Nigeria: The continuing search for leadership (1)
It is a great honour and privilege to be given the opportunity to give the 2015 Emeka Anyaoku Lecture here in Port Harcourt, a city that holds many childhood and adult memories for me. This is the fourth major public lecture I have been afforded the opportunity to give here in the Garden City.
First at the invitation of the Rivers State Government at its first Economic Summit in 2001 soon after the onset of democratic governance after the exit of the military and twice on the invitation of the University of Port Harcourt at the 25th anniversary of its School of Postgraduate Studies in 2008 and latterly at its Convocation on the 7th March 2014. Needless to state that on each occasion I went away with pleasant memories.
This occasion is, however, special. This lecture has been organised by the Nigerian youth in honour of a great Nigerian whose greatness and leadership has been acknowledged at the international level.
The occasion is poignant and emblematic for it raises the question once more why a nation that has produced such outstanding leaders and intellectuals at the international level has failed so miserably to put its act together or to put its house in order.
The opportunity that any reflection on the life of Chief Emeka Anyaoku affords us cannot escape reflecting on the fundamental issues of leadership and patriotism. This is why, for the sake of our youth I have chosen to lead our discussion today on Nigeria: The continuing search for leadership.
It is pertinent to remind our youth that the personage that we all have come together today to honour was born, nurtured and educated completely in Nigeria. He left Nigeria as a fully grown adult and yet was able to impact his leadership skills nurtured in Nigeria on the international stage so outstandingly.
So the failure in leadership that seems to have become second nature to our political leadership is not inherent in our environment or in our stars. It is fully and completely a human problem: a failure in vision, capacity and values. So the second question is how did we get here and why have we been stuck in this conundrum of movement without motion?
In the twilight years of the British colonial administration, three Nigerian leaders dominated the emerging political space: Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Alhaji Ahmadu Bello. Dr. Azikiwe’s vision was captured in his seminal book Renascent Africa published in 1937 which was both nationalist and pan-Africanist. That is why his admirers gave him the Zik of Africa. Both Dr. Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana) and Dr. Julius Nyerere (Tanzania) have acknowledged that it was Zik’s vision that inspired them to political leadership.
In Nigeria his vision inspired a group of young Nigerians who bound themselves together in the Zikist Movement. It included young Nigerians from the North (Abubakar), from the East (Mokwugo Okoye) and from the West (Tony Enahoro). Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was a contemporary of Zik, intellectual, industrious and a calculating strategist. In a book published in 1948, he put forward his vision of Nigeria by acknowledging that the young Nigeria in the immediate post second world war international environment was a mere geographical expression. In his view it was not a nation yet.
Consequently, his political strategy was to organise and consolidate his energy in his dear Yorubaland as a platform to launch into the wider Nigerian milieu. His perspective was therefore regionalist in orientation. Alhaji Ahmadu Bello was a proud scion of the caliphate empire cobbled together by his great grandfather Othman Dan Fodio. His driving vision was to consolidate the North as a platform for dominating the new nation. Thus his perspective was also regionalist and conservative. His regional and Northcentric, worldview perhaps explains his famous statement in the newspaper The Patriot that proclaimed his determination for the North to dominate the new nation. Indeed he had proclaimed his objective to make the new nation Nigeria an estate of his grand-father and in which the North should not allow power to slip from them through the strategy of controlling the minorities of the North and the South.
While Zik worked on the need to transcend the sectional and cultural barriers, Ahmadu Bello emphasized that it was necessary for us to understand our differences. Thus, at the inception of the new nation, Nigeria, her notable leaders did not share a common vision or a common code of values that can guide the leadership of the new nation. It is not surprising therefore that fifty years post-independence, a neutral observer an American journalist Karl Maier could assert “the only long term solution in Nigeria to the crises that arise in a multi-ethnic state is for the various parties, however many they may be, to sit down and negotiate how they want to govern themselves and how they ultimately want to share their resources and to decide whether they ultimately want to live together….until they begin that process of internal reconciliation, at best Nigeria will lurch from crises to crises….”
Not surprisingly, I had observed in 2004 with understandable patriotic hubris “that this gratuitous advice of an American sounds perceptive and relevant nearly ninety years after the creation of Nigeria is the most telling commentary on our failure to build and develop the nation…” The truth of the matter is that leadership is the key and Nigeria has been mocked with a succession of low quality political leadership, military and civilian.
