2023: The Challenges of Nigeria’s Leadership Deficit

Nigerian elites have repeatedly pointed at poor leadership as the country’s biggest problem. One of the most recent comments on this issue and extensively dissected across the media was from the General Overseer of the Citadel Global Church, Pastor Tunde Bakare. In his presentation titled “The Conspicuous Handwriting on the Wall,” Bakare noted that the current leadership in Nigeria was treating the symptoms of the country’s foundational problems rather than the causes.

He pointed out that although the government‘s efforts were honest, they were too cosmetic to solve Nigeria’s two fundamental problems of nationhood and statehood. According to him, the country was buckling under insecurity, corruption, secessionist threats, and unemployment.

Poor leadership is usually the root problems of most countries. This assertion must have prompted former President Olusegun Obasanjo to acknowledge the leadership deficit in Nigeria. In his words, “Nigeria has no scarcity of people to lift the country and Africa up. But Nigeria is deficit in leadership.”

With the expected change of leadership baton at different levels in 2023, it is germane for Nigeria to pay deeper attention to her methods of leadership recruitment and other related issues that can influence future development.

When one takes a look at a simple definition of leadership, it involves knowing what to do and how to bring resources together to achieve them. Leadership is influence and management. It is basically the ability to positively affect the life of followers.

Above all, leadership is a determinant of the success or failure of government. Small wonder efforts are always made by critical stakeholders to bequeath or train people aspiring for leadership at all levels. This is in recognition of the role leadership plays in driving the objectives of development agenda in the society or in an organisation.

Some of the essential qualities of a great leader are known including clarity of vision, accurate decisiveness, good courage, passion and importantly high humility on the job. In Nigeria today, many leaders lack some, if not all of these qualities, and this affects those being led. Some have risen to leadership positions by favoritism, meaning without any trace of training or mentorship.

This development has created room for people to ascend leadership positions without having requisite skills and experience to pilot the affairs of organisations or communities, thereby leading to misplaced priorities in development programmes. This challenge in leadership usually reflects in the way problems are mismanaged, leading to the negative consequences we often find in the society, including the rampaging insecurity and parlous state of infrastructure in the country.

There are many followers, supervisors and managers, among others, but very few leaders. People have not given leadership the importance that it deserves. From history and leadership studies, we know that leaders are not necessarily born. Leaders can be trained and groomed through a process. But what one sees across the country is that there are government establishments and non-governmental organisations that have leadership centres which operate by name only. The contents of their works are devoid of comprehensive leadership training programmes that are meant to groom leaders to know the skills required for leadership including leadership style, effective leadership, leadership imperatives for organisations, among others.

All these can be narrowed to the leadership deficit in the entire landscape where we are having unfortunately poor political party management and very dismal governance outcomes. This deficit can be attributed to our political history and experience. Military intervention changed the trajectory of leadership in the country.

The common conversation these days has to do with the nexus between leadership deficit and the governance challenges that the country is experiencing. When one takes a look at the first republic, most senior citizens’ lamentations have always been that the military truncated the modeling system in terms of who to look up to in order to become somebody. In other words, the mentorship track or link was lost during the military interregnum in 1966.

There used to be a time when any aspiring leader in the community must be recognised by the military leadership in Abuja. And that changed the dynamics. More tragic was the strategic error that was made by many activists in 1999 by refusing to participate in politics which threw up the kind of leaders who have dominated the scene till today.

The political space has been hijacked since 1999 and those who had a foothold have seized the space and are replicating their kind. Godfatherism is an euphemism that describes all the wrongs that has happened in Nigeria’s political leadership. Leadership qualities don’t really matter much now in the face of godfatherism. Political godfathers are concerned about the next election and willing to dispense patronage, as nobody seems to care about leaving a legacy. It has permeated the society which is characterised by corruption, nepotism and moral degeneration.

