Pastor Sunday Adelaja

Is leadership really the main problem of nigeria/africa?

Addressing this subject of leadership, I am going to be using my country Nigeria as a case study for several reasons:

Because that is where I come from and I am more familiar with it than any other country.

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa therefore whatever affects Nigeria affects all of Africa.

It has become a “proverb” all over the world how bad leadership is ruining Nigeria.

Ever since I was a young teenager growing up in Africa, I kept hearing continuously almost like a mantra “that our only problem in Nigeria is leadership” or “that our biggest problem in Nigeria is leadership” etc.

Books have been written about this, seminars are unending on this topic, symposiums, colloquia, all kinds of platforms and avenues where various experts, teachers, writers, professors, have tried to foster solutions to this all abiding problem of leadership in Nigeria and Africa.

To the man on the street however, who does not go to the symposiums and seminars, he is only left with hope. Hope that one day there would arise a kind and lovely leader who will build a wonderful nation for them, where everyone would be happy and satisfied. For this hope, the ordinary man prays in his church, mosque and even in the secrecy of his home.

This hope is what drives him to keep on queuing up in all kinds of weather, in hope of casting his vote. For the hope of this supposedly great and kind leader. As paradoxical as this might sound, this hope have even lead some naive and zealous men to stage a number of coups all across Africa. In the hope that just in case from their ranks, might arise that kind and great leader that would build their dreamed paradise for them.

The only problem with this kind of mentality, is that it is now close to 55 years since Nigeria and Africa have been hoping and are still hoping for a good and kind leader that would bring our nation and continent to the Promised Land. If we are to apply the principle of critical thinking, we would see that it is either what we are praying and hoping for is wrong or something is wrong with our nation and continent.

Hypothetically, if this hope and prayers had been correct, there should have been at least a few countries in Africa who should have gotten it right, especially since the time span we are talking about is not 5 or 10 years, but 55 years. 55 years is a lot of time. There should have arose a lot of opportunities for at least a few African countries to have produced great leaders, who would have built prosperous and great African nations.

The fact that this same problem seems to plague all the over 50 countries in Africa, is by itself not a coincidence. With no apparent evidence of remedy, could this be telling us that we are putting our hope in the wrong place? Are we sure leadership is truly our main problem?

As a young teenager growing up in Nigeria, there was no chance for me to think outside the box. I automatically found myself thinking as majority of the people in my nation. That our only problem is “leadership” in Nigeria. Whenever we speak about leadership however, we are not talking about the leadership of schools or less significant government agencies. We mainly refer to politicians or top government officials at the helm of affairs in our nation.

I listened to that theorem, that our main problem is leadership so many times, that I never even thought it might not be true. It was automatically assumed to be true by most of the people around me.

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” 1 cor. 13:11

However, having lived outside Nigeria for the past 30 years, working with politicians, countries, governments and being a student of national transformation. I now being a consultant and an expert in nation building, national transformation and factors of development and civilization, now think differently.

Before I bring out my arguments, permit me to say that there is no doubt about it that leadership has its place in all human endeavor. My friend John Maxwell has popularized the saying “Everything rises and falls on leadership” I couldn’t agree less.

However, when it comes to building a nation, even though leadership too is important, but it won’t be of overwhelming significance. The role of leadership might be more significant when we are talking of business, company, or smaller units like family, communities, associations, industries, etc.

In the above mentioned people groups, the role of a set man is almost supreme and indispensable. But when it comes to nations, I would like you to take your time to read through my argument in this piece. I appeal to all of you that are reading this, not to be in a hurry to stone me or stop reading. Please don’t think I am in some form of error or the other.

Let me reinstate here that yes, leadership is important in all human endeavors, but when it comes to nation building, leadership, especially leadership of a single man is not of the significance we have attached to it.

In history however, not too many people were willing to listen to this type of reasoning that I am presenting today. All throughout human history, men tend to simply take it for granted that a good leader means a good nation. A kind leader would take care of his people and bad leaders oppress their people.

There is a justification to this manner of thinking though. Especially since most parts of the then known world, in almost all ethnic groups, the leadership of these nations were primarily kings and monarchs. In which case without a doubt, individual leadership of the monarch is the singular factor in determining the standard of living of the people.

Yes, if we in Nigeria and Africa today have been running a monarchy system of government then that statement, “leadership is our only problem” could have been justified.

Our modern world is long become a post monarch world. Democratic system of government has replaced the supremacy of the monarchs in most countries of the world. It is for this reason that the emergence of democracy has now reduced the all-important role of a good and kind leader in building a prosperous nation.

Even though leaders still have their place and their roles to play in building any kind of nation, yet in the modern world of the 21th century, the role leaders play in building a nation is no more as paramount as it once use to be.

If I ask most of you reading this article to mention to me the names of the leaders of each European country, not many of you would be able to do that. Apart from the big and influential countries of the world like America, England, France Germany, etc. Most of you might not be able to name more than 10 leaders of nations.

The lesson history has taught us is that it is no more strong men that build great nations. It is strong systems that build great nations. If you have strong men that refused to build strong systems, their works would be short lived and their memory forgotten. Our emphasis therefore should be in raising experts, technocrats, administrators, leaders who are capable enough to build strong and lasting systems.

In most of the advanced countries of the world today, I cannot say they mostly have strong leaders. No, they no longer look for or depend on finding loving and caring leaders that will lead them to paradise. They have managed to build strong and reliable systems that functions automatically, irrespective of whom the leader is, strong or weak.

The truth is all these countries asking for better leaders are not really ready for them. They mostly don’t know what they are asking for. Israel was a case study in the bible. They had the best leader any nation could dream or think about. Their leader was so good and supreme that there was no country on earth that could produce a leader as good as he was. Yet, because Israel did not know the value of such leadership, they complained, they whined, murmured, grumbled and demanded for yet a better leader.

But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” So Samuel prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” 1sam 8:6-7

My dear readers, I hope you see what happened here. The leader the children of Israel had and were not satisfied with was the Lord God himself. He was ruling over them through Samuel. But the people of Israel were still not happy, they wanted to have a leader according to their own fantasy. They wanted a King, so God gave them a king. But soon afterwards, they were again dissatisfied with this king they got and demanded yet for another.

When people think that their only problem is leadership that is a way of them saying, it is only the leader that needs to change. Meaning they don’t need to change. It is only the leader that must pay the price of growth and development. Meaning they don’t need to do that. It is only the leader that must work out means for their advancement and prosperity, while they just follow.

What is happening in this case is that, the people are abdicating their power to the leader. But that is not what democracy is all about. Democracy is all about the power of the people, for the people and by the people. In democracy it is the people that takes responsibility for the growth and development of their nations. They take responsibility for their economy. They take responsibility for their advancement and civilization. Even though there is a place for leadership, but leadership only stops in the area of giving direction and casting vision.

Had there been strong leaders in the world that worked the magic and succeeded in bringing the desired prosperity to their people? Yes indeed, but in every one of those cases, it’s either the leaders were eventually killed, betrayed or rejected. Most of this so called great leaders were only recognized as such after their death.

The truth is people who ask for good leaders, don’t know what they are asking for. Most of them do not understand what leadership entails. As a matter of fact, when they get these leaders, they don’t recognize them. In most of the cases, history tells us, the people end up rioting and protesting against the very leaders they once clamored for. In some cases they don’t die a natural death. They are often killed by the very same people who will later build their monuments.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me take you to the class of history for a moment. A search for the greatest political leaders in human history, will give you this or a similar result:

Alexandra The Great

He is arguably the greatest political leader the world has ever known. He built one of the largest empires in human history. Stretching from Greece to Egypt to India. He was such a leader and military commander that never once suffered defeat in battle. He was personally tutored by the great philosopher Aristotle. He achieved great success as a leader. He died at the age of 32 after series of mutiny and revolt in his army. The very people who rejoiced at his leadership, ended up revolting against him. Until he died a strange death at a very young age.

Napoleon Bonaparte

He was a French military leader, he rose to prominence during the French revolution. He was Emperor of France and dominated European affairs for nearly two decades. He ceased control of most of continental Europe. He is regarded as one of the greatest commanders in history. But despite all these, he still remains a controversial figure in most of history. He was hugely hated and had a lot of assassination attempts on his life before he mysteriously died at the age of 51. He was both loved and hated by the people he conquered and ruled.

Julius Caesar

He was a Roman General and Statesman. He played a prominent role in the rise of the Roman Empire. He extended the reign of Rome to England and invaded Britain. He like all other great leaders was very controversial despite his great success and power. He was assassinated by his close ally and friend Brutus Albinus. He died at the age of 55.

