Recently, I engaged some folks in a discourse over where the presidential pendulum ought to swing in 2023. My interest here was roused by the position of the southern groups like Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Middle Belt Forum (MBF) and several others who have been at the forefront of the campaign for presidential power to swing to the southern divide of the country. Both the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had fashioned out undocumented agreements for power to rotate between the North and the South. With this, therefore, it is expected that the presidency will revert to the southern divide in 2023.
However, there have been expressions of interest by some political actors from the northern divide who argue that power rotation is unconstitutional. Agreed that it is, but whatever arrangement that humans work out for the smooth operation of their society, ought to be respected. It is called gentleman’s agreement. I guess it was within this understanding that the ruling APC had hinted that its 2023 presidential candidate would come from the southern divide. Will it be South West, South East or South-South? I do not yet know. But, given the fact that both South West and South-South have had their hands on the presidency within the past 20 years, perhaps, the gentleman’s agreement ought to be extended within the southern divide to allow the South East field a candidate in 2023.
It was within this context that my friends and I sat over an evening meal to review the possibilities that could fly the flag for the South East region, if reality dawns. I introduced Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu’s name in the mix. He is the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation. All appreciated his suitability but they raised a question.
Why is he too quiet and not outspoken? Why is it that you rarely hear him talking about what he is doing and the situation of things in Nigeria? Why is he not building roads for his home community? Some said Onu is frugal and not colourful. I was taken aback. Is not being loquacious a political crime? Is being frugal a disqualifying trait for leadership recruitment? Well, for some, it may be. For others, it may well be a very strong quality that is rarely found in political leaders and deep thinkers.
Those who know the minister too well, appreciate the gift of him to humankind. They know how deeply thoughtful he is. They also appreciate his never-ending sensitivity to issues that affect humanity. Not being rowdy and flamboyant is his style. After all, style is the man. French naturalist Buffon said, “Style is the man himself.”
Another writer, Oscar Wilde, stated it more classically when he said, “One’s style is one’s signature always.”
Onu is classic with his style. He hasn’t betrayed it and it is doubtful if he will. The basic defining style that Onu has been noted for is consistency. He has been dogmatically consistent with his politics and his approach to issues. So, not being flamboyant and noisy is a style that has endeared him to all who have come across him. Therefore, he stands out as one who should be seriously considered in the leadership recruitment process in the southeast.
However, I appreciate views by my friends that Dr. Onu is not loud and rarely heard. But that is a wrong evaluation of the job of anyone who serves his country as minister of science, technology and innovation. Any such person is not a works minister whose assignment is assessed on the basis of how good the roads and bridges are.
A minister of science, technology and innovation ought to be a brainiac whose time in office should be assessed by how much the policies he/she pursued added positive values to society. I do not expect anyone who sits in that office to be on the streets producing anything. I rather expect to see how the policies he pushed translated to investment opportunities, job creation and better life for the people. If we rethink it, we will realise that it took only one policy enunciation and implementation to turn the telecommunication sector around and bring about the GSM revolution. Today, many Nigerians have grown big through investments made in that sector. Ask, how much exactly did the Federal Government spend to bring about that revolution?
It is with this in mind that I look at the impact of Onu’s push for a new policy that will drive the needed change in the welding sector. Welding? Yes, welding! In May this year, Onu inaugurated two committees on drafting of national policy on welding and its related fields, and also on the national status survey on welding. This may not strike any immediate chord. But when analyzed against the backdrop of the fact of jobs lost in that sector to foreigners, who also repatriate their earnings (capital flight), we may begin to realize how only one policy in that field would change the narrative and translate into the creation of millions of jobs for Nigerians. Onu said at the event that, “this policy will, among many other things, keep Nigerian jobs for Nigerians, and reduce capital flight arising from the importation of skilled personnel.”
This drive, to my mind, is in furtherance of the efforts of the Ministry to push for local content in the welding sector, which when fully developed, alongside the steel sector, would help drive industrialization of Nigeria. And to express how his mind was working as regards the push for a new policy in this direction.
Onu said, “When we look at welding, it is easy for us to forget that we cannot build cars, buses, locomotive wagons, boats, ships, submarines, gas pipelines, equipment for deepwater oil exploration, aeroplanes, space crafts, tractors, harvesters, storage facilities for farm produce, high quality modern buildings, fire-fighting heavy trucks, rockets, weapons to defend the nation, to mention but a few without welding. For too long we relied on foreigners to do all this for us. We are paying the price for this, as the level of unemployment has continued to grow.
“ The bottomline, for him, therefore, is that “many of our youths are unemployed, we must find a way to ensure that all young Nigerians willing to work can find good quality work to do.”
That, to my mind, should be the task before a minister of science, technology and innovation. That is the sort of reasoning that should preoccupy the mind of a leader in the 21st Century. Flamboyance, clenched fists, being loquacious and noisily ubiquitous may be leadership qualities of the past era.
They are no longer. The leader of the future should be a thinker, a solutions-minded and problem-solving human whose humanity transcends ethnic, religious and regional boundaries. Dr. Onu falls within this bracket.