He would have been 57 years today, December 5, 2017 were he to be alive. But guess that is how his journey was destined. 17 years after his passing, his legacy stands today, as always and his sweet memories linger in the hearts of many practitioners and non-practitioners who crossed his path and the entire industry he touched and transformed in the most dramatic fashion, even when top consultants and experts had dismissed and written him and his ideas off from the outset, as a fluke.
Who says Nigeria does not have beautiful stories to tell the world in all spheres? His was an inspiration beyond measure – graduating from the University at age 23, by age 30 he was a chartered insurer and a Fellow of the prestigious Chartered Insurance Institute of London when he got fed up with the status quo in the sector he so loved and having his revolutionary ideas meant to overhaul the practice for the good of the industry ignored by his superiors in all the places he worked, he made up his mind to go solo and lead by example. He believed he was the change agent needed to wake up the then slumbering sector to take its rightful place. And he had a go at it.
Where to start became a conundrum, but as with all pathfinders, his first port of call to share his dream after committing it to God as a believer, were his known friends and some of his brightest colleagues at the University. However, most of them were otherwise engaged. How do you then convince colleagues already working to join you to start a new company? He summoned courage and visited each of the five pioneers individually – sold the idea and made them an offer. He also met with few non-practitioners, but corporate players, to bring them on board, guide him in the business and offered them equity in the evolving enterprise in return.
As an inspirational marketer, he got five gainfully employed individuals who were more of colleagues – three male and two female: Jacob Erhabor; Lanu Pitan (now Beneth); Funmi Akinbami (now Babington-Ashaye); Sammy Agarry and Toye Odunsi to resign their jobs tos work for an insurance company which was yet to be capitalized, let alone, licensed. The five pioneer management staff were joined by three other foot soldiers: Kofo Ozoemena; Biodun Lawal and Bola Ogundijo; while Tayo Ajibulu served as Company Secretary from outside the firm until he joined formally.
On June 12, 1991 Cornerstone Insurance was born officially through a license granted by the regulatory National Insurance Commission (NAICOM), though the company had started operations three months earlier. And so specifically at 31, Adetunji Akanji Ogunknami was sitting atop an insurance company as Founding Chief Executive Officer.
Fondly called Tunji by colleagues and admirers, his meteoric rise to the pinnacle of one of the nation’s truly home-grown and world class financial services brands, is a lesson in the power of vision. And within five years of founding Cornerstone in a rented apartment on Igbosere Street, Lagos Island, the company grew from a limited liability company to become a public liability company [PLC] thus setting the pace for competitors.
Ogunkanmi is reputed to have built Cornerstone under four strategic pillars and mandates: Professionalism; prompt claims settlement; superior customer service and adherence to best practices. Under professionalism, he shattered the myth that insurance practitioners must be old, conservative, haggard-looking and poorly paid. He employed young, smart-looking and ably-qualified hands from multi-disciplinary background, and paid them handsomely, almost like their counterparts in other highly paid sub-sectors of the financial services industry, providing them with enablement and the best training available anywhere in the world while working under the most conducive environment with the mandate and latitude to challenge the status quo. He was said to be an equal opportunity employer who believed in the best, allowed people to make genuine mistakes and gave everyone the right to bring suggestions to the table regardless of disciplinary background.
This elicited the best from his staff, who saw themselves as co-owners of the company and worked tirelessly for its growth. As a motivator per excellence, he encouraged open celebration in the organization, marking of milestones, feats and staff birthdays under a festive and convivial atmosphere. Prior to the entry of Cornerstone into the nation’s insurance sub-sector, the perception had been that insurance operators and companies are cons who enjoy collecting premiums, but shy away from paying claims when the insured report losses and want to make a claim. This perception, he was bent on correcting and that he did by examples. Today, claims payment in the insurance industry has become a routine.
Cornerstone under Tunji and till date, not only made prompt payment of claims, one of its competitive advantages, but encouraged other companies through the CEO’s forum of the Nigeria Insurance Association [NIA], as umbrella, for other competitors to follow suit. That to him made lots of business sense. Prompt claims settlement which today has become the norm for serious insurance companies in Nigeria is one of the pioneering legacies attributed to the late Ogunkanmi. He made Cornerstone a customer-centric and friendly company and encouraged all his staff in support functions or market-facing, to see the customer as the livewire of the business, whose needs must be met and exceeded at all times, whatever the odd.
