Leadership and the Rest of Us

I woke up one morning to read a soothing news item: Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, Nigeria’s President, had finally decided to visit Chibok – that poor, defenceless village in Borno State from where over two hundred of our school girls were abducted by Boko Haram terrorists. Having visited places like Nyanya where, barely 24 hours before the said girls were abducted, the same group had killed scores of our brothers and sisters – maiming many more, I was elated to hear that Mr. President had made the good decision to visit that remote village to assure its people that he was not only the president for city dwellers, and that he held every Nigerian dearly at heart, irrespective of tribe, class or location. My joy was however turned into frustration when, the next day, I learnt that Mr. President had advised himself against what his advisers might have considered a suicidal visit. Does this portray our President in a good light? I think not.

Some weeks before the Nyanya tragedy, Mr. President had, on the day he was presenting the new members of his cabinet — the ministers he chose to replace some of those he had sacked, told the whole world that more ministers would be announced the following week. That was the end of the story. Nothing has been heard of that subject again. Now, the pertinent question is, does President Goodluck Jonathan want to be believed by Nigerians? I think so. However, the message he keeps sending, besides his faulty methodology, says something different. One expects every official statement of the presidency to either be a restatement of the law or promotion of a policy. Our President cannot afford not to be taken seriously by the generality of the population.

Summarising the duties of a leader, the Holy Bible, in the book of 1st Chronicle, 29:12, states that power and might are in the hands of the leader for him to make others great, and to give strength to every citizen. In all spheres of life, a leader must be a source of reassurance, certainty, order and stability. Whether in social, economic or political life, a leader must be decisive, directive and adventurous.

The gulf between those who believe that what our country needs are good leaders rather than good governance and those who lay emphasis on good governance may never be bridged. For example, a great mind like Chinua Achebe died believing that the problem with Nigeria was poor leadership. On the other hand, legally-minded people insist that good governance is all that Nigeria and, indeed, other third world countries need to propel them to greatness. For example, on her visit to Africa in 2009, Hilary Clinton was quoted as saying that what Africa needed was not more strong men, but more strong democratic institutions that would stand the test of time. How true! Without good governance, no amount of oil or aid, no amount of effort can guarantee Nigeria’s success. But with good governance, nothing can stop Nigeria.

The required personal characteristics of a good leader are different from those prescribed for – or identified with – good governance. Governance is concerned with the process of government and not the quality of its leadership. The focus is on how public institutions conduct public affairs and manage public resources. Governance is good when the government’s decision-making process is guided by strict principles, or when it meets prescribed or imaginary standards. In the light of this reality, many believe that a country experiences good governance when its governance is participatory, consensus-oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive. Good governance puts a premium on the rule of law; it is responsive to the present and future needs of the organization or society; it exercises prudence in policy-setting and decision-making, and ensures that the best interests of all stakeholders are taken into account.

John M. Kamesnsky, a Senior Research Fellow for IBM Centre for the Business of Government listed the following characteristics of highly successful Government Leaders: Self-awareness, authenticity, reputation, ethical behaviour, willingness to listen, ability to communicate and optimism. According to him, a good leader must be able to appropriately assess and rate himself or herself so as to take responsibilities for his or her failures. Blaming others for one’s mistakes or blunders is not a characteristic of a good leader. To be authentic is to lead with love and compassion. The ability to empathize and connect with the people one leads helps in building credibility, and gives confidence to the followers that their leader can do the job no matter how difficult the task may look. A leader must also establish a reputation of trust and believability. He must be generally viewed by his followers as one whose words can be taken seriously and trusted. The followers must trust that their leader can, most of the time, do the right thing and act for the common good. A leader must be a good listener. This does not mean just listening to what others say, but it entails caring and accepting in good faith what others say about their leader. The best correctors of – or reality check for – a leader may be the leader’s critics. Even though America’s first President, George Washington, averred that government is not reason or eloquence but a force, to be effective, a leader must create effective ways of communicating his or her vision directly through incentives or through symbolic acts. Finally, a leader must have a “can do” outlook – even in the face of daunting challenges.

On paper, Nigeria’s constitutional framework provides for good governance. With the exception of the judiciary, the personnel of the democratic and government organs are “elected” by the people and can be removed by the people. The independence of the judiciary is ensured. Nigeria has about the most competent and vibrant judiciary in the Commonwealth of Nations. In spite of the often unjustified vilification of the judiciary, one is proud to note that our country’s judiciary ranks amongst the most competent, most hard working and, of course, the very best on the African continent. Having travelled – and having been exposed – to many jurisdictions on the continent, one can restate this position with no apology. The same goes for the Nigerian press.

While the importance of good governance cannot be faulted or diminished in any way, the importance of good leadership cannot be over-emphasized. If, in my view, Nigeria had had sustained qualitative leadership to drive governance, the country would have been more developed and would have been able to strengthen and deepen the bonds of unity among the various nationalities that make up the country. This view may be seem somewhat sweeping; it may call for apology to that insignificant number of leaders who have in some way exhibited appreciable degrees of the qualities of good leadership. For clarification, the focus here is on leadership at the level of the central or Federal Government. Accordingly, I can repeat that if Nigeria had had a good leadership at any time of its history since Independence, the country would not have had Boko Haram; and hundreds of the country’s innocent children would not have been killed in their school or kidnapped from their school in Chibok. The girls abducted in Chibok would have been sufficiently assured of good education and a safe environment to actualize their God-given talents. But for the habitually incompetent and inept leadership at the centre, Nigeria’s educational sector would have developed extensively enough to capture and retain in the country the billions of foreign exchange that has been lost to foreign countries over the years by parents and guardians seeking qualitative education for their children and wards in foreign countries. The poor leadership of the Federal Government is, evidently, responsible for Nigeria&

#8217;s huge and leading contribution to India and Egypt’s robust health tourism.

I blame the leadership of the country for the public apathy and disconnect between the public and government. The leadership is too concerned with the conversion of public wealth to personal wealth, expending too much energy and time in the promotion of self. The Nigerian leadership is too busy taking care of self to pay any attention to the promotion of the common good. Our leadership is deaf to reason, choosing to listen to sycophants more than patriotic and well-meaning individuals. There is hardly a day one does not read paid adverts by horse men of the leadership attacking, in caustic terms, critics of the Government.

Nigeria is heaving under the heavy burden of a leadership moulded by self-destroying promptings of sycophants.

Written by
Sam Kargbo
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