This shows that political leadership is so central and important that it affects all other sectors in terms of policy formulation and passage of laws. No doubt, politics has influenced the socio-political atmosphere in the country. The type of leadership we see that is predominant is transactional leadership, where people follow because of what they will get. Most of them are just after the gains and rewards. Many follow leaders they don’t believe in just because it’s their means of survival.

In the political arena, the recruitment process is a big challenge, as the criteria for leadership selection are marred with irregularities. Most politicians believe they can occupy elective positions overnight. Many are drafted into various high positions unprepared. For instance, in the early 80s, a gubernatorial candidate who didn’t go beyond secondary school education emerged from one of the northern states. The media went to him to find out his plans to govern a state given his poor educational background. He told them that what he needed to do was just to wake up every morning and order that ‘a road be constructed here, a borehole be drilled there.’

There are problems not only in elective offices, but also in party leadership. In most cases, elective offices are monetised which makes it possible for the highest bidder to become the party’s candidate. Parties write beautiful manifestos but most of them do not implement it.

We must get it right in political party leadership because that will translate io ensuring that the process of getting those to contest elections and assume political offices are put into proper perspective, and probably get the appropriate leadership that we require.

Looking at the issue from a political point of view gives one a direction as to where the country is headed. There is a need for societal reorientation. Nigeria needs more than just good men. She needs to build firewalls around governance, while engaging people in that conversation.

There are societies that have had very profound programmes of reorientation of their people. Those societies passed through major political upheavals like the former Soviet Union, China, India, among others. They also go to ideological schools right from youth and are schooled in the values of the state and the values of society.

Thirty years ago in the policy circle, people were not clear about how to move people out of poverty. But China demonstrated that. In 15 years, they moved 730 million people out of poverty through enlightened leadership, pressure from below and social protection policies. India removed 170 million people from the poverty bracket through the same process.

This can be replicated in Nigeria because we have the rudiments. We are already clear about our national ethics and values. But for the leadership to do this, they have to be committed to total change. It comes close to what is called ‘committing class suicide.’ In other words, reproducing one’s type in politics and emphasising those things that hold us down will be a thing of the past.

Political leadership should be about the welfare of the people. The elite should leave social media and get involved in politics. In that case, a ‘development coalition’ could emerge to say enough is enough. When leaders are chosen the right way, and we have people that are properly mentored coming into leadership, we will overcome many of the current challenges we are facing.

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Many of those in government are there for their selfish interests. Sadly, the environment has continued to reproduce itself such that both leaders and citizens now fulfill a negative prophecy in the leadership terrain.

One needs to understand the dynamics driving the country into this bottomless pit. It’s the failure of leadership: the failure to build institutions, and observe the basic tenets of the rule of law. It’s the failure of citizens who have also not been organised to demand accountability from her leaders.

The beauty is that what needs to be done to change the leadership deficit is known whether in terms of leadership grooming, the process of preparing leaders, or policies that can change the dynamics of the country.

In complementing this discourse, experts are of the view that there are about four fundamental issues for leadership to succeed. The first is vision. This has to be identified and planned before getting into office. Any elective officer who waits until he gets into the office before he starts planning what to do, may not succeed because the time to plan is not always available. Bureaucratic process will always stand in the way. The very day the leader steps into such responsibility, s/he will be overwhelmed with protocol, courtesy calls, visitors, meetings, among others.

Secondly, planning how to achieve the vision is key. The leader must know their priorities, and this can only be achieved when such a leader taps from diverse views and opinions from experts.

Thirdly, the issue of recruiting those who will aid the leader in implementing their plans is paramount. Sadly, most appointments are political patronages, not based on the capability, experience, background or antecedents of the people that are coming to do the job.

Ultimately, there is the need for leaders to showcase exemplary conduct. The purpose of leadership and good governance is to qualitatively transform the state and society. A just society provides basic needs, and ensures equal opportunity for self-development through education and gainful employment.

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