I have been to a few great spots around the world. I have seen a dozen world state capitals. But nothing prepared me for Beijing, the capital city of China. I have been back for a week and a day. Still I keep seeing it emblazoned with the word ‘‘beautiful’’ in my mind’s eye. And oh yes, I have been to London, Washington, New York, Dubai, Paris… and Beijing is still the most beautiful place yet. But in case you decide to quote ‘‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder at me,’’ let me quickly throw in what we can all agree on. Beijing, China is a study and a lesson in planned, focused leadership. That is one country that did not spring out of nowhere. It is a lesson in success birthed and nourished by leaders through the years who knew where they were going, where they wanted the country to be and then went on to meticulously fashion a vehicle that will take them to that destination. Everything Nigeria lacks.
Foresight, single-minded determined zeal to build a successful nation; thick-skinned resolve to do the long haul to a beautiful future by leaders who put their nation first. That is, the China that I saw and loved. The market was noisy but China knew what she was there to buy and she stayed focused on the commodity. Decades of planning, centuries of sacrifice and today it is all paying off. The whole world, plus including (according to Ray Echebiri) those who screamed ‘‘human right abuse’’ is in China doing one thing or the other. Nobody can ignore China. All the multi-billion businesses have manufacturing plants in China. The days of sneering at China is gone, over and done with. China has paid her dues and today, the world can’t negotiate anything without factoring in China. The road was long and arduous but it was a worthwhile journey. China is here, here to stay, bright and happy in the world sun.
Right across my hotel room was the imposing China Bank of Construction and when we visited the Urban Planning Museum in Beijing, I told myself, no wonder they need a Construction Bank. The museum is an institution where you get to see how Beijing came to be. You get taken through centuries of careful planning, stone-by-stone, brick-by-brick meticulousness of Spartan leaders. The museum is a show-off, yes, but a worthy and wonderful colourful trip. The walls bear the history of the first road, the transportation system is on a constantly moving movie of the first cart to the present day electric buses. Yeah, their buses run on rechargeable batteries that last all day. Right under our feet was the architectural design of the city, encased in glass. Yes, we walked on glass in that museum. Every corridor, every floor, just like the rest of the city was a tribute to the dedication of men who saw today yesterday, long before it arrived. Lucky folks, I said under my breath a dozen times. But success doesn’t happen by accident.
Heroes are men who made a decision to do what needs to be done in spite of the pain and went on to shed blood to make a difference.
So what was I doing in China? Leading a delegation of the Nigerian Guild of Editors to China. Our host was the China Radio International CRI) Hausa Service. Yeah, Hausa Service, you heard right. Our guides spoke fluent Hausa and bear Hausa names: Lubabatu, Bello, Murtala and Sanusi who went with us everywhere. Mind you, these are Chinese people bearing Hausa names. Murtala was the most colourful, having stayed in Abuja for four years. He speaks a smattering of Yoruba too. One of the delegates, Hussaina Banshika of FRCN speaks Hausa and her review of those guys’ fluency is a matter for another day. CRI started transmitting in Hausa 50 years ago, indeed broadcasts in 65 languages of the world and Hausa is taught in two universities in China. How many of our nice television stations reads news in the language of their immediate environment, least of all one spoken on the other side of the world?
We arrived Beijing on July 23 after 15 hours in the air and five hours in Addis Abbaba and hit the ground running. Oh, how we ran. It was the most exhausting and exhilarating trip of my life thus far but it was worth every drop of sweat. Now, the NGE has a partnership with CRI. The Peoples Daily of China wants us for a conference later in the year. I feel great as the humble servant of this elite group of the media because this present EXCO promised to open new frontiers and broaden the horizon of members. We are just scratching it but it is a good start. The Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Dr Zhou Pingjian and the Mission, paid our bills. Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu brokered this relationship. We are grateful and I am determined to hold on to the coattails of Ambassador Zhou Pingjian and milk this union until we are full and belching, elegantly. The lessons for the media I have told a bit of it and will report in full to the National Assembly of Editors at ANEC 2017 in a few weeks. There is so much to be done, so much we can do.
So, is it the same God who created the Chinese that created Nigeria, I asked myself at the train station and then on the bullet train to Tianjin. It is a question that I ask myself every time I stepped my feet in America too. Where did the leaders of those nations come from? Did God close the factory line that produced the leaders of certain countries before he started molding African leaders? Where did Nigerian leaders come from? I’m sure most, if not all, of our leaders has visited China. What do our leaders see when they go abroad? What did they see when they went to China? Where do they see Nigeria 100 years from now? What do they want to do today to ensure one thing, just one thing, they saw in China is replicated? China has done well. The roads are clean and wide. The natural vegetation (sometimes 500 metres wide) between one road and the other, in the middle of this city of high-rises are unbelievable. Wasn’t everything unbelievable, really?
Yet, Nigeria has the capacity to catch up with China. Nigeria has the potentials to be great. Nigeria has everything it needs to be great.
Except one. Focused leadership. Leaders that want to do good. Leaders that want to be remembered for their legacies in office, not scandals, storms and how they survived them. Because that is the difference between China and Nigeria. China has for centuries been ruled and led by men who knew where they were going and kept their eyes on the ball. Like a local saying advises, when you are in the market, focus on the commodities and ignore the noise. Not in Nigeria. Not so far. Both the leaders and the led talk at the same time. Indeed, they are in a fierce competition to outshout each other. The cacophony is deafening.
At the end of the day, nobody gets heard. No commodity is bought or sold because all that had taken place all day is all talk no action.
Like that story of the impotent man who bragged that he could thread 200 needles in the dark while his new wife remained a virgin.
