How Leadership Fails Nigeria


Hope for good governance and good leadership in Nigeria seems to be increasingly distant confidence. If leadership does not take the citizenry forward along the lines of development, growth and flourishing it can either stagnate the state or lead it backwards both in time and in comparison to other societies. Moving backwards in this sense and the manner it becomes manifest indeed is “de-civilisation”. Nigeria is becoming a largely de-civilised nation; sliding backwards in both modern and traditional senses because decay is profitable to the leaders.

Leadership from the federal to local government levels in Nigeria appear to have attained a well-buffered and stable equilibrium fixed on corruption. This unfortunate equilibrium breeds two tragedies in the Nigerian polity that are perpetually underestimated and creates the foundations for the continuous social castration of the nation and its citizens. The first is that of “having a good leader surrounded by self-serving evil men”. This is what some call the “first curse of Nigeria”. Nigeria is seriously due for a leader who is effortlessly surrounded by able and conscientious men that can successfully coordinate and implement governance responsibilities bestowed upon them. The second is the public perception held by supporters and followers of a leader that he or she is “trying”. “Do or do not, there is no trying” is a quote of wisdom from Yoda in Empire Strikes Back. Derisory and showy attempts at policies and projects are hailed as great achievements, not their completion. This is a key reason why governance failure and mediocrity is well tolerated by Nigerians and also why the country’s political terrain is host to countless abandoned projects and policies.

When a society has a leadership crisis it also has a governance crisis; leadership and governance are inseparable conjugates.

The present government under President Muhammadu Buhari is plagued with numerous governance crises despite his lofty promises of “change”, the worst being the handling of corruption that has so de-civilised Nigeria. Food shortages, runaway inflation, multiple insurgencies,

decimated livelihoods, high crime rates, extra-judicial killing, increasing pollution and ecocide, growing unemployment and worsening corruption. Things are being effectively managed with the necessary brand of leadership. There is too much cacamuvence in the land.

Many have claimed that change and anti-corruption [as Buhari promised it] takes times to attain success. However, when change governance is successfully undertaken, it is constituted of short-, medium- and long term goals and expectations with a timetable of actions and outcomes. How change works in a practical sense is that if the short-term goals are achieved citizens will believe that the medium-term goals will be achieved and if this too succeeds then they believe in the long-term goals. This is how governments foster patience and endurance for their governance among citizens. Nevertheless, there appears to be no structured schedule of goals or expectations of change attempted, communicated or fulfilled by the present government. And how does Buhari’s administration respond to or solve these problems? “Blamocracy”.

Blamocracy is “governance by rulers blaming others for their government’s very own failures”. As a one-time UK Prime Minister, Lord Balfour, once declared “democracy is government by persuasion”; when the Nigerian government cannot persuade its blames. The government is supposedly on its terms not to blame for anything happening under its watch at all. Every governance failure or crisis is blamed on the preceding government of Goodluck Jonathan and virtually everyone else it can. They even blame government security agents at the border which they employ for the high prices of goods in the country. From another perspective, blamocracy is a well-orchestrated public relations approach to attacking and destroying any credible voices that are critical of the ever-blundering government.

In research I undertook on institutional failure in Nigeria since the return to democracy the results robustly indicated that two institutions, namely, (a) the Presidency and (b) the public relations arm of government were the most enforceable and least obstructed institutions in the governance of Nigeria; this is where the potency of governance lies. What is the president doing with his unobstructed powers and why is he blaming the powerless for government failure? Blamocracy as the de facto mode of governance is a highly misplaced practice. How does a government that loses the trust of the polity with a routine plethora of blame casts simultaneously plead for sympathy from that same polity? Governance folly or governance incapacity?

