Marc Wabara makes case for restructuring at Business Hallmark lecture series

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Sir Marc Wabara, Overt Energy Chairman, former bank chair and seasoned administrator, has noted that good leadership alone cannot take Nigeria out of the woods and set her on the path to the much needed development, because according to him, the country’s structure is faulty.

The All Progressive Congress (APC) chieftain argued that at the core of Nigeria’s developmental challenges, is the unworkable structure of its polity, and as such no leader, no matter how well intentioned, can do much without without first tackling the fundamental issue of structure.

Wabara who made the remarks while delivering the 2021 edition of Business Hallmark Lecture series in Victoria Island, Lagos on Wednesday, noted that historically, Nigeria was built on a tripod of East, West and North, with each of the regions being responsible for its own affairs, which according to him ensured that development happened in the regions.

In the lecture titled, “Nigeria: Leadership and the challenge of greatness,” organised to commemorate his 70th birthday anniversary, Wabara argued that a nation is yet to be made out of Nigeria, as according to him, nationhood is defined before a vision is developed, and without a vision, no progress can be made.

“Historically, Nigeria was built on a Tripod heritage – East, West and North, with each having a leadership that was to a very large extent, responsible for a people who shared similar experiences and sense of right and wrong. The relative successes witnessed by our founding fathers who were leaders of each of these three regions: Michael Okpara in the East, Obafemi Awolowo in the West and Ahmadu Bello in the North, were largely because they were accountable to people who shared as many things in common and had importantly, the constitutional powers to exploit resources within their domains. That was a period when Nigeria actually made true progress and robbed shoulders with her contemporaries in Asia and South America, if not even Europe,” Wabara said.

“Today, however, the story is different. Yes, the First Republic still had its challenges and there were also agitations by those who felt that their interests were not adequately protected in their respective regions, but such matters could have been taken care of by expanding the regions but not removing their capacity to be self-governing.

“Obvious from the foregoing is that leadership, no matter how committed, may not be able to make needed impact if it fails to resolve the fundamental question of nationhood. Suffice to say that at the heart of the existential challenges we now face in our dear country is presently our collective struggle to come together and evolve a structure that is suitable for the country given the differences and peculiarities of our peoples.

“In effect, we are yet to make a nation out of Nigeria. The fact is that nationhood is defined before a vision is developed, and without a vision, no progress can be made, for indeed, what is Nigeria’s national vision? Under the current system, we are still experiencing a situation where different people are pulling in different directions, threatening to rip the country apart.

“In conclusion therefore, notwithstanding the commendable efforts of this government in tackling some of the challenges bedeviling this nation, unless we agree collectively as a people, to go back to the fundamentals and forge a workable union, achieving the nation of our dream may continue to be elusive.”

Speaking to the topic, Leadership and Social Complexities, Wabara dissected the position of the late literary giant, Chinua Achebe in his book, ‘The Trouble With Nigeria’ in which Achebe argued that the trouble with Nigeria is simply an squarely that of leadership, arriving at the conclusion that Achebe’s position has ultimately proved to be inadequate in view of the evidence in contemporary Nigeria where supposedly strong, moral, competent leadership has not always yielded the desired results.

“What kind of leadership, therefore, would be able to harness its diversity and complexities and make it fulfill its potential of greatness? To be direct, would leadership alone be sufficient to resolve the challenges present in building Nigeria to greatness? It is to these issues we now turn,” he said.

“Achebe and a host of organisations [political and non-political] have held the view that a strong, competent and purposeful leadership was all Nigeria needed to surmount is existential and development challenges. The implication of this is that the reference to leadership – particularly an elected one – as the panacea for the problems of nation building and development is no longer tenable and needs major adjustments.

Achebe’s position on leadership as the cure-all remedy without reasonably qualifying it is simplistic in view of the evidence in contemporary Nigeria where supposedly strong, moral, competent leadership has not always yielded the desired results.

