Seasoned administrator and former bank chairman, Sir Marc Wabara, has pointed out that at core of Nigeria’s developmental challenges, is the unworkable structure of its polity, and as such no leader, no matter how well intentioned, can take the country out of its current trajectory without first embarking on tackling the fundamental issue of structure.
Wabara who made the remark while delivering the 2021 edition of Business Hallmark Lecture series in Victoria Island, Lagos on Wednesday, noted that historical, Nigeria was built on a tripod of East, West and North, with each of the regions being responsible for its own affairs, which according to him ensured that development happened in the regions.
In the lecture titled, “Nigeria: Leadership and the challenge of greatness,” organised to commemorate his 70th birthday anniversary, Wabara argued that a nation is yet to be made out of Nigeria, as according to him, nationhood is defined before a vision is developed, and without a vision, no progress can be made.
“Historically, Nigeria was built on a Tripod heritage – East, West and North, with each having a leadership that was to a very large extent, responsible for a people who shared similar experiences and sense of right and wrong. The relative successes witnessed by our founding fathers who were leaders of each of these three regions: Michael Okpara in the East, Obafemi Awolowo in the West and Ahmadu Bello in the North, were largely because they were accountable to people who shared as many things in common and had importantly, the constitutional powers to exploit resources within their domains. That was a period when Nigeria actually made true progress and robbed shoulders with its contemporaries in Asia and South America, if not even Europe,” Wabara said.
“Today, however, the story is different. Yes, the First Republic still had its challenges and there were also agitations by those who felt that their interests were not adequately protected in their respective regions, such matters could have been taken care of by expanding the regions but not removing their capacity to be self-governing.
“Obvious from the foregoing is that leadership, no matter how committed, may not be able to make needed impact if it fails to resolve the fundamental question of nationhood. Suffice to say that at the heart of the existential challenges we now face in our dear country is presently our collective struggle to come together and evolve a structure that is suitable for the country given the differences and peculiarities of our peoples.
“In effect, we are yet to make a nation out of Nigeria. The fact is that nationhood is defined before a vision is developed, and without a vision, no progress can be made, for indeed, what is Nigeria’s national vision? Under the current system, we are still experiencing a situation where different people are pulling in different directions, threatening to rip the country apart.
In conclusion therefore, notwithstanding the commendable efforts of this government in tackling some of the challenges bedeviling this nation, unless we agree collectively as a people, to go back to the fundamentals and forge a workable union, achieving the nation of our dream may continue to be elusive.”
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Nigeria: Leadership and the challenge of greatness
It is my pleasure to share these few thoughts of mine on the burning issue that is before us today. In the past few years, this issue has come to the front burner such that everybody must have one opinion or the other about it. The importance and role of leadership in building a great, viable, and stable country has never been as urgent and indispensable as we have it in Nigeria today. In his 1983 book, The Trouble with Nigeria, Chinua Achebe had posited, and indeed many people have come to agree, that the trouble with Nigeria is “simple and squarely a failure of leadership”.1
However, before proceeding further, l crave your indulgence to rephrase the topic for a simpler and more direct interpretation and understanding. In plain language, it would now read as Leadership challenges in making Nigeria great.
From this stand point, the implication of the topic becomes so critical and imperative. This is because, there is a general consensus among scholars and political leaders globally that Nigeria is potentially a great nation, and a leader in Africa, and the Black race and this belief is as old as the country; but the question is; why has the country remained a “potential”, when its contemporaries at the onset of political independence that did not receive or attract the qualification and categorization of “potential greatness’ had since left Nigeria far behind in terms of economic, social, political and technological development? Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia and South Korea are some examples.
Addressing this question would necessarily refocus our attention to the positive factor(s) that helped and enabled these countries to overcome the natural teething problems of national development and forged ahead to attain their present level of development, and also identify the reasons why this has eluded Nigeria.
Juxtaposed against the current challenges confronting the nation, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, economic crisis, insecurity and insurgency, the urgency of addressing the leadership challenge becomes even more imperative.
