Succession and obligation of leadership

Am I a good leader? I do not know and I guess no one else does. The people, the future and history will stand judge and I will accept their judgements no matter what it might be. Nevertheless, I am fully convinced that I am leading my people, not only on the right part, but on the only one available  — Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the  United Arab Emirate, UAE

PRESENTLY, the global community is in agreement that Nigeria is blessed with abundant resources – both human and natural. But in spite of these resources, development professionals are concerned that the nation is equally littered with a huge number of ‘coercive’ and selfish leaders as against truly ‘democratic, pace-setting and coaching’ leaders. Essentially also, Nigerians, particularly the poor masses, are aware of these disappointing performances of their leaders and need no one to remind them. They are visible realities.

Aside from these failure exacerbated by public office holders/policymakers non- recognition that efficiency of the government does not only affect the performance of the public sector – but affects that of the whole country, including the private sector, Nigerians have in the past six years watched the country lie prostrate and diminish socially and economically with grinding poverty and starvation driving more and more people into the ranks of beggars, whose desperate struggle for bread renders them insensible to all feelings of decency and self-respect, while the privileged political few continue to flourish in obscene splendour as they pillage and ravage the resources of our country at will.

Also a source of apprehension is the awareness that with less than two years to the expiration of this administration, there is neither a sincere desire among elected officials to engage best minds to help get the answers and deploy the resources we need to move into the future nor engineer a sustainable process of generational change in the nation’s leaders structure via recruitment and allocation of rightful leadership positions to youthful Nigerians.

From the above realities, the following questions may be asked: what is the obligation of leadership in any given society, state or nation? What is giving a boost to Nigeria’s poor leadership that is notoriously reputed for, and devoid of sincere succession plan?

Why is such negative leadership practice gradually becoming a norm in Nigeria? Why are public office holders in Nigeria reluctant to alleviate the real condition of the poor, the deprived, the lonely, and the oppressed or at the very least, get into their lives and participate in their struggle?

How come public office holders in Nigeria are never willing to give, train, or admit youths into leadership apprenticeship? Why is this practice of leadership type characterised as self-centered and non-coaching? Why is Nigeria’s leadership ideology not based on considerations such as meritocracy, pace-setting, people-focused but primarily on mundane factors such as tribal/ethnicity, religion, power rotation and Federal Character?

Why has leadership in the country seriously failed to provide security and pursuit of economic welfare of citizens which are the only two constitutional responsibilities of the state which all leaders must achieve?

To many, the answer to the above is signposted in leaders’ ground propensity/penchant for corruption, cronyism, backdoor or under the counter leadership approaches/ practices. Others argue that more often, leaders believe that knowledge is power and that they retain power only by keeping what they know to themselves.

Their implicit strategy is to preserve their leadership discretion by deliberately leaving the rules for success and failure vague. In their calculation, it is better to maintain control by keeping the people at arm’s length as bringing them close would represent a threat. Could this be the only explanation?

Definitely not! There also exists public office holders in Nigeria who understand power as the ability to protect their interest and not as an opportunity to engineer social, political and economic prosperity. However, one can make a stronger case as to why Nigeria’s leadership challenge is a crisis.

To support this claim, let us take a look at how Kuan Yew, pioneer Prime Minister of Singapore, used creative leadership prowess characterised by talent hunt, education, leadership apprenticeship/coaching, to stamp out leadership mediocrity in Singapore, and in its place, install sustainable leadership excellence for the nation via establishment of succession structure/culture that allows brilliant minds to collide and create.

Let’s listen to Lee: “Our greatest task was to find the people to replace my aging ministers and myself. My colleagues and I had started to search for younger men as possible successors in the 1960s.

We could not find them among the political activists who joined the PAP; so we scouted for able, dynamic, dependable, and hard-driving people wherever they were to be found. In the 1968 general election, we fielded several Ph.Ds, bright minds, and teachers at the universities, professionals, including lawyers, doctors, and even top administrators as candidates.

In by-elections in 1970 and 1972, we fielded several more. We soon discovered that they needed to have other qualities besides a disciplined mind able to marshal facts and figures, write a thesis for PhD, or be a professional.”

Leadership, he added, is more than just ability. It is a combination of courage, determination, commitment, character, and ability that makes people willing to follow a leader. We needed people who were activists with good judgement and interpersonal skills.

The search became more urgent at each subsequent election because I could see that my colleagues were visibly slowing down. To do this, Lee said something interesting: “I had to find and get into office a group of men to provide Singapore with effective and creative leadership.

Had I left it to chance, depending on the activists coming forward to join us, I would never have succeeded. We set out to recruit the best into the government. The problem was to persuade them to enter politics, get themselves elected, and learn how to move and win people over to their side.

It was a slow and difficult process with a high attrition rate. Successful, capable professionals and executives are not natural political leaders, able to argue, cajole, and demolish the argument opponents at mass rallies, on television, and in parliament.

“To see how wide the net must be cast for talent, I had only to remember that the best ministers in my early cabinets were not born in Singapore. Three-quarters of them had come from outside Singapore.

The net that brought in my generation of leaders was thrown in a big sea that stretched from South China across Malaysia, to South India and Ceylon. Whenever I had a lesser minister in charge, I invariably had to push and prod him, and later to review problems and clear roadblocks for him.

The end result was never what could have been achieved. When I had the right man in charge, a burden was off my shoulders. I needed only to make clear the objectives to be achieved, the time frame within which he must try to do it, and he would find a way to get it done. 

Indeed, while the above account in my view sums up the obligation of leadership, this piece must underline without fail that Nigeria and Nigerians need leaders like Lee of Singapore and  Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum  of UAE to lead them not only on the right part, but on the only one available.

*Utomi, the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy, SEJA, Lagos, wrote via: