Hadiza Bala-Usman and the Nigerian Mentality, By Abdulrafiu Lawal
Hadiza should see the criticism trailing her appointment as a shot in the arm to prove her critics wrong, by surpassing everyone’s expectations at the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). The organisation as it is today is in dire need of reforms… Her appointment among the otherwise many qualified persons is a litmus test for our generation, and a challenge to test whether the Nigerian youth are still their own worst enemies.
When ThisDay newspaper, on July 12, 2016, broke the news of Hadiza Bala-Usman, then chief of staff to Governor Nasir El-Rufai, being considered by President Buhari to head the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) based on the recommendation of Rotimi Amaechi, the minister of Transport, I was very happy and optimistic for three reasons. I felt Buhari has finally seeing reason to do the needful by bringing more young people on board, that the Nigerian project under the change mantra is on course and, most importantly, the country is moving away from ethnic politics. That an Ikwerre man is now recommending a Hausa woman to the president for a very sensitive and tedious national assignment is gratifying. This is because the Buhari cabinet has been bogged down by criticism of having too many “dead wood” in its fold. This according to critics is because some of the ministers are too ill suited to cope with the demands of governance in a digital age. Secondly, some of them have been part of past governments that have taken the nation to its present state in which Nigeria is still learning to crawl at 56.
A few hours later, her appointment was confirmed by the Federal Government. I am at a loss about why some Nigerians have continued to criticise Usman’s appointment on the basis of where she comes from. It is gratifying that no one, to the best of my knowledge, denigrated her capacity to do the job, which is a plus for her. If there are, her experience at the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE), the Federal Capital Territory Administration and lately as chief of staff in one of the three most difficult states to govern in Northern Nigeria is good enough. Borno, Kaduna and Kano are the most difficult states to administer in the North because there are so many interests groups that can hold government hostage. Anyone who has seen Nasir El-Rufai since he became governor should ask him why he suddenly started growing grey hairs. This to me should be the focal point. Her appointment signifies a paradigm shift in government and a ray of hope for our generation that the much talked about ‘leaders of tomorrow’ are finally taking on their positions. The NPA is also too strategic in these lean times to be left in the hands of some political godfathers who consider ‘juicy’ federal appointments their birthright.
I believe her critics are missing the point. The founding fathers of Nigeria have always stressed the need for us to emphasise issues that bring us together rather than those that divide us. The question is: Should Hadiza Bala Usman reposition NPA in the next 24 months and up its revenue base just like Hammed Ali has done for the Nigerian Customs, would the money go to Northern Nigeria or the federation account? It is an undisputed fact that our infrastructures have gone so bad that one might be tempted to think that there is no government in place to fix things. This is why many Nigerians have become their own governments – fixing roads, drilling boreholes for their homes in the absence of public water supply, paying vigilantes to guard over their houses due to the inefficiency of the Nigerian Police, and relying on generators as an alternative to the power distribution companies’ (DISCOs’) “festival of darkness”. All these challenges underscore the fact that the system is not working due to weak institutions. I see a new NPA as a partial step towards ending the budget deficit that has become characteristic of Nigeria in the past few years. I guess this is what the president had in mind when he accepted Amaechi’s recommendation. Then, why the issue of where she is from? I believe that many years of nepotism have so much blinded some us that we find it difficult to see the larger picture in any situation. Any attempt to talk about her state of origin amounts to throwing away the baby with the bath water. It is unprecedented for an average Nigerian to recommend someone outside his/her ethnic stock for a sensitive political appointment. Rotimi Amaechi could have used his position by recommending someone from Rivers state and the candidate would still scale through. He chose merit over ethnic solidarity and political patronage.
Why then should we rubbish a bold attempt to move the nation away from its sordid past? There is the need for us to do away with this Nigerian mentality that makes us look at things as either Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa or Idoma. This mentality has done so much damage to our psyche that Nigeria is today more divided than we were during the civil war.
