By NBF News

It is not only Nigerians but also bewildered foreigners who wonder aloud why a country so blessed with human and natural resources is not presently challenging at the top of the summit of global economic powers. Many reasons (for excuses) have been variously adduced to explain Nigeria's relative underdevelopment, ranging from political instability to its heterogeneity.

From colonial administration to parliamentary democracy and from military dictatorship to the presidential system of government, it has been a long running saga of missed opportunities. The ultimate irony, however, is that several countries had made appreciative developmental progress under similar conditions Nigeria stagnated or receded.

The point of convergence among informed commentators, however, is that the missing variable has been quality leadership. Historically, no country had stumbled on development. Societies that have developed faster than others have invariably been principally blessed with vibrant, visionary selfless leaders, who worked hard to inspire their people to greater heights. As the legendry Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, once told a Nigerian admirer, the secret of his country's historic transformation from obscurity to the industrial frontline was doing the ordinary things rightly and consistently. And as Dr. Henry Kissinger, the Prince of Intellectual Diplomacy, succinctly observed in his foreword to Mr. Lee's great book, 'From Third World to First: The Singapore story', 'normally prudent, ordinary calculations can be overturned by extraordinary personalities'.

As 2011 approaches, the one question on every Nigerian's lip is where we shop for that elusive leader most uncommon, a leader we can trust, a leader with a track record in transparent honesty, a leader dyed in integrity and self-discipline. Where do we shop for that leader who, based on his or her antecedents, can lead Nigerians to doing the ordinary things correctly and who can lead us to rewrite the national development storyline? Five great Nigerian leaders, among others, think we already have such a leader and it is based on their personal testimonies that I will attempt to situate the Malam Ibrahim Shekarau narrative. For seven years, Malam, the name his teeming supporters call him, to underscore their approval of his humility and political prudence, has governed Kano State with an exceptional level headedness and sense of propriety that puts him apart from his peers.

First was former Attorney General and Honourable Minister of Justice, Kanu Agabi SAN, who described Malams as the most honest Governor in Nigeria. Mr. Agabi, one the few trusted legal authorities of our time, and a man who would not be influenced by material favours in passing value judgment, praised Malam for his transparent style of leadership, which he rightly observed has re-introduced people's trust in government. Agabi described Malam as the most transparent and vibrant Governor in the country.

Another great Nigerian leader and former President Shehu Shagari has also given his weighty endorsement of Malam impeccable record in public service. President Shagari, himself the very embodiment of humility and integrity, said having followed Malam's records in service these past years, he was pleased with his performance. 'Those within and outside his party are commending his efforts. This is a thing of pride to us', said the elder statesman.

From the East came the voice of Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. The Ikemba of Nnewi described Malam as the Best Governor in Nigeria and a man who can be trusted with power as President of Nigeria.

The Lion of African Literature, Noble Laureate and the conscience of principled politics, Wole Soyinka was so enamored of the Shekarau enigma that, in a rare gesture of solidarity to Government House, Kano, described Malam as the 'The Last Man Standing'. To Soyinka and the great masses of Nigeria, Malam is the last man standing on the side of good governance, justice and accountability. According to Professor Soyinka, people who are passionate about democracy must symbolically and morally lend solidarity to individuals like Shekarau, who he observed, found honour in respecting the mandate they had been given by their people.

In another breath, the youthful Chief Gani Adams National Coordinator of the Oodua People Congress (OPC), after a tour of projects completed by the Shekarau administration, described the governor's achievements in office as nothing short of 'a miracle'. Wondering why Malam chooses not to trumpet his achievements for the rest of the country to read, the OPC leader promised to intimate South West governors and opinion leaders about the phenomenal achievements.

It is easy to understand why these and hundreds of other notable Nigerian leaders, in politics, business, the civil society and other spheres have singled out Malam for lavish praises. In seven eventful years, he has redefined the covenant between the people and their leaders. Kano people trust their Governor. They knew Malam's background, even before he was elected Governor in 2003. They trust his personal track-record and believe his sense of judgment. How else could Malam, an ordinary school teacher, penniless and against the formidable odds, emerge from obscurity to defeat the powerful incumbent governor of the ruling PDP if Kano people did not trust him one hundred percent.

Installed as the people's own Governor and enjoying massive popularity rating, he devoted his first four years rewriting the books of accountability and probity in public service. In his inaugural speech on 29 May, 2003, Malam announced a policy of zero tolerance toward corruption and has since laid the institutional framework for transparency and accountability in the state administration.

At the foundation of this policy is the Societal Re-orientation programme, an attitudinal change programme for ethical rebirth and moral repositioning. The way government conceived it, and the way Kano people accepted A Daidaita Sahu, was that while government lived up to its obligations to its citizens, the people lived up to their civic responsibilities. Much has been written about Kano's relative low crime rate and other positive security reports but a lot of credit must go to the Societal Re-orientation programme of the administration. Kano under Malam became the first state government in the country to establish a Directorate of Public Complaints and Anti Corruption. The objectives of the Directorate are to foster accountability, social cohesion and to guarantee the rights of the weak and vulnerable members of the society.

In seven years, Kano State has witnessed tremendous transformation in human and physical terms. It was on the strength of this trust that Kano voters made Malam the first Governor in the state to win a re-election in 2007, again defeating the PDP. Only recently, a team of Nigerian Governor's Forum Peer Review Tour Team which was in Kano to assess projects executed by Shekarau's government expressed astonishment at the level of infrastructural development it met on the ground in the state.

Malam's towering political profile however derives more from his democratic credentials and personal integrity. This is a new breed political actor with a different approach. When supporters say 'Malam has no enemy', it is not the absence of feverish opposition they are talking about because that is in abundance in Kano. They are acknowledging the man's style of politics. The civility with which he treats opponents is disarming. Malam is highly tolerant and this disposition has created an ambience of competitive politics and freedom from harassment for everybody. In Kano, perhaps only in Kano, opposition parties win local government council election because such elections are free, fair and credible. A visit to other states indicates a winner-take-all mentality. Many state governors in Nigeria do not brook opposition.

This is exactly the kind of leader we need today in Nigeria. Malam is accepted across the Nigerian divide. He has been variously honoured by esteemed universities and traditional leaders all over the country. An articulate and consummate public speaker, he is the toast of academic and intellectual audiences in Nigeria and abroad. Nigerians in the Diaspora cannot get enough of his sound bite in lecture circuits all over Europe and America. In seven years, Malam has proved he is the man to lead Nigeria. He is our own Lee Kuan Yew.

Sule is the Senior Special Assistant, Media and Public Relations to the Kano State Governor