Nigeria: The Leadership Question – Ray Ekpu

Nigeria: The Leadership Question

Speech by Ray Ekpu at his 70th Birthday Colloquium held in Lagos on August 6, 2018.

You are already aware through some of the interviews I have granted to some newspapers and the brochure in your hands that I have toiled for 45 years in Journalism’s vineyard. I believe I need to explain the philosophy that underpins my practice.

My journalism is the journalism of facts and figures, robust but fair commentary. As we say it in the industry “facts are sacred but comment is free.” But comments must be based on correct facts correctly stated. I go to great lengths to get my facts and figures to illuminate my writing. It is an obligation I owe, indeed any responsible journalist owes, to the reading public.

Journalism is a sacred duty to be performed without fear or favour, affection or ill will. Journalism’s Fairness Doctrine is for me an article of faith, the linchpin of responsible journalism. It is the rigour involved in being fair that can lead to the unveiling of the truth and truth finding is at the epicenter of responsible journalism. Responsible journalism is the antidote to what has come to be known today as fake news. Fake news whether disseminated by the social media or the mainstream media is irresponsible.

It is the enemy of free speech and the people’s right to know. It blocks access to credible information. It pollutes and poisons the well of fair public and private communication. It is therefore a danger to society. Only the truth can heal us and fake news can never lead to the unveiling of the truth.

In section 22 of the 1999 Constitution the media are asked to hold the government accountable to the people. It states: “The press, Radio and television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility of the Government to the people.” It does not say that the media should be lick spittle sycophants. Infact, the media are under no obligation to support or oppose any government unconditionally. It has only an obligation to support or oppose ideas, proposals, programmes and policies of the government based on the media’s perception of their usefulness or otherwise to the smooth functioning and well being of the society.

Blind support for or blind opposition to any government is a danger to society. Groveling sycophants or tyrannical enemies of the government do more harm than good to society because they mislead and misdirect the government and its peoples.

In every government there is almost always a gang of muscular sycophants who tell the oga at the top what they think he wants to hear, not what he needs to hear. There are several people in the public service who take unlawful and illegal actions. Their explanation is always “I am taking orders from above.” This is what is called Nuremberg Defence. Nuremberg Defence does not exculpate anyone from liability because if it is unlawful it is unlawful; if it is illegal it is illegal.

The media are regarded as a free market place of ideas where a hundred flowers must be allowed to bloom. It is this cross fertilization of ideas that gives journalism its life blood. I consider myself a journalism activist who must push into the public space only ideas that can be the building blocks of a fair, just and egalitarian society.

Every editor, I believe, is an evaluative filter who sorts out the wheat from the chaff,throws away the chaff and puts the wheat on the table for consumption. An editor can through his filtration process contribute to the building or breaking of his society. So an editor must use his discretion in favour of contributing to the building of a better society, one that is better than he met it.

Let me now put in a few words of my own on the subject of today’s colloquium eventhoughthe Guest Lecturer and the discussants have done a marvelous job. The reason I chose this subject is because I believe that leadership matters, leadership makes all the differences,leadership is all the rage. As Charles De Gaulle put it: “Men are of no importance. What counts is who commands.” 

The leader who has vision is the one who can make the difference. He can make the difference because he also has the wherewithal for leadership: the rules, the laws, the ethics and the means of dishing out punishment for infringement or non-performance or rewards for good performance.

When Golda Meir was the Prime Minister of Israel she lamented that of all the places in the world Moses took Israelites through a long journey to come and settle in the desert. But the Israeli governments over time have turned that desert into a flourishing territory.

They are surrounded by enemies but they have shown resilience and creativity thanks to the vision of their leaders. Drip irrigation has turned their desert country into a flourishing farmland. In their book, “Start-up Nation,.” The story of Israel’s economic miracle, Dan Senor and Saul Singer said: “How can Israel – with only 7.1 million people, no natural resources, enemies on every border and in a constant state of war – produce more start-up companies than Japan, India, Korea, Canada and the United Kingdom.”It is leadership.

