I finally caught up, and had a most productive meeting, with one of my favourite Nigerian leaders, Donald Duke, in Lagos last weekend. I have steadfastly remained his fan long after he left power ten years ago as Governor of Cross River State. Not even his most fastidious and vociferous critic would ever suggest that he did not leave a monumental mark in that fortunate State. It remains a mystery why, and how, Donald Duke, was abandoned, and wasted, by his Party, PDP, and nay Nigeria. I have written endlessly, and campaigned feverishly, that Nigeria desperately, and urgently, needs many leaders in the mould of Donald Duke. So, it was a pleasure not only meeting up with him again but having time to discuss a topic we both fervently and passionately believe in, Nigeria.
I do not know if Donald Duke is a saint, since we seem to be obsessed with seeking, and finding, angels from heaven to lead us, but I’m very certain that Donald Duke would have performed and delivered once more. Successful and progressive nations are not governed by saints but by performers with uncommon vision, zeal and the determination to succeed where others failed. This handsome, charming, charismatic, cosmopolitan, suave, visionary, audacious and cerebral gentleman, has so much to remind us of a Barack Obama. It is one of those cruel ironies that many of those Nigerian youths who shout the loudest about wanting enduring change never remembered to fight for the emergence of the Donald Dukes of this world. They preferred to fight based on ethnicity, religion and raw cash, the very primordial things that have kept us, both, down and extremely backward.
I’m writing this article on a flight from Dubai to London, and there is no better time to get inspired and simultaneously angered about the disgraceful and embarrassing state of things in Nigeria. I have since come to the conclusion that Nigeria is in this peculiar mess because we have consistently and stubbornly continued to do and repeat the same nonsense and rubbish while expecting a miraculous change. Truth be told, a leader can never give or deliver what he does not possess. A leader can only be fired up by the limits of his education, background, worldview, experience and exposure. Age is also a factor, a man who made a mess of important assignments in his prime is not likely to make a success of it when he has become totally weak and dim-witted. It is not his fault but the natural law of diminishing returns. This is the difference between Nelson Mandela and Robert Mugabe. While Mandela surrounded himself with the brightest whiz-kids to shore up whatever shortcomings he had, having been out of circulation for 27 odd years, Mugabe, on the contrary remained the omnipotent and all-knowing leader even in his twilight years. This Messianic complex is dangerously perfidious.
It was with this background in mind that I was truly elated when Donald Duke accepted the invitation to meet me for a private session. The first thing that struck me on his arrival was his very good looks. Also, his confidence and poise. And, of course, as our conversation progressed, his sharp brains and wits. I had no doubt in my mind that Nigeria has been haemorrhaging to death because of our self-immolating lack of respect for the likes of Donald Duke and our preference for enthroning mediocrity. If we made mistakes in the past, must we continue to wallow in our foolhardiness? This was my starting point with Donald Duke.
“Oga, thank you for honouring my invitation at such short notice Sir. You know I have been your self-appointed Campaign Manager all these years. It is so wonderful to have you here finally, one on one…” I stated. “I cannot thank you enough Dele for keeping faith with me without seeing me. I cannot say we’ve been close friends, yet you mentioned me regularly in your column and I’m always wondering what I have done to deserve this honour from you…” he responded.
I told him how much I was fascinated by his incredible work in Cross River State, especially, how Calabar was fast becoming the Dubai of Nigeria. I was not unaware that his critics often lampooned him as wasting resources on building a beautiful State while his people languished in squalid conditions. But I knew such arguments came from people of limited minds and dreams. The living conditions of a people will never improve unless and until leaders learn to create huge dreams and gigantic activities that would ultimately generate jobs and opportunities. Donald Duke looked a bit pensive. “You won’t believe this; I was totally disappointed to hear supposedly knowledgeable people utter such words like ‘na Dubai we go chop’? It is this sort of warped mentality that has kept us where we have found ourselves… Lack of big dreams… Lack of faith in our abilities to build our own big cities and compete against the greatest nations… Nigerians are naturally brilliant, and we have the population to give us the power and influence of China, but we are not ready to change our ways of doing things…” he said, with sorrow in his eyes.
This dovetailed to my most important question: “Will you run the Presidential race?” He paused for a moment, measuring his thoughts and probably his choice of words. “Dele, do you want to hear the truth? I seriously want to run but my party, PDP, would have to decide on many things… Our party is well-positioned to win the next election if we can change our style a bit and beat APC at its own game. We must take advantage and benefit from our experience since 1999. Despite our apparent mistakes, Nigerians can now compare and contrast us with APC. What do we need to win the next elections? We must go to the field with our best candidates. We must learn from how we select our footballers. No one cares where you come from. Can you play well? Pronto. We must show clearly that we are more democratic. Zoning is good, but it has not worked well in Nigeria. The time has come to unleash the best brains from every part of Nigeria. We must galvanise our youths. They will never follow or support us if we can’t show how we are different and far better than APC…”
I told him how much I detest the idea of zoning and the way we’ve all accepted this unconstitutional act, unquestionably and horribly, like victims of mass hypnotism. I do not mind the principle of Federal Character in certain appointments and promotions, but it has no place whatsoever in elective office. Even Federal Character must be based on sound merit. No one should ever be appointed or promoted only because of tribe or religion. No student should be admitted or promoted if he cannot meet minimum requirements. We have now seen the result of promoting mediocrity, hypocrisy and laziness in Kaduna State where Governor Nasir El Rufai has practically guillotined the teaching careers of about 20,000 hopelessly and ridiculously dull teachers.
