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Servant – leadership – remedy for politics of desperation in Nigeria – Part 4


Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh, Primate of all Nigeria (Anglican Communion)

The Nigerian Experience
Nigeria has been in search of servant leadership in a profound sense since its existence as a nation. The fact remains that the British conquest of Africa, following partitioning of Africa in Berlin in 1885, led to colonisation. The British, who ruled over Nigeria, behaved as warlords and sovereign over the vassals. The amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates in 1914 by Lord Frederick Lugard was without the express approval of the different independent nations that existed autonomously for centuries, until they were forced into a shallow marriage with one another. The First Republic offered Nigerian peoples golden opportunities of self-governance in a model that is service oriented, more so that through exposure of education and professional trainings overseas and locally, an elite corp of mature leaders had emerged among the people that could replace the foreign colonialists. Inadvertently, British colonialists were replaced by Nigerian colonialists. Corruption was learnt from foreigners and perfected to a higher degree by the Nigerian leaders. The absence of true patriotism, imbalanced and unpragmatic political education and progress has been jaundiced, while mediocrity, nepotism, and lately, religious bigotry has entered the arena of Nigeria’s misrule.

The First Republic failed, not because there was lack of true leaders, but because of the structural landmines, which hindered Nigeria’s chances of making progress. The recent call for restructuring in Nigeria towards true federalism was borne out of nostalgia of the partial success of such experiment during the First Republic. There were the charismatic and intelligent leaders such as Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello. But these heroes were more of champions of their respective tribes than they were of the nation. With such disunity, it was only a matter of time before pioneering attempt at democratic rule was doomed to collapse. Chinua Achebe’s ‘A man of the people’ literarily captures the mood and trend of corruption, exploitation and widening class gap between the “haves” and the “have not’s” in society, the looting spree, as well as larger than life behaviour of political leaders during the First Republic.

After the civil war, there emerged military and civilian governments, yet the lessons of the war appeared to have eluded the people’s psyche. They have today become desperate for power and acquisition of massive wealth, to the detriment of the poor and suffering masses. We now witness assassination of political opponents, ritual killings, sponsored armed robberies, bribery of judges, political thuggery, occult practices, stupendous embezzlement of funds and manipulated religious fanaticism.

Today, Nigeria begs for genuine leaders, who are passionate about change and progress for the common people; pragmatic leaders, capable of sacrificial service and innovative revolutions and reformations. What we need today is action and not theories. Gone are those days, when political party manifestoes defined the essence of the parties. This is not the common norm anymore. Rather, political thugs, financial inducements (vote buying) rigging of votes, and god-fatherism are ‘the order of the day’. We are, as it were, in deep trouble, as there are hardly servant leaders at the national level that can make a difference. It behooves us to pray and hope that God in His infinite mercy will raise servant leaders who are honest, independent minded, principled and progressive.

Nigeria experienced a few servant leaders during the First and Second Republics. The examples of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Michael Opara, Ahmadu Bello, Aminu Kano, Anthony Enahoro and Dennis Osadebay, among others, can be sited as leaders who had ideologies that are egalitarian, welfarist and grass root based. Awolowo recorded the most outstanding achievements, especially in the area of Free Education, first Television in Africa, industrialisation and employment, agriculture and road constructions. He put the Western Region ahead of others. Ahmadu Bello served the North without evidence of personal aggrandisement. Aminu Kano enjoyed support of the Talakawas (poor in society). The legacies of these servant leaders remain visible today. They are a far cry to the picture and modus operandi of contemporary political leaders, who behave without restraint. They revert to the people only when campaigning for elections. They borrow huge foreign loans they cannot repay during their tenure, and eventually pile great burden upon the public resources, to the extent that they impoverish the poor and lower class, which bear the brunt through over-taxation, unemployment and retrenchment, among others.

The justice system is structured to favour the rich and powerful in society. Whereas a thief who stole hundreds of Naira is jailed without hesitation, political leaders embezzle billions of Naira and are shielded from prosecution. And when they sometimes do, they opt for plea-bargaining. There are hardly servant leaders in Nigeria today. In fact, a poor man cannot fund any electioneering campaign. The system alienates them, due to the huge cost of political electioneering. Another anomaly that has become manifest is ethnic domination of political office by a section of the country in such a defiant manner that shows ethno-religious conquest. The above situation can be redressed and the quest for servant leaders can be revived, if Nigerian people resolve to embrace sincere positive change in attitude and political philosophy.

The Most Revd. Dr Nicholas D. Okoh is the Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) and the Chairman of the Ibru Centre Board of Directors

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