Those who are considered rulers over the gentiles lord it over them and their great ones exercise authority over them

 The Holy Bible


The face of leadership in Nigeria is that of fear and impunity. The people fear their leaders and the leaders despise their people. This is so whether it is in the secular, traditional and even religious spheres of the Nigerian state.

There is an unhealthy deference to leaders by the Nigerian people and this is what Nigerian leaders have taken advantage of to rule their people with impunity and in fact unto despoilation.

Leadership is not about position or the number of people who bow in worship to you. It is about service and respect for the opinions and rights of those who have given you leadership over them.

When armed escorts shove citizens off highways, constructed using tax payers monies, in a bid to make way for those in high position, you then understand how leaders in Nigeria so much despise their people.

The police as agents of the state mow down innocents in fits of rage. These acts they never can try with their overlords who they think are their paymasters.  But really, who pays the police? Is it not citizens, through their taxes? Why then do the armed forces treat those in position much differently from how they treat citizens?

Our approach to leadership is entrenched in the concept of might is right and this is a cultural problem inherited from our forbears.  All developed cultures have been through the feudal stage when it was believed that sovereigns had their rights given them by God and therefore had right to rule unquestioned as God.

The revolutions in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries sought to place humanity at the centre piece of government rather than the sovereign which had hitherto being the norm. With this came the  industrial revolution and the subsequent expansion in trade and prosperity. In fact English trade did much better than those of other monarchies especially Spain since the Queen’s power was already being limited in favor of the merchant class. Ultimately by unleashing the creativity of her citizens rather than placing them under strict control,Englandwas able to rule up to 25% of the Earth’s land area at  the peak of her imperial greatness.

The United States which has come to represent the supreme military and economic force in the world in less than 250 years of independence was founded on the statement ”that all men are made equal with certain inalienable rights’’. Government was unto the people and they had no monarch. The country prospered because its citizens were all equal and efforts have been made to ensure that through most of the country’s history that most of the citizens are treated equally by institutions of state.

To drive home this point, if  Trayvon Martin was the son of an ordinary Nigerian citizen would the kind of flurry in the USA over his death be the same here? This is unlikely. Citizens will look the other way, after all they would mutter to themselves, he is the son of an ordinary man and no police official would have been brought to book. This cannot be so in the USA because the son of the toilet washer is the same as the son of the president in the eyes of the society and institutions of state.

As leadership does not arise from a vacuum but is a product of society, it is therefore important that the Nigerian people  redefine their cultural notions about leadership as follows:

A)    Recognize the equality of all humanity

Respect for authority and age as aspects of our culture is good. However respect for the equality of humanity is what has prospered the USA and Scandinavia. In particular in Scandinavia it has ensured a very high state of citizen well being.

The old are wise from experience but they may not be attuned with modernity. Those in authority may have received their power from the ordinance of God and the approval of men but yet as men they must have their shortcomings.

Treating humanity with respect no matter their backgrounds is the surest good we can do to the progress of our society. This is because it checks the disorder that arises from those who will ride roughshod over others on basis of their position and age and helps to prevent that wide disparity in expected social outcomes for people with different social backgrounds. When such wide disparities occur, corruption and vice are rife as people become desperate to secure positive outcomes from the society on basis of a high social class.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

United States Declaration of Independence 

B)    Respect the sanctity of all life

As recent as the late 1800’s human sacrifice was widespread in most of Southern Nigeria. We are not even 150 years past our sordid history replete as it is with banditry, slave raiding, war-lording and idolatry. What the British protectorate did was to abolish these practices,  they however failed to erase them from our culture.

How then do you expect such a people to be revolted at the sight of dead bodies on their streets? Such sights are considered normal for a people with history of human sacrifice especially if one realizes that most of these sacrifices involved allowing the body to putrefy under the elements in the open.

For a people whose wealth was dependent on the number of slaves one had at his disposal to resell, human life had as much value as the money or comfort it could afford. There was nothing sanctimonious about it. This is the history of our culture and while British rule and modernity have pushed these aspects of our culture to the back-burner we must acknowledge their impact on our thinking and on how we treat one another.

Is it then any wonder that monarchs rape young girls whom they are supposed to protect? After all a monarch sees other people as mere humans to be used at will for his pleasures. Is it therefore a surprise that many human sacrifices are done during election periods to help politicians receive spiritual assistance to win elections? Full grown adults disappear in broad daylight, security forces kill on a whim and the society continues as usual.

Until we hold human life indeed all life with such utmost sanctity and until Nigerian leaders can abhor the use of human sacrifices in their quest for power, all of our citizens sufferings will be seen as destined by God and in fact as acceptable for the over all good of a man’s fortunes.

C)    Recognize the immense potential in the thoughts of all members society

With a population of at least 160 million people, there are at least 50 million unique approaches to solving a national challenge.

By disempowering its people, the Nigerian government is shooting itself in the foot.

A government is only as strong as its people and it is only as rich as them.  There must therefore be a deliberate action plan to tap the ideas and encourage the contributions of every citizen.

Public forums  through which the government can ask citizens for suggestions to national challenges should be organized frequently. The solutions to our myriad problems for which our government spends millions of dollars on expatriates is right here in the country often times from among the least expected set of people.

In 2002 in response to a call on the national dailies for submissions on how the Nigerian Railway system could be revamped, this author wrote an extensive proposal that in summary asked for privatization of sections of existing rail lines and the granting of licenses to railway builders/operators and train services providers. The document is still in existence. This author was only 15 years of age then.

