It gives me great pleasure to be here today to present this paper on Leadership: Key Factor to a Better Nigeria.
I am glad that Great Ife, as this university is popularly called, is contributing its own quota towards evolving a better country through this annual Professor D. A. Ijalaye Lecture Series. The Ivory Tower, apart from being the bulwark of imparting knowledge, should also be a veritable profiler and analyser of our national situation, so that workable solutions can be proffered towards the different malaise plaguing the country. I am glad OAU has not taken a back seat in this area.
At 52, there has been consensus of opinion over the years that the problem of our country is largely leadership. Professor Chinua Achebe put it succinctly in his seminal work. ‘The Trouble with Nigeria’, published in 1983: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water, or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example, which is the hallmark of true leadership.” Prof Achebe gave this lamentation almost 30 years ago. Before then, the same diagnosis had been made by many commentators about Nigeria, and till today, the same thing is being said. It means our country is in the grip of bad leadership, and until we extricate ourselves from that evil grip, we will not make much progress.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, in his 5th independence speech to the nation in 1965, noted that, “The leaders of our various communities are servants of the people of Nigeria. They were selected to strengthen the bonds of national unity. Their main task is to promote understanding among the various tribes of Nigeria. So long as they faithfully do this, so long shall they have proved themselves capable of enduring the complicated problems of leadership in Nigeria.”
It grieves my heart when disparaging remarks are made about leadership in Nigeria. And what makes it more tragic is that, usually, the remarks are true. Dr. Dozie Ikedife, former president of Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo had been asked his opinion on leadership in Nigeria by a newspaper a couple of years back. His response: “Please don’t make me cry. Nigeria has no leader.”
Don’t you feel like crying too at such comment? A country of about 160 million people, blessed with great natural and human resources, yet we have no leader. Sad. Quite sad.
Mr. Herman Cohen, one time United States Assistant Secretary’ of State for Africa, also had this to say about leadership in our country: “Nigerian leadership since 1999 has been disappointing.”
This kind of comment breaks one’s hearts. But the regrettable thing is that the comments are true.
But should we then stay in the valley of sorrow and despondency- bemoaning Nigeria’s fate forever? For 52 years, we have been lamenting. What then is the way forward? That is why I am glad that the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, is part of the search for solution, through a forum like this.
General Ibrahim Babangida in his 27th independence speech, in 1987, noted that his regime was in agreement with the principle that a leader who wishes to convert the people must commune with them. Such leaders, he noted, however, needs rebirth. They must themselves undergo a new mode of existence as well as share the same experience with the people.
Having established that leadership is a problem in our country, my approach in this presentation will be to look at the various definitions of leadership, and apply them to the Nigerian condition, and proffer solutions to the leadership problem.
DEFINITIONS OF LEADERSHIP
Robert K. Greendeaf in his book “The servant as a leader’ noted that “foresight is the ‘lead’ that the leader has, once he loses this lead and events start to force his hand, he is a leader in name only. He is not leading, he is reacting to immediate events and he probably will not remain for long as the leader.”
Also, James A. Autry, in his book. ‘The Servant Leader’, has this to say: “Leadership is not about controlling people. It is about caring for people and being a useful resource for people… Leadership is not about being boss, it is about being present for people and building a community at work… Leadership requires love. It is a calling, not just a job but a calling.”
Sometime in this country, we had a president who called himself a servant leader. Yes, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had a good vision, a good approach to leadership in Nigeria. He wanted to be a servant leader, somebody who will love Nigerians, and serve them with all his might. But there was a problem. His health. If my good friend, Umaru Yar’Adua had been healthier, he would have served Nigeria very creditably. But he died in office, and we are still where we are today, groping for direction, like the children of Israel in the wilderness for 40 years.
General John J. Pershing of the U.S Army, describes leadership this way: “A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary, an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops.”
This shows that everything is about leadership. Even if the ‘followership’ has problems, is weak, reluctant or uncooperative, a good leader can marshal them out of stupor and lethargy. Sadly, we have not seen much of this in Nigeria.