There is a saying in China that it does not matter the colour of the cat, as long as it catches the mouse. The cat can be black, white or brown, who cares, as long as the mouse does not get away. The Yoruba also have a saying: It does not matter whether you tie the wrapper round the waist or the waist round the wrapper, as long as the waist is not naked. In other words, as humans, as reasonable people in China or Nigeria, we know that getting the job done is what is important. So, how come China is getting the job done and Nigeria is not? Simple, we spend all our precious time checking out the colour of the cat. We concentrate more on whether it is the wrapper that comes first or the waist. That is how the mouse, indeed millions of mice have gotten away and the waist and everything below it remains naked at the global village square.
How difficult can it be to do what needs to be done in the way it can be effectively done in Nigeria, the Nigerian way? Because that is what China did and still does. Their system of government is theirs. They refused to join ‘‘the big democracies of the world,’’ not that democracy is bad in itself. What is bad is using your neighbour’s clock to organize your day. Can we not just do what works for us? Must all cases go all the way to the Supreme Court? Must all offenders go to prison? Must all Ministries have a dozen agencies? Must the process of recalling a lawmaker in Sokoto be the same as the one in Bayelsa? Must we continue to do things the same way even when it is obvious that our way is not working? Is that what they call national nonsense or national senselessness?
Look at the few instances we had done something differently and the effects. Take the case of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) in the beginning. You committed an offence in Lagos and you had to go pay the fine in Akure, Ondo State. You were caught speeding and sentenced to two weeks of watching gory, very gory video of mangled bodies being pulled out of wrecked vehicles, images that kept you awake at night, breaking out in cold sweats. Lessons were learnt pronto. FRSC were feared more than arms-carrying policemen on the road.
Then in Anambra, kidnappers’ fine mansions were pulled down on national television, the proceeds of their ill-gotten wealth reduced to rubbles for all to see so that aspiring kidnappers are not in doubt as to what awaits them. And what did the kidnappers do, they left Anambra and relocated to states where they can hire a dozen lawyers with their ill-gotten wealth, sue the Inspector-General of Police, the President and sneer in our national face as the case moves from High Court to Appeal Court and Supreme Court. Like they say in Lagos: who dat one hep?
Moving on; how has budgeting for everything and every sector of the economy helped Nigeria? All these years, we have spread our small resources, pretending we can fix everything every year and we have succeeded in fixing what? Nothing. If you are remotely in doubt, send me a 500-word piece on ‘’Our present is better than our past.’’
Focus, I still insist, is what is missing in this mix. Consider this example. If a man who has five children decides in his foolishness that with his N50,000 monthly wage he can feed his family, live in Government Reservation Area (GRA) of the state capital and send all his five children to private schools, will we not all call in the psychiatrists to examine his head? Of course, he would deserve to win ‘‘fool of the year’’ award because at the end of the day, his 50 k salary will accomplish nothing anybody can see. His children will starve. They will drop out of school. His in-laws will recall his wife or his wife will elope with a less foolish man. The outcome is certain, those children will become vagabonds, kidnappers and area boys. Even he will end up on the streets, sleeping under the bridge at night.
Do you see a parallel between the foolish man of the year and Nigeria? I do. Money that can’t go round being budgeted and allocated for everything and everybody. Now, we have all dropped out from every good rating. We are becoming the vagabonds of the world; call girls in Europe, able bodied men dying in the desert or drowning in the Mediterranean, university professors so depraved they sleep with teenagers in the office, businessmen closing up their shops to become big-time kidnappers (I did not mention anybody’s name o), clerics setting up evil shrines where human blood is swigged like cognac.
Because we have leaders who are not focused. Because we have followers who sell their future today for N1,000 to vote for men and women who are essentially slave traders.
The National Assembly increased the budget from last year’s N7.28 trillion to N7.44 trillion for 2017. Education got N56.7billion; Public Complaints Commission got N4billion; Niger Delta Development N34.2billion; National Human Rights Commission also got N1.2billion; Water Resources N85billion; Health N55.6billion: Transportation N241billion; Power, Works and Housing N553.7 billion; Defence N139billion.
Of course, this breakdown does not capture everything especially the crucial fact that we will be borrowing to finance the budget. About N2 trillion of that N7 trillion we will have to borrow, not interest- free too! But that is not really my headache today. My concern and question is this: Why do we budget for everything every year and get nothing done, year in year out? Or did I miss what we did with the N7.28 trillion budgeted for 2016? Guys, apart from the salaries of federal civil servants that got paid, please remind me of the earth-shaking thing, ok just something memorable, that we bought with our N7 trillion last year. And I promise to publish them. Just kindly show me what I can see and touch.
I am not an economist, just a woman who knows how to make a pot of soup for N1000 and that same pot of soup with N10,000 if I find more funds. Most women are like that. So, why is an entire country being run by people who went to many schools, including Harvard ,who think allocating funds for everything every time will solve our problems? Excuse me, if we devote all the N7.44 trillion to Power, Works and Housing alone, we still won’t have good roads, affordable housing or even 12-hour-daily power supply nationwide. Yeah. What magic is the Education Minister going to perform to make any kind of impact with N56.7 billion apart from paying salaries? What kind of defence gadgets can a nation warring against Boko Haram and sophisticated kidnappers going to buy with N139 billion? And N241 billion for transportation, is that for Lagos-Abuja rail and train or a world-standard half airport? See, the car park of the Beijing Airport is more beautiful than the best airport in Nigeria. The train station in Tianjin is more comfortable than all our airports. There were no seats at our airports last year and there are still none as we speak. The escalators still don’t work. We just stretch the budget thin and nothing tangible is done.
And it is not rocket science to just take a decision to one thing right, one solid thing per year!
(The author is Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of New Telegraph Newspaper in Nigeria, the President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors.)