As of last week, 20/03/2012 , the federal government had kick started the legislative process to enable private operations of railways in Nigeria. It took the government 10 years to follow the approach suggested by a 15 year old a decade ago. This illustration is to explain the point that solutions come from the most unexpected sources and it is to our advantage as a nation if we tap every available option to take the polity to our preferred destination.

D)    Punish impunity harshly

In the Gambia there is a jail sentence for those who fight in public. In countries of the West, it is unheard of that policemen or soldiers engage in public brawls or that they brutalize citizens.

Only recently during a visit to Ibadan by Dame Patience Jonathan, security orderlies of Governor Ajimobi rough handled some journalists. How could the governor and the first lady not call their orderlies into order or in fact later on punish them for their unruly behaviour?

Whenever civilian authorities look away when members of the armed forces maltreat civilians they are perpetuating the military mindset and mental siege of the civilian populace. They are encouraging those with arms to arrogate powers to themselves on the basis of the guns they carry rather than to the people in whose name they have an occupation.

Such acts of indiscipline by any member of the armed forces must be met with fire-by dismissals and jail terms. This will go a long way to ensure that members of the armed forces are ruled by the laws of the land rather than think themselves over and above the civilian populace

As to civilians, impunity can be curtailed by instituting laws and strengthening the judiciary and law enforcement systems. This will ensure that people do not arrange justice privately in the face of inability of the judicial system to dispense justice. Also by enforcing the law, deterrents against misbehavior will be instituted and those who go wrong will know assuredly that they will be punished without mercy or partiality.

E)    Care for the people

Leaders lead people for if they led themselves they will not be called leaders. Therefore the most important element in leadership is people.

When a leader is arrogant and selfish, when he despises his people and pushes through unpopular policies without building consensus he alienates the very people from whom he derives power and creates loopholes through which his fall is guaranteed.

      Your father made our yoke heavy, now therefore lighten the burdensome service and we will serve you… if you are kind to these people they will be your servants forever… my father chastised you with whips but I will chastise you with scourges… and when the King did not listen to them, the people answered the king saying: ‘‘every man to your tents, now see to your house o David!’’’

The Revolt Against Rehoboam,
The Holy Bible (paraphrased)

The very essence of leadership is to protect and care for the people.

The best leaders in history have always assumed a father figure to their people. They have represented bastions of safety, comfort and security in times of conflicts and global upheavals. When they died there was a sense of immense national loss.From Augustus Caesar of the Romans to Alaafin Abiodun of the Yorubas and more recently Winston Churchill of the English, they represented leaders to whom the people could expect justice irrespective of social status or place of origin, they represented leadership that the people knew they could depend on. Their reigns being founded on justice were mostly peaceful and prosperous.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. But a hireling sees the wolf coming and flees, the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them

The Holy Bible (paraphrased)

Good leadership means that a leader would prefer to go hungry so as to ensure his people can eat. True leadership is about self-sacrifice.

However when a leader forces poverty on his people while living in opulence he deprives himself of the die-hard loyalty and truth of his people.

His courts get filled with opportunists, jesters and sycophants. In a short while his rule is characterized by vice, social upheaval, widespread criminality and poverty and eventually such a leader usually meets an ignoble end.

As long as political office holders in Nigeria cannot make the sacrifices needed to move these nation forward, so long as they seek cuts off public contracts and the means to inflate their allowances in the midst of widespread poverty,  they will continue to expand the reaches of avarice, greed, covetousness and vice in the Nigerian polity.

This is because Nigerians in other sectors of the economy will do whatever it takes to measure up against them. Thus by their greed and lack of self-sacrifice the future of the nation and her children is being condemned to criminality, insecurity and the stranglehold of corruption and poverty.

The long-term prosperity of Nigeria depends on the quality of its leadership. The sorry state of the polity at present is no doubt due to poor leadership since independence. Therefore a new approach to leadership is required if a new dawn characterized by peace and prosperity must befall the nation. For this new age to be instituted, the cultural basis of leadership from which impunity and vice has been derived has to be challenged. A new approach to leadership that puts the people at the centre piece and their well being as the cornerstone has to be instituted. When this is done, universal peace, justice and ultimately prosperity will prevail throughout Nigeria. The Nigerian people will be content, their government will prosper and the nation will take its pride of place in the comity of nations.


  1. Brilliant piece…

    Emotionally touches the possible root cause of the issues; an aspect greatly ignored in all measures of sustainable development and counter corruption strategies.

    I dare say, some of our leaders do start out with good intentions, but the indepthness of the problem is why they often find themselves subdued by the system and lose themselves in the process.

    I still believe in the change to come; and I know it will happen someday soon, with albeit variable views, all however holding their own strengths.


    1. Jemenah,

      Thank you.

      The root of Nigeria’s in fact Africa’s problems lies in our cultural beliefs. Those who will institute the change we desire must realize what we are a race-cultural beliefs, slave trade, colonization etc and must resolve to effect change by mental, cultural and attitudinal reorientation.

      As you mentioned many are changed by the system they seek to change because they have no knowledge as to how in depth our leadership crisis goes.
      And of course our change will come, and that is why we need to drive youth engagement and crowd sourcing so as to obtain a variety of views and approaches that will help solve our nation’s leadership crisis.

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