Abraham Lincoln

He was the 16th president of the United States of America, he is probably the most popular and loved president in America today, but this is only after he was brutally assassinated in office. Even though he had a lot of success as a leader including winning the war and signing the emancipation proclamation to release black slaves, yet he was so hated that he was killed for it at the age of 56.

George Washington

He was the first president of the United States of America and is probably the most accomplished of American leaders. Especially for leading United States to victory in the war against Great Britain, their colonial masters. He died at the age of 67.

Winston Chuchill

A British politician. He was the prime minister of England from 1940- 1945 and 1951 – 1955. He was regarded as one of the greatest war time leaders of the 20th century, but despite all he did for his country, he still lost elections and saw himself as a failure towards the end of his life. Winston Churchill lived to the old age of 90 and was only hugely celebrated after his death.

Otto Von Bismarck

He was a Prussian statesman who ruled Germany and European affairs in the 19th century. He is credited for uniting Germany, and made Germany a country to reckon with in Europe and the world. He was the first imperial counselor of Germany. But as much as he did for his country he was forced to abdicate his position and resign the leadership of his country. He died at the old age of 83.

Adolf Hitler

He was an Austrian born German politician who was a counselor of Germany from 1933- 1945. He rebuilt the economy of Germany and built Germany into a military might. But in the name of the greatness of Germany, he led his country to a war that resulted in the death of almost 30 million people. He committed suicide in 1945 during the war. He is probably the most hated leader in the world up till now.

Joseph Stalin

He was the leader of the former Soviet Union. He turned Russia into a super power. He built a great country, but on the blood of millions. Today, his monuments are been destroyed and his name removed from history books.

Mao Zedong

He was the communist leader of the People’s Republic of China. He turned China into a great industrial country. But in the process sacrificed the lives of millions of his people. Today, he is both loved and hated all over the world. He died in 1976 at the age of 82.

The history of these leaders proves the very same point that I have elaborated above. When people clamor for a good leader, the good leader would either eventually become bad, hated and rejected or he would be ousted by the same people who called for him. In most cases when we ask for great leaders, we are actually asking for dictators.

Most of these people seen above were actually dictators. The example of Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore who built his country from third world to first world, is a modern example that you cannot have a great leader without some excesses. He was a dictator that ruled Singapore for over 30 years. If anybody does that in Africa, he is castigated and hated for it.

Even though all these people are now regarded as some of the greatest political leaders of their nations and in the world. Yet, they are as controversial as they are great. In most cases, they were only recognized as great only after their death.

Our challenge is when we say leadership is our main problem. Are we sincerely ready for what it takes to have a great leader? Are we ready to pay the prize of sacrifice of some basic human rights? Are we ready to pay the prize of dictatorship? Are we ready for repression? Are we ready for mass death of our populace?

We need to ask ourselves these hard questions because in most cases, that is what it means to have a strong leader rule over a country. That is why I said earlier that we simply don’t know what we are asking for. Let us begin to ask for more of structures, systems, due processes, rather than a strong and powerful leader. Again let me say there is a place for good and powerful leaders, but systems and structures are more important.

If we are to have strong leaders then only for one purpose, to build strong structures, systems and processes. But even more than that, we need leaders who would build strong value systems.

In Nigeria if you ask, what is the greatest government we have ever had? You would be probably told it is the government of Murtala Mohammed. Students of history and those who lived at the period of his short reign, will tell you that in his short span as the leader of Nigeria, he was so controversial especially among the elite, civil servants and Journalists that they called for his head.

You see, any leader who wants to do the right things would need to enforce those right principles upon the people. In so doing, people feel offended and they revolt. People want the benefits of change, but they themselves don’t want to go through the process of change. They don’t want to pay the prize for the progress they wish to have. That is why they ask for great leaders who could pay that prize for them, without him touching them. Once he begins to step on their toes, they call for his head. We have gone through that many times in our short history as a nation in Nigeria.

Probably most Nigerians would agree that another government that was reputed as the most orderly and disciplined in Nigeria would be the government of Gen. Buhari/Idiagbon. They too were forcefully removed from office. Because any government that desires to do what is right, would need to correct the habits and lifestyles of the people, which always brings about protest and revolt. That government lasted for less than 2 years before they were overthrown by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.