As this paper was being put together news broke of a skirmish in Shasha, Oyo State, between the herder-settlers and the local population, which claimed 20 lives. This was followed the very next day on February 17 with reports of the invasion and abduction of 42 students by bandits at Kagara in Niger state. This was the fourth major abduction of students following Chibok in Borno, Dapchi in Yobe and Kankara in Katsina states. How did Nigeria come to this sad patch? Of course, most people, like Achebe, lay the blame squarely on challenges of leadership.
Nigeria’s leadership challenge is one of the ironies of contemporary political life. For a country that produced outstanding and notable leaders at independence, such as Zik of Africa – who indeed, influenced the great Osagyfo, Nkrumah of Ghana – Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, Michael Okpara, Aminu Kano, Ladoke Akintola etc; it is a sad turn of fortune that Nigeria still finds itself at the cross roads of leadership challenges and deficit.
What could have been responsible for this ugly development in the leadership arena? One direct answer I will give is military rule. Of course, Nigeria was not the only country to experience military rule; after all, Ghana went through similar process, but they now seem to have gotten their acts together. However, the fact is that every country had its own peculiar challenges that shaped its future. Military rule in Nigeria, unlike Ghana, had a negative effect, which is not the subject of this presentation.
The first military intervention interrupted the process and development of a democratic leadership culture based on the sovereignty of the people and leadership succession. The military demystified those previously revered political leaders by humiliating them out of power and introduced a new political culture of might is right; as well as corruption. So power no longer belonged to the people but flowed from the barrel of the gun.
Although some of the founding leaders survived the first coup and civil war, subsequent coups nailed the coffin on civilian leadership and were the last straw that destroyed completely the leadership culture bequeathed by the founding fathers. It created a generational leadership gap between the founding fathers and the successors. It was a leadership defoliation that left the country without leadership mentors and role models; coupled with the debilitating military culture of command and lack of accountability.
Late sage, Awo said at the time of the second coup that democracy would never find a pride of place in the country for a long time to come. That statement remains prophetic; because democracy is irrelevant without good leadership. The coups ensured that all the second generation or successors in leadership to the founding fathers, such as the Lateef Jakandes, Bola Iges, Bisi Onabanjos, Adekunle Ajasins, Joseph Tarkas, Maitama Sules, K.O. Mbadiwes, J.O.J. Okezies, Sam Mbakwes etc were completely wiped off the political leadership space.
These crops of leaders were unfortunately replaced by politicians of little pedigree and retired soldiers. Name recognition and brand building being critical factors in the political mix, it is part of the immediate challenges of civil leadership in a democracy that has seen two former generals and military heads of state emerge as president since 1999.
Many international organizations and agencies agree that the prevailing situation in the country characterized by a challenged economy, social infrastructure deficits, rising insecurity and political disunity as a result of mutual distrust, do worsen Nigeria’s development challenges. And it could be indeed much worse by the time the curtain is drawn in 2023. Such ominously foreboding and bleak prognosis of the future of Nigeria exposes the stark reality of the difference leadership can make in the life of a nation toward aspiring for and achieving greatness.
That Nigeria has remained ingloriously a potential, after 60 years of attaining political nation-hood is indeed quite troubling. Clearly, that potential position is even fast diminishing because the resources and advantages that previously conferred on it the “potential great” status, such as arable land, large population, abundant natural resources, etc are increasingly being overwhelmed by emerging complex challenges and problems that now threaten its very collective existence as one indivisible entity.
Having gone this far in the presentation, we may run the risk of over assumption and generalization if we do not return to the key concepts to clarify, and possibly define, the underlying and over-arching variables for their contextual determination and application. We have assumed a common or general understanding of what leadership is, and its’ importance to building a great nation. Even if such assumption is permitted, it still does not explain what makes or constitutes great leadership, and why it has been difficult for Nigeria to produce such leadership to achieve its manifest potential greatness.
