When Leaders Exemplify Change…

by Dr. Wunmi Akintide

It is one of the world’s greatest leaders of all ages, Mahatma Gandhi who had crafted this timeless quotation which is even more true today than when it was first uttered by the world acclaimed champion of non-violence whose life and works had inspired another icon named Martin Luther King. When leaders live out the change in the world they wish to see, such leaders win and the whole world wins, big time. The precept cuts across national boundaries regardless of how small or big the country may be. India is a huge country, Singapore is not. If you can imagine the ripple effects of Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership in India all these years, you may appreciate how the selfless leadership of Lee Kuan Yu has also changed Singapore for good. Why? The simple explanation is because the two leaders have, in different ways, exemplified the change in the world they had wanted to see.

I don’t care where those leaders come from, and what kind of power they hold, be it spiritual or political, the end result is always the same.. The Lord Jesus Himself was a shining example of that. Jesus was thirty years old, when he began his mission, and he had only three years to carry out the mission before he was nailed to the cross in what is now called the Passion of Jesus as depicted by the great Mel Gibson in his once-in-a-life-time movie. But in those few years Jesus had lived out the true meaning of the time-honored observation Gandhi had made. Jesus had made himself the very change in the world he had wished to see. He had done it, when, at the peak of his crucifixion, and just before he gave up the ghost, He had said to God Almighty, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing”. He had all the power in the world to summarily wipe out his persecutors and tormentors, in a twinkle of an eye, but he had restrained himself from doing so, because he had wanted to exemplify the notion of Sin and Forgiveness by making himself the public example, that you love your enemies and pray for them rather than wish them evil. By so doing, Jesus had made himself the very foundation pillar for Christianity around the world. At the mention of His name, for that reason among others, every tongue shall confess and every knee shall bow” . I am not making it up. That is what the Holy Bible says.

That said, I now wish to explore, in some detail, how a few leaders around the world have also exemplified the true meaning of Gandhi’s extraordinary statement. Just imagine what America the Beautiful, would have been today, if you discount the vision and the empowerment qualities of her founding fathers starting with George Washington, the first President of this Nation and some of his successors in office like Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman to mention just a few.

As I hinted, earlier on, such leaders can be found in every country and in other walks of life. I am not suggesting that it is only in politics that you find such leaders. No Sir. We do find them anywhere you look, in the Academia, in the News Media and the Entertainment Industries around the world. You find such leaders in the Public and Private Sectors of every country. You find such leaders in the Judiciary, and in Churches, Mosques and Buddhist temples around the world. Such leaders always try, as much as humanly possible, to exemplify the change in their world they wish to see. They are men of principle and conviction who passionately practice what they preach. Most of them drive themselves harder than they do, their followers. They are, more often than not, men of steel and iron discipline.

The smooth transition of power from one party to another, and from one individual political leader to another which has now become the hall mark of America today, as the World’s only super power, could be traced back to the father of the nation, George Washington who had voluntarily given up power after laying a sound foundation that the future generation of American leaders have come to view as the gold standard for leadership in this country. George Washington has taught American leaders of his and subsequent generations to appreciate that power belongs to the people, and that if a leader has to choose between self and national interest, the choice is clear. The youngest American President and the first Catholic ever elected, J. F. Kennedy said that much, when asked, if his faith would not get in the way of his loyalty to his country. His answer was unequivocal. As far as he was concerned, America and her national interest and stability come first.

Albert Gore the Democratic Party candidate who had clearly won the popular vote in 2000 by more than 500,000 votes, but narrowly lost the Electoral College Vote, had quickly accepted the verdict of the highest Court in the Land, not to drag on the potentially divisive and embarrasing stalemate, and to declare George Bush the winner, as mandated by the US Constitution. Because Al Gore had wanted to be the change in the world he had wished to see, he had no problems picking up the phone and conceding victory to Bush, while much of the third world had watched the spectacle in total disbelief. It was a virtuoso performance that demonstrated the profound commitment of Al Gore to the stability of this country rather than his own selfish interest. If the same scenario had played itself out in any of the third world countries, I guarantee you that the crisis would never have ended on such a positive note. As a matter of fact, the situation would have provoked so much bloodshed and mayhem.

