I thank you for the invitation to reflect with you today on the important question of leadership. Since I am delivering the keynote address in a context in which there will be a lot of robust discussions by scholars, policy experts, bureaucrats, politicians, and civil society activists, I will limit myself a few issues which will include some key points which can be taken up subsequently and elaborated in the discussions that will follow.
In one sense, it might sound habitual to say that this meeting is convened at an important moment in Nigeria’s history; that is, a moment when there is a great need for leadership. Yet, in another sense, I am not making merely another standard call and pointing to a characteristic cavity in the body-politic. Without doubt, it is true that there have been many moments in Nigeria’s history where the need for leadership was great, yet, it is truer that in this moment, in this era, we are living through what some have predicted to be the last moments of Nigeria’s history. In such moments, leadership is needed. When a corporate entity, such as a nation-state, is faced with either the predictions of its imminent implosion, or the reality of such implosion, or both, there is no question that leadership becomes an important element in determining the turn that such a nation-state would take.
However, if you noticed, I am yet to adjectivise leadership. This is deliberate, because I want to call attention here to the fact that, even though this is often assumed without an adjective, the concept of leadership does not inherently suggest the values attached to it. Therefore, leadership can be positive and negative; good or bad. For instance, the existence of strong leadership does not necessarily mean good leadership, even though good leadership must also exhibit strength, resilience and effectiveness. General Sani Abacha was a strong leader, but the world recognises that his was a pestilential leadership which almost ended Nigeria’s history. On the other hand, and in contrast to strong leadership, weak leadership cannot be good leadership. Indeed, weak leadership can lead to the same catastrophic consequences as strong, but negative, leadership. Even though historians have presented evidence to contest the events that led to the saying that Nero was fiddling while Rome burned, there is no question that the figurative expression still captures a global concern about do-nothing leaders who fiddle while disasters approach.
Therefore, whether you have a strong leader who is devoted to wrong things, or you have a weak leader who knows not his left from his right, in the end, a nation will suffer. There is no doubt that since 1999 when Nigeria returned to democracy, we have had such forms of strong and weak leadership which can be described as fraudulent faces of the same obnoxious coin.
If you think I am being harsh in my summation of the kind of leadership we have had at the centre in Nigeria since 1999, among many factors, consider the fact that last year (2012), the GDP (purchasing power parity) of Nigeria was $450 billion, yet, in that same year, the unemployment rate was 23.9 per cent and no less that seventy per cent (70%) of the Nigerian population lived below poverty line. So, where did all the money go? This is the same country in which the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) was requesting another N7 billion to complete the official residence of the Vice President, in addition to the over N7 billion already appropriated by the National Assembly the year before for the same project. And the FCT was also planning to spend N4 billion to construct the African First Ladies’ Mission House in Abuja.
N14 billion for the vice president and a N4 billion for the First Ladies’ Mission House in a country in which no less than seventy per cent (70%) of the population live below the poverty line; and in a country in which a large part is either not been governed well or has become even ungovernable! No wonder that Wiseman Nkuhlu, the former CEO of New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) stated that, “What Africa has to get right in order to claim the 21st century is to improve leadership across the board.”
Against this background, we need to unpack the concept of leadership to be able to see how defining a new form of leadership in Nigeria can produce the Nigeria of our collective dreams. Perhaps this will also help us to understand the kind of leaders we have produced in Nigeria and how we can produce the right kind of leaders.
W h a t i s L e a d e r s h i p ?
As you are all aware, there are several definitions, formal and informal, technical and general, of what constitutes leadership. In fact, no less 65 distinct systems of classifying leadership have been identified by scholars. There are also countless quotations from philosophers, thinkers, leaders, activists, writers and other observers of the nature of human society on what constitutes leadership. What is central to all these definitions and statements about leadership however is the acknowledgement of the fundamental importance of leadership. Even the general theories of state formation and historical change, whether radical or liberal, in virtually all their strands, recognise that without leadership, there can be no transformation. The Marxist theory of history .with its materialist analysis of the stages of state and societal evolution, its dialectical view of social change and its analysis of class relations – also reveals the centrality of leadership. In fact, Marxist theory invites a dialectic approach to the question of leadership of a class, if we follow Leon Trotsky’s brilliant scrutiny. In his analysis of the “The Class, the Party, and the Leadership,” Trotsky stated clearly that “The role and the responsibility of the leadership in a revolutionary epoch is colossal.” What Trotsky said is as true of a revolutionary epoch, as it is true of such a complex and dreadful epoch in which Nigeria finds herself now.
