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Does Nigeria need strongmen or strong institutions?


The lyrics of the well-celebrated song of one of the proud Nigerians, Timi Dakolo titled, “I Believe in Nigeria” has always been a song of hope to many Nigerians. However, there are strong rhetoric questions that flocks my mind anytime I listen to the message of hope, which the music communicates.

The daily drama we see in the government today has driven the hope and faith of many to defend, build and uphold the unity of Nigeria into the grave of forgetfulness. Among other questions that flocks my mind at the listening of Timi Dakolo’s song are: how do we build institutions that would ensure Nigerian’s enjoy dividends of democracy? Do we really need strong men to build strong institutions or we only need strong institutions that would build strong nation? Can strong institutions provide dividends of democracy without strong men?

It is of great importance to define the concept of strong men and strong institutions respectively in this context. Wikipedia defines institution as structure or mechanism of social order and cooperation governing the behaviour of a set of individuals within a given community.


Also, online defines institution as an organization, establishment, foundation or the like, particularly one involved with education, public service, or charity work. It is in this contest I will equate institutions with structures, organizations or public bodies such as the civil service, the police, the parliament, the EFCC, the NAFDAC, INEC etcetera. This manner of understanding ‘institutions’ is at best only partially correct because institutions as stated by Jideofor Adibe are also rules, conventions, ethos that have endured over a period of time.

Institutions are crucial in any system because they help to structure social interaction, allowing for stable expectations by imposing form and consistency on human activities. For instance, an electoral law which fixes election into public offices at specified years as prescribed by law and which requires those defeated to bow out honourably means that, such law, if it has been observed for sufficiently long period of time, has become ‘institutionalized’. This is another way of saying that the law has become notorious by way of its consistency and this makes it rule of laws. In other words, our laws must be ‘institutionalized’ to produce the dividends of democracy.

It is also important to reiterate this question that do Nigerians really need strongmen or what is strong men per se? Some definitions here will not be out of place. I believe that many of us who advocate strong institutions believe that strong men can be described as people in leadership positions who are narcissistic about the positions they occupied, those who are corrupt, those who will not hesitate to jump out of the Police van just to avoid legal arrest, those who were trained on how to faint during accountability, Godfathers who are looking for their loyalists but not to the institutions; those who kill to get what they want, politically vicious in the government, those who do not want anyone to know who is bankrolling their self acclaimed agenda to the nation and those who like to throw their weight around or want everyone to fear them.


These are the attributes of strongmen we have in the government. Men like former president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, who strongly held on to power for almost four decades and men like former military Head of State, Major Gen. Sani Abacha. However, the term strongmen can also means strong leaders. Importantly, strong leaders are strong men but not all strong men are leaders. If by ‘strongmen’ they mean leaders, who are firm, just and act out of conviction, then it is obvious that Nigeria certainly needs such people just as we have people like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello who were really patriotic about their country. People like the late Nyerere of Tanzania or Mandela who can command legitimacy across the main fault lines to begin the process of rebuilding trust among the constituent parts of the country. Recourse must be made to the words of Chinua Achebe in his slim booklet, where he affirmed that “The Trouble with Nigeria” is squarely that of strongmen. For him, if we get the right type of leadership, such a leader will be able to make the citizens form the habit of observing rules and regulations.

One of the key factors that stand a parasite in the bone of strongmen that make it not suitable to our system of governance is loyalty because loyalty is always given to a strongman who put you in place of power and not to the institution where you are to serve. This is evidence in the recent matter between Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu and Akinwunmi Ambode former Governor of Lagos State.

Can strong institutions survive without strong leaders?
It is avarice before many Nigerians that strong institutions cannot survive without strong leaders. On the other hands, strong institution is important to checkmate the strongmen when they go rough. There are several examples to consider as case studies in Nigeria. Nuhu Ribadu at EFCC built a strong institution but survived with weak successors. In the light of same, Dr. Dora Akunyili, who built a formidable NAFDAC institution but on the flip side we see her successors taking an institution that was once strong on delivering its purpose to becoming an institution that is less than what it was before.


How about Prof. Attahiru Jega who conducted a free, fair and credible election in 2011 in a weak institution? Recourse must be made to the laudable achievements made in the ministry of Agriculture during the leadership of Mr. Akinwunmi Adesina.

On this note, it is imperative to emphasise that Nigeria needs strong leaders who can build strong institutions and also strong institutions that can checkmate strongmen. Therefore, it is not a choice between strong men and strong institutions. We cannot have one without the other because part of what strong institutions should do is to build up strong leaders who will continue to strengthen their institutions to deliver on their mandate because weak leaders in strong institutions are just as bad as a strong leadership in weak institution. But the advantage of the latter is that the leadership is able to build formidable institutions. It is on this note I will borrow the quote of C.S. Lewis who said, “I am democratic because I believe in the fall of man… Mankind is so fallen that no man should be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows”. Hence, no man at anytime should have absolute power.

It is in the light of this argument; I will be most obliged to rephrase Barrack Obama’s statement that Africa or specifically, Nigeria needs both strong leaders who can build strong institutions for the dividends of democracy. It has been said that strong leaders are strong men but not all strong men are leaders. However, if not all, many Nigerians can see that most political offices in our country today are occupied by strongmen than strong leaders who can build a formidable institutions to foster the dividends of democracy.

On this note, I call on the elites and my fellow concerned youths, lawyers and conscious Nigerians to stand the course of this country for God sake and raise the hope and fate of Nigeria for a new dawn so that we can be extricated from the wrath of posterity.


There is a common saying that the future strength of every nation depends largely on its youths but the continuous silence and feeling of complacency demonstrated by the youths in the face of political leadership deprivation, youth unemployment and lack of access to quality and affordable education has prompted my worries to pen down this article.

Are we not too complacent? Or should we say poverty and starvation has made us trade our fundamental rights to these strongmen in the country so that we can enjoy watching them at the helm of affairs from our political gallery without participation? This is one of the saddest questions that run in my mind.

It is imperative to remind all the concerns youths of this country to know that we have a sacred mission and that mission is to retrieve our dear country from the so called strongmen and prevent this country from the precipice of disintegration so that we can set our dear country on the part of growth, progress, prosperity and development.


But, how can this be possible?
How can this be possible in a country where godfatherism is the order of the day? How can this be possible in a nation where loyalty is stronger than our common sense of nationhood? Can we boldly say today’s youths are the leaders of tomorrow? How can this be possible where excruciating poverty and starvation continues to drive more youths into the ranks of beggars and whose desperate struggle for food renders their common sense epileptic to all feelings of immorality and indecency?

How can rebranding and hope to build, and uphold the unity of our dear country be possible where the majority of the youths can easily be induced with stipends to work against the rule of the land and compromise their true position.

For us to be liberated from these strongmen who has broken down our institutions, we must break out of our shell of silence and speak with one voice of hope for a new Nigeria.

Essentially, strong leaders and not strong men can only survive strong institutions. It is on this premise I submit that strong institutions are the foundation for a working government. A democracy with strong institutions alongside strong leaders would be able to produce the essential elements of a fully democratic government by enabling the reign and practice of the rule of law and proper checks and balances among the arms of the government.
• Abodunde is a final year law student of the Lagos State University, Ojo.


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