by Dayo Israel
“What are you doing here? You never told me you’ll be in Nigeria”, said a voice behind me as I entered the Banquet Hall at Aso Rock Villa for the Special Breakfast with President Goodluck Jonathan some months ago. Turning around, behind me stood a good friend and Nollywood Star Ramsey Nouah who was also invited for the Private Breakfast with the President at the Villa.
It was one of my early associations with the President, prior to that I had the privilege of being His Guest 2 or 3 times at the Presidential Villa, one of which was His dialogue with Leaders of Women, Youth and the Elderly also at the State House Villa in Abuja. Shortly after, the President entered the room and all was on gear. While other friends and colleagues were busy salivating over the Breakfast, I had a different agenda, to get to know Mr. President more and understand Him as a person.
Over the years, I have developed an habit for studying Leaders, in my over 25years of living, I have had the privilege of sharing a table and speaking directly with over 70 Heads of States and President including Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh. I have also had the humble privilege of personal interaction with all living Nigerian Leaders since Gowon (with the Exception of Shagari and IBB). For me, studying leadership and the mind of leaders is a great interest through which I also effectively influence upcoming Leaders positively.
As my other colleagues and the President munched on their breakfast, I chatted away with one of the SSA to the President alongside the woman I always call “The Most Beautiful Cabinet Minister in Nigeria since Independence” – Hon Min Diezani Allison-Madueke. We joked about my title for her whilst we also shared thought on some matter of national importance.
Earlier in the year, I had also been invited by President Obama to the White House Forum for Young African Leaders in my capacity as YTI/YGA Special Reps to the United Nations alongside 120 other Young African leaders including 3 delegates from Nigeria led by another dynamic Young Nigerian Taiwo Adewole. The meeting hosted by the White House afforded us the opportunity to dialogue with President Obama and Senior White House Officials especially the SSA to President Obama – Ambassador Mary Yates and Judith McHale – the US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
The Nigerian at the Forum (Myself, Bako Kantiok, Jennifer Ehidiamen, Ruth Audu and MKO’s Daughter Sarat Abiola) alongside our other African counterpart maximised the opportunity to highlight our concerns on the State of Africa and AFRICA-US Cooperation.
The dynamism of the forum was in the various un-conference sessions and the interactive sessions with Top administration officials including a visit to the White House where President Obama gave a keynote speech and another to the State Department where Secretary Clinton interacted with the delegation.
The breakfast at Aso Rock villa that morning didn’t afford such opportunity for interaction like the Washington meeting but prior meetings I attended at Aso Rock Villa on the invitation of the President afforded similar opportunities such as the Presidential dialogue with the Elderly, Women, Youth and Disabled where the President in particular made a commitment to disable people. It afforded us, especially I the opportunity to dialogue with Senior Nigerian Administration Officials on the State of the Nation to a large extent.
Prior to my trip to Nigeria, I was indifferent about the President because I felt he was non-charismatic and non-enthusiastic. I believed He had the opportunity to be an Obama for Nigeria but lacked the self-drive; I was a bit worried about his Leadership styles as I expected that the Leader of a New Nigeria must be decisive, firm and visionary.
However after several interactions with the President I realised the gentility of a lion is not of cowardice. I believe the President has the potential to be such a great President that Nigeria would forever cherish and this new tenure gives him that opportunity to make a hero out of himself. He is widely loved by ordinary Nigerians especially because of His personal story of Grass to Grace but a story can only last an election, a legacy last a lifetime. One must not downplay the significance of a story however. As an Inspirational speaker I understand the Power of stories, A few hours ago, President Obama was addressing the British Parliament and it is amazing that the only time He got an applause from the audience was when he mentioned “His story” of being a Grandson of a Kenyan Cook in the British Army now standing before Parliament as the Leader of the Free World.
From my various Interactions with Leaders and Heads of State I have learnt of some of what makes a Good Leader. President Jonathan would have to do things differently to experience a different result. It is amazing how Nigeria has no living Hero as the British do – The Royal Family and South Africa has Nelson Mandela.