It is also pertinent to observe that the inability to align vision and values by our founding fathers undermined the effort to find a common framework for the development of a national leadership cadre for the emerging new nation. And the British effort to impose separate development by imposing apartness as between the North and the South of the putative nation reinforced contention and further undermined the social and political dynamics that would have induced the emergence of a pan-Nigerian political and national leadership cadre.
The search begins
Nigeria is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural conglomeration of ethnic nationalities, ancient kingdoms, republican as well as monarchical city states including acephalous polities. The beginning of the journey to nationhood would have been facilitated and fostered if these entities had been encouraged to interact, inter-connect and in the process develop the capacity for inter-dependence. Such inter-dependence would have been further facilitated by the emergence of a leadership cadre that can share a common vision of their common future and a code of values that will enhance collaboration, cooperation and convergence of interests developed in an atmosphere that engenders simultaneously sense ofautonomy and self-determination of the constituent polities. This did not happen. Rather the putative nation has had to trudge along often reluctantly at different paces, with no shared empathy. They trudged along a route of successive transition states, often inchoate and inherently unstable from the pre-independence self-governing enclaves and from thence to independence and thereafter the bedlam of military rule. At no time was the opportunity to recognise and affirm a national identity in a stable, harmonious and integrated environment possible. And military rule was not only an aberration but a nightmare in social and political terms. As I have observed elsewhere
“…on the social-political front, a controversial issue going forward is the proliferation of post military leaders who would want power as civilians… Nigeria needs transformational leadership not another transitional leadership which can only assure the stability of the cemetery. The command and control temper of the military however disguised is ill-equipped to deal with the problems of Nigeria at this juncture of our history. Given the past experience of Nigeria under their leadership a recourse to leaders with a past in the military can only portray us as lacking in a necessary sense of history or lacking a national collective memory or charitably as plainly unserious. The kind of emergency that requires the military mind has long since passed and it was a nightmare. The nation is yet to recover and needs to move forward fast into the 21st century. The reflexes of the past are inappropriate and inimical to the creative stimulus needed for the present…”
Contrary to the expectation of this admonition the nation has turned in the opposite direction, not once but twice. Obviously the nation’s search for democratic civilian political leadership has been disappointed not once but three times-Shagari, Yar’Adua, and lately Goodluck Jonathan. As the Late Chinua Achebe noted in his famed pamphlet The Trouble with Nigeria “….the Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership… Nigeria can change if she discovers leaders who have the will, the ability and the vision….”
It would seem that Nigeria is now in the search not only for leaders but also for followers – followers who can demand accountability and transparency for their loyalty and support, followers who can hold their leaders to an ethical code that is just, fair and equitable. Otherwise, how else can we explain the contradiction that in a fast changing, dynamic and globalising world when the imperative to go in a new direction of democracy in a fast changing global world became the national imperative we turned in the direction of an over 60 years old former military leader who had governed twenty years earlier (1979) and (1999)? And when the imperative for change became even more insistent and unavoidable we turned even further back in time to enthrone a 72 year old former military ruler who ruled thirty years earlier, 1985 and 2015 and whose sensibilities were even more fixated to the mores of years gone by? It is as if unsatisfied with the present Nigerians turned not to a desirable future but to an inconvenient past. This paradox is the enigma that we must understand and explain if Nigeria is to make progress. Nations that have desired change have gone for youthful leaders. We must find out why Nigeria insists on being an exception.
In other words, we must not only ask the question of why, we must also remind ourselves of what the experience of history has been. It should be noted moreover that “…..leaders who have led successful transformation of their societies have usually been men of exceptional intelligence, knowledge and wisdom anchored on integrity, sensitivity and tenacity of purpose. They are people who have a clear sense of purpose with the uncanny ability to handle the organizational politics of their environment while managing processes to facilitate the desired outcomes … as managers of political processes they have the enhanced capacity to resolve dilemmas, ethical issues and conflicts as well as to shift paradigms through creative thinking and techniques of persuasion. They are masters in the management of creative tension. These are not average people with average ability – Lee Kuan Yew, Deng Xiaoping, Mahathir Mohammed, Clinton, etc. but larger than life in their talents, drive and will to reshape their environment and the future of their societies….”
If the prescription quoted above represents the basic ingredients for a transformative leadership, we need to explore the question of how we can search for and enthrone such a leadership in the Nigerian socio-political environment.
