Books That Yar'Adua Must Read

By Reuben Abati

Presidential spokesman, Olusegun Adeniyi had told us that President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's two-week leave is not a trip to the hospital as has been speculated by cynics, but time off for the president to recharge his intellectual batteries and do some serious reading. Let us assume that we believe him, although a man who wants to read books does not have to travel to Obudu Cattle Ranch and move from one location to another like a cattle rearer, in order to do so. That kind of peripateticism is an unnecessary fetishization of the culture of reading. It is also curious that a former academic, now turned President would have to go on leave to be able to read.

We would have expected that the President would read as a matter of habit. For those of us who have always been concerned however, that there is too much illiteracy among Nigerian leaders, that they do not read at all, indeed it is doubtful if many of them read newspapers, or even have any knowledge of the vast information resources of a computer age, it is good news that the Presidency is talking about books and the culture of reading. But what kind of books does the President intend to read or is reading? It is not likely that he would return from his leave, almost one week gone already, to tell us how much he has learnt in the forest of books. But just before that reading exercise ends, I propose to prepare a reading list for Mr. President. If he is unable to embark on the assignment or finish it before his leave ends, he should still endeavour to read the following books later.

I begin with Elizabeth Isichei's A History of Nigeria. It is probably the most informative book on the making of the Nigerian society and its many constituent parts. And when the President is through with that, he should also endeavour to read Toyin Falola and Mathew M. Heaton's more recent A History of Nigeria. The book brings the history up to date and provides a detailed analysis of more contemporary strands. Why is history important? Simply because our leaders do not behave as if they have a sense of history. In fact, they hate to be reminded of history: the interconnectedness of the past, the present and the future. Not too long ago, there was a desperate attempt to remove history from the school curriculum in Nigeria. It is one of those courses that is considered "irrelevant". But we continue to pay a huge price for this ignorant assertion, for a country without a sense of the past is bound to repeat old mistakes.

The bane of governance in this country is really the repetitious stupidity of its leaders. Whoever wants to run Nigeria, must begin by studying its history. Nobody can govern this country or any country at all, without knowing its history, and through history, its identity and dynamics. By this, I do not mean artisanal, self-serving and feudalistic history, purveyed in such forms as "my father was a Minister in the First Republic", "my grandfather was a prince", "my great grandfather took part in the jihad and so I am born to rule", but rigorous, expository and analytical history, the type that is provided in the aforementioned two books.

President Yar'Adua is running a government and he is involved in politics. Has he read Billy J. Dudley's An Introduction to Nigerian Government and Politics? He should. Dudley had an uncanny understanding of Nigerian politics, toterring at the edge of genius, and remarkable for its thoroughness. There is so much wisdom in his writings and analysis. Too many people go into government and politics in Nigeria, knowing nothing about the peculiar intricacies of the Nigerian context. They are armed only by the fact that they are favoured by a zoning formula, and a Godfather who has chosen to impose them on the people. To minimize the damage that such persons can unleash on the Nigerian people, a necessary introduction to a few ideas about Nigerian government and politics would be helpful. And Dudley even from the grave, will be an excellent guide.

Our President talks all the time about the rule of law. Does he have a copy of the Nigerian Constitution, 1999? Has he made an attempt to read it? For a President who is an apostle of the rule of law, it won't be out of place to say that he should read the Constitution and attempt to understand it. It is true that he has legal advisers who can guide him on Constitutional matters but what we are beginning to see is that those advisers also have agenda of their own and since the law is an ass, they may be tempted to turn that ass into an asshole. The on-going mischievous legal footwork over the interpretation of Sections 145 and 148 of the 1999 Constitution is a good case in point. It is amazing how a lawyer can be found for every cause, and all sides of a coin, even when a matter appears straightforward. But if the President himself understands the Constitution, he would be in a better position to ask simple questions on key issues that would alert his advisers and make them more careful. If the Constitution is a bit too dry for him, I recommend as companion text, Jadesola Akande's Introduction to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. In this book, the late Professor Akande breaks down every provision in the 1999 Constitution and provides useful explanations of meaning and context.