One cannot help but recall the contributions of Thomas Jefferson, the man who had volunteered to edit and single-handedly put finishing touches to the final draft of the American Constitution which some have described as the 8th wonder of the world. The American Constitution is about the greatest document ever put together by man. The clarion call “We the People” has found its way into the Lexicon of Constitution-making the world over The Constitution states that men are born equal, with certain inalienable rights, and so on and so forth. The document was so original and authentic in its universality. In more than 200 years there have only been a few amendments of note, added by other generation of Americans who were simply following the shining examples of the founding fathers by simply representing the needed changes in their country th

ey wish to see.

I cannot now recall how many Nigerian Constitutions there have been in forty-five years of our existence as an independent nation. Some of those Constitutions have been compiled in secrecy, and smuggled in at night when no one was paying attention, and few of them were impositions from outside our country. Right now as we speak, the Constitution is being tinkered with again by the so-called National Confab summoned by our current President who had again refused to let our nation have a Constitution we can truly call our own. In a year or two, the same Constitution will be set aside or jettisoned for failing to fully address the structural problems of our Nation.

The great Abraham Lincoln is a classic. Here was a slave owner with vested interest in the slave trade and the huge benefits going to him from it. But because Abraham Lincoln had wanted to represent the change in the world he had wished to see, he had led the movement to “emancipate” the slaves despite huge opposition from a cross section of the country. So principled and committed was he to the national interest that he was willing to die for his belief. Of course he died in the hands of an assassin, but he is today viewed as one of the greatest American Presidents of all times.

You could say the same of FDR, the man who had seen the need to join hands with the great Winston Churchill, and Sterlin in bailing out Europe and much of the world from the clutches of the world’s greatest tyrant,Adolf Hitler , when it mattered the most. He, FDR had made the move that had led to the formation of NATO and the League of Nations which has metamorphosed into the United Nations of today. The man had achieved a lot more than that. His Administration also pioneered Social Security which had sought to provide a safety net for the poor and downtrodden in America Society. He had wanted all Americans, rich and poor, black and white, to be able to share and live out the American dream.

The program was supposed to be a temporary palliative designed to tide over the people over the Depression following the Second World War, but because it was fundamentally helpful to the Nation, subsequent Presidents could not jettison the program up till tomorrow. Harry Truman the man who had succeeded FDR and other Presidents including the current one could not go back on it. So FDR had not only shaped his own Presidency, he had fundamentally shaped the presidency of his successors, in very profound ways, because his presidency has symbolized the change in America he had wanted to see.

I will be less than honest, if I limit this analysis to only political leaders in America. How about religious leaders and preachers like Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Robert Schuler, L .D. Jakes, to mention a few, and what they have all been doing to spread the gospel to all the corners of the Earth. Billy Graham in particular has more or less become the Pope of the Evangelicals around the world. I repeat, no preacher truly represents the change in the world he wishes to see than Billy Graham. The man preaches Faith and Humility, even though he moves in the circle of Presidents, but he has never lost his touch with God and the common man, because he, at close to 90 or more, truly represents the change in the world he wishes to see.

When leaders refuse to be the change in the world they wish to see, they not only lose, their nation and the whole world lose as well. I recall with some nostalgia the exploits of leaders like Chairman Mao of China, Ho Chi Ming of Vietnam, Josep Tito of Yugoslavia, Winston Churchill of Great Britain, Madiba Nelson Mandela and Mr Clarke of South Africa, Nwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, and the great Martin Luther King. If you study the lives of all these great leaders, one thing that is common to them is their willingness and conviction to truly represent the change in their country they wish to see. They not only talk the talk, they walk the walk. They truly practice what they preach and use themselves as role models.

I choose to use Mandela as the model for the group in this article judging by what he had done in South Africa. Here was a man who had spent all productive years fighting Apartheid. He was imprisoned at Robin Island for upwards of 27 years for what he believed in and he never wavered or caved in, because he represented the change in South Africa he had wished to see. He was supposed to be bitter and bent on seeking vengeance, once he got to power in South Africa. Rather than do that, he had become the greatest symbol of reconciliation, integration and unity never before seen in the Black Continent. Once he had completed his term in office, he had voluntarily relinquished power, and groomed a successor. He had made sure the opposition in his country was given some dignity in playing their role. The man instinctively knew that a well organized and informed opposition was clearly an asset in the type of Democracy he had envisaged for South Africa.

