By Simeon Nwankwo-O’diwe
Without prejudice to what Dele Momodu recently brought to the consciousness about the “owners of Nigeria,” that is, a handful whose pull decides the leadership of a country of over 200 million people, the re-valuation of our topmost leadership recruitment process is overly urgent. The improper interrogation of this ought to give way to a critical appraisal of the sales pitch of everyone aspiring to lead Nigeria. No Nigerian, including the “owners,” should any longer be conflicted about the dire consequences of leadership birthed on narrow whims and largely instrumental to wholesome national retardation. The time is different and Nigeria moving with the rest of the world. Yesterday is no more a normal the people of Nigeria will live with. It is already exploding in our faces. Every index that points the way of a united, prosperous, progressive and happy nation is in the reverse. We can only pretend further to our collective peril.
Leadership is all. Around it revolves all factors that make great nations. And in no part of Nigeria is found wanting men capable of retrieving and placing Nigeria on the speedy path of genuine rebirth. Therefore, the pseudo-patriots who have grown amnesia over the merits of zoning and rotation in achieving equity in power equation as a key also to national stability are only scrapping to explain new selfish conveniences. If we go for merit without primordial prejudices, the best in each zone of the country will emerge. But the irony is that today’s anti-zoning forces are the same persons who once demanded rotation of power as a right. Now that the wheel of presidential rotation has rolled to a stop in the South East, zoning has lost all merits. Such prejudices have walled Nigeria off the path of progress. While it is inexcusable the North still feels uncomfortable with the South East producing the President, despite huge sacrifices Ndigbo make in nation-building, nothing sketches treachery than the naked avarice of our brothers from the South West in turning around to aim a fatal shot at a fellow hunter with the excuse that the legs suddenly look like that of an antelope. The leaders of the South West with whom the South East, South South and Middle Belt promoted restructuring to a near national creed appear to have conveniently re-defined restructuring as power sharing between the North West and South West. When we had thought the 1951 cross-carpeting in the Western Regional House and the consequent schism between the major southern tribes separated by the Niger had died, it sickens, our brothers are running out of the fig trees and their colour still unchanged. Joining to torment the Igbo rather than being an ally against the unprogressive oligarchic feelings that the Igbo can’t be trusted with the presidency is worse than the cut from Brutus whom Caesar had called son. The truth is that the Igbo have shown deep faith in oneness of Nigeria, to the extent that, if there is any village or hamlet in any part of Nigeria inhabited by ghosts, one will certainly find Igbo ancestral spirits living happily within. Therefore, even those whose ambition is vaulting and others with morbid fear of the Igbo know that time has clocked in full for a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction.
One would think that the good neighbour the South East played over years, supporting the South West and South South, will serve a bulwark for Ndigbo in 2023. So bad the South West, especially, is pitched as an antithesis of the Igbo aspiration, though some argue a case of ethical relativism where good or bad differs according to perspectives.
No doubt, the South East has men who can break the crouching hills of incompetence tethering our country to stagnation. Senator Chris Ngige is one and about the best shot at the presidency. He is usually short on promises but ends up over-delivering. Ngige, one of the few consistent and dogged politicians in the country, bleeds a gusher of ideas once scratched. He stands out as a generalist, unbound by the narrowness of professionalism as exposed across his career in the public service. But, importantly, Ngige possess in quantum, the number one factor without which no President can excel, and that is: unbridled faith in Nigeria. No leader has ever built a nation he has no faith in. He has demonstrated he is a nationalist not cowed by drumbeats of ethnicity. He has continued to advocate the oneness of Nigeria based on justice and equity. Of all the Igbo leaders, he was the first to fearlessly take a stand against the destruction of life and property in the zone by separatist agitators. And when the orgy of violence took the unprecedented, Ngige it was who facilitated the visit to the President by the Igbo Greats, led by Mbazuluike Amaechi, to ask for pardon for the IPOB leader.
But similarly important is to live an example. Of all Nigerians of the ruling class, he is about the only one whose children attend public schools in the country. The three of them, in what is now known as Ngige’s ‘Made-in-Nigeria’ Doctor Children, graduated, respectively, from Odumewgwu Ojukwu Univerisity, Awka, UNILAG and UNIABUJA. This came at a time when ASUU was urging the National Assembly to pass a legislation banning public officials from sending their children abroad as one of the ways to save tertiary education.
What Ngige has done is simple, Nigeria can be fixed. That there is an exception to the malaise of false patriotism. His is a redeeming symbolism for the leadership class. Patriotism demonstrated in a season of exemplary scarcity, in defiance of rampart hypocrisy. Ngige stands where the suffering masses of Nigeria are, and that is another lesson.
Allied to this is that he believes in enduring legacies. As Anambra State governor, despite relentless torments by godfathers, he left behind first class infrastructures. Those who visited Anambra last Christmas testify that the only motorable roads in the state remain the ones he built about two decades ago. In a taxi that took me to Asaba airport, I had just commended the network of roads and the driver, who, obviously, knew more than me, quipped in, “They do not to compare to Ngige’s roads. Ngige would wear his shorts on the roads with tape to measure the thickness and the quality.”
It is with the same vision that he retrieved the decadent state educational system through the return of schools to the missions and the infrastructural upgrade of the state university. Nothing expresses this vision lately than the subliminal push of blue-collar skills, once looked down upon, into reckoning in a country with an upwardly mobile youth population, largely unemployed. Many graduates and non-graduates are today gainfully engaged in many skills in an unprecedented phenomenal shift. The gains are irreversible.
His handling of complex labour issues which the administration inherited , is top notch. The negotiation and the implementation of the new national minimum wage may look easy because it is constitutionally, a given but certainly not, if one is close to the intricacies of negotiations that would have ordinarily flared into industrial actions. But what could diminish the relative stable industrial milieu engendered by skillful conciliation of a staccato of disagreements between employers and different unions? What else could have saved Nigeria from skidding off like Venezuela without the patriotic and masterful handling of these delicate issues by Ngige who did not only bring Nigeria back to the Governing Board of the ILO but also was elected the Chairman of the Government Group of the governing board of the 187 countries organization? That the federal government did not retrench a single staff from its workforce might look easy only if we don’t flashback to the embargo placed on jobs by the preceding administrations and the gale of retrenchment simplified and justified under the acronyms of right-sizing and downsizing. The measure of respect he earns from the tripartite community expresses in the grip with which he handles the flashpoints in ASUU, NARD , JOHESU and others. What of the vexed Kaduna-NLC face-off? Rueben Abati on Arise Television once asked Ngige the magic he performed that labour leaders now write him apologies than picket his office. Only Buhari knows the reason Ngige is not charged with developing physical infrastructures , perhaps , he considers labour more vital and rightly so.
• Nwankwo-O’diwe writes from Abuja