Leader after leader in South Africa sustained the apartheid system. They devised means to respond more violently to the struggles of Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress. But when it came to the turn of President F. W. de Klerk, he chose to break the old mould. He sensed it was time for a new beginning in South Africa. He summoned the courage to embrace the inevitable: he negotiated with Mandela, a man the system had hitherto denigrated as a terrorist. Today, South Africa is a shining example of democracy in Africa.
Another leader who broke barriers is Mikhail Gorbachev of the former Soviet Union. Gorbachev knew when the moment had come, when communism could no longer sustain the crumbling economy of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR. With his vision branded as Perestroika (reconstruction) and Glasnost, (openness) propounded in 1985, he unleashed a revolution that opened the Iron Curtain and unbundled the Soviet Union into 15 countries in 1989. Today, under democracy, the economy of Russia is awash with petro-dollars. Russian billionaires are buying up businesses in Western Europe, a thing that was impossible under the communists. In the first place, you could not be a billionaire under the communists. Such was considered decadent! Many of the satellite states are today flourishing democracies, with some already members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, while others are re-branding in order to join the European Union. For his effort, Gorbachev, who Times magazine described as one of the most important individuals in the twentieth century, was rewarded with a Nobel Prize.
The historic trip President Anwa Sadat of Egypt made to Israel on 19 November 1977 to meet with Prime Minister Menachem Begin, was not only unprecedented and courageous, it also changed the dynamics in the Middle East conflict and opened the door for comprehensive peace negotiations in the region. Sadat’s trip was followed in 1978 with the Camp David Accord facilitated by President Jimmy Carter. Complete peace has not been achieved but, it is no longer war, war, war. There is element of jaw, jaw, jaw.
When he became the Presidential candidate of the Democratic Party in the United States, the first black man to achieve that feat, Barack Obama, removed the psychological barriers for all Americans who felt marginalized and excluded. There are many of our people who are still struggling to remove the barriers of poverty and discrimination on the basis of sex, ethnic origin or Osu caste system. To help them overcome these barriers is the responsibility of an effective leadership.
Tenacity is another attribute of a leader. He must stay the course even when the odds are against him. Three leaders in history illustrate the importance of tenacity as an attribute of leadership. They are Winston Churchill of Great Britain, Charles de Gaulle of France and Konrad Adenauer of Germany. These are rare leaders who were brought to the fore by the World War II. Before the World War II, as Nixon observed, Churchill was a lonely voice in opposition, dismissed as an eccentric; de Gaulle was a lonely voice seeking in vain for an audience; Adenauer was a fugitive in his own country. These three giants demonstrated tenacity when their countries were devastated by the war. They taught their people how to rise up after a fall. We all remember Churchill’s “blood, sweat and tear” speech that roused Britain under the bombardment of the Germans.
My own personal example of a leader with vision, courage and tenacity is Mohammed Ali. At 23 he envisioned himself as Heavyweight Champion of the world and challenged Sonny Liston, the monster. People feared that Liston would kill the brat then known as Cassius Clay. But he saw himself beyond just wining the Heavyweight boxing title. Instead he kept screaming: “I am the Greatest!” Of course, he won and went on to become the greatest boxer on earth. He also knew when to change the status quo. He dropped the slave name and adopted the name, Mohammed Ali and turned it into a global brand. Four times Mohammed Ali lost his title, four times he regained it! That’s the mark of tenacity!
Leadership is essentially a selfless and thankless enterprise often with price to pay. Oftentimes the price is heavy. In the case of Mandela, the price was 27 years imprisonment. For Sadat, Murtala Mohammed, Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jnr, and Ghandi. it was their assassination. There are other lesser prices leaders pay. In Nigeria, the most common prices of leadership are smear campaigns and character assassination by opponents. There are also the nefarious activities of those with the Pull Him Down syndrome, or what I call the Nshikor (crab) mentality. But these prices, big and small, have never deterred true leaders.
7. LEADERSHIP, THE ACHEBE EXAMPLE
Why are we not engaging with our first eleven? Should we continue to fly birds with clipped wings and still hope to be competitive? Why the resurgence of the Biafra agitation? These are indications that the perilous times are very disconcerting and obvious and the young elements of Igbo nation have seen through the antics of an Igbo leadership that defers to our traducers and are resoundingly saying, ‘enough is enough’.
When a leadership can no longer speak for the people, then there is every reason to worry. These leadership gaps did not escape the prying eyes of late Prof. Chinualumogu Achebe and he deployed the arsenal available to him to speak to power and question the status quo.
In his book, “The Trouble With Nigeria”, Chinua Achebe declared that the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigeria character, land, water, air, climate or anything else. Achebe blames the travails of the country on unwillingness or inability (incapacity) of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are hallmarks of true leadership.
According to him, Nigeria is “a nation for sale,” high jacked since independence by thieves, bigots, mass murderers, war criminals, unpatriotic opportunists, election riggers and other such venoms who have run the nation through an unnecessary civil war, corruption and total despoliation. Nigeria is consequently a failed state, plagued by social injustice, unrest, debilitating poverty, disharmony and ethno-religious turbulence.