Integration as imperative for electing quality leaders

National Assembly election committee

Year 2019 is here when Nigerians will choose new set of political leaders from the federal to state level. Three of the states in Southwest Region – Oyo, Ogun and Lagos – will have new governors on May 29 of the year that marks 20 years of the return of democracy to the country. By that date, the Southwest region would have welcomed five new governors, including Ekiti and Osun, who are being sworn-in this year.

There is no doubt that self-government has engendered a level of development and citizen involvement in the administration of our country notwithstanding its attendant shortcomings. For instance, Nigeria has transferred power from one government to another and from one political party to another. The capacity of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to organise free, fair and credible election has also improved over time. The country has experienced a fair measure of economic successes and failures. Regrettably, Nigeria still relies largely on proceeds from sale of crude oil while struggling to diversify revenue sources.

The establishment of the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission by the six Southwest governors is one of the vital gains of democracy in the region in this 4th Republic. Established in July, 2013, the commission manages the regional development integration programmes of the homogenous states, serves as a catalyst for development, and facilitates sustainable working relationships among different governance stakeholders thereby making the region a preferred place to visit, live, work and invest.

DAWN Commission’s successes in the last five years reinforce the imperative of the bottom-up approach to development given the failure of the top-down approach that has been the lot of our pseudo-federal system where all states look to the central government for survival. It takes little reflection to see that a bottom-up growth trajectory will automatically engender socio-economic integration among the states in the different geopolitical zones of Nigeria. In fact, the examples of regional integration as a potent factor in economic successes abound across the globe: European Union (EU), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and even regions within American federation such as the Mid-Western states regional cooperation suffice.

Regional cooperation delivers great benefits in several ways. It promotes economies of scale that reduces transactions cost and by implication, high cost of governance; promotes knowledge and experience-sharing among member states thereby shortening the learning curve for innovations;  creates opportunities for pursuing joint infrastructure that will aid seamless transportation within the region; improves ease-of-doing business and deepens market for goods and services.

Regional cooperation also puts the states in good stead to collectively negotiate for opportunities as a bloc as against individuals going it alone. And as a region seeking self-sustenance, the issue of resource mobilisation through Internally Generated Revenue can be enhanced by harmonisation of taxes and levies within the region which will help prevent tax evasion and avoidance.

Based the above, this article is meant to nudge the electorate in the Southwest on the need to be mindful of candidates they will give mandates to preside over the affairs of their states and those that will represent their interests at the National and State Assemblies, bearing in mind the enormity of the intellectual capacity required to sustain and build on the foundation for regional integration already laid.
Governance is serious business because it determines the rise and fall of a nation and the human condition of the citizens. Thus, the quality of minds to be handed the reins of leadership is of essence. It also calls attention to the need to put the incoming governors on notice on the need to continue from where the outgoing chief executives will stop on the regional development integration programme.

The region’s electorate have the responsibility of ensuring that the right leaders are elected into office. Citizens need to be sufficiently educated on the need to not allow undue sentiment to sway them into electing misfits in our communities to preside over our affairs. Citizens need to consciously elect credible persons who are intellectually sound and sufficiently imbued with the omoluabi ethos for which the people of the region are renowned. We owe our people and the generations unborn the duty to think about the development of the region over and above self-interest or pecuniary gains.

The constitution only requires anyone seeking to occupy a political office to show evidence of being educated up to at least a school certificate level or its equivalent. While the writers of the constitution can be excused for that provision for such leadership positions, it goes without saying that we need to up our game and raise the stake for anyone seeking public office in the region, especially as it concerns demonstrated leadership qualities. Aside our early exposure to Western education, our forebears that occupied those exalted positions were known to be widely read and great thinkers who commanded the respect of their contemporaries.

