How Nigerian Presidents Fail (2) – Dr.Muiz Banire

Now back to my destination? I once recently engaged a friend on the disconnect between most presidents and their people. As I opined above, most literature that I have come across, and the perception of most citizens globally centers on the personalities of their leaders, glossing over the seemingly innocuous question of the physical base of the leader and the question of accessibility. People, particularly political scientists and sociologists, have not so much interrogated the nexus between the location of the operational base of the presidents, accessibility and the plight of the people vis-a-vis democratic dividends. It has always been taken for granted. It was in the course of that conversation that it dawned on me that the United States of America presidential villa, otherwise known as White House is located in the heart of Washington from where the president can easily have a feel of what is going on, at least, in that vicinity; forget the question of the geographical location, and the people can also access the area and exercise the right of protest where they so desire. This is a routine occurrence.

Similarly, I observed that No. 10, Downing Street, the seat of government of the United Kingdom is located in the heart of the city of London, also accessible to the people, and a vantage place for the Prime Minister to feel the pause of the people, just using the two as narratives. Is this coincidental? I am not too sure but even if it was, it is strategically achieving the essence of governance and leadership. The seat of the Nigerian presidency is so remotely located far away from the people and reality. A president of Nigeria can successfully serve the exhaustible terms of eight years without appreciating the plight or challenges of the people, with the people correspondingly unable to express their feelings to the president. This, in my view, is a major obstacle to governance in Nigeria and a big minus to the presidency. No wonder that the country has been graduating from one failed administration to another. Before you say Jack Robinson, the Secret Service hawks will quickly tell you that it is all about the security of the personality occupying the office. Does this mean that our presidents are not ready to die for the country and we are expected to be prepared to die for the same country? How patriotic? Not too sure that this is a fair deal. Again, why must the president be scared of his people if he is popular and seeks their happiness? As opined by Maktoum again, “ if a ruler is afraid of his people, then the people must fear for the future of their country”. I believe this is instructive to a good leader.

If President Tinubu that I know is to exercise his freewill, and I boast that you cannot count ten people that truly know him before I am included, not the latter-day disciples, he certainly will want unbridled access to Nigerians. I remember Fela Anikulapo Kuti describing the President as father of the people and the citizens as children; and that if that be so, why must father distant himself from his children, if not to graduate them into disasters! During the last festive season in which the President was in Lagos, meetings and visitations were arranged at his residence, depicting not the Bola Tinubu that I know.
He would ordinarily want to pay unscheduled visits to the public hospitals and markets; commute on the Lagos blue line and possibly visit malls or be in Jos to commiserate with the victims of mindless killings that some agents of darkness had just visited on the country, etc. Just as remarked recently by him, his assumption of the presidency is divine and so also is his security. There is only so much that the security officials can do, as they equally seek divine protection daily. The situation of isolating the Nigerian leaders from the people is becoming a pattern so deplorable in the country across board in that, virtually all the supposed leaders of the people are now remotely connected, if at all, to their people. A common councillor is inaccessible to his constituents, so also other public office holders. The situation is so bad that constituents or Nigerians cannot even access their ‘leaders’ even through telephone communication again.
I remember my days in the government of Lagos State, which is the affliction I am still suffering from till today, my telephone number was known to all citizens. In fact, during Governor Fashola’s administration, numbers of public officials were compulsorily published, including his own. As a public official, you signed for the headache. If you can’t stand the heat, you get out of the kitchen. Now imagine the President being tucked in a hole somewhere. How does he know what is going on? I remember Governor Fashola telling me that he avoided staying in the Ikeja Government House where the office and the lodge of the Governor are combined so as to enable him pass through the people daily and feel what they are going through. Their pulse matterred to him, and no wonder he succeeded in government. He specifically told me that although he could specifically be passing through the Third Mainland Bridge to his office, a direct and shortest road link, but beyond security concerns, he consciously made use of different routes, at times very distant or far, just to perceive what was going on.
Imagine him passing through Orile Igannmu from Marina to get to Alausa. That is leadership in action. “Every successful leader needs a daily space for contemplation and retreat, in order to perceive the facts as they are, without any embellishments or glittery facades”, referencing Sheikh Maktoum again. The raw materials for such meditation is expected to be hard core facts from the people, not the embellished narratives of the foreigners around the president or any other leader. I describe such people as ‘foreigners’ not in a derogatory manner, no insult meant, but in a pragmatic way. They are just simply unable to appreciate the pulse of the people. They themselves do not know the reality most times. They are co-prisoners with the President. It is a case of the blind leading the deaf and dumb. Is it the aides that spend a greater part of their days and times with him within the same ‘enclosure’ that will know the pulse of the citizens? How hungry they are; how they are dying in droves due to medical challenges, particularly arising from unavailability and unaffordability of drugs.
Honestly, I do not apportion blames on the aides as it is a situation beyond their control also. How many people can they, in all honesty, see again, or even be able to pick their telephone calls? It is just impossible and impracticable. Thus, a leader that is to succeed cannot rely on the garnished information from his aides including the security/intelligence officials. In contemporary times, such hints are often contaminated with bias and interests, rendering them convoluted. The President, therefore, needs to avoid such sources, or view them with suspect, in order to succeed. As Maktoum aptly warns, “I have witnessed leaders of great nations overthrown because they made fundamental mistakes; they listened only to their most sycophantic advisors; surrounding themselves with people who glorified, praised and complimented their every action”. Certainly, no ambitious or potential good leader must rely on these characters. They are often the harbingers of their downfall.

