It was good to see how human he and the people in government actually were. You almost start wondering why it is so hard for them sometimes to relate to us mere mortals back home in Nigeria.
“I had a friend a long time ago before I entered politics when personal computers had just started becoming popular. He had opened a small IT company in Port Harcourt at the time and was doing so well since many people were not yet into the computer business.
He was making so much money too and was very happy with his personal life. So that year, he decided to write two books. One talked about how to run a successful business and the other was on how to maintain a good relationship with your wife. Later that year, his business collapsed and his wife divorced him.”
That was President Goodluck Jonathan at the World Economic Forum answering a question as to what he thinks are the qualities that prepare one for leadership. He simply said everyone had their unique experiences and there was no blanket rule to follow. He talked about how he didn’t believe in self-help books (something I have in common with him) and that no two people have to follow the exact same path to achieve a result. He gave an example of how the snake and lion are both predators even if one uses stealth and the other uses strength to achieve the same killer results.
Seeing how interesting a speaker Mr. President was in person, was one of the many surprises that I was confronted with at the Forum. It was good to see how human he and the people in government actually were. You almost start wondering why it is so hard for them sometimes to relate to us mere mortals back home in Nigeria.
The beauty of the Forum is the fact that everyone comes there with no airs. Besides sitting Presidents, no one comes in with any security. It was normal to bump into Gordon Brown standing in a corner sipping tea; or President Obasanjo adjusting his agbada while walking alone on a corridor; or getting on a shuttle bus and sitting beside Oscar Onyema, the DG of the Nigerian Stock Exchange while he carried his bag himself. Everyone was normal. So much so that when I moderated a session with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, she was open enough to talk about how much pain she felt from the insults and abuses rained on her on Twitter and Facebook during and after the fuel subsidy strikes.
Sitting in one group session with the other Nigerian Global Shapers (the young arm of the World Economic Forum); Kemi Akindoju, Joycee Awojoodu and Simi Fajemirokun as well as the Minister of National Planning Shamsudeen Usman, and Minister of State for Health, Muhammed Ali Pate and a few others, I couldn’t help but be surprised at how smart both government ministers were. I later had to ask a minister why then things were still so slow progress wise in Nigeria; and he said, “We have gotten the top and half the team right. But the machinery which is the civil service, can’t be reformed in a day.”
It was the same question I wanted to ask President Jonathan but I wasn’t sure I would be able to draw a good line between putting my question across and getting too passionate and eventually disrespectful in public. So at the open forum with the heads of state, I asked the first question on the day, wanting to know why African governments were paying constant lip service to this 60% youth population on the continent and when they would leave the scene for us to take over before things got violent like they did in the north of the continent. Not unexpectedly, the Presidents beat about the bush and went on long winding answers with my dear president talking about ‘YOUWIN’ being a sign that his government placed priority on youth empowerment. It was a yawnfest!
Thankfully, I didn’t have to yawn while watching the head of a Nigerian government agency whose job is currently on the line as she constantly tried to hang around Mr. President and kiss his a**. She obviously wasn’t getting any assurances about the security of her job and seemed ready to exchange her dignity and respect as some form of commission if only to be sure she would keep her job.
That aside, the highlight for me was in demystifying people in government not just in Nigeria. The Forum talk shop was just an aside in itself as I have never been a fan of long talks. I had to ask Prof. Karl Schwab the Founder of the World Economic Forum, “Why is it so hard for African leaders to walk the talk and what is the forum doing to ensure enforcement of the great ideas that keep coming out of the many sessions it holds.” He agreed with me that he too was sick of forums and seminars but that they had no authority to push anyone to act. It is simply an ideas forum and hopefully African leaders will one day, see the need to carry over their words to action.
My surprise with Nigerians at the forum was short-lived when I remembered that Nigeria for one has never been short of seminars and workshops and panels. We have a million and one communiqués and white papers issued daily that would easily turn this country around for good. We are also very good at posturing ourselves internationally and then coming back home to continue with business as usual. I needed to ask Mr. President all these questions so badly off camera. So you can imagine me joy when he said the Nigerian Global Shapers should come see him in a meeting room personally.
We walked behind him with a hoard of government officials as I compiled questions in my head. Then we got to a stairway and were stopped. Government officials were let to go in and then a minister stopped and looked at us with a corny smile and said, “Welcome to your first taste of Abuja politics where smart talk and good looks are still no match for age.” The end…
Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.