It was no surprise then as many players and competitors – old and new – in the insurance sector started to copy and adopt Cornerstone’s operational model. And being a large-hearted individual, Tunji was said to have opened the doors of the company to many players to learn as much as they could and replicate the company’s modest success story then, across the entire industry. The story is told of how some of today’s big companies in the industry sent their officers across all departments, including Human Resources units on internship to understudy Cornerstone’s operational guidelines; in some instances, such attaches spent between two and three months in the company. For him, what mattered was the transformation of the insurance industry and not so much for the dominance by Cornerstone.
His colleagues held him in awe and told of how his humble beginning as a ‘village boy’ from Ile Ogbo, near Iwo in present Osun State never deterred him. He read himself up to prominence and was engaging on all subjects; accounting, finance, business, marketing, politics, insurance, and local and global affairs. Perhaps as an intellectual, who had avid disposition to read wide and encourage those close to him to seek knowledge, also caused him to give equal opportunity to all, their backgrounds not withstanding and moulded them into champions through exposure to the very best function-specific and general training and re-trainings to make his employees dominate their fields, even in unlikely places. He bred brand champions. Tunji was a believer in the total branding concept – inward and outward.
This writer is a beneficiary of his legacy. Though encountered Ogunkanmi as a practicing journalist while working on a feature story on the industry in 1998 for Punch newspapers, the one hour session left a lasting impression among all insurance CEOs I had earlier interviewed. Long after his death and when the opportunity came to join Cornerstone as the Head of Corporate Communications, I took it with both hands and never regretted that decision as the over five years stay at the company and exiting in 2010 as Head of brand management, has been the most defining years in corporate Nigeria. I got exposed to the very best training in Nigeria and overseas in the very best institutions and colleges courtesy of Cornerstone. In less than 3 months of joining the company; while still under probation I was scheduled and sent for the topmost training at Lagos Business School for Corporate Communications practitioners where over 90 percent of participants were drawn from the Banking and Oil & Gas industry. The pattern was consistent all through the years I worked for the brand. In less than two years, I had top exposure in brand management training at one of the prestigious Business Schools in United Kingdom, Ashridge Management College, preparatory to the consolidation exercise in the sector.
In the 1990s, Tunji bestrode the insurance industry like a colossus, bringing into it vigour, panache, style and sincerity of purpose. He was described as a rare gem with an aura that exuded excellence and confidence. He gave his time to teach insurance and encourage all to be professionals. A smart dresser and lover of good life; he loved his employees greatly. He was a philanthropist par excellence who gave freely and never shied away from surprising his staff – visiting those who took ill personally at home; throwing beach parties when the staff least expected it; being mystery Santa by appearing in Santa costume and visiting staff from floor to floor without them knowing who was behind the attire and sharing with staff profit he earns from businesses to motivate and encourage them to give their best.
He also loved his roots, as he rode in a bus with his staff to Ile-Ogbo to witness an event of an Uncle and proudly took them round the village telling them stories of how he started from there and the impact the community had on his life. That was the extent of his connection with his staff.
His personal brand and corporate positioning awareness was second to none. Deploying thought leadership and sponsorship as the two core elements in brand building with overwhelming impact, Tunji became a sought after speaker as he made the podium his platform to impact the world as a subject matter expert, delivering across all audiences. Thereafter, awards poured in torrents – as he won individual and corporate awards for his company year-on-year… back to back. Tunji became the golden boy of Nigeria’s Insurance industry.
He leveraged golf sponsorship to position Cornerstone as an elite brand appealing to corporate leaders who longed for the Cornerstone golf tourney every year on the golf calendar at Ikoyi Club 1938 and later at Port Harcourt Golf club. The tourney became a reference point as one or two other competitors later came on board to replicate the Cornerstone example.
While preparations were in top gear to mark Tunji’s 40th birthday, having conquered the insurance sector, and looking at the next phase, he had developed a paper on bancassurance and was already in talks with his counterpart in the banking sector for collaboration to cross sell and deepen insurance and financial products in a mutually beneficial manner to consumers of financial products and solutions, the unexpected happened. Specifically on the evening of Sunday, November 5, 2000 the evening newspapers broke the news of his death in a robbery incident around the Falomo axis of Lagos Island at a time when Lagos roads were pot hole infested and violent robbery was a daily affair. As the story went, he ran into an exchange of gun fire between the police and suspected armed robbers who killed an expatriate Bank CEO; and in an effort to avoid being shot in the cross-fire, he crashed his vehicle and subsequently passed on.
