Being a keynote speech by Goodluck Jonathan, a former Nigerian president, at the one year memorial summit in honour of the late Captain Idahosa Wells Okunbo, in Abuja recently.
I thank the Hosa-Okunbo family for inviting me to this one year memorial summit in honour of the late Captain Idahosa Wells Okunbo.
It is sad to note that one year has gone by since the passing of your patriarch Captain Okunbo who was indeed my friend.
He was a great industrialist who contributed considerably to the growth of our nation through hard work, discipline and perseverance.
He will continue to be remembered by many, not only in his family and community, but across the nation, because of the impactful friendship and relationships he cultivated while alive.
I am pleased to be speaking today on the topic ‘Lasting Legacy: Key to Nigeria’s Development Issues’, because of its implication for developing nations, especially for our dear nation, Nigeria.
I want to commence this conversation by starting unusually with basic definitions, in order to clearly situate the topic to our country’s prevailing reality.
Ordinary meaning of legacy
According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, Legacy refers to “money or property that is given to you by somebody when he or she dies.” It can also be defined as “something that somebody has done successfully and that has positive effects even after they retire or die.”
This means that its application can be narrowed down to two key areas; the tangible and the intangible. On the one hand, legacy aggregates the estate left to someone by a dead relative.
On the other hand, it could refer to positive deeds, conducts and actions that combine to define an individual from which relatives could draw an advantage.
For instance, a candidate for a particular position in an institution may receive preferential consideration over others because of a good name or legacy left by a family member, probably a parent, who passed through the establishment.
Nigeria’s political evolution and development challenges
Development is the capacity of a people to aspire to fulfil their potential, within the framework of economic, social and cultural realities, for a better life.
For any nation to develop there must be political stability. I believe that there will be no meaningful advancement without good governance which provides the atmosphere for citizens to realise their full potential, based on the vision of their leaders.
At independence in 1960, the colonial masters handed our country back to our first indigenous leaders, many of whom played key roles in the crusade for liberation. The leaders did their best to position the country for economic growth and development. But their approach in their efforts to unite a fragile country from the standpoint of different ethnic nationalities did not produce the desired results. As the country progressed, it yielded more to centrifugal forces that reinforced ethnic cleavages.
We inherited a country that was balkanised into three regions and later four regions. This probably prompted the political leaders at independence to concentrate more on their own regions. Rather than see Nigeria as a united entity, they saw it as country of different nationalities under which the regions would pursue their different development agenda.
One must admit that the system worked well then because there were significant developments recorded under the regions. For instance, the level of development that was found in the Western region headed by the late Obafemi Awolowo was tremendous.
The free education policy, establishing the University of Ibadan, establishing the first television station in probably the entire black Africa and other laudable developmental projects, were positive indicators of the viability of the regions.
This clearly showed a strategic development trajectory. If we, as a nation, had continued with the regional administration policy, probably the problems we are confronting today would not have been there.
Somehow, along the development trajectory we lost focus and the system became conflicted, especially when the military overthrew the civilian administration and decided to centralise governance, by creating a 12-states structure. The aim of the military to run a unitary system against the backdrop of existing regional structure without proper orientation threw up the conflict that Nigeria has been struggling to resolve since then.
The decision to shift away from the regional arrangement to a national focus, where Nigerians would begin to see their country as their common heritage, needed a different orientation, planning, strategy and adaptation.
Thoughts like this on Nigeria’s journey of nationhood and development trajectory bring to mind the enduring legacies left by some other foreign leaders whose vision for nationhood translated into a positive force for unity and national cohesion.
What actions did leaders like Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, first post-independence President of Tanzania take at the inception of political evolution to bring reasonable stability to their countries?
Like Nigeria, Tanzania also showcases different tribes, tongues and religions with all the potentials for either progress or perdition. To avoid taking the wrong route, President Nyerere did two things that helped stabilise and unite his country at the inception of nationhood.
