TAKING KADUNA FROM GOOD TO GREAT: THE CHALLENGE OF PERSONAL EXAMPLE. By Joe Abah
I am greatly honoured to have been asked to deliver this year’s Inauguration Lecture. The Kaduna Inauguration Lecture of 2015 was delivered by the late, great Professor Pius Adesanmi. His address was titled: “El Rufai and the Challenge of Building Kaduna in a Day With One Kobo.” He concluded his address with the words “To be continued.” Before we continue, may I please seek the indulgence of His Excellency the Governor of Kaduna State for us all to rise and observe a moment’s silence in honour of the memory of Professor Pius Adebola Adesanmi.
May his soul rest in peace!
In setting out the challenge before Governor El-rufai in 2015, Professor Adesanmi posited that there is no option of failure, no reasonable margin of error, and no latitude for mediocrity and unspectacular performance. While a leader can take reasonable steps to guard against mediocrity and unspectacular performance, he or she cannot guarantee that everything that they do will succeed as planned and that there will be no failure. Also, to deny a leader any margin of error is to expect of them the omniscience that only God Almighty possesses. Having said that, Nigerians are tired of potential that never seems to translate into tangible improvements in the lives of citizens. They are tired of the “sleeping giant” epithet. They are tired of the excuses. They want their potential realized now, especially as other countries with less resources are beginning to realise theirs. This, I believe, is what Professor Adesanmi was trying to convey in his inimitable style.
However, although it is my firm belief that a leader that has the will, the support base and the passion to drive change can do so, regardless of the constraints in the environment, I also believe that it will be foolhardy to ignore the intricate challenges of the environment in which the desired change is meant to occur. I will use a recent real-life event to illustrate this point. I am currently from Ebonyi State. I use the term “currently” advisedly. This is because during my lifetime, I have come from Eastern Region, then East Central State, then Imo State, then Abia State, and now Ebonyi State. If, at some point, a sixth state is created in the South East of Nigeria, my village is expected to be in the new state. Funnily enough, I have never actually lived in Ebonyi State. I have never paid taxes there.
My being from Ebonyi State does not affect the price of rice in the market, although we do produce the best rice in the country. It only becomes relevant the moment there is any sharing to be done at national level. In such a case, I would be expected to be quick to claim my Ebonyi indigene-ship over and above those that have lived and worked in Ebonyi all their lives, have paid taxes there, and are directly affected by Ebonyi local governance and politics. This is why I am firmly in support of the Kaduna policy of Equal Citizenship that abolishes the indigene/ settler dichotomy. You are really a citizen of where you live and pay your taxes. It is the policy of that environment that directly affects your daily life. I applaud Governor el-Rufai for his courage in putting this policy in place and hope that it is carried into a review of the 1999 Constitution as soon as possible.
Similar to the concept of Equal Citizenship is the notion that anybody who can be of value should be invited to contribute the value that they have in order to build society, regardless of where they come from. That is why developed nations like the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have immigration schemes through which they encourage the brightest and the best to lend their talent to nation building. It is for this same reason that I am honoured to have been invited to interact with Kaduna’s Kashim Ibrahim Fellows last year. It is for this same reason that I am here today, being given the great honour of delivering this inauguration lecture. It is also the same reason why Governor-Elect Emeka Ihedioha of Imo State invited me to join his Transition Technical Committee to advise him on issues of ‘Good Governance’, although I am from Ebonyi…currently. Let me now relay to you a recent incidence that occurred as part of that assignment, to provide an insight into why I think that context matters.
The Secretariat of the Imo Transition Technical Committee, of which I am a member, proposed a plenary meeting to review the reports of the various subcommittees. All members of the Committee had been formed into a broadcast-only WhatsApp group where comments and discussions were not allowed. If you had any issue with a broadcast message, you were supposed to contact the Secretariat by phone or email. By the way, someone once said that if you want to know how difficult it is to govern people, open a WhatsApp group and ask people not to post things that are irrelevant to the objectives of the group. You should then sit back and count how many people post irrelevant things and say “Apologies, posted in error” only after someone complains. They tend not to delete the offending post, so was it really posted in error? Anyway, I digress.