The news of his death – when it came – spread beyond the shores like fire and caught the insurance industry unawares. What followed the news was a combination of torrential tears, gloom and detest for a system that offered little or nothing for the security of her citizens. And not one death has shaken the larger Nigeria financial sector, especially the insurance industry as Ogunkanmi’s. A palpable gloom and despondency descended on the insurance sector at the news of his death.
Following his death, tributes and encomium flew in from far and near, but one particular tribute that captured the mood of the generation of young insurance practitioners of that era was credited to Chief Oladipo Bailey, the then Commissioner for Insurance. According to Bailey,”… ’Tunji Ogunkanmi was, before his untimely death, a role model, a dynamic young man who came to the industry to play a vital role in its development. One thing is certain, no other person can fill the vacancy that has been created by his death…” Bailey’s words according to some industry practitioners were weighty and more of an assertion, but events it is said, proved that the torch that ‘Tunji passed on to the industry at death, still beams seamless light till this moment as most of his comrades are still playing big roles in the sector; ditto for Cornerstone Ambassadors who are spread across the sector and elsewhere dominating and impacting the spheres of influence.
One of his comrades and founding managing partners of Cornerstone, who now sits atop Custodian & Allied Insurance Plc., Toye Odunsi, bare it all on how it all began: “When I got my letter of employment on the letterhead of Merchant Alliance Insurance Brokers, I asked him about the insurance company we discussed about, he said not to worry… I was not worried, after all I was earning only N970 per month from where I was coming but now offered N2,041 per month, so technically speaking I had not made a loss…
“Interestingly everyone I sought their opinion about this new job I got, (including some consultants working with Arthur Andersen then) told me not to accept it as it was only going to be a fluke. I had known Tunji in Unilag during my school days as a brilliant young man, I had no doubt in my mind that it was going to work… I was too excited about the once in a lifetime opportunity to head marketing for an upstart/new venture… I guess the adrenaline pump was too much for me to think otherwise.”
“Tunji helped me to succeed, as he kept telling all who care to listen to the positives that were apparent about me… I was always proud to introduce an Ilè Ogbó man as my MD, because no one expected such articulate and logical flow of intelligence from such an individual. Having passed through the foundations of Cornerstone, going into similar ventures much later was easy, because technically we were not reinventing any wheel, just doing the right thing and it was always going to translate to success”.
To Adegbola Sogbogun, a junior colleague: ”Tunji adored knowledge, worshipped it, and encouraged those around him to seek it. Though not a trained accountant, he often took up his accountants on figures. He was at home with Law and Philosophy. A very humble person, he fell in love with golf in the late nineties and was a prominent member of Ikoyi Club (Golf Section). Ordained a deacon in 1999, he ran the race well and kept the faith until he passed on to Glory. A very pleasant and amiable senior colleague, Adetunji Akanji Ogunkanmi (1960 – 2000) bowed out of the stage when the ovation was loudest. May his soul continue to find favours in the presence of the Lord.
Tunji in the eyes of another of his former staff,Niyi Akintunde, is irreplaceable. At his 17th remembrance tribute by ex-staff, he said Tunji left the world in 2000 and “went with all the dreams, the vision, the cerebral style, the wisdom that was not of this world – that your amalgam of local knowledge and incontrovertible grasp of modern issues. Continuing, he opined that “Your likes come in only 1 spec. Tunji, you’re simply irreplaceable. Every November 4th we celebrate our wedding anniversary and the date also reminds us of the 5th when you travelled all the way to Iloko ijesha to drop off your son in school and did not die even though scores of wedding celebrants died in a tanker fire on your route but you escaped that carnage only to come and die on Falomo here at your backyard”.
Many young people according to Eddie Akagbosu, another ex-staff, took to insurance as a career because of Tunji. He noted rightly that: “Indeed his life time symbolises so many things to different people, having seen him once in 1998 at our graduation seminar at University of Lagos, giving speeches as an alumni of our great University. His words where filled with possibilities not impossibilities. He said something that touched most undergraduates at the time that no insurance company in Nigeria would pay a better salary compared to what Cornerstone Insurance was paying then. That alone encouraged so many of us to consider insurance as a career after school.”
