The Leadership Question for 2019

Kayode Komolafe The Horizon 0805 500 1974

The indications are that it would not be easy make next year’s elections issue-focussed. Discussions of issues do not seem to be part of the culture of the new politics in town. Most of the politicians are not raising issues; they just quarrel all the time. They don’t appear to have programmes to sell. Can anyone seriously point to the main issues of the elections barely five months to the polling day? The focus is only on who becomes the candidate and not also what programme should be embraced by the voters. And the matter is not helped by the low quality of what goes in the public sphere that is saturated with insults, abuse, and prejudice and hate speech.

Yet forces of progress and genuine democracy should not be daunted. The electorate must be sensitised to insist that beyond the ethnicity, religion, region or the look of the candidate, the issues of the elections should be popularised. The issues should be the focus as the polity gears up towards electioneering.

In other words, the choice should be a choice of programmes too.

In a multi-party system, the political parties ought to be leading the debates on the issues – mass poverty, insecurity, infrastructure revamp, funding education, universal healthcare, environmental degradation etc. While these and more tangible issues could be spelt out by candidates and their parties as clear-cut strategies, policies and programmes, there is a less tangible issue which cannot be reduced to programmes. The less visible issue which should command as much reflection as other possible issues of the elections is leadership. In fact, if you ask some perceptive members of the public what should be the most important issue of the election, they would simply reply with one word: leadership. That is leadership beyond the various definitions amply supplied by our motivational speakers at workshops and several recipes embodied in the how-to-do –it publications in the market.

In pondering the issues of leadership it could be worthwhile to make it a matter of deeper philosophical reflection.

In a recent lecture entitled “Leadership and the Burden of History”, given in honour of the celebrated journalist, Ray Ekpu, as he turned 70, a fellow columnist on this page, Dr. Chidi Amuta, reminded public intellectuals especially that the issue of leadership requires more serious thinking. Amuta explored the typology of leadership drawing good and bad examples of leadership from Africa and other parts of the world. In Amuta’s view, for instance, while the damage done to the cause of human progress by bad leadership in Congo Democratic Republic (known as Zaire) under Mobutu Seseko and Haiti under Jean-Bertrand Aristide should be admonishments to bad leaders any where, the progress made by Singapore under Lee Kuan Yu and Rwanda under Paul Kagame as the leader should be sources of inspiration to emerging leaders. These leaders and many others must have demonstrated some qualities, which qualify them as models to some other people. Nelson Mandela of South Africa, of course, came up as a standard to which other leaders should aspire to for generations to come.

The qualities of political leadership are as many as the expectations of the electorate in various climes. In a widely acknowledged study, a British political scientist, Archie Brown, lists some of these qualities as “ integrity, intelligence, articulateness, collegiality, shrewd judgement, a questioning mind, willingness to seek disparate views, ability to absorb information, flexibility, good memory, courage, vision and boundless energy.” Interestingly, the Oxford professor thinks that adding “modesty” to the inexhaustible list of might be ”a requirement too far” to expect of political leaders! And he is, of course, quick to say that it would take “supermen or superwomen” to expect most leaders to have all the qualities.

In the study, Brown examines Donald Trump, Theresa May, Tony Blair, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev among others. Little surprise, Bill Gates chose the book as a Book of the Year in 2016.

In making a choice of leaders during elections, therefore, the people may have to look at the qualities they require of a leader in a given situation. After all, that is why each election has its own specific issues; expectations vary from time to time.

In the foreword to the 2018 edition of Brown’s book entitled The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age, the professor draws some conclusions, some of which may be relevant in the reflections on the Nigerian situation. He puts the matter like this: “ In a democracy the top leader is seldom as powerful as he or she is widely assumed to be… What is much more troubling than such misunderstandings is the tendency to assume that one person, the head of government, is entitled to have the last and most decisive word on all big issues. Some leaders have been eager to foster this view and to act as if it were true…. this is neither sensible nor desirable in a democracy.”