The fact is that the concept of leadership is chameleonic that changes from person to person.
There is no single and generally accepted or commonly used definition of leadership because of its fluid and ambiguous nature. Another challenge that arises in trying to produce a definition that is enduring and all-encompassing is that leadership, though technical or physical in its effect or outcome, also embodies moral implications, which tends to vitiate some of its positive attributes.
For instance, some of the greatest leaders of the past century, such as Josef Stalin of USSR (Russia), Adolf Hitter of Germany, and Chairman Mao Tse Tung of China etc not only qualify as great leaders having changed the course of history of their nations, but that of the entire world; however, their legacies are regarded with suspicion, angst and opprobrium resulting from the moral questions of their leadership.
A more contemporaneous example is former U.S. President Trump. How do we define his leadership? Ordinarily, he proved to be a strong leader not only because of the disruptive effects of his leadership in global political and economic relations, but his boldness, courage and un-alloyed commitment to confront the entrenched political establishment in his quest to “make America great again”. He polled 74 million votes in the last election on November 2, 2020, the highest by any U.S. president in history, except President Joe Biden, who defeated him; as proof of his political strength and popularity, and has practically commandeered and dominated the Republican Party.
Yet a majority of Americans disdained his personality, character and morality and voted him out. Such is the palpable contradiction in attempting a definition of leadership. So where do we place the focus of leadership? Is it in the outcome (performance) or the morality? Yet there is another reason for the difficulty in defining, and even understanding, leadership. Although, history is actually the study of leadership – the history of men and women, who changed the course of events in their historical times or eras – the study of leadership as a specific element of historical import and as a change agent is of recent history is a recent development. In fact, such studies in leadership actually began in business management, rather than in history and politics, where leadership played its greatest role. Some of those studies include, On Leadership by Warren Bennis, reputedly the founder of this course of study; Build to Last, and Good To Great by Jim Collins; Thriving in Chaos by Tom Peters; Leadership in a changed world by HBR etc.
Although, the history of the study of leadership is recent, its importance in social, economic, management, and political life and development of society has produced an all-consuming awareness and flurries of studies. However, most of the studies only produce descriptive qualities and attributes of leadership rather than an accurate definition.
As already stated, leadership theory is a relatively recent phenomenon, and emerged in relation to management philosophy in the business world. A general understanding is that a great leader stands for what is right, honest and just – these are subjective, rather than objective indicators. One of the pioneers in leadership study, James MacGregor Burns, in his landmark book, Leadership, says:
“Leadership is leaders inducing followers to act for certain goals that represent the values and motivations – the wants and needs, the aspirations and expectations – of both leaders and followers; and the genius of leadership is the manner in which leaders see and act on their own and their followers’ values and motivations.”
As great as this definition may sound, it is still incomplete and even confusing, as we already outlined above and inadequate for any attempt at interpreting, clarifying, or defining the true meaning of leadership. As a result, there is no set of rules or formulas for leaders to follow.
There are only guidelines and concepts, perhaps, ideas, abstract and generalities. This is why the art of leading is difficult to master and teach; and also the reason why there is such great need for role models, because it may mean different things to different people.
Generally, we seem to know and understand what a great leader connotes, and could mean in common context.
i). A good or great leader should have a positive effect on society in terms of progress.
ii). Great leadership should be based on what is morally good and socially uplifting for the greater number of the people.
iii). Good or great leadership should be an efficient manager of resources, both human and material, for the general good.
iv). A good leader should not be overly selfish or self centered, parochial and divisive; rather, he/she should be broad-minded and appeal to all irrespective of ethnic, racial, gender and material differences as exemplified by the great Apostle Paul in 1st Corinthians 9: 19-23.
v). A good leader must be driven by a vision of a better society both now and in the future. Finally, a good leader should be fair-minded, honest and just toward friends and foes, because he represents all.
