The arrest and subsequent incarceration of Nnamdi Kanu – founder of Radio Biafra and leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) – by state security operatives some months ago expectedly stirred the Hornet’s nest as demonstrated by the mass protests and condemnations – from within and outside the country – that trailed the actions of the Nigerian authorities. Across the South-East and South-South geo-political zones of Nigeria – parts of the country that fall within the historical “Bight of Biafra” – the disciples of the struggle for the establishment of an autonomous State of Biafra poured into the streets en mass in a symbolic show of comradeship for the young separatist leader and his gospel of “Biafra Secession” from the Nigerian union.
In the midst of the hullabaloo generated by the events of the last couple of months, consequent to Nk’s arrest and detention, some pertinent questions have continued begging for answers: What is so special about NK? Why were millions of people, majority of who had never met this young man physically, prepared to die for him? How was it possible for somebody without the paraphernalia of public office able to garner the volume of followership that the country’s political elites have failed to muster over the years? These are just a sprinkling of pertinent questions NK’s leadership persona has thrown up.
This piece is not a blanket support for secession. Neither is it meant to glorify secessionists. Rather, it is an attempt to dispassionately share some salient lessons gleaned from the recent pro-Biafra agitations in Nigeria’s South-East and South-South geo-political zones. It juxtaposes the leadership qualities of the dramatis personae – Mr. Nnamdi Kanu – with those of Nigeria’s political elites; an objective interrogation and exposition of the leadership question in Nigeria – one of the core challenges constricting the success of the Nigerian State system in its current composition and operation.
It would not be out of order to posit that the general camaraderie exhibited by the passionate champions of a free Biafra during recent agitations for the release of Mr. NK was unprecedented in Nigeria’s recent history. For the very first time in recent memory, a people were willing to lay down their lives for a young man they saw as their champion and liberator; a Moses supposedly mandated by divine oracular fiat to free them from the fetters of marginalization. It was a show of genuine loyalty and belief in a leader’s vision and mission for his people; a readiness by a people to follow without questioning – commodities that have been alien to these parts in recent times. For the first time since the passing on of the legendary warlord and arrowhead of the first quest for an autonomous state of Biafra, the great Ikemba of Nnewi, Chief Odimegwu Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, a new champion emerged to lead another charge for the actualization of that same dream.
NK, through a combination of sheer audacity, sagacity, charisma and guts has been able to seduce faithful disciples to the Biafra cause. He has captivated the minds of both the young and old, captured their imagination and created a mighty army of patriots committed to the actualization of an ideal. This crusader extraordinaire has become the compass guiding a people’s quest for a new order. He has been able to effortlessly convince his followers about the significance of his vision – something Nigerian leaders have failed to achieve over the years, despite the stupendous resources at their disposal. It is noteworthy that without the privileges and other pecks of political office, NK has been able to develop and execute a philosophy that has metamorphosed into an active ideology; a living mantra that millions have keyed into; a course of action that many are even willing to die for. Without the use of state force, NK has been able to massively mobilize multitudes into a fledging movement.
Through his sacrificial disposition to the Biafra cause, NK has been able to endear himself to his followers. For the first time in years, they see a man willing to give his all for the actualization of a long-held dream; a man ready to be martyred in his quest to transform a utopia into a practical reality; a man marching on the frontlines urging his compatriots on, despite the mighty odds stacked against them – odds that would intimidate the bravest of men. This altruistic readiness to die for a cause was practically demonstrated by his decision to leave the safety and comfort of the United Kingdom and come down to Nigeria – the battleground of the struggle – to join his other compatriots. Who wouldn’t follow such a leader?
Compared to NK, the crop of leaders – rulers, is more appropriate – that Nigeria has produced over the years have consistently failed to attract genuine followership. Nigeria has been cursed with rulers who lack the key ingredient from which genuine leaders are molded: willing followership. A principal office holder without followers is not a leader, but a mere figure head without substance. To lead, one must have followers: individuals who see you as their shepherd; a people who believe you have what it takes to see them through any turbulence.
Apart from the glorious days of the founding fathers of the republic, when the country was blessed with true patriots who passionately sailed her ship of state, the remaining part of the country’s 55 years history – as a politically independent state – have been gory years dominated by the intransigencies of some of the most reprehensible, clueless, directionless and heartless crop of rulers who have consistently navigated the country’s ship of state off course, steering it towards avoidable icebergs. This wacky, cocky, crass group of yokels have led the country into a dank, hazy, mazy labyrinth from where there seems to be no escape; bloody scallywags who have ruined Nigeria and pushed her to the precipice; centrifugal characters who have cannibalized the very ideals on which the republic was founded.
When was the last time Nigeria had true leaders in the mold of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Tafawa Balewa, Chief Anthony Enahoro et al? When was the last time Nigeria had forces of nature charting the course of its history like the iconoclastic champions of old who fought and died for its unity and growth? When was the last time Nigeria had leaders with massive followership that Nigerians are ready to die for? When was the last time…?
Nigerians have been estranged from their supposed leaders for the larger part of their history. Rather than mortal leaders, they’ve been at the mercy of human divinities with cathedral-like egos; graspers from lowly backgrounds with several talents for mischief. These political majesties act like the gods on mount Olympus. These self-ordained Januses claim to know it all. These absolute Monarchs act with the sort of pomposity and regality that defies common sense. They are driven, calculating machines that live in a world where everything is supposedly possible. That is why they have traditionally stayed aloof from the larger body politic. That is why they have the effrontery to push the people around. It is this superiority complex – this air of divinity – that has defined their relations with Nigerians over the years. This lack of communication, this lack of chemistry between the rulers and the ruled, has made it impossible for any sort of synergy to develop between these two mutually antagonistic forces.
The ricochet effects of Nigeria’s leadership deficits litter the country’s landscape, manifesting in form of stunted development, asphyxiating corruption, dearth of basic amenities, grinding poverty, cyclical unemployment, ethno-religious animosities, emasculating insecurity and other avoidable constrictions to the enjoyment of the good life by the populace. For any society to grow, its people must have true leaders who are committed towards achieving their common aspirations. For any society to progress there must be people prepared to chart the course of development and growth. The Sugar Candy Mountain of possibilities is reachable: it takes large doses of sacrifice, doggedness and commitment for a people to reach such Olympian heights. Until Nigeria begins to develop quality leadership that its people are ready to willingly follow, it will continue subsisting in the tar pit of confusion it currently wallows in.
As has been admirably demonstrated by Mr. NK in his relentless struggle for the emancipation of Biafra, Nigeria needs patriotic leaders of similar mien who serve as concentric points around whom the people’s dreams coalesce; not disintegrative forces masquerading as messiahs. Nigeria needs leaders who are prepared to give their all – even their lives – for the unity, peace, development and growth of the country; selfless, dedicated banner bearers – not mingy, self-seeking demagogues. Nigeria needs zealous leaders committed to upholding the ideals of the founding fathers: a country constructed on the firm foundations of liberty, justice, equality, peace and the rule of law. Nigeria needs indefatigable and fearless people’s generals who can awaken the resilient Nigerian spirit. Nigeria needs true heroes who talk, breathe, eat, drink and live Nigeria.
Whether anybody wants to accept it or not, some practical lessons on leadership can be learnt by the current drivers of the Nigerian State system from the impressive leadership style of Mr. Nnamdi Kanu. Objectively speaking, professed enemies can learn useful lessons from each other, no matter how much they hate themselves. Take it or leave it, the operators of the Nigerian state system have a lot of lessons on leadership to learn from this young man, no matter how much they hate him.
God bless Nigeria!