Although Brown has questioned the notion that “strong leaders” are the most accomplished in power, yet no one wishes to vote for a “weak leader” in an election. That is why a critical reading of the book could provoke useful reflections on how to tackle the Leadership Question in Nigeria. After all, in an age in which Donald Trump is proving in America that time-honoured institutions could be rubbished in the most cynical manner, the strength of character of a president should be thoroughly examined during an election. For instance, on the cover of the current edition of The Economist of London, there is a portrait of Trump with a question: “Above the Law?” It is a story of the American president’s disdain for institutions and the manipulation of the legal system. So it may not be enough to say that you need strong institutions and not strong leaders in some instances.

The foregoing would invariably lead to some deductions in the Nigerian context.

First, besides the president more attention should be paid to the quality of leadership of leadership at the other tiers of government. Yes, by constitutional definition, the president is the Chief Executive Officer of the State with vast powers and enormous responsibilities. His or her character could determine a lot in the direction in which Nigeria should go. Yet the leadership decline at the other levels is eminently worthy of interrogation. For instance, in the long debate on restructuring, there is hardly any emphasis on the quality of leadership at the tier of government to which greater powers should be devolved.

The worst situation is at the local government level. It is there you would find the most unprepared cadre. Yet there was a period of Nigeria’s post-colonial history when some political leaders who once served creditably at the local governments later became governors who many people would not hesitate to vote as presidents if they contested presidential elections.

These political leaders had strength character. These leaders included Solomon Lar, Sam Mbakwe, Adekunle Ajasin and Bisi Onabanjo. In another clime, it is not unusual for a Mayor of Paris to aspire to become the president of France. It is all a measure of the standard of leadership expected at that level of government. Leadership recruitment should be taken more seriously and the political parties should also serve as platforms for leadership development. More concretely, the suggestion by Amuta of institutionalised leadership training should be considered.

Similarly, greater weight should be given to the leadership content at the state levels. The shenanigans that pass for governance in a some states are just unacceptable. The experience since 1999 is that a governor is a probable president at the end of his tenure. Apart from the two former military heads of states, only governors have become presidents. The legislative arm of government has largely not pulled its weight. At least, the noticeable executive-legislative feud at the federal level is sometimes because the National Assembly asserts its power over the budgetary process. In most states budgets are hardly scrutinised and the Speaker of the House is more or less a glorified special assistant to the governor on legislative matters. The governors intimidate the state legislature. Restructuring without balancing of the leadership at the state level would not automatically improve governance at that level.

Secondly, putting together a competent team is important for the leader to perform creditably. For instance, while President Muhammadu Buhari has the ultimate responsibility for governance, the truth is that members of his team should accept more responsibilities for governance. For instance, the economic team should accept more responsibility.

Without prejudice to the responsibility of the British Prime Minister, the Chancellor of Exchequer has his own slice of the responsibility just as the Treasury Secretary has leadership responsibilities in the United States. The same thing applies to other departments of government. Landmark policy ideas should flow from members of the team. It is said that when the first paper on the free education which has historically defined the government of Obafemi Awolowo in the old western region was presented by the minister of education, it was initially critically received by other cabinet members. This is a nugget of information from Brown’s book in which he makes a survey of forms of leadership.

In the same vein, as a retired General of the Nigerian Army, Buhari should accept more responsibilities for the lack coordination in the security and defence sector. It is good that the president has been talking tough recently on the security situation. Nothing less is expected. He should respond to the clamour for a rejig of the whole hierarchy of the state apparatus. Correspondingly, the other political parties seeking power in 2019 should also learn the necessary leadership lessons in this regard so that they could improve on the situation if they happen to get into power.

Above all, in making the question of leadership one of the issues of the 2019 elections the orientation of the leader also matters; that is the ideological content of leadership.


“If you ask some perceptive members of the public what should be the most important issue of the election, they would simply reply with one word: leadership”

Related Articles