The real test of leadership does not occur when everything is smooth sailing. Rather, leadership is oftentimes tested during a crisis. The way a leader behaves and acts during a crisis will establish his credentials as a good leader or a poor one.
That being said, there’s no handy manual out there that can guide a leader through a crisis. This is because while there can be certain protocols in place that prevent a crisis from happening, each new crisis is unique in its own way, with its own problems and quirks and may require a different approach from the one used before.
Very often, the unpredictable nature of crises means that leaders have no time to prepare. It is very much a do-or-be-destroyed situation. Additionally, there’s no telling how long a crisis will last and its devastating effects on society.
Thus the Covid-19 crisis is a major test for leadership. We have seen many things that frighten us as we walk along the various threads of the coronavirus pandemic. But whether it’s about panic buying, closed borders, social and physical distancing, or total lockdown, it will be the leadership or lack of it that will stick in our minds when we come out the other end.
In Yobe, Governor Mai Mala Buni has inherited enormous fiscal and security challenges that can task even the most hardworking leader to deliver. The Boko Haram still poses a serious challenge to peace and economic prosperity of the state, in addition to other environmental challenges hampering development.
As the coronavirus pandemic stretches the Governor and test of his leadership, we find out that he is making the necessary adjustments to enable us to thrive rather than just survive. He projects deliberate calm and empathy, take decisive actions and rally his team for prevention and control without hurting the very people he is sworn to protect.
Governor Buni’s ability to shift his thinking guide the thinking and planning of the Yobe State Covid-19 Committee has been the key to our successfully managing our personal and professional lives through the current crisis. To do that, the Governor and his team were able to grasp the need for a change in thinking focused on actions that can create and achieve the best results.
It’s clear that there’s panic – we all fear what we have seen elsewhere and what we are now experiencing in our own communities. However, that panic can be a short-lived one as Governor Buni can assuage the intense anxiety while showing us that he is in control and making decisions that will have a positive impact. As a leader, we know that in battling this pandemic, he will have to make decisions quickly and implement the steps required to try to stay ahead of the virus.
A quick search will reveal many success stories of the Yobe State Government under Governor Buni in managing the crisis. But instead of dwelling on the end result, we can instead focus on a few key takeaways such as how he is responding positively to the crisis to the admiration of millions.
Governor Buni, like many world leaders and experts in the World Health Organization (WHO), feels that COVID-19, like many other infectious diseases the world has come to live with, won’t just go away much less without a vaccine. We’ve got to find ways to live with it while adhering to strict safety protocols and guidelines for prevention and control.
As a leader, he takes control with focus and determination and this involves quickly delegating tasks or simply bringing the situations to order. The state Task Force on COVID-19 unveiled its crisis action plan embarked on intensive sensitization and distribution of personal protective supplies in communities across the state.
The Yobe State Covid-19 response team under the Chairmanship of the Deputy Governor, Alhaji Idi Barde Gubana, has been monitoring the state and the government has also set up isolation centers, procured ventilators and relevant drugs, undertook disinfection exercises offices and public places, while massive awareness on personal hygiene, social distancing, wearing of masks and frequent washing of hands is ongoing all over the state.
In order to cushion the hardship been faced, the Governor directed all line government and security agencies to develop strategies for minimizing the negative impacts of the restrictions and to make sure people did not suffer.
Governor Buni ordered that salary be paid by 20th of the month and ensured that workers are not only paid their entitlements but promptly. We have heard some state governments’ moves to step down the new minimum wage due to the Covid-19 pandemic but nothing of such panic was heard in Yobe.
He launched a specialized cash transfer program targeting small petty traders and business owners creating a social safety net of some sort for the weak and vulnerable and those who cannot work. As at the last count, millions of naira has been disbursed to women petty traders and others in the market front whose inventories are no more than N5000 to expand their businesses.
The Governor has also approved the massive distribution of food packs to thousands of vulnerable families across the state. While the state strengthens its emergency preparedness, response and mitigation, It is worthy to note that the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) under Dr Mohammed Goje has been going places distributing food as palliatives to vulnerable households affected by the pandemic and other associated challenges.
It is evident that Governor Buni’s foresight has started giving palliatives long before others identify with the word “palliatives” as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Governor, on the assumption of office in May 2019, directed SEMA to, within available resources, reach out to vulnerable households with palliatives periodically.
This has been ongoing since July 2019 to date and without fail, SEMA has done just that.
There is no doubt, tough economic times are here with us and our leaders, but it will be less difficult for Governors who have found ways to balance their budgets. The good thing is that under Governor Buni’s captainship, Yobe has seen improvement in internally generated revenue and fiscal transparency. According to the statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Yobe was recorded among the most improved states in IGR collection by up to 93%.
It’s praiseworthy that with the prudent management of scarce resources, the state government has continued to provide essential services, project implementation and ensure good governance to the people. Indeed, these are some of the most important things a leader needs to do, especially in times of a crisis. During a crisis, everybody looks to a leader for the next step or for reassurance. If a leader projects fear and unease, that unease transmits to everyone else, much like this dreaded and deadly contagious disease, Covid-19. This is why it is absolutely necessary for leaders to look like they are masters of the situation.
The Governor Buni confidence is one of the things leaders need to display, as well as honesty. While the urge to state that ‘everything is going to be fine’ is going to be overwhelming, it is important for leaders to be realistic. They need to tread a fine balance when stating the magnitude of a situation. That is how I saw Buni leading and navigating during this crisis. To be fair, his approach in dealing with the pandemic is all the more gratifying.
After all said and done, it is nigh-impossible to say that Governor Buni is prepared for a crisis. And neither can he avoid it. The most important things to demonstrate are leadership and to remember that all crises do pass. When a crisis occurs, leaders don’t panic, ignore or avoid it. Instead, they tackle it head-on and use it as a stepping stone to enact change. A crisis is always an opportunity to acknowledge responsibility, take ownership and do better.
Yusuf Ali, a journalist and contemporary issues analyst, writes from Damaturu and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org