Saturday, August 16, 2008

Obama, Onyiuke, and leadership in Africa

There seems to be a fundamental problem of confusion in the leadership strata in Nigeria; confusion that permeates and percolates sectors – business and politics alike. One area that vividly reflects the confusion is the power sector. The problem with epileptic power supply in Nigeria is obviously not one of resources to put the situation right. Suffice it to say the leadership is confused about how to tackle it.
Nigeria boasts of a rich pool of some of the best brains the world has to offer. This rich pool of human resources can be found at home and abroad. As far as financial resources are concerned, there is no gainsaying the fact that the money is there. The present soaring price of petroleum is putting in the coffers of the present government more than twice what it budgeted as anticipated revenue from the black gold. Ironically, the more the country earn from oil, the more the market for generating sets booms as darkness thickens across the country. Nigeria remains the world's largest market for generators. The pollution caused by these generators is simply unspeakable. Nigeria's electricity supply problems result from poor governance and not lack of capital.
While the nation still laments the discovery that the last administration spent $10 billion on power without adding one megawatt of electricity to national output, I fear that this administration with the way it is going might not perform any better. No matter the criticism against former President Olusegun Obasanjo, one thing we can’t deny is that he had a team. He had a team of technocrats determined to make a change. A good number of them executed their assignments meticulously without fear or favour. Today, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Oby Ezekwesili and some others have assumed bigger roles in service to humanity, an ample testimony to the fact that they served well. But what do we see in the team of the present administration – an attorney general who by his actions makes you doubt the credibility of his law degree. Most painful is the removal and demotion of the anti-corruption icon, Nuhu Ribadu, for reasons nobody has sufficiently explained.
But those are really not what irk me this time. My worry for now is the recent activities of a woman leader I hold huge regard for – the boss of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Prof. Ndy Okereke-Onyiuke. As a capital market correspondent/analyst, I covered the Exchange for some years. I can tell the amiable prof. is a manager of men and resources, but her recent activity in the Africa for Obama Campaign has left me wondering whether she has reached her wits end. I find myself thinking the prof. will be better off now being reassigned to a classroom where she would have the opportunity to charge and recharge before she suffers the fate that befell Mr. Festus Odimegwu, the former boss of Nigeria Breweries.
Make no mistake about it; I love the change that Barack Obama represents. He epitomizes leadership and the new world that we long to see. He is brilliant and significantly reasserts what Dr. Kwame Nkrumah said decades back that “the black man is capable of ruling”. Besides, the historical significance of his emergence as a presidential nominee is inspiring. America has never seen anything like the Barack Obama phenomenon. Mr. Obama’s message of hope, healing and change, discounted as fanciful and naïve by skeptics, draws adherents all around the world. The 47-year old black American has by his phenomenal rise introduced a new type of political movement.
But do all of these justify Prof. Onyiuke’s recent N100 million fund raiser for Obama? I don’t think so. Firstly, it sparks racism, a cankerworm that Obama himself is fighting to end. (Ethnicity as opposed to meritocracy has always been the bane of Africa’s underdevelopment.) Obama’s rise has not been on the platform of being black, but because he’s selling a solution that many in America, blacks and whites alike, subscribe to. In a way, his rise suggests that ‘he looks like me’ or ‘he speaks my language’ politics is no longer fashionable.
Secondly, I don’t think the laws of the United States welcome fundraising by a Nigerian group for the purpose by mobilizing votes for Obama. Rather than mobilizing funds for Obama, who as a matter of fact, has not complained of cash shortage, Madam Onyiuke and Africa for Obama campaign, should dedicate their efforts and resources towards ensuring that the change that Obama represents, becomes a reality in Nigeria and Africa; that tribal politics is expunged from the political sphere in Africa. Isn’t it ironical that while America was busy celebrating the abilities in Obama, Kenya, the land of his father, was up in flames because of ethnic politics.
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