On Leadership

by E. Terfa Ula-Lisa Esq

To lead, the dictionary says means “to go before or with to show the way” (Webster’s). From the above definition, one can deduce that a leader is a man of ideas, one who crafts a vision and direction for his people, one who goes before or with them and they follow him because; 1) he knows where he is headed, 2) it is a good place, 3) it would do the followers some good. A leader should be able to galvanize his people to action, not by charisma alone, but by the sheer persuasiveness (or conviction) of his/her vision. Charisma in the leader, on the other hand is not in and of itself bad since it is always a great public relations head start if the leader is personable or charismatic as opposed to being dull or boorish. But charisma alone is not leadership.

Test of Leadership

The test of leadership, however, is not in the flaunting of a mega-watt smile or the ability to pump flesh or work the crowd or win/manipulate elections in a failed (or nearly failing) state. The true test of leadership is the ability of the individual to rise up to the occasion; to devise methods and systems and manage resources to effectively address certain challenges and enhance development. Alex Akinyele, Information Minister under IBB, recently in Washington D.C., when asked why he recommends his old boss to be the next President had the following discourse reproduced hereunder:

But after political stability, we need economic stability. We need social stability. I feel very strongly that we should look at the credentials of General Babangida. He can effectively take over Nigeria,.Ours is not the politics of philosophy or ideology. It’s “from where does Akinyele come?” After that, it’s “what is his religion?” These are the things that destroy political leadership in Nigeria. Some people in Nigeria now say that the Yoruba man who does not support Obasanjo is a fool. He is a traitor. That is the nature of our politics. Until we can get that out of the way, we cannot get the best for Nigeria.

How would electing General Babangida help overcome those divisions?

>General Babangida is a very unusual Nigerian. He is a military man and a northerner, in spite of which the southerners, the easterners, everybody accepts him. It’s not because he was head of state but because of his charisma [that he can] detribalize Nigeria. He is very sympathetic. He listens. He has a way of putting the right peg in the right hole. He has a personal friend in every local government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He knows all the people and the people know him. On top of that, he is a super-strategist. When you talk about the economy, he knows how to make it work. It worked when he was there. And he is a super-administrator. – Culled from: http://allafrica.com/

With that kind of reasoning do you wonder why Nigeria is in the type of mess you find it? I have always considered Mr. Akinyele to be better educated than the band of military officers in whose government he served, so one expects a little more from him. One needs to remember that it is in the public records that on IBB’s watch, we had human rights abuses where journalists and others were arrested and imprisoned indefinitely without trial while Akinyele was Information Minister. We did not hear him protest. He did not resign.

Regarding the economic wizardly of IBB, we had the IMF debate, SAP, SFEM, and then FEM (Regular as well as Parallel Market). For those who do not understand why we claim IBB institutionalized corruption; on IBB’s watch the ‘Black Market’ became the state approved ‘Parallel Market’. His voodoo economics enriched the dubious street vendors who by ’round-tripping’ the Dollar purchased from the banks through bids using their insider connections thereby devaluing the Naira. These street vendors of the Dollar were and are often agents of top government officials and connected Bank Directors. IBB himself, while in government as absolute ruler, was publicly quoted to say he did not know why the economy of Nigeria had not crumbled. He was clueless as they say in the streets. Furthermore, IBB is not known currently to be bullish about any plans or strategies for the economy, or any socio-political paths to take Nigeria to the next level. We understand that his cronies would want once again to strut the corridors of power, wielding the same power they so painfully abused. We have moved on since then, currently looking outside the Nigerian club of re-cycled politicians for leadership. We would expect a leader (or our leaders) in the next dispensation commencing 2007 to be a person(s) with enough chutzpah to rise up to the occasion and to right the wrongs (and there are many wrongs) and do not need to rely on the perpetrators-in-chief who are unrepentant to suddenly turn around and fix Nigeria.