Given the wide range of issues to be covered that weekend, the Secretariat of the Imo Transition Technical Committee announced that the meetings will happen throughout Saturday and also on Sunday afternoon. Before long, a huge furore had broken out. Someone said “We are Christians. It is very wrong and insensitive to schedule meetings on a Sunday.” Another person countered: “The future of the people of Imo State is superior to any religious obligations. Sunday is just an ordinary day.” A third commentator said “While I won’t mind working on a Sunday, I don’t agree that Sunday is just an ordinary day. It is a day that Christians set aside to worship God.” He had put the “just an ordinary day” part of his sentence in Capital letters. Then it turned into a free-for-all. You got comments like “I beg to disagree. God first”; another said “Oh my God! We must worship God on Sunday. Imo State needs God now more than ever before to survive”; and yet another said “Please don’t go there! Imo people are religious people and will be most unhappy with you.”
I observed all these with amusement and some sadness and discussed it with a friend of mine that was visiting me at the time and he said that he agreed with them. I asked him: “What about Muslims that worship on Fridays and Jews that worship on Saturdays? Should we not have any meetings on those days?” He said “That is them now. They are different from us.” I said “Seventh-Day Adventists are Christians, just like us. They worship on Saturdays.” A loud silence ensued, and then he came back with “Yeah, but how many are they?” I held my peace. After all, Democracy was described by the French historian and political theorist, Alexis de Tocqueville, as “The Tyranny of the Majority.” I will return to this point later in the lecture.
Then as the WhatsApp exchanges continued, somebody in the WhatsApp group raised the point that all that the Secretariat was trying to arrange was a family meeting. He said that Igbos all over the world, including those in Imo State, hold their town union meetings on Sunday afternoons to discuss issues affecting their communities. If town union meetings could happen on Sundays without offending our Christian values, why couldn’t a meeting that is focused on the wellbeing of Imo State as a whole hold on a Sunday? Would the Governor not have to work on Sundays when he is in office because he is a Christian? By the time that this comment came, the Secretariat had already capitulated and announced that the meeting will now be compressed to hold only on Saturday. Sanctimony had triumphed over logic and common interest. How do you lead a people like these, with what Professor Adesanmi had described as no option of failure, no reasonable margin of error, and no latitude for mediocrity and unspectacular performance? Who wants to be a Governor? Well, one governor is quoted as saying “I will be the first to concede and I want to tell all that want to be governor that it is not an easy job…I want to run away.” The name of that governor is Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai!
A lot has been achieved in Kaduna over the last four years. In the area of Education, a Primary School Feeding Programme is in place and there is a Free Basic Education Policy. There have been reforms on Teacher Quality, including a 30% salary increase for teachers in the rural areas and a 28% increase in the salary of teachers in urban areas. Before the salary increases were implemented, about 22,000 unqualified teachers were disengaged and replaced with better-qualified ones. I remember personally coming under attack for supporting this initiative. As usual, Nigerians raised the emotive issue of job losses and the hardship that the disengagement will cause to the families of those disengaged. Nobody worried about the hardship and lack of employability that substandard education is causing to the children, their families and the society at large. I found it incredulous that anyone believed that we should be teaching primary school teachers how to read and write!
In the area of healthcare, the Primary Healthcare Under One Roof initiative was put in place, as was a Contributory Health Insurance Scheme. A number of health facilities were also refurbished and upgraded. In terms of Social Protection and Welfare, a Child Protection and Welfare Law and an Anti-Hawking and Begging Law were enacted. A Kaduna State Women Empowerment Fund Scheme was also put in place.
With regards to Governance reforms, Kaduna State put in place the Treasury Single Account and adopted the Zero-Base Budgeting approach in its budget preparation. It also domesticated the Fiscal Responsibility Law and passed a Public Finance Control and Management Law. It is instructive that, at the National level, we are still operating the 1958 Finance (Control and Management) Act without amendment. Ministries in Kaduna were streamlined, a programme of Pension Reforms was undertaken and internally generated revenue increased by nearly 70% compared to 2015. A number of bright young people were also appointed to bring energy and fresh ideas into governance. It is worth pointing out that many of them are not from Kaduna State.
In the area of Economic Development, Kaduna ranked first in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings with regards to Registering a Property and Enforcing Contracts. The annual Kaduna Investment Summit has become a popular means through which needed investment has flowed into the state, leading to a near 12% jump in the GDP of the state. It was announced a couple of days ago that the Kaduna State Government had attracted $400 million in new investments in the last 4 years.
