…as CVL presents Pa Uma Eleazu’s book ‘Nigeria as I see it
…how the 90-yr old Eleazu chronicled Nigeria’s sleaze in the 15 chapter book
…believes that the Nigerian Project is still possible
…reviewed by Dr Reuben Abati
By Emman Ovuakporie
Dr Uma Eleazu in his book entitled: ‘Nigeria As I See it unveiled on Thursday in Lagos says Nigeria’s democracy is driven by selfish interests.
TheNewsGuru.com, (TNG) reports the unveiling was powered by Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL) in honour of Elder Dr. Uma Eleazu, who recently turned 90, with a tribute colloquium at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Victoria Island, Lagos.
The launch was conducted virtually and physically and had many dignitaries in attendance.
Former Minister of Finance, Dr Kalu Idika Kalu, Lagos State Governor, Jide Sanwo-Olu who was represented by his SSG, Founder of CVL, Dr Pat Utomi and other dignitaries.
In the 15 chapter book, Prof Eleazu traced the Nigerian political upheaval from pre-colonial and post colonial era with vivid examples as to the fact that the British was only in Nigeria for her economic interest.
He explained in the book that the British created artificial boundaries until 1914 when it amalgamated Nigeria for its economic agenda.
On the Nigerian brand of democracy, the book punctured it, describing it as being driven by selfish interests laced with religion and corruption.
As chairman of the board of PPMC, Eleazu was approached by some board members to adopt a method to make money themselves but he refused.
The book x-rayed all Nigerian leaders till date and how they fared.
Reviewed by Dr Reuben Abati:
Essentially a scholar and a teacher. Prof Uma Eleazu has written over the years on the Nigerian experience and on issues in public administration. But perhaps his latest book Nigeria as I see, reflections on the challenge of leadership may be considered his authoritative contribution so far.
He writes with scholarly rigour but also as a practical man of experience.
A direct participant in areas of national life who looks back at 1900 and ask what went wrong.
The book is dedicated to his children and to all Nigerians born after 1960.
In a total of 15 chapters and accompany commentaries and appendixes, it takes us on a historical journey from the pre colonial period to the present. He combines scholarship analysis with personal narratives and brings the book to a close with reflection about the future of Nigeria. It is gripping account of the failure of Nigeria.
The British who created an artificial union in 1900 that will later become Nigeria in 1914 were interested in their economic agenda not necessarily to provide leadership for the conquered colonies. They introduced a separatist development policy which affected the country future development and the polity of integration.
I am often uncomfortable with the tendency to blame the British for Nigeria’s problems. The tendency to blame the outsiders often comes across as an excuse of the post colonial leaders to provide good leadership.
But in this book Dr Eleazu provide more than enough evidence to establish Britain’s contribution to the underdevelopment of Nigeria from the problematic 1952/53 census to the romance between British and northern leaders and the role of the British during the Nigerian civil war driven by their interest in Nigeria’s crude oil resources.
In addition to his own analysis, the author provides appendix one, an eye opening piece titled who killed Biafra by Stanley Diamond.
But of course Dr. Eleazu does not blame the British for all that is wrong with Nigerian leadership. Even before independence beginning with the 1951 Ibadan conference it was already clear that the leaders of the future independent Nigeria had different ideas about the kind of country they wanted either with regard to the future with the nature of the federation or national integration.
Nigerians have always talked about democracy but it is a different kind of democracy that we run. A democracy that is driven by selfish interest, ethnicity, religion, personality clashes, corruption and worship of money.
Leaders transform society but Nigerians problems has been the emergence over the years of transactional leaders who will manipulate any situation for their own purpose and in the process they fail to do the right thing and at the right time and with such laize faire attitude of governance, they create crisis and chaos.
They violate the social contract. They prioritise nepotism, mediocrity and opportunism.
The people are short-changed and over the years from one administration to another the people have learnt not to trust their leaders after experiencing failures and the greed of the leadership, the average Nigerian has been socialised, they have low expectations.
The real tragedy is that Nigerians have learnt to accept the abnormal ad normal.
Dr Eleazu focuses on specific moments in Nigeria to trace the roots of the problem.
This includes constitutional changes and the emergence of political parties of the first republic. The performance of the political elites during the action group crisis of 1961/62, the census crisis of 1962/63, the 1965 federal elections, the demonization of Igbo’s , the 1965 western regional elections, the role played by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Saudana Ahmadu Bello, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa and other political actors of the period and the eventual blow out that resulted in the January 15th coup and the counter coup of July 1966.
Was the January 15th 1966 an Igbo coup? Was it a coup of five majors Throughout the books Dr Eleazu takes on many assumptions about certain episodes in Nigeria’s history and provide hard evidence to debunk certain misconceptions.
He is convinced that the course of Nigeria history could have been different if the new political elites that took over power from the colonialists have been more nationalist and committed to the goal of creating a united nation..
Many readers will find his account of military incursion into Nigerian politics and the emergence of a class of politicians in army uniform particularly engaging. But even more so his analysis of the civil war and how the military bureaucratic complex conspired to impose a regime of pretoclepcy that underdeveloped Nigeria.
There are high points in the book but perhaps most memorable would be the author’s careful profiling and assessment of every Nigerian leader from 1960 to 2020.
Chapter 10 is devoted to President Buhari under the title Buhari second coming the political retrogression , the things he did.
In chapter 12 he assesses how every leader since 1960 has performed in terms of what should be a social contract with the Nigerian people but which sadly is not existing.
Dr Eleazu is blunt, fearless and attentive to details. He says it as it is no matter whose ox is gored. I guess at 90 it is perfectly safe to call leaders of Nigeria past and present incompetent persons. A former leader is said to be a benevolent person per such. Another one is accused of being an Islamic jihadist and others are described as looters of the treasury, elections riggers and promoters of institutionalised criminality.
