Major General Obi Umahi (rtd) is the former General Officer Commanding (GOC) 81 Division Nigerian Army, former Directing Staff in Command and Staff College and National Defence College, Commanding Officer 72 Airborne Battalion, Commander Army Task Group (Operation Restore Hope), with two tours of active service in ECOMOG Operations, among numerous military positions.
Sunday Sun cornered him at a recent event in Lagos and during the encounter; he raised issues on the assumed foundation of Nigeria, what needs to be done and way out of the present state of insecurity in the land, among other national issues. Excerpt:
Looking at leadership and governance in Nigeria, where do you place the Nigeria situation now?
I think we need to get our foundation right, just like Singapore got their foundation right from the beginning and today Singapore is standing on a tripod. This is because it is on a foundation that is firm and solid; it is very difficult for a country to have a foundational problem when founded on the solid ground of justice, truth, honesty, among others. The Bible says if the foundation is destroyed what can the righteous do. So, Nigeria has a foundational problem and except we go back to foundations we will continue to wobble and even if we are wobbling in the right direction that will be good. Former President of America, Bill Clinton said there is nothing wrong with wobbling as long as you are wobbling in the right direction, but Nigeria is not wobbling in the right direction, that is the problem and it is because we have no foundation, so we need to go back to the foundation of this nation and build on it and the foundation that Singapore is standing on, for instance: it was built on MPH. M represents meritocracy. People who are right or qualified for the jobs get the job, leaders of this nation must have sound academic qualifications and background to be able to lead, otherwise, it will be a case of the blind leading the blind. We must have people or leaders who can see who can lead the rest of us so that we will know that they are charting a vision, they have a cause, they have a direction, but in Nigeria when we don’t have leaders that know where they are coming from how will they know where they are going to. There is no country, anywhere in the world that has achieved greatness without engaging their best hands, without allowing those that merit the leadership position to be in-charge. That is why great countries do not joke with their education, but what do we have here?
Is it like a situation where princes are walking on foot and servants are riding the horses?
If you explain it so, of course yes, those that are qualified are shunted out, then what do you get? Is it not laughable that at this knowledge-based 21st Century we are still having a situation where the leader is still battling clearance with secondary school certificate?
But how did we get to this mess?
As I said the foundational issues will continue to hunt you until you get it right. The truth is that we never had founding fathers rather we had liberation fathers. They liberated us and left us without foundation so we have to go back to foundations and ensure we get the foundation right. If we do not get our foundation right we will just be walking in circles. It will be motion without movement.
How do we start building this foundation?
I said the first is on meritocracy, that is we must ensure that leaders emerge based on their qualification to led, based on merit to lead; merit is always backed by the capacity to deliver. The second one is pragmatism. Give position, give appointment based on the ability to perform, square peg in square hole, round peg in a round hole, if we do this you will find out that we will get things done easily because the right persons will be in charge and they will not be wanting in ideas and vision of what to do. The third point is honesty. Honesty means that the issue of corruption will be tackled headlong. Corruption is not only financial issues, let the government begin to say, this are the policy statements we are making concerning corruption and doing the talk. In Singapore, a deputy minister went on holiday with a businessman and when he returned and he was jailed because he went on a paid holiday hobnobbing with a government contractor. He was simply found guilty because his trip was paid by the businessman. Can you apply such in Nigeria? If you do this in Nigeria for instance, everybody will sit up, people will be apprehensive and things will begin to work well. Discipline must start with those on top because when you deal with those on top those below will have no choice, but to fall in line.
Considering your background do you think the government has done enough in the fight to tackle present security challenges or do you think it has overwhelmed the government?
Talking about security we must take basic steps to address security issues. How could a constitution be at conflict with itself and you think we can solve the most important need of the society, which is security. You said governors are chief security officers of their state, but you turn around and take the power of that authority from them. Is that not conflicting? They do not have any security agency that they control, they are not controlling the police; they are not controlling any security agency, so how can they deploy this instrument in other to deal with the security issues that are challenging them in their own states, so state police is something that is most inevitable for security issues to be addressed.
You speak as if you have lost hope in Nigeria?
Not at all, I am quite optimistic. I am optimistic that this country is great, but we need to do the right things to ensure that its greatness will manifest to the advantage of all citizens rather than a giant in the sand where despite all the potentials we are still ranked as the poverty capital of the world. The truth is that Nigeria does not seem to be working the way we are today. It is a sorry situation. There is the need to build this country and the first building block is on its foundation. We must tell ourselves the truth. We must know where we are coming from, where we want to be, but it is the leadership that will point the way. You need the right type of leadership, a leadership that should be fair to all concerned, a leadership with a vision and sound knowledge to chart the right course. A leadership that will see beyond the ordinary eyes, that will show purpose, which will apply justice, a leadership that must ensure that those who are qualified takes charge. But the time has also come for citizens to wake up rather than remain docile. Citizens must begin to demand good governance and insist on it despite any resistance. It is their right to demand transparency, good governance, and obedience to democratic tenets.