Leadership Crisis And Africa


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Leadership Crisis And Africa's Development Dilemma:The Case of Nigeria




Bonnie Ayodele

Department of Political Science

University of Ado Ekiti




Lanre Olu-Adeyemi


Dept of Political Science & Public Administration

Adekunle Ajasin University

Akungba Akoko



February 15, 2006 




Across Africa, the search for development has been marked by a history of colossal failure of effective leadership. In certain cases, countries in the continent had experienced governance by a crop of people that lacks the basic understanding or comprehension of the requirements of leadership, thereby failing to provide the needed positive change to their societies.  The continent has being busy struggling to develop strategies for social, economic and political development without first cross checking its leadership dillema in a bid to facilitate change.  Several factors have been offered to explain the apparent failure of development in the continent, more than any, the issue of leadership remains central to Africa's development crisis. This paper argues leadership problems as the greatest obstacle to development in the continent and posits that, until the enthronement of effective leadership, development will continue to be a mirage in Africa. This paper examined the concept of leadership in the context of Nigeria nay Africa's past and present, the recurring hurdles to Africa's development and proffered solution.

Keywords: Leadership, Development, Democracy,and Good governance                                                                



The independence of African States signaled strong prospects and hope for a better and prosperous continent. That hope was informed by the dynamism of the crop of leadership that championed the struggle against colonialism as evinced by the mass support of Africans. This category of leaders who were mainly products of nationalistic struggle were fired by sheer determination to bring development to their various independent states, which seems to be politically and economically expedient especially at that point of the continent history. More than ever, the expediency becomes more interesting when viewed against the backdrop of the potentials of the continent in terms of human and material resources. However, these expectations were shortly met with abysmal failure of leadership to harness her vast human and natural resources for the benefit of her citizens. In fact, the present state of development on the continent has shown the developmental deficits brought about by failures of leadership on all spheres of human endeavour. The continent’s resources are personalized at the expense of the people; abject poverty, inadequate health facilities and housing problems pervade the land and these were borne out of the failure on the part of leadership (Obasanjo, 2002:153). More defining was the various forms of conflicts that have remained perennial and unsolvable.  Crucial to the crisis engulfing Africa is the problem of purposeful leadership that could act as architects and engineers of progressive change and development. What the continent has benefited from these leaders are poverty, war, and monumental debt crisis. Therefore, why has Africa unable to thread the path of development when the Europeans and Asians are making geometrical progression? Why does it seem that all palliative mechanism and strategies seem to be inappropriate to solve the developmental crisis of the continent despite its enormous resources? What is or are the leadership role(s) in the development debate and how can the right paradigm for development be achieved through purposeful leadership?


An Analytic Conceptualization of Leadership

Eze (2002:1) posits that “all over the world leadership is the most important number one factor that determines whether a nation can developed or not”. He further argued that a leadership that is free, intelligent, brave, patriotic, people-oriented, destination-bound; the leadership that understands psychology of leading and applies it to development of the people must be at the affairs of men (ibid). The history of nations has more or less been a history of personalities that have made enduring impact in socio-economic advancement and shaped the future of the people. In fact the promotion of human civilization has been the propelling force of leadership. However, for a proper analysis, it is imperative to give a proper definition of leadership and leader, even though they appear to be similar when indeed there is a gulf of difference despite been used interchangeably.


A leader in simple term means someone who leads plans, organizes, controls communicates, delegates, accepts the responsibility to reach the societal goals (Ogunbameru 2004:233). Put it differently, a leader is an individual appointed to a job with authority, and accountability to accomplish the goals and objectives of the society. A leader must be a good manager, as well as an individual who is able to effectively coordinate the activities of followers or a team towards pre–agreed or pre-defined goal/objectives within the limits of available resources. Thus a leader must be astute with both man and material. A leader must possess the ability to create in the followers the necessary enthusiasm/motivation to put in every necessary effort to deliver on set goals. Thus the ability not only to conceive but also to communicate a vision or idea is of utmost importance is an attribute of leadership. Above all, a leader must first and foremost be a member of his own team, internalise their feelings and galvanise their potentials towards reaching the goal.


