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Integrity in Leadership: A Moral Compass for Societal Development in Nigeria

By Mashood Baderin
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Permit me to start by expressing my profound gratitude to the management of Crescent University, Abeokuta, Nigeria for this academic honour of inviting me to deliver the 13th Founder’s Day Lecture of this noble university, which coincides with the 85th birthday anniversary of the Founder and Proprietor, H.E. Judge Prince Abdul-Jabbar Bolasodun Ajibola, SAN, KBE, CFR. I wish you a very joyful birthday sir, and many happy returns of the day with long life and continued integrity, prosperity and blessings of Allah.

This topic is very apt, bearing in mind the vision of this university, which is to ensure the delivery of university education in ways that recognize personal discipline and integrity and promote positive societal values; but more importantly, the topic enables necessary reflection on how to enhance societal development in the current situation of putrefaction in most African societies, particularly in Nigeria.

Contextualising societal development
Society connotes human constituencies, i.e. our world, whether small or large. The most important consideration is that people are the catalyst of any society. And, simply put, development means betterment or stepping-up. So, societal development essentially means the betterment of human constituencies by putting people at the centre of development.

The need for societal development is rationally indisputable because society, whether small or large, is necessary for human existence and, as the English idiom says, as you make your bed so will you lie on it.

Towards effective societal development in Nigeria

Effective societal development requires a conscious vision on the part of the populace driven by committed leadership with a mission to achieve that vision. Such a conscious vision and committed mission of societal development is still very much lacking in Nigeria and indeed most African societies. Traditionally, development has been generally perceived as structural transformation and economic growth measured by what Moss and Resnick (2018, p.5) describes as the digging holes and capital flows notions of development, to which I will add the democracy-mania notion of development. These three perceptions continue to influence the understanding of development in many societies of the developing world today, including Nigeria. My main argument in this paper is that while these three perceptions of development are inevitable, they can only lead to effective societal development in Nigeria if they are human-centred and underpinned by a conscious social and institutional transformation.

The digging holes notion of societal development perceives development mainly in terms of physical structures in society such as skyscrapers, flyover bridges, multi-lane roads and other infrastructural development. While physical infrastructure are a very important element of development, they do not by themselves represent or lead to effective societal development if not underpinned by social and institutional changes in human conduct. In most developing societies, such as Nigeria, the digging holes notion of development serves as grand avenues of corruption due to obstreperous social and institutional conduct.

Although economists typically explain a country’s relative poverty by describing its resource allocation, that explanation ignores the reality that resources do not or cannot allocate themselves; people acting in institutions determine the use of a country’s available human, physical, and financial resources. How people behave in a country’s governing institutions determine the quality of governance.

That aptly reminds us that practices that hinder effective development are undertaken by people within institutions, and unless there is a change in the social behaviour of people in that regard, effective societal development will continue to be a fantasy.

On the other hand, the capital flow notion of development perceives development mainly in terms of economic growth measured in Gross National Product (GNP). This view of development is mostly promoted by the economic elite. While it is important to measure economic growth in GNP, especially for political convenience, to reference GNP growth as evidence of development does not often represent true societal development that has direct impact on people’s lives.

The questions to ask about a country’s development are therefore: What has [actually] been happening to poverty? What has [actually] been happening to unemployment? [and] What has [actually] been happening to inequality? If all three of these have declined from high levels, then beyond doubt, this has been a period of development for the country concerned. If one or two of these central problems have been getting worse, especially if all three have, it would be strange to call the result development, even if per capita income doubled.

The democracy-mania notion of development is the perception that democracy automatically facilitates societal development. Democracy alone, without an enabling social and institutional transformation, does not automatically lead to effective societal development. While the theory of democracy and its institutions are tailored to facilitate development, there is enough evidence in different parts of the developing world, including Nigeria, that this does not always lead to effective societal development. The normative theory of democracy does not implement itself and neither are democratic institutions just structures and processes, but what the various sets of actors within the system regularly do.

Thus, for Nigeria, the vision for effective societal development must change to encompass a human-centred and holistic notion that promotes human development driven by a committed leadership with a mission to achieve that vision.

Advancing human development
In advancing human development, I propose that four germane areas must be prioritised to enhance effective societal development in most African countries, including Nigeria, namely:

(i) Respect for human dignity. It is inconceivable today to find decomposing dead bodies in the streets of most developed societies due to strong respect for human dignity. The opposite is the case in most African societies today, including Nigeria. Yet, our religious sources are replete with injunctions that proclaim respect for human dignity.