His immediate predecessor in office Mr Clarke was also an embodiment of respectability by the way he had moved from being the leader and President of South Africa to becoming a proud leader of the Opposition in a Government headed by his former opponents. What had happened in South Africa was a first in the world, and it happened because of the caliber of leadership provided by Nelson Mandela and Mr. Clarke, followed up by Thabo Mbeki who has upheld the Mandela principle with passion and conviction. It was a wonderful experiment the whole world is very proud of.

In 1995 when Tony Blair first became the youngest Prime Minister in Britain, he had come to office determined to follow the Gandhi precept to the letter. He presented himself and his new Labor Party as the new alternative to the Conservative Party, and he delivered on what he had promised. Blair will be remembered as an imposing figure, the man who has saved the British Left from socialist irrelevance as rece

ntly observed by Joe Klein of the New York Times. He has managed to turn the New Labor from a Minority Party into a Majority Party that has combined prudent free-market economics with increased spending on social programs, thus achieving a reform of the British welfare state. It was a change the British needed, and Tony Blair has exemplified that change in what should have been his ten years in office had he completed his mandatory two terms of five years each before calling for new elections.

I wish to end this piece by stating how much Nigeria needs such leaders in an effort to save our country. Good leaders come to office with a mind set to solve old problems and make changes they wish to see. You have to seriously wonder about the success and competence of our leaders when you see that most of the problems we all faced at Independence and after have remained virtually unsolved. As a matter of fact, some of those problems have gotten worse. Take the issue of Education. It was the best thing going for our country when Nigeria got her independence from Britain. Today it is a different story. The standard of education has taken a nose dive. It is true there are many more Universities, but most of them are worthless, to tell you the truth, and the caliber of graduates they produce is a far cry from what we were used to. Unemployment has become a major problem, and it is now virtually impossible for University graduates to find jobs any where in Nigeria, talk less of Secondary School graduates. Electricity has remained epileptic at best, and the cost of food has hit the roof. Portable water is nowhere to be found in any of our urban centers across the nation. The prices of Petroleum products including Gas and Petrol are unaffordably high, and the roads and Highway networks are nothing to write home about. Of course, Corruption, Crime and Violence have become a running cancer. in our country Telephone communication is about the only area our nation seems to have done very well, but that is so, because of the revolution in Cell phone technology around the world which has spilled over to our country. Nigeria is doing much worse today, all things considered, because most of our leaders do not exemplify the change in our country they wish to see.

For how can one explain the frequent practice of so many of our Governors and political leaders stealing public money and smuggling them into foreign Banks in Europe and America, while they could be investing such funds in Nigeria to develop our economy and to establish industries and create jobs. It is an unfortunate development, and it has all arisen because most of our leaders lack the patriotism and commitment of men like Mahatma Gandhi, and some of the world leaders profiled in this article.

I rest my case.

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Anonymous May 23, 2005 - 2:32 am

The Author has made good analysis about Nigerian problem.We need visionary leaders who can champion the common interest of the nation rather than self.

adejarelegal@yahoo.com May 17, 2005 - 5:25 pm

Your comment was: Our country is indeed NOT lacking in VISIONARIES of the calibre you mentioned.Muritala Muhammed started a revolution but was assasinated.Buhari continued but was ousted. Gov Jakande's achievements in Housing and Education in Lagos State remain unmatched till date.Abubakar Rimi and Balarabe Musa tranformed the states the administered.Ditto Dr D.K. Olukoya in Ministry, J.I.C. Taylor in Judiciary and Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka(who wrote as well as waxed a record)Gov Odili has made indedible positive change on the lives of Rivers people.Getting the best to attain leadership is the problem.Military rule (which worked for Ghana) has been a collosal disaster for Nigeria.The social and economic deprivations outlined in your excellent piece were the excuses they gave for toppling civilians yet they've made no difference or changes. 15 years after Babangida rightly banned them (including himself) they insist on coming back as civilian rulers deploying stolen funds.Today we are forced to give office to the richest man(except OBJ) because they impoverished us so much – sidelining the Ghandis Nyereres and Mandelas among us.Unless the bondage of direct and indirect military rule is broken or the Leviathan otherwise emerges the visionaries among us would be long dead along with the rest before any changes come and our country's crisis will become a UN issue – God forbid.


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