The leader is one who guides, directs and provides leadership. Therefore, leadership presupposes that there is a leader. Leadership is the process of influencing group activities toward achieving set goals. Lynch (1997:433) opines that leadership means the influence of a leader, the ability, the art or process of influencing people so that they will strive willingly and enthusiastically towards the achievement of the group’s mission. A leader, according to Stacey (1996:128), must give directives on organizational goals and tasks of the work group; monitoring performance of the group in terms of goal achievement, ensures that a cohesive team is built and motivated to perform the task; supplying any skills or efforts that are missing in the team; and articulate purpose and reduce uncertainty that team members face.


 A leader provides leadership for his followers. As Mandela observes “a leader is like a shepherd, he stays behind the flock letting the most nimble go ahead whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind”(Mandela  cited in Anya O Anya, 2004:3). Thus, leadership involves the management of people and the circumstance needed to achieve clearly defined goals. It involves mobilizing and motivating people for greater productivity. As Maurick (cited in Anya O Anya, 2004:3) has observed, leadership is the ability to bring out the number of talents and to operate effectively through other people making them gladly accepts  your goals while still having the freedom to do things their way, it involves the vision as well as the ability to deploy creativity and innovation while recognizing this in others who share “a common vision based on knowledge of the big picture, reiteration of clear consistent values, crafting a culture and strategy” ( Anya O Anya, ibid). Leadership involves the management of change or the nation. Organizational change may involve developmental change by building on and improving the quality of what already exists. Alternatively, it may involve transitional change by managing the transition from one stage to another. Fundamentally, leadership may take up transformational change in which an organization or nation changes completely from one state to a different state of being. A post colonial or post-military environment obviously requires transformation. Thus a nation needs a leader that can provide total transformation which involves paradigm shifts driven by changes in mind set (ibid).


To accomplish the above, leaders or people in leadership positions should develop the capacity to manage resources by recognizing when to:

· Concentrate resources on key strategy goals;

· Accumulate resources for greater and direct impact on the nation’s goals;

· Complement different kinds of resources to create higher values;

· Conserve resources when necessary or needful and

· Recovers resources when vital.

In all, leadership connotes a process of influencing group activities toward achieving goals (Bass 1981:9). Leadership, therefore, is a supreme political virtue. It is a capacity to inspire confidence in the rightness of one’s purposes, courage in their collective execution and obedience in the threat of resistance.  


Attributes and Traits of Purposeful Leadership.

Leadership is one of the essential determinants of development in any society. In fact Ajayi (2004:1) argues that leadership is a core ingredient in organizing, mobilizing and inspiring societal resources for the attainment of goals. Thus it is important to state the characteristics or attributes of purposeful leadership. Lao-tse, a Chinese philosopher states that gentleness is the first attribute; second frugality and thirdly, humility. However, Adebayo (2000:42) states that a good leader must be able to demonstrate these attributes:

· Tactful, efficient, brilliant and charismatic

· Modesty

· Sense of judgment

· Foresight

· Ability to delegate

· Sympathy and consideration

· Flexibility and catholicity

· Imagination and perseverance

· School of experience

That a leader requires the wisdom that is needed in the direction of affairs is not an expert technique but a balanced equilibrium. It is the knowledge of how to use men, a faculty of judgment about the practicability of principles. It consists not in the possession of specialized knowledge but in a power to utilize its result at the right moment and in the right direction.


Ajayi (ibid) also states some attributes required of an ideal leader to motivate or ginger people for socio-economic development. These include;

· the initiative to start things and keep them alive

· listen with open minds and be considerate of the feeling of others

· welcome the ideas of others and act with understanding towards them even wild suggestions

· bring out the best in people

· easy to work with, accurate, thorough and reliable

· tactful, yet forceful and firm, never quits or complains

· emphasising that each person has a contribution to make the common effort

· be pro-active by planning carefully in advance


Apart from the above, the virtues of transparency and accountability are essential. It is no doubt that the qualities or attributes of leaders will determine strongly the trend of socio-economic development and level or degree of development in that society. For example, a good leader who can exert control over his subordinates may get optimum value from them so also otherwise. The Nigerian experience shows the failure of leaders at all levels to stimulate the followers to the positive path of socio-economic development. The near total collapse of social infrastructure and other social institutions could easily be linked to the failure of the leaders manning those institutions.  It is also important to state here that the styles of leadership will have a compelling impact on the followers. The need to examine the style of leadership that could provide the necessary impetus to socio-economic development is also important.


