Without visiting Abia, Otti’s outstanding achievements is easy to understand from a distance

By Dele Sobowale

“Leadership is the ability to define issues without aggravating problems” – Warren Bennis, VBQ p 125.

I spent my 80th birthday in a prayer and fasting retreat with four others who were also eighty. In my journeys throughout Nigeria since 1974, I moved with two obsessions. One, given a chance, I wanted to know which ethnic group people belonged to. Now, individuals from 147 ethnic groups can be counted as my acquaintances.

Two, I was also curious to know when people were born – in order to know who was born on May 8. I had a classmate in primary and secondary schools and one at the university born on the same day. To cap it all, one of my six daughters, Arinola, was also born on May 8. Despite the obsession, I had celebrated only two – 40 and 75.

This one would be different; instead of organising a party, four old men were persuaded to join me at a retreat – solely to pray for all Nigerian leaders. That meant President Tinubu and the 36 Governors – from Abia to Zamfara, without exception

Because we are aware that no two states are alike in every respect, we also isolated what we considered the major problems confronting each Governor based on the facts file we started a year ago. We prayed for God’s guidance and good health for everyone. I know very many people have lost hope in the power of prayers to bring about positive change in the fortune of a nation.

One young reader sent me a message last week after reading about our prayer and fasting retreat.

He advised me to stop wasting my time because other Nigerians have tried that before without success. I still prayed for him. I had two reasons. Sarah, in the Bible and Quran, was Abraham’s wife, who was childless until old age. She must have prayed for years – without success. Then one day her prayers were answered. I was in detention during Abacha’s murderous regime for, the fourth time, and still managed to smuggle out a message to our prayer house. We prayed that his self-succession plan, which appeared unstoppable, will be thwarted by the Almighty God. Death stopped Abacha. I still believe in the power of God to intervene in the lives of people.

Because a lengthy appraisal of President Tinubu’s performance appeared in VANGUARD yesterday, ahead of May 29, a shorter version of the assessment of Governors follows. The observations here were based on facts available on file about the five governors who, in my opinion, have done well based on particular measures which demonstrated rare wisdom and foresight.

The four states, in alphabetical order, are: Abia, Adamawa, Delta and Lagos. The plus one state is Rivers. I visited two – Adamawa and Delta – and live in Lagos. But, without visiting Abia and Rivers, the achievements and events which made their Governors outstanding were easy to understand from long distance; how rare wisdom and courage saved the situation in each state.

When the private Abia power generation plant was inaugurated with the assistance of Governor Otti, the man demonstrated that he has a better grasp of what leadership in a state should be than any of his predecessors. All the leading economies in the world today are also the largest producers of power. Right now in Africa, Nigeria is being toppled as the largest economy on the continent to the fourth position. All the three nations now ahead of us generate more power than Nigeria: South Africa (63.2MW), Egypt (60.07MW) and Algeria (21.69MW); Morocco (14.26MW). Nigeria generates 11,000MW and distributes 4000MW. Governor Otti must be the only state government in Nigeria who understands that adequate power generation and distribution is our first priority. If every state government embarks on power generation by solar or other means and remove some of their cities from the national grid, aggregate national productivity will soar beyond our wildest dreams. Otti is also one of the most frugal Governors I have known.

Governor Fintiri of Adamawa State exhibited his great sense of fiscal responsibility when some Governors of Northern States travelled to the USA on jamboree. As I read the headlines, before reading the story, my mind told me that Fintiri would not join them. And, he was not among those wasting their state’s funds on frivolities. Even before that story broke, I was in Yola in March and, unlike twenty others before him, I saw very few expensive cars waiting for the Governor. His office was the most modestly decorated ever seen. Everything was Spartan and efficient. Economic efficiency was, however, not the only thing remarkable about Adamawa State. Peace based on equity and fair distribution of resources among nearly 20 ethnic groups was the hallmark of governance in the state. President Bola Tinubu and Governors ruling multi-ethnic and religious states can learn a lot about how to promote internal peace and harmony by talking to Fintiri. He has also managed to create the only state capital where traffic hold-up is rare. Finally, Adamawa is probably the only state where the Deputy Governor is treated as a partner in progress and not a bloody nuisance. Wonderful.

Every Governor builds roads, drainage systems, schools and rehabilitates hospitals. Those generic measures no longer define great leadership. Few have been called upon to respond with wisdom and maturity in order to save lives. Governor Oborevwori could not have foreseen the tragedy at Okuama. The killing of twenty one soldiers, ambushed after a false alarm, and the initial army response, was the stuff of which greater calamities are made. Another Governor, hot headed and wanting to play to the gallery, would have issued intemperate statements, politicised the incident and created a bigger tragedy. Caught between an angry army, bent on maximum revenge, and, an aroused community whose houses were being destroyed by soldiers, the Governor needed great wisdom to navigate the stormy situation.

Granted about 100 lives were still lost; but, I strongly believe that the Governor’s approach to the events limited the losses to the barest minimum. Once in a while, the best thing a Governor can do for his people is damage control and the best form of it saves lives.

Readers should not be under the impression that Okuama was the only commendable thing Oborevwori did during his first year in office. I was in Delta State twice on private visits during the period under review. On each occasion, my instinct for investigation took control. Operating incognito, I went round and asked questions. Warri is home to several ethnic groups, not only of Delta State but the entire Niger Delta. I know where to meet them. From them I gathered the catalogue of accomplishments which will be published fully later.

Lagos State is by far the smallest in size in the country; yet it has the largest population and is the economic capital of Nigeria. Its annual budget dwarfs that of the state in the second position. Governor Sanwo-Olu is first among equals in many respects. It is not surprising that every Lagos State Governor had been celebrated. Despite the presence of an elaborate set of building and construction regulations enacted, some of the Governors, since Lagos State inception, on May 27, 1967, have allowed large scale violations of the building and environmental laws – for political and personal reasons. Officials of the Ministries charged with maintaining sanity routinely took advantage of the laxity of the Governors to perpetrate more havoc. When the current Commissioner for Physical Planning, Dr Yinka Olumide, recently announced that 80 per cent of buildings and estates in Ibeju-Lekki were erected without permit, he indicted some of the Governors of the state.

But, Olumide also made us to understand that even social insanity must have an expiry date. Together with his colleague, Commissioner of Environment, Wahab Tokunbo, they are carrying out the most courageous redemption programmes which other administrations lacked the foresight and the guts to undertake. It is impossible for most people to appreciate what is at stake. I also think that they have been too hasty in some cases – given the side effects of massive demolitions.

Perhaps government should have made provisions for those likely to be displaced. I have an idea how that might be done. But, given a choice between doing nothing and what they are doing now, I believe Sanwo-Olu is on the right side of history. Posterity will judge Sanwo-Olu as, perhaps, the best in our era.

Nobody in top government office likes to be a puppet; and to be shown to be one. The first two examples in Nigerian politics – Eyo Ita, 1901-1973, and Chief Akintola – were Premiers of the Eastern and Western regions of Nigeria respectively. Both were imposed by Dr Azikiwe and Chief Awolowo respectively who were the leaders of their parties – NCNC and AG. They ended as life-long enemies. Fubara deserves our prayers and support because of the similar situation in which he finds himself. Because these are summaries, readers will have to wait until later to read the rest of the testimonials.

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