Nigeria’s problem lies with the leadership selection process – Amuta
Chidi Amuta is the chairman/chief executive officer of Wilson & Weizmann, a media relations, public affairs, publishing & strategic events company, headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria. Amuta, a foremost journalist, columnist, intellectual, former senior lecturer in Literature and Communications at the Universities of Ife and Port Harcourt, is also a visiting Fellow, Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, Boston USA. In this interview with ZEBULON AGOMUO, Editor, he speaks on the state of the nation, particularly- Nigeria @ 57. He laments the retrogression of the country, knocks the Federal Government’s strategy in the handling of the Nnamdi Kanu phenomenon, among other issues: Excerpts:
For many years, people like you have been trying, through your articles, to change the society by making the political class live up to expectation. But it appears that the more you write the country gets worse and the more political leaders grow worse in terms of not delivering the good governance expected of them. Where actually does the problem lie?
Well, there are two things we need to be clear about. This is a very large country by virtue of our population in excess of 180 million. The complexity that comes from that should be expected. But that in itself should not be a problem; our problem is management. The time has passed when politics was just anything goes. In today’s world, politics has also become part of the management; because you are managing public expectations and when you have to manage the expectations of 180 million people, you better be sure of what you are doing.
I want to say that our problem lies with the leadership selection process. In the countries we like referring to- the United States, Britain – the difference between us and them is that most of them are meritocracies. The leadership selection process is so rigorous and thorough that they aim at providing the best, and even if the man at the top is not the best; the entire group around him will be among the best. But in our own case, we have a leadership selection process that is not rigorous; it is not based on merit. It is based on compromise. In fact politicians come together and scout for somebody they can manipulate and at the end of the day you have a leader or a president that does not even understand the scope of problem in his country. He is just learning on the job and because he is a product of compromise, he is not sure of both his academic credentials (qualifications) as well as his experience. So, what does he do? Who does he surround himself with? He surrounds himself with minions. He makes sure that the best of the minions, those of his appointees, cannot look at him in the face.
We are lucky to even be surviving as a country because the last country ruled by people without ideas is a calamity that is in waiting. So, it has started manifesting and what we are seeing are the early stages.
Recently, the Federal Government proscribed the Indigenous People Of Biafra (IPOB). What is your take on the agitation of the youth and the way government is going about it?
There are two things; one is the secessionist pressure, the other one is the handling and management of it by government.
Now let’s take the secessionist pressure. I think that IPOB and the whole Nnamdi Kanu phenomenon is a creation of the Federal Government. Nnamdi Kanu was arrested here in Lagos in a small hotel for infractions bordering on smuggling of arms and running an illegal radio station. Now, the scope of those infractions is so small that ordinary legal process should have taken care of Nnamdi Kanu as a small, little miscreant. He’s a young man, we have never heard of his name before; we have never heard anything about him before, of his background, parentage or line of business, anything whatever. Nothing. So, at that stage, the Federal Government should have contained him and limited the trial to a criminal trial; they didn’t need to elevate it to the level of saying he wanted to overthrow the government. They magnified and elevated him by staging a political trial instead of a mini criminal trial.
He didn’t need to be tried for treason. It is just like all these people who are importing short guns from Turkey, you arrest them and try them for treason. They came from somewhere; their people will gather at the court and if you do it repeatedly, their followership will just be expanding. So, the Federal Government created IPOB. Before IPOB, what we knew was MASSOB, a pressure group. They weren’t disturbing the peace. But by staging the trial of Nnamdi Kanu; by arresting and detaining him for a long time, and prolonging his trial they magnified him. Therefore, each time he’s appearing in court, he became the carrier of the Biafran flag. Who gave him the Biafran flag? Did he know what Biafra was?
