Leadership in Nigeria: What language do we understand?

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Recently in response to the current happenings in the eastern part of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari made a statement on twitter (a platform that has now been banned by the same government from usage in the nation) condemning the attacks on properties belonging to the Independent National Electoral Commission – the body responsible for conducting election in the nation. In his statement, he didn’t just condemn the attacks, he called out the attackers threatening that ‘we will treat them in a language they understood.’ Many Nigerians like myself couldn’t help but wonder what language the President was referring to, who the ‘we’ in that sentence were and who the ‘them’ are. For those familiar with the country’s history, particularly its most recent history of civil war, the President’s threat signaled a warning of ruthless violence to an entire region while for some others who perhaps had developed amnesia or were ignorant of this history, the President’s threat was that of a stern leader warning hoodlums disturbing the peace of a region.

I do not claim to know what exactly the President means but I am very curious to know what other language we can use to communicate to our leaders. So in turn, we would like to know how we can treat our leaders in a language they understand as the one we speak now for economic growth and stability, for security, for restructuring and more seem to be falling on deaf ears. One of my earliest articles in this column touched on the meaning of leadership. In hindsight, I should have made a clear distinction that a leader and a ruler were two different things: the former involves capacity and usually has a clear goal that benefits the led while the latter is more self-centered with the expectation that the ruled are meant to benefit the ruler.

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. Just ask the President.

However, 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.

Hence my question, what language do we understand when it comes to leadership? This question was not just directed to the current ‘leaders’ but even to the people, to we the people who put them in those positions.

Albert Einstein would call it insanity that we vote for the same leaders and expect change as he is credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

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.

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 example to lead any differently from their predecessors. Also, how can the youths be the leaders of tomorrow if they don’t take on the mantle (whether given or taken) to lead. We can all agree that a man at 78 year 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 – the argument of whether he was a good head of state or not is moot at this time. President Muhammadu Buhari was 41 years old when he became the military Head of State in 1983.

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.

The issue of misrule and poor leadership is not exclusive to Nigeria as many other African and non-African countries have had their fair share of the problem in varying degrees but unlike ‘the giant of Africa’, a number of these countries have managed to and are working earnestly towards building a nation to be proud of. But not Nigeria. Ours seem to be a case of growing backwards, as I am forced to wonder how we got to this point where Harvard, a renowned world university finds it highly educational to study why Nigeria as a country has failed to thrive from 1960 to 1999, in comparison to China and India, despite its similar endowment in human and natural resources. It had been perceived in the 70s and 80s that if there was going to be another emerging nation similar to the United States of America, it would be Nigeria because of our huge deposits of human and natural resources, but sadly in 2021, that is still not the case.

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