Wednesday, 6th December 2023

We need to expand the meaning of leadership

By Dare Babarinsa
15 June 2023   |   3:45 am
Kofo Obasanjo-Blackshire tries to appeal to a global audience in her seminal book, Pillars of Statecraft, which would be presented to the reading public tomorrow in Lagos.

Leadership. Photo; FORBES

Kofo Obasanjo-Blackshire tries to appeal to a global audience in her seminal book, Pillars of Statecraft, which would be presented to the reading public tomorrow in Lagos. This is a book of towering ambition, examining the deeds, and also the misdeeds of men whose actions have had consequences on the fortunes of their nation and also on mankind.

A country may be rich, have natural and mineral resources, have a large and powerful military, but it is the leadership that determines its place in the world. Obasanjo-Blackshire’s book is a good treatise about power and its consequences. It is not a book you will forget in a hurry.

It is not surprising that she listed her father, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, as one of the consequential leaders of the contemporary world. President Obasanjo is the longest ruler Nigeria ever had and his reforms and use of power have had the most enduring consequences.

For one, it was Obasanjo who gave Nigeria the current presidential constitution, which Nigeria has been using since 1979. After many years in the ring of politics, he is perhaps battle-weary, but he is not about to give us. His monumental trilogy, My Watch, is an exposition of his romance with power and his long journey as the sentry of our political conscience. His daughter expectedly ranked him high.

In Chapter Two of the book, Obasanjo-Blackshire listed some of the leaders she considers as exemplars in the act of statesmanship. Her first choice is Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. Churchill stood up to the military might and intimidation of the ferocious Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler and therefore making the world safer for democracy and the Rule of Law.

There were other leaders she believes were aconsequential to the fate of their country, including the great Mandiba, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, President Franklin Roosevelt of the United States, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last ruler of the defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Olusegun Obasanjo aof Nigeria.

Like the onion, this is a book of different layers of meanings. Yes! Leadership is crucial, but sometimes, the people have to find their way beyond the political leadership. Part of the problems of the modern world is that citizens often credit those in politics with greater level of competence and wisdom than they are capable of.

The masquerade may look fearsome, but at the end of the day, it is stronger than the man inhabiting it. Many societies have been trying, therefore, to re-order their polity beyond the orbits of politicians. Indeed, countries that are regarded as being very successful, like Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland are not land where politicians are towering figures in the society.

Africans have a lot to learn from these societies that have been able to lay society foundation on the basis of equity and order beyond the shifting tenancy of politicians and political office holders.

Obasanjo-Blackshire book presents us with a challenge that we need to look at the issue of leadership in Africa. Her global sweep on statecraft and the need for human security needs to dovetail into our experience in Africa. We have seen how leaders like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Patrice Lumumba of the Congo and Haile Selassie of Ethiopia were all victims of the international struggle during the Cold War.

African states are unstable because sometimes they are subverted by the happenings on the international scene. We also have endemic crisis that has eaten countries such as Sudan, Somalia, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo that can only be solved by the application of African statecraft.

It is clear now that leadership and power is beyond the realm of politics and politicians. In post Second World War, Italy’s one notable feature was the general instability of the political environment. Yet it was during this period that the Italian economy grew to become one of the strongest in Europe.

We have also seen in Nigeria that for more than 30 years, the Nigerian political elites could not keep the country oil refineries in good shape. It takes the intervention of a private sector player, Aliko Dangote, to give our country a functional refinery. It is getting clearer by the day that non-state actors may need to take part more in the re-ordering of our society if we are to make necessary progress.

One thing that is evident in Africa is the incapacity of state institutions to control itself. In July 1966, Nigeria experienced the second military coup. Within a period of six months, our country had three Heads of Government: Prime-Minister Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa, Major-General J.T.U Aguiyi-Ironsi and Lt. Col. Yakubu Jack Gowon.

The army that took over power was not in control of its own house. The institution had malfunctioned. The result was the Civil War, which cost us more than one million lives. If the Nigerian military were fully in control of its house in 1966, Nigerian history would have taken a different turn.

History was about to take a different turn 30 years ago when Chief Moshood Abiola, the publisher of the Concord Group of Newspapers, won the presidential election of June 12, 1993. But the system was so weak that it was possible for a group of military officers, led by General Ibrahim Babangida, to annul the result of the election.

It is a sober comfort that one of those who led the resistance against military ruler in the wake of that annulment is now the President of the Republic. It is the duty of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, one of the heroes of the Nigerian struggle against military rule, to strengthen the system and help us build resilient institutions that could not be easily sabotaged from within. This is indeed a primary assignment.

In recent days, we have been hearing dizzying revelations in the wake of the arrest of Godwin Emefiele, the suspended Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, about how billions of dollars were moved into unauthorised locations and accounts.

We hope that Emefiele, a highly decorated general of the Nigerian banking system, would have his day in court, to defend himself against these allegations. How can any system allow itself to be so easily sabotage from within by anyone or group of people? Something seriously must be wrong with that system.

Leaders are important, even crucial, to the fate of nations. But now, we need to expand the meaning of leadership beyond the horizon of politics. We have seen now that in the context of Nigeria, the spectrum of leadership is certainly beyond political leadership. Today in Nigeria, the intervention of leaders beyond politics has changed the Nigerian landscape for the better. Those who control enormous resources and influence like Aliko Dangote, Mike Adenuga, Tony Elumelu, Fola Adeola and Femi Otedola have shown that a tree can make a forest.

Around 2008, I had accompanied Governor Olusegun Agagu of Ondo State to Ilara-Mokin, near Akure, to perform an official function, which he cherished so much. I first met Agagu in 1983 when he came to Akure, along with two of his friends, Dr. Olu Agbi and Dr. Olu Agunloye. They helped to collate the results for Governor Adekunle Ajasin in the controversial 1983 general elections.

I was then the Chief Correspondent for Ondo State of Abiola’s Concord Press of Nigeria. By 1992, Agagu became the Deputy-Governor to Evangelist Bamidele Olumilua. In 2003, he became the governor. Now in 2008 we were driving to Ilara-Mokin to honour Chief Michael Ade-Ojo, a formidable patriarch who epitomises another level of leadership.

Chief Michael Ade-Ojo, who celebrated his 85th birthday yesterday, is the chairman of Elizade Motors and founder of Toyota Nigeria Ltd. He is Africa’s premier automobile merchant, who has transformed his native Ilara-Mokin, where he has also built the Elizade University.

For Africa to make necessary progress, we need to harness the remarkable assets of the private individuals to change our society. That is one sector President Tinubu should look at critically to uplift our country.