I have a long time ago concluded a four-part series work on the search for effective leadership different from the one you are reading now. The discourse was meant for this page, but somehow a kind of reluctance enveloped me. I began to wander what is new that I was going to say, that has not been said already. This question of lack of visionary leadership or need for effective, productive kind of leadership has been with us even before we got independence in October 1960.
After independence the concern assumed an entirely different dimension, as each tribal zone sought to define leadership from its worldview. Inability to reach a standard definition saw us go into the path of military coups with all the attendant negative consequences. The temporary triumph of jackboot politics complicated the process for the search for effective kind of leadership. Between the time of independence and now there is no kind of leadership prescriptions that have not been put forward by various personalities, groups and/or fora on this very important question of leadership.
At some points in the history of our nation, summits of various kinds had no other matter to discuss but leadership, and how we could get it right. I practiced my journalism career in one of the best news magazines ever to be published in our nation – THISWEEK magazine. Most of the cover titles in the 80s and 90s had major things, either directly or indirectly, to do with redeeming the bad leadership question. In those days we wrote and analyzed in detail the personalities, the legal frame work, the political processes and even the formation of political parties and their role in functional development of a nation, particularly countries with huge complexities like ours.
We did all that, including collating views from those who should know by virtue of the fact that they have served in strategic positions or are knowledgeable on the subject matter of leadership, and on that basis proffered workable solutions. From what I still see, those efforts registered little or not impact. The reason could be that we have already built a nation where rationalization has little or no place at all. We have allowed shallow minds to install a system that glorifies mediocrity and “ad-hocism” as pathway to seeking sustainable development.
So, taking time to think is seen as the business of fools. The task of finding a workable definition of leadership at the time was not that of the media alone. I am aware that during the period, in various universities, one could find well-researched and documented studies on what leadership is and what it should be in a nation like ours, where structures are weak and the threats of neo-imperialism are as real as the fire from a neighbour’s kitchen. But who cared about all these? Nobody! Instead, we by collaborative passivity, accepted a situation where all we did and still do is to allow a few individuals to create a process in which might and subversion become fundamental instruments for nomination (not election) of leaders to the very critical and commanding levels of leadership and authority.
They nominate through this perverted form the President and the Governors and then pass them through the charade we believe are elections here and give them the unfettered leverage to go on and replicate their negative species all over the place. This has been the trend and over time it has become the acceptable standard practice, reproduced almost always with relish in nearly all small levels of organizations such as communities, small association social bodies and even within religious circles. This is why lamentation over poor leadership is wide-spread and continuous, and may never abate soon except we decide to take the bull by the horn.
This explains partly why I have been reluctant to push those works forward. I decided to bring up this essay because of two events that took place in separate locations two weeks ago; and on those occasions, leadership question was again in focus. I was inspired (I hope that’s what it is) by statements on leadership made by two distinguished Nigerians on those occasions. The first was the late Professor Claude Ake’s leadership lecture series that took place in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State.
The guest speaker was Mohammed Ibn Chamber, former President of ECOWAS Commission, an international scholar, who the Master of Ceremony, Paulinus Nsirim, my good friend, disclosed was on his way to a fine job at the United Nations. The Chairman for the event was Professor George Obiozor, a well-regarded Igbo son, distinguished scholar, one-time Nigerian Ambassador to Israel and Washington and very close friend of my late distinguished cousin, Dr. Stanley Macebuh, pioneer Managing Director of The Guardian Newspapers.
The next event was General Olusegun Obasanjo’s 76th birthday celebration at Abeokuta, capital of Ogun State. Obasanjo, we know, has been two-time leader of this nation and from my point of view, the leader that wielded power most in the history of our nation, so far. I have taken time to elaborate on these personalities because of what the posturing of such great men could mean to the health of a nation, be it political, economic, and social. Now, the issues: in his magnificent opening address, Prof. Obiozor disclosed that his doctoral thesis at Columbia University nearly ran into trouble when he wrote somewhere in the work about “humanitarian considerations”.
He said the supervisory lecturer was livid at him for using such words. It got to the extent he was asked to look through the window to identify three huge blocks within the campus. He did, identifying one as economic block, another political science, and the last as school of divinity. He said he was taught that where you find “humanitarian consideration” was only in the school of divinity and not in politics. In politics what obtains is enforcement of rules, maximum use of power and authority and sometimes, he stated, abuse of power is allowed if the king’s wish and dominion must be established.
