In this piece, Chibuzo Ukaibe reflects on the outcome of the 2015 LEADERSHIP Conference and Awards which held in Abuja last Thursday.
It was a gathering of the creme de la creme and the event was the LEADERSHIP annual awards and conference, with the theme, Democracy, Political Transition And The Challenge Of Leadership In Africa.
It was designed to celebrate excellence in service on the one front. But, more importantly, the event was held to engrave in the country’s institutional memory, the monumental leap achieved in its democratic sojourn with the outcome of the 2015 general elections.
Expectedly, it was a well-attended occasion at the prestigious Transcorp Hilton, with high level dignitaries, including several past and present leaders of the country, captains of industry and members of the business and diplomatic communities, among others, in attendance.
The three major actors in last year’s power transition process, former President Goodluck Jonathan, incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari and the former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, were honoured with the 2015 LEADERSHIP Person of the Year award.
But flashback to 2015. As the general elections approached, palpable tension engulfed Nigeria. For many analysts, events leading to the presidential election had all the trappings of the long predicated breaking point for a country blessed with diverse ethnic and religious proclivities but beguiled by a political class that was desperate for power.
The election campaigns had further heightened the tension within the polity. Vitriolic narratives were pushed out, tending to magnify fault lines, instead of extolling the inherent strengths in diversity.
With the country at a precipice, the famous Peace Committee, led by former Head of State, Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar, was formed. Its membership cut across intellectuals, elder-statesmen, the religious and business communities.
A celebrated peace accord was signed by the two major candidates, Jonathan and Buhari, in the hope that their followers would see through the patriotic lens. Still, the prophets of doom raged, stoking exalted alters of destruction against the country.
However, the calmness of the electoral umpire, Jega, in the face of a calculated attempt to frustrate the election, and a timely phone call of the then incumbent president, Jonathan, caused the passing of the dark cloud which hovered over the nation.
What’s more, the outcome of the election attested to the spirit of resilience and patriotic passion as encapsulated in the winner, President Buhari, who defiled the odds and surmounted prejudices that had stood on his path on three previous attempts.
Overall, the power transition at the center which saw a decimated behemoth, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), lose to a more strategic All Progressives Congress (APC), opened a new chapter in the country’s democratic experience.
But, there was no better personality to capture the moment at the award celebration last Thursday than Former Head of State General Abubakar Abdulsalami.
Having served as chairman of the Peace Committee during the 2015 general election, the former head of state was not just in the know of events in the build up to the transition, but was an active participant in the events that played out.
He extolled the virtues of the trio, President Muhammadu Buhari, Jonathan and Prof. Jega, describing them as great Nigerians.
Gen. Abdulsalami, being also a beacon of democracy following his willingness to mid wife the transition to democracy in 1999, said the trio chose the class of patriotism and love for their country above their personal interests, hence giving Nigerians a cause to be joyful and celebrate.
In a speech titled “Half Full Not Half Empty”, the elder statesman, noted that all efforts towards a peaceful presidential election would been in vain save for the cooperation of the gladiators – Jonathan and Buhari, who were the leading presidential candidates of their respective political parties.
He said “In every society, individuals abound who sometimes are satisfied with the status quo or simply remain as critics or do nothing to improve the fortune of their community or country
“However, happily, society as the same time produces these other individuals who chose a different path and become agents of change in education sector, in cutting-edge inventions, in the literary field, in industry and in the political space e.t.c. Nigeria I am proud to say has several such individuals and for this blessing, we have cause to be joyful.
“Your Excellencies, the tireless and modest contributions of several individuals and groups to make the general elections a success would have been in vain if the dramatis personaes – former President Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari – were not willing to cooperate with us and think of Nigeria first ahead of self or if the head of the Independent National Electoral Commission at that time, Prof. Attahiru Jega, who is also being honoured, failed to execute his statutory tasks with firmness. Congratulations to all of you,” Abdulsalami said.
He continued: “From the global perspectives, Nigeria has been applauded for achieving a sustained democracy spanning over 17 years, and very recently for a successful and peaceful political transition.
