Nigeria and values-based leadership – By Gbenga Kayode
Leadership is an issue that affects all of humanity. But, visionary and true leaders are hard to find. Not only are we impacted by this phenomenon, but we are also called upon to exercise it. Whether we are involved in leading government or business, guiding young minds, leading a family, a sports team or a committee, organising a dinner, a class project, a carpool or a household, or just standing for what is right at every turn of human endeavour -everyone has a leadership role to play. In other words, we are each called upon to be custodians of what is right and good, lasting and of value, for those in our care at one time or another.
It’s as a result of an obvious lacuna in worthy, responsible leadership in many economies of the world that these posers were thrown up not long ago: “Whatever happened to leadership? Have all the great leaders gone from the world scene?” The search for true, values-based leadership is not limited to the global arena, but also relevant in the task of socio-political, cultural, educational, and moral transformation of developing economies such as Nigeria’s.
And, why does a true leader need to demonstrate values in leadership? Values are regarded as esteemed qualities which are intrinsically desirable and have importance. That is why experts in the humanities have described values as “our very core, the especial essence of who we are as human beings.” Such demonstrable and authentic values on which the Nigerian society should be built upon include transparency, patriotism, personal integrity, fear of God, courage, transformational leadership, accountability, vision, creativity, knowledge, character and passion.
Leadership also, has been described as a form of service. In order to lead effectively, a leader then, should be willing to meet the needs of the individuals in the team or group. It would be recalled the time it noticed the perceptible inadequacy in the leadership of some economies in Europe, London Sunday Times published an article with the title, “Whatever Happened to Real Leaders?”
In a write-up, the reading public was asked series of probing questions as these: “Would you expect to learn anything from them (leaders)? Do you expect them to do anything inspiring or creative, or even just the right thing? We have reached a real low point in leadership, lower than at any other time in recent history….”
The fact not only applies in the Western world where the people combat leadership problems of recent, it also applicable to the Nigerian situation, as the reputed most populous Black nation on earth needs is values-based, visionary leadership. It’s a powerful, well-timed plea for the emergence of a right kind of leadership that can deliver Nigerians from the grip of its many socio-economic problems resulting from poor governance or maladministration.
While underscoring the need for anyone entrusted with the sacrosanct mandate of leadership in any human community, Walter Lippmann, a late American newspaper commentator, in his syndicated column “Today and Tomorrow”, yet had attempted another description of leaders as “the custodians of a nation’s ideals, of the beliefs it cherishes, of its permanent hopes, of the faith which makes a nation out of a mere aggregation of individuals.”
According to Lippmann, the word literally, refers to a keeper, a guardian or a caretaker, as it is a proactive word which implies action on the part of the bearer. That is, custodians of the people’s mandate simply hold such in trust on behalf of others. In other words, custodianship does not imply behaviour motivated out of self-interest, the unbecoming development which Nigerians daily witness in various aspects of their national life.
Today, it’s no longer news in the country to see the mass media of communication inundated with scandalous and disturbing stories of reckless inflation of contract sums, disappearance of phoney contractors after collecting mobilisation funds, or oftentimes all of the contract sum; blind looting of treasuries with impunity, brigandage, culture of wastage, outright lack of vision on the part the leadership, endless dashed hopes, and lack of creativity in statecraft, and instances of shoddy cum white elephant projects with no material relevance to the aspirations of the populace.
As if the ostensibly invasive light-fingered approach being adopted by many of the leaders at different levels of governance is not enough, a new dimension of course, has been introduced to consolidate the conspiratorial pillaging of the nation’s collective wealth. It’s simply overwhelming these days, as Nigerians helplessly, continue to hear or read about horrifying tales of financial malfeasance, under various guises, and obvious looting of the treasury being reported in the media. This is purportedly being committed by both appointed and elected leadership in active connivance with the largely inefficient civil servants; shameless and forceful collection of toll from transporters and/ or motorists by men and officers of the Nigeria Police on the nation’s roads; absolute diversions of statutory allocations originally budgeted for developmental projects and programmes, into private accounts for personal use by corrupt leaders.
