by ondoevents
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The character of political leadership is shaped, mainly, by contending centrifugal and centripetal forces, striving for dominance, in a political economy encumbered with issues of development. The struggles between the social orders in a society are often defined by the nature of their emergence.
The nature of politics in such a socio-economic space gives a historical hint on the contending forces in the polity. Its political leadership must also, necessarily, reflect the state of socio-cultural cum economic development. Consequently, any postulation suggesting and supporting the divine characteristic of local leadership, devoid of objective analysis of existential issues should, therefore, be construed as dubious.
Transitional societies are human communities locked in a process of continual evolution. The shift from a traditional mode of production to a more complex socio-economic conundrum, externally imposed, controlled and driven by forces beyond the apprehension and capacity of the locals, accounts for much of the confusion in developing economies. It is also responsible for the state of politics in these societies.
Locality and distance play insignificant roles in the determination of factors responsible for the development of a society. The process of advancement is, oftentimes, hindered by objective conditions which, put in proper perspective, offers assistance in realistic assessment. Most developing societies often face the challenges of definition which are inescapable consequences upon the truncation of a natural process of evolution.
Purposeful leadership, traditional and political, is required for peace and stability in a society. Deft exactions and exceptional acumen become more compelling in a multi-ethnic and religious ambience. The process of selection of leaders, defined by historic, economic and political circumstances, must reflect issues of existence in any given society. The quality of leadership proffered by the leaders is dictated, basically, by these issues of survival. Achievements must, consequently, be measured in terms of the extent to which leadership is able to give direction to the people for the ultimate pursuit of happiness.
Issues of divergence, centrifugal forces, social agents which propel movement from a stable centric position, such as ethnicity and religion, towards dispersal and anarchy, often put to test the claims to leadership. The ability of a person to display maturity in the face of extreme provocation, his being predisposed to tolerating dissenting views, mobilise his people for the development of his community or to realise the set objectives of a group and plan, with a view to executing strategies of sustenance and development, mark a leader as exemplary.
An amalgam of ethnic nationalities must, necessarily, contend with forces of destabilization. The leader must, however, be able to understand the intricacies of governance to appreciate the enormity of the task with which he is saddled. He must be responsive, responsible and proactive. He must be strong-willed and compassionate. Above all, he must be knowledgeable and willing to adopt a style of governance in consonance with current realities.
A good leader must endeavour to understand his people and the environment with a view to formulating and/or adopting policies that are beneficial to the people. It is incumbent on him/her to avail himself/herself of the benefits accruable from local resources, human and material. He/she should possess the ability to mobilise people for the production of goods and services. He should be sensitive in handling issues bordering on apparent differences among the populace. He should be courageous to confront, headlong, all matters with combustible potentials.
Strategic leadership is defined as the ability by a leader to influence others without coercion. A strategic leader is he/she who is firm but fair in all situations. He/she exhibits courage when confronted with the inescapable possibility of making difficult choices. He/she is resolute once convinced that the decision made is in the best interest of the generality of the people. Flexibility is also an attribute of this exceptional personality. He/she weighs the options available in any given circumstance and decides to shift position different from an earlier one taken based on objective assessment of the issue.
As has been noted above, a transitional society seeks definition for its emerging structures of governance. All institutions of state are still considered weak and in constant need of reinvention and rejuvenation. The expediency of separating these institutions of state from the individuals saddled with the responsibilities of administering the affairs of state cannot be over-emphasised.
The business of politics becomes much easier in a state run with advanced structures. Strong institutions make governance seamless and magical. The major difference between the so called advanced economies and developing ones lies in the separation of the institutions of state from the individuals who administer them.
The parlous state of affairs in under-developed countries finds expressions, not only in inherited socio-economic cum political system for which the leadership and the people are ill-suited to manage, but also in their over reliance on the so called strong personalities, most times with dubious credentials. These demagogues lay claims to omniscience in all matters affecting the state. Adept at manipulating one segment of the society against the other, employing primordial sentiments, their inability to appreciate the enormity of the responsibilities of state administered for the benefit of the people is the major cause of crises and under-development.