First, he sought to minimise ethnic tension and division by nurturing and propagating a Pan-East African language, Swahili, which he adopted as Tanzania’s official language. Through his efforts, Swahili became the language of instruction in Tanzanian schools and the instrument of unity for the country.
Secondly, Nyerere at independence discouraged the idea of multiplicity of political parties because of its tendency to stoke tension by dividing the people along ethnic and religious lines. One party system in today’s experience is obviously not good for democracy but the fact is that at that early stage in Tanzania’s national life, it served the purpose of uniting the country. Julius Nyerere will continue to be remembered for his legacy of political inclusion and national unity.
Given the state of the nation’s development and the challenge of uniting the country, questions have continued to be asked on the impact of our aggregate political experience on our national aspirations. The brand of political leadership we showcase and the kind of acrimony that dogs our politicking do not support national unity, development and stability in governance.
Sometimes, one is tempted to ask, where did we get it wrong, in terms of matching the performance of our political leadership with the aspirations of the people. In the 1960’s there were so many expectations from Nigeria, given the nation’s considerable potentials. Pundits then ranked Nigeria with the likes of Brazil, Singapore and Indonesia, who exhibited similar attractive economic projections, at that time.
Those analysts who invested so much hope in us and ascribed to Nigeria the promise of accelerated growth had expected us to be at par with our comparator nations, in terms of growth and development. While most of these countries have since successfully diversified their economy and ascended the development ladder with massive industrialisation and advancement in cutting-edge technology, our nation appears to have remained rooted on one spot.
What then is the problem? Why are we not moving at the same pace as our peers at independence? This is where the question of lasting legacies becomes quite germane. The peculiarity of an uninspiring performance raises some salient questions about our national leadership experience.
If we connect the dots of Nigeria’s progression from the colonial days, one could say that our fathers at independence might not have been handed a nation that ticked all the relevant boxes for phenomenal economic growth.
Even then, it is difficult to deny the fact that the colonial masters left a legacy of a functional civil service upon which we would have built a formidable political structure and the foundation for meaningful development.
I have seen people contend that the nation’s post-independence leaders invested more in nurturing their ethnic proclivities than they did in watering the tree of unity, patriotism and national pride.
While some people may not agree with this notion, I however believe that a heterogeneous country like Nigeria needs to have woven an acceptable mesh around its variegated population.
That way, it will be able to harness and rally the fine points of its diversity for positive growth and development. Such a nation and its leaders, therefore, cannot afford to lay undue emphasis on its ethno-sectional coloration.
I believe that even at independence the mismanagement of the spirit behind the three regions, North, East and Western region, and later Midwestern region ended up widening the cleavages that threaten national cohesion. This may have affected the kind of legacy left by our post-independence leaders, especially in managing our diverse tribes, tongues and faith.
In Nigeria it is very common to hear scholars emphasise that Nigeria is not a nation. I believe that those who hold on to this position often cite the views of some of our leaders at independence, especially as some of the statements credited to them tended to have placed more premium on ethnic nationalities other than the nation called Nigeria.
However, as I pointed out earlier, many countries, like Nigeria, are made up of different cultural and linguistic nationalities. The difference is that while many of these countries have overcome the negative manifestations of undue ethnic glorification, Nigerians have continued to exalt ethnic nationality over and above the country.
It is instructive that despite the fact that Ghana has similar ethnic make-up as Nigeria, one can hardly find Ghanaian intellectuals and thought leaders make divisive statements about their country. One of the reasons that has been adduced for this differential is the assertion that Kwame Nkrumah’s philosophy of nationhood and national unity was slightly different from that of our leaders at independence. If Ghana and Tanzania are more united today than Nigeria, it is probably because Nyerere and Nkrumah saw their people as one and laid solid foundations to cement that unity.
Nkrumah propagated a philosophy of leadership which took the country as one and left a legacy of unity. This is the kind of experience that Nigeria never had.
