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On transforming Nigeria: Who will bell the cat?


What is the recipe for economic growth and development for a society or country? How do countries go from being poor to being rich? Is there a tried and tested formula to follow for a country like Nigeria so that we can save time and just hurry along to the desired destination? This question is one of the most difficult ones to answer and continues to challenge economists, historians and all sorts of social scientists. But there are some broad themes to the various answers out there. One of them is that countries get lucky and are transformed by leaders who simply decide that the status quo is not good enough and then manage to convince as many people as possible to go along with them on the journey. I am partial to this school of thought. 

Consider Lee Kuan Yew – one of the best examples of transformational leadership. Nobody would have killed him if he looked at the countries around him like Indonesia and Malaysia and decided to be just as good as they were or only slightly better. Instead, he took a much harder path and went ahead to change his country in a way that has made it unrecognisable from what it used to be. What makes this school of thought appealing is that once a country has had transformational leadership and shifted its development paradigm, it is almost impossible for it to move back to parasitic leadership of the kind that keeps a country firmly as a ‘non-developing’ one. That is, once you have been lucky enough to get a Lee Kuan Yew, it is almost impossible for you to get a Mobutu Sese Seko after him who will enrich himself and impoverish his country. Thus, in all a developing country’s getting, it ought to get transformational leadership. 

This question of leadership is one worth grappling with in Nigeria. It’s a broad and difficult subject but that’s no excuse not to try and Nigerians continue to give it a shot. Uzodinma Enelamah – an oil and gas professional and pastor with RCCG – has weighed in with a book which seeks to answer this question of leadership. I was privileged to receive an advance copy of the book which comes out in March. While it is written by a pastor, it is not preachy or full of bible verses. It is an honest attempt to seek out the answer to the question of what leadership is and what it can do for a nation. And it leans to the school of thought I share about someone taking charge of leadership and making change happen – “for a nation to experience sustainable change, someone must drive that change,” he writes. I agree wholeheartedly. 

But, other than luck, is there any other way to build transformational leaders? This is an even harder question. Is it nature or nurture? Developed countries seem to think you can nurture leaders and have found ways to institutionalise the production of leaders. While the products of these institutions might not always be transformational, they do guarantee a ‘minimum standard.’ So, for example, every UK prime minister since Clement Attlee in 1945 went to Oxford University (with the exception of Gordon Brown and John Major) while Emmanuel Macron, Francois Hollande and Jacques Chirac all went to the École nationale d’administration in France. But to get to this point, a country must have tasted real quality leadership that is worth documenting and replicating. 

We are back at the beginning. For a country like Nigeria that has not tasted transformational leadership and has no understanding of what it is like, where does one begin? This book offers no easy answers – it begins when a child is sitting on her mother’s knee receiving instructions. It lists 10 things to impart to your children while they are young including empathy and self awareness as well as the ability to handle success. It continues in schools as part of the curriculum and in churches (he’s a pastor but he’s honest in spelling out that there is a lot of work for churches to do which they are not doing at the moment) and mosques. 

Only leadership can save Nigeria. Only transformational leadership can turn around the fortunes of a country that is badly drifting, and where the leaders look as confused and helpless as the led. Someone, or, as in the Meiji Restoration in Japan, a group of people who will grab the country by the scruff of the neck and drag it out of darkness into light. It is good that books like this are being written to spell out the problem and flesh out possible solutions. If I had one complaint about the book, it would be that it did not use enough stories to illustrate the various points and suggestions. But it is an honest and passionate contribution to a most important and urgent topic. 
To slightly paraphrase a verse from the bible – all of Nigeria waits with outstretched necks for the manifestation of the sons of God and truly transformational leaders. 

In this article:
Feyi Fawehinmi
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