Nigeria: President Donald Duke?

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(Governor Duke--president in waiting?)

The streets are clean and heaps of refuse, a sad and familiar sight in many Nigerian cities, are nowhere to be found here.

Housing projects dot the landscape, and plantations churn out bounteous harvests of cocoa, oil palm, cassava, cashew nuts, bananas and rice. The constant drone of tractors and the unceasing whirr of cement mixers make it clear that this is a state in rebirth. People move around with the confident stride and gait of those who know that their lives are safe and secure. It is very likely that the containerized mobile police centers that are distributed all across this state add to their deserved sense of security.

Far from the capital, near a rustic town called Obudu, a steady stream of tourists and adventurers delight themselves in the attractions of a Cattle Ranch by the same name, perched atop a hill overlooking a picturesque and idyllic landscape. To the south of the capital, on the shores of the Atlantic, a massive world class integrated business resort complete with wholesale emporiums, shopping complexes, and entertainment facilities is nearing completion. Multinational corporations are already lined up to open shop in this remarkable ultra-modern complex. When the wheels begin to spin fully here, close to a million visitors a year are expected - and this venue - Tinapa, will become the indubitable trade hub for West Africa, overtaking the ports of Lagos, Accra, Cotonou, Abidjan, Banjul and Dakar in trade volume and importance.

None of this is fiction, and unlikely as it might seem, these scenes of rebirth are playing out at this very moment in Cross River State - which with just a little over 3 million citizens is one of the smallest states in Nigeria. The architect of this unlikely rebirth is a man that is referred to fondly by his people as the "Duke." The rest of us know him as Donald Duke, the two term governor of Cross River State, and the only chief executive, who has so far stood up to the deep and penetrating scrutiny of Nuhu Ribadu's EFCC.

What is truly remarkable is how silent this transformation has been. Duke has achieved all of these remarkable accomplishments, with very few people outside of Cross River state knowing what has happened there. There have been no crowing statements, no self adulatory pronouncements. Duke, it seems, has no time for the clownish antics of his underachieving peers with their puerile rush to commission every filled-in pothole and every completed pit latrine! Like a man with a mission, each success merely seems to indicate that the page has to be turned over to the next task.

Duke has set about the task of actualizing his vision to transform Cross River state into reality with a sense of urgency that one would have to go back to the days of the nation's founding fathers to match.  I have spent the last few weeks researching Donald Duke, trying to understand who he is, what he stands for, and what his vision is for Nigeria. What I have come to know about this man, about his vision for his people and for his nation, gives me hope that our nation will rise again. Success never happens by accident, and if there was ever a life that bore witness to this truth, it is Donald Duke's.
His life experiences have enabled him to develop a deep knowledge of Nigeria and its unique challenges. Born and bred in Lagos, Duke schooled at the Federal Government College Sokoto, and then at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, where he was a member of the students' union government. By the age of 31 he was already a commissioner for Finance and Budgets in Cross River State, and soon after served on the National Economic Intelligence Committee. At the age of 38, he became Governor of Cross River State. Having been born in 1961, his political ascendancy and stellar achievements in office represent the coming of age of the generation of Nigerians born after independence - the post indies.

A Donald Duke presidency will signal the final transfer of the guardianship of our nation's destiny to its most vibrant and dynamic elements. In addition to the extensive list of accomplishments that were earlier indicated - there are these others: class sizes across the state are down to about 30 students per class on average, an effective universal free education scheme is in place, HIV prevalence rates have been reduced by over 50% since 1999, and industrial participation in the Calabar Free Trade Zone has gone from just 2 firms in 1999 to over 30 firms. Agricultural production is high - and Cross River state is now the second largest cocoa producer in the nation after Ondo state. The state also currently produces about 10% of the total national output of cassava and is the largest producer of pineapple, banana, plantain, oil palm and rice in the country. The progress that Duke has achieved in Cross River state is not a merely cosmetic endeavor limited to urban centers. Currently, over 80% of the communities across the state have been connected to the National Power Grid.

Through his success in transforming Cross River state, a place once considered a rural backwater, into the shining pearl of the nation, Duke has demonstrated that he has what it takes to provide visionary and inspirational leadership. His leadership abilities also extend to the diplomatic arena as well. Many seem to have forgotten that this young governor was the person saddled by providence with the task of relocating and reabsorbing tens of thousands of Nigerians displaced from the Bakassi peninsula.

This relocation is proceeding seamlessly, due in large part to Duke's foresight in seeking out an area for the relocation and finalizing the terms for the re-absorption of those affected by the transfer, long before the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon finally went into effect. It was also on Duke's shoulders that the task of hosting Charles Taylor, the erstwhile Liberian warlord fell. The story of how peace was finally brought to Liberia will be incomplete without a mention of the role that the government of Donald Duke played in finding a home for Taylor, after virtually every one else had refused to take him in.

Why are these and other well known achievements underreported? In many ways, it appears that this man's remarkable talents are also unfortunately the cause of his under-appreciation. In a nation that has become accustomed to frantic and chaotic last minute actions, orderly and planned transitions such as those that Duke employs, give the impression that nothing was wrong in the first place.

If there is any seriousness about keeping the reform agenda on track, Governor Duke, as the only serving state chief executive not indicted by the EFCC on corruption charges is perhaps the only presidential aspirant that can be trusted to continue with the reform agenda. This point is extremely crucial. He will have no cause to see the EFCC as a threat, and should therefore be ready to provide the support necessary to ensure that this remarkable commission continues to rid Nigeria of the vermin that have conspired to suck her dry!

In Governor Duke, Nigerians finally have a man that can be followed - not because of where he is from, or because of what we hope he might be able to do; but for what he has already demonstrated that he is capable of doing. The 2007 elections will be a battle for the soul of Nigeria, and no patriot can afford to sit on the sidelines, while this epic battle rages.

Fanon's prescient words are relevant here: every generation must out of relative obscurity, find its mission, fulfill it, or betray it. If our generational mission is to restore Nigeria to greatness, then our first duty is to work to return leadership to men and women that are imbued with great vision and have a proven track record of integrity and selfless service. When this standard is used, one man - Donald Duke - stands head and shoulders above all others.

(Published in The Black Star News with author’s permission. The article first appeared in
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