Administering a transitional society requires strategic thinking. Leading a people mostly influenced by ethno-religious considerations can be tasking. A leader must possess the ability to deplore the best materials available to achieve maximum results. He must empathise but reject all temptations to be dragged into the murky waters of politics to the extent of becoming a partisan of injustice. He must possess appreciable knowledge of the political economy of his environment.
He must be, sometimes, cool and calculating. He must be transparent and open in all his dealings with his people. He must spend his waking moments thinking of solutions to the myriad of problems confronting the populace. He must be able to sense real danger and proffer means of averting it. He must make his people always strive towards self-sufficiency, believing that there lies the real strength of the society. He must live up to the meaning of his name, strategos, which means “a General” in Greek language.
Nigeria has been facing crises of nationhood right from the time of amalgamation of the Southern and the Northern protectorates into one political entity in 1914. The coming together of peoples of diverse backgrounds and interests presented its own immediate problems. The transposition and imposition of a totally different socio-political system of acculturation was also not without its own challenges. A new way of life was introduced. A new system of government was established.
Social mobility was structured to promote those who imbibed the new idea. Illiterate leaders who had connived at the nefarious activities of the colonialists against their people were chosen to represent the people of the new political reality at the Legislative Council. This warped concept of representation by imposition took root with the promulgation of the 1922 Sir Clifford’s Constitution. The inability of the local leaders to understand the far-reaching implications of this imposition is largely responsible for the entrenched confusion in which the country is enmeshed at present.
The emerging elite class, mainly composed of the educated Nigerians who had just returned from abroad having studied and learned the new way of life, felt excluded from the mainstream of politics. They considered the patronage enjoyed by the traditional rulers from the Europeans as unmerited by virtue of their status as uneducated and untutored in the “sophisticated” way of the West. They saw themselves as the appropriate representatives of the same people they treat with condescension by virtue of their acquired education. A pseudo monolithic philosophy was propagated and imposed on the various communities in the Northern part of the colonised territories.
By 1946 when Sir Arthur Richard conceded to the idea of regionalism, culminating in the promulgation of the Richard’s Constitution, the local elite had begun to assume the character of political leadership in the recognizable socio-political groupings. The new Constitution allowed a semblance of freedom to take certain decisions at regional levels. Representation was, however, still very restrictive, in spite of ceding more accommodation for the agitating elite.
Macpherson’s and Littleton’s Constitutions of 1951 and 1954, respectively, afforded us the opportunity to have a glimpse into the character of the emerging and restive local elite whose vaunting ambition was paramount than any other consideration. The Conferences held in 1957 and 1958 did not view the issue of socio-economic cum political structure compelling enough to warrant scrutiny. The so called Independence Constitution of 1960 did not regard basis for the co-existence of the diverse ethnic groups within the polity as important enough. The hurriedly adopted Republican Constitution of 1963 failed to address the National Question. It was designed to severe the judicial relationship between the nascent State and Britain.
The nature and the character of the imposed political system was alienating and limiting by the very status of Nigerians who were regarded as British subjects before independence. The structure of exploitation was firmly entrenched and the seeds of future discords were planted on the fertile soil of the Divide-and-Rule system. It was, therefore, a major failing on the part of the local elite that no serious thought was spared on the question of the possibility of growth and real development, using the imposed administrative structure with all the stultifying and destructive propensities it would have on the creative ingenuity of our people.
Without the adaptation of the imported model to suit local exigencies, the quest for development will continue to be a mirage. It should not have surprised anyone that the inherited political system proved very difficult for the inheritors of the colonial heritage, our local leaders, to handle. The signs of future trouble appeared in the horizon soon enough. Shortly after political independence from Britain, Nigerian politicians engaged themselves in serious battles for supremacy. Most of them acted as plain careerists who were only interested in personal advancement as against combating compelling issues of co-existence among peoples who had hardly known themselves.
