Monday, 11th December 2023

On responsible leadership

By Anthony Akinwaler
30 July 2023   |   3:47 am
To be responsible is to be able and willing to respond when called upon to give an account of one’s conduct to another who has the right and duty to demand that such account be rendered.

To be responsible is to be able and willing to respond when called upon to give an account of one’s conduct to another who has the right and duty to demand that such account be rendered. From all indications, the answer would be in the negative if one were to inquire whether we have a responsible leadership in Nigeria. And that is dangerous. Successive governments—federal, state and local—demonstrate inability and or unwillingness to respond with honesty when called upon to give an account of their stewardship. And that may not change soon.

Whether or not we are able and willing to see and acknowledge it, the essence and defining features of responsible leadership are absent from Nigeria. Government is an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent and lawless Leviathan compelling everyone to obey laws that are ordinances of the will, not of reason, of the legislating Leviathan.

In any polity that lays valid claims to democratic credentials, leadership is an expression of the will of the people. But here, it is an open secret that the electoral process seldom reflects the will of the people but the will of the ruling elite.

Every four years, the ruling elite decides on whose turn it is to sit on Nigeria’s oil wealth. And, to avoid or at least minimize intra-elite violence, members of the ruling class strike deals, forge alliances and coalitions, deciding on who sits on and shares the wealth, whose turn it is, among its factions and personalities, to rule. As a result of this arrangement, the electoral process seldom reflects the will of the people. Precisely because the outcome of the process does not reflect the will of the people, all manners of candidates emerge from party primaries. Credibility and competence don’t matter. Packaging does.

Since the outcome of the election is not for the people to decide, those who emerge in leadership positions hardly see themselves as obliged to converse with the people they claim to represent. Neither understanding nor willing to understand that they ought to be accountable, they are distant from the people they claim to represent. Given this distance, defining features of democracy—a credible election, representation, consultation and accountability—are absent from what we call democracy in Nigeria, glaringly and pitiably absent from Nigerian leadership selection process and political proceedings. They are absent because of a resolution by the ruling elite to separate politics and morality in this country. Whereas the purpose of politics, rightly understood, is the common good, it has become fashionable to separate politics from the common good. Politics is reduced to recurrent and related actions at the service of the selfish interest of the politician.

Our electoral process is violated before we go to the polls. Violation begins in and with the absence of intra-party democracy. Primaries are “won” by whoever is able to bully and outspend other candidates. The more you spend, the greater your chances of “winning”. Your arsenal must be made of money and thugs. The balance of money and the balance of terror must be tilted in your favour.

Then there is absence of representation. If a candidate is declared as having won in an election lacking in transparency, which is the case in almost every election in Nigeria, such a candidate cannot be truthfully said to be representing the people. He represents himself and the faction of the ruling elite to which he belongs.

Absence of representation is absence of consultation. Supposedly elected to represent me in the legislative or executive arm of government, courtesy, civility and morality demand that you consult with me before you make decisions that will affect my life. But we cannot contact our representatives. We thought we employed them with our votes. But, as soon as he is employed, the employee becomes the boss of the employer in this land of African Big Man Syndrome.

Accountability is the hallmark of responsible leadership. If you really represent us, not only must you consult with us, you must be accountable to us. You must brief us on what you are doing. But we have a situation where political office holders conduct themselves as if they owned the land and the people. Masters they are, not servants. They know that, in the absence of a credible electoral process, whether or not we vote for them, they will be declared winners.

In the absence of a credible electoral process, representation, consultation and accountability, a democratic ethos is lacking, and that is a threat to peace, stability and development. And so, we must urgently retrace our steps.

If we demand responsible leadership in Nigeria, which we ought, we must subject ourselves to a two-fold interrogation. First, what is the purpose of leadership? Secondly, what are our core values as a polity?

The purpose of leadership is to steer the affairs of an association or polity in the direction of its core values. A responsible leadership directs the affairs of the polity towards the attainment of its core values. Any country that lays claims to democratic credentials must have an enlightened leadership that emerges from and through enlightened citizens, citizens who are enlightened as to the core values of their association, citizens who know the criterion to apply in the leadership selection process, not oppressed cheerleaders of the oppressor.

What then are the shared core values of Nigerians apart from the Super Eagles? We need to collectively agree on these before we can ascertain the quality or lack of quality in our leaders. Without collectively acknowledged core values, we are condemned to choosing and evaluating leaders through the lenses of ethnic, regional and religious affiliations, condemned to living in a land where the oppressed eulogises his oppressors because they are of the same ethnic or regional or religious affiliation.

If we truly desire responsible leadership, we must, legally and practically, establish and protect the independence of the electoral commission, security agencies and the judiciary. We cannot have a credible electoral process if heads of these supposedly independent organs are hired or fired, directly or remotely, by the President, who himself is either a contestant or member of a party contesting the election. That will be like asking one of the two teams in a game of football to choose the referee and his assistants.

In a nutshell, if we are to have a responsible leadership in Nigeria, we urgently need: an enlightened citizenry because an exercise of the will at the polls must be preceded by cultivation of the intellect of the voter; an independent electoral umpire to ensure credibility of our electoral process; independent security agencies to secure the electoral process; and, an independent judiciary working, in ways that are transparent, to ensure that everyone plays according to the rules. Without these, a responsible leadership will remain elusive.

*Rev. (Professor) Anthony A. Akinwale, O.P. is Professor of Systematic Theology and Thomistic Studies; Pioneer Vice Chancellor, Dominican University, Ibadan, Oyo State.