I have read about the disapproval by a segment of the technical professionals who think it is wrong to appoint a lawyer as the minister of Power, Works and Housing. This complaint gained credence long before the official announcement. I am in agreement with such all the reasons advanced in support of the argument. As one of those who have long canvassed the same position, I can fully identify with their logic which makes sense from all professional angles one can look at except at “Right Angle.”
Looking at the current reality and the urgency of today’s Nigeria, I will say the rule of thumb has to be altered and the best person with strong personality and leadership qualities to bring sanity into the rotten sectors will be just fine. The appointment of Ex Gov Babatunde Raji Fashola key into this when one look at his antecedents.
For many years, Nigerians have suffered immensely from epileptic power supply, deplorable road conditions and high rents. There are also increases in homeless population while the nation experienced building collapses due to some varying reasons. Our roads are not just unsafe but have become drainpipe where billions of naira is lost annually with nothing to show for it except deathtraps. Our once upon a buoyant industrial sector have been under distress as many have shut down due to erratic power supply, thus forcing us to turn to other nations for our goods. What is more, the cost of doing business in the country has risen so high that even vocational enterprises are in comatose.
Looking at the so called technical ministries, Power, Works, Housing, Solid Minerals from the inside, an informed observer will agree that Nigeria has never lack technical experts to man them. All the ministerial departments have fully qualified engineers, scientists, builders and other professionals who are capable of discharging the technical responsibilities without being found wanting. The ministries spent huge sum of money in training these men and women. Where there are skills or equipment that is not available, they are professional enough to recommend the best company to fill the gap.
I was at the public presentation of late Engr Foluseke Abidemi. Somolu, a past President of Nigerian Society of Engineers, NSE when he delivered the Annual October Lecture in 2006. The Presentation –“The Yesterday, Today and the Future of Power System Engineering Practice in Nigeria.. So That Nigeria May have Electricity” was his professional memoir and chronicled the history of and his experience at the then National Electric Power Authority, NEPA from the its days as as a merger of Electricity Corporation of Nigeria and Niger Dams Authority to its transformation into NEPA.. He focused mostly on engineering and technical areas. The success and failure of NEPA and the achievements of local engineers in performing stunning engineering feats without support from foreign engineers and with low funding. From his delivery, which covered the beginning of the then NEPA till the time he retired from the services, it was glaring that the problem of the sector is not technical knowhow.
I do not think the decision to appoint lawyers to head the Technical Ministries has to do with professional competency. .The sectors have had technical appointees who did not have the will power or steel character to fight corruption which was the bane of the sectors. Many of them are too content with supervising technical details to note the other aspects relating to human sabotage, administration of contracts as well as service delivery. This is not to say that all the engineers and scientists who served in leadership positions have been found wanting. Mallam Nasir El Rufai a Quantity Surveyor was once Minister of FCT and he performed excellently and restored Abuja Master Plan. Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, a Mechanical Engineer was once Commissioner of Works and Infrastructures in Lagos. Under his tenure, Lagos experienced massive infrastructural renewal and the government laid the foundation on which the ex Governor Fashola built his legacy. Engr Rabiu Kwankwaso, a Civil Engineer, was governor of Kano state; under his tenure, the state witnessed massive progress, both socially and infrastructural. The current President of Nigerian Society of Engineers, Engr Olorunfemi Isaac was also a former commissioner for Agriculture in Ondo state, his brief tenure was so impressive that the governor retained him as Special adviser when he went on to become the NSE President. It goes without saying that Engineers and other technical professionals indeed have the calibers of people who can man the ministries.
Contrary to what many think, leadership does not always entails possessing technical knowhow on all subject matters. Leadership is about the ability to deploy both human and material resources to achieve goal target. Your ability to mobilize the pool of varying professionals, communicate your idea in most effective way, and inspire them to buy into your vision, delegate tasks to capable persons which are judiciously executed are crucial elements of effective leadership. Sometimes, you have to take tough decision that has nothing to do with your technical competency and the success of your intuitive decision would have far reaching impact on the outcome.
Also of importance is to know that the political leadership is a different brand of leadership to what many are familiar. David Mathews, wrote about what make one a good political leader: “A good political leader must have the very best evidence-based policy, developed as it should be by listening to and analysing what I call the “perception circle”. However, he or she then requires the empathy, political strength and leadership to articulate and implement that policy in an inclusive and effective way that results in real positive change. If a policy is poorly executed through a failure of leadership, then it is as good as useless.”
He defined the “The perception circle as “ looking at a policy from all angles, seeing it through the eyes of multiple stakeholders and assessing the impact on people, communities, businesses and other areas of government.”
We all know that Fashola for example performed commendably as governor of Lagos because of the quality of engineers that worked with him. Aside the Civil Services which has highly qualified engineers and othe professionals, we know of Engr Ganiyu Johnson, Engr Adesegun Oniru, Engr Obafemi Hamza and hosts of others…in engineering who contributed immensely to his success. His leadership capability reflects in his ability to deploy multidisciplinary professionals toward tackling complex challenges that confronted Lagos under his regime. It is this trait that is needed in tackling our Power and Infrastructural challenges. Unfortunately for engineers and other technical professionals, they do not have any one with this character available within the current Political establishments.
I do not expect Raji Fashola to be taking technical decisions, or interpreting engineering designs; his main job is to provide leadership and coordinate the team to deliver results. Rather than complaining, it is time to look inward and ask ourselves questions. Where are the engineers in political leadership?
And the way out?
The engineering community must begin to think with new perspective. It is time we begin to encourage the engineers who have vast skill in leadership and policy formulation and implementation. We should celebrate our people and make them known to outsiders as no one would help us discover our hidden leaders or promote them.
While I empathize with our engineering and other technical colleagues for the lost of their preferred ministries to a lawyer, I urge that it is time to support the man in charge and give him same backing they provided him as Governor of Lagos State. When the sector has stabilized and the rot has been cleared we can then return back to status quo. The politicians need to clear the mess they created.
It is however good to ponder on the words of Engr H.O.B. Lawal, a former National Chairman of Nigerian Institution of Civil Engineers and a past President of Lions Club International counselled, in his paper-Leadership Matrix for Engineers :
“If all Engineers could imbibe the qualities of leadership through their profession, experience in other areas and through talk of this nature, then the nation’s problems of inability to meet the target of Millennium Development Goals, power sustainability and maintenance of infrastructure would be a thing of the past”