Last week, one of my readers reminded me of the thankless job newspaper columnists do. After reading the piece entitled “3million Jobs In 300 Days”, Mr A. Abba (+2348036465434) sent me a text message: “You are giving away an expensive consultancy prospect on the pages of a newspaper.”
I agree with Abba that we writers are often used and dumped by nitwits and smart alecks near the corridors of power. By simply leafing through newspapers, many have sourced proposals with which they cornered incredible millions of naira. The plagiarist then begins to think of becoming a senator, a governor or a president while the original owner of the ideas that made him rich is ignored. When journalists and other writers are invited to join government, it is often to become press secretaries; they are not required to be involved in decision-making but to sing the praises of less intelligent people in power.
Yet, hardly has there been any government policy that did not take its roots from columns and editorials. No commissioner or minister attends an executive meeting without being armed with ideas borrowed from us columnists. But when such ideas are accepted, they appoint their cronies and thugs to committees or implementing agencies. It is little wonder that otherwise good policies and programmes of governments in Nigeria have always ended in failure.
One could therefore see the frustration of Mr Sam Nda-Isaiah – I simply call him “Sam” – who has, in the last 15 years, run his Monday column “Last Word” in both the Daily Trust and LEADERSHIP. The more he exposed the ills of each government, the worse it performed. Through his column, he has consistently warned against the country’s penchant for running a mono-product economy, even as the future of oil appears bleak. Hardly any of his articles missed mentioning the deadly effects of unchecked corruption and unpunished crimes. Long before four opposition parties merged to form the All Progressives Congress (APC) in March last year, he was calling for the merger.
It is on record, also, that Sam rang the first alarm bell announcing President Obasanjo’s ambition to get a third term. Many “informed” observers thought he was alarmist. Everyone was familiar with the tenure elongation bids of military dictators, but no one thought a democratically elected president would seek to change the country’s constitution just to accommodate his vaunting ambition. As the days and weeks passed, however, the truth emerged – “third term” was real. Public funds changed hands and everyone waited for the National Assembly. On May 16, 2006, the Senate led by Ken Nnamani threw away both the baby (constitution amendment) and the bathwater (third term). Sam had been right all along.
Regular readers of “Last Word” and “Earshot” may assume that Sam opposes every president of Nigeria. False. He usually starts by guiding each president toward the right direction until the latter stops taking his advice. That’s what happened to Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and now Jonathan. This paper that Sam started 10 years ago has been independent; time and again, it has published ideas that are the direct opposites of ones expressed in “Last Word”. The editorial board (which I led from the day LEADERSHIP became a daily on February 1, 2006, until about three years ago) has rarely solicited Sam’s views on any issue or invited him to its meetings.
By choosing to drop his pen in order to join the effort to rescue Nigeria, Sam is seeking to implement what he has been preaching in “Last word”. Like anyone else, he has the right to aspire to be the king rather than the kingmaker this time. Sam has seen an opportunity to transform his country and wants to seize it. No man with such unquenchable thirst for leadership has ever betrayed his country. Examples abound.
There is little doubt that imposition of leaders – “drafting” of unwilling candidates – has been Nigeria’s undoing. Nigerian leaders that did well in office were the ones that came with a mission: Gen. Murtala Muhammed and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari/Tunde Idiagbon. The rest, in my view, had leadership thrust on them. It’s about time we listened to voices, especially when they become persistent. So far, Sam has been one of the few presidential aspirants that have come with a blueprint.
His greatest impediment in this race (for APC presidential ticket next month and the presidential election in February) is clearly Nigeria itself. It is the same obstacle Barack Obama would encounter if he were to seek election as Kenya’s president, and Philip Emeagwali would face if he were to contest election for local government chairman in Anambra State. Technocrats like Pat Utomi, Chukwuma Soludo and, recently, Kayode Fayemi have had bitter lessons in Nigerian politics.
I am not a politician and cannot mislead my readers. But it is worrying to read or hear supposed enlightened folks rooting for a moneybags and deriding a candidate with good ideas, simply because he has not accumulated billions for sharing among voters. So, can’t anything good come out of Nigeria? Have we given up on the country’s salvation? The cult of mediocrity that seems to be choking Nigeria is what Sam dares to confront. He knows it will not be easy but it is in his nature to “know your limits and then ignore them”. The hope that change would come someday, I guess, has been his driving force in this race to the top. For, there’s no disputing the fact that he has a passion for greatness – the kind that propelled Singapore from Third World to First.
This column has also been prophetic. Before Sam started nursing his ambition, I had innocently advised the APC to look in the direction of a presidential candidate with some of these qualities: a new face untainted by the ills of the past, from the north-central, not fanatical about any religion, and relatively young. In this matter of choosing the APC presidential candidate, Sam fits the bill. He has no “experience” in treasury looting, is from the north-central, is a Christian married to a woman whose parents are Muslims, and he is just 52 years old.
In my view, nobody older than 62 years should aspire to rule Nigeria. I make this rule because I have not seen a septuagenarian that is healthy enough to take the pressure of office and still fail to go astray. So, if my ideal candidate enjoys two terms of four years each, he will not be older than 70 by the time he leaves office.
The ruling PDP already has a formidable candidate in President Jonathan who, like Sam, is educated, from a minority tribe and relatively young. APC must do its mathematics well before picking its candidate, if it hopes to make any headway in 2015. Nigerians desire to have their own Lee Kuan Yew, Roosevelt or Obama. The Murtala and Buhari/Idiagbon regimes I cited earlier did well probably because they were led by a 38-year-old and a 41-year-old who still had the advantage of youth.
Even as president of Nigeria, Sam may still desire to continue writing his column. For now, “Last Word” has transmuted to “BIG IDEAS” canvassed by his campaign team. In particular, he remains a veteran journalist’s son who still seeks to change society as his father did.