Despite the formation of a Peace Commission, security remains a challenge, with killings in various parts of the state. A number of communities were attacked by bandits and, at various times, the Kaduna to Abuja road became one of the most dangerous roads in the country with regards to robbery and kidnapping. Ethnic and religious clashes also led to the death of many citizens, including citizens of other countries.
I have simply stated the facts, without forming a judgment on the performance of the government in the last 4 years. I believe that the people of Kaduna State formed that judgment with their votes on the 9th of March 2019. Re-electing this government for another four years, despite the challenges with security and the difficult decisions like disengaging 22,000 teachers suggests that they saw something good in what the government is doing. Our task now is how to take Kaduna from Good to Great
In Jim Collins’s book “Good to Great”, he discussed several ingredients that are necessary to move an organisation is to move from being a good organization to a great organization. Of course, he was writing about private sector organisations but many lessons from his book are also applicable to the public sector. We can summarise Collins’s 300-page book by saying that it calls for Discipline. Disciplined People, Disciplined Thought and Disciplined Action. Discipline is therefore a key attribute in driving an organization from good to great.
In his seminal work, ‘The Trouble With Nigeria’, Chinua Achebe used a football analogy to reflect on why Nigeria never seems able to, as he calls it, “present its first 11.” The quote that is very often cited is where he says that there is basically nothing wrong with Nigeria and that the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. I will not focus on that part. I would rather focus on a part of the same statement that is often not cited. That is where he says that “The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.” It is on this more difficult aspect, the challenge of personal example, that our lecture must now focus.
To start this part of the discourse, I would invite you to accompany me back to Imo State. The Chairman of my ‘Good Governance’ subcommittee is Honourable Justice Paul Onumajulu, former Chief Justice of Imo State, a cerebral, wise, jovial but firm man. In a discussion with him on leadership, he proposed that a leader must score 6 Credits and one ‘F’ if he wants to be great. Like you, I didn’t, at first, understand what he was talking about. Why not 8 ‘A’s? Why an ‘F’? It started to make sense as soon as he began to explain what he meant. The first of his 6 Credits is Capacity. He posits that a great leader must have the mental ability to lead. She should really have above average intelligence and if she is not born with it, she must work hard to acquire it through diligent study. The second is Capability, which he describes as the physical strength to work long hours and be visible to the people. The third ‘C’ is Credibility. This connotes the need to be sincere and trustworthy. The leader must ensure that his word is his bond and that he is not asking people to do things that he himself is not doing.
The fourth ‘C’ is Courage: the quality of fearlessness and the ability to take difficult decisions in the interest of his people. As the Greek philosopher Sophocles once said: “I have nothing but contempt for the kind of governor who is afraid, for whatever reason, to follow the course that he knows is best for the state.” The 5th ‘C’ is Conscience: having one’s actions guided at all times by choosing right over wrong. As Mahatma Gandhi once said “There is a higher court than the courts of justice, and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.” The 6th and final ‘C’ is Consistency: the realization that, as Aristotle once said; “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” The Retired Chief Justice included an ‘F’ as part of the requirements for great leadership. An ‘F’ may initially sound like failure but it actually stands for Fear of God. It is the realization that we are not only answerable for our actions in this life but also in the afterlife.
Because Kaduna is a microcosm of Nigeria, I will add three additional credits. The first ‘C’ is Compassion. A few days ago, UK Prime Minister Theresa May resigned in tears after three difficult years as Prime Minister. Many commentators did not feel sorry for her because they felt that she lacked empathy and was unable to show compassion when she was required to do so. An example was when she displayed no emotion whatsoever in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire and when she laughed in parliament when the issue of rising child poverty in the UK was raised. A leader cannot be hard all the time. They must be able to show compassion when a tragedy occurs or when people are suffering.
The second ‘C’ I will add is Circumspection. In leading people, it is often not enough to be right. The wrong word at the wrong time to the wrong audience can trigger consequences of unimaginable proportions. That is why we must understand the decision of the Secretariat of the Imo Transition Technical Committee not to go ahead with a meeting on Sunday afternoon. Once religion had become involved, the Secretariat risked organising a meeting that many members would not attend or would attend principally to express their displeasure. Not much would have been achieved and the Secretariat would have acquired a reputation for insensitivity. That the Secretariat listened to the cacophony and adjusted its plans was not a sign of weakness but a lesson in leading opinionated people. Religion and reason do not always mix well. That is why a leader must be circumspect around issues of religion. Logic and common-sense are often not enough.
