Sam Amadi, Former Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, and Director, Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts

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Subjects of Interest

  • Commercial Policy
  • Economic Governance
  • Electric Power
  • Law & Economy
  • Public Sector Reform

Nigeria’s leadership question remains 12 Nov 2023

Nigeria has a leadership problem. This is not saying anything new or insightful. Even the politicians who are currently failing in leadership easily acknowledge that they are failing. The only thing they may disagree with is that they are the cause of the failure of leadership. They may blame the people. That is to say that the people themselves do not effectively demand great leadership as shown by the ways they constrain such leadership by their contradictory demands and actions. They may also blame the inherited institutions and legacies of colonial and military rules. In all this, they are right. Great leadership requires effective demand by citizens. Where such demand is lacking, it may be difficult to have great leadership. Also, inherited institutions define and constrain leadership. Leaders themselves emerge from institutions and influence the development of institutions. So, where institutions are terrible, it becomes more difficult to have great leadership.

But all these excuses and explanations of leadership failures are not comforting. They do not overcome the bad consequences of leadership failures. So, we need to understand why leadership fails, and be able to create the conditions that enable the emergence of great leadership. The failure of leadership or the absence of real and effective leadership is a global concern. All over the world, there is a sense in which the leadership shoe is not properly filled. The world today lacks many such leaders who could mobilise efforts to solve some of the most debilitating problems like the threat of the climate and the threats of war across the world. The cry for great leaders is a global matter. But here in Nigeria, we suffer the consequences of leadership failure more because of the low level of development in the country. Developed countries with more prosperous economies and better functioning societies are more adaptive to leadership failures than developing or underdeveloped countries with poor and stagnant economies and dysfunctional societies. Nigeria as one of the latter has to take leadership failure seriously.

Nigeria’s leadership failures are glaring. What is not very evident is how to end the run of failure. How do we get a leadership that is fit for purpose? Every new administration is an opportunity to begin afresh the quest for good and effective leadership. But sadly, it is easily lost because the pressing urgency of politics as usual prevents the beginning of a different leadership journey.

Nigeria’s main leadership failing is in always falling back on transactional leadership when the moment demands for transformative or redefining leadership. Transformative or redefining leadership does not just change society. It first pushes society to a new level of cognition of social crisis and towards new objectives of development. We see this form of leadership in the successful East Asian countries that moved from underdeveloped to developed economies. When General Park became the leader of South Korea, the country had worse economic indicators, including per capita GDP than Ghana. They were coming from colonial rule by Japan. They had gloom and poverty written everywhere. But learning from the success of Japanese transformation, General Park and his colleagues pushed South Korea towards a new frontier of development.

Transformative and redefining leaders focus on development as transformation, not on maintaining status quo. They shake up the system, not as reckless experimenters or anarchists. Usually, transformative leaders have been somehow part of the past and they appreciate its limitations and the acute need to move away from it. The difference between them and other members of the establishment is that they embrace the urgency and necessity to move far away from the distressing status quo.

In the context of Nigeria’s present and pressing development challenges, what kind of leadership does it need? It is obvious that transactional leadership will achieve nothing. There is no development to conserve or consolidate. Even the unity of the country that we often say must be preserved is almost gone. We need to create a new unity that is based on a deep sense of justice and common identity. Transactional leadership is easy and routine. Every society must be governed and there is an office to contest for and occupy. This makes transactional leadership very compelling. We just play politics as usual. There is no clear and compelling objective of governance than to oil the engine of government. This is the reason the current presidency, despite the big talk about visionary governance during the campaigns has easily settled on business as usual; appointing cronies to big political offices and expanding the bureaucracy in the face of obvious fiscal bankruptcy and the urgent need for fiscal frugality.

In the past, Nigeria missed moments of transformation and redefinition. The end of colonial rule was such a moment. The Nigerian pre-independence rulers had the opportunity to recreate the foundations of a new Nigeria like the founding fathers of the United States of America, but they failed to do so. They assumed the positions that the British colonialists vacated without transforming the colonial institutions and practices. Like Ann and Bod Seidman, leading development scholars argue, the colonial institutions they left sooner undermined the dream of independence.

Opportunity does not come only once. Nigeria has another opportunity to pivot to transformation and not business as usual. Sadly, President Bola Tinubu’s political instinct and orientation may rob Nigeria the opportunity to turn the current crisis into a new beginning of economic and social transformation.  

Sam Amadi, PhD, a former Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, is the Director of Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts.