By C. Don Adinuba —
Leadership and management practitioners as well as theorists have increasingly come to the realization that trust, teamwork and communication skills are the bedrock of successful organizations and, by extension, national development. These factors count more than academic brilliance. There are examples of Nigerian banks, for instance, run aground by first-class university graduates owing to their avarice rather than technical competence. The greedy erstwhile chief executives consequently do not enjoy the trust of their ex-colleagues and, in fact, the loyalty of a number of reasonable members of society.
In a previous essay on leadership, I followed the Francis Fukuyama thesis to argue that trust and similar values like honesty, commitment and honour which define social capital are not just personal virtues but also the basis of national economic growth. High-trust societies like the United States, Japan and Singapore are developed economies while low-trust societies like Nigeria are, in the words of Fukuyama in The End of History and The Last Man, immersed in misery and other sorrows of history. Southern Italy which comprises Sicily and Naples is called the Third World of Italy because of the absence of trust arising from the activities of criminal organizations like the mafia while the northern part which consists of Milan and Rome is as developed as the First World because of the super-abundance of values like trust, honesty and commitment. Trust may be defined as the belief that a person would not take undue advantage of a situation even when there is a good chance that the action would not be found out, at least immediately. In Japan, for instance, very junior employees are authorized to shut down big plants in corporations like Toyota, Nissan and Honda if, in their opinion, there is a serious threat to the plants. Yet, there is no record of employees abusing this power. Can you imagine such sweeping power vested in Nigerian employees, including junior ones? Because Japan is a high-trust society, it has, more than any country in the world, a more robust record of lifetime employment. Traditionally, employees hardly think of leaving an organization for another. It is easy to find employees whose grandparents worked in a particular organization, only to be followed by their parents and now their children. The Japanese are exceedingly loyal. Of course, loyalty is earned, and not a commodity you can purchase across the counter.
I have, frankly, yet to see many Nigerian leaders who equal Muhamadu Buhari in enjoying the confidence of those who have ever worked with them as subordinates, contemporaries or superiors. My first experience of how he is respected by those who know him was in January or February of 1984 when I was invited by the Anambra (now Enugu) State Television to do a 30-minute current affairs programme on the military regime which had just taken over from the corrupt civilian administration in a coup d’etat. As I arrived for the recording, I realized I was going to appear with J. C. Ojukwu, a retired military officer who had in October been sworn in as the member representing the Idemmili Federal Constituency of Anambra State in the House of Representatives. Ojukwu and I had met the previous year when he was a candidate of the Nigeria People’s Party (NPP) and struck up a friendship. I was expecting him to be angry like many people who had won in the general elections only to be removed from office by the military coup, but I was wrong.
“General Buhari is a very patriotic Nigerian, honest to the extreme and absolutely reliable,” Ojukwu said in his characteristic gentle but firm voice. “He is very fair-minded. He is also very strong physically; don’t be deceived by his fragile looks. He and I joined the army the same day, and ever since then he has been more of a brother than a friend.” I had never seen Ojukwu, reserved and calculating, speak about any person with so much enthusiasm as he did about the new military head of state. Though I can’t remember meeting Ojukwu since the TV programme, I understand from mutual friends that he and Buhari have remained the best of friends.
The second example I would like to cite about the high esteem in which all those who know Buhari hold him is my good friend, Ishaya Jim Bakut, former commander of the West African multinational force in Liberia called ECOMOG and ex-principal general staff officer in The Presidency during the Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha years. I was, in 2003, invited by the Africa Independent Television (AIT) to be its guest on the popular “Kakaki” programme. Like most social discussions in Nigeria, the interview veered to corruption in government. I argued that much as Nigeria had since independence been known for official graft, individual government leaders were not known for personal corruption until Ibrahim Babangida became the military president. I cited the example of Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa who had no riches anywhere, the example of Yakubu Gowon who was our military head of state for nine years but had no house anywhere in the world, and the example of Michael Okpara who was from 1960 t0 1966 premier of the Eastern Region (now broken into nine states) but had no house or even an undeveloped property anywhere in the world, despite being the person who created the magnificent Independence Layout in Enugu and allocated the plots in this vast swathe.
When it came to an analysis of Buhari’s government, I challenged the audience to name any minister or state governor who added even a six-inch block to any house anywhere in the world. For effect, I reminded the audience that Buhari’s minister of finance, Onaolope Soleye, returned to the Sociology department at the University of Ibadan to teach, just as the minister of energy, Tam David-West, went back to the same university to teach Virology after the coup which removed them from power. Emmanuel Nsan was Buhari’s minister of health and later of works, and he returned to Calabar to practise Medicine in a modest bungalow! I rhetorically asked the audience if it was conceivable now that a senior minister could return to the university campus even as vice-chancellor or to practise his profession in a modest manner. As I was leaving the studios after the programme, one of the first calls I received came from Bakut who was emotional in recounting how, as military governor of Benue State, he worked his heart out without dipping his hand into the public till “like any other person who served under Buhari, a very upright man who would not fail to allow the sledge hammer to fall on you if you dared misbehave”.
The next instance is a person who served as a state governor under Buhari and later held key positions in successive governments. I would keep out his name from the media for now for tactical reasons. About five years ago when he and I were reviewing the Nigerian condition in his home in Lagos, I stated that Buhari’s government remains the most outstanding of all the governments I had watched in Nigeria in terms of discipline and patriotism. This fine gentleman, known for reticence, looked me in the face and declared solemnly: “C. Don, though I held higher offices under governments which came later, Buhari’s administration is unparalleled. As a state governor, I could not travel to my hometown to see my parents without permission from the Supreme Headquarters. I must state in detail every month how the security vote was spent, even though the vote, compared with today’s humungous amounts, was insignificant”.
Sam Momah, former minister of science and technology, prolific author, engineer and brilliant retired two-star general, has been speaking approvingly of Buhari based on his experience as his principal staff officer when Buhari was a general officer commanding (GOC) in the army. Ignatius Olisaemeka, minister of foreign affairs under Abdulsalami Abubakar, has also been speaking of how Buhari chose him as Nigeria’s ambassador to the United States without regard to his ethnicity or religion. Buhari was only interested in the competence and integrity of his appointees, Olisaemeka wrote recently.
It is instructive that everyone who has ever had anything to do with Buhari has great words and sentiments for him. In contrast, I know many beneficiaries, including contractors, of the outgoing administration who in private do not have wonderful things to say about the country’s current leadership. Loyalty is earned, not bought. Loyalty is a key aspect of leadership. Buhari enjoys the trust and loyalty of millions of Nigerians and foreigners.
Adinuba is head of Discovery Public Affairs Consulting.