Nigeria@59: We Should have a Leadership that is Patriotic – Senaya

Francis Senaya is an Economist, Banker and Management Consultant. But more importantly he is the current Executive Director of The Better Society Foundation (TBSF), an international, independent and non-governmental organization registered with the Nigerian Corporate Affairs Commission.

In this interview, he shares his views on the state of the nation and the programmes of the foundation.

PP: Tell us about The Better Society Foundation (TBSF)

Senaya: The idea of incorporating a non-governmental organization was first mooted at an informal national meeting of long standing associates from different professional backgrounds who have been together for well over 40 years even while in different universities. These professionals came together and decided to give back to the society what they have benefited as regards their education and training. We felt that the least we can do is to give back to society and by 2004 we completed the registration process and it is on this basis that we decided to pursue our vision and mission.

PP: What exactly are your vision and mission?

Senaya: Basically, our vision is to create an independent and non-governmental organization that is free from politics and religious affiliations and does not discriminate on grounds of race, ethnicity and gender.

We intend to have an organization that is all embracing and that can allow people to express their views and pursue their passion for the development and growth of society.

Our mission is to pursue excellence. By virtue of our training and upbringing, most of us have achieved certain level of excellence, and we believe we can translate this to the upcoming generation. More importantly, we desire to provide credible leadership required to foster sustainable empowerment of our society and that our approaches should be of prime benefits to our host communities.

PP: How successful have you achieved these?

Senaya: To a large extent we have achieved our mission but it is an on-going process. You will agree with me that the process of passing knowledge to the younger ones takes a lot of patience and time. Impacting the society the way we envision it also requires lot of strong partnership with government and the various communities we intend to work with so that we become a partner of first choice. When we got registered, our focus was on the development of our immediate communities. To achieve this, we have our thrust in four key areas. This is novel because as an NGO you will expect us to focus on only one key area but we have decided to focus on some other areas because of the content of experience and sound knowledge embedded in our membership. We therefore look at the areas of health, environment (water & sanitation), good leadership and youth empowerment. We have since made some in-roads into these areas.

PP: What do you consider as the major challenges toward the achievement of your vision and the accomplishment of your mission?

Senaya: A major challenge is in forging credible and sustainable partnerships. You have to form partnerships that are credible. You have to engage your target audience, the immediate host communities, those you intend to develop in order to enable them buy into your vision and mission. We won’t say it is really a challenge, rather ‘work in progress’ because firstly, we have to ensure that they have a clear understanding of the fact that we want to improve their lot. Once you have a community buy into your mission, you also let them be the one that will determine their areas of need. If you force a need upon them, it might not be exactly what they need but you ensure they have their own buy-in into whatever they feel will be of benefit to them. For instance, in the area of leadership development, training and capacity building, you need to let them see the benefits of developing their skills and once they are able to identify with you in that regard, they will surely make their wards available for such intervention.

PP: Can you give us an insight into your projects and how Nigerians have benefited from them?

Senaya: In the past 15years, we have consistently worked in the area of malaria. We are however now looking at the area of maternal and child health. We have the support of Lagos State Ministries of Education and Health, and through them we adopted three schools within the Surulere axis of Lagos State as our pilot. We have since established malaria clubs in each of the three schools.

Prior to the adoption of the schools, we had undertaken a baseline survey on the incidence of malaria within the surulere axis especially as it affects adults, pregnant women and children below the age of 5years.

Malaria, of course, is a disease whose vector thrives in unkempt environments. The female mosquitoes thrive in environments laden with stagnant water and blocked drainages. We believe that the only way to change this scenario is to work with the youths to imbibe the culture of cleaning their environment. The government also has a role to ensure the developments of the communities such that issues relating to blocked drainages etc are taken care of. So we have adopted three schools and have been supporting the students with requisite training as well as provision of information and communication materials.

Furthermore, we have been involved in water and sanitation projects in partnership with the Lagos Water Corporation. We were one of the six civil society organizations invited by the Lagos Water Corporation to participate in the 2nd National Urban Water Reform Project funded by the World Bank between 2009 and 2011. The project was such that we acted as an interface between the Water Corporation and those that utilise their facilities. The project was largely successful. We had to deploy questionnaires that were designed by both the water corporation and the six NGOs to the users of the facilities in order to enable us know what their problems were and such areas that the corporation can intervene in the best interest of consumers. Those that required water supply and those areas that did not have enough were equally identified.

PP: Nigeria @ 59, how have we fared?

Senaya: Well, Nigeria @ 59 has been a bag of mixed blessings. We recall the journey through our military experiences and how we are now in democracy which has been fledging because we have not had military intervention again and we are growing in that direction politically even though we could do a lot better. The irony of it all is that the institutions and organs of government could function far better than what we are seeing now.

There is a cry for restructuring from various quarters, which could be informed by a feeling that the benefits of democracy are not getting to the people, but rather it is unjustifiably appropriated by the ‘political class’ albeit at all levels of governance.

Our view however, is that we should get our institutions working properly. The various organs of the government should equally be working properly, devoid of the sentiments of religion, ethnicity or partisan politics. Politics itself should benefit the citizenry. It shouldn’t benefit just a few people who find themselves in power. It should be service to the people.

Therefore, our observation is that the institutions and organs of governance are not functioning effectively well and that is why there is so much ‘tension’ in the country.

PP: Take a holistic view of Nigeria and tell us how a better society could be achieved.