Kunle Ogunmefum, the Executive Vice-Chairman, Bluebird Communications is one man who has stood by the immediate family of the late Ogunkanmi like the rock of Gibraltar and demonstrated in practical terms, the true meaning of friendship, even in death. He traced his friendship with Tunji thus: “when he signed up for appointment at Nicon Insurance, we instantly hit it off.” Tunji loved God with great passion and was always guided by His doctrines and teachings. In his life time, he coached, mentored and developed a whole lot of young insurance professionals most of whom today occupy respectable positions in the industry and beyond. He believed in people and always had encouraging words for those around him. Tunji was an enigma. A rare gift to mankind, he touched several lives within a short time. He was a trusted friend that can never be forgotten.”
Born on November 5 1969 in Ile-Ogbo, a small town near Iwo, in the then Western Region of Nigeria, shortly after the country’s independence in 1960, ‘Tunji, who had his secondary school education at Iwo Grammar School, Iwo (1973 – 1978); and later Higher School Certificate (HSC); got admitted to University of Lagos and graduated in flying colours bagging a B.Sc (Hons) degree in Insurance & Actuarial Studies in 1984. He was a Fellow of the prestigious Chartered Insurance Institute of London in 1990, he had a diverse working experience within the insurance industry, culminating in his founding Cornerstone Insurance Company Limited in 1991.
To immortalize his name, ex-staff of the company he founded, under the umbrella of ‘Cornerstone Ambassadors’ are holding a memorial 57th post-humous birthday lecture today in Lagos with the theme: Building a Community of Brand Champions: How Leaders create a winning mindset’ to be delivered by the man who read his passage rites at his burial and a bossom friend, Tunde Ojo, Managing Director, Touchstone Communications Limited.
As we relieve and celebrate his legacy, we take solace in the belief that the late Tunji Ogunkanmi is to Nigerian insurance what Albert Einstein is to Modern Physics and Steve Jobs is to Mobile Telephony.
Rasheed Bolarinwa, a Lagos-based PR/Brand Communication Specialist, was former Head, Brand Management of Cornerstone Insurance and currently Secretary General, Association of Corporate Affairs Managers of Banks (ACAMB).
DSO Nigeria: Beyond Devil’s Advocates, by Hamid Hendrix
Freedom without responsibility continues to pose a great challenge to the realization of the full potentials of our democratic dispensation and it is rather unfortunate that foremost beneficiaries of such liberty are too often also the major culprits. Though measures have been taken to curb the excesses of abusers of civil liberties it is obvious that the more needs to be done to safeguard public interest.
One area where this menace continues to rear its ugly head is in the rowdy ranks of human rights advocacy groups which were once credited with facilitating the successful liberation of several African nations from the scourge of oppressive military regimes but are now becoming misfits in democratic settings due to loss of focus and desperation to remain relevant.
Rather than shifting their attention from the initial agenda of campaigning for democracy to the equally relevant aspects of ensuring free and fair elections and dividends of democracy, several of the advocacy groups have been overtaken by pecuniary impulses that turned them into rentable rabble-rousers, willingly lending themselves to the begrudged and disgruntled elements. Such groups end up mired in miscellaneous advocacy of discordant diatribes as they drift into charlatanism under the counterfeit canopy of human rights advocacy.
A typical example of such mischievous misadventures masquerading as human rights advocates is the recent statement issued by Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA) claiming that “under the President’s nose a minister allegedly mismanaged N2 billion from the National Broadcasting Commission for digitisation of broadcasting but till now both the minister of information and DG of NBC are walking the corridors of power free.”
This single sentence of spurious speculation casting unsubstantiated aspersions on the unblemished reputation of the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and the Director-General of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Malam Ishaq Modibbo Kawu and attempting to discredit the highly–rated successful switch over to digital broadcasting (DS0) in Nigeria was purported to be an exercise in human rights advocacy ! Incredulously, this fabricated defamation was an isolated insertion lacking relevance or corroboration in a libellous list of politically-motivated wild allegations against the person and administration of President Muhammadu Buhari contrived by one Emmanuel Onwubiko, coordinator of the so-called human rights group.
It is manifestly outlandish to portray the deliberate misrepresentation of the nationally acclaimed resuscitation and diligent implementation of the previously paralysed DSO project and callous assassination of the character of the two government functionaries responsible for such an achievement as a human rights infringement, just as it is absurd to smear the hitch-free scheduled switch over to digital broadcasting across the country with the brush of “mismanagement” of a bogus two billion naira. These malicious distortions of verifiable facts amount to gross violations of the principle of public accountability, which is a fundamental right of citizens in a democracy.