At the basic level, leadership is about “establishing direction and influencing others to follow that direction.” Therefore, an element that is common to all the definitions of leadership is the “notion that leaders are individuals who, by their actions, facilitate the movement of a group of people toward a common or shared goal.”
Let us now examine a few of the perspectives provided by leading scholars on the subject of leadership. These would provide an important background to a discourse on how to engender a new form of leadership in Nigeria.
Within what has come to be described as the “Bass Theory of Leadership” we have three basic ways of explaining leadership. Bass argues that the first view of leadership if the focus groupprocess.In this perspective, the leader is at the centre of group activity and change; the leader also represents the embodiment of the group. This has also been called the “Great Event or Great Man Theory.” In this part of Nigeria, we can easily identify Chief Obafemi Awolowo, as someone whose leadership exemplified this great man theory. The second view approaches leadership from a personality perspective. In this case, leadership is a function of the special traits or characteristics possessed by individuals. Those who possess the relevant characteristics are able to use them to influence others to accomplish certain goals. This has been called “Trait Theory.”
Some of such traits include capacity for articulation of collective situation, ability to consult widely, capacity for initiating new ideas, firmness without rigidity, honesty and integrity, etc. The third is the approach that emphasises that leadership is an act or behaviour, meaning what leaders do to bring out change in any context. This has also been called the “Transformational or Process Leadership theory”. However, all these are not mutually exclusive. A leader can reflect all there or more than one.
Some others have identified four dimensions of leadership from the many perspectives of leadership offered.
(i) leadership is a process;
(ii) leadership involves influence;
(iii) leadership occurs in groups, and;
(iv) leadership involves common goals.
On the basis of these four dimensions, Peter. G. Northouse states that “Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.”
This definition has important implications for understanding the role of leadership in society, particularly based on the four dimensions identified. If we see leadership as a process, that would imply that leadership is not a trait or characteristic that inheres in the leader, but rather, a transaction between the leader and the followers -which produces mutual effects on the two ends; that is, with effects on the leader as much as on the followers. In this context, leadership is neither a linear, nor a one-way traffic. Such a conception of leadership makes leadership open to everyone, since it is no longer limited to those who are formally designated as leaders.
In respect of influence, the leader must affect his followers. You cannot be a leader without having influence. Indeed, leadership is about the capacity to influence people, whether directly or indirectly, or in fact, both. Also, leadership is a context-bound, or context-specific phenomenon.
You cannot be a leader in a vacuum. Against this background, leadership occurs within groups.
The process of leadership and the influence of leadership exist within specific groups, small or large. This group can be a club, an organisation, a school, a society, a community, a state, a nation, or even the global community. This is why we call some people local leaders, some regional leaders, some national leaders, and some global leaders.
Leadership is also about attending to common goals. Whether these goals are good or bad, every leader attends to the goals commonly defined by the group to which he or she belongs. A leader usually directs his or her energies to ensure that units within a whole work together to achieve something together. As Northouse states, we use the adjective “common” along with goals to indicate that “leaders and followers have a mutual purpose.” Indeed, it is the commonality of goals within a group that “gives leadership an ethical overtone because it stresses the need for leaders to work with followers to achieve selected goals.”
By considering the process, influence, group and goals that ground leadership, it is apparent that leaders need followers as much as followers need leaders.
There are several factors that determine the emergence of leadership in any context and also determine the pattern of such leaderships. We can have instant/emergency leadership, emergent leadership, and transformational/enduring leadership. Instant or emergency leadership is the kind of leadership that emerges without preparation to meet particular needs. Such leaders may, in fact, lack the qualities or traits of leadership that would be required under normal circumstances. They may just be at the right place at the right time and would have been pressed by the emergency situation to respond. Emergent leadership takes a longer period of gestation based on the combination of the individual’s qualities and preparation and the social circumstances, including the acceptance and support of the followers. Before such leadership fully matures, the possibilities of its full maturation would have been evident over time.
