On The 2023 Elections; Echoing Osundare's Call For Thoughtful And Practical Followership In The Leader And The Led.

Source: Adetu A. Olayinka

In Nigeria, we usually refer to bad and corrupt leadership as the monster weakening our political, social, economic and religious institutions. Often, we blame leaders for some certain failures and see them as the only devil haunting the progress of our country. However, we are yet to explore the problem of followership and how its fusion with bad leadership has led the country into nothingness. Niyi Osundare, a versatile poet, critic, and Marxist who has always committed his writings to finding solutions to the leadership problems facing his country envisages the need for an all-inclusive, citizen-centred governance. In his poem, The Leader and the Led, he calls for the reinforcement of the ideals of thoughtful followership as the means to end Nigeria’s leadership crises.

By all means, followership is an essential component of the leadership process. Scholars such as Uhi-Biehn has called the fusion of both leadership and followership, a "co-created process” in which both parties have a shared connection and work together for a common goal. Good leadership thus thrives on good followership. But to what extent do followers contribute to the success, failure, and the behaviours of leaders?

In Nigeria, leaders have always recognised the important roles that followers play. Come election, the typical Nigerian leader wants the support of every Tom, Dick, Harry, and Sulaimon because of the power vested in the people: the followers. On the contrary, followers are yet to realise their power, role and impact in the leadership process, which makes the relationship between them and the so-called leaders ambivalent. Since the authority of leaders cannot be questioned, the followers, knowing that leadership is godly, engage in the ritual practices of appeasing and making a peace with the verdicts of the rulers. This is what Osundare seeks to redress in his poem, The Leader and the Led.

Starting with the title of the poem, the poet emphasises the dual role of leaders and followers. While the word "leader" could simply be explained to mean a person who points out the way for someone from a position in front, the use of the word "led" as a noun, begs for more clarification given that led is originally the past tense of lead. It is safe to say then, that Osundare has shifted the class of the word "led," formerly a verb, to become a noun and uses this to refer to the followers.

Osundare in this twelve-stanza allegorical poem, creates a forest scenario in which there is a tussle in the animal kingdom over the crown and throne of the kingdom. Animals of different species, qualities, and idiosyncrasies present themselves as the right candidates suited for leadership. This is a fair depiction of the current political situation in Nigeria where several individuals lay claim to positions they cannot responsibly hold. The petty claims of each animal is also similar to the justifications of many Nigerian politicians vying for positions of responsibilities. The lion, the antelope, the elephant, giraffe, warthog, and other animals listed in the poem, represents the typical Nigerian politicians who see leadership as a claim and not a position of responsibility.

With so many animals vying for the crown, there is a heated argument over the best candidate as the pack of animals find it difficult to choose their leader. Osundare’s depiction that “the pack trashes around like a snake without a head” is a vivid illustration of Nigeria’s current political situation. Until the Forest Sage, a thoughtful follower addresses them and highlights essential qualities to look out for in each candidate, the gathering was in disarray. He proclaims that the leader they should look out for should be “a hybrid of habits.” Such a leader would take a little of a lamb’s meekness and a little of a lion’s fierceness. He must be “tough like a tiger” and “compassionate like a doe”. The animal jungle needs someone who is “transparent like a river” and “mysterious like a lake”. In concluding his speech, the Sage reiterates on the need for a leader who will be responsible for his followers, trust them, and value their opinions.

In this poem, Osundare highlights the need for followership to be practical and thoughtful. It is high time we follow leaders who will boldly represent our ideals and value system. Just like in the animal jungle, Nigeria also needs a leader with a hybrid of habits. As the election comes very near, let us pore over our choice of candidates and see if they truly deserve our votes.