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Nigeria is a blessed country. It gained her independence in 1960 and attained republican status in 1963. It is a heterogeneous country with diversity of cultures and tribes of about 250 ethnic nationalities with the Yoruba, Igbo and the Hausa-Fulani as the dominant tribes. It is the most populated country on the African continent with over 160 million in population. It is the 6th largest producer of crude oil in the world and its rich and fertile soils speaks of its economic viability, wealth and prosperity. All these attest to the fact that human and material resources abound for Nigeria and these are the basic indices for the development of any nation. Reverse, however, is the case with Nigeria.

That Nigeria is an underdeveloped country is a truism. I can affirm without equivocation that Nigeria does not qualify to be regarded by all standards as a developed nation as it is still categorized among the third world nations with substantially all the indices that underlie an underdeveloped country. To state it more clearly, everything that is synonymous with underdevelopment is synonymous with Nigeria. Our hospitals have become mortuaries due to lack of equipments, drugs and personnel; our universities lack the adequate facilities for adequate manpower training and development and the graduates of these universities are now regarded as half-baked; our transport system have gone moribund – our roads are riddled with potholes and our airspace is unsafe to fly with incessant crashes; there is high rate of unemployment; insecurity of lives and properties has become the norm; there is no power to drive our industries making investment difficult and occasioning industries to close shop. These and many others may have propelled the description of Nigeria as a failed state.

Nigeria is indeed blessed, while partying in at a relatively consevative West End Club in London, I was amazed to note that the English DJ consecutively played eight Nigerians’ songs with the revelers jumping up in admiration of Tuface Innocent Idibia, D’Banj, P Square, Omawunmi, Davido and Timaya. Our Golden Eagle recently conquered Africa and moving up to stamp their feet in the global soccer fiesta very soon. The entire world is still celebrating Chinua Achebe while the world is still mourning the passing away of Margret Thatcher. In Medicine, Science, Academics, Law etc Nigerians are doing well.

If I have described Nigeria as a country blessed with human and material resources, then it should as a matter of logic, not be a country synonymous with underdevelopment and all that goes with it. This is because the presence of human and material resources is the ingredient that drives the development of any country. However, Nigeria has found herself on the reverse side of the coin as she has not been able to drive herself to development with the enormous human and material resources. And one must ask why? Why would she remain underdeveloped in the face of this abundance? The ready answer for this is the crisis of leadership.

Leadership, the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines as the position of being the leader of a group, organization, country, etc. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, provides a better explanation within the context of this discourse as it defines leadership as a process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task. Also, Peter Drucker famously stated that “leadership is doing the right things. Great leaders possess dazzling social intelligence, a zest for change, and above all, vision that allows them to set their sights on the “things” that truly merit attention.”

From the foregoing, we are not in doubt of what leadership entails in the developmental process of any nation. Since leadership involves direction, the implication is that it is the leader that drives development. But direction does not come where a leader is without a vision, where he lacks value, charisma, intelligence, where he is unprepared and lacks the ability to inspire the confidence of the followers in the achievement of this common task of development.

The true evidence of the role of leadership in the development of a nation can be seen in the early years of our independence. Nigeria started with a set of leadership that was capable of driving development. In the three regions were competent hands providing leadership. We had Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and the Saudana of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello as the Premier of Eastern, Western and Northern Region respectively. I dare to say that these leaders provided what indeed can be regarded as quality leadership as evidenced by generations of Nigerians that have benefited directly or indirectly from their leadership. The leadership provided by the Premier of the Western Region will give an insight into this affirmation. In the Western Region, we all are living witnesses to the developmental strides of Obafemi Awolowo as evidenced in the massive infrastructural developments in roads, electricity, industry, healthcare, agriculture, education amongst others. At a time when there was no ‘oil money’ in the billions and trillions like today, we saw massive rural electrification; linkages of towns and communities through construction of durable roads; provision of free healthcare; the erection of the first skyscraper in tropical Africa – the Cocoa House in Ibadan; the establishment of the Oduduwa Group of Companies which comprises of landed properties, banks and other incorporated companies; the building of the first stadium, Liberty Staduim, Ibadan in west Africa; first television station, WNTV in Africa; and importantly we saw a legacy of free universal basic education, provision of scholarships to cater for the educational and material needs of indigent students amongst others. And today as I write, most of the intellectuals and bigwigs in the country benefited from his free educational policy. I must quickly remark that these achievements were recorded based on the judicious utilization of the proceeds from the lucrative cocoa export industry at that time. In Awolowo we saw a leader with a direction, a leadership imbued with a deep sense of patriotism and commitment to societal development and this was the same spirit with other leaders of the regions. This qualitative leadership laid the foundation for the Nigerian dream and vision of national development.