He doesn’t understand, but the Federal Government created that with the result that the effort to get him bailed became a political issue; to the extent that if you noticed, it was politicians from the South East that went to arrange for his bail. So, it became a political issue. If they had smart people advising the president that 50th Anniversary of any movement in history is very significant because it takes an average of 40 to 50 years for any major upheaval in history to either go into oblivion or graduate into a president’s headache. Therefore, they should have known that the 50 years of Biafra could erupt. So elevate the personality of Nnamdi Kanu that IPOB has now acquired a large followership that is causing a serious headache. So, that’s the problem. I call it Biafra Spring. Now, what is the followership of the IPOB? Is not the Igbo elite; it is not even the politicians. It is the traders; the unemployed; people who are aged between 18 and 45 maximum. They never saw the war. They never experienced it. Some of them are emotional about the history of their people. Why did they become emotional? It is because the present day Nigeria has not offered them any opportunities. So the stories they hear are telling them that there used to be a place that had so much promise for them as a people. So, you see how the Federal Government created Biafra by their handing of Nnamdi Kanu phenomenon and by their deliberate marginalisation and alienation of people of the South East. And that’s how the followership started expanding and then the elite that were not sympathetic became sympathetic. They began to say, ‘wait a minute, by the way, these are our sons and daughters that are being chased around and killed’. Then in the management of the crisis– first of all, the Federal Government had no business deploying soldiers to manage the procession of people who are trying to remember their past. There’s no statute book in Nigeria where memory of a past is a crime. I want to see that. Any lawyer should bring it I want to see it. Then if memory or remembering your past is not a crime, why go after youths with guns and live bullets? And so many were killed in Onitsha. So, when you do that, you further alienate people; you create a militant force out of ordinary citizens that are processing, that are exercising their rights of freedom of association, movement and of expression. So, the management is defective. I have not seen any report where anybody claimed that the people marching and processing to remember Biafra exhibited so much force that overwhelmed the police and therefore, necessitated the bringing of combat soldiers on the streets of Onitsha and the entire South East. If there is any such report, I want to see it; I haven’t seen such a report.
It is the mismanagement of a small crisis that magnified it. Remember, they granted Nnamdi Kanu a partial bail and handed him over to politicians. So, he becomes a political asset or a liability as the case may be. He goes home and in any case the judge is very stupid to give bail conditions that conflict with the normal rights of a citizen in a democracy. You don’t give somebody bail that says you’re not going to talk; you’re not going to eat; you’re not going to associate with people, etc. No, this is quite different from what the law says. You don’t give me bail that reduces my humanity. Therefore, the only way that I can assert my rights is to do those things that make me a human being. So, Nnamdi Kanu starts addressing rallies, starts travelling all over the place; it was highly mismanaged; then sending in and staging Operation Python Dance, this animal metaphor, is laziness. The police are there, the law court is there, the man has a case in court and he is supposed to appear on the 17th of October. If you want to contain him, allow him to come to court, then set your judges and lawyers, in such a manner that it will prove that he has violated the conditions of the bail; then you take him back and his memberships will fizzle out. But they didn’t wait for that, they showed up with soldiers. Umuahia is one of the most silent semi-rural dwellings; you don’t send soldiers there. That’s how Biafra became a major political issue. Then, there’s even another element of mismanagement by also the South East politicians and this is where Nnamdi Kanu played into the hands of politicians.
He used the opportunity to test his popularity and clearly he became more popular than any single politician in the South East. Politicians felt threatened; their followership and their space felt threatened. They felt insecure. So you see, the interest of the Federal Government coincided with that of the South East politicians, and they needed to contain Nnamdi Kanu for different reasons. That’s what happened. You must get one thing clear. There’s no reasonable Igbo person who has said that he prefers Biafra to Nigeria. None. Biafra was defeated; it never existed as a reasonable political space or to offer people anything. No. So, for you to say people prefer Biafra – which Biafra? Biafra was a slaughter slab. People were dying there. It was a war front. Have you heard anybody say he prefers a war front to a peaceful place? Igbo people want Nigeria, but they want a fairer Nigeria.
How would you describe Nigeria at 57?
Pathetic. Pathetic. Because you see, the race for development which nations run is like a marathon race among peers (peer group). As you are running that marathon race you are looking at the two sides to see where those you started with are- who has overtaken me; who have I overtaken? Among the countries that gained Independence in the late 50s up to early 60s who has Nigeria overtaken? Nobody. Who has overtaken us? Hundreds! Where are we? No where? So, that’s how best to describe Nigeria. Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, South Korea, where are they today? Gone! Even ordinary Ghana, Ethiopia (Majek Fashek and all those our musicians used to sing about the Ethiopian family; today what will Ethiopian musicians sing for you? Ethiopia is one of the fastest developing economies in Africa along with Rwanda. Ghana here is far better than you. So, do you see the problem? So, if you look at it as a marathon, Nigeria is nowhere. Nothing has changed. Retrogression. Name any national institution or any aspect of our national life that is better today than it was in 1960? Nigeria Airways? Railway? Security? In 1960 when Zik as president of Nigeria used to live on Marina, the security guard was only one policeman armed with a baton, no gun. Today, is there any local government chairman in Nigeria that is not being attended to by a platoon of AK-47-wielding goons? Is that progress? With your fine suit can you go anywhere now by rail? As a child, I used to travel from my village to Port Harcourt on holiday, by rail.