To set the records straight, it is worth recalling that the DSO was formally launched in Jos, Plateau State, in April 2016, followed by the FCT, Ilorin, Kaduna, Enugu and Osogbo while the process of installation of equipment for the roll out in Gombe and Delta states have reached advanced stages. The NBC expects to achieve DSO roll out in 12 states soon. This impressive performance was the outcome of zealous commitment of Minister Lai Mohammed and NBC DG Modibbo Kawu to break the four-year jinx that stalled the project prior to the debut of the Buhari Administration’s change agenda.
For HURIWA to single out this glorious chapter in the remarkable record of progress in the nation’s broadcast industry for a vicious vendetta is a pathetic pointer to the ulterior motives that have hijacked the group and falsified its declared mission. In fact, a cursory review of its recent outings reveals a revolting surrender to the most ridiculous and irrational advocacies imaginable, such as campaigning against the ban on production of the much abused codeine cough syrups because it has “led to great financial misfortunes for over 30 legitimate pharmaceutical companies,” urging the Federal Government “not to stop expectant women and nursing mothers from participating in National Youth Service Corps (NYSC),” appealing to “ the government of the United States and the European Union to impose sanctions on Nigeria” and dismissing the terrorist classification of Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB “ as a charade and a plot to initiate violent crackdown on the members of this substantially unarmed and peaceful group”.
Even the EFCC has dismissed the occasional anti-corruption posturing of HURIWA as “ethnic and political agenda by some mischief makers masquerading as human rights writers” in one of its rebuttals of the pseudo human rights advocacy group’s capricious campaigns. This was also endorsed by Emmanuel Otairu of the Centre for International and Strategy Studies, Abuja whose article titled “HURIWA As IPOB’s NGO Arm” in The Nation edition of September 18, 2017 concluded that it was “ a tool for extortion, paid activism, ethnic propaganda mouthpiece and most recently a terror organization’s NGO arm”. The steadily expanding coverage of the DSO in Nigeria under the diligent implementation of Information Minister Lai Mohammed and DG NBC Ishaq Modibbo Kawu has surely switched off anomalous advocacy groups like HURIWA along with analogue noise.
- HAMID HENDRIX is a communications writer in Abuja
Repositioning the NNPC and Baru’s knack for openness
For decades, the oil corporation has consistently been in the bad books of Nigerians who see it as a behemoth that has been appropriated by successive administrations to service political interests and private ends.
However, the decision of the NNPC Group Managing Director (GMD), Dr. Mikanti Baru, to continually open up the corporation for public appraisal and promote transparent and accountable management is novel in the ecology of the Federal Government’s anti-corruption crusade. Baru is committed to seeking strategic partnership where necessary in a deliberate bid to erase the negative perception that the NNPC cannot achieve the desired results or apply standard best practices in operations.
There is no doubt that leadership is key to every organisation that seeks to succeed. Since coming on board, the GMD has committed himself to doing things that will give the corporation a positive outlook. But one must quickly admit that it is not always easy turning things around in a corporation where corruption has been entrenched and reforms frustrated for years. But what is going well for Baru is his willingness to take on challenges and search for solutions. Apparently, that is why he is succeeding.
That Baru has chosen not to grandstand over the recurring question on the actual volume of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), popularly known as petrol, being consumed in the country, says much about his ability to be above the fray.
He has not been imprudent in his disposition. He has not created any ballyhoo over the matter that has been understandably politicized. There is a sense in which the management of the nation’s oil sector has become a political decision under the watch of successive federal government.
But credit must be given to the exceptional leadership and sincerity of purpose that Baru has brought to bear in the management of the NNPC presently. For instance, as part of its expanding strategic partnership, it is a welcome development that corporation has agreed to work with the World Bank and the Federal Ministry of Finance to finally lay these decades of concern about the opacity in the public finance management of the subsector in which the corporation plays a very significant role to a rest.
It gladdened the heart when I heard the Chief Operating Officer (COO) Downstream, NNPC, Mr. Henry Obih, say that the decision of the corporation to abide by the directive of the National Executive Council (NEC) to work with the finance ministry and world bank to finally unravel this mystery. That such efforts have been frustrated in the pas attests to the financial discipline that President Muhammadu Buhari has inculcated into governance. On this score, the leadership of Baru has demonstrated its support for the president’s philosophy of prudent financial management. He has shown by his disposition that he has nothing to hide.