Political parties were formed along ethno-religious lines in the bid of politicians to capture power. The First Republic came to an abrupt end as a result of the struggle for power by politicians. The political journey was truncated barely six years after the grant of independence. The quality of political leadership remains a subject of debate among scholars and citizens alike. Many agree that the recklessness of the political class led to the demise of the short-lived Republic. Only a few call our attention to the inherited structure of dominance for exploitation, erected by the colonialists for maximum exploitation, as culpable.
The military stayed for an unbroken period of thirteen years, 1966-1979, before another stint by a civilian interregnum which lasted for four years, 1979-83. As expected, Nigerians put the blame, squarely, on the shoulders of politicians, and, perhaps, rightly so. Another military rule soon commenced between 1983 and 1999. We are experiencing the longest rule by the civilians since independence at present. This is without prejudice to the glaring imperfections in the current system, a situation which has excited all manner of agitations ranging from the most serious to the laughable.
While the agitations from various segments of the polity seem justifiable going by the myriad of socio-economic problems facing the country, it is important that we exercise a little care in ascribing reasons for the manifest shortcomings in what some love to call a political marriage of convenience. I will be most reluctant to jump into that facile conclusion since I am among the privileged few, whose occupation of public office at such a level, as to expose one to the inner workings of state, assist in appreciating, considerably, the intricacies of politics.
There are many who will readily submit that the current system of the country cannot engender peace and harmony among the ethnic nationalities, let alone development. Terms, such as “Restructuring”, “Resource Control”, “Revenue Derivation”, “Federal Character”, “True Federalism”, “Fiscal Federalism”, among others, continue to feature, frequently, in political discourse concerning the socio-economic challenges in the country.
We seem to have reached a convenient point when political pundits who throw these terms at us must be asked to explain the meanings. Political leadership has a crucial role to play mobilizing the people to achieve a common purpose. What, for instance, do we mean by “restructuring”? Is it conterminous with secession or self-rule? Are we advocating for a return to the traditional mode of government before the advent of colonial rule? Is development truly attainable while depending on the inherited system of exploitation? These and many more are the issues which must be considered in assessing the nature of the impact which political leadership has had on the country.
Mine is an interesting story of what had appeared as a most unlikely possibility which has become a reality. It will surprise many to know that I never set out to participate in partisan politics at this level. I have been a consummate Bar politician since my Call Forty years ago. I enjoyed, and still do, NBA (Bar Politics). I believe in the instrumentality of the law as a veritable weapon for social engineering. I did not consider participating in partisan politics seriously.
I held positions of responsibilities at different levels, the highest being the President of the Nigerian Bar Association between 2008 and 2010. This was the most visible professional position which I held before my current assignment as Governor of Ondo State. I was most reluctant to join politics in Nigeria. I had been most critical of the activities of the political leadership in the country. I believed that nothing good could emerge from the whole drama of survival played, boisterously, by actors in the field of politics.
A combination of factors combined to convince me to participate in active politics. First, the reason why I stand here to address you as the Chief Servant of my State is the result of the open invitation graciously extended to me by some of my kinsmen. They had deployed subtle means to ensure that I answered in the affirmative. I responded positively after wide consultations with professional colleagues, family members, close friends and acquaintances before I threw my hat in the ring.
The second reason is my unyielding quest to serve my people to the best of my ability. This has always been a consuming passion. I had served as the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice under the military. I was close to the corridors of power at the state level. I had returned to my profession after that brief stint and remained in active practice till I became the Governor of Ondo State.
My experience in politics has been very interesting and illuminating. I had taken too much for granted in the deterministic belief that given sufficient conditions for an event to occur, there is bound to be a result as predicted. The political terrain in Nigeria is not that predictable; hopes stand on quick sands. The passion to serve the people sustains hope in a tantalizing expectation of actualizing one’s aspirations.