“Such excessive reliance on leadership does not recognize the complexity of the nation, the disabling and enervating nature of its politics, and pre-bendal democracy and challenges of the emergence of suitable and capable leaders. In fact, a review of some of the qualities or requirements for the right or great leader immediately suggest that such a person does not fit into a democratic leader.

“The qualities include being detribalized, (in a highly ethnic-sensitive nation); should not seek reelection (where power is the source of wealth and ethnic entitlement and one term may be inadequate to change much); to restructure the country (where there is an entrenched ethnic interest in the status quo, and a daunting constitutional amendment process); and independent candidates (in a system where political parties are dominant and money and god-fatherism reign supreme).

“The only one inexorable fact or conclusion is that a democratically elected leader has little chance of meeting the challenge of great leadership demand because of the present existential, structural and political contradictions in the country. Only an imposed leadership, such as the military, can fit the leadership profile often being suggested, also considering the fact that these problems were originally created by them. But this is not to advocate for military rule; it only means that our high expectation of civilian democratic leadership should be seriously moderated to stop the growing frustration with leadership and desire for national greatness…”

Wabara noted that with the current system in which people of diverse ethnic groups and orientations are lumped together under a unitary structure, progress would be difficult and no leader can satisfy everyone.

He explained that while, for instance, President Muhammadu Buhari has provided leadership the much he can, he is still being limited by the defects in the system.

“The present administration of President Buhari, has made commendable effort in ensuring that wastage of resources is curtailed as much as possible through its anti-corruption drive. One must also acknowledge the infrastructure push of the government. The rail lines are back, the roads are being done and revolution in agriculture has taken root, these despite the mounting revenue challenges,” he said.

“To that extent, Yes, Buhari has provided leadership. And I have to say that it’s rather unfair that most people don’t seem to appreciate that this is a government that came on board at a time of near collapse of oil price in the international market. For a country that is almost completely dependent on oil revenues, the challenges can be enormous. Yet, the government has managed to navigate the troubled waters and keep the country’s ship afloat.

“But Nigeria, as I have noted earlier, is a complex and challenging society to lead. This is in part because, again, as I noted before, it is a diverse polity, with different ethnic and religious groups pulling in different directions. Such a country will naturally pose a huge challenge to even the most, well-intentioned leader. Because here, there is hardly any consensus and a leader is saddled with the impractical responsibility of ensuring that his actions satisfy different groups with different opinions of what is right or wrong; which policy is good or bad, and so on.

“For instance, while building a bridge or rail line from point “A” to point “B” is ordinarily a welcome development and an answer to the infrastructure deficit bedeviling the country, such action can still be regarded as bad by those who would insist that the rail line ought to have been built from point “C” to point “D” based on their own experience.

“What this tells us is that as far as leadership in Nigeria goes, one leader who is responsible for all may never get it right no matter how committed or well intentioned such leader might be. This again, brings us back to the role of leadership in the context of the quest for national development, which has largely been subsumed in the complexity of the challenges structure and orientation.”

Wabara regretted that while Nigeria was regarded as the giant of Africa on account of its enormous potential at independence and the years that followed, it subsequently derailed and today, has become a country where many are losing hope.

He particularly traced the derailment to military incursion, noting that while Nigeria could not be said to be the only country where soldiers intervened, the country’s experience turned out to be different.

“The importance and role of leadership in building a great, viable, and stable country has never been as urgent and indispensable as we have it in Nigeria today. In his 1983 book, The Trouble with Nigeria, Chinua Achebe had posited, and indeed many people have come to agree, that the trouble with Nigeria is “simple and squarely a failure of leadership,” he said.

“However, before proceeding further, l crave your indulgence to rephrase the topic for a simpler and more direct interpretation and understanding. In plain language, it would now read as Leadership challenges in making Nigeria great.