In “What makes the Great Great,” Dennis Kimbro, posits that great leadership is a function of certain personal qualities that condition the possessors for success, and these qualities are shared by most great and successful leaders. “No matter how the people (leaders) may differ individually, “there is an attitude, a quiet assurance based on self knowledge that marks them out… They conduct their affairs with a sense of purpose … Their priorities are always very clear.”3
This is very important because only great leaders can build great nations. In other words, it takes great leadership to build a great nation. The obvious implication of this assertion is that Nigeria is not yet great because it is still working very hard to produce great leaders; and the challenge of greatness for the nation will remain until we settle and produce many great leaders.
In The Trouble with Nigeria, Achebe’s seminal book that we introduced at the beginning of our discussion, he had stated that the “Trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigeria character. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility; to the challenge of personal example”. Problems, such as ethnicity and tribalism, false image of ourselves, disunity etc, are all symptoms of leadership challenges. According to him, a basic element of this leadership challenges is the “Seminal absence of intellectual rigour in the political thought and tendency to pious materialism and self-centered pedestrianism”.
Many people may not agree with Achebe in this age of restructuring argument as the cure-all and panacea for the challenge of greatness as leadership was to him. But that is outside the immediate scope of this speech, and should not deter us. Perhaps, Achebe did not anticipate the iniquitous structural defect we have to contend with which tends to nullify his prodigious argument. Also, his allusion to political ideology or thought as a determining factor in great leadership may also suffer similar fate, not having a universal quality or characteristic of leadership, especially in relation to leadership outside politics; although it can be argued that politics is everything. Yet, not all great political leaders were of any clear ideological tendency.
However, his reference to intellectual rigour in leadership points to an emerging recognition of knowledge and intellectual capacity in the study of leadership, which was ignored or missing in previous conception of leadership. In such older studies, leadership is conceived by its external attributes or manifestations.
In the 21 Indispensable qualities of leaders, John Maxwell identifies such attributes or characteristics of leadership to include character, charisma, commitment, communication, competence, courage, discernment, focus, generosity, initiative, listening, passion, relationship, responsibility, security, self-discipline, servant-hood, teachability and vision.
The truth, however, is that no single leader could possibly possess all these attributes, which would make such a person a perfect leader, and there has never been such a person or leader, except of course, Jesus. Although, these attributes are present in leadership, the studies do not explain how they are developed, and why they could be found in one person and not in another. Are they inherent or acquired?
M. Scott Peck, in his book, The Road less Travelled and Beyond, puts the requirement for great leadership at the spiritual consciousness and learning level. According to him, the growth of the frontal lobes of the brain is what differentiates humans from animals. These lobes are involved in our ability to make judgments, and it is also here that the processing of information – thinking – takes place. Just as our capacity to learning depends on our thinking, our capacity for thinking as well depends on learning. Similarly, “learning is crucial to our ability to grow in awareness, to think independently, and to master the knowledge necessary for surviving and thriving in life”.
He concluded that only those who make this learning transition early in life emerge as leaders in their spheres of life. He believes that the quest for leadership begins in the mind and the contest between good and evil, the resolution of which leads to the self-awareness, and spiritual awakening and consciousness that produces great leadership, such as Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela. According to him, it’s therefore, the consciousness of good over evil that make for great leadership.
Carl Jung, the great pioneer in psychology ascribed the root of human evil to “The refusal to meet our “Shadow”. By Shadow he meant that part of our mind containing those things that we would rather not own up to, that we are trying to hide from others – our ugly self. In this way, thinking and consciousness are inextricably locked together in a parallel relationship. In other words, great leadership is a function of an effective- thought process that produces the self awareness and consciousness of society and our role in it. Therefore, “consciousness is the foundation of all thinking, and thinking is the foundation of all consciousness”.
Implicit in this process is the growth of the mind. This is also true of most historical and modern leaders, such as Hannibal, Alexander the Great, the Caesars, etc. Also all the founding fathers of America, such as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Madison etc, were towering giants in their mind. There can be no great leader with a small mind. “When we are not growing in the mind, we are obviously stuck in a condition of inefficiency, and whenever there is a lack of efficiency, there is a potentially lack of competence.” After all, leadership is the ability to get things done in an effective manner”.