Senaya: Firstly, we must ensure that there is fairness in all we do. The rule of law requires there should be fairness, justice and equity. That feeling of Nigerian-ness should come first instead of the ethnic divide that is pervading right now. If we look at our country from the position of where the rule of law prevails, there should be equity, fairness and accountability. When I talk about accountability, I mean open accountability. Then, we should work for the common good of everybody. By this we will have a better society.

For instance, what do we need? We need good educational system for our children. That is what should be of common interest to everybody. We need to have good infrastructures that could enable people do their works, have enough to take care of themselves. Have our judicial system working well to disallow people from taking laws into their hands. Have a secured environment that should be provided for because everybody needs security. So, the fact is that if we are working for the common good of all, I do not think that we will have the issues that are pervading now that makes people feel that government is not taking good care of the citizens. How do we achieve these, it is by making the organs of government including the National Assembly and other institutions to function the way they should work.

Above all, we should have a leadership that is patriotic. A leadership that sees everybody as one because it is the leadership that drives this agenda and when you have a leadership that divides instead of bringing together for the common good of everyone, then the situations will persist for as long as we leave it.  In terms of followership, the citizens have to hold their leaders accountable without any fear or favour.

PP: Look at the ruling class since the dawn of democracy and assess how it has fared

Senaya: Frankly, our organization is non-political but then we are all political beings. One will rather say that things have not been properly delivered by the leadership. Anytime leadership wants to change hands, we have high expectations but at the end our hopes and aspirations seemingly fizzles out. Whatever is the cause of this is the fact that we have not had the right leadership that will propel development and growth given all the resources and potentials that our dear country has. In a nutshell, one will say that the leadership since 1999 has not performed above average.

PP: Has the citizenry given a good account of themselves as followers?

Senaya: If the trust of the people has been placed into your hands. It is left to you as a leader to ensure that you do not misuse the trust given unto you. I’m sure the followership is always seeking for the best interest of the country but when you have a situation where the leadership begins to manipulate or introduce divisive tendencies that bring ethnicity, nepotism, tribalism to bear, and not seeking an egalitarian society, then, there is a problem. When you have a leadership that propels the followership positively, they will follow. There is no citizen that does not want his interest protected but it has to be done in the overall best interest of everybody. To answer your question, I think a lot falls on the leadership because it is in their hands that the followers have thrust the power of governance and direction.

PP: Is better society achievable?

Senaya: A better society is achievable. However, it is a continuing thing because day in day out we have to seek the improvement a society that is well secured, adequately provide for its citizens, develop the resources of its country, educate its people, and can be part of the global conglomerate. So a better society is achievable but it depends on the actors that are given the responsibility to drive the agenda at the public and private level.

PP: Looking into the future, do you see Nigeria surmounting its challenges?

Senaya: Yes it is possible when we have a common voice. First we have to seek for the common good of everyone by not being sectional, tribalistic or nepotistic. If we remove all these Nigeria will be one of the greatest countries on the world map.

PP: At 59, any cause to celebrate?

Senaya: Well like I said earlier, it is a mix feeling. We are grateful that we’ve had peace; there are no war, no natural disaster that are beyond control. Our population is growing; we have vibrant youths with encouraging population that will take their rightful place in the future. So there is hope for Nigeria.

PP: How can your organization synergize with the government in the achievement of better society?

Senaya: Of course we cannot work without the government in the sense that since we are working on capacity building for the youths, we have to ensure that we are the first partner of choice for government.  We’ve had the co-operation of government in the past like working with Lagos and Ogun State governments respectively in our intervention programmes. We, therefore, believe that we have to work with the government to be able to reach the various communities. Once they know we have the support and the recognition of the government, they trust us. We are however not going to rely on government alone to do what we have to do. We have to work to endear ourselves to the people in order to fulfill our mission.

PP: What does the future hold for the youths?

Senaya: As a matter of fact. I’m surprised that the youths have not really taken over the reins of governance. Those that are still governing us have been there for so long and you can imagine what their ages were when they got into power. Therefore, there should be a concerted and coordinated effort by all and especially the youths in ensuring they become more visible and available. The youths have to be encouraged and organizations like ours can help in building capacity that enables them to fit in and deliver. The youths have a very big role to play and we must encourage them to achieve their potentials.

PP: Do you think we are making adequate effort to put in place the kind of society the youths will be proud of in Nigeria?

Senaya: It is a work in progress, as we cannot pretend we do not know where our challenges lie. We must work for our common good by providing the right infrastructure and environment. We must also ensure that our judicial system is working, adequately police the state, dispense justice and provide good education. We must do away with the current impediments and get Nigeria going. We must ensure we do not run this country down by what we say, even if we are going through some difficult moments. The citizens are the country and we are not supposed to run our country down and expect progress to be made. We are the country so we have to think positive and act positively too. So gradually we will weed out those that are not supposed to govern us and let the right people take over.

PP: What is your advice to the government at all levels towards taking Nigeria to the next level?

Senaya: There isn’t much to say rather than there should be the sincerity of purpose. You can never win the confidence of the people when you say something and do something else. Governance is not supposed to be difficult as long as you match your words with actions. Therefore my advice to the government is that there should be a sincerity of purpose. They should secure our environment; ensure that our institutions are working to the best of their ability, be open enough to receive advice from the people in order to know their pains and how to ameliorate them.

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