Defining boundaries in the search
Nigeria is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural federation of nationalities. Consequently, each individual Nigerian carries with him/her the seeds of multiple identities. These multiple identities carries with them the seeds of differentiation since identity defines the great divide between us and them. They encapsulate our core values: how we define ourselves and our belief system that defines how we fit into the social (and even the political) world. Hence they stir the deeper dynamics that shape human relationships: the boundaries that challenge leadership today are more psychological than structural or organizational. They involve the whole gamut of human relationships individual, personal, communal or even in the wider social milieu. They involve relationships that are associated with strong emotions – the presence of or lack of trust, loyalty, respect, pride, common purpose, safety and security, threats and the matter of ownership. The fundamental challenge to leadership then is to understand how identities are formed out of the interplay of two fundamental (and opposing), universal and powerful human forces – the need for differentiation, divergence and uniqueness in contradistinction to the need for integration, convergence and belonging.
In other words, the most basic human need is to establish a positive identity, which simultaneously guarantees to us uniqueness (apartness) as well as belongingness. It is important, therefore to address NOT what people do or how they do them but to understand WHO they are.
The most basic challenge for leadership is how to bridge or span these multiple identities by reaching out across the complex boundaries in human relationships. To achieve this, they must be able to enforce direction, alignment and commitment from and within the society or nation. In other words, leadership must have the capacity to manage boundaries, forge common ground and discover new frontiers. It must also have the capacity to recognise and align the five types of boundaries usually evident in a society; namely, vertical, horizontal, stakeholder (interest groups), demographic and geographic.
Modern research in management science has identified six practices, which can facilitate the promotion of boundary spanning leadership. Such research has recognised that when the multiplicity and complexity of forces are brought to bear in alignment and to work in synergistic contention what can emerge is what Chris Ernest and Chrobot-Mason have christened the Nexus Effect: bringing into emergence a new reality that guarantees the limitless possibilities and inspiring result that groups can realise together above and beyond what they can achieve on their own.
In the final analysis, that is the ultimate challenge for leadership in a diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural, social and political environment such as Nigeria’s – to make the whole bigger than the sum of its parts.
The strategic option for boundary spanning leadership
It was stated earlier that management research had identified six practices that promote the capacity of an organization or society or nation to enhance its capacity for boundary spanning leadership. These are buffering and reflecting which enable the leader to manage boundaries, connecting and mobilizing which facilitates the forging of common ground and finally weaving and transforming which foster the discovering of new frontiers. The application of these techniques presumes the existence of a strategy undergirded by a plan of action.
Strategy has been defined as “a coherent set of analysis, concepts, policies, arguments, and actions that respond to a high stakes challenge… a good strategy recognises the nature of the challenge and offers a way of surmounting it… the core of strategy work is always the same: discovering critical factors in a situation and designing a way of coordinating, and focusing action to deal with the factors…” So what in the case of Nigeria is the high stakes challenge? In a different forum recently I had suggested that the most fundamental challenge facing Nigeria today is the twin problems of national integration and national development.
The leader is the driver of the strategy and that is why he is key to the success or failure of the effort to face the challenge. As it has been noted “ambition is drive and zeal to excel. Determination is commitment and grit. Innovation is the discovering and engineering of new ways to do things. Inspirational leadership motivates people to sacrifice for their own and the common good. And strategy responsive to innovation and ambition selects the path, identifying how, why and where leadership and determination are to be applied…”
The leader must have the competence identified and the will to engage and overcome. In the pursuit and search for a viable strategy he/she must recognize that there is good and bad strategy and bad strategy has throughout history sung the requiem of many an ambitious programme of national redemption and national development.
As it has been noted “…leaders may create bad strategy by mistakenly treating strategy work as an exercise in goal setting rather than problem solving. Or they may avoid hard choices because they do not wish to offend anyone – generating a bad strategy that tries to cover all the bases rather than focus resources and actions…”
The predominance of wrong choices in goals, strategies and alternative scenarios has been the crux of the sorry story of failed leadership in Nigeria.
