MUSA YAR'ADUA AT THE UNITED NATIONS
This week, Musa Yar'Adua makes his first visit to the United Nations as President of Nigeria.
I do not envy him. The international community, championed by the United Nations, is convinced that the elections that brought him to power last May were heavily-rigged in his favour. When he takes the podium to speak in the general debate, this is likely to weigh heavily on his mind. So will, and ought to be, the sad legacy of inaction, half-action and self-serving action bequeathed him by his predecessor in office.
These are important issues, but President Yar'Adua will have only 15 or 20 official minutes to introduce himself to the United Nations; I urge him to be brief, but clear, about the moment.
He has already said, and acted on his pledge to clean up Nigeria's electoral system, and he will. And he recognizes that his own party may be hurt the most, but it is Nigeria that matters more than any of its parts.
Yar'Adua should be limited in his apology. He knows his election was flawed, but he knows the majority of Nigerians chose him overwhelmingly over anyone else. In any case, even if his own election were perceived as a coup d'etat, his intention is to be the best servant-leader Nigeria has ever had, and to serve the people without qualification. How a leader comes to office is important, but so is the quality of leadership he offers. He needs help to succeed, but he will never be without an open determination to succeed, or a heart that is averse to the best interest of the people.
He should be clear: a new day has dawned in Nigeria: he the sheer quality of his vision will move Nigeria forward. This is the moment to tell the world that he does, in fact, differ from those who came before him, and reiterate those "children of (Nigeria) independence" dreams he spoke about at his inauguration.
But it is not enough simply to make that kind of claim, as I am sure he knows, or the press might remind him. There are leaders who come to the United Nations because it is the most legitimate lying ground in the world: even if the rest of the world knows about the lying and the posturing, they know their foreign affairs and information machineries will turn things around in their favor at home.
Still, President Yar'Adua must say something and do something to reassure the world that when next they see him12 months from - 6 months after he came to office - Nigeria would have emerged a decisively changed society.
President Yar'Adua must be clear: he has a monumental task. In effect, that task - the task before Nigeria - is to change the thinking of Nigerians about Nigeria. It is to make a Nigeria a nation for all, not a feast for the few. It is to make Nigeria a people committed to communal advancement, not individual survival. It is to make Nigeria a people who accept the straight over the crooked. It is to make Nigeria a society which places quality, industry and intellect over riches.
At the General Assembly, President Yar'Adua does not have to be Superman. His vulnerabilities are obvious, but his is the challenge to accept, and not be awed, by them. The most prominent is the question of corruption, by which Nigeria is highly known, and for which his own political party is the logo. He cannot truly fight corruption without confronting some of his own friends and associates. It is his job to convince the world he is man enough. Nobody said the burden of leadership was easy, and his words at the General Assembly are not proof.
He should be clear: Advance Fee Fraud has been popularized by Nigerians, but it takes two to have a fraud: the perpetrator and the victim. Nigeria will step up efforts to close down the loopholes that 419 operators are exploiting, but would appreciate the efforts of the international community, particularly the mass media, to stop glorifying the tales of their get-rich-quick nationals who pretend never to have heard that if it is too good to be true, it usually is.
While in the United States, Yar'Adua can persuade every listener that instead of exposing themselves to great loss and possible tragedy, they can help end the practice by promptly reporting every solicitation to the NAFA (Nigeria Advance Fee Abolition) by calling 800-NOTO-419.
I know "NAFA" does not exist. But I have proposed that President Yar'Adua set up something of that nature, a frontal, hands-on assault on AFF as opposed to the covert approach being adopted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
He should be clear: Nigeria is important to the world, and little can be accomplished in or by Africa if Nigeria fails to rise up to its potential. In effect, Mr. Yar'Adua can be the key that opens up the future. He should tell the world he is ready for this challenge, a challenge of such historic proportions it is about the black man.
He should tell the world to come to Nigeria, where he is guaranteeing life and investment. Nigeria, where he is guaranteeing public funds will now be spent on public policy, not private greed. Nigeria, where he guarantees the rule of law and public order. Nigeria, where he is guaranteeing tomorrow because he is not ashamed to admit that today has already been severely compromised.
President Yar'Adua must be clear: it is a new Nigeria; one where the leadership does not distance itself from the people. A Nigeria which places talent and expertise and patriotism ahead of political and economic advantage.
President Yar'Adua can begin by leaving the United Nations Secretariat for Nigeria House just across the road. His predecessor never went there; never bothered to talk to the men and women who worked for Nigeria, many of whom went unpaid for five or six months at a time. Mr. Yar'Adua can begin to demonstrate he cares about Nigerians by spending an evening listening to what these ordinary people have to say, thereby symbolically bridging the gap between Nigerian leadership and the people. To our leaders, the concept of listening has always meant the same thing as weakness.
I know that President Yar'Adua will be armed with answers to questions about Nigeria's quest to be a permanent member of the Security Council. Of course, everyone wants to lead, but few care about followership skills. I hope, however, the President is not allowed to leave the United Nations, or its Press Conference Room, or Nigeria House, or the United States, without being asked about the Millennium Development Goals. It is shameful to hear that less than one percent of the population of Nigeria is in control of 95% of its resources.
If this is the picture of Nigeria before the world as President Yar'Adua assumes office, what will it be when he leaves, and how?
Finally, I invite Mr. Yar'Adua, as he conquers New York City, to look out of the window of his limousine and see what the Indians are doing as they position their nation and economy in the present. There is hardly any Midtown corner without a distinctive sign proclaiming the presence, relevance and ambition of India.
This is a tactic being aggressively pursued by several nations today as they seek to earn respect, and bring the world to their own doors. On the contrary, Nigeria does not even have an ambassador at the United Nations!
Hopefully, Mr. Yar'Adua, seeing what real diplomats are doing for their countries in New York, will send one this time to represent Nigeria.