Is leadership really the main problem of Nigeria and Africa?

Posted by News Express | 2 February 2016 | 2,400 times

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Addressing this subject of leadership, I am going to be using my country Nigeria as a case study for several reasons:

Because that is where I come from and I am more familiar with it than any other country.

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa; therefore, whatever affects Nigeria affects all of Africa.

It has become a “proverb” all over the world how bad leadership is ruining Nigeria.

Ever since I was a young teenager growing up in Africa, I kept hearing continuously almost like a mantra that “our only problem in Nigeria is leadership” or that “our biggest problem in Nigeria is leadership” etc.

Books have been written about this, seminars are unending on this topic, symposiums, colloquia, all kinds of platforms and avenues where various experts, teachers, writers, professors, have tried to proffer solutions to this all-abiding problem of leadership in Nigeria and Africa.

To the man on the street, however, who does not go to the symposiums and seminars, he is only left with hope. Hope that one day there would arise a kind and lovely leader who will build a wonderful nation for them, where everyone would be happy and satisfied. For this hope, the ordinary man prays in his church, mosque and even in the secrecy of his home.

This hope is what drives him to keep on queuing up in all kinds of weather, in hope of casting his vote. For the hope of this supposedly great and kind leader. As paradoxical as this might sound, this hope has even led some naive and zealous men to stage a number of coups all across Africa. In the hope that just in case from their ranks, might arise that kind and great leader that would build their dreamed paradise for them.

The only problem with this kind of mentality is that it is now over 55 years since Nigeria and Africa have been hoping and are still hoping for a good and kind leader that would bring our nation and continent to the Promised Land. If we are to apply the principle of critical thinking, we would see that it is either what we are praying and hoping for is wrong or something is wrong with our nation and continent.

Hypothetically, if this hope and prayers had been correct, there should have been at least a few countries in Africa who should have gotten it right, especially since the time span we are talking about is not 5 or 10 years, but 55 years. 55 years is a lot of time. There should have arisen a lot of opportunities for at least a few African countries to have produced great leaders, who would have built prosperous and great African nations.

The fact that this same problem seems to plague all the over 50 countries in Africa is by itself not a coincidence. With no apparent evidence of remedy, could this be telling us that we are putting our hope in the wrong place? Are we sure leadership is truly our main problem?

As a young teenager growing up in Nigeria, there was no chance for me to think outside the box. I automatically found myself thinking as majority of the people in my nation that our only problem is “leadership” in Nigeria. Whenever we speak about leadership, however, we are not talking about the leadership of schools or less significant government agencies. We mainly refer to politicians or top government officials at the helm of affairs in our nation.

I listened to that theorem that our main problem is leadership so many times that I never even thought it might not be true. It was automatically assumed to be true by most of the people around me.

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”—1 cor. 13:11

However, having lived outside Nigeria for the past 30 years, working with politicians, countries, governments and being a student of national transformation, I now being a consultant and an expert in nation building, national transformation and factors of development and civilisation, now think differently.

Before I bring out my arguments, permit me to say that there is no doubt about it that leadership has its place in all human endeavours. My friend John Maxwell has popularised the saying “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” I couldn’t agree more.

However, when it comes to building a nation, even though leadership too is important, it won’t be of overwhelming significance. The role of leadership might be more significant when we are talking of business, company, or smaller units like family, communities, associations, industries, etc.

In the above-mentioned people groups, the role of a set man is almost supreme and indispensable. But when it comes to nations, I would like you to take your time to read through my argument in this piece. I appeal to all of you that are reading this, not to be in a hurry to stone me or stop reading. Please don’t think I am in some form of error or the other.

Let me restate here that, yes, leadership is important in all human endeavours. But when it comes to nation building, leadership, especially leadership of a single man, is not of the significance we have attached to it.

In history, however, not too many people were willing to listen to this type of reasoning that I am presenting today. All throughout human history, men tend to simply take it for granted that a good leader means a good nation. A kind leader would take care of his people and bad leaders oppress their people.

There is a justification to this manner of thinking, though, especially since most parts of the then known world, in almost all ethnic groups, the leaderships of these nations were primarily kings and monarchs. In which case without a doubt, individual leadership of the monarch is the singular factor in determining the standard of living of the people.

Yes, if we in Nigeria and Africa today have been running a monarchical system of government then that statement “leadership is our only problem” could have been justified.

Our modern world has long become a post-monarchy world. The democratic system of government has replaced the supremacy of the monarchs in most countries of the world. It is for this reason that the emergence of democracy has now reduced the all-important role of a good and kind leader in building a prosperous nation.

Even though leaders still have their place and their roles to play in building any kind of nation, yet in the modern world of the 21th century, the role a leader plays in building a nation is no more as paramount as it once use to be.

If I ask most of you reading this article to mention to me the names of the leaders of each European country, not many of you would be able to do that. Apart from the big and influential countries of the world like America, England, France, Germany, etc, most of you might not be able to name more than 10 leaders of nations.

The lesson history has taught us is that it is no more strong men that build great nations. It is strong systems that build great nations. If you have strong men that refused to build strong systems, their works would be shortlived and their memory forgotten. Our emphasis, therefore, should be on raising experts, technocrats, administrators, leaders who are capable enough to build strong and lasting systems.

In most of the advanced countries of the world today, I cannot say they mostly have strong leaders. No, they no longer look for or depend on finding loving and caring leaders that will lead them to paradise. They have managed to build strong and reliable systems that function automatically, irrespective of whom the leader is, strong or weak.

The truth is that all these countries asking for better leaders are not really ready for them. They mostly don’t know what they are asking for. Israel was a case study in the Bible. They had the best leader any nation could dream or think about. Their leader was so good and supreme that there was no country on earth that could produce a leader as good as he was. Yet, because Israel did not know the value of such leadership, they complained, they whined, murmured, grumbled and demanded for yet a better leader.

But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” So Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” (1sam 8:6-7) 

My dear readers, I hope you see what happened here. The leader the children of Israel had and were not satisfied with was the Lord God himself. He was ruling over them through Samuel. But the people of Israel were still not happy; they wanted to have a leader according to their own fantasy. They wanted a king, so God gave them a king. But soon afterwards, they were again dissatisfied with this king they got and demanded for another.

When people think that their only problem is leadership that is a way of them saying, “It is only the leader that needs to change.” Meaning they don’t need to change. It is only the leader that must pay the price of growth and development. Meaning they don’t need to do that. It is only the leader that must work out means for their advancement and prosperity, while they just follow.

What is happening in this case is that the people are abdicating their power to the leader. But that is not what democracy is all about. Democracy is all about the power of the people, for the people and by the people. In democracy it is the people that take responsibility for the growth and development of their nations. They take responsibility for their economy. They take responsibility for their advancement and civilisation. Even though there is a place for leadership, leadership only stops in the area of giving direction and casting vision.

Had there been strong leaders in the world that worked the magic and succeeded in bringing the desired prosperity to their people? Yes indeed, but in every one of those cases, it’s either the leaders were eventually killed, betrayed or rejected. Most of these so called great leaders were only recognised as such after their death.

The truth is, people who ask for good leaders don’t know what they are asking for. Most of them do not understand what leadership entails. As a matter of fact, when they get these leaders, they don’t recognise them. In most of the cases, history tells us, the people end up rioting and protesting against the very leaders they once clamoured for. In some cases these leaders don’t die a natural death. They are often killed by the very same people who will later build their monuments.

•Sunday Adelaja is a Nigerian born leader, Transformation Strategist, Pastor and innovator who lives in Kieve Ukraine. He can be contacted at

Source: News Express

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