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The election of ideal leaders and our electoral process (1)

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By Afe Babalola

“What we have in Nigeria is politics of enrichment”

Elections are all about choosing leaders and I believe that no question has called for discussion in the history of our nation such as the question of leadership. Prior to and since independence, Nigerians from all walks of life have as a result of their individual and collective experiences made the issue of the country’s leadership a hot topic of debate in beer parlours, sport stadiums, buses, classrooms and board rooms. Every problem has been blamed on poor leadership. Improved leadership has been offered as panacea to all ills of the society. The quality of leadership in every aspect of our lives affects and concerns us all.

Meaning of Leadership

The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary 7th Edition defines leadership as “state or position of being a leader;……… the ability to be a leader, or the qualities a good leader should have; a group of leader of a particular organization”.

Buhari, Atiku
President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar

Leadership can also be defined as a process by which a person influences others to accomplish an objective and direct the organisation in a way that makes it more cohesive and coherent. Leaders carry out this process by applying their leadership attributes such as beliefs, values, ethics, character, knowledge and skills. A person’s position as a manager or supervisor might give him the authority to accomplish certain task or objective in the organisation. This however, does not make him a leader. It simply makes him a boss. Leadership differs in that it makes the followers want to achieve high goals whereas followers merely obey the directive of the bosses.

Whichever theory of leadership is considered appropriate it should be about service to the people. It should always be about constantly evolving ways to improve the lot of the governed. However, Nigeria has been “blessed” with leaders who obviously had no inkling about the demands of their office. In most cases this flaw has been demonstrated the most in the manner in which most leaders have displayed an utter lack of self-control and discipline in the affairs of their office.

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A government or leader should be able to plan adequately for the future. He should possess the ability to plan, based on current indices of development for challenges which are bound to occur occasionally. However, our leaders seem to have been unable to come to grasp with this all important aspect of their duties. Many are unable to fashion out any long term plans for the development of the country. Many leaders simply react to the present in the hope that the future will sort itself out. Many of them reason that they will not after all be in government forever and that problems of the future should be addressed by governments of the future.

Failure of Leaders to perform on assumption of office

However, one must ask why many politicians fail to perform after being sworn into office? Is it due to a failure to appreciate the enormity of the challenges of the office? Is it due to a lack of ability to confront and bring about a solution to the many problems which have continued to militate against the development of our country?

Lack of political vision, identifiable idealogy or phylosophy

In many developed countries of the world, aspiring politicians take care to fashion out a discernible philosophy or ideology for themselves and their political career. Thus, a politician, very early on, can be classified either as a conservative or otherwise. If he leans to the right or far left, it is easy to know. Such factors enable the electorate to know where the politician will stand on issues ranging from abortion rights, legalising gay marriages or even to privatisation of public assets. Thus, the politician is really in politics to contribute his quota to the development of his country.

In Nigeria this is far from the case. A politician who is today a so-called “progressive” will for the flimsiest of reasons or no reason at all metamorphose into a conservative the following day. A year after, if things do not go well as expected he will decamp to the “progressive” fold. Many politicians do not even have the faintest idea of what their political philosophy or orientation is. The reason for this is not really far-fetched. What obtains is not really politics of ideas. It is really politics of self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. Political office is not seen as the means to an end, it is seen as the end itself. Many simply relish the opportunity to be addressed as “Your Excellency”, “Distinguished Senator”, “Honourable Chairman”, without bothering to bring any form of excellence, distinguished contribution, or act of honour to the discharge of their duties.

Political office is too attractive

To compound matters, political office in Nigeria has been made too attractive.   Such is the huge size of governments and the immense remuneration of elected public officials that a huge percentage of government revenue is dedicated to recurrent expenditure. There have been recurring allegations that the expenditure of the National Assembly alone accounts for a very substantial percentage of the National Budget. The 36 states of the Federation each have their own Houses of Assembly. At the national level the country operates a bicameral system of legislature. There are Commissioners and Ministers at the State and Federal levels.   That the country has a bicameral system of legislation has not helped matter. However, the problem is not limited alone to the huge number of elected public officers but more importantly to the huge number of aides and assistants attached, at public expense, to these officials. There is a huge army of Personal Assistants, Special Assistants, Senior Special Assistants, Private Secretaries along the corridors of power in Nigeria’s state capitals. These persons much like their principals are also entitled to a litany of allowances and assistants.

Members of the public who daily throng the abodes of these politicians for one form of financial assistance or the other see the assistance sought as their own share of the national cake. The effect that this has on the leadership of the country is profound.

This explains the huge allowances paid to politicians in every sphere of public life. An elected official has numerous special advisers who in turn have special assistants and administrative aides who also in addition to salary earn numerous allowances.

As strange as the above might sound, the advent of the phenomenon of “First Ladyship” is another instance of the attraction which the allures of office holds for many of our leaders. First Ladies or wives of elected officials are now almost as ubiquitous, much like their spouses in the display of power. It is often difficult to distinguish the motorcade of a governor from that of his wife. Even wives of local government chairmen are not left out. Without a doubt, the phenomenon of First Ladies is not unique to Nigeria. However, it is perhaps only in Nigeria that activities of first ladies are funded with state resources. One of the states in the South West of the country even constructed an office with state funds for the “Office of the First Lady”.

A chairman of a local government now earns as much as a Professor. Yet, the local government is the closest tier of government to the people. In the seventies, we were only entitled to sitting allowance which most of us, including my humble self never collected.                                                    To be continued.

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