What is leadership? Or, more correctly; what makes leadership impactful? Is leadership impact measured by the bricks and mortar actions of today or by aggregation of the strategic steps that gives a delayed but rewarding tomorrow? Is a desired leadership one that puts bought cookies on the table today or the one that aims to build bakeries and produce enough bakers to sufficiently meet our bakery needs in the future?
Well, pardon the barrage of questions, dear reader. Those are no questions that may require immediate resolution, apparent as the answers may seem. But they are vital posers that we need to ponder on in determining the marking scheme for any political leadership.
But while you are pondering, let me draw your attention to an event that occurred at the beginning of the week in Lagos. You might have read about it, or saw the exciting pictures flying around in the media. The Lagos State Government on Monday flagged off commercial operation for its Blue Light Rail Line. The governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, was all smile as he joined the inaugural ride from Marina to Mile 2 in the glistening coaches. While Governor Sanwo-Olu takes the pride and the credit of being the governor under whose watch the rail line opens to passengers, the event on Monday has a history as long as the train coaches.
When the Blue Line was due for commissioning last year, Governor Sanwo-Olu himself gave a detailed recount of the actors and factors that paved the way for the Lagos light rail system. It didn’t happen over night or over the course of one administration. Indeed the story of what is now a beautiful infrastructure started with an election into office of a visionary governor and reformer-leader, over 24 years ago.
It was not Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu (as he then was) who laid the first blocks for the light rail system. He did not award the contract even. He did much more than that. His decision that Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve-centre and former capital city deserved to be more than the jungle it was, was the most important foundation, well before the engineers laid the first stones for the rail project.
The then Governor Tinubu gave the Lagos the futuristic leadership whose full benefits are still being reaped, over 15 years after he left office. The rail line, as Governor Sanwo-Olu duly acknowledged, was Tinubu’s brainchild which benefited from inputs from successive governors and technocrats before coming into fruition. The story of the Lagos light rail resembles the story of many other tangible and intangible initiatives that made Lagos a model to all states in Nigeria and an envy of its peers anywhere.
This illustration is vital especially at a time like this when a section of the public – buoyed by the media’s near canonisation of a borrowed American concept of “100 days in office” –seems to be in a frenzy to judge 1,460-day tenure by the first 100 days. Yes, there is a saying in Hausa that signs of a good Friday could be perceived from the preceding Wednesday. And in this regard the Tinubu administration has shown good signs of a great future. The strategic leadership being provided by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu are meant to put Nigeria on a sure footing for enduring progress and development.
Conscious of the usual judgement that comes at the end of the first 100 days, many leaders are wont to rush into laying blocks and asphalts to satisfy the mediocre demand of “something to show”, even if those things to show are short-lived niceties that would not translate into any long term gain. Others would opt for politically-correct adventures just to pander to populist appeals. We had, for example, a leader who within his first 100 days rolled back many critical decisions taken by his predecessor to gain public applause but over 15 years later we are here paying for those misguided decisions.
For President Tinubu, who believes, like all great leaders in history, that leadership is a quantum of critical decisions and bold steps capable of impacting positively on the society in the long run, he is in no hurry for quick applause. Quick fixes and populist actions could generate immediate praises, but to what end? For perceptive leaders, leadership is a marathon that is adjudged by how well one persevered, remained focused and strategic to get to the finished line. It is not a relay race which requires all rush and less tact.
For President Tinubu, the best measure of successful leadership is the quantum of qualitative actions and decisions not quantitative. What are the timeless policies and actions that one bequeaths to the coming generation? What are the personal examples and traits, what changes to the system were made to strengthen efficiency? In the last 100 days, President Tinubu has demonstrated that he is made of the finest stuffs as a leader, looking at these parameters.
First, he has demonstrated he possesses the salient traits of many great leaders in history; vision and courage to take action. The visionary is the one who realises the need to save the future of our children by stopping a dangerous trend of borrowing to fund fraudulent fuel subsidy. It is only a courageous leader who can dare the subsidy cabal and, against his wish, administer on the larger public the bitter pill in striking off the fuel subsidy. There are many other examples.
There were government officials who felt they were government unto themselves. Indeed some of them had set up fiefdoms within the government and felt they could even undermine the President while taking Nigerians for a ride. President Tinubu has demonstrated that this was impossible under his watch.
Yet, while taking some of the bold and courageous decisions with inadvertent impact on the average Nigerian, President Tinubu remains a very compassionate leader. I have seen him grimaced every time he discusses the pains people go through as the result of the fuel subsidy removal. He knows, because he has ears to the ground. This was why he kept prodding all officials and state governors who have the mandate to roll out government’s interventions to cushion the effect. But more importantly, he is constantly thinking and working on ways that the savings government made from the subsidy removal would go into meaningful enterprises. The priority sectors are those capable of catapulting growth, notably energy and transportation infrastructure.
Setting the building blocks for solving Nigeria’s legendary problems of dysfunctional public sector, poor revenue base and lack of optimisation of the available resources as well as resolving the infrastructure gaps are the issues on top of President Tinubu’s priority list. It is also around them that he has devoted most of his energy and attention in the last 100 days. The belief, by all development experts, is that addressing those issues are what would turnaround the fortunes of Nigeria. These are not things that can be done in 100 days but the steps to attain them are firmly on course.