Let me quote Professor Achebe again, in his treatise on leadership: “Leadership is a sacred trust like the priesthood in civilized humane religions. No one gets into it lightly or unadvisedly, because it demands qualities of mind and discipline of body. Anyone who offers himself or herself or is offered to society for leadership must be aware of the unusually high demands of the role, and should, if in any doubt whatsoever, firmly refuse the promptings.”
Now I consider this quite weighty and thought provoking. Leadership is a sacred trust, just like the priesthood. In other words, you hold leadership at the behest of the people. Without the people’s trust and support, you lose the moral right to be a leader. Why then do our leaders roll out cocktails of anti- people policies, particularly in a democracy? Leaders must listen to the people, engage with them, and formulate policies that will promote their wellbeing. Otherwise, such leaders betray the sacred trust of their offices and position.
Again, Prof Achebe says no one gets into leadership lightly or unadvisedly, because it demands qualities of mind and discipline of body. In other words, leadership is something you plan for, you get groomed for, and consciously go into. But in Nigeria, we see that such is not largely the case. Even when some of us tried to groom successors, we discovered that we were grooming monsters that were willing to kick us out of office before they learn the qualities of leadership. Let’s consider some of our past and present leaders, and how they ascended into office.
In 1966, the military struck through Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, and some other young military officers. At the end of it all, they could not seize the reins of power. It was Major-General J.T.U. Aguiyi-lronsi who became head of state. Did he prepare for power? No. It was just thrust on him by fate.
In 1976, the military struck again, through Lt. Col. Buka Sukar Dimka, and the head of state, the charismatic and inspiring Murtala Muhammed, was assassinated. The then Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, became head of state. Was he ready for the responsibility? No. In fact, according to Gen. T. Y. Danjuma, the then Chief of Army Staff, Obasanjo had to both be cajoled and threatened, before he accepted the responsibility of being head of state.
In 1979, Alhaji Shehu Shagari wanted to just be a senator. He ended as president, unprepared for the big task.
Chief Ernest Shonekan was a corporate chieftain al the UAC. Ruling Nigeria was the farthest thing from his mind. In 1993, he was drafted into office as leader of the Interim National Government (ING).
In 1999, Olusegun Obasanjo had just returned from prison, when he was drafted into leadership again. I remember he said: “how many ‘P’s do you want to make out of me? I have been President, I have been Prisoner, yet you want me to be President again.” Obasanjo ruled for 8 years, despite not being prepared to be president initially and even planned for a third term.
And, my friend, Umaru Yar’Adua? He had been governor in Katsina for 8 years, and according to him, he was preparing to go back to the classroom
to teach Chemistry. Suddenly he was drafted to be president.
Goodluck Ebele Jonathan had become Bayelsa State governor when his former principal, D.S.P Alamieyeseigha was impeached. All he wanted in 2007 was to get a full term in office as governor. But he was drafted to be Vice President, and within three years, had become president. Why does Nigeria get reluctant leaders? Is this country cursed or jinxed? Why do those who scrupulously prepare for leadership never get it? We know of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, “the best president we never had.” We know of Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola, the man who wanted us to bid farewell to poverty. We know of many others who had prepared and groomed themselves for leadership. They never got it. But the reluctant ones get shoved into office and power. What is the matter with Nigeria? Researchers in our academia, please help look into this, and tell us what the problem is.
The grand old African icon, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, says of leadership: “Lead from the front – but don’t leave your base behind.” Again, Mandela says, “Quitting is leading too.”
