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Leadership by example

By Tonnie Iredia
On March 8, 1925, a child named Warren Bennis was born in Brooklyn, USA. He is 86 years old now and is still waxing strong as an international colossus in his chosen field- leadership studies- where as a pioneer; he has churned out several expositions that can transform ordinary people into leaders.

A summary of his treatise is that a good leader must have 3 traits- vision, passion and integrity. According to Bennis, it is the absence of these virtues in man that explains why many world leaders cannot lead. But do the virtues fall into the class of ideals that are hard to attain?

If not, are they observable among Nigerian leaders?  While we cannot deny the existence of a few perceptive leaders in the nation, to answer the question in the negative is a truer reflection of the situation because mediocrity has for long suffocated the decision making process of our public domain.

To put it point blank, Nigeria has always had many leaders without vision. Interestingly, the fault is hardly attributable to only the leaders. Rather, it is a collective guilt that is oiled by the contributory negligence of us, the critics and the so-called intelligentsia.

How can we blame our leaders for lack of vision when we usually allow them into office without any visible leadership qualities or any articulation by them of how they can add value to our development process?

The other day, a friend drew my attention to an interesting scenario in his state where a newly elected governor was for long unable to form an executive council to run the state. When he eventually inaugurated one, he charged his commissioners to, within a month, come up with their strategies on how best to do the job. What a visionary governor!

Leadership is about taking charge of an assignment and accepting responsibility for its outcome. In a country like Nigeria where buck-passing is common, no one is in charge and no one takes responsibility. As a result, when anything goes wrong, everyone blames the leader while he blames the system.

That is why it is common for any problem in Nigeria today to be blamed on the President. Thus, although only major roads which link states should concern the federal government, a typical Nigerian in a village would blame the poor road to his farm on Goodluck Jonathan and never on the chairman of the relevant local government council.

Perhaps we need to enlighten our people that there are different types and layers of leadership. School Prefect, Chief Driver, Unit, Sectional, Divisional and Departmental Heads of organizations are all leaders in their own rights and in order to ensure that the things they control move progressively, each must learn to take responsibility.

Society itself must demand accountability from those charged with any function. In other parts of the world where this perspective is functional, the culture of taking responsibility is firmly rooted with leaders having to accept vicarious liability for whatever transpires within their functional jurisdiction even where they were not personally at fault.

In other climes, Coach, Samson Siasia would have on his own, resigned over the recent fitful performance of our football team. Instead, some public commentators started drawing attention to the adverse effects of ‘sacrificing’ the Coach as if they would also have opposed national honours to the same Coach as a reward for his team winning a match.

Alas, our Coach remains in post meaning that no one took responsibility for our failure. Accordingly, no one was in charge of the subject and as such we had no business winning the match in the first instance as we presented a team that no one was in charge of.

What we have alluded to now is virtually true of every event in all facets of our national life like the bombings of the Police Headquarters and the United Nations Building in Abuja where no one has taken responsibility for the security lapses involved.

In other civilized societies, our immediate past Chief Justice would have honourably bowed out of office considering the type of indignity the judiciary was plunged into under him. Instead different panels were set up so as to arrive at the predetermined finding that the accusations against him were incorrect.

To honourably quit is not a sign of guilt, rather it is a sign of taking responsibility as a leader. This is different from dramatic leadership which in Nigeria expects its followers ‘to do as I say and not as I do’ which is devoid of leadership by example.

Today, the issue of the moment is the expedience of removing fuel subsidy which has some economic rationality. As a former orientation and mobilization professional, I would have canvassed the use of multi-media strategies to persuasively enlighten our people to embrace the policy but because examples are better than precepts, i doubt if anyone would listen.

In other words, the subject requires leadership by example in which the first step to take is to remove the many subsidies of the ruling class. The Murtala/ Obasanjo military administration taught us this in 1975with its low profile government where among other things, top public officials were restricted to one car each and the car was not to be higher in value than the ‘PAN made’ 504 car.

So, in our new plan to retrieve wasteful resources, there is much that is begging to be done in some other areas before we touch fuel subsidy. First, let our government ensure that from today every public officer on an official trip should as a true servant of the people travel by economy fare.

Second, every national service should attract token allowances the way our patriotic ‘Youth Corpers’ are made to earn not graduate salaries but the equivalent of minimum wage only because they are on national service. It is not uncharitable to imagine that our legislators are also on national service and would therefore not mind being placed on token sitting allowances thereby helping the nation to make enormous savings.

Third, let us cancel security vote because as we argued before in this column, no less a person than Governor Kwankwaso of Kano who ought to know confirmed recently that security vote is nothing more than a device for stealing. Fourth, let us put a halt to the extravagance of government hospitality in which people are frivolously accommodated and lavishly feted daily in several government guest houses.

Fifth, let us reduce general recklessness in governance  and avoid the type of situation we have now where one former  governor is being tried for spending over five billion naira (?5b) during his eight-year tenure which translates to ?625,000,000 a year and ?52, 083,333.33 a month just on feeding!!.

In short, let us institute responsible leadership of visionary men and women who as we are told by Warren Bennis should have ample integrity to be totally self-less and passionate about the nation state. It is the only way to attain a unity of direction for our people.


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