Hon Eseme Eyiboh, Chairman of Cross River Basin Development Authority and Dean Forum of Chairmen of River Basin Development Authorities in Nigeria, was recently a guest in a live Radio Nigeria Network, audience participation programme; Politics Nationwide, where he fielded questions on “Leadership and Responsibility -Building Our Institutions”. We bring Excerpts of the interview as part of the conversations to mark this year’s Democracy Day in Nigeria.
You talked about leaders and elders, now how do you differentiate between these two entities?
The trouble with elders and leaders is like the trouble between politics and governance. In Nigeria, I will continue to say it, people have been busy talking about politics, nobody has been able to address the issue of governance. It is the same thing here. You will hear people talk about political leaders. You hear people say, “that’s my political leader!” you hear people say, that is the leader of this place or the other. In the actual sense, such persons assume such positions as a result of imagination. Such positions, in most cases are not earned. Leadership as I have earlier said is responsibility that must be earned. It flows from the capacity of the earner of that responsibility to be able to dispense same to the people. Take for example, recently there has been this talk about the former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and his famous letters to various presidents, including the incumbent president. On account of his being a good citizen, you can’t take his right to air his views away from him. He has been a former Head of State and a former president. I read his own opinion, which he is entitled to, but one issue that bothers me is that Chief Obasanjo having written to all the former presidents of this country, will also need to account for his own leadership as military Head of State, and also as a president of Nigeria. And such responsibility, which is a burden on him, he has to discharge same by the need for him to also account for his own leadership.
I am sure we will come to accounting for leadership. Now you talked about intentions, that sounds to me like leadership is a deliberate move. Would you say that the country since independence has had the fortune of being led by people who were clear-headed about where they wanted the country to be?
One thing you will also know from his discussion is that to some point, leadership may also turn out to be a perception and this perception could be influenced by the socio-cultural, it could be sociology of the perception of leadership. This could go to influence some thoughts on what leadership is all about. But clearly, with all intent and purposes, we must say that at every generation and at every time, have their thoughts and perceptions about leadership. In the pre-independence and post-independence, we had various leadership at various levels of government and even at community levels. But the current leadership concept and its perception are governed and influenced by globalization. It is also influenced by various dynamics. These dynamics could be related to the social milieu; for example, we are in what could be termed the knowledge age now, where the issue of design thinking is on the table. We are now in an age where strategic thinking and strategic planning and competitiveness are the order of the day. What people are doing now is to go to the engagement of what constitute modern trends in leadership. There has been a lot of reforms, there has been a lot of innovations, which result from the competitiveness at the global level inherent in globalization. This is quite unlike what obtained in the past.
Leadership requires a lot of wisdom, the ability to understand people and all of that. In Nigeria, people rise to the position of leadership with very good intentions, but after a while there are sycophants, there are people with selfish interests who would come and urge on the leader, keep going, that’s the right thing to do… As a leader, how do you handle this?
Well let me tell you something. From the perspective you are talking about, leadership is like a micro economic principle of input, output and income. You cannot throw in a seedling of plantain and expect the output to be yam. We have had a very big challenge of leadership recruitment process. In most cases, the leadership recruitment process does not take into consideration the issue of capacity or the issue of character. You will see in some instance where someone becomes a local government chairman today, after four years, or even three years as the case may be, the next thing you hear him say he wants to go to the House of Representatives; he wants to go to the state House of Assembly, but he has never read the preamble of the constitution. This is a man who wants to go and make laws, which law does he want to go and make; which law does he want to go and amend? So, the leadership recruitment process in Nigeria has been able to affect adversely the issue of the nation’s leadership nursery. There is no opportunity for people to go into the nursery and assess themselves; put themselves into the leadership mould and go through the process.
When you talk about recruitment process, it looks like an employer and employee status in the composition of leadership structure. Would you say that the followers are guilty in how they turn out to be eventually?
You will recall that I made mention of sociological influence and all of that. We are living in a society that is largely influenced by the perception, which of course is not distant from the ethnic, regional and even religious influences. Beyond that, the social structures like the family are not helping. You have a lot of parental imprudence going on in the society today. That is why we are having an upsurge in the issue of substance abuse; that is why we are having an upsurge in the degradation of our value system, all as a result of imprudent parenting. As a result of this, in the course of leadership recruitment process, we get it wrong. Elsewhere it can be quite different. Remember Obama for instance, he went to the Democratic party convention as a nobody within the political calculation in America, but because he was able to put on the table his capacity and potentials and that was all that was needed to sell him as a presidential candidate and that won him the election as president. In this country, however, we still have quality leader who have gone through the leadership nursery yet our institutions are still largely populated by people below par.
Talking about our institutions and the much criticism we experience from the global western community, it is sad that democracy in Nigeria is running on strong individuals and weak institutions. Which of the democratic institutions do you think should be strengthened in our desire to strengthen democracy?