“From this stand point, the implication of the topic becomes so critical and imperative. This is because, there is a general consensus among scholars and political leaders globally that Nigeria is potentially a great nation, and a leader in Africa, and the Black race and this belief is as old as the country; but the question is; why has the country remained a “potential”, when its contemporaries at the onset of political independence that did not receive or attract the qualification and categorization of “potential greatness’ had since left Nigeria far behind in terms of economic, social, political and technological development? Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia and South Korea are some examples.

“Addressing this question would necessarily refocus our attention to the positive factor(s) that helped and enabled these countries to overcome the natural teething problems of national development and forged ahead to attain their present level of development, and also identify the reasons why this has eluded Nigeria.

“Juxtaposed against the current challenges confronting the nation, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, economic crisis, insecurity and insurgency, the urgency of addressing the leadership challenge becomes even more imperative.

“As this paper was being put together news broke of a skirmish in Shasha, Oyo State, between the settlers and the local population, which claimed about 20 lives. This was followed the very next day on February 17 with reports of the invasion and abduction of 42 students by bandits at Kagara in Niger state. This was the fourth major abduction of students following Chibok in Borno, Dapchi in Yobe and Kankara in Katsina states. How did Nigeria come to this sad patch? Of course, most people, like Achebe, lay the blame squarely on challenges of leadership,” he said.

“Nigeria’s leadership challenge is one of the ironies of contemporary political life. For a country that produced outstanding and notable leaders at independence, such as Zik of Africa – who indeed, influenced the great Osagyfo, Nkrumah of Ghana – Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, Michael Okpara, Aminu Kano, Ladoke Akintola etc; it is a sad turn of fortune that Nigeria still finds itself at the cross roads of leadership challenges and deficit.

“What could have been responsible for this ugly development in the leadership arena? One direct answer I will give is military rule. Of course, Nigeria was not the only country to experience military rule; after all, Ghana went through similar process, but they now seem to have gotten their acts together. However, the fact is that every country had its own peculiar challenges that shaped its future. Military rule in Nigeria, unlike Ghana, had a negative effect, which is not the subject of this presentation.

“The first military intervention interrupted the process and development of a democratic leadership culture based on the sovereignty of the people and leadership succession. The military demystified those previously revered political leaders by humiliating them out of power and introduced a new political culture of might is right; as well as corruption. So power no longer belonged to the people but flowed from the barrel of the gun.

“Although some of the founding leaders survived the first coup and civil war, subsequent coups nailed the coffin on civilian leadership and were the last straw that destroyed completely the leadership culture bequeathed by the founding fathers. It created a generational leadership gap between the founding fathers and the successors. It was a leadership defoliation that left the country without leadership mentors and role models; coupled with the debilitating military culture of command and lack of accountability.”

In his remarks earlier, chairman of the occasion, Major General Obi A. Umahi (Rtd.), former General Officer Commanding (GOC) 81 Division Nigerian Army, ex-Directing Staff in Command and Staff College and National Defence College, Commanding Officer 72 Airborne Battalion, Commander Army Task Group (Operation Restore Hope), described Sir Wabara as great statesman who has made huge impact on various fields of the country.

“Sir Marc Wabara is an accomplished banker, administrator and Nigerian statesman who has groomed many and nurtured numerous individuals into prominence, while largely shying away from the limelight,” he said.

“Having lived among, and assimilated the culture – including Language – of every major tribe in Nigeria, Sir Wabara is the highest approximation of an all-rounded Nigerian. Indeed, he is a global citizen who, apart from English, speaks German, Igbo, and Yoruba fluently.

“Sir Wabara has had a robust career, working in different sectors with profound professional experiences and expertise.

“Sir Wabara is a recipient of many awards, including; Zik Price Award for Leadership in Banking (2004); Alumni Achievers Awards of University of Lagos, 2004; Distinguished Chief Executive Award (Credit News), 1997; Excellence Award in Banking and Finance by the Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO), 1995; Banker of the Year (Finance Post), 1994; National Award in Business Administration Member, BETA XI Chapter of DELTAMU DELTA (Honors for Excellent Academic Performance, 1982.”

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