It Is Leadership We Need, Period!


leadershipLeadership sustains democracy. Democracy confers an enduring confidence in man therefore Lord Bryce asserts that “perhaps no form of government needs great leaders as much as democracy”. This is because democracy is etymologically defined as the rule of the people. But masses of people cannot directly run government, so they delegate their power to agents – to lead them.

A leader offers the finest gifts of democracy. It is appalling yet true that Nigeria’s democracy is in short supply of leaders, which is why Simon Kolawole’s invocation on the back page of the Monday, August 16 edition of Thisday newspapers to kick-start the 2007 presidential discourse is apt and commendable.

The 2007 presidential elections in Nigeria is very critical because it will produce a president that will usher us into our next half-century as an independent nation which commences in 2010. Therefore, an understanding of the president we need in 2007 should be guided by a concomitant appreciation of the issues at stake in our next half-century. Some of these issues include the economy (to make the best of the free market by encouraging enterprise and innovation); religious and ethnic relations (to celebrate our common nationality); corruption (to change our value system); good governance (to create a new political order); unemployment and poverty (to end the widespread sufferings and stem the tide of outbound migration); HIV/AIDS (to stop its spread through effective control and prevention); and the Niger-Delta (to bring peace and development). For these we need leadership.

Oftentimes our political class snubs our yearnings for leadership. However, I strongly believe that the ballot box can produce true leaders. During the “Africa Leadership for Tomorrow” session of the last Africa Economic Summit held in Maputo, Mozambique, the cerebral Ndidi Nwuneli, Founder of LEAP Africa outlined four qualities for leadership as integrity, investment in successors, incentives to inspire people through vision, and a willingness to make sacrifices for the good of the group. She went on to say that leadership is an act not a ‘hat’. I agree entirely with her and will propound an expatiation.

To start with, our search for a president in 2007 should take on the subject of integrity. We need a president who will do what he says and say what he does. A president who will not only ‘talk the talk’ but also ‘walk the talk’. Secondly, it is atrocious that a country like Nigeria always returns to the past to search for a president. It is time to put in office a president that will make conscious efforts to invest in successors by encouraging young, dynamic and resourceful Nigerians to rise to the commanding heights of their potentialities and aspiration. Thirdly, our president in 2007 should have ‘the vision thing’.

Nigeria needs a president with a vision of what Nigeria ought to be as a nation. Such a person should also have policies and programmes with strategies and tactics towards realising that vision and then mobilise Nigerians towards that vision. Our next president should communicate his vision in a language that ought to promote the tone of our politics. Finally, we need a president that treats the people as ends and never as means to achieve ego or power needs, or even to achieve the legitimate goals of the society because when leaders think of their own authority, privilege and wealth, democracy suffers. The seminal essayist and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that the great leader abolishes himself.

In addition, I surmise that leadership also requires courage, conviction, confidence and compassion. It also requires discipline. So we need leadership.

A leader exhibits the capacity for persuasion in order to win the consent of the governed. (S)he recognises and appreciates the desirability and inevitability of dissent and opposition to check the intrinsic delusions of power. A leader is respected and not feared; exerts influence and not just power; exacts consent and not just compliance; has a following and not just an entourage; and is surrounded by imitators and not just subordinates.

A leader is admired by friends and foes alike. At former President Ronald Reagan’s death last June, commentaries and tributes describing him as a leader suffused the news media. Senator Edward Kennedy, arguably the doyen of America’s Democratic Party while commenting on Reagan (the guardian angel of the Republican Party) said, “It would be foolish to deny that his success was fundamentally rooted in a command of public ideas . . . . Whether we agreed with him or not, Ronald Reagan was a successful candidate and an effective President above all else because he stood for a set of ideas. He stated them in 1980 – and it turned out that he meant them – and he wrote most of them not only into the public law but into the national consciousness.”

Leadership is innate in African cultures and values. Nigeria needs the emergence of mirror images of Nelson Mandela, or of Julius Nyerere, as our human symbol of leadership and nationhood.

We often delude ourselves by saying that Nigerians are difficult to lead. If this is true, then why, as someone once asked (and I have written in the past), do we obey mentally and physically challenged men (the so-called disabled people and invalids) and commercial motorcyclists when they control traffic at major traffic hold-ups in Abuja? Why is it that in Lagos, the so-called jungle city, people now wear seat belts and obey traffic lights? Why is it that Dr. Dora Akunyili is leading NAFDAC to win the war on fake and expired drugs and consumable items? Nigerians will know a true leader when they see one. Leaders make good things happen.

So let us insist on leadership. The commentariat, academia, business, civil society, media, faith, arts as well as every decent Nigerian should engage the political parties in the countdown to 2007. The potentials of this country are too great to be left in the hands of the politicians alone.

We need a Nigerian that will not only be remembered as our President but also revered as our leader.