By Ikechukwu Amaechi
In recent months, particularly in the wake of the utter chaos in the country, I have found myself going back again and again to the all-important question of leadership.
Why is Nigeria plumbing the depths of retrogression? Why is the country descending into anarchy even as the leaders continue to fiddle?
Robin Sharma, a Canadian writer and motivational speaker, provided an answer. “Leadership is not about a title or a designation. It’s about impact, influence and inspiration. Impact involves getting results, influence is about spreading the passion you have for your work, and you have to inspire team-mates and customers.”
John Calvin Maxwell, an American author and also a leadership expert, agrees with Sharma.
“Everything rises and falls on leadership,” he said.
“Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.”
I have wondered endlessly what would have been if Nigeria had a different kind of leadership before, during and after the January 15, 1966 coup.
Influence and inspiration
What would have been if we had leaders who viewed governance from the prism of impact, influence and inspiration?
These traits are important because as Warren Bennis noted, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality,” a point which was amplified by Chris Hadfield when he said, “Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter. It is about laying the groundwork for others’ success, and then standing back and letting them shine.”
In all this, education is important: The very point John F. Kennedy, the 35th U.S. president made in a speech he prepared for delivery in Dallas on the very day of his assassination on November 22, 1963.
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other,” he wrote.
But Simon Sinek, a British-American author, could not have put it more poignantly when he wrote that: “Leadership is not about the next election, it’s about the next generation.”
Majority of our leaders are not inspired, have no vision, don’t care about impact. They are people who treat knowledge contemptuously, people whose only preoccupation is the next election and, therefore, don’t give a damn about the next generation.
That is why we are where we are.
At a time Nigeria is at the crossroads politically, socially and economically, what is needed are transformational leaders who have worldviews that can help pull the country back from the brink.
With the right leadership, Nigeria will take its rightful place in the comity of nations, a point eloquently made by five Nigerian schoolgirls who won gold at the 2018 Technovation World competition in California, U.S., last week.
How do I mean? I will explain shortly.
But the awards first. Codenamed ‘Save a Soul,’ the group of five girls developed what they called FD-Detector (fake drug detector), an astonishing app to help fight the menace of fake drugs.
By simply scanning the barcode on drugs, FD-Detector can determine the genuineness or otherwise of a drug, thereby mitigating countless loss of lives to the greed of fake drug merchants.
These girls – Promise Nnalue, Jessica Osita, Nwabuaku Ossai, Adaeze Onuigbo, and Vivian Okoye – students of Regina Pacis (Queen of Peace) Secondary School, Onitsha, Anambra State, had an impressive run to the finals, having emerged victorious in Africa.
To win the global trophy, they competed with students from Spain, USA, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and China.
In all, more than 19,000 girls from 115 countries participated in the competition; over 2000 apps were submitted.
Nigerians are ululating – deservedly. In this silly season of politics, when the long knives are provokingly drawn, there is something to be euphoric about.
But the incredible achievement of these five magnificent inventors is only half of the story.
The leadership that made that feat possible completes it.
Enabling environment for qualitative education
And that leadership was provided by Peter Obi, the immediate past governor of Anambra State, who created the enabling environment for qualitative education.
Before Obi became governor in November 2006, Anambra had become a failed state, literally.
Warlords ravaged the state. Impunity walked on all fours. Turf battles were fought indiscriminately. Sitting governors were no more than puppets to barely educated ruffians. One of them, Dr. Chris Ngige, was kidnapped. His predecessor, Dr. Chinweoke Mbadinuju, only ran errands for the godfathers.
The result was the shutting down of all primary and secondary schools in the state for more than one year.
Then Obi came on board with a vision and a passion; inspired and the impact was dramatic. He did the mundane – paid salaries of civil servants, provided dividends of democracy in abundance. And in doing all these, he didn’t borrow a dime and, therefore, didn’t mortgage the future of the state and her people.
Leaving a very healthy balance sheet for his successor in a country where his colleagues only bequeath huge debt would have been enough achievement.
But Obi went beyond what he considered the routine. Education for him was the only way to turn around the fortunes of a people.
“Any society that deliberately allows its educational institutions to fall into stupor has already arranged the burial ceremony of the leaders of tomorrow,” he once said.
Therefore, he made the revitalisation of education a cardinal mandate of his administration. And in doing that, he was audacious, intrepid, strategic and revolutionary.
Forceful takeover of mission schools
The forceful takeover of mission schools by the defunct East Central State Government at the end of the Nigerian civil war in 1970 was the beginning of not only the collapse of education itself but also values.
In November 2011, Obi underlined that fact when he said, “The collapse of education in Anambra State is directly connected with the takeover of schools owned by the missionaries, churches and voluntary organizations in 1970, and promptly handed over 1,040 primary and secondary schools back to the churches with a vow.
“We are not abandoning these schools in the name of handing them over because the state government will continue to pay the salaries of all their academic and non-academic staff; while the missions will be in charge of the day-to-day running and general administration of the schools.
“Being mindful of the urgent need to turn around the education sector, and in line with our commitment to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, the state government has made special financial provisions to ensure that the churches do not have any initial problems in managing the schools. We have made available the sum of N6 billion, which shall be distributed to the new owners of these schools over the next 15 months, based on the number of schools each group owns.”
The sharing formula
Even before the announcement, he had worked out the sharing formula.
“The N6 billion will be shared among the Catholic Church, Anglican Church and remaining government schools in four installments. In the first installment, the Catholic Church, which owns a lion’s share of 453 schools, will receive over N762 milion, while its Anglican counterpart will get over N498 million. The remaining public schools not taken from the churches will share over N489 million out of a total of N1.75 billion. The second and third installments will gulp N1.25 billion each, while the fourth and last installment will cost the government N1.75 billion,” he said.
And typically, he assured that the money was already in the bank, and would be released to the churches after they had submitted their work plans within 30 days.
The administration made computers available to the schools, recruited trained computer teachers, provided internet connectivity, power generators and school buses.
The impact was instantaneous. Within six years, Anambra State had gone from its 26th position in national ranking to 1st in the NECO and WAEC national examinations.
In 2015, Loretto Special Science School, Adazi-Nnukwu was rated the Best Improved Secondary School in Nigeria.
In 2018, students of Regina Pacis College, Onitsha, beat the world in faraway California in Information Technology because of the leadership provided by one man who had vision, passion and drive.
Yet, 2019 is around the corner and we are looking in the direction of people with neither the education, the vision nor passion to take Nigeria to the next level. Impossible!