(Inauguration Lecture of Mallam Nasir El Rufai as Executive Governor of Kaduna State. May 28, 2015)
The good people of Kaduna state
The Governor-elect, His Excellency Nasir El Rufai
Members of the high table
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen
You would have noticed that I started by putting the people first in the order of protocol. Get used to it, it is called change!
Two years into his service as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nasir El Rufai got me into trouble. A good friend of mine who held an important position in one of the top international development funding agencies in North America had put together some kind of “funders’ bazaar”. He wanted to organize a retreat in Africa for selected actors on the Western funders’ front on the theme of urbanization and urban development in Africa. The idea was to bring some of these funders together for a week in a city in Africa and have them brainstorm on the challenges of modern cities on the continent. My friend reasoned that funders needed to have the occasional retreat in Africa to get a real feel of the challenges and difficulties we face in the process of building functional and efficient 21st-century cities.
What my friend did not tell those who agreed to participate in the retreat was that by confronting them with visual evidence of urban poverty, planlessness, dysfunction, and infrastructural decay in a typical African city, he hoped that it would be easier to make them open their wallets and fund project proposals that such international agencies, known nowadays as development partners, normally fund in the developing world. In other words, he was hoping to blackmail these guys by showing them evidence of African urban decay and underdevelopment.
Consultations were held on where to go for the retreat: Accra? Nairobi? Dakar? Kampala? In the end, my friend unwisely settled for Abuja. Please bear in mind that we are in 2005. Although I specialize in the study and production of culture on the continent, my friend felt I should be part of a retreat on urban development and renewal. I therefore flew to Abuja from my base at the Pennsylvania State University in the United States to be part of that retreat. It never hurts to network with funders anyway.
From the very first day of the event, we made the mistake of taking our Western guests round Abuja: we wanted them to see the sights; to see Abuja at work; to feel the texture and the throb of a rapidly developing African capital. One morning, I was at breakfast, just a few metres away from the table of some of our Western guests. They were having the usual breakfast conversation but in hushed tones. However, I was close enough to hear what they were discussing. Here is a rough summary of what I overheard: if the intention of the organizer was to show us a dysfunctional, underdeveloped, unplanned African city, with the usual indicators of garbage-filled streets, substandard infrastructure, and decrepit public service, then what are we doing here in Abuja?
Don’t blame the Westerners. We had told them that we had challenges. We had told them that things were mediocre and that no critical reflection and intelligence go into urban planning in much of Africa. We wanted them to gain a firsthand assessment of these problems. And we were foolish enough to bring them to Nasir El Rufai’s Abuja in 2005! Where we wanted them to see evidence of the poverty of vision and critical intelligence in the management of urbanization in Africa, they saw Abuja and began to wonder if we had over-stated our challenges.
Critical intelligence and strategic vision had led El Rufai to the restoration of the Abuja master plan: green areas had returned to the city, strategic demarcations between commercial and residential areas were being restored and respected, waste disposal and allied municipal services were working pretty much the same way they worked in the cities of the developed world. I believe I don’t have to retail what Nasir El Rufai’s Abuja looked like to this audience. Now, there are very harsh critics of Nasir El Rufai’s Abuja and it is not my intention here to delegitimize their critique. In fact, at the end of this lecture, I will even recommend a thorough review of the criticisms in Abuja in order to prevent similar scenarios in Kaduna. However, not even the harshest critics of El Rufai’s restoration of the Abuja master plan – especially those whose illegal eggs were broken to make the omelette – would take away the fact that Abuja worked like a modern city during that period.
On hearing what our guests were discussing at breakfast, I ran to the hotel room of the retreat convener, screaming: “ol’boy, wahala dey o! El Rufai don cause katakata for us o. I just overheard the Oyinbo people saying that we have no problem given what they have seen so far of Abuja o.” To solve our unexpected problem, we put our heads together and devised a solution. I am not sure that anybody here in this audience would be able to guess what we did but I am willing to let you try. Oya, what do you think we did?
You are all wrong. We organized a day’s excursion outside of Abuja for our guests. They wanted evidence of dysfunction, of urban rot and decay, of poverty of vision and critical intelligence in the organization of our urban spaces, of the wages of decades of corruption evident in the scatological infestations we call cities in Nigeria. They wanted a firsthand assessment of the symbolic violence we have collectively visited on ourselves throughout our postcolonial history as evidenced in the sort of shambolic urban spaces we have created all over Nigeria. There was no shortage of slummy spaces of underdevelopment and poverty to take them to – even in the outskirts of Abuja. We could have taken them to Lokoja which, like everywhere else in my own Kogi state, is still in the Stone Age.
