The Leaders at the summit
Maduabuchi Ubani writes on the quest for great leaders that continue to elude the society
Those who gathered at the Institute of Government and Public Policy in Lagos last week had the same vision. The conversations were not different. They wanted a change. “The unenviable history of the African post-colony can be written around the subject of the absence, for the most account, of positive leadership and good governance,” said Wale Adebanwi, an Associate Professor at the University of California, Davis, United States.
One after the other, the speaker stepped up to the podium to speak passionately about the change they seek. It was all about leadership. They x-ray the challenges and proffered solutions.
For two days, participants at the International Conference on Leadership and Governance in Africa, coordinated by the duo of Dr. Wale Adebanwi, and Dr. Ebenezer Obadare, of the University of Kansas, Lawrence, United States, examined how Africa (and Africans) had fared in the hands of the continent’s despotic rulers and the few ones that had provided purposeful leadership for their people.
From all walks of life, prominent people amongst who are current leaders gathered to listen and to speak. For instance, Ekiti State governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi; Lagos State governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, represented by Special Adviser on Regional Integration, Rev. Tunji Adebiyi; The Chair, Board of Trustees of the institute, Chief Adebisi Akande, who also served as chairman of the opening ceremony; Nigeria’s former Ambassador to the Netherlands and daughter of the late sage, Dr. Olatokunbo Awolowo Dosumu; Oyo State governor, Chief Abiola Ajimobi represented by Commissioner for Information and Orientation Pastor Taiwo Otegbeye; Osun State governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, represented by Commissioner for Special Duties and Regional Integration Ajibola Basiru; Chairman, Lekki Local Council Development Authority (LCDA), Alhaji Olaitan Ogidan, celebrated poet, Odia Ofeimun and Director-General of the institute, Professor Adigun Agbaje, who hosted the event converged for the discourse.
The keynote speech for the conference was delivered by Professor Olufemi Taiwo of Cornell University in New York, United States.
For Taiwo, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo whom he described as a significant thinker in the modern mode, whose ideas circumscribed by the peculiarities of his historical location, nonetheless managed to apprehend the universal was an example of a leader that Africa desperately needs
Professor Taiwo acknowledged Awolowo’s leadership qualities, regretting that many African leaders lacked such attributes, a situation that has created a rift between the leaders and the led.
Taiwo said Awolowo held a strong belief that the ruled must play their roles in good governance while also having the liberty to enjoy from the abundance of the wealth of their nation.
“My fundamental and abiding interest in Awolowo is that of a scholar. I am fascinated by the originality, depth, and audacity of his thinking in many areas, the richness and complexity of his expostulations, the sophistication and thoroughness of his policy formulations; in short, in his status as one of the pre-eminent thinkers of the last century,” he said.
And when the daughter of the late sage exchanged her view with the participants, everyone was in awe. Dr. Awolowo-Dosunmu recounted the experience she had in 1960 when her father was detained there by the Tafawa Balewa-led government.
She recalled the loneliness of the entire place, a melancholic milieu accentuated by the scary presence of the wild, wide sea. According to Awolowo-Dosunmu, she watched as her father cast a long look at the expansive ocean, wondering what deep thoughts could have preoccupied the old man’s mind.
Dr. Adebanwi pinpointed Africa’s problem and declared that poor leadership was responsible for slow progress on the continent.
He said: “Given the inefficiency, ineffectiveness, incompetence, excesses and eccentricities displayed by many of the leaders that have emerged on the continent, their behaviour exercises an unusual level of fascination for scholarly analyses and theorizing.”
The respected scholar informed, however, that in spite of the palpable gloom, the continent has also produced some individuals with sterling leadership qualities, leaders that have impacted positively on their generation.
According to him,“It is important to note that despite the popular focus, in both academic and lay literature, on bad leadership in Africa, the continent, no doubt, has also produced outstanding leaders in all spheres of human endeavour and at every level of state and society. From exceptionally self-sacrificing leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Albert Luthuli, thinkers and visionaries like Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, revolutionary leaders like Amilca Cabral, social reformers like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Amini Kano, activists and public intellectuals such as Wole Soyinka, Ngugi Wa Thiongo, Ruth First, Steve Biko, Africa also has had a legitimate claim to exceptional leadership.”
He told participants that the conference was organised “to address the leadership and governance question in Africa, including the fascination with African leaders and the pertinent dynamics of leadership in other spheres in the postcolony in a critical, theoretically-grounded and empirically-rich ways.”
Adebanwi said the international and inter-disciplinary conference would examine leadership and governance in Africa “from the micro to the macro level, in vertical and horizontal dimensions, in different contexts and terrains and in multi-various circumstances and from different, and/or a combination of perspectives.”
In his presentation entitled What’s Luck Got to Do with It? Pondering the Imponderable in African Leadership and Politics, Dr. Obadare looked at the place of luck in contemporary African politics, with particular reference to Nigeria’s President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. Obadare recalled that Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah of the Sokoto Catholic Diocese had, in an article in a national newspaper in 2010, attributed Jonathan’s implausible rise in politics to sheer luck, or “a monumental act of divine epiphany.”
Obadare argued, however, that accepting and promoting the luck concept might, ultimately, result in unmitigated disaster for the society. While virtually pooh-poohing the luck notion, he wondered: “If everything is a matter of unchosen luck or ‘favour’ (to put it in the language of modern day Pentecostals), where is the incentive to strive, search, or build? And with specific regard to the question of leadership, if leadership or the emergence of good leaders ultimately rolls on the dice of luck, whither the imperative to invest in the training of good leaders? Whither the sociology of leadership? Whither, in fact, justice?”
In his contribution, Dr. Kayode Fayemi said it was necessary for political leaders in the country to elaborate on the ideational foundations of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and reconstruct them in the context of new challenges and new opportunities that would bring about good governance in the country. The Ekiti State governor averred that Awolowo had already provided the ideational foundations for good leadership and good governance in Nigeria
In Fayemi’s words, “whether in the context of political structure, particularly democratic federalism, in the nature, order, purpose and limits of government as evident in the rule of law, the rights and duties of citizens, or in the directive principles of state policy which should be geared towards the economic freedom, good health, liberty and welfare of the people, the struggle that some of us have engaged in, in the last three decades, is based largely on this heritage; that is, a settled conviction in which the one and only purpose of political leadership and governance is the delivery of political goods.
“Long before it became a fashionable neo-liberal consensus for international development agencies, such as World Bank and the IMF, to promote governance as performance, Awolowo had already theorized human beings as the sole purpose of governance and showed how the enhancement of the capacities of human beings to live well in all dimensions constitute the fundamental conditions of the existence and survival of any modern state and government.”
Fayemi observed that the development of the Western Region under Awolowo was an evidence of the sage’s leadership genius, asserting that the five states under Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the Second Republic renewed the possibilities of good governance in the areas of education, social welfare, social amenities, health and infrastructural development even while the federal state was “fumbling and failing.”
And before the conference ended, participants took time off to visit the Awo museum at the institute, which helped painted the vivid picture of good and great leader for which they gathered for the two-day conference.
Others at the conference include: Aisha Bawa of the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto; Kathryn Rhine, University of Kansas, Lawrence, USA; Azeez Olaniyan, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa; Pamela Johnson, University of Fort Hare, South Africa; Adetayo Alabi, University of Mississippi; Samuel Ojo Oloruntoba, University of Lagos; Stacey Leigh Vanderhurst, Brown University, Providence, Rhodes Island, USA; Gbemisola Animasawun, University of Ilorin and Elke Zuern, Sarah Lawrence College, New York.