“So, true competence is more about growing in wisdom than accumulating more knowledge. It entails striving toward a psychological and spiritual maturity that produces results in real personal power”.
Unlike the traditional (technical) view of leadership, head knowledge, though necessary, may not be basic until it has been processed to wisdom through thinking, because the leader should be able to provide answers and solutions to life issues and questions to the followers. So a leader must be a deeper thinker.
All our founding fathers were deep thinkers as leaders. In the Price of Greatness, Arnold Ludwig explored the relationship between genius (leadership, greatness) and mental status. He wrote that among the great geniuses (leaders) of our times, all showed a readiness to discard prevalent views; the irreverence toward established authority, and tradition – what we call in current parlance “thinking outside the box” or what we called ‘radical’. This exactly depicts the profile of former president Trump. Leadership is not necessarily about following established rules and protocols; leadership is doing things differently, if necessary, to achieve the desired result. It is often said that insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome.
Therefore, the “development of consciousness or self awareness is, among other things, a process of the conscious mind opening itself to the unconscious in order to be congruent with the mind of the supernatural or God. For instance, the Bible says “Let this mind be in you as was in Jesus Christ…” (Phil. 2:5).
This is very important, because it provides us a view into the source of morality in leaders. Leadership without morality is like an express locomotive without functional break system as evident in the presidency of Mr. Trump; the result would be disaster for both the leader and society. Morality is one thing that differentiates man from animals. Some people have labeled this not only as the “human condition; but the human dilemma”, because no greatness can be possibly attained outside it, an awareness some people find excruciatingly painful”.
Another aspect of the mind that is associated with leadership but hardly mentioned in traditional studies on the subject is emotional intelligence. Basically, the mind is composed of three parts – intellect, will and emotion. The intellect, as we have already seen, is concerned with learning, knowledge and information. A leader must have a well developed intellect to rise above average and mediocrity.
Emotional awareness makes us more emotionally astute and stable, and this is critical to great leadership. The self awareness that comes with emotional intelligence is most crucial because, it allows us to exercise more self control over our emotions and actions. Man is an emotional being and emotions, such as anger, love, envy, hatred, greed etc often run riot within us. As Aristotle once wrote in the Nicomachean Ethnics, “Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and the way – this is not easy.”
Apostle Paul also understood the challenge we face with our emotions. In Ephesians, he wrote: “Be angry and sin not; do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil,” (Eph. 4:26-27). Paul recognised the association of emotions with evil or the devil; so our ability or capacity to control our emotion is essential to good leadership.
Daniel Goleman, in his very popular book, Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ; argues that the importance of emotional intelligence hinges on the link between sentiment, character, and moral instincts. “There is growing evidence that fundamental ethical stances in life stem from underlying emotional capacities…” He believes that the very name Homo-sapiens – thinking species associated with man – is misleading in the light of the new appreciation and vision of the role of emotions in our lives that science now offers. “When it comes to shaping our decisions and our actions, feelings count as much – and often more than thought”.
Indeed, the first laws and proclamations of ethics, such as the Code of Hammurabi, the Ten Commandments of Moses, The Edicts of Emperor Ashoka etc, were largely attempts to harness, subdue and domesticate emotional life. As the great psychologist, Sigmund Freud, described in his book, Civilization and its discontents, “society has had to enforce from without rules meant to mortify tides of emotional excess that surge too freely within”.
Most Americans during former President Trump, would easily relate and identify with this conclusion on the impact of emotions (negative) on leadership and national development.
As critical as emotional intelligence is to leadership, impediments to its development are formidable in a culture that emphasizes intelligence (left side lobe of the brain) over the right side brain (intuitive) reasoning with catastrophic consequences for leadership and society.