In my conception of leadership, I encourage people to ask what leadership is and what is it supposed to produce? From an institutional perspective, leadership in a visible sense is the capacity (a) to successfully resolve an existing crisis when one assumes power over a domain or one encountered after winning power. And (b) maintain the good standards of governance and government success that existed before assuming power. (c) Create (if one does not exist) or better an existing good governance apparatus. On the less visible side, leadership is about the successful coordination and delegation of governance duties to the relevant agent. This never really happens in any consistent or constant from in Nigerian government. It is good to see civil society groups encouraging voters to hold elected officials to account, but it just another approach to rent-seeking.

I also frame the presence of three kinds of leaders in public governance; foundational leaders delegated leaders and terminal leaders. The foundation leader is a founder, pioneer or creator of a jurisdiction e.g. independent Nigeria. In post-colonial Nigeria, the most prominent founding leaders, namely, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello were all convicted for financial corruption at some stage in their public service careers. What should we expect of leaders that came after them? We cannot underestimate the influence of “leadership by example” or “leadership by precedence”. Successive leaders with rare exceptions have never truly attempted to correct the corruption evident in Nigeria government, those who tried never lasted long in office.

The terminal leader is the chief executive of a political jurisdiction that is settled and well-established. He or she is the culmination of the outcomes of the adventures of foundational leaders. In the political structure of Nigeria, these terminal leaders are the president of the federal republic, the governors of states and the chairpersons of local government authorities. Nigeria is the bakery which makes the “national cake” that is stolen or shared as the terminal leader pleases. The typical challenges of modern or traditional political leadership are not their mission, it is beyond their path-pendent aspirations. The acquisition of power for stomach sake is their main mission; terminal leadership is an ultimate prize for the “ambitious”. This is best exemplified in the emergence of Gubernatocrats in Nigeria. Gubernatocracy, the rule of Nigeria at the federal level by ex-governors who have stolen vast amounts of money from their states’ treasuries and therefore can buy lots of political power. Gubernatocrats-turned-Senators now partly rule Nigeria with impunity demonstrating how the Rule of Law can be used to de-civilise Nigeria by manipulating legislation to protect corrupt practices and self-interest. Former military leaders were just the same. So where does the call to serve the public interest come into play? Nowhere.

The delegated leaders are those heads of public organisations and institutions and are responsible for implementing policies, programs and projects determined or expected by the terminal leaders. The delegated leader is not a follower but a leader in his own right by way of governance responsibility, even if he or she is not at the top of the national leadership hierarchy. The delegated leader is the permanent secretary, the medical director of a general hospital, the principal of a secondary school, the director-general of a parastatal, the general manager of a state-owned farm, the judge of a court, a commanding officer in the military or the police force. These delegated leaders have duties to deliver adequate education, security, healthcare, law and order etc. to citizen on behalf of terminal leaders.

Unfortunately, delegated leadership positions of the so-called “civil servants” are merely sinecures offered as rents and favours. Theft not administration appears to be the goal of the delegated leader. The delegated leader is just as guilty of the misgovernance in Nigeria as the terminal leader. They both castrate Nigeria economically, socially and politically by sacrificing the public good for self-interest. Amazingly, it is a truism that most Nigerians are not too fussed about leaders taking care of the self-interests as long as the demands of the public interest are met. This where the popular saying in Nigeria emerges, “you can eat government money while in office but do not eat too much”. The question then arises, what is too much?

It is worthy to note only General Murtala Mohammed (1975-1976) as head of state has ever attempted to correct the crisis of delegated leadership and governance present in the Nigerian government. Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007) as a civilian president tried to systematically disempower them mainly by exclusion, but it did not work and required excessive micromanagement to achieve minor results. Without delegated leaders no political system can work; government failure abounds. This delegated leadership problem should be the main focus of the terminal leaders assuming they have the political will to do things rights. The evidence routinely shows that they do not and this cannot be blamed away.

We will have to wait for the post-Buhari-era for the kind of leadership and governance most hope that can make Nigeria what it is broadly expected to be.


Grimot Nane

One response

  1. Pingback: “Coconut Head” Corruption | Grimot Nane Zine

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