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Adegbite, the Leadership Question

Adegbite, the Leadership Question



0805 500 1974                    

For a few hours last Wednesday in Lagos some Nigerians of diverse backgrounds and perspectives gathered to reflect on the perennial leadership question.

The occasion was the first edition of the Memorial Series on Leadership organised  in honour of Dr. Lateef Adegbite, a senior  lawyer and the Secretary-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. Among other leadership positions held by Adegbite, who died 10 years ago, were  the chieftaincy title of Seriki of Egbaland, commissioner in the old western state in the 1970s, pro-chancellor of the University of Maiduguri and the president of the Nigerian Olympic Committee from 1978 to 1985.  A Commander of the Order of Niger (CON), Adegbite was also  appointed by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 as the Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Public Awareness on Security and Responsibilities.

Expectedly, speakers at the forum with the theme “Transformational Development in Nigeria: The Leadership Imperative” employed the force of example provided by the remarkable  life of Adegbite to explore the leadership question. Some of the virtues of  Adegbite that came to the fore in the discussion were a keen sense of public purpose, character, discipline,  hard work,  cosmopolitan outlook, patriotism  team spirit, respect for diversity and the ability to inspire others. Indeed, in the Nigerian  desert of poor leadership the oases represented by  the example of Adegbite abound. Yet not a few would be quick to say that the real problem of Nigeria is the lack of leadership to drive the development process. On this note,  Chinua Achebe’ s book,  The Trouble with Nigeria,  is often quoted: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership… There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character… The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”  The famous book was first published in 1983, the year Nigeria held the last general elections of the Second Republic.

Now, the relevance of this discussion is obvious five months to  the 2023 general elections which some pundits have posited would be “different”  After all, the textbook definition of  election is the choice of leadership.

The tone for the robust dialogue was set by the chairman of the occasion, the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence Muhammadu Sa’adu Abubakar II.  He said that for a nation to be “great,” the factor of leadership  should not be missing.  The Sultan said the occasion was extremely important for him to  attend because of the personality of Adegbite.  The traditional ruler   had to share his day between being in Lagos in the morning  to honour the memory of Adegbite and rushing for another important engagement in Abuja in the afternoon.  

Drawing on the concept of leadership in Islam, the Sultan put the matter in the simplest terms like this : “for  a group of people to embark on a journey successfully, there must be a leader to give direction.” He identified  “the respect for diversity” as a virtue that a leader should posses in the Nigerian context.  And here the Sultan  made an important point which is often misunderstood  in the discussion of national integration. According to him, people should “understand” rather than  “tolerate” one another in a landscape of socio-cultural diversity.  The Sultan said : “Understand me;  don’t tolerate me… For instance, I am the Sultan, nothing can be done about that…” This point should be amplified by all those committed to  the task of national reorientation and integration because the Sultan is quite right in his proposition.

For clarity, here is a dictionary definition of the word “tolerate”:   “allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one dislikes or disagrees with) without interference: a regime unwilling to tolerate dissent. • accept or endure (someone or something unpleasant or disliked) with forbearance: how was it that she could tolerate such noise?”

So, if  there is knowledge, which all great religions preach, there should be no basis for  the adherent of one religion to   “dislike”  the religion of his fellow citizen or find another faith “unpleasant”  in the first place.

Therefore, the question of tolerating the faith of another  person doesn’t arise at all in a constitutionally multi- religious country.

In matters of religious differences, what is required is not  tolerance. Instead there should be  mutual understanding and respect.   Come to think of it,  inter-faith dialogue at the global level  now emphasises  our common humanity regardless of different faiths . Or as  the Sultan put it : “love one another, if you love God.”

Besides, the Sultan made some symbolic gestures relevant to his important statement. As he was about leaving the hall after his speech he invited Dr. Josephine Dere  Awosika, former federal permanent secretary and now chairman of Access Bank, to represent him as  the acting chairman of the occasion. The Sultan  had earlier specially acknowledged the presence of the lady, a well-known technocrat. According to the foremost traditional ruler and religious leader, calling Awosika to the podium to replace him was to demonstrate gender inclusivity  at the occasion. The Sultan and Awosika met as members of the National  Institute for Policy and Strategic  Studies (NIPSS) in 2006. At the time, the Sultan was a military officer while Mrs. Awosika was a senior civil servant at the federal level. Today, Awosika is a friend to the family of the family of the Sultan. 