Quitting is leading. Sadly, many African leaders do not appreciate and understand this. One of Mandela’s greatest legacies today, is the fact that he left just after one term. It has positioned him as a globally respected icon. But what do we get in Africa, particularly in Nigeria? Attempt to subvert the constitution, and sit tight in office. At great cost, we fought the attempt by Obasanjo to extend his term in office beyond 2007, after he had fulfilled the constitutionally prescribed maximum of two terms, not minding the fact that he had told Nigerians in his first independence speech as a civilian president in 1999, that “Political leaders, from the President to the lowest local government councilor, are invested with immense power. That power can be, and is often abused. It is the quality of compassion that imposes limits on the powerful, and compels them to realize that leadership that is not selfless service is hollow and not of God.” Till today, some of us are still paying heavy price in terms of economic losses, for stopping him from getting a third term.
We have also had sit tight rulers in other African countries, like Togo (Gnassingbe Eyadema), in Cameroon (first Ahamdu Ahidjo, now Paul Biya), in Gabon (Omar Bongo), in Zaire (Mobutu Sese Seko), in Libya (Muamar Qaddafi), and in many other countries. Why do they never learn the Mandela lesson?
“Quitting is leading too.” If you find yourself incapable of discharging the duties and responsibilities of your office, then quit. If the entire country is complaining about your tenure in office, quit. Throw in the towel. If the country is about to break into pieces under you, bow out gracefully. We must learn to quit when we are unable to discharge the trust, which leadership is. Quitting is leading too, according to Mandela.
In this great citadel of learning, I want to talk my heart out, but I’m constrained by time. However, permit me to quote some other notable experts on leadership, so that we might draw inspiration from them for our country:
Peter Drucker, in the forward to the Drucker Foundation’s “The Leader of the Future” sums up leadership this way: “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.” To gain followers requires influence.
John C Maxwell, in “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” sums up his definition of leadership this way: “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” This moves beyond defining the leader, to looking at the ability of the leader to influence others.
Warren Bennis’ definition of leadership is focused much more on the individual capability of the leader: “Leadership is a function of knowing yourself, having a vision that is well communicated, building trust among colleagues, and taking effective action to realize your own leadership potential.”
Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester: For the purposes of the Leadership Development Process of the Diocese of Rochester, their leadership definition is “the process of influencing the behavior of other people toward group goals in a way that fully respects their freedom.”
I must not conclude without quoting a former House of Representatives member, and former two-time governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, on leadership. In the book, “Orji Kalu: Leadership Lessons From A Master Strategist” yours truly is quoted this way: “In leadership, you can’t always run faster than the people you are leading… While a good leader should not be led by the people, he also must not ignore the people. There must always be a meeting point… I see leadership as both inborn and acquired through some form of tutelage or through experience. You can be born a leader. You can also be groomed as a leader.”
Again General Ibrahim Babangida in his 31st independence speech in 1991, noted that “We believe and do affirm that what the nation requires is a leadership that recognizes the problems at the roots of our national life; a leadership which decides to risk its will and reputation to solving these problems. We hold firmly to the belief that our Nigeria of tomorrow is precious enough for us to sacrifice our today.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, Moses groomed Joshua as a leader. Paul groomed Timothy. Jesus groomed the apostles. But sadly, many of our leaders in Nigeria are never groomed. They just suddenly find themselves in power, and begin to grope in the dark. That is the problem with Nigeria.
Leadership is making a difference. It is treating people right. It is recreating yourself, accepting responsibility, matching your words with action. Leadership involves having a clear direction, being a Chief Strategist, the ability to inspire hope, and being the Chief Servant.
Leadership is integrity, it is creating a positive image, it is having the right positive attitude. It is also about grooming people, and developing your successor. As it is said, there is no success without a successor. Nigeria currently has problem with many of these requirements on leadership. But we should not lose hope. Better days will come. We will get out of the wilderness; we will get to our Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey. When we get leadership right, we will also get Nigeria right. The day will come. And we hope it will be soon.
We can have good leaders, if we so want. The truth about the life we live today is what Jimmy Cliff sang in one of his songs: “You can make it if you really want, but you must try, try and try, you will succeed at last.”
I thank you all for listening.
. Being a paper presented by Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, former Abia State Governor, at the Professor U. A. Ijalaye Annual Lecture at the Obafemi Awolowo University on September 20, 2012.