The intensity of my participation in Bar Politics almost amounted to nothing in the Nigerian political field. I make bold to claim sufficient understanding of this peculiar game in the law profession. The Nigerian variant of the global brand known as politics is unique; no matter the level of your perceived achievements in other fields of human endeavour, you must be ready to undergo pupillage, even at the feet of stark illiterates.
The experiences garnered over time are humbling indeed. One must be willing and prepared for shocks of the crudest hue. You will, most certainly, encounter interesting characters, adept at presenting mendacity as eternal verity. Attitudes of impunity, brazen display of arrogant pride by those who claim priority of experience sometimes suggest distancing, and even outright withdrawal from the milieu so permissive of the uncouth and brash.
As a student of contemporary Nigerian politics, one remembers, with painful nostalgia, the exciting moments recorded during the anti-colonial rule agitation. The campaign for self-rule was considered elitist. Nevertheless, the stars in the Nigerian political firmament shone. The people moved from the hinterland just to listen to oratorical bombasts of Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, and their contemporaries.
The tradition continued with the emergence of Obafemi Awolowo, Ernest Ikoli, Ladoke Akintola, Adelabu Adegoke, Ahmadu Bello, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Aminu Kano, Joseph Tarka, Maitama Sule, among others who offered political leadership at the most auspicious moments in the political history of the country. This environment was availed of quality choices.
Politicians were less pretentious. No one was left to wonder to discover the political itinerary of the conservative leadership of the North. The stiff competition between the Western and Eastern Regions, which prided themselves on being socially and economically advanced having had early contacts with Western education, was ideological. Political leadership at that period was defined in terms of how each of the three regions in the federation struggled for political ascendancy.
The conservative Northern Region had to contend with the leader of the Talakawa Movement, Aminu Kano. The Middle Belt politics of emancipation of the downtrodden was issue based. J.S Tarka stood fought for the identity of the Tiv and other minority ethnic groups in the North. He fought the unrelenting attempt to foist a pseudo-monolithic political identity on peoples of divergent backgrounds by Ahmadu Bello’s Northern Peoples’ Congress. The political leadership of the Eastern Region, led by Nnamdi Azikiwe, had Ernest Ikoli and other leaders of the minority ethnic groups who suspected and challenged every move.
The Western Region completed the circle of very interesting political epoch. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, as the leader of the Action Group, found in Chief Adelabu Adegoke a worthy political adversary. These two contending political ideologies presented the people of the Western Region a platform from which choices were made to reflect the mood of the moment. The political leadership was able to mobilise the people based on programmes. Disagreements were based mainly on issues until the internal wrangling in the Action Group degenerated into a crisis which led to the demise of the First Republic.
It is easy to conclude that the political leadership of the First Republic operated within discernible ideological boundaries. From the time of the struggle for independence to the fall of the Republic, political gladiators held on to their ideological beliefs, shifting, momentarily, for political expediency. It was indeed a golden era of Nigerian politics.
The politics of the Second Republic pretended largely to take after the preceding epoch. Some of the major actors such as Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Adeniran Ogunsanya, J.S Tarka, Adisa Akinloye, Maitama Sule, Shehu Shagari, Aminu Kano, Abubakar Waziri, among others, were still very much around. There was a certain pretention towards ideological leaning but the politics of that period lacked the intensity and fervour of the First Republic. The political leadership was less committed to ideology.
Our country slips, progressively, and settles for an amorphous political practice, which gives no clear indication of purposeful leadership since 1999 after the military handed over the rein of power to the civilians. Our choices over the years have reduced the polity to an embarrassing dependency. Political leadership has failed to steer the ship of state away from assured wreck.
Our situation is so precarious that we lack the capacity to produce what we consume. A considerable chunk of our earnings continues to fund redundancy. The political class ought to be bothered by the current practices which promote crass consumerism. It is in the light of this that we must salute the courage and resilience of the current Administration in the saddle.
The Federal Government, under the able leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, has been courageous enough in its decisions. The economic policies of the Government aim at discouraging importation of goods and services which the country can produce conveniently. It is very sad indeed that a country endowed with a vast arable land will fritter her scarce foreign exchange earnings on food importation.