The experience of leadership in Nigeria
As noted earlier, the founding fathers of the putative Nigerian nation did not share a common vision of the structure and future of their country. This hiatus threw into bold relief the immanent differences in the emerging polity and consequently heightened ethnic tensions. The kind of politics that this environment of contentious disputation encouraged gave the alibi for the intervention of the impatient, inexperienced, even if idealistic military officers. The apparently one-sided casualty list that came with the intervention of the military only heightened ethnic tensions which was to culminate in the pogrom in the North which claimed the life of tens of thousands of Eastern Nigerians of all tribes. The new military government’s effort to enthrone unitarism in the constitutional structure of the young nation only exacerbated the already polarized situation. It is instructive to note as a matter of historical detail that at the point of military intervention, the political crises that created the atmosphere of disunity involved the North which controlled the Federal Government and the Yoruba West whose dominant leader Obafemi Awolowo had been imprisoned, thus factionalising the ruling party in the Western Region. Eastern Nigeria was not in conflict with the West or the North at this point.
In the immediate years preceding the military intervention, the efforts of the Easterners to broker peace was doomed to failure by the perception that the Eastern government was in favour of the Awolowo faction of the Action Group as demonstrated in UPGA despite being a coalition partner of the North in the Federal Government. When the pogrom erupted and Awolowo (now released from prison) agreed to work with Gowon in the new government now totally dominated by the North, the last fragment of trust and confidence were now shredded setting the stage for an avoidable and with hind-sight completely unnecessary civil war. This marked a in the failures of leadership in Nigeria.
In retrospect, the 13-year military intervention sowed the seeds of many of the ills that have come to bedevil efforts at building a nation. The hierarchical command structure of the military (with immediate effect) was ill-suited to the patient and conciliatory style that governance in a plural society demanded. In the process, the essence of major institutions such as the civil service, the judiciary and the universities were destroyed. The most pernicious and far reaching in its effects was creating an environment in which fundamental values of the society were compromised, particularly the values of excellence and merit. It is an acceptable principle in nation building to give incentives to vulnerable entities in the society to improve on their situation and aim for improvement in their circumstances. This is the basis of practices that have often been lumped together as affirmative action. This is in clear contrast to the practices of Federal Character and the concept of educationally disadvantaged states, which were decreed into existence against the lessons of experience from other nations.
The bugbear in the failure of these initiatives is the notion of entitlement that forecloses extra effort and the deployment of initiatives on the part of the vulnerable target populations. This is why no state that was classified as educationally disadvantaged more than forty years ago has improved on its ranking.
Some cultures in Nigeria have a tendency towards clientilism, nepotism, subservience, even sycophancy and authoritarianism. The period of military dominance heightened those tendencies and encouraged the emergence of an alternative governing elite with venal values encapsulated in the promotion and dominance of self. With their progressive upward climb to the higher reaches of influence and governance politics became more divisive and polarized. The language of politics became abusive and less tolerant. In practice manipulation became the order of business in governance and particularly in electoral matters. This was a stage ready made for the emergence of political god-fathers. Politics became dominated by name-calling and the repetitive mouthing of inaccuracies, inanities and even untruths all in the name of political propaganda.
If truth be told, we have watched apparently helpless at the progressive emergence and evolutionary upgrade in our politics of those whose stock-in-trade has been fraud and mendacity. The situation has not been helped by the fact that the military did not tackle the two fundamental problems that the colonial authorities left behind for us: the apparent fraud in the census and in electoral matters and the lop-sidedness in the governance structures of the country in a supposedly federal nation. They made it worse. The challenge for leadership given this plethora of problems is to begin again but the question is from where and who will bell the cat?
Despite the inclement environment in which leadership must operate in Nigeria, the review of modern research examined earlier suggests that the appropriate leadership quality needed to meet the current demands of leadership in Nigeria is what we earlier referred to as boundary spanning leadership “which is the ability to create direction, alignment and commitment across boundaries in service of a higher vision or goal…” The higher vision being to build a new Nigeria where equity, justice and prosperity are available to all regions and constituencies. In the pursuit of this goal, we must remember and take cognisance of the global environment.
As has been stated elsewhere “….Gone are the days when leaders work within an intact group in which leaders and followers share a (common) culture, values and interests. Instead today you must lead across groups, at the juncture where wide-ranging experience, diverse expertise and varied identities intersect. It is here at the inter-section where two powerful human forces – differentiation and integration – collide that you can enact six boundary spanning practices to catalyse collaboration, drive innovation and transform organisation…”
• Anya, a professor is pro-chancellor and chairman Governing Council, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture and chairman, Alpha Institute for Research in Science, Economics and Development.
TO BE CONTINUED