On October 1, 1960 when England’s Union Jack was lowered and Nigeria’s green and white flag was raised to mark the latter’s independence from colonial rule, the overwhelming mood was of fulfillment and optimism. The resulting country Nigeria has made history in many fronts. An internal war, nearly truncated the growth of the nation at infancy but she survived. But, rising from the ashes of the 1967-1970 civil war Nigeria became Africa’s giant with a vibrant economy in less than two decades of her nationhood.
60 years after, she is still the giant of Africa notwithstanding her turbulent journey that has been marked by hiccups. Nigeria has remained one entity, making the best out of her diversity and keeping her democracy on course.
National Light reporters and analysts appraise the transformation of the country since 1960 and identify fault lines. They also went to town to get views of frontline newsmakers on the state of the Nigerian nation, her past, present and their projection into the future.
LEADERSHIP curtails Nigeria’s developmental strides. Arguably, nation rise in a development’s trajectory is sustained or stagnated by its leadership. William Shakespeare, perhaps the greatest playwright ever, once wrote, “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Actually, Shakespeare had no leadership in mind when Malvolio quotes that verse in ‘Twelfth Night.’ A spinoff quote reads, “Some are born leaders, some are made leaders and some have leadership thrust upon them.” It sums up that a leader can emerge in any of these ways.
Are leaders born or made? Whether leaders are born or made holds little interest to the tremendous change true leaders effect. Leadership vehicle drives people in a direction, what the leader sees, thinks and does with the steering determine the success of the journey. “People rise and fall based on leadership. You cannot grow beyond your leader. You can only grow within the shadow he creates,” says Mensah Otabil.
The 1914 amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates of Nigeria to project the geographical entity called Nigeria, gave the British colonists a firm grip on administrative power on the diverse ethnic groups and nations called Nigeria. The 1960 independence granted Nigeria self-rule as the mantle of leadership was now in our hands to pilot our own affairs.
So far, going by the socio-economic challenges that have bedeviled the country, it is obvious that Nigeria measures below expectations 60 years after independence. We may accuse Britain for the avalanche of challenges buffeting our country. The Western world may not escape the blame of undue interference in our affairs. The bane of our socio-economic development rests on leadership and the art of governance. Has Nigeria been able to produce great Nigerian leaders that cut across ethnic and religious boundaries? Till date, Nigeria lacks true consensus leader the world acknowledges as a leader or father of the nation.
The continent of Africa has produced leaders shy of sectional or regional tag; leaders with continental appeals. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela, whose story reads like the biblical Joseph emerged from prison to gain prominence. Mandela had a short reign but is revered the world over. Like everything in life; it is not how far, but how well!
Mandela’s story depicts what heroic comic books or movie animation displays. Africa has others in Mandela mould; leaders like Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, one of Africa’s most respected figures who was referred to as ‘Baba wa Taifa’ (Father of the Nation). Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, authors of “Zambia Shall be Free” a foremost African leader. There is also the Pan- Africanist Kwame Nkruma of Ghana, among others.
One thing that Nigeria needs today is a true national leader, with continental followership. A leader whose mentality towers above political office; such a leader is the answer to a united and prosperous Nigeria. Over the years, we have suffered bad management of human and mineral resources, that it has polarised the country on ethnic, regional and religious lines, neither do we have to look far to see the things that have shaped the turn of events in Nigeria nor do we have need to consult a seer to tell us what the country will be like in the future if we don’t get leadership right today. We have had problematic leadership in the past and strange as it may be, we still grapple with it today.
Leadership has failed Nigeria. Leadership is propelled by self-interest for an agenda. To whom and what interest is a leader to serve the nation’s interest than any other. This informs the reason why some are of the opinion that followership in this context of leadership is a monster that Nigeria must fight to overcome the hurdles of socio-economic growth. In Nigeria, a leader is first from ethnic and religious angles before being considered president of the country.
Rather than view Nigeria’s first coup d’état in 1966 as a national tragedy, it was magnified with ethnic and regional lens. The chasm in the nation’s triploid political landscape was further deepened. Nigeria’s leadership has domiciled in the North more than any other region. At a time, a state in the North adopted the moniker ‘Born to Rule’. That defines leadership as it ‘favours us than others.’
