This piece gained its frames from a statement issued in Lagos, Nigeria by the Social And Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), a Lagos-Based Non-Governmental, as part of its programme to mark the annual World Human Rights Day held on December 10, 2020, and had as theme; Recover Better-Stand Up For Human Rights, was issued in Lagos, Nigeria.
The right group aside from chronicling how Nigeria as a nation ‘stands a better chance of not failing if it abides by the basic principle that has helped other countries progress; social cohesion through sharing the benefits of progress, equal opportunities for all, and meritocracy, with the best man or woman for the job, especially as leaders in government’, the statement posed but rhetorically these questions; how has Nigeria fared since independence in October 1960, in protecting the rights of its citizens? Secondly and more specific, how authentic has the present Federal Government of Nigeria been in keeping to its campaign promises made to Nigerians?
Indeed, while the first raises serious curiosity, the second left me lost in a maze of high voltage confusion as it elicits yet another question; what does being authentic in leadership entails?
Providing a sidelight to the meaning of authentic leadership, Bill George, Professor of management practice at Harvard University, United State of America, defined it as personalities at the helm of affairs of a nations, society, groups or organzations, reputed for demonstrating passion for their purpose, practice their values consistently and lead with their hearts as well as their head, establish long term relationship and have the self-discipline to get results. They know who they are’.
Without doubt, Bill George definition did posture SEJA’s interrogation as apt and solution-oriented. It in more than one way likened it to Russellian description of power as the presence of intention and production of effects that is transformative. To this piece, it reinforced the age long believe that advancing the course of the common good especially as it pertains to the economic good of the people should be the hallmark of every leader.
From the above explanation flows yet another concern; do leaders with such attributes exist here in Nigeria?
The answer may not be explicit. However, while this piece provides too short a space to explain and understand the above question, it is spaced enough to state that if committed to mind, and acted upon in this 2021, the question will act as a compass to building the Nigeria of our dreams. Particularly, as there are strong indications that Nigeria’s challenge is predicated on inadequacies of, and failure of public office holders to generate breakthrough ideas and exacerbated by comprehensive incompetence to learn what the job of leadership is all about, made worse by total absence of creative/innovative thinking and superior leadership communication. Further compounding the challenge is the lack of political will to domesticate leadership lessons learned abroad by the nation’s handlers.
To explain this fact, evidence abound that Nigerians in the days of the oil boom in the 1970s witnessed the peak of economic successes. But when it seemed that the country would end up controlling the whole world, something suddenly prevented it, the problem is that we failed to apply what we have learned from this success to inform national policies. This brought a marked economic decline and paved way for other countries to overtake us both socially and economically.
This decline in Nigeria’s socio-economic growth, and accelerated development of other nations are traceable to the existence of smart and banal leadership styles. The smart leaders that held sway of now developed countries spelt out every detail of their nation’s growth strategy into the future. They planned everything; they knew the job of leadership. The banal leaders on the other hands never got the big picture but only concentrated on the boring little details. They are good at analyzing the nation’s political and socioeconomic challenges with clarity but could not see the solution.
This is the painful tale about our country.
To those who do not believe that the problem of poverty in Nigeria is caused by the failure in the leadership system should first take a glance at the next line.
Chinua Achebe in his book The Trouble with Nigeria wrote: “Nigerians are corrupt because the system under which they live today makes corruption easy and profitable; they will cease to be corrupt when corruption is made difficult and inconvenient…. There is nothing wrong with Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else…. The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.
Matthew Hassan Kukah, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese also shares a similar view.
Apart from his recent Christmas sermon entitled; A Nation In Search Of Vindication, where he among other things noted that ‘President Buhari deliberately sacrificed the dreams of those who voted for him to what seemed like a programme to stratify and institutionalize northern hegemony by reducing others in public life to second class status’, the Catholic cleric had in previous days expressed worry that Government in Nigeria especially since the oil boom of the mid-seventies has deteriorated to banditry and outright robbery”. This remark is based on the backdrop that the more money the country made from petroleum resources, the richer the leaders become at the detriment of the majority of the populace who become poorer with such wealth. This mismanagement of resources and poverty of the country is without doubt attributable to poor leadership.
At a time, he queried; could you imagine what Ajaokuta steel could have been like if Nigerian leaders had any sense of continuity and patriotism? Can you imagine the impact on our economy if the refineries have been working efficiently? Can you imagine what our railway system could have been like if those whom we have been saddled with have the presence of mind to carry on with this project? Can you imagine what our situation could have been like with the aviation industry today?
In the face of all these leadership challenges, another question that is as important as the piece itself is; what strategy can arrest these ugly narratives? Or allowed to go on together just for the nation to reap whatever fruit that comes in the nearest future? God forbids!
Beyond this mere rejection, the nation- leaders and masses alike need to reassess their priorities. The leaders/government must develop ability to give every citizen a stake in the country and its future by subsidizing things that improves the earning powers of citizens- education, housing and public health. This should be followed by placement of emphasis on, and understanding that the economy would look after itself if democracy is protected; human rights adequately taken care of, and the rule of law strictly adhered to. The masses on their part must develop the keen interest in holding their leaders accountable.
This is the time to domesticate what we learned abroad.
Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Cordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social And Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos.