Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Akwa Ibom: The succession question


Akwa Ibom: The succession question

Leadership is everything. Now, that is a trite statement, but its oft-repeated use rather than diminish its eternal truth nevertheless bolsters it, making its wit ring as true today as when it was first made. Let’s look at the verity of the claim on leadership by way of a random empirical overview.
At the end of the Korean War in 1953, the two halves of the peninsula were basically at par in socio-economic development. But one thing differentiated one from the other: leadership. The leadership in the South was focused more on people-oriented development, and even when there were setbacks of military takeovers, they never took their eyes off the kind of development with impact that would lead to the greatest good for the greatest number. On the other hand, the leadership in the North was stuck with eccentric use of power and never bothered about development that addressed the mass interest of its people. Today, South Korea is a prosperous country with a high standard of living, contrasting sharply with the North of starving citizens and an eccentric one family rule.
In Southern Africa, for another illustration, Rhodesia, with its loathsome racist government, posted strong economic progress year after year. At the end of racism as a philosophy of government, Robert Mugabe took over in the successor-nation called Zimbabwe but couldn’t resist the temptation to vengeance. Consumed by hate, Mugabe took his eyes off the ball with regard to building the economy. The Zimbabwean economy crashed and the citizens of the once buoyant and proud nation literally ate from the rubbish bins.
Ghana next door was a classic basket case. Its citizens migrated in droves in search of even menial jobs all over the continent, particularly to Nigeria where their case of misery was very well known. It took a hard-headed leadership to halt the decline and put Ghana back up on its feet. Today, the world is celebrating the Ghanaian rebirth.
The centrality of leadership in the affairs of men is starkly on display in Akwa Ibom State, to use the example of a small slice of humanity. Akwa Ibom, before 2007, was the butt of malicious jokes by other Nigerians. They regaled themselves with laughter on everything about Akwa Ibom people—their language, their accent, their lack of education, indeed, the absence of everything good in the state. In six short years, good leadership has changed nearly everything ugly about Akwa Ibom and with it the perception of the world about a people whose industry, creativity, healthy work ethics had all along been there but could not manifest—(no) thanks to bad leadership.
Under Governor Godswill Akpabio, Akwa Ibom has manifested truly as the Cinderella story. No one, not even the most optimistic onlooker at the start of 2007 could have imagined that within a wink of six years, Akwa Ibom would boast the mass of infrastructure that it has today. Nor could anyone have foreseen the revolution that is taking place in the social sector where there has been for each child in the state since 2008 a strictly enforced right to 12 years of free and compulsory education; where pregnant women, infants and senior citizens enjoy free health care; where the health sector has benefited from a massive makeover in infrastructure, manpower and worker welfare. No one could have imagined that this one-time backwaters of Nigeria would within six years become such an attraction that the crème-de-la-crème of the society fall over one another to visit.
The fairy tale progress in Akwa Ibom has been made possible by good leadership. Another truth is that all this quantum leap can be reversed even in shorter order by poor leadership. We have already shown the example of Zimbabwe which went from being a net exporter of food to being a beggar nation within a few years on account of leadership. Uganda under Idi Amin would serve as another example of such regression. Leadership is without doubt everything. Leadership can build and leadership can destroy.
The double-edged capacity of leadership for evil and good should be a subject of deep, deep reflection by Nigerians at every turn they have to make a choice about who leads. For all Nigerians such major turn is coming in 2015.
In the particular case of Akwa Ibom, used earlier as one of the illustrations, the significance of leadership would be appreciated even by infants. Leadership has turned their long night into day—suddenly. Because leadership has taken away all reproach, all sources of shame and frustration from the Akwa Ibom man and woman, they should carefully consider who takes over the mantle from the current governor in 2015. For me—and this should be the same for all Akwa Ibom people—the choice is simple. The job of LEADER in the state in 2015 and in all subsequent decision years should go to the Best Man.
The job of leader must go to the Best Man in 2015 for fear of the past and in preparation for the future. The past is where no rational Akwa Ibom person would want to go back to. The past was physically unprepossessing, psychologically wrenching, socially frustrating. That is the past good leadership has separated the Akwa Ibom man from. But another instance of bad leadership can take the state back to that regression curve. Examples of such backward steps abound. So to guarantee a future of continuing progress, to keep up the momentum for progressive social change that has been unfolding in the state since 2007, the search for the next good leader must be dispassionate, clear-headed and absolutely patriotic. In the search, nothing should matter, absolutely nothing except the overall interest of Akwa Ibom, the interest being a continuation of the sea change we have all been witness to since Governor Akpabio came into office in 2007. The search for the Best Man for the job, the right CEO for an Emerging Tiger like Akwa Ibom State, should be for all Akwa Ibom people a call to battle. When there is war, the commander-in-chief sends his best soldiers to battle, not half-baked officers who have yet to prove themselves.
The best man, therefore, for Akwa Ibom State, come 2015, should be a man so adjudged by a proven track record of excellence in public or private life, competence, experience, unalloyed patriotism and unflinching commitment to the Akwa Ibom project. And given the history of lopsided development in the state before the current dispensation of fairness and equity, the next leader of the state must be fair-minded and free from all kinds of hubris, including the hubris of ethnic bigotry.Who fits this bill among politicians currently angling to succeed Governor Akpabio in 2015?
Otongaran is a public affairs analyst

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