Now that the country tilts towards rotational presidency, though not enshrined in the constitution, it seems Nigeria will further plunge in the direction of followership dictating the leaders’ actions as to satisfy their interest above that of the nation. Another group of followers with high octane influence; the media, intelligentsia and social commentators often encourage Nigerians to accept our leaders as sectional leaders.
Bad followership by those who trade on ethnicity or religion makes mockery of vibrant and active participation of citizens in politics and governance. Such instances afford leadership the impetus for failure. We can’t rule out the ethnicity, religion or region of a Nigerian leader; a true leader can outsize such toga that followers want he to adorn.
Fixing the leadership challenge will make other things fall in place. Former French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, once said, “Leaders are dealers in hope”. We need leaders that will keep our hopes alive. We don’t want to live in fear; neither do we want to breathe despair as we would breathe air.
As a nation, Nigeria needs a dynamic and visionary leader, a 21st century leader with the mindset of the 22nd century. Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore transformed his country from poverty to a First World. Republic of Singapore is a beautiful city-state in Southeast Asia. After some irreconcilable differences, Singapore was expelled from Malaysia in 1965. Tearful Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore had alongside Sabah and Sarawak merged with Federation of Malaya to form Malaysia on September 16, 1963. Singapore had joined the union for reasons which it hopes to be well-off from its stagnating economy, high unemployment rate, and security besides; Singapore was regarded by its own government as too small and lacking in mineral and human resources to be a viable sovereign nation.
Today, it is a different story. Singapore with less than the population of Lagos has one of the world’s busiest seaports. The port of Singapore competes with other world major seaports such as the port of Shanghai in China, the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands and a few others around the world. Singapore is a success story today, thanks to Lee Kuan Yew. If you think, perhaps, Singapore is a small country, visionary Mustafa Ataturk, known as the Father of modern Turkey laid the foundation for a prosperous and secular Turkey.
Besides growing and sustaining a prosperous nation, in 1961, President John Kennedy saw the need for the technological advancement of the United States of America at the advent of the space race to land man on the moon and return him safely to the earth. This was accomplished, though it happened eight years after his death. President Kennedy sowed the seed of landing man on the moon and it germinated. Nelson Mandela envisioned an apartheid free South Africa. Mandela made no little effort to emancipate blacks, Indians and the coloured in South Africa from the yoke of apartheid and it paid off, it happened in his life-time.
We may find it difficult defining who a leader is. Hardly, will two people give the same definition of who a leader is. “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader,” says John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States of America. John Maxwell, an authority on leadership notes, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”
There may be different definitions, but when one shows up, practically all the definitions will be pointing in one direction; the Promise Land. It is never one thing that makes a success successful. You can’t take a look from an angle and say this is what makes a whole package a success and neither will you be able to put all the attributes in one description to get the whole picture of success. Just as success has no one generally accepted definition, but can only be seen and felt, so does it apply to leadership. Someone may show traits of a leader, yet end up being a bad one.
The world celebrates leaders that have made their marks both living and dead. Peoples’ leader is what a nation needs at any point in its history. Nigeria sought for such a leader. If it is in the make believe world, we would have asked Nollywood to produce a movie in that direction for entertainment but this is reality.
Nigeria needs that man or woman whose leadership skill and testimony will be turned into a movie by Nollywood or Hollywood for global consumption. In biopic, it is reality first before a movie.
“And I sought for a man among them that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none” (Ezekiel 22: 30). Unlike in the Israel of old where God sought for a man (leader) to stand in the gap for their sins against His wrath, Nigeria sought for that great leader to stand in the gap and take Nigeria to greater heights. Nigeria is in search of a leader that will take away the derogatory tag, “Traditional mess” labelled Nigeria; a leader that will awaken the giant in us.
True leadership does not come easy. The divide anyone falls into shows the stuff they are made of. Whether leaders are born, made or have leadership thrust upon them, Nigeria demands a true national figure that unites than divides. Our nation thirsts for transformational leaders whose legacy will swallow ethnicity, regional bias or religious favouritsm. Nigeria needs true national leaders.
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