Somehow, we opted for Kaduna! Yes, you heard me right. We brought them on a bus tour of Kaduna. In other words, as recently as 2005, we showcased Kaduna as evidence of chronic urban underdevelopment. Because Nasir El Rufai ruined our plans in Abuja, we migrated to Kaduna as a randomly selected shorthand for the collapse of vision, planning, critical intelligence, and leadership in postcolonial Nigeria. Kaduna became our synonym for everything that is wrong in Nigeria: a city in which man was living in disharmony with concrete, steel, and nature; a city in which man still has not figured out where to put his shit and urine in the 21st century; a city in which the cows competing for right of way on the road with man have a superior sense of societal organization than man. Like Kaduna, like everywhere else in Nigeria! I see therefore an extraordinary hand of fate in the fact that the man whose vision reclaimed Abuja from the doldrums of urban planlessness and has now been asked by the people of Kaduna state to lead their difficult march into the 21st century.
Nasir El Rufai was elected by the good people of Kaduna state and that is why we are here. That in itself is good news. However, the overwhelming mandate by which the reality of his election has come to be is both good and bad news. Mallam Nasir, which one do you want first, the good news or the bad news? I will deal with the bad news first irrespective of your answer. I am a student of political cultures and the psychology of leadership in a global frame. And I believe I can claim with reasonable authority that every leader loves to have a reasonable margin of error which allows for steps to be retraced and alternative visions to be mapped should a particular vision fail. Every leader wants to be able to make mistakes and correct them depending on his degree of social consciousness and responsibility. Ko ba haka ba?
A leader without a clear mandate, or one with a disputed mandate, or one with a wuruwuru mandate, or one with a magomago mandate, such as we are immensely used to in this country, enjoys the luxury of repeated margins of error and mistakes. Such a leader enjoys incredible latitudes in the department of failure, of mediocrity, of the ordinary, of the unspectacular. On the contrary, there is bad news for a leader who receives the sort of overwhelming mandate that the people of Kaduna state gave to Nasir El Rufai: there are really no margins of error here, no luxury of failure, of mediocrity, of the ordinary. A clear, overwhelming mandate, delivered to one man by a people who overcome fractious fault lines and divisions of faith and ethnicity, is more than a secular act of civic electoral expression. It becomes a sacred pact between the deliverers of the mandate and its legitimate custodian. Let me repeat: the sort of mandate that you, the good people of Kaduna state, have given your Governor-elect, is both spiritual and secular. Ko ba haka ba?
Vox populi, vox dei. The voice of the people is the voice of God. The philosophical verity of this saying is what must inform Nasir El Rufai’s approach to understanding the real meaning of his mandate and its daunting implications. When I hinted earlier that there is a spiritual dimension to a mandate this huge and overwhelming, I was not being unmindful that I am speaking in the context of secular democracy where civics requires us to insist that the spiritual and the secular are like oil and water: they do not mix and must not be mixed. Those of you who are familiar with my public intellection know only too well that I have a special koboko reserved for Christian and Moslem fundamentalists who always threaten the secular essence of our democracy. I do not mean, therefore, that you have elected a spiritual or religious leader. On the contrary, it is Mr. Governor-elect who must view this new responsibility in a spiritual dimension because he has been overwhelmingly summoned to servanthood by the voice of the people which is the voice of God. To fail the people is to fail God; it is not to heed the voice of God. That is an option that is simply not available to a leader elected with the sort of mandate that the people have given to El Rufai. Ko ba haka ba?
The lack of any option of failure; of any reasonable margin of error, of any latitude for mediocrity and unspectacular performance, is not the only bad news for Nasir El Rufai. Let’s talk a little bit about the condition of our country today. I don’t know where to start or how to even start. Nigeria is a tragedy that renders words hollow. Words are hopelessly incapable of describing the full scale of the postcolonial horror that is Nigeria. If there ever was a Nobel Prize for people who have collectively suffered the most abject forms of traumatization in the hands of their leaders, the Nigerian people would have no competitors. Because the condition of Nigeria is an indescribable canvass of postcolonial horror and suffering, the most appropriate summary of that condition that I want you retain from this lecture is this: the only thing worse than the condition of Nigeria since October 1, 1960 is the condition in which those who have presided over her affairs since May 29, 2011 are going to leave her on May 29, 2015. Ko ba haka ba?