In the case of enduring leadership, there is not only a long period of gestation and preparation and acceptance and support by the followers, there are also several other factors, personal and social, which make it possible for such a leadership to survive for a long period and perhaps for all times. There are people who will always be considered as leaders, whether alive or dead, because such was the uniqueness of their leadership qualities that they remain guiding lights to members of their group for the rest of time. Enduring leaders are often transformational leaders. By the force of their ideas, by the new possibilities that they bring to fruition, by their force of character, by becoming the vanguard for conquering new lands, spaces or superseding existing reality, transformational leaders bring a new world to place.
However, the social identity theory introduces a very interesting perspective on the subject of leadership which ought to provoke deep reflections, especially in a country such as ours. This theory holds that the emergence of leadership depends on “the degree to which a person fits with the identity of the group as a whole.”7 It is argued that “As groups develop over time, a group prototype also develops. Individuals emerge as leaders in the group when they become most like the group prototype. Being similar to the prototype makes leaders attractive to the group and gives them influence with the group.”
8 If we extrapolate this argument to a larger group, such as a country, does it still hold true? Is it not a theoretical way of explaining what we mean when we say that a people deserves the kind of leaders they get? If this is true, then do we say, to give just a few examples, that the “group prototype” developed in Nigeria led to the emergence of leaders like Generals Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha and President Olusegun Obasanjo?
Can we argue that these former leaders and the present president, as this theory states, “fit with the identity” of the country as a whole? Can we conclude along with a leading columnist who stated that our leaders “are merely the strongest in our vices or virtues”? Can we contest the conclusion in the Koran that it is our likes who will be our rulers?
W h a t i s G o o d L e a d e r s h i p ?
While the question of ethics and morality have largely been at the foundation of most discussions on good leadership, people often forget that the question of technical capacity, that is competence, is also at the heart of good leadership. An ethically-, or morally-good leadership may not necessarily be a technically-good leadership. However, it is the combination of ethics, morality and competence that make for the best form of leadership. While ethics is social, morality is personal. Therefore, the combination of the ethical with the moral in a very competent man or woman makes for excellent leadership. In Nigeria, we have had a few competent leaders who were both ethically-and morally-challenged and were therefore total failures as leaders. We have also had a couple of morally-upright, and even ethical, leaders who were so transparently incompetent that the results of their leadership were not too different from that of their deeply corrupt colleagues.
Another key factor in determining good leadership is change. Any good leader must bring about change; that is, he or she must make a great difference. It should be evident that without the specific form of leadership offered by such a good leader, one major thing or the other would not have happened or would not have been sustainable. However, change can be for better or for worse. Therefore, we cannot assume that any kind of change is a sufficient condition for good leadership. After all, in our experience in Nigeria, we know of some leaders whose leadership so violently changed our social values and bastardised our political system such that since they left power Nigeria has never been the same. Such leaders might have been good leaders, but they are the ones that Lagbaja fails to mention in his popular song where he says, “Bad leaders like…, bad leaders like…”
This is why it is important to dwell on what constitutes good, effective and efficient leadership. While older theories of leadership were more concerned with the traits or skills of good leadership, contemporary theories are focussing on the actions of leaders. However, despite the contemporary focus on the actions of leaders as the better indicators of good leadership, we still need to examine the traits of leadership.
Therefore, starting with the traits as evident in the Traits Approach to leadership, good leadership involves:
• Vision – as the Holy Writ says, a people perish without a vision. A leader must be able to make the group dream dreams about a greater future. Good leadership must also demonstrate foresight and imagination.
• Intelligence – intellectual ability is unavoidable for good leadership. This includes verbal ability, perception, reasoning, etc.
• Self-confidence – even where a leader is intelligent and has knowledge, self-confidence is critical for good leadership, because the leader needs to be certain about his or her competences and skills. The leader must also have self-esteem, self-assurance and self-believe. Without self-confidence a leader can neither inspire nor persuade people to follow.
• Drive and Motivation – leadership also depends a lot on drive and inspiration. Any leadership that lacks enthusiasm, energy or vitality and ambition to make a change will never be able to stimulate the followers and the environment.
• Determination – a leader must be clear about where he or she wants to take the followers and how. Without a cleared define goal in the mind of the leadership, a group will be rudderless. Any leader that lacks willpower and fortitude cannot but be a weak, and therefore, a bad leader.
• Honesty, integrity and strength of character – both personal morality and social ethics are imperative for good leadership.
A leader that cannot be, and is therefore, not trusted by the followers is not a good leader.