Unfortunately, for us we started by bifurcating the country into three region with the regions competing among themselves to produce the leader of the national government. From inception there was some kind of uncanny rivalry among these three regions and that has remained the bane of Nigeria’s political evolution till today.
I believe that the legacy of nationhood and roots of unity were weak at Nigeria’s independence and not much has been done since then to strengthen the base of the union.
Nations grow on the back of lasting legacies left by successive leaders. Our founding fathers may have offered their best efforts and made their own mistakes in service to their country and allegiance to cultural identities, especially on the issue bordering on the unity of Nigeria.
But we should be able to ask ourselves as current political leaders, what lasting legacies are we leaving for our children and grandchildren. If we are true to ourselves on this enquiry, we will not fail to locate the answer in Cassius’ classical charge to his friend Brutus in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, when he said: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
Despite all we have been through, I do not believe that we should lose hope in our country. Every political cycle provides us with the ample opportunity to take decisions that would help us renew our hope, restore what had been lost and rebuild our country.
Ahead of 2023 elections, we are getting ready to be wooed and wowed at campaign grounds by various politicians seeking different offices. But these thoughts are beyond 2023. It is about Nigeria and the kind of leadership it deserves now and in the future to ensure that our country assumes its rightful place among the comity of nations.
My charge to Nigerians is to be circumspect in the exercise of their voting rights. We must shift away from the politics of bread and butter and ensure that we do not elect leaders that will buy our conscience today and mortgage the future of our children and grandchildren. We should endeavour to elect only those that will leave legacies of unity, peace and development.
Leadership and sacrifice
For a nation to grow, leaders at various points must deliberately make the necessary sacrifices that promote patriotism, inspire devotion and spur citizens to do their best for their country.
Our political leaders should worry about the depth of their footprints and the kind of legacies they are leaving behind. And I do not mean this to apply to only leaders at the national level.
Those who also lead at various capacities, in politics and business, be they councillors, council chairpersons, Governors, lawmakers at both state and national levels as well as boardroom gurus should be bothered about the value of their leadership style.
The essence of leadership is to drive initiatives that seek to build sustainable societies and make the lives of the people better and more meaningful. Every political leader should, in a moment of introspection, spare a thought for the legacy he or she would leave behind. Will you be remembered as a deceitful leader, an ethnic bigot, religious fanatic or a nation builder that would leave lasting legacies for the people.
Anybody aspiring to public office should first articulate his own vision and philosophy of leadership. Without a vision based on a sound guiding philosophy, a leader will just be marooned like a ship without a rudder while the public interest suffers.
Leadership does not necessarily refer only to a political office. It encompasses the kind of guidance we give at every position of responsibility. I always emphasise that the seed of leadership should be sown in the family from which it grows to guide the society. Good leadership at homes, schools, communities, traditional institutions, as well as worship places will give birth to legacies that would serve as a source of pride and benefit to the rest of society.
We are here today because somebody had left a good name. If the late Capt. Okunbo did not leave a good legacy, none of us would have been here to remember and honour him.
Lasting legacies: Bird’s eye view of the Capt. Okunbo example
Let me end this speech where I started it by saying a few more things about Captain Hosa Okunbo and the lasting legacies he left behind.
As a businessman, one thing I know that endeared him to people across different social status was his warmth, openness and generosity. If he was not a pleasant and sociable fellow, probably we would not have been friends and I could not have been here today.
He was an entrepreneur who carved a niche for himself by investing in people and in those businesses that make significant impact in the Nigerian economy and lives of the people.
Captain lived a life of philanthropy. Although he achieved so much as a business man and invested in big enterprises, he will perhaps be remembered more for his large heart, spirit of philanthropy and love for the needy.
One of his legacies that will continue to endure is that he nurtured and mentored many to become responsible members of the society, including his children who he gave the best guidance in character and education.
I am not surprised that they have continued in the family tradition by showing good examples in business, philanthropy and friendship.