Leadership Challenge, Mutual Suspicion And The Voice Of Lee Quen Yew

By  Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
 Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

The political terrain in the country is truly tensed up and filled with a lot of intrigues. Only those strong hearted politicians will be able to wade through the political landmine and come out successful. Even the electorates are not equally taking the preparation for 2023 general elections easy. The number of people that have lately registered for the Permanent Voters Card (PVC) and those still pushing to register are not only frightening but mouth numbing.

It is now a statement of fact that Nigerians want to see the political and challenges of this country fizzle in and out in 2023 and the poor leadership predicament wanes. But to achieve this feat, many, a very large number of Nigerians are of the views that for enduring peace to be achieved in the country and the election bear the targeted outcome, the ruling All Progressive Party (APC) must drop the proposed Muslim-Mislim joint ticket. Aside from giving Christians in the country an opportunity to participate in the leadership affairs of their country, the idea of Muslim-Muslim ticket needs to be dropped for the survival of our democracy. Nigerians must learn from history. They concluded.

Indeed, while this piece views this inherent gully of division associated Muslim-Muslim President and Vice President as fears that cannot be described as unfound, and therefore should be given urgent correctional attention it deserves by the affected political parties, there are however, even more reasons to believe that the current challenge particular the mutual suspicion scourge among the fait based groups bedeviling the nation goes beyond what we think.

It has a pride of place in the nation’s political history.

Take as an illustration, Lee Kuan Yew, the pioneer Prime Minister of Singapore after his first visit to Nigeria for the Common Wealth of Nations’ meeting, among other concerns noted thus; I was not optimistic about Africa. In less than 10 years after independence, Nigeria had had a coup and Ghana a failed coup. I thought their tribal loyalties were stronger than their sense of common nationhood. This was especially so in Nigeria, where there was a deep cleavage between the Muslim Hausa northerners and the Christian and pagan southerners. As in Malaysia, the British handed power, especially the army and police, to the Muslims. In Ghana, without this north-south divide, the problem was less acute, but there were still clear tribal divisions. Unlike India, Ghana did not have long years of training and tutelage in the methods and disciplines of modern government’.

Essentially, while there exists reasons to draw serious lesson from the above observation, there exists also much more reasons for Nigerians to recognize that to move this nation forward socioeconomically and infrastructural, there exist also are reasons for all Nigerians particularly our leaders to also draw a lesson of performance and creative leadership from documented evidence of performance by Lee Kuen Yew- especially in the following areas; economy, infrastructure, job creation, electoral practices and fight against corruption. As he has used his public leadership performance to teach leaders across the world that public order, personal and national security, economic and social programmes, and prosperity is not the natural order of things but depends on the ceaseless efforts and attention from an honest and effective government that the people elect. He is equally a leader that firmly believes that it takes a prolonged effort to administer a country well and change the backward habits of the people.

Separate from the fact that Singapore as a country had in the past met with challenges Nigeria currently battles with, of which learning how they tackled and succeeded would be an important lesson for the nation at this critical moment, there exists yet another reason why the study of Lee’s leadership sagacity is important to our forthcoming leaders, and it stems from the fact that “any personality who want to grow in leadership must almost always scale and be open to learning. They must be molded by new experiences and to improve their leadership skills. In fact, leaders who scale do so regardless of background, skill and talent. Rather, they scale because they take deliberate steps to confront their shortcomings and become the leaders their organisations or nation need them to be. Instead of floundering, they learn to fly”.

Beginning with effective resource management, Singapore, under Lee’s administration was a country with a GDP of $3billion in 1965 which grew to $46billion in 1997, making it the 8th highest per capita GNP in the world according to the World Bank, In fact, it’s progress, is a reflection of the advances of the industrial countries-their inventions, technology, enterprise and drive, a united and a determined group of leaders, backed by practical and hard-working people who trust them made it possible, It is part of the story of a leader’s search for new fields to increase the wealth and well being of his people.

In the words of the Prime Minister Lee (as he then was), the country had no natural resources for MNCs to exploit. All it had were hard-working people, good basic infrastructure, and a government that was determined to be honest and competent. Our duty was to create livelihood for 2 million Singaporeans. The second part was to create a First World oasis in a Third World region. This was something Israel could not do because it was at war with its neighbours.

If Singapore could establish first world standards in public and personal security, health, education, telecommunications, transportation and services, it would become a base camp for entrepreneurs, engineers, managers and other professionals who had business to do in the region. This meant we had to train our people and equip them to provide First World standards of service. I believed this was possible, that we could reeducate and orientate our people with the help of schools, trade unions, community centres and social organisations. If the communists in China could eradicate all flies and sparrows, surely we could get our people to change their Third World habits.

‘We had one simple guiding principle for survival that Singapore had to be more rugged, better organised, and more efficient than others in the region. If we were only as good as our neighbours, there was no reason for businesses to be based here. We had to make it possible for investors to operate successfully and profitably in Singapore despite our lack of a domestic market and natural resources’.

Another profound lesson was Lee’s explanation that; after grappling with the problems of unemployment in the country, he came to the recognition that the only way to survive was to industrialize. Add just immediately, he concentrated on getting factories started. ‘Despite their small domestic market of 2 million, he protected locally assembled cars, refrigerator, air conditioners, radios, television sets, and tape-recorder, in the hope that they would later be partly manufactured locally.

To this end, considering the slow growing economy but scary unemployment levels in the country, the current administration and of course the forthcoming administration, in my opinion will continue to find itself faced with difficulty accelerating the economic life cycle of the nation until they contemplate industrialization, or productive collaboration with private organizations that has surplus capital to create employment.

On the fight against corruption, he has this to say; we made sure from the day we took office that every dollar in revenue would be properly accounted for and would reach the beneficiaries at the grass root as one dollar, without being siphoned off along the way. So from the very beginning we gave special attention to the areas where discretionary powers had been exploited for personal gains and sharpened the instruments that could prevent, detect or deter such practices’.

We decided to concentrate on the big takers in the higher echelons and directed the CPIB on our priorities. But for the small fish, we set out to simplify procedures and remove discretion by having clear published guidelines, even doing away with the needs for permits and approvals in less important areas. As we ran into problems in securing convictions in prosecutions, we tighten the laws in stages. Brief and Simple!

To win, he advised that nations must recognize that ‘a precondition for an honest government is that a candidate must not need large sums to get elected, or it must trigger off the circle of corruption. Having spent a lot of money to get elected, winners must recover their costs and possibly accumulate funds for the next election as the system is self-perpetuating.

It is up to Nigerians!!!
Utomi is the Programme Cordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via; j [email protected]/08032725374

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