Leadership in Nigeria: To be Trusted or to be Loved?

Leadership in Nigeria: To be Trusted or to be Loved?

The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There’s nothing wrong with the Nigerian character…, land or climate or water or air or anything else” – Chinua Achebe.

A well-thought commentary of the Nigerian quandary by the great writer, Chinua Achebe. However, as overarching as this analysis, certain elements of this seminal profession is terribly untrue. The Nigerian state is anything but simple.  

Let me start like this; being ushered into the glorious courts of self-determinism (or independence), the world held Nigeria in high expectations. She was to blaze the trail for the other countries particularly in the sub-Saharan African zone where the colonial powers still hoisted their national flags as a show of the prevailing authority. Twenty years, forty years…, sixty years from October 1, 1960, could she be said to be deserving of more pecks than knocks?

Did she like a spoiled child, blast the hope of her glorious sequined future? Many have argued that Nigeria should be fairly treated and allowed to make mistakes, her own mistakes – in the words of Nkrumah Kwame.

Many governments, including ones manned by military brass are gradually being attracted by the prospects of freedom and justice that democratic systems are ideally known by. In the context of this discourse; I often ask myself – Nigeria (in the pursuit of fairness and justice as promised by democracy), how far or how hard must we endure to reach the Promised Land?

Max Siollun in “Nigeria Military Coup Culture” finely captured the timeline of the Nigerian post-colonial leadership woes. He analysed how the political scene of Nigeria was a panoply of recycled former military personnel cum civilians and former civilian political office holders leading the country in lacklustre fashion. I tend to agree and I have also included academics and clergymen to this trial, due to the huge influence they have on the perception of the Nigerian public to national issues. Talk about leadership!

So I wonder! What could be so wrong with the leadership model in Nigeria? Why is it that some societies seem to produce ‘good’ leaders at the critical moments of their national life while others throw up ‘tyrants and rogues’ who do nothing but run same aground?

True leadership has been described as the capacity to influence others, which is the outcome of a balance of certain essential attributes such as inspiration, passion, vision, conviction and purpose. To a large extent, leadership is even more associated about trustworthiness. As ancient wisdom teaches “… to be trusted is a far greater compliment than to be loved.” This, I believe is even truer for leaders; for trustworthiness is a powerful quality of a leader. Being a Nigerian isn’t easy, and I am not talking figuratively.

Imagine living with a spouse or a roommate whom you are aware isn’t too well. You have done an evaluation on the situation and you believe if you are not well-guarded; you could be another homicide. It is the worst feeling one could ever have, to always be in constant apprehension.

In today’s Nigeria, it is almost both consistent and customary in spite of the multileveled bureaucracies to have public funds missing with the most ridiculous reasons under the sun. Leaders can predictably not be trusted to rise above religious, political and tribal sentiments; hence, the term, Islamisation, fulanisation, North and Southern Nigerian bigotry among others. There’s also been several reported cases of rackets, schemes and opaque public policies planted in plain sight to accidentally or deliberately ensure citizens depend on a few private individuals to do the simplest things. It seems just like ‘another day’ when leaders (elected or appointed) breached public trust. As a Nigerian, I can say – when it comes to leadership at both corporation and national-wide levels; it leaves a lot to be desired.

On the other hand; broadly-speaking, are the national problems unique to the sort of leaders or leadership style? Without going into specifics; globally, we’ve seen leaders fall short of ‘the glory’ yet in that inglorious moment, followers collectively rise to save a country from itself. Therefore, when it comes to the subject of failure in government; it could be argued that there is just enough blame to be shared between leaders and the people they lead.

Great leaders become great because they have great followers. Richard Dowden, a British journalist identified two ‘exceptional’ nature of Africa: That ‘Africa always has hope’ and that ‘African patience allows exploitation and oppression to thrive’. Quite aptly, isn’t this the case with Nigeria? Isn’t it true that we nurtured the frankenstein-ic nature of our leaders? Isn’t it the case of ‘when the mouth is completely full of food, the eye gets shut in turn.’

In Nigeria like in many developing nations, we have failed to establish a climate of enquiry. This even echoes what Nelson Mandela said, that ‘…when the government is afraid of the people, it is liberty but when the people are afraid of the government, it is tyranny”. Therefore, in way, haven’t we created a climate optimized for the growth of tyrants? So it has consistently been a case of fellow angels suddenly morphed into demons once they bite the delectable crumbs of power at both sub-national and national levels.

In today’s Nigeria, the air of frustration is palpable; made more complicated by insecurity, ailing economy and gaily attitude of leaders. The possibility of ‘change’ is usually met with cynicism perhaps because it is true that once the cord of trust has been broken, the scar is forever.

Ultimately, with enough said on the current state of the nation; we must still hold up the flames of hope. Yes! Hope for an outstanding Nigeria in all sense of the word. More importantly, we must know with some level of truism that we are not alone in these struggle for principle-centered leadership.  What is, has already been and what will be, has been beforethere’s nothing new under the sun. Human beings are the same everywhere.

As Professor Remi Sonaiya rightly noted “Do we Nigerians not flee from danger as do others? Are we not incensed about injustice done to us? Do our hearts not yearn after all the good things of life too? Indeed, all these things are dear to our heart just as they are dear to the hearts of the Bantu, the Russians, or the Icelanders”

Through human history, there have always been certain exceptional moments that has given rise to a path that lead to redemption. No matter how long the night is, there will be day break. These thoughts in a certain way echo the voice of Dr. King about the inevitability of the arc of the moral universe bending towards justice.

Currently, there is so much noise, protests and counter-protests. It seems such a mess. There is no difference between facts and fiction.

In the Nigerian context, the question of current state of affairs – to be trusted or to be loved: which is better with respect to national unity? isn’t an easy debate. Right now, there are several crises which could get worse.

As I had earlier mentioned, we could learn from history; leaders have been upstanding in times when their followers have faltered and vice versa. However, the most beneficial outcomes arise when leaders and followers can indeed put their personal sentiments aside, and look towards national unity and progress.

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