend the nation and ultimately, its leaders.
Therefore, as part of efforts at promoting a sense of affiliation among a wide cross-section of society, institutions established in pursuance of national objectives should be constantly evaluated against the impact that they make on stakeholders – the Legislature and the laws emanating therefrom; the Executive and the resources it commits to programme implementation; and the Judiciary and the constitutional and legal disputes that it arbitrates. Such evaluation should be carried out based on the perceptions of individual citizen-customers. However, what should be done if these agencies fall short of expectations are not stated or discussed by the author.
Furthermore, there is talk about de-institutionalising corruption and promoting integrity in public life that is often caused by failure to adopt proactive measures to ensure a proper fit between form and substance, and between plans and results. As neither corruption nor mismanagement is the exclusive preserve of government, and it is also in the private sector, what new concrete steps need to be taken or put in place are not identified in the book even though it recognises that corruption remains an impregnable challenge that all sectors of society should join hands to fight.
Another proposal relates to the principle or concept of indigeneship: instead of regarding a candidate’s state of origin as the first and only eligibility factor, Balogun proposes that government vacancies should first be widely announced and openly competed for. I guess sixty years on, managerially backward parts of the country will simply have to buckle up. The author does not address what we should do with quota system, the federal character principle and programmes like the NYSC that were partly created as organs for the promotion of equity and unity. Managerial competence and public good/zeal and not academic qualifications, previous/public service experience and political affiliation and political weight in one’s constituency are agreeably what ought to count in the process of recruiting and placing public leaders into strategic positions. In an increasingly complex and globalising world, it is essential that government and public service leadership posts be filled based more on the paramount considerations of integrity, competence, efficiency and effectiveness.
An observed gap in all of the instructive analysis contained in this outstanding book lies in its not being reference to the absence of an important, deciding role of or contribution by the female gender to the leadership process in Nigeria. Indeed, aside from brief references on pp.73 to some women, this publication is a good confirmation that the male gender has cornered the political space in Nigeria and is thus virtually responsible for all the ills associated with state construction. Nevertheless, this book remains current, alive and therefore useful because though going back in history and completed in 2009, its contents directly or indirectly have utility for the many problems bedevilling this country in late 2011 – security (Boko Haram, violence in Jos, and so on); fuel subsidy; minimum wage; elections; social and infrastructural decay; corruption; educational collapse; unemployment and poverty, to mention just a few. The Route to Power in Nigeria, A Dynamic Engagement Option for Current and Aspiring Leaders is therefore strongly recommended to aspiring and current political leaders and students of politics and development alike.
(Professor Simbine is of the Nigeria Institute of Social and Economic Research, Ibadan.)