However, the coup d’état of January 15, 1966 was to utterly cut short these developmental strides. By May 29, 1999 when Nigeria finally returned to democratic governance, the military had ruled Nigeria for approximately thirty years with damning consequences on the development of the country. And within this period the morale of development has been dampened as we saw the destruction of our institutions, unstable and often times conflicting economic policies occasioned by incessant change of government, the debasement of our cultural values and ethics and the entrenchment of corruption at all levels of government. The lack of direction and vision of the military leadership was exhibited by the statement of Gen. Yakubu Gowon during the oil boom when he said the problem with Nigeria was not money but how to spend it! This was despite the developmental challenges Nigeria had then. In essence, the huge revenue generated from the oil boom of the 70s never translated to an improved standard of living for the citizens but rather Nigeria succeeded in producing leaders with billions of dollars in their accounts stacked in foreign banks around the world. Development of the nation was therefore no longer a driving force but rather self greed and personal aggrandizement of the leadership had held sway.

The return in 1999 to democratic governance cannot be said to have altered much in the developmental matrix of Nigeria. We do not seem to have fared better as we are still bedeviled with the same problem of leadership of the military days. Fourteen years into democratic governance, Nigeria can still not point out to anything that qualifies for excellence. All sectors of the economy are beset with one problem or the other. Without sounding pessimistic, it appears that things are getting worse by the day despite the avowed commitment of our leaders to the provision of dividends of democracy. We are sure that dividends of democracy are not anywhere in sight. We may however be proved wrong if the current infrastructural decay qualifies as dividends of democracy. But it is certainly not.

On the whole, we have produced leaders that have failed the nation in its cry for development, leaders who in recent times have been described as accidental public servants being unprepared for leadership. The failure of the leadership at all levels of government to coordinate, direct and harness the human and material resources of the country accounts for the Nigeria’s underdevelopment today. But must we as a nation continue like this? Can we continue in this current state of mismanagement and plundering of our natural resources? We obviously cannot forge ahead like this. Therefore, if Nigeria must move towards development, if we must really be able to pride ourselves as the giant of Africa, then we necessarily must have a new crop of leaders committed to their calling to lead and direct effectively and with all commitment.

Leaders whom the spoil of office will not destroy, leaders who are ready to give all it takes for the development of the country. It is when we have this that we can really work this journey of development but until then we may have to content ourselves with the current state. But that will be bad for us all, God forbid!

And this current state I must say does no good for the Nigerian youths just as it does no good to any Nigerian because we all are in it together, we all feel the impact of the failure of our leadership. We feel it when we have to pay exorbitant fees as tuition for our children, we feel it when our pregnant women have to die with their babies unborn, they have been circumstantially sentenced to death due to our failed health system, we feel it when we have to ply the bad roads all around the country and take our cars to the mechanics thereafter for repairs. The repairs do not end with the cars as we also have to 'repair' ourselves by having to take drugs to suppress the bodily pains that we have undergone courtesy of the potholes. We feel it. We all feel it! Yes, we do.

But in all these, we all take the blame for we are either onlookers or part of the failed system of leadership. I say we all take the blame because of our actions and inactions. We indulge the leadership even when they should be criticized, we confer chieftaincy titles on corrupt public office holders. The height of this is when we buy 'aso ebi' to welcome convicted public office holders!

In all these, where is the place of our youths or what blame do the youths take in the failed system of leadership? This becomes important because the youths suffer the most. They suffer most because the future belongs to them and it is this future that is being put in jeopardy by the directionless leadership we have today in the country. It however appears to me that our youths what responsibility lies on them by the means of salvaging the leadership crisis in place now and even the older generation obviously has not helped matters as displayed by the poor leadership being offered. But I believe it is an issue that needs to be addressed if we all must go to bed at night and sleep confidently, we must address it because when we leave the stage it is to the youths that we will hand over the affairs and management of the country.

The task is indeed a great one but it is a task that is worth its salt, it is a task which we must diligently carry out.

In addressing this issue it is my humble position that we must as a people get ready and be determined to bring about a change in our leadership structure at all levels of government in the country. By this, I mean it is time for us to get in place people that are tested and trusted and people of integrity in positions of authority.

This to me is the first step. It is the first step, but it just does not end there because in the past we have had people who have betrayed the test and the trust which the people have reposed in them when they get to power. They have derailed on getting to office by doing the direct opposite of what they stand for and this may perhaps be attributed to the system in place, a system that promotes and encourages corruption and mismanagement for private gains. This is the reason why I believe that electing tested and rusted people into office does not just end it and we must go further. We must go further by putting in place a framework that brings up consensus of criticisms.

A framework where we ask questions when the leadership is derailing, when there is a deviation between the promises and agreements of the past with what we have in place. We must be able to subject the leadership to fulfill the promises made and this is when we can say as a people that we really have a leadership that is responsive and responsible.

Written By -Olukayode AJULO, ESQ.

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