Addressing Issues

In the traditional African society, we have always had a forum where the elders in council sat, breaking kola-nut, sipping palm-wine and/or sharing snuff. The elders always raised, confronted, debated and thrashed out pertinent societal issues. It is worth mentioning that success in these fori was not determined by the wealth or charisma of the individual. Rather the voice of reason seasoned with hoary-headed wisdom always prevailed. Decision making in this manner has always prevailed for the good of all because the decisions were ethically sound. One does not therefore understand the logic of current Nigerian elder party men who would cut a deal with any old devil much against all that is good and true. The biggest crisis of leadership presently is the fact that Nigeria with a plethora of resources, great land mass and an enterprising and really hopeful and patient and resilient people living in poverty amidst plenty natural and mineral resources because of mismanagement. No politician has taken responsibility for the wrongs. If IBB and the rest of them were so good, how did we end up among the poorest of the earth and the second most corrupt nation on earth?

One is further amazed at the contrasting life of Public Servants in Nigeria which was/is subsidized to the nth degree: Free Government House with paid servants and gardeners, free government car and driver, free utilities, entertainment allowance, plus a yearly trip for medical check-up overseas at government expense in addition to the salary. Yet these same Public Servants are the ones who have systematically looted the treasury as well as stymied efficiency by insisting on bribes and kickbacks. The salaries of all Public Servants from the President on down are gazetted and as Public Servants they are by law forbidden from taking gifts while in office. How on earth would these creatures build the multiple mansions dotting every hilltop and all around the Government Reserved Areas (GRA) in every state? How one can build a 50-bedroom mansion having worked for government all his adult life boggles the imagination.


Purveyors of graft and “Wanabe Leaders” waiting in the wings for the opportunity to take their turns at the “National Cake” move from the premise that all Nigerians are corruptible. Some Nigerian professionals I encountered assured me that once you have money (regardless of how it was obtained), you can “settle” everyone. Ken Lay of Enron fame, John Rigas of Adelphia, Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco, Martha Stewart, Saddam Hussein and President Aristide of Haiti, all had money and tremendous influence that did not save them. Currently, there is a worldwide trend against corruption in governments as in business and it is blowing all the way to Nigeria. New laws are seeking to attack and eliminate corruption in Democracies and Emerging Societies using the twin pillars of transparency and accountability (a Nigerian Governor has felt the squeeze already). While the trend may be new, the international community watches with bated breath to see the next group of world leaders caught in the cross-eyes of the anti-corruption police.


Nigeria for long operated without a compass. Nigeria’s fickle leaders have been selected more by default than by real design because there have been no parameters to measure minimum expectations. Going forward, things need to change. In determining the suitability or otherwise of a candidate for any office, especially the Presidency, we need to scrutinize the persons regarding:

· Vision
· Past antecedents
· Integrity

Vision looks to the future, where is the person headed that he desires to take Nigeria with him. You would not give any charismatic charming face a Carte Blanc who might turn out to be a complete idiot groping in the darkness of modern government. One needs to know where he/she intends to lead others to. That is why we need to engage the potential contestants in dialogue about their plans pre-2007. We need to debate the feasibility of these plans now for two reasons. a) It weeds out those without a vision; and b) it creates a record of policy statements with which we may compare to determine progress or the lack of it to make them accountable. There can be no secret plans for greatness in a Democracy. The electorate is sold on the programs and not phantom good intentions or the fear of the conspiracy theorists.

How do we determine that the candidate would if given the chance deliver the goods? What is the individual’s record in the public service or wherever he/she had served previously? The examination of the person’s antecedents would ensure that we weed out the non-performers or those who had previously abused public trust. It would also ensure quality control in ambitious persons who desire public office to give their best in service. If he/she is believable, does he/she have integrity? In our pre-colonial Village Democracies, before the British institution of Chieftaincy stools in Tiv and Igboland for instance, character and integrity were very important requirements of leadership.

The Press has an awesome responsibility that should not be taken too lightly in this dispensation. The so-called leaders are not cult-figures, nor are they tin gods, the press should ask them regarding domestic as well as international issues:

· What do you plan regarding unemployment?
· What about Energy supply?
· What solutions to Niger Delta?
· How about citizenship rights of “settlers”?
· How would you generate revenue?
· What about Corruption in government?
· What do you think about Transparency and Accountability?
· Do you or any member of your family have any houses and bank accounts overseas?
· What is the source of your wealth?

These are honest questions that all the aspiring leaders should be able to answer without depending on the prepared text of an analyst. There are no hidden blueprints in the age of the internet.

You may also like

Leave a Comment