Saturday, 2nd December 2023

Solving Nigeria’s leadership problem

The dearth of leaders of quality is often and correctly said to be the problem with Nigeria. But if we will be honest, we will acknowledge that we have a considerable followership problem as well, perhaps underscoring another truism ....


The dearth of leaders of quality is often and correctly said to be the problem with Nigeria. But if we will be honest, we will acknowledge that we have a considerable followership problem as well, perhaps underscoring another truism – that leaders emerge from the general populace and not from some utopian leadership factory. In other words, the people produce their leaders and leaders are perhaps a reflection of their followers.

A few years ago, a piece made the rounds on the Nigerian sector of the internet, detailing the valedictory reflections of a senior expatriate oil and gas worker returning home after about fifteen years in Nigeria. It contained the usual trite observations about Nigerians being warm, friendly and for the most part hardworking and diligent people. What was most striking, however, for the simplicity behind the gravity of the conclusion, was the writer’s summation of what he described as the real problem we face. He said our real problem was that those who belonged to the so-called elite thought and approached problems in the same way as those in the lowest stratum of society.

It probably offends you, the newspaper-reading member of the elite that a foreigner — a “bloody foreigner” — considers you no more cerebral than the motor-park tout with the cracked voice waylaying motorcycle riders for union dues. But in all likelihood, you are as resistant to queues, road signs and road markings, as they are. Or you are one of those who has opened a beer and pepper soup parlour on a 100% residential cul-de-sac and together with your patrons become a nuisance to your neighbours. Or you are one of those civil servants who begins her day at work performatively with fervent prayers, just before demanding a bribe from the member of the public you forced to watch you pray. No different from the gateman who will not attend to you until he is done with his prayers.

The chairman of the estate association is as diligent with membership dues as the average minister or commissioner or head of public agency is with public funds. The pettiness between market-women jealously guarding their stall area is no different to the small-mindedness of the Lagos state appointee complaining about start-ups raising money to invest in non-BRT public transportation.

If nothing else, we are exactly the same across social divides in our love and worship of money. We are at ease with stolen money if we have access to it or it seems that the prospects of access are not too remote. So, we confer business acumen on people unable to explain their sudden fortunes and sainthood on politicians who package ‘empowerment’ handouts rather than directing the public purse to the public good.

If the EFCC or a foreign law enforcement agency more likely, catches up with an internet fraudster, our sympathies are immediately with the fraudster and not his victims especially when the fraudster has a reputation for being “very generous” and “touching lives”. Our church elders are usually the wealthiest members, because it seems that wealth confers spiritual maturity. The most venerated, outside of the clergy, are the rich. I am not familiar with the situation in mosques or traditional places of worship but I have seen a viral video of an imam excusing a popular cross-dressing individual about to make a huge donation to the centre.

The blame for the kind of followers we are is still the leaders’ in my view. Between the lot of them in their khakis and civvies, they have destroyed the civil service, the public education system and the public health system and reduced civics to the singular idea of unquestioning loyalty to the leader. So much so that a motley crew of adults were recently captured on video, singing and pledging fealty to some unelected politician’s “mandate”.

It almost seems unfair to demand more from people most of who live in multidimensional poverty, but if the theses of leaders emerging from amongst the people and all of society thinking alike are true, then it must mean that if we want better leaders, we have to be better people.

We have to treat ourselves better at the non-leader levels, with kindness and consideration. We need to ditch the Robin Hood fantasy that we transfer to fraudsters and corrupt public servants and remember that Robin Hood was an outlaw! He could not and did not live in regular society! Most importantly, we need to move away from the paradigm where merely wanting power or throwing money around automatically qualifies a person for leadership; into the space where we realise that it is the leader who solves the needs of the community rather than those of a select few that deserves our support.

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