By Ayo Baje
“Real leaders are happy to zig while others zag. They understand that in an era of hyper-competition and non-stop disruption, the only way to stand out from the crowd is to stand for something special.” – Bill Taylor, from article “Do You Pass the Leadership Test?”
For eons, the long-suffering Nigerians have been desirous of and indeed deserving quality political leadership that is prepared for the onerous tasks of governance. More propelled by patriotic actions than by wishful words, these should be people-oriented, pragmatic, peace-loving, cost-effective and nationalistic. Indeed, we have waited for decades for leaders who would sacrifice their whims and caprices for the good of the nation.
But most unfortunately, the citizens have had to battle with, and endure persistent poor leadership service from the local government through the state to the federal level, that turns up every election year like a recurrent ugly decimal. Sad to note too, that this has been unjustifiably supported by the aberrant military-imposed 1999 constitution (as amended). And it has foisted on us an over-bloated federal centre, giving one man enormous dictatorial powers of might-is-right!
What have defined the power-poaching antics of our crop of politicians are the Machiavellian principles of the end justifying the means as patently obvious in our body polity. As rightly reflected in the Electoral Reform Committee Report, 2008, Vol. 1: 19: “Nigerian politicians have over the years become more desperate and daring in taking and retaining power; more reckless and greedy in their use and abuse of power; and more intolerant of opposition, criticism and efforts at replacing them”
Not a few of our predatory political actors are self-serving, greed-driven, deceitful, ethno-centric, brazen and overtly corrupt. Such is the alarming level of crass corruption in high places that current President Muhammadu Buhari openly lamented the monstrous incubus, quite at variance with the change mantra the APC-led government promised Nigerians back in 2015. Good enough, ‘change’ can be for the worse, as we have witnessed over the past six years. Or, how else do we explain the fact that based on the leadership indices of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Human Development Index (HDI), unemployment rate and the Gini-Coefficient (GC)- as a measure of the gap between the rotten rich and the abysmally poor, Nigerians are far worse off now than they were in 2014. For instance, food prices have skyrocketed. The inflation rate in 2014 was 8.5% according to statista.com but it is 13.3% in 2022 according to Bismarck Rewane, chief executive officer of Financial Derivatives Company. The unemployment rate in 2014 stood at 4.56% according to macrotrends.net but it is currently at 32%.
In a similar vein, the exchange rate of the Naira to the Dollar in 2014 was N157 but has since escalated to N481 or as high as N557 in the black market! With regards to the ever-increasing debt burden, as at July 2015 the Federal Government domestic debt, according to the Debt Management Office (DMO) stood at $43.185 billion as at March 2015. But as at September 2021 it has risen to a total of $92. 626bn. Though the World Bank has predicted that Nigeria’s economy is expected to grow by 2.5% in 2022, Nigerians are not smiling, made worse by the insecurity monster rampaging across several states up north.
From the Boko Haram insurgency that riddled mostly the North-Eastern states of Bornu, Yobe and Adamawa in 2014 it has since metamorphosed into the rage of ISWAP and the killer herdsmen whose activities have turned the states of Benue, Plateau and Kaduna into the killing fields of the nation. Added to these are acts of bravado by bandits in the North Western states of Zamfara and Sokoto. So sad the situation has degenerated that Bello Masari, the governor of Katsina, the home state of Mister President has openly canvassed for every adult Nigerian to be armed for self-defence!
On the surface of it therefore, the 2023 general elections should provide the electorate another golden opportunity to change the political paradigm. But can it? Without Mister President signing the Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law for the electronic transmission of our votes to make them count in the 21st century Nigeria? Where is the assurance of free, fair, credible elections of internationally accepted standards? Without the holistic restructuring of the current contraption into the six-geopolitical zones and empowered by law with true fiscal federalism to control their resources and pay an agreed percentage tax to the centre? Yet, the current political self-deceit triggers more burning questions. For how long are we going to be bedeviled with having the appendage-like state governors, going cap-in-hand to Abuja every blessed month to collect crumbs from the master’s table? For how long shall we continue to have some of the world’s most highly paid legislators, in a country mired with the status of the world capital of extreme poverty, as well as home to the highest number of school-aged children out-of-school?
It does not take rocket science to understand that we need a new set of political leaders who understand as John Maxwell stated in his thought-provoking book titled: ‘The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership’ that: “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” On his part, Zalenik explains that: “Leadership requires using power to influence the thoughts and actions of other people.”
Similarly, the US Army Manual explains leadership as: “Influencing people – by providing purpose, direction, and motivation – while operating to accomplish the mission and improving the organization.” Whatever the definitions of leadership we choose one word that keeps recurring is ‘influence’. The common facilitating factors that bind and indeed, define successful leadership in my humble estimation include vision, the 5-C principles of character, commitment to a worthy cause, the courage to do the right thing when needed most, candour and compassion. In addition, three-H principles include honesty of purpose, hard work and humility. The word accountability counts a lot as the leader must give account of how he has carried out his responsibilities to the people. From my years of experience: “A leader is like a beacon-bearer that shows the way forward to those he/she leads out of the dark tunnels of ignorance, apathy, poverty and diseases”. A successful leader must be a good manager of men and material resources because as Sam Walton rightly stated: “Individuals don’t win, teams do”.
We need great team leaders who will mobilize, motivate and inspire disillusioned Nigerians to bring out the best that is in them. They cannot afford to, nor pretend to be chest-beating philosopher-kings, who know it all; who do not make mistakes and must never be criticized. Instead, they should humble themselves and be ready to learn, as John F. Kennedy noted that: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
More than ever before, we need more input from the civil society organizations, the mass media, public affairs analysts to engage the masses on their civic duties, rights and obligations as well as on sustained voter education. The electorate should say “no” to insulting bags of rice, salt, indomie and five naira pittance given during electioneering campaigns. Instead, they should be able to identify those who truly have their interests at heart and choose right, because power belongs to them.
Given Nigeria’s current shoddy state of affairs we need leadership as service, as Umar Yar’Adua (of blessed memory) rightly highlighted and demonstrated. Our next set of political helmsmen should have a firm grasp of the economic dire straits we have found ourselves in and how to pull us out of the deep, marshy well. They should be blind to the wavy flashlights of ethnicity and deaf to the drumbeats of political propaganda and the discordant tunes of disunity.
Baje writes from Lagos