Elumelu’s Diagnosis on Military and Leadership


As the Nigerian military stretches its personnel in various areas of conflict nationwide, the need for strategic leadership has also become pertinent. Chairman of Heirs Holdings and Founder of Tony Elumelu Foundation, Mr. Tony Elumelu, using his private sector experience, recently provided the imperative for reliable leadership in the Armed Forces. Paul Obi writes

Nigeria at present is confronted by many challenges that have continued to raise the question of strategic leadership. Of truth, the nation’s military has constantly proven itself in providing that quality leadership needed to steer the ship of the country afloat. Yet, there are times where the military overstretches itself, a situation that put more burdens on the shoulders of the Armed Forces.

At a recent lecture held at the National Defence College (NDC), Abuja, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Gabriel Olonisakin, in a paper titled ‘A New Approach to Leadership in the Armed Forces of Nigeria’, harped on the need for sustainable leadership among the Armed Forces. Olonisakin further hinted that quality leadership was instrumental in victories recorded recently on the war against Boko Haram insurgency and other acts of terrorism.

In the same token, the clamour for a reliable leadership has continued to be in the front burner in the nation’s military affairs. Director of Military Intelligence (Army), Major General Abubakar Tarfa, speaking at this year’s Guards Brigade Third Quarter Inter-unit Cross-country Competition, held at Mambila Barracks, Abuja, said the increasing spate of insecurity in the country has tended to overstretch the Armed Forces thereby hampering Army formations and personnel training across the Armed Forces.

He added that the increasing demand for security presence across the country had negatively affected the Nigerian Army formations, thereby halting Army’s goal for effective and efficient military engagement. Tarfa stated that “with careful planning, innovation and commitment, quality training of personnel by formations could still be achieved. He said: “Training was an important aspect of every Army, it was also the bedrock of every successful military campaign.

“An event of this nature is intended to enhance the combat survival and readiness of an individual soldier which is undoubtedly dependable on his or her level of training and fitness. It would also build the combat efficiency of the participating units as well as improving the combat proficiency of Guards Brigade,” he stressed.

Thus, it is in the light of this drive for strategic leadership that the Chairman of Heirs Holdings and Founder of Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), Mr. Tony Elumelu, last week gave a lecture at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji, Kaduna State, on how the military can tap from private sector leadership perspective.

In his lecture, Elumelu x-rayed the principles of leadership, with the private sector as the focus. He argued that leadership in its true sense within the public sector was not different from the private sector. The TEF founder maintained that the only point of difference was in the approach. He said: “Leadership to me in public sector is not actually different from leadership in the private sector and to me, leaders are made and not born. We can discuss this even though some people think otherwise. Successful leaders define what success means so that when they succeed it is not by chance. They understand it, they define it. They don’t just take a role, they understand the role, understand what it takes to succeed, define what success means so that when success comes they can see it.

“If you stretch this to the private sector, you might also wonder why two companies set out at the same time and depending on the circumstances, and with the same licenses given the same day, one company 50 years, 10 years, 20 years down the line succeeds and goes global and another company fails. The reason is because of leadership.

“So, leadership should excite people who want to know why, as I said before, two countries- one is succeeding one is failing, one has more resources yet, not doing well. Companies starting out the same time, the same environment and one is succeeding and the other is not succeeding. It means therefore that leadership should be taken very seriously.

“And so, when I got this invitation from your institution to share my perspective especially on the private sector leadership, I thought it was indeed another great effort by your historic institution to further advance issues and discourse on leadership.

So, the question is: why do some leaders get it right and others fail to get it right or is there even destiny in the issue of leadership? Are some people destined to become good leaders and others are not destined to become great leaders?” He asked.

Elumelu further held that “leadership is about instilling confidence in your people because as a leader, you rarely hardly ever operate on your own. As a continent, we are endowed with so much, we should not be where we are. We need purposeful leaders in Africa to lead us, we need African countries to become much more successful than we are today, it requires leadership and we need to raise the standard of living of our people in Africa – it requires leadership. And so as they say in the bible, who shall I send? Are you available? Are you ready? We need to work together and be relentless until we recover what has been lacking on our continent.”

At the interactive session, Elumelu who harped on the antidotes to success, stated that, “I would say that people make all the difference and I think that strategy is less than 10 per cent of what leads to success. What leads to success is execution and execution does not occur if you do not have the right people and if you have the right people and you are not able to mobilise them, you will not be able to get the best out of them.

“So, I would say amongst many other things, the most critical success factor is the people equation, getting it right – getting the right people, incentivising them, creating a feeling of friendship, making people stand up to go to work for a generational purpose, feeling important and at times what people want is not so much, it is just recognition, respect and pointing them in the right direction.

“So, when you have this, I call it leprous finger, you have to exorcise it as soon as possible. If you let it linger, it spreads and it affects the other fingers so the thing you do in that situation is to exorcise, and before you exorcise, try and see if you can treat that leprous finger and how do you do so – counselling, talking, correction,” he explained.

Concerning discipline and leadership, Elumelu explained that “first is to give everyone the benefit of doubt, I think most people want to conform, want to be disciplined. At times, training and development make a lot of difference in the company environment. People make some honest mistakes because they have not been trained properly. You also see the issue of clarity of purpose, people need to understand, sometimes you see some honest tendencies in any organisation and you ask yourself, are these honest tendencies, honest mistakes? You correct them but I say to leaders, you have to be fair but firm, in an organisation where you are firm but fairness is lacking you won’t get it right.

“If you are firm but fairness is lacking, you won’t get it right. So, discipline for me starts from people understanding the rules, the dos and the don’ts. Training people, incentivising people to behave appropriately and when people deviate, a lot of others are watching and you deal with that situation. So, when you choose to correct, you correct. You do it for the good of the organisation, you do it not because it is what you will like to do but it is what you need to do in order to succeed so that’s for the issue of discipline,” he pointed out.

On military loyalty and how that impacts on leadership, Elumelu said: “I think what you are doing here is wonderful, it’s definitely a step in the right direction because everyone of you, you all belong to the larger society and it is nice that the principles that you imbibe, the principles you leave here with, you share them with a lot of others. And today, we live in a world where even on Facebook alone, you can share more ideas. You need to let people know what is right. Also, I think what you people are doing, I must on behalf of the private sector of Nigeria commend the Nigerian Armed Forces and I would like you to clap for yourselves.

“You can’t do business where there is no security and you guys have done well and we are seeing certain challenges in our national life and how the Armed Forces have come in and I would say that is your way of playing your own role in the country’s development. You know for a country to develop, all the engines must be blasting at full capacity, it’s not just one sector, it’s all sectors playing their own roles so that collectively we can position our country,” Elumelu stressed.

On the essence of the lecture, Elumelu explained that he was “impressed coming here and the fact that your Commandant thought it was good to bring a private sector player to your conversation is also another effort in playing your own role in ensuring that we have good leadership. We must all leave here with the understanding that a nation gets the leadership it deserves.

Collectively, we should keep encouraging ourselves as brothers and sisters to make sure we do the right thing,” he observed.
While the Nigerian military continue to improve daily, both in leadership and at the battlefield fronts, Elumelu’s diagnosis and his attempt to connect the dots on leadership and military prowess and professionalism are at the very core of any nation’s defence system. As the Nigerian Armed Forces confront security challenges in various fronts, effective leadership is required for the military to stay on course. The quest to bridge that gap is to create a synergy for leadership that thrives on a broader scope, inclusiveness, learning, scientific, technical and more result-oriented. That appears to be Elumelu’s demands on military and leadership.