By Isaac Asabor
If there is a saying that aptly finds expression in Nigeria’s contemporary leadership landscape, it is unarguably the one that says “A man’s reputation is what other people think of him, his character is what he really is”, and another quote credited to Abraham Lincoln says, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Ostensibly authoring a quote from the same perspective but with a transcendent standpoint, Thomas Paine said “Reputation is what men and women think of us; character is what God and angels know of us”.
Against the foregoing backdrop, it cannot be a misnomer to conjecture that upon having a passing glance at the headline of this piece that the question that may readily come to mind is, “Why the ruling class?” The answer to the foregoing question cannot be farfetched as sociology defines the ruling class of society as the social class that set and decide the political and economic agenda of society.
In fact, without resorting to slandering our ruling class, there is a compelling patriotism behind the inspiration to express this view by saying that the character of many Nigerian leaders has been marked with political dirt. This is because our leaders lack honesty and seriousness. They lack seriousness in running public affairs. They concentrate on the benefits they get out of their official positions. They are more interested in the amount of money they will make. They do not care about the welfare of the citizens.
Not only have these unpatriotic and clueless leaders messed up the economy, they have turned our country into a country of the few rich and the majority poor. They do not have the interests of the citizens at heart. As they have unashamedly been demonstrating since 1999 when Nigeria became a democratic nation, it is crystal clear that all they know about governance is “What is in this position for me”. Apt put, to them, governance is all about, “Me, Myself, and I”. They put their personal interests first. It is all about everyone for himself/herself and God for us all. This category of leaders enforces unpopular policies in order to benefit themselves. Without any scintilla of hyperbole, the majority of our leaders have lost the concept of servant-leadership. It is a pity that not a few leaders aspire for leadership in public affairs not in order to serve the people but to serve themselves. Many of the so-called leaders spend very little time serving the people. They spend most of their time doing their personal business. But when will they serve the people?
In the mind’s eye of this writer, leaders are employees of the public and are perceived to be those who ought to spend most of their time serving their employers and citizens. Unfortunately, our leaders see leadership positions as an opportunity for the acquisition of personal wealth. Most of our leaders are selfish and self-centered. Our leaders have made corruption part and parcel of their lives. They steal from the public coffers and this adversely affects our economy. They preach water but drink wine. The looting of public institutions by some of our leaders has plunged some of our public institutions into dire financial constraints so much that not a few public institutions have been weakened leaving thousands of Nigerians jobless. Given the foregoing backdrop, it is expedient to urge our ruling elites to develop a culture of honesty and accountability. Thus, a good leader should be fair, honest and must possess the attitude of servant-leadership.
Of course, in today’s Nigeria, character means very little. It is money and power that matter. However, it is instructive to remind ourselves that any self-respecting, civilized country that does not demand good character in its political leadership is destined to become a failed state. For crying out loud, character matters.
Without sounding sanctimonious and holier-than-thou in this context, permit this writer to literarily whisper into the ears of the leader that is reading this piece that character is fundamental to effective leadership because good character builds trust, and without trust, people will not follow you. Without followers, obviously, you cannot lead.
However, in this age of individuality, we rarely talk about what defines good character. In his book “Return on Character,” Fred Kiel defined a leader of good character as someone who scored high on integrity, responsibility, compassion, and forgiveness. This definition becomes clearer in his description of a leader with dubious character: Someone who tells the truth about half of the time; who cannot be trusted to keep their promises; who often passes blame to others; who punishes well-intentioned people for making mistakes; who is bad at caring for others.
Another way to define a good character is to ask what makes a person trustworthy, as we already defined that good character enables trust. So, what makes someone trustworthy?
Contrary to the foregoing expectation, it is not an exaggeration to say that not a few Nigerian political elites do not do what they say they will do, that is, they do not keep their promises.
At this juncture, it is expedient to urge fellow Nigerians not to entertain self-seekers and opportunists who are motivated by self-interest whenever they are seeking their support for the position of leadership.
The reason for the foregoing advice cannot be farfetched as these ignominious brands of leaders, rather than being committed to serving and sacrificing for their country have been observed to continue exhibiting their retrogressive leadership styles to the detriment of the growth of the economy. Reasons for offering this contextual advice cannot be pooh-poohed when analyzed from the perspective of the fact that as a democratic nation, we have at every passing political dispensation given the chance to choose good leaders. But we, as followers never supported the best. We only throw our weight behind leaders based on political, religious, and tribal sentiments, which in the view of this writer is not the best.
Given the foregoing, it is patriotic to plead in this context that in coming political dispensations, we, as followers should always evaluate all candidates that would offer their candidature in the coming elections and make an informed and independent decision. We must change the way we conduct our politics. We must choose leaders who will add value to our lives. Let us from the next political dispensation begin to vote for leaders who will transform our country. Let us not be influenced by parties or tribal affiliations when voting. Let us begin to vote for aspirants with leadership qualities. It is our future and our children’s future that is at stake. We should begin to choose the right leaders and accept nothing less. I can hear someone saying elections are rigged and not won. But the fact remains that if the margin of winning is wide enough, it would be difficult to be rigged.
Against the backdrop of the foregoing view, it is not absurd to sincerely say that in as much as our ruling elite is suffering from poverty of character, it is sad that power has continued to test the character of the Nigerian ruling elite
Isaac Asabor is a Public Policy Analyst.