CHARACTER AND LEADERSHIP: THE BUHARI EXAMPLE
All through history, the most essential ingredient for leadership has always been character. Although other ingredients such as empathy, toughness, knowledge and intelligence are frequently mentioned, these traits are all too often really subordinate aspects of character. Encarta English Dictionary defines character as a set of behavioural qualities that make a person distinctively attractive. Such qualities are listed as honesty, sincerity, humility, forthrightness and integrity. These are essential aspects of character, which Dwight Eisenhower, the 30th president of the USA, described as “the supreme quality for leadership”, without which no man is fit to lead others. Because leaders hold not just the lives of the people but even determine the destiny of society, it is supremely important that people trust those who lead them. And trust is earned through character.
As we all sometimes in our affairs experience, it is always frustrating and disappointing if people betrayed the trust we put in them; it is even worse if these people are elected public figures who cook up phantom political expediencies as justification for their personal character flaws.
A fundamental flaw of character is dishonesty. This can come in several forms. For example, a person who cheats, or who cuts corners in executing an affair with the intention of depriving someone else of their rightful claim to something so that the executioner will have all or more than his fair share of it can rightly be adjudged as dishonest. A person who is given public trust or holds a public office and leverages on that office to increase his personal benefit against public interest, or gain undue advantage over others, can also be categorized as dishonest. In other words, the person is corrupt; for corruption is also defined as a deliberate alteration of a rule with ultimate negative effect to the system. Dishonesty can also come in a form of deceit – that is a person who portrays to another person or people what is actually not in his mind with the intention to get something which otherwise he wouldn't have gotten if he told the truth or kept quiet about it. Such a person too can be listed as dishonest. In other words, a dishonest person cheats, manipulates, deceives and/or lies; whatever the person does is aimed or meant to deceive, defraud, or trick people with the intention to serve a selfish end.
When this flaw ultimately becomes open and known to the other person, or to the society, then that person loses his integrity and becomes a person of lowly character. Automatically, his behaviour becomes morally repugnant and liable to make him lose respect of others. He will also be viewed as an unjust person, and concomitantly loses the trust of the other person or the society. This distinctively becomes even worse if that person is in a position of leadership.
It is against this backdrop that Nigerians seem to appreciate the strength of character of Mohammad Buhari to have made them elect him over and above other candidates, first at the primary and then at the general elections levels, as their president. The enthusiasm for change became so discernible as to convince men of good standing that Nigerians are no longer willing to accept men of lowly character to superintend over their public institutions.
To validate Buhari's strength of character, let's take his integrity for comparison with his peers in the Nigeria's leadership cycle. It is an indisputable fact that most of his known peers, some even lower to him in rank and position, are stupendously wealthy or died stupendously wealthy in the real sense of the phrase. But President Buhari is nationally acknowledged to be poor, relative to his peers. Interestingly, his peers who are of public service background went into the public service and milked the system dry. They made their stupendous wealth by leveraging on their respective public offices (i.e. trading on official influence) and investing the proceeds, thereby guaranteeing them undue advantage and control over certain sectors of the national economy and living a stupendously wealthy life thereafter. None of them went into public service wealthy; all of them went in as poor men from very poor backgrounds but came out as stupendously wealthy men.
In contrast to them all, Buhari went into public service poor and came out relatively poor. Amazingly, Buhari held more strategic and lucrative public positions capable of turning him, if he so desired like others, a stupendously wealthy or even wealthier man than each and every one of them. He was governor of Northeastern state for almost a year; Minister of Petroleum and Chairman of NNPC Board for three and half years; Head of State and Commander -in-Chief for almost two years; and he was Chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund, (PTF) for three years. All these were public offices that could turn a man into a multi billionaire overnight for life, but President Buhari went into them and came out of them without leveraging on them to amass wealth for himself or for members of his immediate family. This is a clear proof that he had given honest leadership in the offices he held. He has proven that he can be trusted with public office; a fundamental solution to the current crisis of leadership in Nigeria. And, as the universal dictum goes, honesty is the best policy. Nigerians, faced with the dear challenge of nation-building, realized that they will be better off with a bit of honesty, in accessing their potential leaders, in fielding them up into public offices and in them rendering trustworthy leadership. Hence on March 28, they refused to be misguided by sentiments, emotions or selfish interests, or by rains of naira and dollars, and went headlong to elect Buhari based on his strength of character in the belief that he will bring positive change to their lives.
With his election, Nigerians have revived interest in personal character as the basis for leadership for achieving rapid development. They must have been convinced that the world today see more clearly the essential role of personal forces in shaping destinies of nations and societies. They must have realized that modern social science has proven Frederick Taylor wrong that the impersonal forces of matter, rather than the personal forces of individuals, are the key determinants of shaping and directing societal progress. Indeed, the country's latest experience in the Obasanjo's and Jonathan's Economic Teams lay bare the false assumption that the assemblage of persons with superb knowledge of 'systems analysis and quantitative abstractions', would turn around the socio-economic fortune of the country solely on spun quantitative models. The result, as being seen today, is a colossal disaster; both our economy and our politics have been worst off for it. Persons of high knowledge no doubt have their place in leadership and development designs, but they are no substitute for persons of high character.This must have informed why Nigerians elected Buhari, a person of high character (even with an alleged 'forged certificate')into position of leadership as president.
Yes, Nigerians had before elected Shehu Shagari on account of character, against Ibrahim Waziri, Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikwe who were wealthy men by the standard of their day as landed property owners. Nigerians also elected Obasanjo on account of integrity against Olu Falaye. But both are nothing compared to the 28th March election of Buhari. All too sudden, in 2015, nothing seemed to matter in Nigeria but one man. To many, Buhari is like a light in the darkness; and over the past three months of his sole stewardship, the darkness is beginning to lift. He managed to both convey a clear direction of where he wants to take the nation and a steely resolve of how to get there. He has projected strength and vigour despite his age. In all these, his integrity and solid character are his power, and so far he is wielding both skillfully. By his clarity of goal, his sincerity of purpose and dedication to duty he transformed the national mood even before he left Eagle Square, the venue of his inauguration ceremony. Whether or not he will ultimately meet the high expectations of Nigerians by the end of his term, time will tell.
Written by Umar Ardo, Ph.D.