Although theirs is not a perfect system, a former US Ambassador to Nigeria during late Gen. Sani Abacha regime, Mr. Walter Carrington, at a seminar in Lagos recently, made a comparative analysis of the sustained purposeless leadership afflicting Nigeria with what obtains in the United States (US) in connection with values-based leadership. Carrington, specifically, mentioned the progressive strides the US has been recording over time to the extent that “racism and nepotism” were fast disappearing in America, thereby paving way for an African-American (obviously referring to Barack Obama) to win the support of the majority of the Americans to occupy The White House, the official seat of US Government in Washington D.C. According to him, instead of making distinct progress, the loss of a value system in Nigeria has made corruption, concept of “indigeneship”, vandalism and political thuggery to remain prominent in the country’s body politic.
It’s not unexpected to discern why some do wonder aloud if responsibility, accountability and sense of integrity could ever be restored in the political dictionary of the current crop of leaders. Perhaps, such individuals and groups who frantically, desire meaningful change in the socio-political life of the country think so against the backdrop of apparent purposeful, focused leadership that characterised the era of Nigeria’s founding fathers as late Ahmadu Bello (Sardauna of Sokoto), Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Anthony Enahoro, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Murtala Muhammed, Osita Osadebey, Muhammadu Buhari, and others who sacrificed a lot to ensure the well-being of the masses. With their own share of challenges peculiar to the management of human affairs, till this day, those erstwhile leaders are fondly remembered for good as a result of their strength of character, discipline, loyalty, and patriotism.
Indeed, with nostalgia, one cannot but be amazed at the depth of passion exemplified in the communication of these past Nigerian leaders as regards the pursuit of their economic programmes for the welfare of the people. It’s quite edifying for any discerning Nigerians, especially the young ones, to listen to a programme titled: “Memories of Our Heroes”, a production of Radio Nigeria Network News Directorate being aired on the station every Monday as a prelude to commemorating Nigeria’s Golden Jubilee. One believes reliving and reflecting on memorable experiences of such great Nigerians would add much impetus to the ongoing efforts on Rebranding Nigeria Project of the Federal Ministry of Information and Communications, an initiative aimed at engendering moral renaissance and national rebirth in the citizenry.
Intrestingly, it deserves a mention that in our day, there are yet men and women of substance who exemplify rare values-based leadership and courage in service to humanity in both private and public sectors of Nigeria’s economy. Research has shown that Nigerians such as Dr. Christopher Kolade (aka Mr. Integrity), Mazi Sam I. Ohuabunwa, Prof. Dora Akunyili, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, Prof. Wole Soyinka, late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Abubakar Umar, and others numerous to mention here fall into this category. Such ones are said to have continued to hold their heads high in and outside positions of authority despite very widespread corrupting influences around them. They are no doubt shining examples to particularly the younger generation.
However, a large number of the population believe what obtains now is just a question of a corrupt leader’s associating himself or herself with any of the vicious cliques of ravenous individuals whose stock in trade is to hold their fatherland down till eternity. It’s, therefore, not unusual to hear the mind-boggling term, ‘cabal’ at every turn in socio-political discourses. The masses of our people effortless, have categorised such dubious leaders as belonging to either oil cabal, electric power cabal, generators or rice importation cabal, political power cabal, or fertilizer business cabal among other amorphous ones. Over the years, these groups are believed to have succeeded, just as they, absurdly, continue to work against the collective will of the Nigerian people on all fronts.
Nigerians seeking elective and political offices with nothing to offer the generality of the population ought to be discouraged henceforth. Again, as custodians of the people’s mandate to serve them and manage their combined resources for the betterment of the entire society, individuals holding leadership positions should know and chart the way forward for the led, uphold what is best for all people, even if it may not be in his or her own interest to do so. Their custodial role must be approached as a temporary role, preserving something greater than the self -principles of enduring value in service.
This embodies an attitude that focuses on the task at hand and not on what a leader may gain from the position he or she holds. Interestingly, it implies a caring and concerned relationship between leaders and followers; it also implies individuals motivated by their constituents’ best interests.
