By Prof Attahiru M. Jega
Professor Attahiru Jega, Bayero University, Kano political economist, might not have set out to join the current debate as to whether the world still needs leaders at a time when everyone else is brilliant but that is what he did eventually in this intervention. In the June 4th, 2021 presentation at the Memorial Workshop in Honor of Alhaji Lateef Jakande, organized by Federal Social Democrats (FSD), in Lagos, Jega is arguing for quality leadership, using the late governor of Lagos State in the Second Republic, (1979 – 1983) whom he says belongs to a class of his own in terms of selfless, visionary leadership. The massive presentation has been edited to just the more contextually relevant section on Jega’s justification for his standpoint. In other words, the equally interesting section which clarifies the concepts of good, democratic governance is missing here. But, even then, the edited version retains the very important caveats and alerts for those who still have ears to hear!
I appreciate the honour of being asked to make this presentation at this event and I am glad to do so. Late Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, (LKJ) was indeed a selfless leader in governance in Nigeria. He was among the very few selfless leaders Nigeria has had, in his time, since then and indeed in our country’s entire history. He was not only selfless but also a visionary leader, focused on initiating and executing policies, programs and projects to address the fundamental needs and aspirations of citizens. By so doing, whether as governor of Lagos state October 1979 – December 1983, or as Minister of the Federal Republic under the Abacha regime, he was impactful and he touched lives, and he did it selflessness, not for pecuniary gains. Consequently, his legacy and memory lives forever.
Nigeria has been afflicted by or with the misfortune of having characters in governance, who are neither selfless, nor visionary; who are rather essentially greedy (for power and/or money), clueless, reckless and therefore perpetrators and consolidators of poor bad democratic governance.
One of the major challenges of good, democratic governance in Nigeria, therefore, is that of getting selfless, visionary, patriotic, pro-people, inclusive, focused and effective leadership, to drive/pilot Nigeria’s national affairs and the political economy towards good, democratic governance. We have muddled through national problems, epileptically and superficially, essentially due to the absence of such requisite leadership, as a result of which the challenges have magnified and become complexified, appearing daunting and insurmountable, and pushing the country towards the precipice and potentially off the cliff. In the current situation, getting things right and reverting to the appropriate trajectory of good, democratic governance would require selfless, visionary leadership committed to, and focused on, people-oriented policies for socioeconomic growth and development.
In what follows in this presentation, I elaborate upon the following points:
– There is the need for proper understanding and appreciation of the concepts of “Good Governance” and “Good, Democratic Governance”. What Nigeria needs and requires is not merely good governance but good, democratic governance
– There is a correlation between selfless leadership and good governance, especially good democratic governance in Nigeria
– Although a necessary condition, selfless leadership is not a sufficient condition for good, democratic governance
– For Nigeria’s progress and development, which address the fundamental needs and aspirations of the citizens, Nigeria would require people in leadership positions who are not merely selfless, but also visionary, patriotic and people oriented; who have the capacity, competence and ability to appreciate and manage the complexity of our diversity, on the basis of equity, equality of opportunity, fair-play and the rule
of law. Leaders who can protect, defend and advance citizenship rights against discrimination, marginalization, predation and exclusion.
Characteristics and Attributes of Selfless Leadership
Selfless leadership is desirable for societal progress and development as it is focused on satisfying collective needs and aspirations, in contrast to leadership characterized by selfishness, which is preoccupied with personal gain and the advancement of particularistic objectives.
Selfless leadership encompasses, among other things, the following:
– Good character, ethical conduct and moral uprightness
– Capacity and ability to facilitate the happiness, success and aspirations of citizens, at enormous personal sacrifices
– Show of concern more with the needs of others than personal
– Thinking and acting more of others beyond self; and sacrificing time, comfort and effort in the service of others
– Humility to listen to, understand and treat others with dignity
– Disposition to be responsible and responsive to the expectations, need and aspirations of the citizens
– Commitment to give one’s best without thinking of personal gains
– Courage of conviction
– Motivated by, and striving for, excellence
– Incorrupt ability
Selfless leaders are the epitome of service to the people, deserving of the recognition and title of “Servant-leaders”. They devote themselves to effective and efficient service delivery to the citizens, driving satisfaction from positive outcomes and value-addition, and not from personal, material reward or gain.
The truly great leaders in modern history are selfless leaders, people who, by their selflessness, motivate, inspire others and achieve greatness for their countries.
Nigeria: Situational Analysis
In Nigeria’s history, both in the colonial, post-colonial and contemporary era, we can point to examples of selfless leadership. Prominent personalities in leadership positions in governance who have made enormous personal sacrifices, eschewed personal material gains, served their country diligently and selflessly not in pursuit of material gains. Admittedly, they are relatively few and far apart. There has not been a congregation or confluence of them in politics and/or in governance to be desirably impactful.
Indeed, it can be asserted without fear of contradiction that, in the contemporary era, i.e. since the commencement of the Fourth Republic in May 1999, the extent and quality of selfless leadership in governance has deteriorated and degenerated. Greed and avarice have become the pivots of governance. The prevailing tendency is increasingly that of accessing leadership positions in governance, at all levels, by hook or by crook, for personal and particularistic gainful preoccupations. Leadership positions are accessed by corrupt, illegal and unwholesome ways and means and, increasingly, people who assume leadership positions, proceed to lead the pack in kleptocratic emptying of the public treasury and other public properties. Or if they themselves do not steal at all, they look the other way as their clients and cronies steal public coffers with impunity. As a consequence, governance become bad, extremely so, citizens become disillusioned and angry due to crises of expectations and mis-governance or bad governance; and the rapacious elite engaged in do or die competition for political power and access to state resources, divide the citizens on the basis of “us” versus “them”, through the mobilization of ethno-religious and other primordial identities, fanning the embers of conflagration and igniting violent conflicts and crises, destructive of the ephemeral fabric which loosely binds the nation.
Summary and conclusion
There is no doubt that the almost total absence of selfless leadership in governance is a major contributor to the appalling state of affairs in governance in contemporary Nigeria. However, the enormous challenges which Nigeria currently faces, cannot be successfully addressed by a leadership that is merely selfless. It would rather require selfless, plus visionary, forthright, patriotic and people-oriented leadership, with focused policies and vigorously executed programmes and projects in accord with the carefully articulated vision of what the future represents. Anything short of this kind of desirable leadership would not be remarkably constrained, in taking Nigeria out of the woods of the wilderness, which it is currently.
This can be brought about by mobilizing people with competence, ability, and requisite qualities of selflessness in leadership, to organize and become very actively involved in politics. Many of these have been distant from politics, sitting on the fence and watching things get dirtier and messier, because they don’t want get dirty in the muddy
waters of Nigerian politics. Now, things have gotten to a stage that reckless politicians are not just playing and muddling through in the murky political terrain, they are now busily spraying the mud around, messing up virtually every body and, to boot, blinding many of us!
So, anybody with any semblance of integrity need to be encouraged, mobilized and prodded, to pull their bootstraps and guard their loins and enter politics to help at all levels of politics, to help clean up the mess, before it buries all of us.
In addition, we need to pay attention to imbibing and utilizing the values of selflessness and ethical conduct, as well as sensitizing, cultivating and indoctrinating these among the youth who, whether we like it or not, would have the future of this country in their hands,
to make or mar. Many of us are already in the “departure lounge”. We should not allow the present trend to continue unabated, with youth being taught ‘entrepreneurship’ and other business notions of ‘survival of the fittest, without any infusion of values of ethical conduct and selflessness or the organized pursuit of collective aspirations.