I used to trek to the train station which is a walking distance from my village and entered the train to Port Harcourt. And when you entered the train you see kids coming from Uzuakoli, Zaria and other places, and we were building a nation even on the train.
Today, where is the rail? They are waiting for the Chinese to build rail and put train on it. So, is that progress? Where is Nigeria Airways? Dead. Where is Nigeria National Shipping Line? Name it.
But must it continue to be lamentation year in, year out?
No. There are so many good stories that are beginning to emerge out of the ruins. It is said that there’s an architecture out of a ruin.
You have young kids today who have embraced IT and they are doing well. Go to Yaba, you will see them. They are start-ups in IT. There’s a Dangote building the modern day Africa multinational; Adenuga doing great with his Globacom. We do have those efforts. But why is it that there’s no continuity even in the things that individual Nigerians try to do, in spite of all the constraints? There’s no continuity, there’s no future. Industrialists of yesteryear- the Odutolas, the Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu of transport fame, where are they? Where are all their business empires that they built? Where is Ekene Dili Chukwu of yesterday? So, we have to look at our inability to sustain public institutions and private enterprises.
In some climes, some companies that still maintain the lead in construction, in telecoms, etc, have a long history. They were founded many years ago. Henry Ford, the automobile giant, when did he start it? It is still there today. We have to be very careful. There’s no excuse. We cannot be excused from seriousness. We cannot say because we are Nigerians, we should be excused from being serious; or we should be excused from doing things properly; we should be excused from being rigorous; we should be excused from applying our mind; we should be excused from respecting intellect. In many climes today, the universities lead in research in national policies. Go to MIT, Harvard and other institutions outside there, they are engaged in cutting-edge research for national good. In our own case, we delight in negotiating with ASUU every year, for pittance.
We don’t give universities any assignment; we have no confidence in them. We prefer outsiders to come and build us infrastructure. Third world countries constructing rail and putting train on it. So, you see the point I am making? There is no endeavour in the world today that Nigerians have not excelled in. But have successive governments in our country entrusted Nigerians with the responsibility? Nigerian doctors man some of the best hospitals in Saudi Arabia, Europe and America. But up to yesterday (Monday), less than 24 hours, (Tuesday), the wife of the president was lamenting the absence of syringes in clinic in our own White House. And because I want to be nice to Nigeria I should clap?
Recently, government announced that the country has exited recession. What does this mean to you as a business person?
You yourself you don’t need to be a businessman to know the truth. What are they talking about? Up to the end of Jonathan administration economy was growing at 6 percent, then due to the policy carelessness of this administration economy was escorted to a recession. Some people delight in playing politics with everything. For people to be celebrating just because, according to them, there’s a growth of 0.5 percent, not even 1 percent, is absolutely nonsense. It they are talking about 2 or 3 percent growth I would understand, not when it is not even up to 1 percent, something that even a natural disaster like drought can wipe off immediately; it shows the quality of leadership and it is pathetic. Except the noise is for the purpose of mere politics, otherwise there’s no truth in it.
If an economy is healthy, you cannot hide it. It is very fragile and instead of doing something about it, people are playing politics.
Subtle campaign for 2019 has begun and many people have expressed fears that by January next year governance would completely be abandoned. Do you think that INEC’s early release of election timetable is to blame for this?
Well, as you have pointed out, it’s the early time table rolled out by the INEC that appears to have increased political activities in the country long before the general election. But in any case, I won’t say that campaign has started; what people are doing is to do some form of sensitisaiton. Like I told you, there is no rigorous selection process; otherwise by now we should have known who is contesting for the presidency. Here, people take such things for granted; they announce a candidate few days to election; which shows we have not really weaned ourselves from the military way of doing things. In the military era, they would just come up and announce a name as the new leader and we accept it. That is what we have continued to do. The question is, where has it left us? No where! They will just select the people and organise election, and what determines our own definition of an election being free and fair is if the outcome falls in line with people’s expectation. What I mean is, if look at what happened in 2015, at a point many people– right or wrong- became disenchanted with the Jonathan administration. So, you cannot say that the election that brought in the current government was free from error. But because it fell within the expectation of the people it became free and fair.
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