I remember one of my private conversations with President Gowon where I asked – What did you learn during your years as President and Commander in Chief. He responded that He learnt in the early days of His administration to surround himself majorly with Permanent Secretaries and Advisers who were older and more experienced than himself.
This I believe is a lesson for President Jonathan as He sets up a new cabinet for his new administration. To be a President is one thing and to be a Leader that takes a Nation like Nigeria to Greatness is another. He must appoint into his cabinet people with fiscal discipline rather than officials who would squander the treasure like a teenager with a new credit card.
Nigeria desire a Free-Thinking and forward looking Leadership in Goodluck Jonathan. His incoming Administration must focus on cutting –edge research that would improve health and non-oil sector. Mr President I believe must invest largely in research, science and infrastructure. Citizen’s Education and Reform of the Civil Service must be a priority of His Administration and those are my words of advice for the President at our next meeting.
A few hours ago, I was contacted by some officials in the Presidency about my invitation to a few of the activities in this Inauguration week especially the “Lunch with the President” in Eko Hotel on Tuesday May 24th 2011.
However I couldn’t accept the invitation, not because a flight ticket wasn’t attached to it, or that it would take me away from my PhD Research that I am focusing on, Far from it, I declined travelling 6hours to Lagos for the Lunch with Mr President because the likes of Fela Durotoye, TY Bello, Tosyn Bucknor, Stephen Oguntoyinbo, Francis Anyaegbu, Tolu Sanyosanya, Busayo Akande, Samuel Ishichie, Rita Dominic and more importantly my Friend and Brother Chude Jideonwo are on the list and I can trust they would do a great job in representing the voice of Young Nigerians at the Banquet.
One cannot under-estimate the power of these young Nigerians who influence other millions of young Nigerians to positive actions. TY Bello with the Power of her Music, Tolu with her great work at Dustbin Estate, Fela Durotoye with His life changing message of Change and Francis Anyaegbu who was with me in London last week as a Guest of the UK Government at the London Symposium for Young People in International Development where we as future leaders brainstormed on how to increase Youth Participation in International decision making.
I was impressed with the calibre of Youth Leaders who were also invited for the lunch, not those who were struggling for transport allowance after the event but the likes of Chude Jideonwo who continue to speak the truth to power. Chude’s speech at the Future Award was not only inspiring but pragmatic; it echoes the silent discussion and thought of we Nigerian Youths at home and the diaspora.
On the other hand, I had to decline the invitation also because it won’t afford me the opportunity to share my deep thought with the President. The funfare and serenading music of Timi Dakolo and other Performers would take away the opportunity to deeply engage the President in constructive conversation.
The activities won’t have afforded me the chance to remind Mr President that this is his opportunity to create a positive and enduring influence over Nigerians, and that this is the time to invest in the people rather than just elected officials and cabinet minister. This is the time of strong fiscal discipline in Governance.
The Inauguration week is expected to cost up to N1billion (About £4million); compared to the £102million ($150million) spent on Obama’s inauguration, or the over £30million spent on the Papal visit to the UK last Autumn, the Jonathan’s Inauguration budget is a drop of water in a bucket, however when the immense poverty of the ordinary Nigerians is put on the scale, this might be a cause for alarm. Alas, we are still encouraged that it is below the R75million (£9million or N1, 417,500,014.40) spent on Jacob Zuma’s Inauguration.
One cannot under-estimate the cost of this State events (Security cost of Obama’s UK visit estimated £12million) and inaugurations especially for a significant nation like Nigeria celebrating another successful transition from a democracy to another. The event will see over 15 Presidents and heads of state, diplomats, bodies such as the UN, African Union, as well as the cream of local and international business and community leaders, descend on the soil of Nigeria. The impact of such activities on the international image of the country is significant – taking a look at the Royal Wedding and Obama’s visit on the Public Image of Great Britain. However there must be a balance.
