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The power of visionary leadership

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It was the world-acclaimed Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe, who, exasperated with his country’s leaders, succinctly captured the leadership crisis plaguing the Nigerian state in these haunting words: ‘the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.’ This was an opening salvo in his 1983 treatise ‘The Trouble with Nigeria.’ Continuing, the celebrated author of ‘Things Fall Apart’ now resting in his grave, observed: ‘I am saying that Nigeria can change today if she discovers leaders who have the will, the ability and the vision.’

Without much ado, we hereby assert that Nigeria has lacked and still lacks leaders who are driven by a profound vision. And that is one of the reasons the nation has not made significant progress. Elsewhere, compatriots have sarcastically referred to the post-independence political leadership class in Nigeria as the nation’s equivalent of a natural disaster. Sadly, this man-made natural disaster has remained a permanent decimal in the nation’s equation. There have been too many bandits in the corridors of political and economic power in the country.

If we have described the leadership class, (constituted by both the agbada-wearing politicians and their Khaki-donning soldier counterparts) in such negative terms, it is because they have inflicted the nation with hopelessness and mediocrity, arising from paucity of statesmen-wisdom and lack of visionary leadership.

How did the nation, which our founding fathers, profound in thought and commitment, handed over to us degenerate into a laughing stock in the comity of nations? If the like of Sir Herbert Macaulay, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe had continued to steer the Nigerian ship at the national level, would the country have come to the sorry pass, which we have now found ourselves as a people?

The story of leadership in Nigeria even at this moment, is not one to pass on to the next generation.About a fortnight ago, Nigeria’s current leader, Muhammadu Buhari lamented that he was ‘distressed and depressed by the killings being witnessed in the country’. Indeed he expressed the minds of most patriots who have become distraught over the high level of killings perpetrated by hoodlums, kidnappers and the notorious Boko Haram sect. There is the insurgency in the northeast where Boko Haram has virtually fought the national army to a standstill. Zamfara State has become a killing field of some sorts, succeeding Benue State in this macabre narrative. Even the northern elders forum led by a former vice chancellor of the premier university in the north cried out last weekend that security has indeed collapsed in the country.

In all of this, no significant suspect has been arrested and prosecuted by the Federal Government. The nation is more divided now along ethnic and religious lines than when Buhari took over in 2015. The nation was high in expectations when the president promised change and voted him in 2015. Four years after, we cannot say with any certainty that the administration has a well laid-out vision of a proper development paradigm.

Unemployment is still very high. Insecurity has become a common topic among Nigerians because almost all families experience its effects. There is hunger in the land. Companies are folding up daily owing to poor economic policies. The average Nigerian does not feel committed or connected to the government of the day. For most Nigerians, there is a wide dissonance between the realities on the ground and acclaimed millions of Nigerians that voted for the president in the last elections. What is worse, education has not received the kind of focus required in the 21st Century to stimulate radical thinking and propel the country to greatness. The system is still configured to do things the old way. Therefore, we are compelled to ask: Mr. President, what is your vision for Nigeria? What is the philosophical framework of your leadership?

A vision is a ‘mental picture of what the future could be through strategic planning and implementation of a road map.’ It is often shaped by the foresight of a leader whose capacity to deal with the present is governed by a broad understanding of the issues of the time. Such a leader is cast in the mold of Plato’s philosopher-statesman known for selflessness, wisdom and political sagacity. A good leader is self-sacrificial not in the messianic sense; but in the tradition of foregoing the mundane pleasures of life and pursuing ideals. As a great thinker he models himself in the tradition of the good shepherd or the servant leader whose thoughts and actions are predicated on the common good. At this time of our history, Nigeria needs a leader or leaders who can turn the ethnic diversity and our plurality into an advantage.

These are the lofty sentiments captured in the first national anthem, which in misdirected nationalistic fervor, was discarded for the current banal one: ‘Nigeria we hail thee/Our own dear native land/Though tribe and tongue may differ/In brotherhood we stand.’
Alas, the political class and the military usurpers who disrupted our civil life had a different vision. Nigeria became a honeypot which contents must be plundered to the detriment of the majority. The vampire mentality of leadership, which has become familiar all over Africa, is the bane of our country. Tragically, we see no glimmer of hope in the tunnel in the current dispensation. Political carpetbaggers who revel in the feast of pilfering on the altar of official corruption still hold sway. This is not the way to go.

What kind of leadership keeps indicted officials in its highest legislative chambers? What kind of leadership are governors providing in the states when they operate government like a personal fiefdom? Former governors who are facing serious corruption charges make nonsense of the process and end up as lawmakers in the upper chambers. What laws and for who? Why is the anti-corruption fight selective, skewed against non-ruling party members? Mr. President, Nigerians can see and do see beyond the smokescreen and veneer of insufferable hypocrisy governing the anti-corruption mantra.

A clear vision incorporates politics, the economy, cultural dynamics and security. It protects the vulnerable and creates an egalitarian society. It works towards creating a whole out of cultural diversity. Such a leadership will place Nigeria first. It is devoid of clannishness. In the aftermath of the Rwanda years of genocide, the usual ethnic nomenclature of Hutu and Tutsi has given way to the Rwandese or Rwandan. How can we create a national political culture that is at best Nigerian? The current climate of fear and mutual suspicion of ethnic group is atavistic and retrogressive. Today’s world is largely shaped by forces of globalisation. We cannot afford to go ethnic and hope to develop within this cocoon.

Nigeria’s leader at this time should wake up from his slumber and provide leadership, which entails translating vision into reality. Celebration of lamentation about yesterday is not the reason he was elected. He should inspire ‘hope of a better tomorrow’, which an iconic African writer, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, says, ‘is the only comfort you can give to a weeping child.’ Robert Louis Stevenson too says that a leader should ‘keep (his) fears to himself but share his courage with others.’

This newspaper is persuaded that with a new vision, government is not, and should not be business as usual. Nigeria’s leader at this critical time should give the nation reason to believe and hope that the next four years will be different. Nigeria as currently managed is a behemoth that is being consumed by bureaucratic inefficiency. The spirit of healthy competition among the constituent parts of the federation is dead. The over-dependence on the centre to generate funds from a single product is counter-progressive. The truth is that if the leaders have the proper vision all the other elements of development will fall into place and Nigerians could well be on the way to prosperity and true happiness. And as Paul Parker says ‘the world would be happier if its leaders had more vision than nightmares.’


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