Finally, the third part of the mind produces the will, which relates to willingness and willfulness. In the book, Will and Spirit, Gerald May, says that willfulness characterizes the unharnessed will – the tendency to be foolishly stubborn, unrepentant, dogmatic, whereas willingness identifies the strong will of the person or leader, who is willing to go where he/she is called or led by superior argument or knowledge, or higher powers. Leadership then, becomes not just ‘my will’ – the uncompromising belief of one person, but the collectivity of wills of a team as well as with superior powers.
The inadequacy of leadership as a theoretical construct to explain development challenges in Nigeria is clearly expressed in the present agitations for constitutional change, which many people believe is faulty. It is the constitution that sets out the structure and political framework of governance. So changing the constitution could only be a matter for collective national consensus on the desirability of change. No single leader or any particular leadership can drive the process under the democratic arrangement.
Leadership and Social Complexities
So far, we have attempted a broader, unconventional definition and study of leadership and the challenges of its development and proper understanding in order to determine its relevance and necessity for building a nation, such as Nigeria, into greatness. What kind of leadership, therefore, would be able to harness its diversity and complexities and make it fulfill its potentials of greatness? To be direct, would leadership alone be sufficient to resolve the challenges present in building Nigeria to greatness? It is to these issues we now turn.
Achebe and a host of organisations [political and non-political] have held the view that a strong, competent and purposeful leadership was all Nigeria needed to surmount is existential and development challenges. The implication of this is that the reference to leadership – particularly an elected one – as the panacea for the problems of nation building and development is no longer tenable and needs major adjustments.
Achebe’s position on leadership as the cure-all remedy without reasonably qualifying it is obviously simplistic in view of the evidence in contemporary Nigeria where supposedly strong, moral, competent leadership has not always yielded the desired results.
Such excessive reliance on leadership does not recognize the complexity of the nation, the disabling and enervating nature of its politics, and pre-bendal democracy and challenges of the emergence of suitable and capable leaders. In fact, a review of some of the qualities or requirements for the right or great leader immediately suggest that such a person does not fit into a democratic leader.
The qualities include being detribalized, (in a highly ethnic-sensitive nation); should not seek reelection (where power is the source of wealth and ethnic entitlement and one term may be inadequate to change much); to restructure the country (where there is an entrenched ethnic interest in the status quo, and a daunting constitutional amendment process); and independent candidates (in a system where political parties are dominant and money and god-fatherism reign supreme).
The only one inexorable fact or conclusion is that a democratically elected leader has little chance of meeting the challenge of great leadership demand because of the present existential, structural and political contradictions in the country. Only an imposed leadership, such as the military, can fit the leadership profile often being suggested, also considering the fact that these problems were originally created by them. But this is not to advocate for military rule; it only means that our high expectation of civilian democratic leadership should be seriously moderated to stop the growing frustration with leadership and desire for national greatness.
In referring to the complex nature of Nigeria and the special challenge it poses for leadership, there is need to review the Complexity theory to understand how it explains the Nigerian situation, the constraints on leadership and its relevance to deconstructing the Nigerian situation. Complexity theory says James Richards, in the book, Currency Wars, though a physical science concept can be used in the study of any complex systems and manifests certain fundamental features or characteristics relevant and evident in Nigeria.
“The first of such features is that complex systems are not designed from the top down (as we have with Nigeria and former USSR). Complex systems design themselves through evolution or the interaction of different autonomous parts, (as in the founding of the U.S.A).
The second principle or feature is that complex systems have emergent properties, which is a technical way of saying that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The third principle is that complex systems run on exponentially greater amounts of energy.
This means that the more complex a system becomes, the more energy or resources are required to operate the system (as in Nigeria). The fourth feature is that complex system are prone to sudden collapse, because when the complex system reaches a certain scale of complexity, the energy inputs dry up as a result of the exponential relationships which exhaust the available resources. Examples are USSR and Eastern Europe.