It is assuaging to note that the trend is changing. Food importation has reduced significantly. The Government is encouraging agriculture to reduce unemployment rate, especially among the youth. The mass of the people is being mobilized to embrace the new thinking which supports production of goods and services to create wealth.
My position as the Governor of Ondo State has afforded me the opportunity to appreciate the enormity of the responsibilities with which committed political leadership is saddled. I have had moments of intense disagreements with my colleagues on policies of Government. I am convinced that right decisions must be made in the interest of the people. I am not unaware of the possibility of losing popularity as a result of some courageous steps taken to correct noticeable anomalies. I remain undeterred, imbued with the confidence in the justness of my course.
I believe that politics should not be an avenue for primitive self-aggrandizement. Participation in politics, devoid of the quest for altruistic service, is banditry. I resist all attempts to do things the old way. I remain resolute and, if you will, obdurate, in insisting on my conviction that leaders must take the interest of their people as the very reason for being in office. I feel very bad, being part of a process which renders our youth hopeless and helpless. I still cannot find any reasonable justification for the appalling infrastructural deficit in a country richly endowed as ours. I consider all these as indices of failure on the part of the political leadership.
I leave this distinguished audience to compare the character of today’s politics with the former periods, especially now that modernity readily avails us of the benefit of a wide range of political experiences to choose from. The current political leadership appears unsure of its role in politics. Since we are all living witnesses to the current happenings, I shall be most willing to learn from us during the interactive session. I seek explanation from those who are better learned than I am on why we talk about what is good in past tense.
I must, however, not fail to comment freely on the disquieting circumstances in which we have found ourselves. The security situation in the country is a direct indictment on the political leadership largely complicit in the politics of subterfuge. President Muhammadu Buhari leaves no in doubt as regards his capability as a strategic leader. The security challenges faced by the country had been reduced, considerably, until recently.
The Boko Haram menace has been confronted headlong. Militancy has been reduced significantly. Agitations for self-determination by certain opportunistic groups have been crushed. But there are still crises which threaten our collective peace. This is the time when the political leaders in the country are expected to show the quality of which they are made. Self-serving agitations without reasonable justifications only expose some politicians for what they truly are.
Political leadership in any clime has a sacred mandate to guide the people aright. Governance must not be reduced to a process through which a select few acquire benefits continually to the detriment of the larger populace. Political leaders must possess deep understanding on politics and economics. Reasoned decisions are only possible when the leadership is enlightened.
There are occasions when painful decisions must be taken in the long term benefit of the people. Popular opinions do not necessarily aid good governance. A good leader should be able to insist on choosing the best course of action based on knowledge. A situation where demagoguery is substituted for reasoned choices is deplorable. It is incumbent on good leaders to allow their knowledge and dispassionate intervention of experts in relevant fields of expertise guide their actions at all times. Conviction is secondary.
Ethnicity and religion should not be used as political tactics to win support. Leaders must always show restraint, even at moments of extreme provocation. They must possess the ability to discern what represents an abiding interest which promotes amity from destructively emotive and selfish preferences.
On the whole, the political leadership in the country should strive to redirect the discourse on the socio-economic challenges faced by the Nigerian State to issues of strategies and tactics for the attainment of nationhood. The regression into ethno-religious politics portends serious danger for us all. No responsible leader should seek to manipulate the people for parochial purposes.
This exercise will amount to a terrible waste of time, resources and energy if all we are able to achieve is a rehash of the past and current happenings. We must be able to proffer solutions to the problems facing the country. Our leaders must steer the country away from the precipice. We must deploy all our resources to ensure that our space is safe and secure for real development to happen.
We must think, critically, on how to tinker with the inherited model of governance to reflect our peculiar circumstances as a country of diverse peoples with divergent interests but a common goal to achieve nationhood. We must commence to erect abiding structures which promote understanding and tolerance among the multi-ethnic groups in the country.
This is the path to redemption.
I thank you for your patience.

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