I have lived in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on the East Coast of the United States, where I went to graduate school, for the past six years. I have never experienced power failure for a second, driven on a road ridden with potholes, and neither has my tap ever run dry. The power in my house is supplied by a company popular on the East Coast called the National Grid. I have never thought of or heard anyone raising the issue of where the Chief Executive of National Grid comes from. Or whether he is black, African American or Hispanic? This is because it is irrelevant, as what matters is service delivery and people knowing that they have a government that is caring and responsible. What has made the United States great is the focus on what one is bringing to the table, rather than his colour of skin or state of origin. Why can’t we begin to have a civilised conversation about how to move this country forward without bringing in issues of ethnicity or religion?
Since my sojourn in the US, I have been to Nigeria over a dozen times, especially in the last two years. One thing that makes me sick is the epileptic power supply, as I have an aversion for potable power generators. I also pity people who do business in Nigeria, due to the high cost of powering generators and double taxation. Why then should we rubbish a bold attempt to move the nation away from its sordid past? There is the need for us to do away with this Nigerian mentality that makes us look at things as either Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa or Idoma. This mentality has done so much damage to our psyche that Nigeria is today more divided than we were during the civil war. I have never been a fan of federal character or the quota system. It is responsible for the rot in the civil service today, to the extent that a barber or welder can easily get the job of a permanent secretary without having the requisite experience for the job.
I have never met Hadiza Bala-Usman, but only read about her during the early stages of BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) campaign and about her stint as chief of staff of ‘Chief Feather Ruffler’ of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai. I see her as a person with vision. Hence, I do not care where she comes from, knowing what transpired at the NPA during the Goodluck Jonathan years. All that I care about is the repositioning of this strategic parastatal for improved revenue generation, as a place in which every Nigerian will be proud of. On the other hand, I never met her late father, Dr. Yusufu Bala Usman personally either, but was opportuned to be at an event where he presented a paper in one of the Northern states some years back. I had to go to the mini secretariat of the event organisers within the same premises to ask for a copy of Usman’s paper. As I entered the room, a Yoruba woman who was manning the computer told another young man who was making photocopies in Yoruba, “Can you imagine this Baba from Ahmadu Bello University, came with his return ticket, when other resource persons were waiting on the government to pay for their flights. He is just too principled and honest that he never wants to take anything that is not for him.” The young man beamed and said “Olododo ni Baba yi”. This means Dr. Bala Usman is a man of integrity. I could see admiration and respect in the eyes of these two people while the conversation lasted. Within me, I shared the same respect for Bala Usman’s conduct. It was a radical departure from the culture I knew as a journalist, in which resource persons invited by governors made upfront demands, regardless of how important their presentations are to the people, while wanting their hosts to pay for everything including the polishing of their shoes. The import of this flashback is that in Hadiza I see her late father or what some call a chip off the old block. I see determination, courage and a change agent. Thus, she should be given a chance to justify the confidence reposed in her by President Buhari.
Go Hadiza, as the torchbearer of this generation and the daughter of a comrade who never had the word “impossible” in his dictionary, and change the face of Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) just like your father brought the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU)…
Hadiza should see the criticism trailing her appointment as a shot in the arm to prove her critics wrong, by surpassing everyone’s expectations at the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). The organisation as it is today is in dire need of reforms that even an ‘F’ candidate in school knows the NPA is sick, malnourished and infected with the disease of the Nigerian mentality. Her appointment among the otherwise many qualified persons is a litmus test for our generation, and a challenge to test whether the Nigerian youth are still their own worst enemies.
Go Hadiza, as the torchbearer of this generation and the daughter of a comrade who never had the word “impossible” in his dictionary, and change the face of Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) just like your father brought the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) from relative obscurity into a centre of academic excellence of national and global significance. Yar Mallam, Allah ya yi miki kyakyawan jagora.
Abdulrafiu Lawal, a public commentator writes from Boston, United States, and can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.