“In a nutshell, complex systems arise spontaneously, behave unpredictably, exhaust its resources, and collapse catastrophically”.
There is a difference between being complicated and complex system. A wrist watch or clock is built as a complicated structure or system from outset or by nature. “To be complex, a system first requires diversity in the types of agents or parts. If the agents or parts are alike, nothing very interesting will happen, but if diverse, they will respond differently to various inputs, producing tension and varied results”.
A second element of complexity is the connectedness of its parts. The third element is interdependence, which is that the agents or parts influence each other. The last element is adaptation. In complex systems, adaptation means more than change; rather it refers specifically to learning. For Nigeria, this is the greatest challenge it faces: the inability and incapacity to learn from its experience and history. Such a failure to adapt can only lead to one outcome – exacerbating the challenges – because a complex system can only endure as long as its energy and resources can sustain it.
Joseph A. Tainter in his book, The Collapse of Complex Societies, which is a study of 27 separate civilizations over a 4,500 years period, identified seven major factors – among others – for the collapse of complex systems or societies in history. They include resource depletion, natural disaster, armed invasion, economic distress, social dysfunction, religion and bureaucratic incompetence.
“In the beginning of a civilization, returns on investment usually in the form of government, are extremely high. A relatively small investment of time and effort can yield huge returns in terms of services and projects. A relatively lean bureaucracy can produce high returns in terms of efficiency in service delivery. But, with increasing complexity, returns on investment begin to level off and turn negative… Elites behave like parasites on the host body of society and engage in “rent seeking’ or the accumulation of wealth through unproductive means…. When society offers its masses negative return on inputs those masses opt out of society, which is ultimately destabilizing for both elites and masses”.
We believe all these elements and fall-outs of complex systems are familiar to us in Nigeria. Those societies, including the Roman Empire, collapsed not because of lack of effective or great leadership, but essentially as a result of the contradictions of complexity and the inability to reengineer the system and adapt to evolving conditions.
Leadership and National challenges
Nigeria began its national journey as two provinces – North and South – composed of hundreds of distinct nationalities from 1804 until 1914 Amalgamation brought the two Provinces together as one country. The 1951 Macpherson constitution created three regions – North, East and West – which became the structure at independence; in post independence (1964), the Midwest region was created.
Then in April 1967, the military created 12 states out of the four regions toward more complexity; from 12 it increased to 19 in 1975, to 21 states in 1988, 32 in 1991, and 36 in 1996. These exercises created more parts from an originally simpler system, and requiring more and more energy to manage and needing more resources to be sustained. When a society reaches the level of diminishing returns on investment; that is, it is taking more resources to produce or give the same services or project, its options are limited and very few; and leadership becomes almost incapacitated; more so in a democracy.
At that point society has three choices: simplification of the structure or system (restructuring); conquest, or collapse. Simplification is a voluntary effort to de-scale society and return the input-output ratio or balance to a more sustainable and productive level. Conquest is to find resources outside of the system to complement available resources.
In the final analysis, complexity theory points the way to safety systems and societies through simplified and smaller-sized institutions. For Nigeria, this can be achieved through restructuring or to unbundle the complexity by adapting it to present realities, release more resources and energy used in managing the complexity and provide it more opportunity for further growth. For Nigeria, the greatest task of leadership is how to simplify the political structure to reduce its complexity to allow for further growth, reduce cost in resources and energies expended in running the government, improve the sources of leadership recruitment, and create national consensus on common values and vision.
The present administration of President Buhari, has made commendable effort in ensuring that wastage of resources is curtailed as much as possible through its anti-corruption drive. One must also acknowledge the infrastructure push of the government. The rail lines are back, the roads are being done and revolution in agriculture has taken root, these despite the mounting revenue challenges.
To that extent, yes, Buhari has provided leadership. And I have to say that it’s rather unfortunate that most people don’t seem to appreciate that this is a government that
came on board at a time of near collapse of oil price in the international market. For a country that is almost completely dependent on oil revenues, the challenges can be enormous. Yet, the government has managed to navigate the troubled waters and keep the country’s ship afloat.