Fifty-five years of corruption and a stubborn refusal to apply vision and critical intelligence to the construction of nationhood; fifty-five years of cultivating mediocrity and rewarding everything that is negative and contemptible with our system of recognition and value; fifty-years of refusing to rise and live up to our potential and promise as Africa’s hope and the pride of the black race; fifty-five years of sorrow, tears, and blood (apologies to Fela); fifty-five years of deliberately exacerbating our fault lines and worsening our differences rather than see them as the building blocks of a modern state; fifty-five years of excuses, all it takes for fifty-five years of self-inflicted injuries to come together in the shape of Africa’s most spectacular tragedy in the 21st century is to have a leader who doesn’t give a damn if all the goats ate up all the yams in the closing weeks of an unspectacular leadership.
That would solve two problems: no more yams to worry about because every yam has been eaten and no more goats to worry about because every goat has either died of constipation or diarrhoea. No goats, no yams, nothing in the land. One man’s parting shot is to replace corruption with nothingness as the summative metaphor of the Nigerian condition: no light, no water, no salaries, no petrol, no diesel, nothing! Indeed, all the figures and statistics emerging in the last three weeks of the life of the outgoing dispensation point to a nation in coma: domestic debt, external debt, Aso Rock debt, state government debt. None of the official conjurers of the Nigerian state has been able to make the figures add up. I have deliberately avoided citing figures because you are all familiar with the Tweeter handle of our Vice President-elect, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. And I am sure you have been following the responses to him from the officials of the Nigerian state. If the Vice President-elect tweets that we are owing $60 billion in any of our debt portfolios, the Jonathan people and their hired social media caterwaulers will rush out, screaming: “don’t mind him o. We are not owing $60 billion o. We are owing ordinary $50 billion o.”
Therefore, even if we went with figures emanating from official sources – from Aso Rock, from the office of Debt Management, from the office of the coordinating Minister of national economic collapse – truth is that we are dead broke. This country has been run aground. Federal and state governments are borrowing money to not meet any obligations. All the states are in a pathetic condition, borrowing money to collateralize borrowings. On social media, I started an Olympics competition to determine which state is the most backward, the most underdeveloped, and the one showing the most visible evidence of accumulated years of poverty of vision by the leadership. When I heard that the Governor of my own state returned from donating money at a presidential campaign jamboree in Abuja to sack workers because he could not meet salary obligations and proceeded to announce to the remaining workers he had not sacked that he was reducing salaries he was not paying by 40%, I awarded the gold medal of that Olympic competition to my state. Surely, no other state in the country could have it worse?
Nigerians from several states protested that I did ojoro and rigged the underdevelopment and poor governance gold medal for my state. Each retailed reasons why his or her state of origin should win the coveted gold medal. Ladies and gentlemen, I will spare you the entry from Kaduna state. In essence, the state that will be handed over to Mallam Nasir El Rufai tomorrow is not doing too badly in the competition to win the gold medal in the national Olympic competition for the most distressed state in the polity. In fact, if I was operating purely from a Nigerian mindset, I would declare that Mallam Nasir El Rufai needs a lot of prayers from us all in order to be able to “move Kaduna state forward”. Ko ba haka ba?
The bad news is that I am not operating from this routine escapist Nigerian mindset which replaces work with appeals to Allah and God who, ironically, are strong proponents of hard and honest work in the holy books of both religions. There is more bad news for Nasir El Rufai: as bad as the picture I have painted above is, both nationally and domestically here in Kaduna state, it still does not provide any excuse for the people not to begin to see, feel, smell, and touch measurable and qualitative change effective May 29, 2015. I do want to devote some time to this part of the lecture so that what I am saying is understood without ambiguity. One duty we owe our incoming leaders is to help them see that the people of this country, the people of Kaduna and other states, have a very clear and definite understanding of what continuity means and, more importantly, what change means.
“The sky is falling! Nigerians, please bear me witness: my predecessor has emptied the treasury o. My predecessor has shackled me with debts o. He has borrowed money that we must pay for the next sixty years o. Things are so bad. There is nothing to work with. I will probe him; I will not probe him; yes, I will probe him.” As true as these statements are in terms of the actualities they describe, it is also true that they are cliché, repeated ad nauseam by every in-coming administration. Nigerians heard it from Chief Obasanjo and all the Governors in the 1999 set; they heard this rhetoric again in 2003; heard it in 2007; heard it in 2011. To hear it in 2015 would be the very definition of continuity because there is nothing in that rhetoric that the people have not heard before.