In a widely reported Nigerian Oil and Gas Conference and Exhibition held recently in Abuja, the NNPC COO, said that: We (the NNPC) are presently in a joint project with the Federal Ministry of Finance. We are doing a study around consumption to determine the actual consumption by the people. He explained that “we have to put it on scale to see what we call the daily load or the evacuation, as against the actual consumption, that is, what people go to the pump every day to buy for their cars and generators at homes and for other uses.”
Obih said: “This is why the National Economic Council has mandated that we work with the Federal Ministry of Finance. We also had meetings with the World Bank about six weeks ago, and we are trying to progress in a global study that would help us get around the actual numbers of what we consume in Nigeria.” This is forward-looking. While awaiting the outcome of the tripartite investigation, it is equally good that the NNPC has chosen to set some records straight against the backdrop of the ongoing campaign of calumny sponsored largely by the mafia in the sector.
Different consumption figures had been put out there in the social media to deceive the unsuspecting public. This tripartite intervention should, in the interim, put to rest the associated concerns while the investigation will, expectedly, assuage the frayed of Nigerians. Meantime, in terms of daily truck out from depots around the country and in terms of the records of the Petroleum Product Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) the NNPC trucked out 48 million litres daily in 2016 and 50 million litres in 2017.
The problem of rising volume of fuel is compounded by cross-border smuggling, because Nigeria remains the cheapest source of PMS in the West African sub-region. Unfortunately, Nigeria has a network of oil mafia that cuts across the entire chains of oil businesses in the country. The mafia group is very big and powerful and has been operating for decades. It is also feeding fat on segments of the country’s pipeline network. It will take consistent and persistent efforts to defeat the oil cartel. At every point, it is fighting back and this has made the work of the Baru-led NNPC a little bit more difficult.
Obih, confirmed the challenges facing the corporation. Read him: “But again, one significant challenge is the fact that we have cross-border smuggling. Nigeria remains the cheapest source of PMS in the West African sub-region. All our neighbouring countries are selling at over 200 per cent high of the price that we pay at the pump. We have challenges in the pipelines that run through land, specifically, the System 2B, for instance; the one that runs around Lagos. It remains a big challenge, because there is a mafia that lives and feeds on those pipelines.
But it is not entirely bad news about the NNPC. Good things are happening under Baru as revealed by the COO, especially in the area of Joint Venture cash call payments. According to him, “What is heartening this year is that we can, at least, say that in a couple of the areas, we can see attempt to address them. For as long as I have been in this industry, we have been discussing cash calls as a never-ending issue. I think we were able to sit down together as an industry and government to try and tackle that issue and we should not underrate the importance of that.
“What is of significant today is that argument is off the table. For the first time, we finished a year without NNPC owing cash calls. That just essentially opens up the appetite. What that has done is that it opens up the appetite to have a conversation about investment. Nigeria is competing for capital with every other country in the world and sometimes we forget that and think that we are world unto ourselves, but the reality is that each of these companies operates in 20, 30, 80 countries and people are competing for capital. The whole JV process, we all need to put our hands on the plough to ensure it does not derail. We cannot take it for granted that we have a funding structure that works and assume it will continue to work.”
It is incumbent on Nigerians, especially stakeholders who have been yearning, over the years, for the NNPC to truly deliver on its mandate, to support the ongoing process to reposition the corporation. Baru can deliver with the right support and climate. However, the NNPC must now ensure that a strong technology-driven mechanism is put in place to ensure the real-time monitoring of the pattern of consumption in the country. This is what should engage attention and not petty issues that distract.
Managing crises: The Lagos example, by David Adegoke
An oil truck explosion of apocalyptic magnitude occurs in Lagos, fatally charring a frightening number of lives and maiming several others. Many more vehicles are burnt, some to ashes, with scores of stampeding citizens severely bruised in the process. Pronto, denizens of social media go into action, sending pictorial, video and textual coverage of the gory scenes into the virtual space.
Soon, the phones of Nigerians begin buzzing with calls and messages from anxious compatriots in the diaspora eager to know the whereabouts of their loved ones in the country. Are they caught in the blaze? Are they close to the area of the accident? Are they safe? Where no immediate response follows, there is an urgent request to send back a message to reassure the agitated inquirer.
