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Leadership matters in the life of all countries

Leadership matters in the life of all countries

14 October, 2020

Jide Osuntokun


Some years ago some of my friends and I ruefully bemoaned the situation of what we perceived as poor political leadership all over the world. We asked where are the leaders comparable to  Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Mao Zedong and Chou en Lai of China, Ahmed Surkano of Indonesia, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Broz Joseph Tito of Yugoslavia, Nikita Khrushchev of Union of Socialist Soviet Republic, Charles de Gaulle of France, Konrad Adenauer of the Federal Republic of Germany, Harold Macmillan and his Labour counterpart Harold Wilson of Great Britain, John Kennedy and Richard Nixon  of the United States of America, Juan Peron  of Argentina, Fidel Castro  of Cuba, and nearer home, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Ahmed Sekou Toure of  Guinea, Ahmed Ben Bella and Houari Boummediene of Algeria, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Nwalimu  Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and our own Nnamdi Azikiwe, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello?

Both Azikiwe and Awolowo were intellectuals judging by the profundity of their ideas of politics. Ahmadu Bello made up for whatever his intellectual lacuna in book knowledge by his sheer determination and sense of sacrifice.  Abubakar Tafawa Balewa’s elocution and quiet dignity remains unequaled when compared with the present puny characters we have as leaders in this country. He remains the first and last African statesman to be invited to address the joint session of the United States Congress until 1994 when Nelson Mandela broke the record.

Many of these past leaders were so important in the lives of their people that their countries were almost synonymous with their names.  Most of them were not interested in the monetary perquisites of office which seem to be the obsession of our current rulers. They had this sense which the French call noblesse oblige, meaning the desire of a great man to take care of the less privileged and fortunate in society. Any student of state power knows that political leadership of a country is a very important element of power.

A charismatic leader of a people can make the people exert themselves beyond their ordinary power just to build the state and satisfy the leader. Important are such factors like the size and quality of the population, the geographical location and configuration of the country including water and potential hydropower resources of the country. Other elements of power include possession of natural resources particularly strategic resources such as hydrocarbons i.e. coal and petroleum, uranium, copper, iron as well as other factors such as vast agricultural land because a country that is hungry country like India used to be until it solved its food problem, cannot be adjudged potentially strong. From these elements of power will flow quality of education, industrialized economy, health service, education, the level and sophistication of its finance and commerce, the state of aviation, communication and transportation. This will determine the kinetic energy within the state because a state that is not perpetually in motion in today’s world is a dead state.

Of course the level of military preparedness and the development of what General Dwight David Eisenhower called the military industrial complex is very important in the delivery of power to target objects. To move all these elements into force to reckon requires political leadership. This does not have to be democratic leadership but democratic leadership is more enduring and preferable. But there are instances of strong monarchies or totalitarian and authoritarian leadership, a Caesar, for example providing a state the rallying point necessary for it to make an impact in the world and to strike a blow in the defence of its national interest. It may be that one is being nostalgic and living in the past and that is why one can easily notice the Lilliputian stature of the present day political leadership in the world. But this alone does not account for the stark decline in political and moral civic leadership around the world. There seems an agreement among scholars about the pervasive nature of corruption among political leaders in the world today. How does one account for the rise and performance of a man like Donald Trump in the most powerful and politically dominant country in the world, a country that commands hegemonic power in global trade, finance and military power. This is due to moral decadence and decline in the democratic world where womanizing, sexual perversion, and unusual sexual orientation seem to be the game in town. This decline is everywhere and how does one explain the emergence of a political non-conformist like Boris Johnson heading Her Majesty’s government in Great Britain?

Many of the present political players on global chessboard do not inspire much confidence in the world and even in the countries over whose government they sit. The present crop of political neophytes in power in many countries has shown that standard has definitely fallen all over the world.

It is this global picture and perspective that give us a better understanding of the failure of leadership in Africa and right now in Nigeria where political leadership does not seem to appreciate the awesomeness of the task at hand but rather sees the assignment as one in which to indulge in political jobbery and dishing out appointments to family members and ethnic and religious cohorts unmindful of the harm being done to national harmony and concord. This is very dangerous in post-colonial Africa where states are very fragile. We need in Africa leaders who can rally and mobilize the people for states defence and development.  Where those temporarily  in position of power through acts of omission or commission so undermines the deep state through acts of partiality and inequity in the treatment of citizens in an ethnically and religiously diverse states, such rulers create potential fifth columnists who will not help to defend the state and may even support external aggression. In other words, a wise ruler will create broad support for the state by making all citizens particularly the critical mass of the people to be joint stakeholders with whoever wields political power for the moment.

No matter the resources that inhere in a state, if the political leadership is poor, that state will remain perpetually poor. Government is about people. Even though a leader may not be able to satisfy all the people every time but a leader’s action must be seen in terms of wide acceptability and utility value for the state. It is just sad for a country’s leader not to have a sense of history and what had made predecessors successful. Many of the present leaders have no sense of history. Broz Joseph Tito was able to hold the old disparate Yugoslavia together because of his exemplary leadership and his ability to balance and manage the interests of Croats, Serbs, Montenegrins, Herzegovinians, Slovenians, Macedonians, and Kosovo within an overarching Yugoslavian interest. The moment he died, all hell broke loose. He did not do it by force of arms but force of character and charisma. The situation in the former Soviet Union where Vladimir Putin is trying to use force in so-called Russian satellites has led to a shooting war against Ukraine. No force of arms can hold a people down forever. This is the evidence of history. It is weak leaders who resort to force to knit people together against the spirit of universally accepted self-determination. Even the Almighty Soviet Union had to grudgingly concede and accept independence of its different peoples.

Nearer home in Africa, Ethiopia was compelled by force of arms to let Eritrea go its separate ways and miserable Sudan did the same to Southern Sudan. One however hopes the situation in the Horn of Africa will not be like the  paramecium that keeps breaking apart periodically because the ethnic question there has not been solved in spite of the political divisions of those countries including their sister country of Somalia that has ceased functioning as a state. Experience is a better teacher. Even the less than exemplary and sterling current political leaders in Africa should learn a lesson about the fragile and weak nature of their countries and try to stabilise them through wise, fair and equitable measures and structures that will outlive current leaders in their states. Since they neither have  the political wisdom and charisma of their predecessors, they should leave legacies of enduring structures and governmental systems that they would be remembered  for or else history will be very severe on them for the ramshackle states they leave behind after they would not only have been gone from office but from this world as well.

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