It is because they are tired of this rhetoric of continuity that they voted massively for people they believe can perform miracles and deliver on miracles. And this is why I do not envy our Governor-elect and also General Buhari at the centre. This is why I have only bad news for them. All the realities which led to a rhetorical culture of blaming outgoing administrations are still here with us and have even worsened beyond our wildest imagination under the outgoing administration. Make no mistake about it, President Jonathan and the outgoing Ministers and Governors have exercised no prerogative of mercy on Nigeria. They have wrecked and destroyed this country. In South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, or China, they would have been tied to the stakes and executed as economic saboteurs. Yet, I must signal solemnly to Mallam Nasir El Rufai and President-elect Buhari that we are at a moment in our national history when the corruption and brigandage of an outgoing administration can no longer be mobilized as legitimate points of departure by an in-coming administration.
The outgoing administration repeatedly told us to be patient; that transformation and the dividends of democracy could not be delivered with a magic wand; they said that Rome was not built in a day. Then they went ahead to unleash all the goats in Rome on all the yams in Rome and the city of Rome was set on fire in the ensuing commotion. Those who said that Rome was not built in a day then fiddled and danced azonto even as the city of Rome burned. This is why Mallam Nasir El Rufai does not have the luxury of saying that Rome was not built in a day. I have already heard that rhetoric from our President-elect and I hope that Mallam Nasir will pass the message on to him that we, his supporters, ask him to desist from using that language forthwith. At the national level and here in Kaduna state, we have elected leaders who we believe can do precisely that: abandon the rhetoric of the old leadership and build Rome in a day. And because there is currently no money anywhere – the outgoing government having looted everything – the new leadership must build Rome in a day with only one kobo. This is what the people expect and it is not up for discussion or negotiation by the new leadership.
For the people, therefore, change begins when the leadership in which they have invested such an overwhelming mandate makes a radical departure from that rhetoric and its associated mental universe and invent a rhetoric bordering on the possibility of miracle. The new leadership must not say that they are not miracle workers because that is precisely what the people voted for: miracle workers. The new leadership must tell the people: “I knew that things were bad, very bad, really bad, before I offered myself for service. Hands-on, proactive approach to delivery will now replace the rhetoric of excuses. No action of the outgoing government, no matter how horrible, will be valid enough an excuse for me not to deliver. We shall punish their corruption. Those who looted shall face the full prosecutorial force of the laws of the land. But we shall not use their crimes as justification of inertia on our part.”
A leader who sets out from this perspective, as I expect Mallam Nasir El Rufai and President Buhari to do, would have begun to align himself with the people’s definition of change here in Kaduna state and nationally. And these are demands we are making of our Governor-elect here today. We dare to make these demands because we are confident that he is more than equal to that task of reinvention. We dare to make these demands because we know Mallam Nasir El Rufai’s predisposition. For my part, I dare to make these demands because I know Mallam Nasir El Rufai’s vision and I am willing to publicly stick out my neck for him.
One last bad news for our Governor-elect. The discussion that I want to open up now has to do with the predicament of being Nasir El Rufai and the local and national expectations that come with the terrain of that persona. There are even international dimensions to it because being Nasir El Rufai also evokes a range of responses and expectations from Nigerians in the diaspora: folks either like him passionately or dislike him intensely; he does not evoke neutrality. It must be tough, very tough, being somebody who cannot expect to be judged, assessed, or evaluated like everyone else. It must be tough being somebody to whom everybody lays a friendly or a hostile claim and of whom everybody has considerably higher and heightened expectations. Even those who profess a passionate dislike for him have heightened expectations of him. Ko ba haka ba?
In essence, Nasir El Rufai will be held to different and much higher standards by the people of this state and by the rest of us who are not citizens of Kaduna but who are determined to work assiduously for his success in the next four years. Here is the reason why he will be judged differently. One significant feature of the Nigerian tragedy is that the citizen knows, sees, and feels the Nigerian condition spelt out in terms of poverty, hopelessness, destitution, comatose infrastructure, and corrupt leadership but, as far as I know, very few Nigerians have ever demonstrated any understanding of the organic origins and sources of our problems. Few Nigerians understand that our chaos, our urban rot and rural decay, our decrepit roads, hospitals, and Universities, our power failures and water shortages, and our fuel scarcity are collective consequences of our wanton embrace of the unthought and unreflected society. Since we inherited this dilapidated contraption from the British, we have made not a single attempt to philosophize the Nigerian project through sustained critical thought.
