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Friday Sermon: Leadership Now!

By Babatunde Jose

Nowadays, any responsible person could be easily offended by the increasing atrocities in the world. This is particularly true for Africans as the continent is suffering from various terrible misdeeds and mischief. The major cause of all existing wrongdoings in our beloved and resource-rich continent is primarily poor leadership.

Indeed, many people in Africa do not have trust in their leaders. This is because most often than not leaders tend to abuse power for various reasons. It is often said by many that African leaders put their personal interests above anything else. It is obvious that their self-interest may not be the interest of the public at large. Corruption, nepotism, egoism and abuse of power are the major characteristics of African leaders.

Leadership has been defined in many ways: as a matter of personality, as a power relation and as ‘the process by which groups, organizations, and societies attempt to achieve common goals’. Leadership is essential to the human condition and is both current and timeless. The research field on leadership is filled with contradictions: One of the foremost U.S. scholars on leadership, James McGregor Burns writes in his book, “Leadership”(1978), that “one of the universal cravings of our time is the demand for compelling leadership”. Yet leadership is an ambiguous concept; Thomas Wren writes it is “one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth”. Thomas Cronin echoes Burns, that leadership is a ‘mysterious’ concept which is poorly defined and not well applied. Thus there is no coherent theoretical ‘school’ of leadership thought. The fundamental crisis is intellectual; we have failed to set the necessary intellectual and scientific standards to measure good leadership. The definition of good leadership often depends on which side of the political divide you are. Political affiliation often determines which leader is good or bad.

Last week, Prof Adebayo Williams in his piece: The Evolving Dynamics of the Nation-State Paradigm, opined:“The current global crisis of the nation-state paradigm offers Nigerian visionary statesmen the most compelling impetus to creatively tinker with, or completely do away with, the nation-state paradigm they have inherited from their colonial overlords.” However, on further interrogation, the Prof went on to elucidate: “Finally when I speak to Nigerian visionary statesmen, I am not thinking of the current dismal and pedestrian in our assemblies or executive mansion. These lots cannot visualize not to talk of visioning.” The question therefore arises; how do we conceptualize leadership under the current circumstance?

How to lead a group of followers effectively is debated within leadership theory; one strain of thought is the idea of the “transforming leader” who literally attempts to change the mindsets of his followers. For many scholars, history is shaped by the leadership of great men. A sudden decision by a great man could change the course of history and reinterpret historical situations in times of uncertainty. These leaders are effective because they keep the fundamental political values of their time up to date. A transforming leader stimulates enthusiasm and moves the nation when his goals are goals that the followers wish themselves to attain. He can do this by appealing to the best in the followers. Political leaders can be transforming by articulating a shared moral purpose to the citizens. This purpose may awaken dormant needs and values that would be accepted once awakened. The political leader succeeds only when the compelling political purpose is accepted.

However, most politicians are not transforming. Both constituents and leaders focus on short-term goals, but a short-term perspective is not the most effective way to lead. More statesmanlike leaders will arouse and direct a democracy toward achieving longer term goals. This appeal to longer-term goals instead of short term goals is found in the conceptual distinction between ‘the politician’ and the ‘statesman’. There is no doubt what we have had over the years are politicians and not statesmen. Our leaders cannot even practice democracy, even in its crudest form.

There is lack of leadership in Africa. In terms of the ecological situation of leadership, it has to do with the socio-political environment, in which we have three key players namely, the leader, the follower and then the environment. Leadership responds to the environment, the same way followership works with leadership. In other words, there is a quintessential interface between leadership and followership, and the social space or environment. In Africa, all we have seen is rulership or at best “managership”. Such rulership or misleadership often carries along with it the excess baggage of more innocuous problems for the continent. Any impassioned person about the continent, capable of reading the context of the African dilemma and analyzing it, it is same story of one leadership ineptitude or the other.

Leadership has not been oversubscribed to as the problem of Africa, contrary to how some scholars have argued in recent times. It is contended in that line of thought that there are other dire straits in 21st century Africa that tend to render leadership to a secondary matter as they defy leadership. However, it is pertinent to note, leadership is an intervening variable in modern governable society as it increases or decreases the rate of the crisis, depending on policy choices, decisions and implementation.

There are three types of leadership challenges at the generic level in the 21st century, namely, the contextual, the personal and the changing paradigms. At the contextual level in the case of Africa, the historical, environmental, diseases, poverty, wars and political instability, infrastructural and general underdevelopment are the turbulent issues. At the personal level, observation has shown that there is low drive or motivation towards self development on the part of Africans (leaders or followers), absence of leadership and general performance skills and a warped educational system, which started dying with the advent of unfocused military rule and political instability. The third is the challenge of whether Africa is responding well to changing paradigms such as globalization, world perspectives, technology, international speed of events and democratization. It will be proper to be quickly reminded of many other challenges of the 21st century that we already know, which are either engendered or got, that have exacerbated by failures of leadership. They include: Economic poverty; infrastructural underdevelopment; urban decay; economic dependency upon western nations for financial aid, loans, technical assistance, and technical expertise; external indebtedness; misappropriation of public funds; embezzlement and financial mismanagement; prebendalism; money laundering; contractocracy; cyber fraud; poor economic, including agricultural policies and poorly implemented social engineering programmes.

Social problems include ethnicity, irredentism, ethnic violence and genocide and civil wars; sectarian or religious violence; sectionalism and communal violence; widening social disequilibrium and injustices arising from escalating economic misfortunes; unemployment and underemployment crises; anti-social activities, including rape, prostitution, robbery and a creeping culture of violence among the idle or unemployed youths; declining educational quality and collapsed university system; food insecurity and general social insecurity there from. Add to all these crisis of political identity and you have a situation of perpetual political instability.

The Nigerian situation is more critical. Thus, its response in the 21st century to leadership challenges is not far from prognosis. Our leaders have failed to live up to the challenges of post colonial political arrangements. They treat the problems associated with the evolving nation state with levity that promise to have dire consequences for the corporate life of the republic.

For those of us in Nigeria, the future lies in restoring sovereignty to the autochthonous nationalities of what is called the nation-state and arranging for either a peaceful break-up of this nation-state, or, some confederal arrangement. Unfortunately, the leadership has been found wanting in this regard. Yet, any failure to act now, to break-up the existing nation-state, or set up some confederal arrangements, is supposed to inevitably lead to the intensification of ethnic conflicts, to civil war and possible ethnic genocide. The Swan song will then be, ‘to thy tents O Israel’. That is why we need the ‘Leadership Now! We need a Moses!

This essay is dedicated as a birthday tribute to our amiable Professor Adebayo (Mukaila) Williams who recorded another milestone on Wednesday 9th September. A prolific writer and literary genius, Williams is a passionate student of post colonial political institutions and the Nation State paradigm. We wish him many happy returns.

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend

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