(ii) Boosting women's rights and enablement. Women constitute a significant number of the African population and the promotion of their rights and enablement is central to human development in Africa generally. In Nigeria, the guarantee of women’s rights and their enablement continue to be one of the major deficits in the trajectory of societal development.

(iii) Advancing good and functional public education and capacity building for all. Most developed societies in the world are those that have invested the most in education and capacity building of their populace. Sadly, Nigeria has the highest number of out of school children in the world today. We cannot begin to envisage any effective societal development without serious consideration of how to reverse that trend.

A study by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) into the activities of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and State Universal Sub-Education Boards (SUBEBs) in 2007 revealed that 3.3 billion naira of public funds allocated for basic education in different states of Nigeria were fraudulently mismanaged, leading to denial of more than five million Nigerian children the opportunity of access to primary education. Again, this was due to lack of integrity in leadership in that sector of our society; and if we allow this to continue, not only will the educational sector in Nigeria eventually collapse, the whole society will eventually disintegrate due to lack of integrity in leadership.

(iv) Promoting and ensuring human security. The concept of human security emphasizes the psychological and physical protection of individuals. It takes as its objective the preservation of peace, stability and protection for individuals and communities. Nigeria and many other African countries have, for many decades, been going through conflicts and lack of security that have adversely constrained developmental efforts in the country. Paying attention to ensuring human security is a more effective way for realizing state security that is necessary for sustainable and effective societal development in Nigeria.

Leadership is a necessary social concept that motivates activity and drives performance in human society. The vision of effective societal development articulated in this lecture cannot be realised without trusted leadership that inspires and drives the populace towards that vision.

It is important not to conflate leadership with rulership and management. Drucker has observed that management is doing things right while leadership is doing the right things. Thus, the overall progress in any society depends largely on the quality of leadership that is exercised in the different specific sectors of society and thus involving different levels of leadership with each leader fulfilling their leadership roles effectively.

The greatest examples of leadership in Islam are the Prophets and Messengers sent by God to provide guidance to humanity as stated in Q57:25: “Certainly We sent our Messengers with clear arguments and sent down with them the book and the balance that men may conduct themselves with equity.”

The Qur’an clearly indicates that each of the Prophets and Messengers of God starting from Adam to Muhammad were first endowed with the necessary knowledge and wisdom to enable them fulfill the leadership responsibilities placed on them.

Christianity also acknowledges the importance of character as essential for good leadership. For example, the Bible enjoins in Exodus 18:21 that “Select capable men from all the people, men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.”

While good character consists of various values that are treasured in all human societies, this is subsumed in the value of integrity. Experts in leadership have acknowledged that after creativity, integrity ranks as the most essential leadership quality globally.

It is with regard to integrity that leadership is defined as a Trust. It is a delegated Trust, first from God and secondly from the people; and must be utilised in the best interest of the people and not for self-aggrandisement; but as a means of serving God and serving humanity.��

Recognition of Integrity in Leadership
Integrity can come to the rescue when leadership is in doubt. This was vividly demonstrated in another video clip circulated not long after President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015. In the video, which was secretly recorded, some leading British politicians were discussing the new government in Nigeria then and the former British Prime Minister is heard saying that his worry was that Nigeria is fantastically corrupt; but the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is recognised as a person of very high integrity himself, quickly came to the rescue saying that this new leader (i.e. President Muhammadu Buhari) is very integrous. Certainly, one credential that President Muhammadu Buhari has continually flaunted is his integrity and credibility, but he is only one person in a league of many leaders in his administration.

For too long, we have witnessed demonstrations of lack of integrity in leadership in almost every sphere of society in Nigeria. This is despite the fact that Nigerians are incredibly religious and rational people. We pray a lot for good leadership – which is a good thing; but prayers alone cannot salvage us. We all have to wake up to our responsibilities in that regard. Integrity is protected by demanding accountability. Nigerians being very religious and rational, we must question our leaders’ integrity by reference not only to rationality but also to their religious beliefs.

For Muslims, God has placed the challenge of salvaging ourselves from this situation in our own hands in Qur’an 13:11: “Surely God does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition.”

And for Christians, the Bible says in Proverbs 12:11, “He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment.”

Our destiny with regard to integrity in leadership is in our own hands, because we elect them. As we make our bed so shall we lie on it.

**Being excerpts of the 13th Founder’s Day Lecture of the Crescent University, Abeokuta, delivered by Professor Mashood A. Baderin, Professor of Laws, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, on 22nd March 2019 in the University Auditorium, Crescent University, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria.

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