Compare Israel with Nigeria which had a 30-month civil war that also brought a great deal of adversity to the people of Biafra. We did not turn that war, that adversity, into an opportunity to become a second or a first world country. Nigerian soldiers had access to arms, food, fuel, everything, they wanted but Biafrans did not. They had to create ogbunigwe, manufacture petrol and kerosene and salt with their bare hands and crude technology and perform several other works of wonder to survive.

There was even a Dr Njoku who produced some vaccinesafter the war but nobody looked in his direction. The popular notion was that General YakubuGowon would assemble those Biafran scientists and challenge them to refine their inventions. But politics took over and killed the idea because it would have meant that the Igbos were smarter and more brilliant than everyone else. So we, all of us, lost the opportunity to take Nigeria into a higher development realm.

We are still at Ground Zero, the semi permanent place of the third world. We are still called underdeveloped country although we try to give ourselves some cold comfort by calling ourselves “developing country.”  So leadership is central to our underdevelopment and would have been central to our entry into the land of fulfillment if we got it right.

Is Nigeria’s low development situation a function of colonialism, military rule or poor constitution? The colonialists left 57 years ago. I remember that Governor Sam Mbakwe of Imo State had suggested, not entirely jokingly, that we should recall the colonialists and hand back the country for them to run. But you will agree that it would be futile or even foolish to continue to blame the colonialists who left our shores 57 years ago for our stunted growth. Or do we finger military rule for our backwardness? But the South East Asian Tigers who are now called Asian Dragons also had military rule.

The difference is that they used the discipline, their command structure and the no-nonsense approach to problem solving to good effect. But our military were basically a renegade elite interested largely in a chop-and-quench approach to governance. As we speak, we are still searching for the funds squirreled out of the country and lodged in various coded accounts in various countries. So it boils down to the poverty or the failure of leadership.

Out of the 12 military Governors of the Yakubu Gowon era investigated 10 were indicted; only two were declared uncorrupt. No other military government has been investigated since then so we have no idea of the size of the worms that would have crawled out of the cans, and whether or not the discovery would be of stratospheric proportion.

Some people blame our woes on our Constitutions now. We ran the Parliamentary system from 1960 to January 15, 1966 and the presidential system from October 1, 1979 to December 31, 1983. We have also run it from1999 till date. Both the Parliamentary and Presidential systems have worked well in Britain and United States from where we imported them. So why has none of them worked smoothly like a well-oiled Swiss watch in Nigeria?

My considered view is that the operators of the Constitution must be held responsible. It is they who buy voters. It is they who approve for themselves humongous salaries. It is they who disobey the courts. It is they who do mago mago impeachment. It is they who are involved in corruption or who condone it. It is they who fail to take decisive action when problems stare us in the face. It is they who cross carpets at random. So at the end of the day it is a matter of purposeful leadership or the lack of it.

Let me say that in all of these, the followers have a role to play. That is what is called the Office of the Citizen. The citizen may have no airconditioned office, or desk or chair. If he has his placard and the will to fight for a better society we may get there before long. That is what the students of the University of Ibadan did in 1962 and their demonstration aborted the obnoxious Anglo-Defence Pact.

That is what the Super Falcons did before their allowances were paid a couple of years ago. That is what Enoughis Enough did to stir the National Assembly into using the Doctrine of Necessity to make Vice President Goodluck Jonathan the Acting President when President Umaru Yar’Adua was sick.

The citizens can do more. If the citizens had refused to accept the bribe offered to voters in the Edo, Anambra, Ondo and EkitiGovernorship elections what would have happened? There would have been no buying and selling of votes. Since the leaders offered the bribe and the followers collected it, both of them were tied up in a sordid corruption cobweb. So it is obvious that followership also counts eventhough I agree with De Gaulle that what counts more is he who commands.

Ray Ekpu is now the Chief Executive Officer , Mayfive Media Limited, publishers of NEWSWATCH NOW. 


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