Anytime the right leader comes to a country, the people of the land would most often revolt and fight his government. Why? Because any government that comes to do the right thing, would call for a change in the lifestyle of the people, which equals conflict. The reason for the conflict is often because the same people who clamor for change and reform, always don’t realize the prize they themselves would have to pay for the change they are clamoring for.

The point I am trying to make is that the biggest problem of a nation is not in the leadership of that nation. The biggest problem of a nation is always in the (corrupt) value system of that nation.

For an example, if the Lord Jesus Christ becomes the President of Nigeria today, I hope we all agree that he is a righteous and upright leader, the best any nation could ask for. Yet, I am sure, he would not last more than 2 years as the leader of Nigeria. The very same people who called for good leadership would also call for his head. Why? Because he would demand for the right things to be done. That would bring discomfort to the people in those things which they are already used to. For example, it might require every not to jump queues. He would definitely stop all the corrupt practices in the land which the people will interpret as taking away their bread, etc.

So instead of us waiting for a good and kind leader, we must know that change must begin with each and every one of us. We all as citizens must get rid of our wrong mindsets. We must individually take responsibility to reform our lifestyles. We must intentionally declare war against our own wrong attitudes and actions. If this change does not happen first in the populace, this same populace with their wrong value systems would crucify any leader that comes to rule them with the right values.

“So if you see no one like you, no one who agrees, don’t worry. There are actually hundreds of people like you, and they’re waiting for a leader. That person is you.” Julien Smith.

Most of the time Nations have good leaders but the corruption in the mindset of the people does not give them the chance or the will to carry out the necessary reforms the country so badly needed.

Even if we assume that we have bad leaders in Nigeria or Africa, my question is, where do we get those leaders from? Leaders of any country always come from amidst her. Every country only produces leaders in correspondence to her value systems. So if we produce corrupt leaders at every level, it means that is who we are as a nation. If most of us are given the opportunity to occupy the same position, we will also be corrupt. It is not that we are bad, it is because we have the wrong value systems. That affects our thinking. When we think wrong, then we act wrong.

“Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position.” Brian Tracy

For example if a community hears that one of their sons has just been elected to a high governmental position, the natural response in Africa is that the whole community begins to jubilate. Because they know that now they are going to have a part in the national cake. If the man now decides to live by the law and refuses to steal. The same people who put so much pressure on him to get involved in corrupt practices, would call him names, and most likely they wouldn’t re-elect him again into that position.

Who would they elect next time? The one that would bring the largesse of stolen national cake! In this case who is corrupt, the politician? Yes, but even more than him the people are corrupt. When a whole people is corrupt, it is because of the wrong value system that is influencing the way of thinking of the people in the wrong direction.

“No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent. “- Abraham Lincoln

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” Prov. 14:34

So what needs to be changed therefore in a country, is not just changing leadership as we have been doing in the past 50 years in all the 50 countries in Africa. What we really need is a change in our value systems!

The greatest challenge for any government in Africa that desires to see a changed society, is to focus first of all on the value system of the people. If the value system of the people are right, they would not select corrupt leaders or bad leaders. For example, in societies, where there is a healthy moral value, people would not elect corrupt politicians or collect money to get the wrong people into office.

On the other hand if a corrupt politician finds his way by hook or by crook into the government. Since the moral values of the masses contradict the corrupt values of the politician, he would be exposed and easily dismissed. Therefore what we need in Nigeria and Africa in general is not just a good leader, but good set of virtues and good value systems in the masses that would make them abhor and reject any manifestation of corruption in their leaders.

It is my belief that the most significant emphasis of the new Nigerian government should be an emphasis on national orientation. A revolution of values that would bring every Nigerian back to the basic moral value systems upon which our nation was built.

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” Prov. 14:34

Every nation deserves its leader, because leaders emerge from the populace. A righteous people would chose righteous leaders, but a corrupt people would be easily compromised into choosing corrupt politicians. Everything depends on the value system of the nation.

So is leadership the biggest problem of Nigeria or Africa? My answers is No! Our faulty value system is where the problem is. Until we change the value system of the populace and the masses, we would always have bad leaders, corrupt politicians. It does not matter how many years we wait. We have already waited for 50 years. Another 500 years will not give us a better result than we presently haves.

I therefore stand to call for a revolution of virtues, morals and values in our nation and continent. I hope our new government listens, but even more importantly I hope every conscientious Nigerian and African listens.

By Pastor Sunday Adelaja

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