But Nigeria, as I have noted earlier, is a complex and challenging society to lead. This is in part because, again, as I noted before, it is a diverse polity, with different ethnic and religious groups pulling in different directions. Such a country will naturally pose a huge challenge to even the most, well-intentioned leader. Because here, there is hardly any consensus and a leader is saddled with the impractical responsibility of ensuring that his actions satisfy different groups with different opinions of what is right or wrong; which policy is good or bad, and so on.
For instance, while building a bridge or rail line from point “A” to point “B” is ordinarily a welcome development and an answer to the infrastructure deficit bedeviling the country, such action can still be regarded as bad by those who would insist that the rail line ought to have been built from point “C” to point “D” based on their own experience.
What this tells us is that as far as leadership in Nigeria goes, one leader who is responsible for all may never get it right no matter how committed or well intentioned such leader might be. This again, brings us back to the role of leadership in the context of the quest for national development, which has largely been subsumed in the complexity of the challenges structure and orientation.
Historically, Nigeria was built on a Tripod heritage – East, West and North, with each having a leadership that was to a very large extent, responsible for a people who shared similar experiences and sense of right and wrong. The relative successes witnessed by our founding fathers who were leaders of each of these three regions: Michael Okpara in the East, Obafemi Awolowo in the West and Ahmadu Bello in the North, were largely because they were accountable to people who shared as many things in common and had importantly, the constitutional powers to exploit resources within their domains. That was a period when Nigeria actually made true progress and robbed shoulders with its contemporaries in Asia and South America, if not even Europe.
Today, however, the story is different. Yes, the First Republic still had its challenges and there were also agitations by those who felt that their interests were not adequately protected in their respective regions, such matters could have been taken care of by expanding the regions but not removing their capacity to be self-governing.
Obvious from the foregoing is that leadership, no matter how committed, may not be able to make needed impact if it fails to resolve the fundamental question of nationhood. Suffice to say that at the heart of the existential challenges we now face in our dear country is presently our collective struggle to come together and evolve a structure that is suitable for the country given the differences and peculiarities of our peoples.
In effect, we are yet to make a nation out of Nigeria. The fact is that nationhood is defined before a vision is developed, and without a vision, no progress can be made, for indeed, what is Nigeria’s national vision? Under the current system, we are still experiencing a situation where different people are pulling in different directions, threatening to rip the country apart.
In conclusion therefore, notwithstanding the commendable efforts of this government in tackling some of the challenges bedeviling this nation, unless we agree collectively as a people, to go back to the fundamentals and forge a workable union, achieving the nation of our dream may continue to be elusive.
Firstly, the emergence of an effective leadership is seriously constrained in an entrenched party system, where pre-bendal politics and god-fatherisim are the vehicles for leadership selection. Secondly, a leadership such leadership must be honest, fair-minded and just removing discriminatory policies, injustice and marginalisation, etc.
Finally, the real issue is to have a leadership which is capable of dismantling unwieldy, unproductive and suffocating structure that de-motivating, dysfunctional and a disincentive to peace, unity and development. This is the only assignment before leaders that can save the country from perpetual existential challenges.
In conclusion, there are three major tasks before us toward building a great nation:
i). Avoiding pre-bendal politics and god-fatherism;
ii). Avoiding discriminatory practices and ensuring equitable, and justiceable dispensation of policies; and,
iii).Preventing tendencies for continued crass materialism and primitive accumulation, and moral decadence.
Without sounding pessimistic, current facts prove that leadership alone – as already qualified and clarified – may not resolve the complex nature of the challenges confronting the nation, unless we are ready to advocate and accept an alternative leadership model other than what we already have.
For instance, the structure is not what any elected leadership can change unilaterally; and without changing the structure somewhat for simplification of the system; adaptation and resource optimization, the challenge or question of greatness would hardly be resolved.
Sir Marc Wabara