They hallucinate most times around their leaders. The failures of past Nigerian Presidents can therefore not be disassociated from this pitfall. As put by Sheikh Maktoum, “A true leader serves the people, acts in their interests and works for their happiness”. Then, the leader must seek out the genuine state of his citizens. This is why I suggest, and I believe each successive President must extricate himself from the aprons of the people surrounding him, at least in terms of credible information. Mr President therefore needs to extricate himself from the shackles of this bondage by doing the following. There is an urgent need for the President to spend more time in the various States from time to time and have unscheduled visits to public places so as to gather first-hand information. Mr President needs to have offices within the precincts of the public space, so as to enable or facilitate access to the people in terms of reality. In all of these, security logistics need to come down and the threat of insecurity around him reduced. Most times, the risk is often escalated by the security officials for obvious reasons. If truly there is effective intelligence, we need not the battalions of men following the President. All that is required is for the men of Secret Service to step up their game by not only recruiting more officials, but acquiring more modern surveillance equipment. This is the priority required.
I remember Fela Anikulapo-Kuti deprecating years back the practice of multitude of security officials following our leaders, when he said ‘President dey go, one thousand police go follow am, maja maja go follow am, NSO (SSS) go follow am…..”. If the above suggestion appears impracticable, the President needs to create his own sources of information that is unbridled and pristine. He must insist on honest and sincere engagement with the civil societies without the dictates of the officials around him. Information passed most times by the officials must remain suspect until validated by him through other means. The purport of the foregoing is to elevate the President to the position of a compassionate leader. According to Maktoum, “The humane leader must have his feet on the ground, live among the people, endure their conditions, experience their lives and feel their lives for the better”. This is the road to right action and decision.
This is the means of delivering good governance and democratic dividends to the people. In the absence of this, what eventually occurs is poor governance due to bad leadership. This has been the lots of our Presidents and President Tinubu needs to avoid this banana peel. This is also the potent way to harvest good advice from various channels and be a champion. As I conclude, I adopt, once again, the admonition of the great Sheik Maktoum, that: “The moment a leader believes that he is infallible, he starts regressing and drives himself and his nation into a bottomless pit”. Let Mr President not be deceived, he is neither excellent nor perfect, these are the sole and exclusive attributes of God. I have gone this far to exhort the President as I know that, despite his failings in other areas as a human being, he is a compassionate and visionary leader who needs the support of all to succeed.
As his family has variously opined, including himself, they seek no more material resources as they are sufficiently blessed. All that remains to be sought, actioned and made, is a good name that survive into immortality.

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