By Olusegun Adeniyi
Fifteen of our 36 governors and three deputy governors traveled to Kigali, Rwanda last month for a three-day executive leadership retreat. We were told the trip was organised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF). The retreat was reportedly designed to enable our governors to “re-imagine Nigeria’s leadership to achieve transformation and nationwide sustainable development.” Remarkably, governors from all five parties were represented: The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as well as the Labour Party (LP), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).
Although the governors have since returned from Kigali, many Nigerians remain critical of the idea that chief executives of our states would go all the way to Rwanda to nurture “skills to support deep listening and self-awareness” and learn how to address “multiple complex challenges.” Besides, at a time when we are seeking foreign investors, it is demarketing to suggest there are no suitable places in Nigeria where governors could hold a retreat. Not to mention the extraordinary cost involved. But the Governor of Nasarawa State, Abdullahi Sule, recently explained what transpired in Kigali as well as how and why the retreat was conceived. What he said deserves attention.
Sule spoke in Lagos at the public presentation of ‘Hallmarks of Labour’ Volume 11 in honour of former External Affairs Minister, Prof Bolaji Akinyemi, former Chief of Staff to the President, Prof Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, immediate past Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu and former Ohanaeze Ndigbo President-General, Prof. Joseph Ogbonnaya Irukwu, now of blessed memory. Authored by Ms. Patricia Otuedon-Arawore—whose 26-year-old foundation honours selected accomplished Nigerians annually—the book highlights the achievements of these four role models who, according to the session’s chairman, Chief Phillip Asiodu, “have attained national and international prominence through hard work, integrity, transparency, and positive public-spirited service.”
In addition to Sule, Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun, and his Borno State counterpart, Babagana Zulum were in attendance. Oyo State was represented by Deputy Governor Bayo Lawal while the Secretary to the State Government, Bimbola Salu-Hundeyin stood in for Lagos Governor. Also participating were former Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Vanguard newspapers publisher, Mr Sam Amuka-Pemu as well as Chief Mrs Nike Akande, Senator Daisy Danjuma, and a host of other distinguished Nigerians. I was at the event to honour both Gambari and Akinyemi whose career paths I crossed many times, even as they remain friends. Apparently, in response to critics, Sule defended the Kigali trip: “Unfortunately, and unlike so many accusations that have come in, it was not a trip organised by the Nigeria Governor Forum. It was an event organized by the UNDP. And UNDP decided to organize that event purely to take us to where leadership has worked and indeed leadership has worked in that country.”
The first takeaway is the admission that leadership has failed in Nigeria at practically all levels and in all spheres – whereas it works in Rwanda. Nobody can argue with Sule on that. “We had a similar thing in Nigeria, which was the civil war, but we didn’t get it right. They have got it right after the genocide. So, if we can only pick that part and unite our country, Nigeria will be a better place,” Sule added. I agree with Sule that the scars of the civil war are still very much with us, but I don’t think Rwanda is where we can learn about dealing with diversity.
However, the real takeaway from the Nasarawa governor’s confession was what he personally learnt from President Paul Kagame. According to Sule, he strategically positioned himself to be seated near Kagame so he could ask him a question. “I asked the president of Rwanda ‘What you do right that we should also do in Nigeria?’”. Kagame’s response as relayed by Sule is instructive. “He said the day Nigeria starts comparing itself to Rwanda, Africa is dead.” And from there Sule quoted what Kagame reportedly told him on what he and his colleagues should begin to do: “We cannot be compared with Nigeria. Tell Nigeria to wake up because Africa is waiting for her. We cannot afford for Nigeria to remain asleep, so tell Nigeria to wake up. And I’m challenging you governors, starting from you. Go and do it in your own state and make your state better. And if every one of you here would make your state better, Nigeria would be better for Africa.”
Kagame would not be the first African leader to say what Sule attributed to him about Nigeria letting itself and Africa down. The late South African President, Mr Nelson Mandela, was also quoted to have said something similar. The issue is what our leaders are doing to change the narrative. But before I proceed, it is interesting that Gambari, one of the honourees featured in the book presented at the session where Sule spoke, played a critical role in the Rwandan story. When the genocide against the Tutsi broke out in 1994, Gambari was Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations at a time our country was also a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council which he (Gambari) later chaired. The trio of Colin Keating of New Zealand, Karel Kovanda of the Czech Republic, and Gambari were vociferous in advocating early UN intervention by alerting the world that the killings in Rwanda were genocidal.