A balance in terms of how such spending injects cash into the economy is important. The spending must also improve lives of common people not just through per-diems and transport allowance to delegates of the various events, the impact of which also cannot be under-estimated, but also through the business it creates for citizen. (On a lighter note, I have had good reports from many of the guest at the lunch who were able to pay their school fees and some debts from the transport allowance; however we seek more than hand-out for our youths)
On the other hand, the burden of footing the N1billion Inauguration bill must not be totally placed on taxpayers and our oil revenue, the President must also make a contribution towards the cost of the inauguration. Although Obama’s Inauguration cost over $150million, He single handedly raised over $40million towards the cost from donations from his supporters. Even the UK Catholic church contributed £7million toward over £30million spent on the Papal visit and the Middleton‘s contributed up to £250, 000 towards the Royal Wedding. President Bush also contributed over $42million towards His own inauguration. More than 90percent of the donations to the Bush Inauguration were from business executives or corporations, i.e. with the very strong private sector support for President Jonathan, especially with many of them on the Presidential Campaign Council, I believe Mr. President would not find it hard making a contribution towards His Inauguration’s cost.
The Administration must be budget conscious while also sending a message to the entire world about Nigeria’s peaceful transition of power, which as Nigerians; we don’t want to look schlocky.
Whilst I look forward to my next meeting with the President, I hope it would be of intellectual discourse with less pomp and pageantry, sharing my thoughts on how to take Nigeria to a Greater height.
In the meantime, Mr. President must do all He can to restore Hope in Nigerians. He must communicate more with Nigerians – We wants to hear less from Mr Niboro and more from Mr Jonathan. Listening to him live just a few feet away from Him at the Aso Rock garden on Independence Day Morning, hours before the bombing, as he read his speech from the teleprompter, (that before the wind blew the teleprompter away and he went back to His printed copy), I saw a dynamic orator that needs to add more confidence to his speeches. Confidence is an essential ingredient of Leadership and in order to lead and set direction, a leader needs to appear confident as a person and in the leadership role.
Integrity, Honesty, Passion and Charisma is a very significant character of a great President, from Kennedy to Blair and Obama. People respond more openly to a person of passion and dedication. Mr President must understand that He needs to become a source of inspiration, and a motivator for Nigerian as a whole.
I must commend Mr. President’s ability to remain calm, composed and steadfast in time of crisis, that inner calmness will help him cut through crisis and make his decisions from a base of mature reflection. He must however continue to surround himself with “strong men holding strong opinions, not satraps.”
Some months ago, I had the privilege of being a delegate to the Presidential Summit on Education at the Hilton in Abuja where the President not just attended the opening and closing ceremony but sat with us in the hall for over 4hours as we put together the policy documents and presented to him – He must never lose this dynamic attribute of being a listener.
On a final note, Mr President must move beyond a 7point agenda to setting ambitious goals for his administration and move heaven and earth to meet them. There has to be clarity about the goal, as well as the method and strategy – with POWER, EDUCATION and ECONOMY a Priority.
I am optimistic about a new Jonathan Administration and I believe with an effective team, Goodluck Jonathan would deliver on His promise for a New Nigeria, and with God’s help, He would resolve the problems that now confront us.
Until we meet again, Its Good Morning Mr President.
Dayo Israel (LLB (Hons), MA International Relations) is a renowned polymath: A season diplomat, social entrepreneur, in demand evangelist, TV personality, astute motivational speaker, youth advocate, Conference facilitator, High Performance Coach and an advisor to many world leaders, business executive, politicians, young entrepreneur and sports professionals. He is also an internationally recognized personality and has appeared on countless television interviews, commercials, talk shows, radio programs, and was even selected by the United Nations to represent all the young delegates to the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children on a special CNN Live Interview. Recently, He was specially invited by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh to a private reception at Buckingham palace.
He is the First Deputy Senate President of the Nigerian Children’s Parliament, serving on various National Government Committees including the National Working Group on Juvenile Justice Administration in Nigeria, National Stakeholders Group on Child Right Bill Advocacy and many more. He also represented the Nigerian Government at various International Meeting including the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), ECOWAS Youth Forum, and many other High Level Meetings.