My head boiled badly and my body shook when I heard that from a man who had for years walked through inner recesses of power in this nation. Now to Obasanjo, he said two things that became a source of worry for me. The first: our nation has a huge population but short in supply of effective leadership materials. The second: those in power should never expect acclaim from the people. Those who do would live in frustration. Is this true? From the above statements one can gain insight into the minds of our leaders. We can also see part of the reasons why leaders always turned out to be what we see all the time; poor performers and wicked rulers.
Our revered former President said we don’t appreciate leadership. Is this true? Obiozor said the leader should lack compassion; can this be said to be true? Is it the right orientation? Certainly not! Europeans, including their leaders are symbols of compassion and care. American nation grew from the desire for freedom for the individual person. This is why till the present all their leaders irrespective of political leaning or persuasion must talk passionately about education, health care, feel extremely concerned about unemployment figures, including general comfort of citizens. Acclaimed Presidents in that nation are those whose policies and actions contained the highest degree of compassion, which Dr. Obiozor described as humanitarian care.
Humanitarian care, if I got it right, is not only about the displaced or refugees; it is also about those who for any reason can’t cope with the vagaries in a system. Lincoln is loved because of his position on race and particularly on the slave/master issue. For this issue, he was ready to fight the American Civil War to a decisive end. Kennedy was another example of a leader with the right human soul. A more recent example is Bill Clinton. He had a huge humanitarian disposition to the running of government compared to George W. Bush Jnr., whose philosophy was the use of power maximally irrespective of any hanging moral question. Today, compare Bush Jnr’s acceptance rating with that of Clinton and tell me what you see. Today, touch one European anywhere and see how the home government reacts.
It is true in international politics that these nations tend to throw away compassion and its twin brother, morality, yet, the truth is that the relegation of these vital instruments have contributed a great deal to a world without peace that we have. Features of good leadership should include vision, courage, decisiveness, and of course, full load of humanitarian considerations. When all these are in place, the people without prompting would acknowledge and acclaim good leadership (as Venezuela just displayed for Hugo Chavez).
That is the truth! Our people no longer clap and cheer, because over a long time the people have come to know that our rulers supplant their illusions for development. Beginning from the national level to the smallest unit, our rulers depend on outside advices for ventures that have little or no relevance here. The consequences are huge dislocations and attendant massive sufferings. Look at what “austerity” measures are doing to developed economies and then imagine what we have passed through since the 80s when our rulers began singing the austerity mantra as the only path to full development.
Today, we vote trillions of naira to build official quarters for public officers, but hardly feel any sense of responsibility in devoting same amount towards providing shelter, achieve food security, create an invention-oriented economy, build our roads to the highest standard and provide affordable modern transport system. Our rulers never do these, yet, they expect the dehumanized citizens to applaud them for muscling themselves into public offices to waste the years, shorten life-span and wallow in corruption. Finally, as I conclude this discourse, this nation is not in short supply of persons with high leadership quotient. We have capable men and women with great leadership qualities.
The trouble with our nation is bad electoral process as against bad leadership that has always been chorused. The problem has much to do with negative politics, which is entrenched, which makes the emergence of decent and credible leadership materials a very difficult venture. These are our real problems. When 10 years ahead of any electoral contest, evil men and women gang up to select those who would rule at different levels and go ahead without the people to use state apparatus to subvert whatever is left of sane rules to achieve that objective, what do we expect would be the outcome? Good governance? Never! It is even worst this time, when each successive leader desires to “plant” somebody worse than himself. If we look well, our problem may not actually be corruption as many think; but could well be lack of the right vision and ability, made so by the kind of process we have in place.
The question now is; when will we allow the people to state in a very unambiguous manner what they want? I am aware the people know their sons better than we think. I am eagerly looking forward to the period when our search for effective leaders would be on the cherished pillars of what they know, what they have done in the past, how their past achievements shape their visions of our nation. I am very keen to see emerging leaders who would speak about our troubles in details and give ample evidence to show they have solutions to apply.
In addition, I am of the opinion that time has come when our attention should focus on internal democracy within the political parties and the processes during national elections. I am praying for that era when politicians after playing their dirty games behind the scene would allow the citizens through fair, credible and transparent poll say what they think of the whole situation. Until we get this aspect right: the talk about progressive and productive governance would remain a dream.