The price is always very heavy when a people develop a collective hostility to philosophy. Dubai, London, Paris, and all the other destinations that Nigerians adore and desire are all outward manifestations of something called modernity. Democracy, law and order, urban planning and regulation are all features of modernity. Innovation and science and technology are equally features of modernity. Nigerians see the end product but they have absolute contempt for the road which led the advanced world to the glittering modernity that they desire. They do not know that more than two hundred years of philosophy, writing, and critical thought went into the conceptualization of what they see and admire in the advanced world today. They do not know that modernity and its gloss exist today because a long line of thinkers in Renaissance and Enlightenment Europe produced philosophies which became the bedrock of what we see and call modernity today. Google the period covered by the Renaissance and the Enlightenment for an idea of how many centuries of philosophy produced the cities you admire in Europe and America today.
Nigerians do not know that all the material things they acquire in order to be able to form ajebutter and boast that “I better pass my neighbour” are products of philosophy and critical thought. They do not know that the cars they drive are products of philosophy before being products of science and technology. They do not know that the houses they acquire in Dubai, London, Paris, and Washington, DC, are products of philosophy before being products of architecture, science, and technology. Because Nigerians are ignorant of these things, they frown on philosophy, intellectual labour, and critical thought. The slightest encounter with philosophy and critical thought in our lives is quickly dismissed as “dogon turenchi”. Even supposedly educated Nigerians are quick to dismiss philosophy and critical thinking and writing. You hear them say impatiently that what we need now is action and not big grammar. I am sure that when this lecture goes public, there will not be a shortage of Nigerians to grumble that it is too long, too big on grammar. They will then beat their chests and proclaim loudly in readers’ comments area that they did not bother to read beyond the first paragraph. Those who are kind will advise the author that what we need now is action, not big grammar.
That is the predictable Nigerian attitude to philosophy and critical intellection. Our contempt for philosophy and critical intellection is why we build our houses everywhere and anyhow; why we drive our cars anywhere and anyhow; why we still invest billions in the open drainages we call gutters in the 21st century and call them ultramodern; why we invest in refurbished World War II locomotives in the 21st century and boast about transformation. Everywhere you look, our national life is a sordid and tragic display of the absence of philosophy in our conceptualization of Nigerian society. When you declare war on philosophy, knowledge, and critical intellection, the consequence, simply put, is Nigeria as you and I know her today. Nigeria can therefore be defined as the absence of and hostility to philosophy in the life of a nation.
This pathological contempt for philosophy, for critical thought, for the reflected society, is shared by leaders and followers alike in Nigeria. This explains why no contemporary Nigerian leader has ever really arrived in office with evidence of philosophical preparation for the task of societal envisioning. We do not have evidence of that leader who, before offering himself for public office, had invested time to philosophically study the problems and challenges of our society with a view to bringing critical and organic thought to bear on his vision and actions in office. Nasir El Rufai is of a different breed and that is why he will bear the burden of being judged and evaluated differently. What I will accept as success from many state governors in the coming dispensation will be treated as mediocrity if it comes from Nasir El Rufai.
I am not saying that he is different just to please him and butter his ego. At any rate, Nasir El Rufai has known me long enough and will be the first to tell you that I have never buttered his ego in all our years of association. I am not saying that he is different because we can always point to the Abuja that he built – before it was destroyed by his successors – as evidence of the application of philosophy and critical thought to the conceptualization and ordering of society. Abuja is, in fact, only a fragment of what I am trying to describe. As far as I am concerned, the most important thing that Nasir El Rufai did after leaving office as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory was to systematically and painstakingly invest time in philosophical and intellectual exertion. He became a syndicated columnist for ThisDay and a number of internet outlets. That was long before he ventured into the roforofo world of Facebook and Twitter.