Zoning is undoubtedly one of the biggest scams in Nigeria. It was forced on us by some control freaks in order to direct and manipulate the system in perpetuity. If we break it down, we’ll see that it has favoured some states and regions more than the others, while some are at serious disadvantage. Nigeria has been led to date by government heads as follows: Tafawa Balewa (Bauchi, Moslem for 6 years) jointly with Nnamdi Azikiwe (Onitsha, Christian for 6 years), Johnson Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi (Umuahia, Christian for 6 months), Yakubu Gowon (Lur, Christian for 9 years), Murtala Muhammed (Kano, Moslem for 6 months), Olusegun Obasanjo (Abeokuta, Christian, two stints, for 3 years and 8 years respectively, totalling 11 years), Shehu Shagari (Sokoto, Moslem for 4 years and a few months), Muhammadu Buhari (Katsina, Moslem (two stints, for 20 months and currently 2 and a half years respectively, totalling over 4 years and counting), Ibrahim Babangida (Minna, Moslem for 8 years) Ernest Shonekan (Abeokuta, Christian for almost 3 months) Sani Abacha (Kano, Moslem for almost 5 years), Abdulsalami Abubakar (Minna, Moslem for about one year), Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (Katsina, Moslem for almost three years) and Goodluck Jonathan (Otuoke, Christian for 5 years). More significantly the North has held power for 34 years and shared power as the stronger of two heads for six years, whilst the South has held power for 17 years and shared power as the weaker of two heads for 6 years. Using religion, Christians have held power with 25 years to the Moslems’ 32 years. So much for zoning!
Furthermore, in reality, if zoning was a sincere and precise formula, Buhari should be seen to be completing Yar’Adua’s, and thus, the North’s, second term. After all, Yar’Adua spent three years in office before he died. If APC or PDP fields another Northerner and either manages to win, is that person going to serve one or two terms? Whichever way you look at it, those insisting the North must produce the next President are thus being clever by half. In fact, the South South has the right to insist Jonathan or someone from his zone should come back to complete their own second term. Just imagine such confusion and conundrum!
What is worse, zoning has never been of immense benefit to Nigeria or its utmost beneficiaries. Katsina has produced two Heads of State on three different occasions (Buhari, Yar’Adua and Buhari again). Kano has produced two (Murtala Muhammed and Sani Abacha). Minna has produced two (Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar). Abeokuta has produced two, also on three different occasions (Obasanjo, Shonekan and Obasanjo again). Have their sons turned their cities or States into Eldorado? The answer is a resounding No!
Donald Duke agreed with me that Nigeria needs to be reconfigured and repositioned urgently. We are respected globally for our brilliance, intellect, innovativeness and boundless energy, but we parade some of the worst leaders on planet earth and the global community wonders how and why we allow the dregs of our society to represent us. Duke believes things might change for the better if we don’t give up. He said there are times he feels frustrated about the Nigerian situation but wakes up the next day re-energised seeing the potentials instead of the horrendous challenges and difficulties. He said he would appeal to members of his Party not to waste this unique opportunity because history would not forgive them if Nigeria collapses so miserably.
He elaborated extensively on his vision for Nigeria. He said rebuilding Nigeria is not going to take rocket science but vision, passion and total commitment to the ideals of civilisation. According to him, this cannot be achieved if we keep Nigeria perpetually in the hands of those who play Nigeria like Russian Roulette. For such leaders, there is no hurry or any sense of urgency to develop. Theirs is to attain power by crooked means, warm the seats and quit without any tangible achievement. Nigerians seem comfortable in this ‘game of thrones’ that forces them to accept their bizarre existence as if it were God-ordained. We all complain but still do nothing to correct these foolish anomalies.
How hopeful is he that he, or people of his ilk and pedigree, may emerge in the next dispensation? His response was very calm and sober. “If I can get the ticket of my Party, I’m certain that with the support of our members and the youths of Nigeria yearning for urgent restoration of hope, we shall defeat APC. I’m certain Nigerians are anxiously waiting for a leader with proven record of vigour and excellence. They will come out en masse to vote if they see such a candidate. And I promise to join hands with my Party to free Nigeria permanently from recession, oppression and depression. We know what to do to unlock the potentials of our vibrant youths and we possess the most important gift of all, the trust in our ability to take development to every part of our great country and attract our most fertile minds back home from all over the world. Our international friends are also waiting to support the right leadership when they see one. It would be the dawn of a new era in Nigeria…” I couldn’t help but shout a loud Amen to that, as he stood up to take his exit.
I followed him to his car and I felt proud and privileged knowing that such a leader is available if ever we need him and are ready to avail ourselves of his quality services. The ball is in our court.
Let’s keep the conversation flowing as I search and serve you more leaders soon.
God bless Nigeria