‘Nigerian youths should take a cue from emerging global change in political leadership’
President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo (Jnr) is one of the Nigerians who made some great exploits in leadership in their youthful days. Apart from being the first and last Igbo man for now to have served as president of Student Union Government (SUG) at University of Ibadan, he was appointed secretary general of the then ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the Second Republic at the age of 27. By the time he turned 28, he was a Special Adviser to the then President Shehu Shagari and later became a minister. In this interview, he bares his mind on his experiences as a leader in his youth days, leadership challenges before Nigerian youths and the way forward
Do you see the growing trend of young people emerging leaders like Emmanuel Macron of France trickling down to Nigeria?
IT is possible, but the question is, are Nigerian youths ready and prepared to take up leadership challenges? Taking leadership position is one thing, knowing what to do with it in the best interest of the people is a different thing entirely.
With due respect to Nigerian youths who have broken records in different fields, such records could be much felt if it is broken in political leadership. Nigeria is lacking good leadership, because the youths are not doing much to succeed the present leaders. Youth crime is on the increase and it seems youths of these days are lacking in direction. Leadership goes beyond going to school and coming out with the best results. It is part of it, but not the ultimate.
Leadership is a combination of several factors that include character, transparence, honesty, intelligence, altruism, humility and other good virtues. That is why leaders with best certificates fail in leadership position sometimes. Look at the track record of the new France president, Emmanuel Macron, he was consistent and focused in the struggle and he eventually succeeded.
This is what is lacking in Nigerian youths. They should take a cue from the emerging trend globally as it concerns leadership change and attitude. They can do better than what they have done and are currently doing. They must get involved in the political leadership process. Tying themselves to the apron strings of the present crop of leaders is like putting the cat before the horse. They need to carve a niche for themselves by offering something different in leadership. Nothing is permanent including leadership.
They should be mindful of the fact that spending hours on social media sites writing rubbish amount to wasted efforts. For long now, providing political leadership has remained a great challenge to Nigerian youths, I will be happy seeing them overcoming it. It is possible. They have the potentials to do so, if they can harness their talents and avoid bandwagonism.
During our days, I didn’t do any other magic except being focused, determined and consistent.
Why is Nigerian government recycling old leaders instead of giving youths opportunity in leadership?
There are two reasons for it. The first is the youth themselves, who want easy life and are not prepared to work hard. Majority of them are not prepared to devote themselves to service; they want to get money easily and quickly.
I left Shagari’s government with N13, 000 in my bank account after being Special Assistant and Minister of Aviation. I was in government to learn and serve.
Even before then, I was a conductor. At the end of the civil war, my father had no money, as every Igbo man had 20 pounds, following the General Yakubu Gowon government’s decree.
Nigerian youths, no doubt have made great exploits in their different areas of specialisation, but they need to replicate such in political leadership and governance. They need to get involved in the political process as stakeholders and not thugs. How can they achieve this, they must be informed, committed, patriotic and altruistic.
There must be consensus among them irrespective of their tribes, religion and political leanings. Insouciance is not the solution to their leadership challenges. They need to know that they can only change the system from inside, not from afar. Mind you, Nigerian system is peculiar because of its make-up. So to have a breakthrough in it requires patience, tactics, superior thinking and diligence. It may be tough and rough in the beginning, but be steadfast and focused. Be less materialistic, but be transparent, patriotic and altruistic.
For example, gaining admission into the University of Ibadan was not easy for me at that time. I had to work hard for it. While there, I also worked in my studies and was lucky to be voted in as the president of the students union, the first non-Yoruba to be voted into the position.
We didn’t identify ourselves critically on account of where we came from then. The spirit of national unity propelled many non-Igbo there to believe that I was worthy of becoming the president of the union and they voted for me.
Even though I felt the very virile opposition that was characterised by ethnic identity. It looked like some people thought it was wrong for me to come from the East and become SUG president. But there were some Yorubas who didn’t see anything wrong in it and who thought I had the quality to represent them. And I represented them well to the best of my ability. From there, there was no looking back for me.
The office was leadership training for me. I was heavily exposed to subtle negotiations with security operatives and even Gowon and his ministers. I learnt how to balance youthful exuberance with national security imperatives.
After my university days, I joined the then NPN, where I served as national secretary of the party. I later became special adviser to President Shehu Shagari and subsequently minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It was a great leadership experience and exposure for me as a youth. I interacted with great minds in the country then, I learnt a lot from them and they learnt a lot from me.
As secretary of NPN, I automatically became a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of my party. I was trained to stand up for my conviction and I didn’t have a stage fright.
So, when we went to meetings, when I saw that the views of the young men were not reflected or that certain salient points I considered important for the party that wanted to win were not attended to, I strove to speak.
Chief Adisa Akinloye, our national chairman, kept neglecting me until one day, I said at the meeting, ‘are young men not allowed to speak in this meeting?’ And they said, ‘alright young man, let’s hear what you want to say.’
My speech that day elicited a unanimous applause, so much so that I was put into the constitution and manifesto drafting committee of the party. In the constitution drafting committee, Alhaji Shehu Shagari was a member and we developed close interaction working in a committee and we became like father and son. He was very patronising and it was obvious he had seen something in me that he liked.
I was appointed into his campaign committee when he became the presidential candidate and I worked for him, representing the youth at every campaign rally. I was always called upon to speak for the youth and my profile suddenly began to rise and it was difficult to neglect me.
The late Chief K.O. Mbadiwe could not go to a meeting without me. The late Fani Kayode (Snr) loved me. Akinloye appointed me into all kinds of committees to work for him. Chief Richard Akinjide loved me so much and I was very happy as a young man to serve in a cabinet in which he was a member.
So, people who should be my fathers served in the cabinet and they still respected my rights to speak. They often recognised my point of view and developed it as a resolution. I began to develop confidence and tried to make contributions.
When I became Special Assistant to the President at 28, I was not married. It was obvious to me that you couldn’t be given a sensitive government position if you were single and Shagari said to me, “look John, if I called you in the middle of the night to discuss a serious matter, I wouldn’t know who will be sleeping on your bed, listening to our conversation. At your age and position, you should get married.”