It took a while for Nasir El Rufai’s public writing to retain my attention. In fact, I initially viewed the project with some suspicion. When a politician quits office and becomes a columnist, maybe he will produce only political jeremiads aimed at his enemies? Gradually, I began to notice that a body of intellectual envisioning of society was growing in his columns. El Rufai was applying himself rigorously and scrupulously to a philosophical study of our society in order to deepen his own understanding of our problems. By the time El Rufai’s writing and thinking evolved into a state by state analysis of budgets – by the way, many unhappy state governors advised him angrily to mind his business! -, I was hooked. This student of Nigerian society was now adding empirical evidence – I hope Ms. Oby Ezekwesili cannot hear me – to philosophical substance.
The budget analysis phase of his career as a columnist made me send him an email. I wrote and told him that with the body of work he had produced in his columns, if he ever ran for office and won, we would for the first time in the chequered life of this country have a leader who had prepared for office through a methodical and scrupulous application of philosophy to the examination of our societal problems and issues. Even if there were times when I disagreed with his reasoning and submissions, with his methodology and conclusions – disagreement comes with the territory of intellection – what I could not take away from him was the fact of scrupulous application of critical thought to the analysis of our problems. Nasir El Rufai thoroughly and empirically studied our society in his columns. I had the persistent feeling he was doing such painstaking studies because he knew he would one day run for office and was preparing.
In essence, the technocrat who was an accidental public servant does not have the luxury of claiming to be an accidental state governor after he is sworn in tomorrow for in his career as a columnist lies evidence of his painstaking cerebral preparation for the 21st century demands of this office. What will start to happen tomorrow, what must start to happen tomorrow, what the people voted for in that huge mandate, is the kick-starting of a decisive and irrevocable march towards a philosophized and reflected Kaduna state, led by a man with proven evidence of philosophical and intellectual application to societal problems and issues. From tomorrow onwards, and at least, in the next four years, what attracts a pass mark in Ekiti and other states governed by non-intellectual and unphilosophical featherweights, will not attract a pass mark in Kaduna for obvious reasons. Kaduna will and must become the national barometer by which the methodical application of critical rigour and intellectual depth to solving the problems of Rome will be measured.
Considering the tragedy that the incoming administration in Kaduna state and General Buhari at the centre will inherit tomorrow, how will Mallam Nasir El Rufai build Rome in a day? Why have I claimed that despite the financial calamity they will inherit, they must build Rome in a day, spending one kobo? For answers to these questions, we must examine the life and times of a man named Lee Kuan Yew. Until very recently, Ghana’s Jerry Rawlings used to be the open desire of the Nigerian masses. It was common for frustrated Nigerians to openly pray for our own version of Jerry Rawlings who, to put it bluntly, would march off every member of the ruling class to the stakes and do the needful (apologies to Stella Oduah). What happened with electricity and fuel in the last two weeks would have led to cries for a Jerry Rawlings to rise up and rid the land of a certain cabal and her Federal political enablers. Yet, I have not heard anybody talk about Jerry Rawlings.
The reason for this is easy. We are a nation fascinated with heroes. We cannot linger too long with one hero. We have moved on to Lee Kuan Yew. In fact, I understand that the petrol cabalocrat who turned Lee Kuan Yew into a hero has only just become a hero himself. This petrol cabalocrat was the wallet behind an organization whose members are now known as TANmites. One day, TANmites woke up from the wrong side of the bed and declared that this Nigeria suffering from economic kwashiorkor and developmental Ebola is paradise because somebody is running her affairs the way Nelson Mandela did it in South Africa; the way Martin Luther King did it in America; the way Obama is doing it in America; the way Lee Kuan Yew did it in Singapore.
Because Nigerians are more familiar with Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Obama, the advertorial effrontery of the TANmites led to a national fascination with Lee Kuan Yew, arguably one of the 20th century’s greatest nation builders. Lee Kuan Yew is the man who transformed a country that was in the ranks of some of Africa’s most underdeveloped basket cases into an epitome of 21st-century First World modernity in just one generation. The replacement of Jerry Rawlings with Lee Kuan Yew in our national imagination and wish list of leaders is therefore absolutely justified. What is not justifiable is the sickening ignorance of those who introduced Lee Kuan Yew into our national conversation through the TAN advertisement.
Lee Kuan Yew’s book, From Third World to First: The Singapore Story, is the story of how one man achieved the miracle of Singapore. However, the book is seven hundred pages long! Does anybody believe that the TANmites who are appropriating the Singapore story within the narrative of transformation have read a seven hundred-page book? Many Nigerians who are retailing the Lee Kuan Yew narrative do not understand what the book is really about. Because I have read the book, I can tell you authoritatively that the underlying theme of that powerful story is how Lee Kuan Yew built the 21st-century modernity of Singapore without spending a single kobo. Lee Kuan Yew built Rome in day and free of charge and that is precisely what Nasir El Rufai is going to have to replicate here in Kaduna.
