Afe for Vanguard

February 15, 2023

Leadership challenges in
sub-Saharan Africa (5)

African brands leap 17% in global ranking

By Aare Afe Babalola

LACK of political vision, identifiable ideology, or philosophy: Aspiring politicians in many developed countries take care to develop a discernible philosophy or ideology for themselves and their political careers. 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 tell. Such factors enable the electorate to know where the politician will stand on issues ranging from abortion rights to legalising gay marriages or enacting a new constitution. 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. If things do not go as planned, he will switch to “progressive” politics a year later.

 Many politicians are completely unaware of their political philosophy or orientation. The reason for this is not really far-fetched. What obtains is not really the politics of ideas. It is really the politics of self-aggrandisement 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. 

The political office is too attractive. To compound matters, political office, particularly 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 expenditures. Recently, there were allegations that the expenditures of the National Assembly alone accounted for a very substantial percentage of the national budget. Each of the 36 states of the Federation has its own House 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 the matter. 

However, the problem is not limited 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, and 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 assistantships. 

As strange as the above might sound, the advent of the phenomenon of “first ladyship” is another instance of the allure that 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 the 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 the 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.” When this is contrasted with the recent White House statement that Mrs. Biden’s private visit to Spain was not paid for with public funds, it is not difficult to see the difference between the African’s appreciation of the responsibilities of power and that held in other parts of the world.

Politics in Nigeria today is viewed primarily as a business and not as a means of serving the nation. Politicians seek public office not to serve but to have their share of the “national cake”. Members of the public who daily throng the abodes of these politicians for one form of financial assistance or another 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, in addition to their salaries, also earn numerous allowances. 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 as members of our local government were only entitled to sitting allowance, which most of us, including my humble self, never collected. I never received my allowance as pro-chancellor of the University of Lagos, chairman of council, and chairman of all pro-chancellors in Nigeria.

Leadership in Nigerian politics:  Nigeria has since independence been plagued with numerous problems such as corruption, decay in infrastructure, unemployment, overdependence on oil based revenue, a lack of adequate medical care, etc. Several of these have been blamed on a lack of effective leadership. Interestingly, the solution to all of them and more has always been stated to be improved leadership. Between 1960 and 1999, Nigeria experienced parliamentary, military, and presidential systems of government. Each of these systems presented its own unique features and challenges. The greatest challenge inherited by virtue of our colonial history has been the implementation of the party system. Nigeria currently has a multi-party system in place. In the past, attempts were made, particularly by the military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida, to limit the number of parties to two, i.e., the Social Democratic Party, SDP, and the National Republican Convention, NRC. The effect of this was that politicians were left with limited options with regards to their party affiliation. Politicians of different political ideologies and leanings found themselves in the same political party out of political convenience and expediency. 

This development was bound to result not only in a crisis of leadership but also of purpose and vision. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that some members of the military regime at the relevant time have consistently accused several members of the political class of complicity in the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Since that failed experimentation with the two party system, we have grappled with the question of the actual number of political parties that ought to be allowed by virtue of our history and development. 

Even though there are several political parties presently registered, the reality is that only a handful of these parties have any significant presence or following among the populace. As a result, in order to achieve their ambition of occupying political office, most politicians consider not the ideological base of their party or its acceptance by the public, but rather their chances of securing an electoral victory based primarily on the popularity or influence of the party in that political constituency.