Consequently, these seem contrary to what is happening across the land. In many arenas in the country today, we see appointed or elected leaders holding nothing in trust for those they purport to serve. Instead, it’s looting galore, as scores of them merely continue to advance their own ideals, hopes, and aspirations to keep their followers down and frustrated perpetually. Where there’s no common vision to be shared and actualised, it is often difficult to say whether such selfish Nigerian leaders are serving their people in any meaningful way.
Poor reward system has been identified as another serious factor, which probably instigates many a leader to consciously, greedily appropriate billions of tax payers’ money to themselves in the name of “allowances”, or in many instances, some resort to outright pillaging of treasuries, regardless of whatever happens to them after leaving office.
But then, why institutionalised corruption in the nation’s system? An unnamed foreigner who has lived in Nigeria for sometime was quoted as answering this poser thus: “Becoming corrupt is almost unavoidable, because morality is relaxed in the society (Nigeria), and many people struggle for survival without assistance from the state.”
Mismanagement, deceit, and unfettered greed simply remain the undying features of the system, just as assumedly vision-oriented economic blueprints, development plans meant for implementation gather dusts on shelves. Yet, many questions all beg for answers. And, concerned Nigerians have continued to ask rhetorically: Where are our leaders leading? To whom can we look for the direction we need in respect of the actualisation of the much-touted Nigerian dream? To many, reviving the different sectors of the nation’s economy for the benefit of the generality of the people appears hopeless.
The self-serving nature of some leaders has led to more exigent problems in the Nigerian system in recent times. The continued maladministration has not only entrenched a culture of corruption, impunity, political rascality, mindless looting of treasury, sycophancy, personality cults, purposeless leadership, and rampant disillusionment among the Nigerian people awaiting the advent of a new order in the current system.
Bad leadership has also instigated all forms of corrupt activities prevalent in the country now. These, some say, include political, bureaucratic, electoral corruption, embezzlement and bribery. Political corruption, which takes place at the highest levels of political authority, is a ‘corruption of greed.’ It affects the manner in which decisions are made, manipulates and distorts political institutions and rules of procedure.
How about the direct effect of this cankerworm on the entire system? Corruption tarnishes the image of a nation; perhaps, as someone put it recently, “that is why Nigeria suffers more than most societies from an appalling international image created by its inability to deal with bribery and corruption.”
As measures towards moving the nation forward through purposeful, values-based leadership, the nation urgently, needs to get it acts right, retrace its steps where it has long got it wrong: anyone who aspires to lead others, irrespective of which aspect of the nation’s life should be one who legitimately understands the core essence of selfless service in leadership, not individuals who actually don’t understand anything about leadership, but about how much he or she could steal from the commonwealth.
It also, should be realised that anyone who aspires to lead Nigerians without possessing such exceptional values and ideals as personal integrity, forthrightness, fairness, belief in the eventual success of the Nigerian enterprise, accountability and trustworthiness, is probably taking a stroll. The current crop of leaders should learn to lead by example and instil hope in the followership for the emergence of a better nation.
According to George Washington in his inaugural address as a former President of the United States, while encouraging fellow American leaders to shun lip-service, he was reported to have declared: “… the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.”
Stressing the need for integrity in proper and effective leadership also, John Adair, a visiting professor of Leadership Studies at the University of Surrey and Exeter in England, once stated: “… I believe that holding firmly to sovereign values outside yourself grows a wholeness of personality and moral strength of character. The person of integrity will always be tested. The first real test comes when the demands of the truth or good appears to conflict with your self-interest or prospects. Which do you choose?” A food for thought indeed.
Leadership qualities combined with positional power magnify the ability of an individual to attract the all-important followers. Through a concept some have described as enlightened self-interest that promises to move Nigeria forward, people entrusted with leadership responsibilities should always learn to pursue such interests that align with the nation’s development goals. As a friend would say, “we will all benefit when we do things right.”
Kayode, a media and communication professional, writes from Lagos.