THE supporters of Abdullahi A. Sule may be gloating over his recent victory at the tribunal over his rival at the court. The double A governor just felled his challenger to the high seat of governor of Nasarawa State.
But the fellow has also fascinated this writer as a few we have seen in the past, also a few in this dispensation. The man stands as a crossroads between the politician and the technocrat. In this era, we have another who I call the BOS of Lagos, Governor Babajide O. Sanwo Olu. His acts are starting to arc like rainbow over the city. In earlier eras, we had Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), the then governor of example and now the Trojan of works.
But unlike Fashola and Sanwo-Olu, Governor Sule soared into politics from the summit of corporate Nigeria. Fashola and Sanwo-Olu rode formidable credentials but they happened on the political ring as uppercuts. Governor Sule anticipated the ring as a chest-beating wrestler. Yet, because he is from Nasarawa State without the neon lights and firmaments of the big city, some Nigerians will need to know that he is as good a technocrat as they came.
His predecessor, the amiable Tanko Al-Makura supported him ahead of the other contenders in his APC. That was because he knew what few knew. Many Nigerians find credentials boring. They may be bored to learn that though they call him engineer, he is actually one. He did not pass a mere technical exam and arrogated it to himself like many of such ilk who pass off as engineers in a society that bows to titles. They will know that he gained his first degree in mechanical technology and his master’s degree in industrial technology from the Indiana State University in Terre Haute in the United States.
But technocrats do not come in one package. A Godswill Akpabio is different from a Timipre Sylva, or a Sanwo–Olu, but technocrats are becoming an important part of modern democracy. The conflict, however, will continue to stalk governance and democracy in the near future as it has since the invention of the term and concept in 1919.
The question has been whether the people’s mandate should take precedence over the efficiency of the unelected. Philosophers and sociologists have pondered this over generations. Saint-Simon, with an eye to a socialist nirvana, advocated a society where the politician would be flushed out of relevance by the cold-eyed efficiency of the technocrat. Daniel Bell, a capitalist roader, echoed Saint-Simon but for a different sentiment. Others like Thorstein Veblen want a match. They want a Sule to be in politics. Because Sule, who few know also trained as a firefighter in Texas, worked his 35 years that concluded with two boring distinctions. The first was the opportunity to save an oil behemoth from a humpty dumpty fall. The firm AP Plc was looking at oblivion with a negative balance sheet of over N22 million. As chief executive he did not only give it first aid, it bounced to a surplus share capital of N5 billion in July, 2006.
A year later, Aliko Dangote, always with an antenna for talent, head-hunted him in 2007, to be the managing director of the Dangote Sugar Refinery PLC but by the time he left for politics in 2018, Dangote trusted him to run his entire business empire as group managing director. Very boring indeed!!! Or indeed?
Politics is exciting. It is like the fatty thigh in the soup. Technocracy is like the salad. Salad is boring. But we shall die of boredom without a few fat calories not only on our taste buds but also in the blood. Some technocrats have done well in politics. Some of them have acted as naturals like Asiwaju Tinubu, David Mark, Abiola Ajimobi. They are not without their Achilles’ Heels, though. But they don’t come in great numbers.
But a politician who is not a good technocrat has no place in governance. Hence Aristotle suggested that no one should go into politics until they are forty years old and must have crested their professions. Politics is serious business and it is where the people say what they want and their listeners, the leaders, shepherd their desires. I don’t always agree with Aristotle on the politics of age, although his heart is in the right place. Ajimobi became senator after he headed one of Nigeria’s top conglomerates. He told me, as I recorded in his book, that he wanted to reach his acme as a technocrat before following the path of his father who was an Action Group force in Ibadan.
What kind of a technocrat Governor Sule will be in politics is beginning to show in his first 100 days. He is beaming as a nurturer. While he wants to follow the path of all responsible governors who would not abandon a predecessor’s project just to stamp an individual imprimatur, he is showing he wants to train as a means of empowering. He is not one to make a nanny state, where all depend on government handouts.
Governor Sule is focusing on training across the strata. He is doing that while giving many sewing and grinding machines to the youth and women, and setting up training schools in the state. But he knows he must do that in the context of a bigger picture like constructing technology innovation hubs. He has set the tone for the old by paying pensions, a thing that might smite Okorocha. He has deviated from the self-indulgent tone of many who set up airports for ego. Rather, his is a cargo one, focusing on commerce and economic empowerment. Whether it is solar energy, of building rural roads, or intercity infrastructure, he is proving why he healed AP Plc and Dangote fished for him.
It is still early days, but he has seen himself as a uniter in spirit, a man who sees no contradiction between Islam and Christianity, having grown up a Muslim but attended a Catholic school. This is the skill that he will have to bring into play to make the technocrat in him into a mandate, not just in polls but in the people’s heart.
For a technocrat to succeed in politics, he has to bring a sort of drama into his acts. Awo began as a great politician. He ended a statesman who was more of a technocrat. That accounted for his inability to expand his base beyond his home region. He is Nigeria’s best leader ever. But he was a statesman first, which is the best virtue. As James Clarke noted, “a politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation.” That was Awo. For me, the technocrat thinks of the next result. The virtue of the technocrat is impatience. They are managers in a hurry. That’s why men like Fashola and Akpabio were hailed after five years. But they would have flunked without the first of all virtues: political education. They knew the pulse on the streets. That’s why we cannot all agree with Plato, who applauds only the philosopher king.
We need the thinker first, then the worker, then the listener. As the Prophet Isaiah said, “here a little, there a little.” This three-part goal is what Governor Sule is cultivating. So far, so good.
– Omatseye, a respected columnist, writes for The Nation