But in the midst of this bedlam, something else causes a stir: the sudden appearance of the governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, within hours of the tragedy, attired in simple short sleeves and trousers looking like jeans. Those around are surprised. Why? There are two reasons: Nigerians are not used to seeing their leaders arrive at locations of disasters just moments after such mishaps break.
Secondly, because he isn’t dressed in suit or agbada which is the ‘uniform’ of their leaders, there is more curiosity surrounding the presence of the man. Word goes around that Ambode has got to the scene without notice, without fanfare. That swells the crowd of onlookers. The entire development deepens the bond between the led and the leader who would make a difference in governance by his acuity of empathy when the people are bereaved.
A governor may build great bridges and roads along with other physical infrastructure. That would put him at par with others who do so too. A leader may deliver moving speeches such as the Gettysburg Address by US Civil War President Abraham Lincoln. But he would only be in the circle of other orators like the ancient Roman senator and late President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. None of these distinguishes him from the pack. You don’t excel if you walk the beaten track; history would trap you among the ‘also-ran’ group. It’s a footnote category, hardly reckoned with on the pages of a country’s annals.
When he showed up at the scene of sorrow, blood and tears (to quote the lyrics of one of legendary Fela’s songs), Ambode brought both hope, comfort and lessons in empathetic leadership that is missing in our clime. Assessing the situation, the governor commiserated with the victims and took solace in ‘’the fact (his government’s prompt response) was able to save more lives’’. He added: ‘’We will continue to do our best and ensure that we mitigate things of this nature in future…Nobody knows when this kind of incident will happen next but the most important thing is that our response time should be up and running and able to save lives.’’
Observers have commended the Lagos administration for putting in place a disaster management infrastructure that made it possible for rescue trucks to get to the scene within 10 minutes. This was fast, according to experts, who argue that given our environment and the choked traffic of the hour the casualty statistics would have been astronomical, exceeding the nine lives lost and over 50 vehicles burnt.
Truly, it could have been worse with a fuel truck carrying 33000 litres of PMS on the loose that fateful evening. “’That was death on the prowl,’’ as a commentator Tope Ajayi put it, even while he advised Ambode to continue to invest more in the personnel and agencies saddled with accident response functions. And seeing how the Lagos model has worked quite efficaciously, the writer admonishes that ‘’other states should learn from Lagos.’’
But as we said at the beginning, if you had all these security and rescue paraphernalia in place without a human face, you’d end running a normal system, undistinguished by the exceptional touch that makes a difference. That evening the Lagos State governor provided the uniqueness we need in leadership and governance in Nigeria.
Ify Onyegbule, a well known radio presenter in Lagos, captured the superlative performance of Ambode in these hardly exaggerative terms on her Facebook timeline: ‘’ If you ask me, I think AkinwunmiAmbode would do well as Nigeria’s President! He didn’t wait till morning before going to the scene of the disaster. He never went to put on his danshiki and buba plus fila to go there just so he looks nice on camera. He never asked that a red carpet be spread so he can walk on it at the scene.
Ambode didn’t get there blaming the tanker parked or the danfo thatthe brakes failed! In fact the presidency needs to come and the Lagos model…quote me on this! Enough of all the rubbish going on in Nigeria!’’
Our leaders must not pride themselves in adulation when they provide us the dividends of democracy as we often term them. No doubt we shall always hail them when they do so. But there is more to administering human beings, just as there is more to being a father in the home than merely supplying money for the upkeep of the family. How about meeting the emotional demands of the wife and children, which represent the fiber holding the home? Nigerians, like the spouse and her children, only honour the male head of family they can identify with.
They don’t cherish a distant leader, as it were. Of course, they expect he must fend for them. But the point is that he must be there, or show up for them at a short notice, notably when they are grieving. At that stage, nothing else matters, not even the multi-billion naira state-of-the-art projects you may have given them!
Ambode’s succinct understanding of these dynamics of leadership is what is earning him accolades.
But we should realise that in the long run, greater applause is for the government of which Ambode is a member. For, he without an equally committed group of administrators would have earned little praise. He has an accompaniment of capable accident management and rescue agencies that performed a yeoman’s job last week on Otedola Bridge.
What is the lesson here? Government must build on that success by strengthening such institutions for the security and welfare of the people of the state as they are poised to stand the burgeoning status of Lagos as Africa’s foremost megacity of our era. In other words, it is durable institutions of state that accord honour to government. That was what enabled us all to salute the Lagos government last week.
*Adegoke, a journalist, wrote from Surulere.
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