By Jerome-Mario Utomi
I still recall with vividness how participants at a symposium held on February 2018, in Lagos, unanimously agreed that common sense has a limit in public leadership and should not be the sole requisite for public leadership consideration; a position that supports sound education as an indispensable ingredient for achieving a people-purposed leadership. The symposium which had as its theme: ‘Leadership and Performance in Africa; the challenges of the continent’s economic competitiveness,’ was organized by the Centre for Leadership and Value, (CVL).
The event had in attendance, namely; Olusegun Obasanjo, a former Nigerian president, as the special guest of honour, Kandeh Yumkella, former director-general, UNIDO and former presidential aspirant in Sierra Leone, as the keynote speaker, among others.
Yumkella’s keynote speech was apt, practical and realistic. Though it was over 3 years since the keynote address was delivered, the content of that lecture remains relevant to the present political and socio economic discourse in Nigeria as a country and Africa as a continent. This piece stemmed from the new awareness gained from that gathering.
For Kandeh, knowledge must grow to retain knowledge. And the prerequisite for public leadership must transcend common-sense to accommodate sound/formal education. He argued that banking on common sense alone may be defective as it has a limit it can go. Leadership, he told the bewildered gathering, calls for a proportionate mixture of both nature and nurture. Thus, when it comes to provision of authentic and development –focused leadership, the possession of sound education is an inescapable precondition
while pointing out how leadership challenge has become our major undoing in Nigeria as a country and Africa as a continent, he used detailed illustrations to drive home his argument about how faulty leadership style has turned us to a nation/continent of; perfect practitioners of the Garden of Eden syndrome, ‘waiting for somebody to come and solve the problem, and a people of aid receivership mentality. He concluded.
Indeed, Yumkella in my views may not be wrong.
This judgment of mine is predicated on the fact that African as a continent and Nigeria in particular may have overtly shown remarkable improvement in their culture and civilization. But, for the fact that more than 60 years after independence, African countries continually look up to Western worlds and recently China for aid, covertly tells a story of a continent lacking in capacity to take responsibility for its actions and initiatives for values. If you like, call it poor education needed for effective public leadership, you may not be wrong.
For a better understanding of this claim, the Chinese development aid to Africa, going by reports, totaled 47% of its total foreign assistance in 2009 alone, and from 2000 to 2012 it funded 1,666 official assistance projects in 51 African countries. Also, the Brookings Institution Aid Data study found that at least 70% of China’s overseas aid was sent to Africa from 2000 to 2014.
This non-possession of sound education has made it pretty difficult for some leaders to differentiate between politics and leadership. A situation that has resulted in our leaders playing politics all the way while relegating leadership to the background. And the effect on the nation as we can see includes but not limited to;’ using the people to further their own ends, become selfish, unpleasant, narrow-minded and petty. Playing politics in place of leadership invariably involves intimidating people, getting things done by lying and other dishonest ways.
No doubt, on that day, like every other participant, I left the MUSON centre, Onikan, Lagos venue of the programme with a glowing picture of how ill-equipped and blurred abilities of our leaders has advanced our dwelling in the wilderness of poverty and hopelessness despite being gifted with enormous mineral deposits.
Similar to the above belief, a report stated that ‘technically, the poverty in Nigeria is not relative poverty but absolute. It is not the type of poverty that is caused by famine, drought, civil unrest, but bad leadership. it has been in existence for more than three decades without respite in view.
However, even as it is believed that throughout history, more people have been killed by bad leadership than any other cause; I believed and still believe that Nigeria’s greatness is achievable if we can do the needful.
Getting this regeneration process catalyzed will require first, a demand for a shift in leadership paradigm ‘as we cannot be doing a particular thing in a particular way and hope for a different result’. This step is not just important but fundamental in retrieving the country from the “political capitalists” and have it positioned on the part of modernization.
In the same token, achieving hypermodern development will again necessitate a careful search for individuals with the above-listed qualities to take over from the demagogues masquerading as leaders.
Similarly, giving the educated people devoid of booty sharing mentality but investment minded, their rightful positions in the management of our ”Garden of Eden’ while turning the aid received from donors and other interventionist groups to prosperity as in the case of Asian tigers will be a right step taken in the right direction. Such effort should be followed by democratized industrialization of the nation and integration of the nation’s economic towns/cities with effective transportation infrastructure.
Very germane, the need to educate our political leaders that the youths are not in any way rivals but partners in the business of moving the project called Nigeria forward. Imperative also is the need for co-opting the youths into their political apprenticeship as it smacks logic that the fates and the futures of the youths are discussed daily without any input coming from the youths that will provide the future leadership needs of the country.
After all, great leaders recognize that when the youths take wings and soars, they too will soar. But getting the followers to soar takes courage, grit, determination and overwhelming passion. That notwithstanding, it is the responsibility of the leaders to make the followers better, which means trusting them, getting them the best resources.
Away from public office holders/political appointees, there is also an immediate need for revamping of our civil service. The sector in my view is currently shaped with too many hands, but with too little work and lacking in the habits needed for civilization. Getting the sector restructured by stripping it of bureaucracy which serves as the bedrock for the monumental corruption that exists in the country shall be considered not just important but essential.
We must internalize and put all these into action when making our choices come 2023 general election.