With the foregoing  introduction to the event from the traditional  ruler and the president of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, the tenor   of the discussion turned more secular and policy-focussed  as speakers passionately looked at dimensions of development. 

Interestingly, former minister of  Communications and Technology, Dr. Omobola  Johnson expressed optimism that Nigeria could still take the lead in telecommunication in Africa given the right policies and diligent implementation.  This was followed by the  critical analysis of Nigeria’s development journey and the role of leadership by  eminent investor and banker, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede.  Corporate lawyer Asue Ighodalo examined the factor of  quality and  the capacity in transformational leadership while entrepreneur and administrator Oyindamola Lami Adeyemi harped with nostalgia on  the place of values as she advocated “leading with less and building for development.”

Noteworthy was the vigour that the speakers brought to bear on  the important theme  of the role of leadership in development.  It is significant that virtually all those  who spoke at the occasion  are second-generation members of the elite from their respective eminent families. Yet they spoke of transformation with so much fervour and a sense of urgency. They were in unison in calling for a developmental leap for Nigeria to have a secure future. If the mood in the hall that day was actually  representative of the nation’s elite, it would be wrong to accuse the middle and  upper classes  of complacency in the face of a multi-dimensional crisis.

By the way, another word for transformation is revolution.  However, given their respective ideological make-ups, the speakers were surely  not calling for the emergence of   revolutionary leaders. The implication of their various analyses is that Nigeria direly needs committed reformers.

Another instructive approach employed by the speakers was  the  fact that looking back into  history a lot of  lessons could be learnt from  the nation’s development efforts. For example, in his presentation entitled  “The Governance Paradox: The Criticality and Insufficiency of Good Governance for Nigeria’s Transformational Development,” Aig-Imoukhuede  made a sweeping survey of history since the colonial days and concluded that “leadership is of existential importance.”  He identified some periods when the critical role of leadership  in the public sector relatively advanced the  development process. He distinguished between “transactional’’ and “transformational” leadership.  For him, the traits of the  transformational leaders should include  brilliance, character and empathy.

In a similar approach , Ighodalo  identified leadership models from other lands –  South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, China’s Deng Xiaoping, Rwanda’ s Paul Kagame, Britain’s Margaret Thatcher and Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew.  According to Ighodalo, some of  these leaders took “tough decisions” and  summoned the capacity to  implement policies “effectively.”

Still on the optimistic note, Ighodalo  said “it is not impossible to be incorruptible in Nigeria,” while pointing to corruption in both the public and  private sectors.

All told, there is a problematic with the  liberal concept of leadership which was dominant in the discussions. This is more so if you are talking of the leadership of a nation.

Leadership is sometimes presented  like a cap put on the head of a nation. No, leaders at all levels  do not emerge in a systemic vacuum. Because of the organic relationship between the leader and the society at any period in history, it is unimaginable  that “good leadership”  could be grafted on a society  as it is often being suggested. Every  system throws up its leaders at different period of a nation’s history. Leaders produced in a fascist state would be different from those produced in liberal democratic ones.  A revolutionary leader would lead a nation towards a revolution. If leaders are to lead the nation in a particular direction, the nature of the system would determine the direction in the first place.

In reflecting on the problems of leadership, the systemic limitation should also be considered.  For instance, in Nigeria today there is hardly any elite  consensus about what actually constitutes development. The question would, therefore, be this: transformation to which end?  When a governor embarks on “projects” at the state capital which include  the secretariat  building, a conference centres,    presidential lodge and other monuments, he would be hailed as “transforming” the state in developmental terms. But that is no development for the citizens in rural areas and urban slums who lack potable water and still practise open defaecation. 

Yet, save a revolution leaders of all hues would be mostly  drawn from this  class of the elite whose conception of development is contradictory to the interest of the poor majority.    

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