• Sociability – even while being firm, a leader must be genial, cordial or amiable and diplomatic. Followers must feel a connection to the leader and therefore, the pleasantness of the leader must only not be true, it must be evidently true.
Beyond the traits, good leadership also involves skills. While it has been argued by scholars that traits “are who leaders are,” that is, their innate characteristics, skills are about what leaders can accomplish.
There are three skills which have been identified as very critical for leadership. These are technical, humanand conceptualskills. These leadership skills constitute “the ability to use one’s knowledge and competencies to accomplish a set of goals or objectives.”
The good thing about these skills is that they can be acquired; leaders can be trained to develop them.
Technical skills include knowledge about specific things and proficiency in some areas.
Good leadership requires knowledge, including good education, information about the environment, comprehension, wisdom, and capacity for understanding complex issues and capacity for analysis. For instance, the executive at the state or federal level are presented with an avalanche of information about different issues, political, economic, fiscal, technological, social, etc. Without education and a quality of mind to understand and analyse these information, even with sound advice, the leader is likely to take wrong decisions. We have had leaders in this country who are easily deceived by so-called economic experts because the leaders lack the knowledge of even basic economics. Yet, we also have the example of a leader like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who though a lawyer headed the Federal Finance Ministry at the most difficult years of Nigeria’s existence and excelled in ways in which many of the so-called experts in economics and finance have been unable to do in peace time.
Another skill is human skill.
This is about the knowledge about, and ability to work with, people. While technical skill involves working with things,human skill includes working with the most complex phenomena in the world, that is, human beings. This is what helps a leader to coordinate different and many layers of human networks, including subordinates, aides, peers, superiors, etc. This is the skill that is needed to ensure the kind of cooperation that is necessary for achieving results. This is the skill necessary for motivating people and driving them to support the vision and mission of the leader.
If a leader has both technical and human skills without conceptual skill,14 he or she will not be a great or transformational leader. Conceptual skill involves the ability to work with ideas and concepts. Where technical skill deals with things, and human skills are used in managing people, conceptual skill deals with ideas.
The transformation of the world is based on the ability to conceive of a different world, a different situation, or different practices. Conceptual skills are necessarily for creating a vision of society and conceiving strategic plans.
Perhaps, it is against this background that the US Army advertises its position that leaders must be evaluated on the basis of (i) what they are– such as beliefs and character; (ii) what they know– about their job, the tasks they are saddled with and about human nature, and; (iii) what they do – in terms of implementation, motivation and direction.
Let me conclude by discussing briefly how we can define a new form of leadership in Nigeria. It is needless to remind you all that one of fundamental problems facing Nigeria is the problem of leadership. If we resolve the problem of leadership in Nigeria, we would have automatically slashed by half all our national crises. Most of the problems that Nigeria has faced since independence are largely products of bad leadership.
If we recall, in the early 1960s, Nigeria was at the same level of development with other countries which are now described as “Asian Tigers.” Last year, President Goodluck Jonathan stated that Nigeria will replicate the Asian Tigers’ economy before the end of his tenure. He said this at the Nigeria-Korea Investment Forum in Seoul, South Korea. It is difficult to tell whether the president was joking with his foreign hosts or if he was just humouring his compatriots back home. “The growth of your [South Korean] economy despite not having any natural resources is something we want to repeat in Nigeria with our abundant resources,” said President Jonathan. “We want to borrow a leaf from the miracle of the Han River in making Nigeria one of the 20 largest economies,” he added. Whether the President proposes to build another South Korea in Nigeria within his first term or his hoped-for second term, we may not know. But we know that he cannot accomplish what he promised, and that he will not even attempt to do so.
It is now one year since the president boasted to the world about making Nigerian an “African Tiger,” but this tiger has not even been conceived, and therefore has little hope of being born. One year after, rebuilding the Lagos-Ibadan Road and the Sagamu-Ore-Benin Road, to cite just two examples, is yet to be accomplished by the administration that wants to build a “Tiger economy”. Why not start with a “(Domestic) Cat economy” before thinking of a “Tiger economy”? The leadership that wants to build a “Tiger economy” is the same regime that has just pardoned some of the most notorious rogues in the last 10 years in Nigeria: One, a state governor who stole his state blind and caused Nigeria international embarrassment in the United Kingdom, and the other a man who stole the collective wealth of the people in all the states of the old Northern Region though the bank he headed. If leaders of South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, the Asian Tigers, spent their time in office pardoning scoundrels with voracious appetite for the common purse, would they have been able to become such highly developed economies? If they glorified and accommodated reprobate politicians and defended their absurdity with such repellent mendacity, as the presidential spokesman did recently, would these four countries have been able to “bridge the gulf” between them and the industrialised economies of the world such as those of United States, Canada, Britain and France?