Public governance in the globalised world of today requires sound intellectual foundation. A contemporary public administrator must have sufficient grasp of issues and an exceptional ability to diagnose problems and reach out to the depth of his/her knowledge base to prescribe solutions to enormous challenges militating against the well-being of citizens. Hence, anyone aspiring to public leadership in Nigeria of today must possess a well-developed intellectual capacity enhanced by good education, exposure and native intelligence. Otherwise, the individual will struggle to discharge the responsibilities expected of the office.

This would not have been an issue in the Southwest based on our glorious history but the reality of present-day politics makes this an imperative – a situation where the democratic space has been so deregulated to the extent that anyone with money but without the requisite leadership skills begins to aspire to occupy the governance stools, continues to threaten and invariably affect the trajectory of our development as a region. While anyone is constitutionally eligible to stand for election, the people of the region must be very circumspect in exercising their right. Candidates seeking public offices in the region should be conscientiously considered before being voted for. Our future and that of our children depend on the quality of minds elected to coordinate the affairs of the states in our region.

Meanwhile, the search for quality minds to occupy front-line governance positions would not be peculiar to the region going by what is now becoming the trend in other parts of the country. A cursory scan of states in other regions across the country will confirm this assertion. The relevance of Plato’s postulation as to the need for philosopher-kings to administer society is more apt now than ever. We can observe that lucid minds are now being put forward for leadership positions. For instance, Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State and his deputy, Ivara Esu, are professors of note while Willie Obiano, a respectable banker, holds sway in Anambra State.

The administrative capacity of Mallam El-Rufai has never been in doubt. In Kano, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje has a Ph.D in Public Administration, his erstwhile Deputy Hafiz Abubakar is a professor of Biochemistry, while his new deputy, Hon. Nasir Gawuna is a PhD holder too. Sokoto and Gombe states are being governed by a successful lawyer and a chartered accountant respectively. We, therefore, as a region cannot afford to drop from the present level of governance in the region but rather aspire to take some notches up.

We must constantly remind ourselves of the pacesetter status of the region in public governance and the need to sustain this enviable position by continually raising the bar for anyone seeking public office. The truth is, our development standing is being challenged on many fronts by other regions of the country. Our claim to first in education, health, food security, financial self-sufficiency seems not to be the reality again if the available data is anything to go by. Our leaders must be ready to apply every sinew of fibre of their intellect to ensure that where the region has slipped or lagged we quickly reclaim our pride of place. And this has to start with the quality of people that will be put in office to administer the states from May 29, 2019. Self-interest and unhealthy sentiment must be subdued when leaders are being elected. In recruitment for leadership offices, great consideration must be given to capacity, competence and character.

The region’s electorate must be reminded of how the incredible leadership qualities of our past leaders like Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his successor in office, Chief SLA Akintola, made the region a go-to-place in the days of yore. This should remain the reference point for subsequent leadership recruitment in the region. These two leaders would probably have not achieved their level of success without of good education, exposure and native intelligence that they were made of and which also enabled them to choose very competent aides together with whom they drove development in the region.

We must also know that the region does not reserve the right to remain number one in any sector. If we are to remain at the top, we must prove ourselves worthy by employing the services of quality minds in all sectors of governance.Another issue of note as we approach another transition is the need for the incoming chief executives to sustain the existing cooperation and collaboration among the six states. As mentioned earlier, the inherent benefits in regional cooperation and development integration cannot be gainsaid.

In the five years of existence of Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission, strong support of the governors has helped it travel a bit far in its mandate.  While serving as the secretariat of the Western Region Governors’ Forum, DAWN facilitates periodic meeting of the governors. One of the flagships policy issues that have headlined the forum is the Rice Accelerated Programme for Integrated Development (Western RAPID).

In the project, Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti states will make land available for rice farming while Lagos will provide funds. Lagos will also serve as the off-takers of the produce for processing at her rice mill. Beside the objective of making the region rice sufficient, it will also generate direct and indirect job opportunity for the people. I therefore enjoin us to give consideration to all the above as we approach another transition in 2019.
Oyeleye is DG, DAWN Commission.

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