In Africa it is part of the prerogative of old age to tell the younger generation blunt truth and Dr Eleazu does precisely that. He may attract not a little controversy though.
The author also pays particular attention to how corruption has ruined the moral fabrics of the Nigerian society at all levels and the amorality of Nigerian politics. It provides amusing personal narratives.
As a member of the federal delegate to Europe in 1975, he was given an ecstacode allowance that was bigger than his salary for many months. When he returned to the country he thought it was best to give proper account and return the balance to the government.
The government official to whom he reported told him to go and save the money in his bank account.
As chairman of the board of PPMC some members of the board approached him to discuss how they could use their position to make some money for themselves he refused but they went ahead and accused him of not being a team player.
The graft and inefficiency in the Nigerian oil and gas sector started long ago but the author’s most shocking reference was when he decided to go into politics and run as a presidential candidate on the platform of Social Democratic Party in 1991. In his manifesto, why I want to serve Nigeria as president is included in the book as appendix three.
He discovered to his amazement that nobody was interested in his lofty ideas about how to move Nigeria forward. Nigerian politics is driven by money and rituals, godfathers and money bags and hooligans.
He resolved he will only play by the rules, he was not ready to genuflect to any godfather, he was not prepared to bribe any voter instead he sold his credentials to the people. Well one day someone in the crowd asked him, Dr is it your credentials that my wife will take to the market and that was in 1991. 29years later the situation remains the same in Nigerian politics in fact it is worse.
None the less the author may have begun the book on a note of frustration but he ends it in an optimistic note. He believes a Nigerian rebirth is possible. His dream is that someday Nigeria will produce leaders who have a sense of direction and get Nigeria out of the present quagmire.
He says he knows a number of young Nigerians “they are better educated, more versatile in experience, blessed with youthful energy and most importantly they have the privilege of drawing invaluable lessons from where my generation stumbled.
They can make project Nigeria a success and it is on them that I now anchor my dream.“
That new generation that Dr Eleazu dreamed about can only emerge if Nigeria addreses his many limitations and make it possible for our institutions to work and for good men to thrive. He offers a number of suggestions in chapter 11 but would any one listen. In any case Nigerian leaders do not read books.
Dr Eleazu book as I see it, reflections of the challenge of leadership should be read by everyone who is interested in the Nigerian story and the need for change and progress.
The book is judgmental but it is detailed, well written and educative as the author, teachees thoery, history and practice. And whereas the book may have short of recommendations, the author provide much food for thought that should further enrich the conversation about how to save Nigeria.
This book must be compulsory reading for scholars, students and the general public and particularly young Nigerians who have been denied the opportunity to know the history of their country by policy makers who treat history and ideas as irrelevant.
Idika Kalu’s tribute;
As it has been said this country has all that it should take to grow rationally. For some of us who have been at it for a long time, I have always said that and I use to say this in government to the discomfiture of a lot of my colleagues. I said if there was one area where you needed to go and study how development should not take place, how sustained development should not be practiced our country will give you all the examples you needed despite the fact that we started up so well.
We blame the colonial masters and yet we also say if we had just sustained the structures they left us, studied the incremental moves from the structures whether in health or education or in planning.
When I became a commissioner in Imo state, as I was introduced as minister for finance and economic development, in Owerri I change the name and I said every thing is economic development whether it is health, education and I changed the name then to Finance and Economic Planning, the thing happened in Lagos. No sooner had I left that they changed the name back oto ministry of economic development. It is a little thing in terms of nomenclature but it tells you at times how we are not really paying attention to some of these things.
Some people said it was the oil wealth back in the late 50’s when oil was being produced in substantial quantity and before that we had, we still have to some extent fairly distributed agricultural projects and it is not just to produce the seeds or fruits but out of those you will build all kinds of industry.
So the fact that we have oil and gas cannot explain what the think tank must have delved into trying to evolve the way the economy should move particularly after the Nigeria Biafra war where Dr Eleazu got involved with the think tank that led to the setting up of the institute for policy and strategic studies.
I was contacted to get on the board of NIMC, it must be about a year ago. A few days ago they said there was a letter waiting for me in Abuja …telling me about this thing but it is for policy and economic studies.
And you go through all of these and you really begin to wonder, why is it that we do the things we do. We are always critical of ourselves and such a situation …..they still look at Nigeria as the lucky area where they have not only the men and the resources but we also have the historical base to move even faster. So some people even see us as lucky.
So you look around and you see what is going around in Eritrea, refugees all over the place, you go to Uganda our friend has been there for 30years and you go round and come to Cameroon next door, once the budget is passed the guys takes off to Europe and leaves the ministers to do the best they can do and with a few exception maybe Senegal and Ghana and Togo to a little extent.
So the problem goes deeper than just talking about us Nigeria. We really need to interrogate the reasons why we are where we are. So the topic of this colloquium couldn’t be more appropriate. It is about time we stop to ask ourselves why is it that we ridicule people with ideas.
There should be nothing different whether we are talking about here or America or Japan there are certain things that are not changeable by mere geographical area, there are underlining principles, there are ideas. The sense of a different location or a different ethnicity or values and social is to be able to adapt to those special conditions to reinvent necessarily how this idea should work.
Dr Pat Utomi:
PA Eleazu has written another book that is in my view is remarkable which is a testament of his understanding of how we have been challenged in our evolution as a country. I think our conversation will be helped by the perspective of this book that he has written.
Elder Eleazu desires to use the proceeds from the book to fund an NGO he founded to teach and groom local farmers and young people in his hometown, Ohafia, Abia State, on improved agricultural practices and opportunities across agribusiness value chain.