“Going the memory lane, recall the widespread predictions of chaos and doom and possible breakdown of Nigeria as the aftermath of 2015 elections. Thanks goodness, Nigeria survived, so we have a cause to celebrate.
“How did Nigeria survived and how did we not only survived bit have become example to countries in transition both in Africa and other parts of the developing world?
“I believe that in this hall we have individuals who can tell the story and who have the obligation to tell the story. For in understanding the roles played by these great Nigerians and in taking lessons therefrom, we secure the future of our country as one indivisible progressive and democratic Nigeria.
“In doing so, we consolidate the gains that we have made and deepen the values of democracy.
“Your Excellencies, I believe that in the pursuit of this quest for the ties that bind us together, the quest for a common ground and for the values that we share and we must continue to hold dear, that LEADERSHIP has identified key actors in the last elections for commendations and awards.
“The newspaper deserves our admiration for this steadfast pursuit year in and year out, well done.
“It is important to emphasise that each of us have the responsibility to imbibe and maintain the standards set by these great Nigerians and to always ensure that the labour of our heroes past will never be in vain.
“Your Excellencies, let us not look back or take the gains we have made for granted. Let us please ensure that peace reigns in our lives because if there is no peace, there will be no country, if there is no country, people cannot go about eating their daily breads and living their lives.”
President Buhari also reflected on the tension-soaked 2015 general elections in the country which enthroned his presidency. He recounted that not only was that election a watershed in the nation’s political history, it also strengthened the nation’s democracy giving many Nigerians more faith in the electoral system.
Having contested three times in the past, 2003, 2007 and 2011, losing in questionable circumstances, the intrigues that heralded his victory, were far reaching.
As such he, again, singled out the patriotic zeal of his predecessor, the impartiality of INEC, the exemplary conduct of the various political parties, the commitment of Nigerians to democratic ideals as working together to make nonsense of the predicted disintegration of the country as the aftermath of the elections.
He further expressed happiness that the doomsday prophecies which had kept many citizens on edge did not see the light of day.
“Our democracy has been strengthened by the outcome of the 2015 elections as our people now have more faith in the electoral system in the sense that their votes would count when choosing political leaders at various levels. We, the political class should build on the experience of the 2015 elections to nurture our democracy,” he pointed out.
“It is, therefore, our commitment to this ideal, the patriotic zeal of President Jonathan, the impartiality of the electoral umpire, INEC and exemplary conduct of the political parties, foreign pressure and other actors that we collectively disappointed the prophets of doom who had predicted the disintegration of the country after the 2015 general elections,” he noted.
Buhari remarked that those who were actors in the elections were led by the higher ideal of the future of our great country and the wellbeing of the people rather than the mere desire of politicians to win elections.
He also commended the LEADERSHIP Newspapers for being in the forefront of promoting democracy and positive values in the country, saying his presence and participation in the award ceremony was a mark of confidence in the brand of journalism practised by LEADERSHIP Newspapers Group.
He equally commended the publisher of the newspaper, Mr Sam Nda-Isaiah for standing firm on the path of patriotism, justice and fairness.
“The LEADERSHIP Newspapers have been in the forefront of promoting democracy and positive values that are necessary to achieve national consensus on the issues that tend to challenge our unity and progress as a nation.
“Our participation in today’s ceremony is therefore, a mark of confidence in the brand of journalism practiced by the LEADERSHIP Newspapers Group. It is a public acknowledgment of the contributions of the media to our administration’s agenda to defeat terrorism and violent extremism in the country, fight corruption and diversify the economy to create jobs for our teeming population and generally improve the standard of living of Nigerians,” he stated.
He felicitated with the other award winners for the recognition accorded them, expressing the hope that “the awards will encourage all those recognised today to remain committed to good behaviour in their various endeavours to justify this recognition and serve as inspiration to others.”
Urging the media to not just criticise as a way of proving their independence but to join his administration in the pursuit of its goals, he said the media must continually see itself as true partner in the task of nation building and thus act in the spirit of patriotism at all times in the important role of informing the people of the country.
“On our part, our doors are wide open to media inquiries in line with the transparency and anti-corruption stance of our administration,” he pledged.
The Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel, brought the intellectual element to the event. He underscored the need for a paradigm shift in governance, pointing out that identity politics must be put away so that the tendencies that unify Nigerians along lines of common destiny and growth would blossom.
Calling for a national narrative to change the negatives in the county, the governor canvassed support for President Buhari’s administration, noting that political party should be a platform for service.
In a keynote address, titled “Democracy, Political Transition and the Challenge of Leadership in Africa”, Governor Udom identified deep sense of apathy and isolation, cleavage in our polity, identity politics, security and sectarian challenges as some of the problems in the body polity.
While he urged the eradication of hunger in the country, the governor added that he aligns with President Buhari’s plans to engage in agricultural revolution.
He stressed that a situation where Sports Utility Vehicles on the roads are more that tractors in the farms is worrisome and calls for urgent action.
The Akwa Ibom State governor called for the building of institutions that will outlive generations and deepen our democracy further, underscoring that “strong institutions and not strong people are the foundations on which nations rise to greatness.”
He said “Our democracy has definitely come to stay and we should all be very proud, but there are still lots of job to be done. There are challenges that come with leadership and we should keep our eye on the ball.
“Some of the challenges I have seen in our body politic and indeed the whole of the Continental Africa can be grouped along the following lines: deep sense of apathy and isolation, cleavage in our polity, identity politics, security and sectarian challenges.
“As our democracy consolidates, there is the need to constantly engage the people on what government is doing to address their issues and problems. An engaged electorate is an informed electorate and this will eliminate apathy and a feeling of isolation.
“As our nation is going through economic challenging times, a narrative that is as hopeful as it is reassuring should be developed and pushed aggressively. We should give our people the reason to be hopeful. That was what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the American President during the Great Depression did, when rallied the American people who were broken and forlorn and had consequently began to distrust the very foundational principles and values of the American Creed and gave them a reason to believe and be hopeful.
“Through a very popular radio program he called “Fire Side Chats “which he personally hosted, Americans were reassured by the soothing voice of their President telling them tough times will not last for ever.
“Ours is a deeply cleavaged society where the main allegiance and interest is first to our ethnic blocs over the larger national interest. We must do all we can, not to promote identity politics, but rather promote those tendencies that will unify us as a people of common destiny and growth. We have seen the destructive side of this kind of politics in several African countries -a major case in point being the civil war that is currently ravaging Africa’s newest Republic -South Sudan, where the nation has been unable to come together after decades of struggle to have a country of their own. We fought a 30-month Civil War in our country because of our inability to reassure our people that our diversity is a strength rather than weakness.”
He however called on Nigerians to give “support to and offer prayers for leaders. That is what we are taught to do. We are to practice it because they bear the responsibility of making decisions and choices for the common man. The success of this country is our collective success.”
He lamented that the problem with leadership are usually those persons around the leader, stressing, “people around leaders what role are you playing as change agents.”
The governor further pointed out that there is a difference between leaders doing well and doing good, arguing that “ what we need are leaders that are doing good.”
The governor however decried the sectarian and security challenges that have threatened the foundation of most countries in Africa, which he noted are deeply existential.
He said “Here in Nigeria, the activities of Boko Haram have ravaged the North Eastern part of our county and disrupted economic and human capital development of the area. The Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) are agitating for a separate state based on perceived marginalization. In my region of the county -the South South, several groups have emerged – the prominent being The Avengers, and they have taken their frustrations out on oil installations, blowing them up with a view to weakening the economic strength of the country.
“Our nation is at a crossroad, even as we mark the 56th anniversary of her independence. We are challenged by daunting economic and political problems, which are surmountable, but we must all collectively resolve to work together. I often tell our people that what we have is all we need to get to our desired destination.
“What then should and can be done to change the negatives about our country? We must develop a national narrative –in the mould of the American Exceptionalism. Every American is socialized into believing that their nation is the most exceptional county on earth which God specially created to lead the rest of the world.”
On the whole, the monumental democratic gains from last year’s power transition, can only be improved upon.
Ahead of future elections, the shortfalls noticed during the 2015 experience are expected to be addressed just as the collective will to hold governments accountable should thrive.