Lessons from the past few weeks

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It’s been a rough few weeks for the country. From the protests by young people primarily against police brutality and the disbandment of a notorious police group known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) to the violent response by the government, a month that started off with the celebration of the country’s independence is ending as one of the blackest periods in the country’s history.  One can’t help but see the irony that is October. Or maybe it isn’t ironic at all as what better reminder of the unfulfilled promises made by leaders both past and present and the current oppressive nature of today’s society than the commemoration of our independence from another oppressive power.  

The last week has been very heartbreaking, even more so because I predicted the happenings. I wrote about the consequences of illiteracy, poverty and oppression particularly in a country with one of the largest populations of youth in the world. Now we’ve seen the possibilities of what can happen when people have had enough. I appeal to the youth not to lose the passion we saw they exhibit in the last few weeks. Young people, realize the power you have and never give it up.

Over the course of the next two weeks, I will be bringing back some of my old writings from this column where I sounded the warning of impending doom for the country if we – our leaders mostly – don’t chart a new course away from the current status quo of corruption, police brutality, under development and poor leadership. We didn’t push out the whites just because they were white, we said no to exploitation and injustice.  People will also say no to oppression after a time. In one of my writings entitled Leadership in Nigeria: The search continues; I called out the high level of apathy amongst young people towards the political matters of this nation, admonishing them to take back their country as the change needed could only be effected by them. I am glad to see that it is beginning to happen. A pity the awakening has been tainted with bloodshed but I pray they don’t lose hope. Taking some parts of the article earlier mentioned, this will be a good time to define true leadership.

To begin, how do we define the concept of leadership? A simple definition of leadership by the Merriem-Webster dictionary is “the power or ability to lead other people”. Ability to lead can further be distinguished by physical ability, mental ability and in some cases, spiritual ability. The bottom-line is, before an individual can assume the position of a leader, they need to have the capacity to lead. Another important characteristic of a leader is a man/woman of integrity. Leadership is honesty that can be held accountable to the people that are being led at any time.

Leadership is also knowing when to quit the stage, an attribute greatly lacking with most of our African leaders. At this point, I should be clear that the burden of good leadership doesn’t just fall on those aiming to be leaders. The truth is we can’t all be leaders but we can all demand accountability in leadership like it was done in the early days of Nigeria.

If we take time to reflect on the journey of leadership in Nigeria, from independence till date, it forces us to ask if our leaders were really prepared for the challenges and obstacles they faced on their journey. With that being said, I find it very odd that we still dip into the same pool of leaders to select our heads of government during elections. Albert Einstein would call that insanity as he is credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” In this case, we vote for the same leaders and expect change.

In a country such as Nigeria where we need strong policies put in place by young minds with vision, it is tiring to see us continue to leave the fate of this country in the hands of the geriatric population. It makes me wonder when the youth will rise up and take what belongs to them. (Edit: October 2020 may go down in history as the beginning of the revolution by young people for a better nation.)

How can we say our children are the leaders of tomorrow but we have refused to empower them to take positions of leadership? By this, I don’t mean just vacating positions for them to occupy when they have not been groomed by right examples to lead any differently from their predecessors. The true test of a leader’s success is in his/her successor. Still, we can all agree that a man at 75 years old has no business governing a nation; instead he should be retired, spending time with his family and serving as a mentor to the young people in leadership positions.

There was once a time in this country when a 32 year old man in the person of General Yakubu Gowon became Head of State. President Muhammadu Buhari was 41 years old when he became the military Head of State in 1983. It is quite baffling that the same man contested for and won a presidential election 30 years after his first tenure ended.

I am not here to point fingers at the youth or call them all sorts of names but I think it is imperative that they take their future into their own hands for the sake of our beloved country. Leadership doesn’t start at the age of 50; neither does it start at your workplace. Leadership starts in our homes, our schools, and our communities.

Back in my day, the youthful population was actively involved in the matters of our country. We took part in student body elections at the universities and it was from there that the true leaders of our generation started to distinguish themselves not by violence but by strategic planning and execution. Today, I don’t see that happening in our universities anymore. Our youth have been distracted by all sorts of things that don’t align with the vision of a better Nigeria.

There seem to be a lack of courage within our youth that has anchored them from reaching their full potential. They are not properly engaged within political circles and have decided with reckless abandon not to concern themselves with matters of the state which unfortunately is a recipe for disaster. The leaders of today started very young and had a clear vision of what type of leaders they were going to become and when they were going to become those leaders.

I call out to my colleagues who can also see the void in our leadership ecosystem to help nurture these young minds so they can begin to see themselves as the leaders of tomorrow that they truly are.

I will end with a quote by Archibald Mac which was used in this column a few weeks ago in the article entitled Getting too late to mend the nation Nigeria, “The one thing more painful than learning from experience is not learning from experience.” I hope Nigeria and her leaders won’t be an embodiment of the latter.

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