Varsity degrees do not make leaders

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LEADERSHIP is more an art than science. It is therefore hard to set rules, theories and formulae for good leadership.

Despite their differences in background, weaknesses, strengths, personal habits and styles of leadership, good leaders tend to have some qualities in common: vision, courage, and strong will, etc. They have a sense of mission and a belief in their ability to change the course of history.

They are also, usually, knowledgeable. But it is completely wrong to think that knowledge is only acquired from formal educational setting, for example, the university. Many very knowledgeable and distinguished individuals, including some very successful leaders were not university educated.

I was once a bad student and I, repeatedly, failed the entrance examinations into Nigerian universities. My mates, who were brilliant students, got admitted into the universit ies. They told exaggerated stories about the demands and rigours of university education.

In those days, university graduates were generally haughty and snobbish, and behaved as though they were all knowing. So, I expected exceedingly much from a university education. I thought it will automatically transform me to an all knowing intellectual.

With time, I attended universities and got both bachelors and masters degrees. My university education disappointed my expectations; it failed to transform me into a polymath. Although, it taught me a number of things, there was still so much to be learnt.

Over the years, from reading and studying, out of interest, I learnt more than I did in the universities. The books I read that availed me more than the universities required no prerequisite: it is not required that you have a degree to be able to read and understand them.

In other words, it is possible, without a university education, by reading and studying out of interest, to become more knowledgeable than university graduates with their bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees.  Not surprisingly, there have been many self-taught men and women renowned for their achievements and contributions to humanity; with some being the greatest leaders in history, for example, Winston Churchill, Indira Gandhi and Frederick Douglas. .

Winston Churchill was a disgracefully bad student and was unable to gain entrance into the university. However, by reading and studying on his own, he became an orator, author and statesman.  He was a two time British Prime Minister.

In his frequent meetings with the United State officials, during the Second World War, the then president of the United States, the Harvard-educated lawyer, Franklin Roosevelt, and his entourage were awed by Winston Churchill’s resounding oratory, encyclopedic memory and prodigious learning. As one of the greatest political leaders of all times, he was named the Man of the 20th Century.

Indira Gandhi attended a number of prominent schools, including Oxford, but her weak academic performance prevented her from obtaining a degree. Later, as a two time prime ministers of India, she demonstrated magnificent abilities as a leader of the world’s most populous, heterogeneous, strife-rive democracy. The most important Black-American leader of the 19th Century was Frederick Douglas.

An uneducated escaped slave, he, through self-education and a natural gift for self expression became a leading orator, author, publisher and civil right leader. Like Martin Luther King Jr., the foremost Black American leader of the 20th Century, he towered above other civil right leaders of his time because of his ability to write with power and speak with passion.

He was a consultant to President Abraham Lincoln during the American civil war and later served as the US minister and consul general to Haiti.

The National Conference is proposing a law that mandates that candidates for almost all the political offices in Nigeria should have at least a university degree. That law is fundamentally flawed because it presupposes that knowledge and ability for political leadership come only from a university education. Secondly, it is a gross infringement on the constitutional rights of Nigerians to elect their leaders because the law limits, by academic qualifications, those that Nigerians can vote for. In addition, it strays beyond the sphere of the law. The law regulates behaviours, not attitude.

The law can shape my behaviour towards others but cannot dictate my attitude (love, hate, respect, etc) towards them. The people’s attitude (trust, confidence, respect, etc) towards contenders for political offices is beyond the purview of the law. Ordinarily, it is people’s attitude towards political candidates that decides their vote. We vote for political contestants because we like them, respect them and have confidence in their ability to lead. The National Conference lacks the moral or constitutional authority to dictate for Nigerian electorate who to vote for.

Nigerian should vote for their preferred candidates, irrespective of their academic background. The people are the ultimate repository of power and the choice of who leads them should be left to them, uninhibited by any imposition from any conference or law making entity.

There are many potentially superb leaders with no university education in Nigeria. And to preclude them from running for elective offices will be a flagrant breach of their rights to vote and be voted as Nigerian citizens. In the recent gubernatorial election in Ekiti State, did the people not dramatize their electoral preference for a homespun, rough-hewn, street-savvy politician, Ayodele Fayose over a scholarly and genteel incumbent governor, Kayode Fayemi?

They preferred Fayose’s degree-less, rollicking, earthy politics to Fayemi’s doctorate degree honed coolness, erudition and urbaneness. It would have been a staggering blow to Nigerian democracy, if a law had denied the people of Ekiti this electoral alternative: two sons of the soil of conspicuously different temperaments, academic qualifications and styles. It would have been a gross violation of Nigerian democracy.

Mr. Tochukwu Ezukanma a  commentator on national issues,  wrote from Lagos.

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