I would like to share with you my thoughts on a subject, whose importance in recent times, has been brought to the front burner as it rightfully should. It is this subject of leadership as a pre-requisite for honouring the trust we hold as citizens, as business owners, as managers, and as leaders in our different disciplines. It is the subject of honoring the trust we hold for others – the future generation.
I have at different fora, often chosen to define a concept that we are all particular about, albeit in a negative term, deliberately. It is the concept of ‘ownership’. I have always been of the view that ownership is one of the highest form of rights in relation to a particular thing, provided that it is understood. That right is the ‘right to destroy’. That which you cannot lawfully destroy is not owned by you. For instance, that you cannot lawfully destroy your International Passport illustrates the point that you are not the owner, but merely the ‘holder’. In other words, the litmus test of ownership is essentially the right to lawfully destroy. Put simply, by way of illustration, I could take off my jacket and burn it, and no matter how wasteful you may think I am or unappreciative you may be of my actions, there really is nothing anyone can do about it.
However, the moment I ask others to contribute to its dry cleaning or re-fitting or improvement in any form, I lose the right to destroy, atleast without first consulting the persons who have so contributed. This is even much more, when I issue a private placement or a public offering asking people to contribute to the improvement of this asset that was initially mine, then the duty to account to the growing list of stakeholders increases. This duty increases as we hold the asset in trust for others. This is the duty and responsibility of Leadership that I find necessary to remind you as you go forth to make the positive difference that the School expects you to.
In his book, ‘The Trouble with Nigeria’, published thirty years ago on the eve of former President, Shehu Shagari’s second term, distinguished Laureate, Professor Chinua Achebe (of blessed memory) remarked thus:
The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigeria character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which is the hallmark of true leadership….
Achebe took the view that the leadership question remained pre-eminent among Nigeria’s numerous problems, and identified other perennial issues such as “tribalism, corruption, indiscipline, social injustice, preference for mediocrity over excellence, etcetera”; and concluded that “without good leadership, none of the other problems stand a chance of being tackled, let alone solved.” It is clearly the thesis of our discussion in this August forum – that without good leadership, there can really be no question of governance, let alone effective governance.
Attachment and allegiance to family, ethnic and cultural groups are universal phenomenon of civil societies. In Nigeria, these appear to have so undermined national consciousness and solidarity that it had in the past been difficult to replace the negative aspects of these feelings with a positive feeling of common identity, a shared community sentiment and a common sense of patriotism and nationalism. What Nigerians need, is rising above these parochial basis of allegiance to integrate on the basis of common interests for the better good of the society, and which unites them against executive excesses that threaten that common good.
It was as if colonialism was the glue that stuck the various ethnic groups together into a shape recognisable in an atlas. When the glue dissolved and gave way to independence, many of the units started to fall apart. How to transform these groups/regions into a nation in the strict sense of the word seemed to be a problem. It is the problem that in the past provided the “excuse” for the disturbing phenomena of coups and secessions, which had at some point characterised the government of Nigeria. Coups and secessions are no doubt manifestations of assault on federalism and the civil society. They inflict serious problems on the values and ethos of society by debasing institutions that are meant to strengthen leadership and accountability to the people.
The challenge of leadership today is essentially one of harnessing the collective will for the collective good. It means that the principles of leadership would need to drive the behavior and ethics of those that are called to positions of service (also known as Rulers). However, it should be stated that the position does not make the leader. It is the service to the ruled that graduate the ruler to a leader. Such can be seen with the examples of exemplary leadership provided by Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jnr. McFarland reckons that a leader is –
… one who makes things happen that would not happen otherwise. If the leader causes changes that he intended, he has exercised power, but if the leader causes changes that he did not intend or want, he has exercised influence, but not power.
Leadership has been described as the ‘process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task’. Definitions more inclusive of followers have also emerged. Alan Keith stated that, Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen. Tom DeMarco argues that leadership needs to be distinguished from posturing.
In his book, The Hero in History, Sidney Hook depicted a heroic leader as one who makes things happen that ordinarily would not have happened. The hero in history, he stated is –
… the individual to whom we can justifiably attribute preponderant influence in determining an issue or event whose consequences would have been profoundly different if he had not acted as he did. The hero is an event-making individual who re-deter-mines the course of history.
It must be pointed out that the leader’s position carries with it responsibilities too. John Gardner has pointed out that the task of leaders is ‘to help societies understand the problems that all must face, to aid in the setting of goals and priorities, to work with others in finding paths to those goals chosen, maintaining public morale, and motivation and nurturing a workable level of public unity. Leaders must activate existing institutions in pursuit of the society’s goals or, when necessary, help redesign institutions to achieve that result. Leaders must also help people know how they can be at their best ‘…with malice toward none, with charity for all….’ In a free society leaders perform these functions within a framework of constraints. This includes an uncorrupted electoral process, the rule of law, institutional checks and balances and a free press.