Nigeria today confronts all the challenges which faced Lee Kuan Yew in the 20th century. Being a microcosm of Nigeria, Kaduna state pretty much presents the same picture that was Singapore at the time. Singapore was rickety, backward, underdeveloped, broke, and hopelessly divided along the familiar lines of ethnicity and faith. Yet, today, Singapore’s Wikipedia entry describes her as “one of the world’s major commercial hubs, the fourth-largest financial centre and one of the five busiest ports. Its globalised and diversified economy depends heavily on trade, especially manufacturing, which accounted for around 30 percent of Singapore’s GDP in 2013. Singapore places highly in international rankings with regard to standard of living, education, healthcare, and economic competitiveness. Singapore has one of the highest per capita income and one of the longest overall life expectancy in the world. The country is one of nine countries in the world with top AAA rating from all credit rating agencies.”
Lee Kuan Yew informs us that he achieved this miracle, despite the debilitating odds against him and his country, because the only natural resource he recognized and worked with are his people and their work ethic. It takes a leader with a philosophical approach to the ordering of human affairs to understand that all great nations in history have been built by only one resource: human capital! Not oil. Not gold. Not diamonds. And certainly not goats and yams. Human capital is really all it takes. And money cannot buy human capital as a resource because it is about the emotional, psychological, affective relation between man and his environment, between man and project nationhood. All the money in this world cannot create human capital. The presence of humans does not automatically translate to human capital. The presence of human beings within a geographical nation-space is just human potential and remains so until visionary leadership transforms human potential to human capital. That is why Nigeria has 180 million humans without a single drop of human capital anywhere in the country. Human capital is a love affair between the biological human and his nation. Human capital is a regenerative potential that can build Rome in one day provided one other condition is satisfied. Lee Kuan Yew satisfied that other condition.
The condition in question is the personal capital of a leader. Like human capital, a leader’s personal capital is not about money. Yet it is the singular element that can transform human beings into human capital and unlock it for rapid national development. Personal capital covers everything from a leader’s core values to his integrity, probity, moral and ethical soundness, record of accomplishment in service and leadership, personal discipline, cultivation, vision, intellect and the degree of his investment in philosophy for the purpose of envisioning society. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, one of the very few leaders ever to have successfully mobilized the human capital in his charge to produce one of Nigeria’s most enduring success stories, has a Spartan definition of personal capital which I am sure would scare everybody in this room.
Here is what Chief Awolowo has to say in his book, Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution: “Good leadership involves self-conquest; and self-conquest is attainable only by cultivating, as a first major step, what some applied psychologists have termed ‘the regime of mental magnitude’. In plain language, the regime of mental magnitude is cultivated when we are sexually continent, abstemious in food, abstain totally from alcoholic beverage and tobacco, and completely vanquish the emotions of greed and fear. There are those who would regard these prescriptions for leadership to be too stringent. They are welcome to their view; but for the good of the fatherland, such people should steer clear of the affairs of State, and confine their activities to those spheres where their excessive self-indulgence cannot incommode the entire nation, to the point of threatening its very life”.
A leader’s personal capital and self-conquest transforms him into the Chief Lover of his people and his nation. He becomes their Inspirer-in-Chief. Because he had human capital and self-conquest, Lee Kuan Yew taught and inspired Singaporeans to wake up every morning loving Singapore with passion and with every breath of their lives. He taught them to develop a love for Singapore that was stronger than their dangerous differences of race, ethnicity, and religion. As a follower, you cannot inspire me to love Nigeria if I look at you and all I see is example after example of hatred for Nigeria. If a country goes into coma on your watch; if a country becomes the global butt of jokes on your watch; if people describe her as a fool who is thirsty in the abundance of water because she has so much oil and has no oil, could such realities have resulted from a leader’s unalloyed love for his country? From what moral or ethical standpoint can you inspire me to love Nigeria if this is your report card?