Leadership Styles

In the absence of a defining leadership style or motivational technique, societal development and goals could suffer and the led may feel resentful, aggressive, insecure, and dissatisfied. Leadership style ranges from autocratic (authoritarian) to participatory (democratic) to laissez-faire (free-rein). Other types of leadership styles are classified as: exploitative-authoritative leadership style; benevolent-authoritative leadership style; consultative leadership style; and participative leadership style (Omolayo 2005:39-40)

These styles of leadership have been displayed by various leaders across the continent of Africa with most of them tending towards authoritarian style than democrat. In fact Nwankwo (1989::v) opines that most African leaders display despotic mannerism with their congenial penchant for using the state as merchant of death. He states further that the mannerism is even compounded by a resurgent political practice of personalization of state apparatus at the expense of the people.  The styles of leaders can indeed be an important determinant in the socio-economic development of the society. For example, a democratic leader may tend to be more flexible and open to superior debate before taken a decision. But unlike an authoritarian or autocratic leader the possibility of robust debate before a decision is made is highly remote. Decisions are sometimes mirrored within a personalized lens-view. Here development is retarded and stunted because leadership style abhors wider scope in arriving at decisions.






 1.  All determination of policy by the leader

All discussion and decision, encouraged policies are a matter of group and assisted by the leader.            

Complete freedom for  group or individuals decision with a minimum                               


2. Techniques and activity steps dictated by the authority; one at a time so that future steps are always uncertain to a large degree.

Activity perspective gained during discussion. General steps to group goal sketched and where technical advice is needed, the leader suggests two or more alternative procedures from which choice can be made.

Various material supplied by the leader who makes it clear that he would supply information when asked. he takes no other part in work discussion.

3. The leader tends to be personal in his praise and criticism of the work of each members remains aloof from active group participation except when demonstration

The leader is objective of “fact minded” in his praise and criticism and tries to be a regular group member in spirit without doing much of the work.

In frequent spontaneous comment on members activities unless questioned and no attempt to appraise or regulate the course of events.

4. The leader usually dictates the particular work comparison of each member

The members are free to work with whoever they choose, and the division of tasks is left to the group.

Complete non-participation of the leader in determining tasks and comparisons.



Source: Hicks H.G. and Gullet cited in (Ogunbameru op cit). Organisation: Theory and Behaviour. McGraw Hill Inc., New York.


The autocratic leadership style possesses far negative aspects because of dependency on a single person. Negative attributes are embedded in the personality, and competence of individual which may generate reactions from subordinates and task effectiveness. While the democratic style though with its inherent short comings offers more positive results because it encourages free thoughts, integrate individuals and possess robust debate on decision. However time consuming and poor co-ordination remains its undoing. For the free-rein style, the autonomy and freedom of individuals and motivational intensity is allowed however it suffers from lack of co-ordination and multiplicity of personality.  


Leadership Crisis in Nigeria and the Search for Transformational Leadership: Problems and Prospects.

It is suffice to say that the major problem facing the development of the Nigerian state is the crisis of leadership. Politicians, scholars, students, social critics, labour leaders and seasoned bureaucrats, even clergymen have consistently attributed it to be the major      problem facing nation-building, integration and national development. An analysis of the plethora of leaders on Nigeria’s political landscape revealed selfish, mediocre, tribal leaders and opportunistic small minded people masquerading as leaders. From Tafawa Balewa to Obasanjo, the crisis of leadership remains the same. Absence of pragmatic charismatic and selfless leadership to steer the ship of the nation remains a mirage. Chinua Achebe in his popular book “The Trouble With Nigeria” forthrightly indicts Nigeria’s political leadership and fails to see one shining act of bold selfless leadership at the top such unambiguous refusal to corrupt or tolerate corruption at the formation of authority which will radiate sensations of well being and pride through every nerve and artery of national life. Nigerians themselves rightly refuse to absolve their past leaders of historical and moral responsibility for the economic and political destruction they have wrought on the nation. The assessment of Arthur Nwankwo, a social critic aptly captures the character and impact of the past leaders on the socio-economic and political development of Nigeria. He began that with an analysis of coercive imposition of colonial structure, which by birth to neo-colonial institutions threw up ‘an enfooled generation of leaders’ (Nwankwo 1989: 144). Nwankwo (ibid) captures the administrations of past leaders thus;


AlhajiTafawa Balewa and his cabinet who confused their ignorance of what was involved in the smooth operation of the imposed institution simply behaved as amateur, sought ideas from their erstwhile colonialist... and made Nigeria a vital consistency of the world imperialist system which consistituted the most binding restraints on development. He lacked the capacity to chart a progressive course for national development because of lack of consciousness of development. His knack of kow towing the imperialist line of action increases the vulnerabity of the entire polity to external manipulation; he was unable to engender internal stability which eventually consumed his gullibity and incompetence (restricted and based on Nwankwo’s opinion).


