Revitalising Nigeria’s atrophic leadership

(By Omozuwa Gabriel Osamwonyi)

The eminent storyteller and torchbearer of African worldview, the late Prof. Chinua Achebe posited with magisterial finality and I quote him: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.”  It is instructive to note that the popularity and verity of this statement have not dwindled, 30 years after it was articulated.  Rather, its factual merits are daily heightened by the tragicomedies of the “rise and fall” of shady politicians, which predominate our news media.

LEADERSHIP is an airy-fairly concept to many Nigerians.  We are not lexically impoverished, it is in our vocabulary. However, I suspect that if we were to go to the streets and ask people to define leadership, it will trigger a definitional crisis, which will reflect our pervasive anti-establishment and sectarian sentiments. By the way, do you think some of our “leaders” can logically define leadership? Haven’t their actions and inactions distorted the meaning of leadership?

I like Donald T. Phillips’ simple definition of leadership: “Leadership is leaders acting – as well as caring, inspiring and persuading others to act – for certain shared goals that represent values – the wants and needs, the aspiration and expectations – of themselves and the people they represent. And the genius of leadership lies in the manner in which leaders care about, visualise, and act own their own and their followers’ values and motivations.” It is evident that the practice of leadership in our clime is quite contradictory to the spirit of this definition.

The eminent storyteller and torchbearer of African worldview, the late Prof. Chinua Achebe posited with magisterial finality and I quote him: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.”  It is instructive to note that the popularity and verity of this statement have not dwindled, 30 years after it was articulated.  Rather, its factual merits are daily heightened by the tragicomedies of the “rise and fall” of shady politicians, which predominate our news media.

The peculiarities of our not-so-inspiring socio-political evolution fairly account for our growing unfamiliarity with the essence and practice of leadership. Arguably, our national annals lack the glamour of genuinely altruistic, caring and action-oriented leaders like Mahatma K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, who were solely preoccupied with the possibilities of enriching human life with dignity and freedom from fear and want. Sadly, it is rife with stories of leaders who are presumably political cousins of Pol Pot. Perhaps, this explains why some Nigerians see the late General Sani Abacha as a metaphor of leadership, regrettably, even in a post-dictatorial era. It may also explain why corruption is now associated with leadership.

Many who have unthinkingly accepted straitjacketed views of political leadership; often argue that malevolent self-centredness is a basic leadership trait. Similarly, some enlightened compatriots say that only dragon-bred capitalists excel in political leadership, which seems to be the most viable money-spinning enterprise in today’s Nigeria. Very often, like unschooled dogmatists, they vehemently support their postulations by claiming that our leaders brazenly violate all known codes of good governance in order to amass huge wealth for themselves and cronies. This is largely true. But it is redutionistic to conceptualise or define leadership by our sad experiences.

Our persistent leadership dilemma reveals that a skewed paradigm, which subordinates national interest to self-interests strips leadership of its integrity; undermines its legitimacy, distorts its core meaning and under-develops society.    To reiterate our episodic near state-dissolving experiences triggered by predatory rulers will defeat the objective of this piece. It suffices to say that at this point in our collective struggle for a better Nigeria, it is vital that we evolve a new leadership culture.

Rethinking leadership is the first step to revitalising it. If we collectively understand the essence of leadership, it will foster a culture of political accountability, civil vigilance and reduce the insidious spread of corruption within the body politic. I am under the impression that the late President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua extensively thought about the crisis in Nigeria’s cockpit and the way forward. Hence, he became an apostle of servant leadership and the rule of law. Given his aristocratic credentials; he could have conveniently maintained elite-centric style of governance, which is the bane of Nigeria’s underdevelopment. But he did not. Seemingly, he was aware that “the great man theory” is dated and incapable of transforming our poverty-ravished society to a socioeconomic Eden.

For our democracy to become a driver of pro-people economic development, servant-leaders who uphold the principles of collective leadership and mass participation in governance must arise. Such leaders will not only put others first, they will also promote national interest above self-interest. They will ensure good governance is real in Nigeria. Nigerians are yearning for altruistic visionary leaders with expertise in forging alliances and building institutional capacity for effective public service delivery.

The centrality of a hybrid model of need-based and result-oriented leadership in nation building is unquestionable. Anything less will prevent leadership from enjoying popular support. This is truer when it presents itself to followership as an exclusive elite club of limitless privileges and perks. Assumedly our collective sub-optimal performances are attributable to this.  Hence, the need to groom leaders adept at seeing into the future and driven by the awareness that leadership is a working party responsible for the ever-increasing wellbeing of the state and society, as opposed to people-pauperising elite banditry.

