On April 8, 2010, I wrote a back-page article in the PUNCH titled: What are we looking for in a leader? In that piece, I was greatly inspired by the content of Waller Newel’s book, The Soul of a Leader: Character, Conviction and Ten Lessons in Political Greatness.
Considering the feedback I got from readers of that piece, it was obvious to me that the question of leadership goes far beyond mouthing its bane. It is one critical sphere of national life which has escaped logical examinations with a view to effecting changes where applicable. But then, how many of such critical aspects of our life as a country have attracted the needed scrutiny, let alone thinking of bringing about changes? Much germane as that is however, it is a question for another day.
Again in this piece, I am compelled to make copious references to Newel’s book, given some of the posers that keep coming up on the issue of leadership and the current Nigerian polity. If we recall the Fanonian wisdom, “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it,” we may be inching towards a greater appreciation and understanding of the need for the new generation of leaders in the polity to develop ingenious strategies to tackle the challenges that confront them rather than follow existing, routine and conventional approaches which possibly worked miracles for generations gone by; but which, in all honesty, are not in sync with today’s realities and aspirations.
“How will the new generation of leaders respond? What will inspire them? What precedents will they follow? It is important we reopen a series of traditional questions, whose contemporary relevance is more compelling than ever. What is the special quality of leadership that sets the great ones –a Lincoln, a Churchill, an FDR –apart? What can history teach us about prudent, principled and courageous statecraft,” asks Newell in a desperate wake-up call that fresh and unusual challenges must necessitate new thinking at the level of leadership.
Honest answers to the posers above must be critical to the resolution of most of the complex political, social and economic problems that tend to lead to incessant collision of the leaders and the led. Most especially in societies where rights consciousness are on the rise; where agents of conscientization are on the prowl; is it not expected of new leaders to find more creative ways to deal with the multiform responsibilities that appear threatening to break their backs?
To me, it is becoming increasingly glaring that new leaders who follow the old order; who are not intrepid enough to break the norms in seeking to solve problems in their polities do so much to the detriment of their people and are most unlikely to emerge as heroes of their people at the end of the day. While they are more unlikely to get places in halls of fame, they are likely candidates for infamy.
In a way, it would be correct to state that with the new vision that the current generation of leaders must have, the meaning of leadership has changed. Coming to terms with these changes therefore amounts to admitting that the conventional ways of doing things must change if the current generation of the led must see anything appreciable in those who lead them.
A simple illustration here! A political leader gets elected by the people and before him lies a list of routine steps which he must take to fulfil the routine aspirations of those who have enslaved themselves to conventions.
Good luck if such a leader is the type that breaks from the norms in his usual ways of doing things to find ingenious solutions to strange challenges. There is no contest about it; those who think outside the box in their search for panacea are the true leaders, regardless of the hues and cries that initially attend their actions. The end results of such daring moves to do things differently and much against the existing norms are what make heroes out of those leaders who suffer castigations.
What has happened in Osun State is a study in challenging the norms in relation to social, economic and political realities. What was conventionally (or better still, constitutionally) expected of an elected leader was to swiftly come up with a list of commissioners and other appointees to drive the vision for new socio-economic and political orders. As desirable and as constitutionally prescribed as that is, fulfilling the dictates of the constitution and convention must be done in relation to the prevailing challenges.
While not minding the rots, burden of debts bequeathed his administration by the profligates of the past, the creativity of the leader has been brought to the fore in the deft utilization of meagre resources for a people that had been stretched to their thinnest before the change of power.
Those who read the situation well readily concluded that the entire hoopla about the delay in the appointment of commissioners was no more than the usual crocodile tears of the selfish elite who don’t care a bit about the lots of the common man as long as their desires are met by any government of the day.
Talking about challenges, a governor that came in confronted with huge debts and a totally demoralised populace would need to think out of the box to deliver on his promises while not allowing himself to be manacled by the obstacles that line his path to a successful tenure.
In a way, what Governor Rauf Aregbesola did in a subtle manner was to tell Nigerians that leadership is no longer about following the routine. It is about intelligently subjecting challenges to critical analysis in order to create ingenious solutions. If anything, that is the path to toe by any leader who desires to be the true Messiah that his people saw in him before entrusting their mandate in him.
•Okanlawon is the Director, Bureau of Communications and Strategy, Office of the Governor, Osogbo, Osun State.