Even though most people concentrate on the economics of what these Asian Tigers did to turn their economies into global models, such as focusing on their comparative advantage in the global market, investing massively in education, and promoting neo-liberal economic policies, among others, we often overlook the fact that none of these factors would have happened or would have worked without good leadership. Where is our own Lee Kuan Yew, the man who led
16 See, Sabella Abidde, “Replicating the Asian Tigers Economy in Nigeria,” Punch, April 4, 2012.
Singapore in the separation from Malaysia in 1965 and provided the leadership for the transformation of his underdeveloped country with no natural resources into a First World nation?
All the factors that I have been describing about good leadership are well illustrated in the man popularly called LKY. At independence, LKY announced three main concerns for his leadership of Singapore. The first was national security, giving the location of his country in the Cold War era and the threats that the country faced; the economy, which he recognised one of the most important ways of securing his country’s independence and developing a great country; and social issues, including the issue of political corruption. Unlike those who mouth “Asian Tiger” ambitions in Nigeria without the vision, zeal and commitment of a LKY, Lee reorganised the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) in Singapore and gave it great powers.
I do not want to give the impression that Lee was blameless in the almost three decades that he was in power, however, what is significant is that in spite of his excesses, he ensured the radical transformation of his country. He even proudly announced that the only natural resources that Singapore has were its people and their strong work ethic. The story of Singapore is the story of good leadership. For those who are yet to read it, his book, FromThirdWorldtoFirst: The Singapore Story, tells the story of the “miracle” of Southeast Asia and that of good leadership.
Let me end by sharing my thoughts on what I consider to be the building blocks of a new form of leadership in Nigeria. As explicated earlier, to bring about a new form of leadership in Nigeria, there are certain things that both the leaders and the followers must be, knowand do.
What has been described by some as the road to great leadership is also the road that great followers must follow. Leaders and follows alike need to:
-they must find a process that they believe needs improvement most and work on improving them. I will suggest among others that the National Assembly, where I am a Senator, is one of such processes. Just like the executive and the judiciary, the legislature in Nigeria is in need of good leaders to reform it.
ii. Inspire a shared vision –new leadership can only emerge in Nigeria when people who have a vision of a better society begin by sharing this vision and organising people around the vision. Too many imposters who pretend to be leaders are the ones dictating the tone and tenor of our politics. Good leaders need to emerge and challenge this.
iii. Enable others to act -Good leaders provide the opportunities, tools and methods of solving problems to other leaders and their followers. We cannot have a form of leadership if we do not empower people to lead themselves.
iv. Model the way21 – Good leaders are pathfinders who are also ready to sacrifice themselves in every way. New leaders must emerge in the process of showing what can be done to create a better society, and not merely by saying it. Those who sit in the comfort of their homes to condemn politics and politicians without getting into the fray will hardly be able to affect the process. Those who want to lead must get into the ring and wear their gloves too. Nigeria is in crisis and good ethical and morally-conscious and capable people must not wait until the country collapses before they join the battle.
More than at any other time in her history, Nigeria needs good leadership now. In the face of what some have described as “remorseless pessimism” about the fate of the country, those of us who are committed to building a better country must rise up and pick up the gauntlet. The time is now. Good leadership is most needed in these times.
We need a new kind of leadership which will (i) establish a new direction, by creating a vision, clarifying the big picture and set strategies; (ii) create a sense of unity among Nigerians from diverse backgrounds by communicating the national goals, seeking the commitment of all citizens, and building coalitions around the country to achieve these goals ; and, (iii) motivate and inspire the people by energizing the citizens of Nigeria, empowering them and satisfying the many needs of Nigerians which have not been met by the present federal government and the ones before it.
I can see such leadership in the horizon. But it will not arrive until we are all ready to do our part.
I thank you for your attention.
(Keynote Presented at the Policy Debate Organised by the Yoruba Academy in
conjunction with the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan.
22 March, 2013.)