You cannot strengthen any of our democratic institution without first and foremost improving on our leadership recruitment process. Getting the right people into the right places. People who found themselves in most public service or in the management of public trust are products of this perception. They are products of this ethno-religious sentiments; products of the lack of the appreciation between politics and government. The intention of the constitution as it concerns democratic processes is quite clear from the outset. But what we are saying here is that society begets the type of leadership it has at any given time. When I am Talking about democratic leadership at this point, it is not just about elections into public offices; we also talk about appointments. For example, I can tell you that the public service is under the throes of disruptions because of the tyranny of bureaucracy. This is because the recruitment process of people into the management of the various public trusts and even elections creates a lot of problems. Let me give you a typical example, I am the chairman of Cross River Basin Development Authority and the Dean of the Committee of Chairmen of River Basin Development Authorities in Nigeria and I can tell you that before today, the well-intentioned establishment Act of the River Basins Development Authorities were intended to be a special purpose vehicle to be able to manage the surface and underground water resources of the country and trigger another process of agricultural revolution. But that couldn’t be attended to as at the time it was created because of deficiency in leadership recruitment process. Thank God I am coming at a time I have a wonderful minister, a minister who is quite innovative in the person of Engr. Suleiman Adamu and a wonderful Permanent Secretary, Abdulahi Musa, who are very innovative. They receive contributions and encourage you whenever they see the potentials in you. Those are the kind of fuel you need to drive such special purpose vehicles and pursue the attainment of the intentions of institutions. You have the legislature, you have the executive and the judiciary; these are the three legs where institutions and governance are rested on. Once any of these legs is diseased as a result of poor leadership recruitment process, the table cannot stand.
Are they all diseased in Nigeria?
It is not holistic. For example, the legislature, when you have the subnational, you have the state Houses of Assembly. You can now ask, how many of the members of the State Houses of Assembly, within the purview of this discussion, are qualified to be members of the various houses of assembly? How many persons, even in the national legislature are qualified to be so and how many of the persons appointed into the Bench, into the judiciary; how many of the persons appointed into executive positions of government have the capacity, have the innovative mindedness to be able to drive the intentions of the various national institutions. So, in the heart of what we are discussing is the issue of leadership recruitment process, which we must attend to.
You even mentioned the recruitment process into the civil service. The electoral body in Nigeria, INEC, has been conducting elections since 1999, what do you think are the reforms they require to carry out more transparent and effective elections that would reflect the true wishes of the people; because this is also part of the recruitment process for those who rise to positions?
The electoral process is not just all about INEC and the candidates. It is all about the people too. INEC at some point is like, constitutionally people who conduct the elections, but the outcome of the election is principally the outcome of the wishes and the intentions of the people.
Does it ever get met along these lines?
That is the issue of politics and governance. The activities of INEC rests within the expectations of governance, because it is part of government institutions. Then the other issue of election, for election to be free and election to be fair, the people have to become part and parcel of it. Who are the people carrying the ballot boxes? Who are the people carrying machetes? Who are the people conducting themselves in such a manner of social disorder and disrupt elections? So, whatever we are talking about, we still talk about the people who are the primary owners of the public trust. Remember that Sovereignty belongs to the people.
We are all in agreement that leadership is key and that to be able to have leadership the component of leadership must be appreciated. I look at that from the context of theories of ECCI, with “E” standing for ethical integrity, “C” standing for Capacity, “C” standing for character and the “I” standing for idea. So, a potential leader should be able to have idea, have character, he must appreciate the importance of ethical integrity, because when ethical integrity is appreciated, you now begin to grow and develop the institutions and the responsibility of leadership. We also have arrived at a consensus that leadership is a responsibility that must be accounted for.
What do you think the nation’s leaders should do as we approach 2019, what do you think are there responsibilities and goals?
First and foremost, the electoral process is intended to drive the issue of leadership recruitment process. To that extent, it is expected that we must be able to attend to the reasons for democratic governance, which is the welfare of the people. For us to be able to do this, we must now begin to ask ourselves the question; what kind of government do we deserve as a country; What kind of leadership do we deserve as individuals; what kind of leadership do we deserve in the circumstance we found ourselves? The answer at all times would be to allude to the fact that we need leadership that would be able to introduce innovations; we need leadership that would be able to create reforms to be able to jumpstart the process of design thinking in the things that we do. We need leadership that would be able to appreciate the need to have speed breaker when we have gone speeding on the wrong national and institutional highway. This speed breaker can only emerge from the electoral process, where we begin to have the right people in right places. When we begin to have the right people in the right places, the institutions will regulate itself; the institutions would be strong.
We need a speed breaker in the insecurity that we are facing in this country. A major criticism of government has been the way it has been handling the matter of killings by gunmen in our country. What do you think government should do differently?
The government is only an institution expected to do what it is doing. Frankly, if you ask me, I am a Christian with deep values. For us to be able to reconnect ourselves to the national value grid. We must create a national orientation grid where every citizen reconnects himself. When we raise the ante of our national value; when we begin to appreciate one another; when we imbibe the integrity of our morality that we grew up to meet, then we will get somewhere. Look at the recent expose by the BBC in Kano. It is a clear indication of sociological imbalance and challenges in the social structure. So, one expect that parents, community leadership, (because when we talk about leadership recruitment process, we are not just limiting ourselves to members of the legislature or only those in government) should wake up to their leadership responsibilities. Look at the type of traditional rulers we have today, look at the religious leaders that we have today; are they the same people that we had some years ago? Everybody had gotten it wrong, so we have to do personal resolutions, we have to get back our bearing and get back to our national moral grid.
You are also a leader in your own capacity as the chairman of Cross River Basin Development Authority. In what way have you inculcated leadership into your personnel and to also improve the services of this body?
What we are trying to do there is a clear issue of trying to create innovations by developing a connecting rod that will be able to bring together the human and material assets to link up with the core mandate of the agency. What has been lacking in institutions, including Cross River Basin Development Authority is the absence of a connecting rod, that is the bringing the human asset into the management of the core mandate. We now try to create resource mobilization, strategic thinking, strategic planning, to be able to manage these assets in such a way and manner that there will be transition, creating new managers.