Nigeria is not becoming the weak giant of Africa, because she lacks sound development plans and policies but due to lack of political will for effective implementation. Our numerous abandoned projects, policy reversals and almost freewheeling economy attest to this. To reverse this, we need to infuse unblinking optimism and boundless energies into emerging leaders and ensure they rise above sectarian sentiments that cause undue termination of viable national projects. These architects of national transformation must have foresight and iron will that outflank the antics of ethno-religious overlords.

The mantra “Government knows best” has outlived its usefulness. Therefore, leadership must practically give meaning to the sayings: “The people know best” and “the voice of the people is the voice of God.” That is, they should truly demonstrate that “sovereignty belongs to the people.” This resonates with progressives across our spectrum of political thoughts, at least, theoretically.  For it to gain practical significance we must conceptualise leadership as relationship; a conjoint social enterprise hinged on mutual trust. This will speedily entrench the ideals of socioeconomic justice, which are the foundation of veritable societies.

Relational leadership cannot thrive without viable leader-to-follower platforms of honest communication. History shows that transformational leadership is an interactive process, not a one-way flow of directives typical of “command and control” model. Therefore, religious institutions, civic centres of illumination and political groups must begin to accentuate the imperatives of “collaborate and connect” model of leadership. Leaders become gracious determiners of their followers’ wellbeing when due consultations precede policy formulation. In this regard, we must revitalise the public space and promote face-to-face encounters between leaders and followers.  Town Hall meetings must be a permanent feature of our democracy.  Not merely a crisis mitigation measure or a vote-seeking activity.

Relational leadership will remain elusive as long as the political class does not shift from competitive to cooperative mould. If leaders become harebrained mudslingers they exacerbate ethno-religious fault lines in the polity. The rising spate of violence in Nigeria largely results from their internal wrangling. In fact, their homicidal struggles for control of state resources have weakened the wheels of justice. Imagine the benefits of cessation of violence in Nigeria: one, an enabling environment for the industrialisation of our moribund monolithic economy will be created; two, the sanctity of the human life will be restored.

Nigerians generally think that the ruling class is not entirely patriotic. In fact, some frontline leaders do not love Nigeria as much as they love their tribes and social networks. This constitutes a clog in the wheels of progress. The next chapter of Nigeria’s development history can only be opened by pan-Nigerian leaders with pioneering spirit, who esteem reason over ethno-religious passion and temperance over both. Leaders who are conscious of the words of G.K Chesterton: “Men did not love Rome because she was great: She was great because they love her.”  Some of our leaders are predatory; because, they think to love Nigeria is to dig their political grave.  Don’t they openly refer to Nigeria as mere accidental geographical entity?

Self-conquest and unalloyed love for Nigeria should be vital preconditions for leadership. No one is truly qualified to lead who has not made helping others her prime purpose in life. True leaders are helpers. We should redefine leadership as the practice of helping others to transcend limitations and live their best possible life in a tranquil social state.

It is worth reiterating that leadership is a skill. Skilled leaders are remarkably insightful and decisive. They get things done quickly. This is, because their thought process is hardly turbid. They know the actual needs of society and how to meet them with exemplary deftness. Hence, as a nation we must prize prescience and know-how. Political actors who habitually focus on rear-view mirrors cannot lead Nigeria to greatness. We pine in misery because sectarian overlords enshroud avenues to national rebirth in the spectres of our history.

We can all play a role to end the crisis in Nigeria’s cockpit.  If we aspire to be ethical pilots in our homes, schools, churches, mosques, workplaces and political bodies, Nigeria will no longer be a metaphor of darkness, but a determiner of global economic development.

We should stop seeing leadership from a limited viewpoint that excludes us from its practice. The President, the Vice President, the Senate President, state governors, local government chairpersons and so forth are not the only leaders in Nigeria. You and I are leaders. We have enormous capacities to transform our nation, even if our stations in life are obscure.  Nobody should play the possum, because she is in the sideline.

We can all push for a down-top approach to revitalise Nigeria’s leadership. That means even as followers, we should embody the values of great leaders.  Values are contagious. If you and I imbibe the principles of transformational leadership, before long, there will be a contagion of best practices in all spheres of our national life. Let’s stop cursing agents of darkness. Let’s start illuminating our moral environment. Let’s become agents of noble values transmission. By so doing, leadership will cease to be an airy-fairy concept to many Nigerians.

(By Omozuwa Gabriel Osamwonyi)

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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