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In search of the Nigerian leader

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Recent happenings have come to query the leadership quotient of this country. Smarting from a carry-over of inept leadership and deliberate planlessness, Nigeria seems to have gravitated into a helpless state of inertia.

Though there is evidence of motions and movements here and there, there seems to be no progress. While everywhere is agog with activities of some kind or another, there seems to be no action.

From the impunity of public office holders, and the apathy of the ordinary Nigerian imitating public officers, to the frenetic power-craze of lawmakers; from the unbridled tongue of a President, often languishing in frequent gaffes, to hapless presidential assistants incurably defending the indefensible, Nigeria seems like a vehicle that has for long been on auto-pilot.

What about the haughty ignorance of minister, indolence of workers who claim they must get paid without doing any work; or of students who throng the nation’s institutions of learning not knowing whether or not they want to learn?

As Nigerians find themselves inundated with talks about elections to choose people who will control their public affairs for another four years, the present political testimonials should provide a moment of reflection on the question of leadership in the country.

What kind of leader does Nigeria need? What kind of leadership should Nigeria have? Who are the kingmakers, the guardians, the visionaries that guide the Nigerian Project?

When the exemplary character of Nigeria’s political fathers is considered - the simplicity of Tafawa Balewa, the selflessness of Ahmadu Bello, the nationalism of Nnamdi Azikiwe and the enduring vision of Awolowo, all of which tower above their personal foibles – one must ask: What gave way?

Following the trend of leadership, many have traced the problem of leadership to the absence of education: cultural and value education.

They argue that it is the lack of education and enlightenment that makes Nigerians choose the leaders they chose. Others have attributed it to the indifference and silence of the critical minority.

Yet, for others, a complex combination of successive years of institutional decay and indifference has caused the emergence of empowered mediocrities with an unjustified sense of entitlement.

So deplorable is this new mindset that many who aspire to political leadership see themselves as persons entitled to incredible privileges and scandalous perquisites.

Public office has become a war-zone in which privileges and positions are viewed as booties, subordinates are decorations instead of collaborators in the problem-solving mission of leadership.

And this mentality has permeated every social setting to such an extent that student union officers in tertiary institutions have, in ugly imitation of the generation before them, adorned their positions with ridiculous paraphernalia like special advisers and personal assistants.

Since tradition is a learned process, one needs not wonder how they come about this practice. After all, local government officials move around in convoys.

In this rigmarole, Nigeria seems to have become one big Lugardian contraption in Sisyphian existence.

How then do we address these problems? To well-meaning Nigerians and genuine political aspirants, it should be clear that everywhere genuine success has been made, there have been well-planned succession management and credible recruitment processes.

Thus to avert the cascading mediocrity that is so deleterious to leadership, there is need to build the capacity of Nigerians for leadership. It is not that this country does not have good forward-looking and result-oriented leaders, the problem is their absence from the political class.

It is for this reason that the nation’s political space should have good people in the cabinet and as political aspirants.

Without engaging in any hair-splitting ethical evaluation to ascertain who a good person is, the political space must be made safe for good people and genuine potential political leaders to vie for elective positions.

To attract honest, hardworking, public-spirited persons into politics, there is need to erase the perception and mindset that politics is a dirty game.

It is this false impression of politics being a dirty game for crooks and ruffians that empowers and emboldens persons of questionable character to vie for political positions.

To complement this, communities should inculcate the system of fielding people who are competent, but not overly ambitious to pursue power for its sake. They must also devise mechanisms for dissuading scavengers and incompetent persons.

The problem of leadership does not rest with public office holders alone. The vast majority who see themselves as followers also have a role to play. To paraphrase an old maxim, the surest way for evil to thrive is for good people to do nothing.

That Nigeria finds itself in the leadership quagmire is partly traceable to the followership that condones maladministration and lawlessness, and is also apathetic of the state of the nation.

Furthermore, there is need for a human capital development plan in order to entrench the inexorable symbiosis between the quality of education and the intellectual capital of a country.

Apart from contributing to global culture and civilisation, what this wedding of town and gown would do is to re-introduce the value of scholarship to personal refinement and positive transformation of our immediate environment.

Thus, beyond mere certification, Nigeria’s educational system should enrich the mind by reaching out to the world and entrenching wholesome refinement.

It should also solve problems in a manner that gives regard and dignity to the people. To accomplish this, a good place to start is to clean-up the nation’s school curriculum to take history, cultural and value education seriously.

As this newspaper once stated, Nigerians have to learn from the past; they have to learn the culture of civility, heroism, patriotism and other virtues that build successful nations.

Today’s generation of moral orphans need to know and understand that the present obsession with materialism, the rabid pursuit of power for its sake and the abysmally low productivity in virtually all aspects of national life stand in contrast to the visions of the nation’s founding fathers.

All this will come to naught if pecuniary incentives and other attractive appurtenances of office, rather than service, are still being seen as primary motivations for political positions.

Thus there is need for a constitutional means to reduce and de-emphasise the monetary rewards and scandalous perquisites for public office holders.

This reduction of pecuniary rewards would attract people who are genuinely interested in public service, and dissuade political scavengers.

This position is based on the conviction that the political space is not occupied only by redundant and money-hungry politicians, there are also many well meaning persons who are morally upright, politically sagacious, determined, and visionary enough to be change agents.

Given the flagrant abuse, injustice to and heartless exploitation of this country by self-seeking buccaneers, it is high time Nigeria was handled as a child. This metaphor is apt because this country has to be guided, nurtured and given a new direction. Nigeria has to be reborn. Who then is going to treat Nigeria as a child? What character of leader would be willing to pay the price of sacrificial fatherhood?

Such a leader would be one whose vision is as big as his or her heart. That leader is one who will break the rules of routineness and bureaucracy, and not act according to prepared speeches from string-pullers outside the country.

That leader should be one whose word is his bond; one who would lead by example and be committed by action to his word.

That leader should be one who would exhibit the power to be intolerant to lawlessness, graft and injustice, and be compassionate enough to feel the pulse of the nation. Such a leader should be one, who has so mastered his ego that his humility will be powerful enough to effect change.

Such would that leader be, that his compassion and loving sense of justice will be a unifying force to such an extent that his tribe, religion, tongue would be forgotten. That is the leader Nigeria needs.

That leader is known by the beauty of his character; a quality that holds true for national progress, peace and stability.

The Chinese proverb, which also relays an indigenous philosophy of Iwalewa, summarises the long-term effect of a beautiful character in these words: ìIf there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home.

If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation. If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.î Nigeria needs a leader with character.


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