J.J.U Aguiyi-Ironsi could not seize an opportunity afforded by the 15th January, 1966 coup to reset Nigeria on a progressive and development mapping. Brought up under the most passive and apolitical circumstances of colonialist’s military institution, he neither understood the meaning of politics in general nor was he able to diagnose the specialties of the Nigerian political system whose leadership was placed on his shoulders. He was neither confused nor misled; he was simply ignorant and naďve. His verbalist approach to power politics, and his epiphenomenal formula for Nigeria unity provoked the sordid massacres of 1967; which eventually led to the 30 months civil war (Nwankwo ibid).


General Gowon’s rhetoric about keeping Nigeria one and united, and creating a post civil war just and egalitarian society through the lackeyed principles of reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction, sounded more like a frivolous song of general amnesia, especially when listened to against the background stench of  crimes committed during the civil war. As the then Head of State, General Gowon was apparently the only Head of Government anywhere in the world who had so much money that he did not know what to do with it. The transient national affluence occasioned by the innocent but unsolicited upsurge of mineral resources cast a spell of short-sightedness over Gowon and his reactionary advisers. They mistook the transient flow of petroleum for a permanent future of the Nigerian economy and without conducting a critical analysis of the international market forces which determine the cost of petroleum and its relevance place to national development. It is difficult to imagine how history can ever absolve the Gowon regime for its poor foresight; he was responsible for not seizing the greatest opportunity to stand the nation on a sound footing of development. It was during his era that super-powerful secretaries supervised the native elites predation of the economy through contract awards and the institution of kickbacks. While foreign private investors besiege the nation in an organized loot and plunder, with the collaboration of the native elites.  The oil boom of his era was aptly described as oil doom for the nation (Nwankwo ibid).


The coming of General Murtala Mohammed was revolutionary as well as challenging. He brought a new sense of mission and was radical in his approach to governance; the extermination of the enfooled generation became his cardinal objective. He was however cut short by the inordinate ambition of young military officers, who cannot comprehend the fire brand approach to governance (Nwankwo ibid). The regime was however short to allow a better assessment.


Fate rather anything else remains the greatest asset of General Olusegun Obasanjo, a man who assumes leadership against his ‘will’ but by sheer providence and as such was not prepared for the challenges. He claimed to bring about prudent financial management in governance; he embarked on some developmental projects such as road construction, and infrastructural development. He charted a new course for democratic governance and constitutional development. He however has a pathological hatred for the intellectuals and did not see any intellectual dimension that is germane to national development. His policy actions were frustrating to the Ivory Tower, he starved the University of funds and began the distortion of the educational institutions through untoward policy action. Obasanjo’s regime opened the floodgate of staggering external debt whose adverse effects, persist till date. He is presently canvassing for debt forgiveness which he stupidly began during his military regime era.


Alhaji Shehu Shagari in Nwankwo’s view represents what professor Hussein Alatas (cited in Nwankwo ibid) defined as “the revolution of the fool”. A man whose towering ambition was to be a lawmaker (Senator) but who was drafted to the Presidency by the people who find him amenable to their selfish interest. Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s government did not strive to dismantle the existing power structure and a social relation that has kept Nigerian state prostrate. His administration was characterized by a wild appetite for transient materialism. It was the vicious circulation of reactionary of enfoolment that put an abrupt end to the democratic project and a new phase of military regime. He was eventually disposed by the ever restless military elite led by Gen. Buhari.


Signposts of the Buhari regime cut across several policy intentions which included the desire to maintain strict financial discipline and accountability. Thus corrupt politicians were imprisoned while draconian decrees were promulgated to check excessiveness of circulation of enfooled leaders. For example, Decree 4 was specifically draconic because of its power to detain without respect to the rights of citizens. The Buhari regime believed that he can internalize Nigerians with the spirit of patriotism and nationalism with the policy perspectives of the so-called War Against Indiscipline (WAI). But the regime folly rested on the conceptualization of the primary purpose of government as the imprisonments of activists and other critiques impaired the mundane value of a neo-colonial order. Having perceived indiscipline as the country’s major impediment to development, he thus began with architecting fear as an instrument of governance.  


