OBJ, IBB, Oldbreed and New ,By Mohammed Haruna

Mohd Haruna new pix 600For the second time in recent years, former military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB), has begged to differ from his “boss,” as he often likes to call General Olusegun Obasanjo (Obj), on the seemingly perennial debate about the Oldbreed political class versus the New.
Tuesday August 13, Obasanjo, the only person to have served Nigeria as its leader in khaki (1976 to 1979) and mufti (1999 to 2007), came down heavily on the latter class of politicians like a ton of bricks. As a group they were, he said in effect, worse than useless. The occasion was the Fourth Annual Ibadan Sustainable Summit at Le Chateau, Bodija, Ibadan, where he was the guest speaker. His topic was Leadership in Africa’s Quest for Sustainable Development.
As often happens on such occasions, what made the banner headlines the following day was not the paper the former president delivered. Rather it was the extempore remarks he made in response to comments and questions by discussants of the paper and from the audience. The comment by Professor Mojeed Alabi, the first of the two discussants and a former Speaker of the Osun State House of Assembly, that the country’s problems stems mainly from the refusal of the Oldbreed to “step aside” – to borrow Babangida’s now famous phrase when he not-so-voluntarily left office in August 1993 – for the Newbreed apparently got old man Obasanjo’s dander up.
The professor, he said in effect in a counterpoint, was talking so much rubbish. Many governors during his tenure were less than 50. The first speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Salisu Buhari, was even much younger, he pointed out. Yet the record of these Newbreed politicians on the whole was, he said, dismal.
“We had some people who were under 50 years in leadership positions. One of them was James Ibori. Where is he today? One of them was Alamieyesiegha, where is he today? Lucky Igbinidion, where is he today? The youngest was the Speaker, Buhari. You can still recall what happened to him. You said Bola Tinubu is your master. What Buhari did was not any worse than what Bola Tinubu did. We got them impeached. But in this part of the world some people covered up the other man.”
Trust the man not to leave out his deputy and eventual Nemesis, Atiku Abubakar, in his list of villainous Newbreeds; the former vice-president, he found out after studying him for a year, he said, was too corrupt for him to have groomed as his possible successor.
In short, the Newbreed, he seemed to say, should not complain anymore since they had their chance but blew it.
This was the conclusion General Babangida, not surprisingly, found somewhat disagreeable, as a well known champion of the Newbreed even though he had had cause in recent times to express his disappointment at their record of performance in power, a complain which I once loudly thought on these pages meant he has at last broken faith with them.
In a rejoinder to my article in question entitled “A Newbreed apart” (July 7, 2010), which was a tribute to Honourable Isa Kawu, a Newbreed member of the Niger State House of Assembly who had stood virtually alone as a thorn in the flesh of the state’s executive and has also stood almost alone as an example of a rare exception which proves the rule that, generally speaking, our politicians’ first commitment is to themselves and everyone else a distant second, Professor Sam Oyovbaire, my Political Science teacher at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in the early seventies and much later, Babangida’s minister of Information, said his principal never lost faith in the Newbreed.
“It’s not true,” Oyovbaire said in his rejoinder, “that IBB has changed his views about the historic role and value of the ‘new breed’ segment of the political class. His well-honed critique of its disappointing performance from the Abacha era through the OBJ’s horrible legacy to date has been, as usual with the press mindset on anything IBB, badly twisted and made to hang! He believes in the potentials of the youths/new breed in the development process. Believe me on IBB’s thoughts.”
On the occasion of his 72nd birthday last Saturday, the general seized the opportunity of an encounter with the press to re-iterate his faith in the Newbreed and disagree with his “boss” over his (the boss’s) expression of lack of faith in the competence and integrity of the Newbreed in politics.
“I am not sure,” Babangida said during the encounter, “I read what he said neither am I sure he said so. In any case this is a matter of opinion…There are other young men who have done equally well.”
The former military president is absolutely right to say Obasanjo is wrong to tar all Newbreed politicians with one brush. However, he too is wrong to think the role of the Oldbreed in bringing about development in society is essentially marginal simply because the future belongs to the Newbreed.
In other words both of them are wrong to think leadership is essentially a matter of age. It is not. The virtues of leadership have never been a preserve of any age group. There are good and bad, wise and foolish, etc, old men and women, just as there are good and bad, wise and foolish, etc, young men and women.
Obasanjo may be right to say that right now the preponderance of Newbreed politicians have proved incompetent and corrupt but to conclude, as he seemed to have done in his counterpoint to Professor Alabi, that governance is therefore best left largely, if not solely, in the hands of the Oldbreed is to mistake correlation for causation.
Not only does he seem to have mixed correlation and causation in his conclusion, the old man was characteristically selective in his choice of examples to buttress his condemnation of the Newbreed. Conspicuously missing from his list of villainous Newbreed politicians was his own daughter, Dr. Iyabo Obasanjo Bello who rode into the Senate more on his coattail as president than on her own merit but whose tenure as chairman of the important Senate Committee on Health was scandal ridden.
Even worse for its selective amnesia was his remark that the media and the leadership of a section of the country employed double standards in their treatment of the accusations against Speaker Buhari and Governor Tinubu in 1999 that they forged their university certificates. While he made sure, he said, that Buhari was impeached – itself an admission of his interference in the internal affairs of the federal legislators, something he had often denied – “in this part of the world some people covered up the other man,” meaning, of course, Tinubu.
What the former president forgot to mention was, first, he wilfully ignored to check out information in the open that the young man might have forged not only his university certificate but also that of his age, all in his bid to impose a leadership on the House which he could easily manipulate. Second and worst of all, he conveniently forgot to mention that he quickly granted the former speaker presidential pardon after he was tried and convicted and sentenced to jail with an option of fine which he quickly paid.
However, the one point the former president made which is hard, if not impossible, to disagree with is that development is not just about leadership alone. “If you talk about good leadership,” he said, “you should also talk about good followers.”
The Encarta Concise English Dictionary defines leadership as “the ability to guide, direct, or influence people.” We have remained underdeveloped precisely because we all think the virtues needed to be able to guide, direct or influence others are different from those needed to be good followers. In this sense the leader/follower dichotomy is a false one. The fact is that only a good follower can make a good leader because, leader or follower, you need a sense of equity, self-sacrifice, self-discipline, compassion, personal integrity, competence, among others, to be the good and honest person any society needs a preponderance of to make any progress.
However, in so far as the leader/follower dichotomy exits in our minds, the burden of cultivating these virtues lies more with leaders, elected or self-imposed, than with followers. For, without enough leaders willing and able to practice the virtues of being good and honest men and women, the vicious circle between bad leadership and bad followership will never be broken.
The problem with Nigeria is that we have engaged for far too long in a futile debate about the false dichotomy between Oldbreed and Newbreed politicians when it is pretty obvious that the answer is Good-breed.
To that extent, the Oldbreed, Obasanjo included, must accept greater responsibility than the Newbreed for our lack of development because, by merely preaching virtues they hardly practiced, they have only succeeded in creating a Newbreed of leaders – and followers – after their own poor image.

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