You cannot inspire me to love Nigeria when your philosophy does not go deeper than seeing Nigeria as a barn of yams that you are keeping in trust for the goats closest to you or for stray goats who have found favor with you. Once there is no inspirational leadership, borne of personal capital and self-conquest, nobody will love the polity. That is why I keep insisting that although we are broke, our problem is not really about money. No amount of money in this world can fix Nigeria if the current psychology of the Nigerian, which is to practically unlove Nigeria, is not fixed by inspiring and transformational leadership. In fact, give Nigeria all the money in the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of China today and she will still remain a broken, tattered, underdeveloped, Third World basket case. If anything, more money will produce more goats hankering after new yams.
The sort of leadership we have had thus far in this country is the reason why 180 million of us wake up every day thinking of what to steal from Nigeria and how to steal for the benefit of ourselves, our home town, our ethnic group, our faith. We steal money from Nigeria. We steal time from her. If it was possible to steal oxygen from Nigeria, we’d do it. Nobody loves this country because we are waiting to be inspired to do so. As it goes for Nigeria, so it goes for Kaduna state. The voice of the people, which is the voice of God, has handed a mandate to Nasir El Rufai and told him that money is not the most urgent problem of this state. Give Kaduna state an allocation of 100 billion dollars a week and nothing will change until the psychology of the people of this state is retrained to love Kaduna more than it embraces the traditional divisions between her Moslem and Christian populations. The people of Kaduna must be inspired to love their state more than they embrace their differences. Money cannot do this. Only the personal capital of theur new Governor can inspire them to embrace a new psychology of transcendental and unalloyed love for their state.
The voice of the people, which is the voice of God, has handed a mandate to Nasir El Rufai and told him that money cannot transform the human citizens of this state into human capital. Only Nasir El Rufai’s personal capital and self-conquest can unlock the human capital of this state and deploy it for the urgent purpose of building Rome in a day. The challenge of 21st century Kaduna is not different from the challenge of the rest of the postmodern world: all the indicators of development in terms of infrastructure, healthcare, education, urban renewal, conquest of poverty, economic rejuvenation must all somehow come together to produce smart, greener, efficient, and sustainable cities and rural areas.
You may say that all of these things cost money. I agree. But the two things on which they depend – the personal capital of the leader and the human potential of the led – are mutually reinforcing and free. There is enough money in the system. It is just that lack of love for this land by the leadership and the led has not made us come to terms with how much money we steal and how much money we waste. Once Nasir El Rufai leads the love revolution for Kaduna state, your attitude and relationship to her will change. Whether you are teacher, a nurse, a doctor, a mechanic, a trader, a banker, a farmer, a fisherman, a civil servant, you will no longer wake up looking for ways to shine your eyes and arrange at the expense of Kaduna state. This psychology will be replaced by an ethos of preservation and conservation of the resources of Kaduna state. The critical energies of the people will be liberated.
I am pleased to observe that Nasir El Rufai will not be alone in this love revolution. There are encouraging signals from his leader at the centre. I understand that somebody was in London recently and declined a Rolls Royce rented for his London commute by the Nigerian High Commission. I understand that this same somebody has made it clear that his movement around Abuja must not be a source of inconvenience for the residents of Abuja and his sparse convoy must obey traffic regulations. These actions would be routine, insignificant, and unworthy of mention if we weren’t dealing with Nigeria. In the case of Nigeria, these are powerful symbolic moves towards the demystification of power. Those who have been running their mouths on social media criticizing these things are ignorant of the power of symbolic gestures in a land where power has always alienated herself from the people and brutalized them. They ignore the heavy financial price we pay for the arrogance of power. When an airspace is shut down due to VIP movement, who can quantify the loss to the nation in terms of man hours lost by citizens immobilized by power?
But if, like the austere man taking over in Abuja, Nasir El Rufai says I want to be simple, I want to be humble, I want to demystify power and take it closer to the people, then who are you, Mr. Commissioner or Mr. Special Adviser to insist on the old ways of doing things by going about Kaduna disturbing the people with your big manism? Between the incipient simplicity at the centre and the simplicity we shall witness here in Kaduna, just try to imagine how much will be saved within the system! Nasir El Rufai will and must lead the people to love Kaduna state above and across their differences and divisions. Nasir El Rufai will and must mobilize his personal capital to unlock and unleash the only genuine resource he has: human capital. That journey starts tomorrow. And for coming here to show you how to build your Kaduna Rome with two resources that are absolutely free, you owe me one kobo!
I thank you for your time.
(Inauguration Lecture of Mallam Nasir El Rufai as Executive Governor of Kaduna State. May 28, 2015)