The final ‘C’ is Communication. A leader must engage with the citizens at all times. In this era of fake news and wild unsubstantiated allegations, government communication must be proactive, rather than defensive. The government must put forward and constantly explain its own agenda before its detractors plant falsehoods in the minds of citizens. Once the falsehood is allowed to take hold in the minds of citizens, it becomes a certain version of the truth to many. Communication is different from Information though. While Information is unidirectional, Communication is a two-way process that requires the ability to listen and to take in the opinions of others.
Additionally, there is a need to redouble all efforts on improving security. The nexus between Security, Peace and Development is clear. There can be no development without peace and security, and no peace and security without development. It is additionally important to protect minority rights and guard against the tyranny of the majority. A lot of conflicts in the world today started as a result of a feeling of grievance.
To take a society from good to great then, the challenge of personal example which is the hallmark of true leadership demands Discipline, Capacity, Capability, Credibility, Courage, Conscience, Consistency, Compassion, Circumspection, Communication and Fear of God. If you have keeping tabs on the ‘Credits’, it requires 9 Credits, 1 ‘D’ and 1 ‘F.’
What about the people being led though? What is required of them if the state is to move from good to great? Well, everybody wants change but nobody wants to change. We all want change but many of us do not have the appetite for the difficult decisions required to bring about a better outcome for everyone. We cannot constantly complain about the state of our nation in one breath and then criticise the tough decisions that are taken to address the issues we are complaining about in another breath. Governance is not a beauty contest. We cannot eat our cakes and have it.
Having said that, you will probably have noticed what sounds like a contradiction. On the one hand, I had said that a leader that wants to lead a society to greatness must have the courage to take tough decisions. On the other hand, I have also said that leader must be circumspect around certain issues and show compassion, and that being right is often not enough. One weakness of the social sciences is that they sometimes try too hard to resemble the physical sciences, like physics that has seemingly-immutable laws.
Newton’s Third Law states that “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This is true in the physical sciences but is not necessarily the case in human relations.
Human beings are not machines and the world is not a sterile laboratory. Sometimes, you need impetuous behavior. At other times you need to be circumspect. As Machiavelli said “A man who is circumspect, when circumstances demand impetuous behaviour, is unequal to the task, and so he comes to grief.” On the other hand, Mahatma Gandhi said: “When restraint and courtesy are added to strength, the latter becomes irresistible.” The skill of the great leader is to know when to be impetuous and when to be circumspect. The human element that challenges Newtons Law of Action and Reaction is perhaps best espoused by the Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, Victor Frankle. He said “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” If that stimulus is from social media, it is in that space that the leader should have his phone taken away from him to prevent him from tweeting in the heat of the moment.
Taking Kaduna from Good to Great therefore requires much more than the technical excellence that Kaduna is beginning to be known for. It goes beyond the courage to do the right thing that Governor el-Rufai has always been known for. It requires of everyone in the Kaduna State Government the kind of leadership that rises up to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership. That challenge of personal example is what Governor el-Rufai has demonstrated by committing to sending his own son to a public school in Kaduna State. It is my expectation that everyone in a leadership position in the Kaduna State Government will similarly rise to the responsibility, this challenge of personal example.
Tomorrow’s inauguration in Kaduna presents a good lesson for incoming governors, like the Governor of Imo State. Difficult as certain reforms are, you do not need to wait until your second term to fix your state. For all you know, you may not even be alive to seek a second term. Many predicted that Governor el-Rufai will lose his re-election bid for the singular reason of daring to disengage 22,000 unqualified teachers. Governor el-Rufai disclosed at a roundtable that I organized in March 2018 that many governors told him privately that they believed he had done the right thing but would wait to see if he survives it before they consider doing the same in their own states. Well, he survived it and we are here today. It is proof, if any is needed, that the best insurance policy a reformer can have is the support of the public, not the fear of the elite.
God bless Kaduna State. God bless Nigeria. Thank you.
JOE ABAH, PHD.