How can President Yar'Adua deal with the challenges of governance? What can he or must he do to transform Nigeria from where it is to a brighter future? Lee Kuan Yew's From Third World to First: The Singapore Story is definitely a must read for Mr. President. He must have heard about Lee Kuan Yew. But has he ever bothered to read what the man has to say about transformational leadership, precisely the type that Nigerians are yearning for? President Yar'Adua should be interested in Lee Kuan Yew, particularly his focus on those little things that tend to matter, those little things from which a nation can create a bigger picture: the beauty of the environment, the culture of work, housing, utilities, education, patriotism and so on. President Yar'Adua should also be interested in what Lee Kuan Yew has to say about the politcal elite in Africa and his impressions. Like the Singapore of old, Nigeria is a country that is desperately in need of a miracle and of visionary leadership. Lee Kuan Yew has shown, in writng and in practice, that true leadership does not require royal birth or special circumstances, but simply vision, passion and commitment. Nigerian want their own Lee Kuan Yew. Now. Can President Yar'Adua make an attempt?

Back home, Mr. President should read the writings of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, whose 100th birthday is currently being celebrated, post-humously, although most sadly this has been turned into a Yoruba affair whereas Awo's ideas are original contributions to governance and human development, with universal relevance. Awo, more than any of his contemporaries, devoted time and energy to thinking through the challenges of national development. Many of the problems that now assail Nigeria: federalism, the cost of a monocultural economy, security and welfare of the people had been carefully studied and analysed by Awo. He purused four cardinal programmes: free education, free health care, integrated rural development leading to industrialisation and pension for the aged, and he had defined a welfarist idology within the context of Nigerian politics and economy. President Yar'Adua should read Awo's collection of speeches, but more specifically his Voice of Reason. Let him also read Awo's Path to Nigerian Greatness, Path to Nigerian Freedom, The People's Republic and Strategy and Tactics of the People's Republic.

President Yar'Adua is running an economy that is about to bottom out, in the face of disgraced capitalism. He needs to understand what has gone wrong and why. Where does Aftica and Nigeria stand in relation to the rest of the world in the context of globalisation and neoliberalism? I recommend for his reading pleasure and understanding, H. L. Ghatia's History of Economic Thought, Confessions of An Economic HitMan by John Perkins, and Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

It will be a good idea to get the President to also read a few biographies. Reading about other leaders, their motivations and the challenges that they had to deal with could be truly inspiring. There is nothing like a biography to show that greatness is not a divine feature but something that can be acheived by ordinary mortals. The biography of M. K. Ghadhi should be found useful by the President. It is titled An Autobiography or The Story Of My Experiment with Truth. I add to this Winston Churchill's My Early Life, Jawaharlal Nehru's autobiography, Toward Freedom and Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom.

Each of these stories is important for the values that it embodies. Mandela, for example is not so much a man of great ideas, as a great example of leadership, and humanism, and the totality of the symbol that he came to represent. Nehru, Ghandi and Mandela represent visoinary leadership, men for whom office and position was all about responsibility and the people's welfare. They were faced with critical moments in history and they found the courage to stand on the side of the truth. Churchill was a man of ordinary features but he grew to become in the words of Isaiah Berlin, "the largest human being of our time". Pandit Nehru and Ghandhi were key historical figures in the making of independent and modern India. Where would President Yar'Adua like to stand and be counted? Where does he stand on the scale of history and truth?

Africa has had too many bad leaders. And it is not just the soldiers that got it wrong, many civilian leaders in Aftrica ended up as dictators and enemies of the people. Every leader writes his own history through his deeds and choices. Shehu Sani has just published an immensely informative book titled Civilian Dictators of Africa. President Yar'Adua should read the book, to gain an udnerstanding of how and why many African leaders failed to provide quality leadership and the consequences of their failure. And just in case he also likes to read fiction, I recommend two very well-written novels: Uwem Akpan's Say You're One of Them, and Helon Habila's Measuring Time, both of which deal with aspects of the development and human question in beautiful prose.

To what end? Why load the President with such a heavy reading assignment? The answer, I guess, is obvious. For his own good. For the nourishment of his own soul. Nothing can be compared to the beauty of words on paper and the opportunity to travel through the forest of books and ideas. Reading frees the mind, it enriches the soul. Francis Bacon says reading, makes the man. But reading in itself is not enough. It is the use to which we put the ideas that we have learnt that matters more. Having read the recommended books, President Yar'Adua would still need the required physical ability to put the ideas to work. Ideas draw on physical strength for them to be translated into details of daily living. Will President Yar'Adua be able to find the strength and the courage of enlightened leadership


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