In April 2021, Kagame publicly acknowledged that Rwanda will never forget Nigeria’s contribution towards stopping the genocide and he referenced Gambari. According to Kagame, while many world leaders were stonewalling in response to the tragedy, some people and countries stood out. “And one of them is an African country that we shall always be proud to call a good friend, represented by a man I remember, called Ibrahim Gambari. Nigeria stood out and said there is a problem, and we must call it what it is. Professor Gambari was there, and we shall always be proud of Nigeria,” Kagame said in his speech to mark Kwibuka27, an event held annually to remember victims of the genocide.
Now to the present. Kagame was right in telling Sule that it is a lack of ambition that would make any Nigerian leader aspire to be like Rwanda. With due respect to the yeoman efforts of Kagame (and he remains one of the few leaders on the continent for whom I have tremendous respect), Nigeria ought to aim far higher. Rwanda is a landlocked country of 13.46 million people. That is less than the population of Lagos State and just about 7 percent of the population of our country. With 26,338 square kilometers, Rwanda is also less than many states in Nigeria in landmass. In fact, Nigeria is more than 35 times the size of Rwanda while Niger State alone (at 76,000 square kilometres) is more than twice the size of the East-central African country. In human and material resources, Nigeria is also far ahead of Rwanda and all other African countries, for that matter.
By telling Sule that his charity should begin in Nasarawa, Kagame is invariably saying to him and colleagues what some of us have been saying all along: For Nigeria to develop and thrive, the focus cannot only be on Abuja. The states will also have to work for the people. Meanwhile, it is instructive that the destiny of Nigeria appears to be in the hands of governors. Of the five presidents we have had under the current dispensation, three (the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and now Bola Tinubu) have served as governors. Just like their Vice Presidents. Now, the Senate President, many Senators and Ministers are also former Governors. There is therefore no reason why the states cannot be centres of productivity and development. But a situation in which local government chairmen are corralled into prostrating before governors to obtain their statutory allocations offers little or no prospect in that direction.
In case he missed the message, what Kagame was telling Sule is that governors in Nigeria can make a world of difference, especially since many of their states compare with African countries in terms of population and resources. The Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala made this same point nine years ago as coordinating minister for the economy under President Jonathan. Speaking at the 12th convocation ceremony of Babcock University, Ilisan Remo, Ogun State in June 2014, Okonjo-Iweala said the governors “have no reason whatsoever not to develop their states, given the huge amounts they receive regularly from the Federation Account every month.”
In that paper which did not go down well with many governors at the time, Okonjo-Iweala presented a breakdown of what ten states earned in 2013 and made a comparative analysis with revenues generated by a number of West African countries within the same period. “Many Nigerian states receive revenue allocations which are larger than the budgets of neighbouring countries such as: Liberia ($433 million), or Gambia ($210 million) or Benin Republic ($1.47 billion). The top two recipients of state allocations–Akwa Ibom and Rivers–receive $3.1 billion, which is about half of the entire budget of Ghana (about $6.4 billion),” Okonjo-Iweala said while calling on Nigerians to demand more accountability of their governors. “On a per capita basis (i.e., revenues/population), the top three recipients of FAAC allocations are: Bayelsa (N84,500 or $545), Akwa Ibom (N55,600 or $360) and Delta States (N42,000 or $270). On this per capita basis, many Nigerian states receive more than neighbouring countries such as: Ghana ($255), Benin Republic ($146), Liberia ($103), and Gambia ($117).”
Clearly, the NGF must do more than organize retreats and seminars. It should become a serious institution generating ideas on how to drive development in the 36 states. It says so much that despite the intellect, experience, and exposure of many of our governors, hardly any of them considers himself more opportune than the average president of the next African country. Yet, it is only in that mental state that they can outgrow their present Abuja-inspired ‘feeding bottle’ orientation. Each of our 36 states has the resources and potential to be better than many African countries. Why no governor has risen to that level of consciousness is the reason why they will continue to troop out when another Kigali calls.
Adieu Akintola Williams
As presidential spokesman in 2009, I attended a function where I was privileged to be seated beside the foremost Nigerian accountant, Mr. Akintola Williams, who died on Monday at age 104. I remember asking him, “Sir, what is the secret to longevity?” He smiled and said, “I really don’t know but in my own case, I guess it is because I am unemployed and unemployable.” While I enjoyed his company that day, it happened to be the only personal contact I ever had with him. But it was enough to feel a sense of loss at his passage at a ripe old age. May God comfort the family he left behind.
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