I LIKE the way the BBC broke the news on its programme, Focus on Africa on Thursday. It said: “And the winner of the Mo Ibrahim Leadership Prize is…And there is no winner!”
I laughed. But this is not a laughing matter.
Once again, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s prize committee couldn’t find one former African leader, who left office in the last three years, and who demonstrated such excellence in governance during his tenure, to clinch the US$5million award. This is the fifth time, since the award was instituted in 2007, that the committee returned a ZERO verdict. This implies that none of the former leaders did enough to leave legacies of good governance and elevated living standards. None exhibited unalloyed patriotism and convincing evidence of placing nation above self.
For the records: the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership was awarded in 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2014 respectively. Apart from former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, who got the honorary award in 2007, only four ex-Presidents have clinched the prize. They are: Mozambique’s Joaquim Chissano (2007), Botswana’s Festus Mogae (2008), Cape Verde’s Pedro Piers (2011) and Namibia’s Hifikepunye Pohamba (2014). At US$5million, and with additional US$200,000 per year for life for the winner, the prize far outweighs the Nobel Prize at US$1.3million.
Apart from the limitless opportunities that the award avails its laureates, the prize money, to me, guarantees blissful retirement for the recipients. But it would seem that most African leaders are just not interested. In a continent where leaders cannot distinguish between private and personal purses, and in a country like Nigeria where N1billion (or $365million) has become chicken feed to treasury looters, Mo Ibrahim’s prize money cannot impress. But this is not just about money. It is about our time-tested values as Africans. It is about national pride. It is about wearing the garb of honour as exceptional role models for the continent. It is about continued relevance in Africa and the rest of the world long after the laureate has left office. It is about being right in the eyes of posterity and favoured by the forces of history.
In Nigeria, we have had three leaders who, in my estimation, could have won the prize-Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. You don’t have to agree with me, but to my mind, Obasanjo, during his two terms in office, delivered on good governance and accountability. But he shot himself in the foot with his satanic third term agenda. If he had not tried to manipulate the constitution in his bid to extend his tenancy in Aso Rock, if he had packed his baggage at the expiration of his tenancy, he would have emerged as one of the heroes of this democracy, and possibly end up as a Mo Ibrahim laureate. But he wanted to die in office. Only God knows the heart of man. But from what we were able to see and measure, President Yar’Adua seemed to be aspiring to be on the right side of history. But death, the debt of all men, cut his life and tenure short, and the nation mourned on end.
Before President Muhammadu Buhari took power, last year, and began to open the Pandora box, majority of Nigerians, including me, thought President Jonathan was on a super highway to making history as that patriot who loved Nigeria so much that he did what many thought was an aberration in Africa: a routed incumbent who conceded defeat and congratulated his nemesis. But with the mind-numbing exposure of his lieutenants who had almost sucked Nigeria’s life blood dry with the billions of dollars of our commonwealth converted to service their prodigal excesses, Jonathan lost it. Despite the current efforts of his propagandists, the man’s garment still smells like s..t. He lost the prize to his inability to rein in his thieving lieutenants; that is, assuming he never knew anything about the heist.
While marking its first anniversary at the saddle, last month, the Buhari Government made heart-rending disclosures. Lai Mohammed, its Minister of Information, revealed that between May 29, 2015 and May 29, 2016, government had, under interim forfeiture of cash and assets, recovered N126.6billion; US$9.1billion; 2.5 million Pounds Sterling; and 303,399.17 Euros. The funds awaiting repatriation from foreign jurisdictions totalled $321.32 million; 6.9million Pounds and 11,826.11 Euros. That’s not all. Non-cash recoveries (i.e. farmlands, plots of land, uncompleted buildings, completed buildings, vehicles and maritime vessels) totalled 239.
With these mind-boggling disclosures, and still counting, would anyone be right to blame the Mo Ibrahim Prize Committee for turning its back against ex-President Jonathan? With stunning revelations as these, awards like the Mo Ibrahim Prize would be thousands of kilometres away from Jonathan, even if he is not found to have stolen or misappropriated a kobo. The question now is: how can we return to those glorious days in leadership when people sought the greatest good of the greatest number of citizens, and not the number of mansions and billions in leading international currencies that they can accumulate? To achieve this, leaders must seek good name which the Bible says is better than silver and gold. They must work towards having good name and God-like character in private and public life.
Character, like Dr. Myles Munroe espoused in his book, The Power of Character in Leadership, is key to effective leadership. Lack of character, he posited, is the greatest obstacle to leadership success. Lack of character, I dare add, marks the genesis of all the chaos that we see. Leadership is the compass that guides a nation’s ship against turbulence and killer icebergs. It is the pathfinder that lights the way for a nation and illuminates a nation’s path through progressive and innovative ideas, effective policies, transparency in budget implementation and project execution, among others.
In a nutshell, effective leadership makes things happen. If a nation dances Russian roulette, taking one step forward and two back, like we have been doing since the advent of this democracy in 1999, check the character of its leadership. It is only a leadership without character that would steal not only for today and tomorrow, but also for generations unborn while majority of citizens groan under gruelling poverty. It is godless leadership that would pad budgets and make anticipatory declaration of assets while vulnerable people-the infirmed, the aged, children from poor homes, and pregnant women with limited means-are denied access to basic necessities like quality healthcare, decent meals, habitable accommodation and quality education. It is a leadership without moral force and clear vision that would slumber as citizens perish in penury and other preventable circumstances.
My prayer, as I conclude this, is for God to give Nigeria and Africa leaders who have character, fear God and love humanity. For character, as Dr. Myles Munroe insisted in his book, answers all things; especially in leadership.