It was not long again before the fearful regime of Gen. Buhari collapsed under the weight of repression and tyranny. That his Chief of Army Staff, Gen Ibrahim Babangida appeared on the firmament of the Nigerian political scene was an indictment of the perceived loyalty that tends to define the military institution. Babangida’s generosity was a welcome relief from the regressive and tyrannical regime of Buhari.  In fact, his assumed democratic and diplomatic character may have concealed his innermost disposition to governmental irresponsibility.   He turned the nation to a political laboratory and came up with a grandiose political transition that was described as the most expensive transition in Africa and at the end produced no democracy. Babangida with his intelligence and personal charm, his visionary and innovative program could have been placed  in a historical vantage position of a leader; however he was unable to meet it with sincerity and discipline. He thus squandered such a glorious opportunity to register himself in the heart of Nigerians. His evil ingenuity was his unmaking, he institutionalized prebendal politics and made little effort in infrastructure development. The elaborate democratization project culminated in the annulment of June 12 elections, which was purported to be the freest, fairest and detribalized election in the annals of Nigerian politics.


The Babangida regime created the dullardity of Ernest Shonekan, a captain of industry whose business experience holds no water in political terrain. True to type, he was unable to diffuse the tension generated from the annulment, the judiciary finally declared the government as unconstitutional.


Rather than blaming the interim regime of Shonekan for the emergence of General Abacha government, such blame should be on the annulment of the June 12 election. Abacha is today notoriously remembered for ruling with an iron-fist similar to Idi-Amin Dada of Uganda. While the entire country became an extension of his personal estate within the space of five years, he amassed so much wealth than most countries in Black Africa. His transmutation agenda was however cut short by divine intervention.  


The coming of Gen Abubakar Abdulsalam could be described as an accident of history. He neither thought of ever being a Head of State. In fact he was contemplating on his retirement from a regime which has made senior officers to be prone to extermination through phantom coup plots. Nevertheless, the sudden death of Gen Sani Abacha thrusted leadership on his shoulder. He was cool headed and compassionate though he emptied the reserves in the name of democratic transition. His competence in nation building and transforming his immediate environment was not particularly challenging.


The second coming of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo as a civilian leader was believed to be a political compromise arising from the impasse of the annulment of June 12 election. His government recognized that corruption remained anti-development and perhaps the greatest enemy to good governance. His effort at combating the evil of corruption has gained momentum. He has introduced various reforms which are targeted at repositioning governance and the entire polity. These efforts are still to bring about the desired socio- economic development for national cohesion.


The above graphic analysis of past and present Nigerian leaders may not have been a comprehensive nor value free analysis, but there are evidences of massive failure on the part of successive leadership. This does not in any way absolve the followers who sometimes collaborate in the wasteful and predatory enterprise. When and how can the nation be rid of these crops of leadership? Who does not think contextually, both in terms of space and time in the dynamic inter-relationship  of factors, (it) reacts only to the immediate and cannot see beyond, it has a mind that thinks in terms of limited causes and not of successive causes and effects; as a creation of habits and is not critical of the foundation of its own thinking inconsistent and its not analytic in (its) but descriptive (Nwankwo 1989:156) These crop of leaders lacked the mental energy and always follow the line of least resistance and cannot speak at a higher level of abstraction without contradicting reality” (Ibid)


This is not to say that there have not been few exceptions in the leadership cadre in Nigeria worthy of emulation, Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s achievement in the old Western region remained unequaled in the history of productive leadership. Presently, Dora Akinyuli, NAFDAC director general remains a symbol of pride to the feminine gender in leadership just as Nuhu RIbad is performing wonderfully well in Nigeria’s revered anti-corruption machinery- The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).


The Way Forward

How do we solve the problem of leadership in Nigeria? Providing solution to the problem of leadership in Nigeria remains very difficult but not impossible. Since leaders play great roles in nation building and promotes socio-economic development, pragmatic solution to the problem of leadership can be offered as an antidote, this can achieved through:

· The promotion of civil patriotism over local or ethnic nationalism is important.

· The encouragement of an Ethnical rebirth that lays emphasis on integrity and transparency

· The promotion of Social goods for commonwealth over selfish consideration

· The promotion of positive social values and leadership study

· The immortalization of leaders who had done creditably well.

The import of leadership is more synonymous with national development. It is a critical element that makes nation building and development realizable. There is no doubt that productive leadership has eluded Nigeria nay Africa for decades, it consequences are therefore grave for sustainable development.



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