As we prepare for the presidential and National Assembly elections on Saturday, February 25, 2023, it is imperative for Nigerians to understand that we are about to sow a seed, to make concrete and direct decisions that will determine our quality of life for the next four years. Yes, it is a seed that will germinate and give us back grains, fruits, crops, etc., based on the nature of the seed we have sown. Every person of sane mind is expected to anticipate the natural consequences of his act. Who we vote for and how we vote will determine our security and welfare. This discourse reviews the key qualities needed for leadership, especially at the highest level.
The quality of leadership and governance that Nigeria will get as from May 29 2023 is at stake. There are key character and human traits associated with success in leadership. It is expressed in the language of getting things done, solving societal problems, motivating others, enthusiasm, making people feel good, values, principles, etc. It is the language of yesterday, today, as well as that of tomorrow because some of the qualities epitomise the wisdom generated over human history. They are transcendental and will be in use many years after we have gone. It is about how statesmen speak and think and how they react to issues, adversity, challenges, successes, etc. There is a certain degree of universality of concepts, ideas, thoughts, etc., expressed as qualities in successful leadership.
The theory of change for this discourse is that if Nigerians understand and internalise the inherent qualities that identify and hallmark good and effective leadership; and over the election cycle, use these qualities to evaluate aspirants and candidates in terms of their suitability and fitness for office; then the electorate would have planted and nurtured the seeds of development, economic growth, rule of law and its due process, good governance and improvements in the standard of living. Nigerians, being part of the human family, have the inherent capacity to choose between competing candidates. Each candidate comes with a history, character traits, previous track record, etc., and all these will determine what he will eventually offer to the people.
Leadership qualities to be considered before choosing candidates at all levels include character, competence, capacity, integrity, humility, previous leadership performance, state of physical and mental health, courage and boldness, clear thought process shown in ability to communicate, empathy, pursuit of excellence, initiative, great but implementable ideas, ability to plan and strategise, etc.
Character is the essence of the human person. It is the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual, the personality, nature, disposition, temperament, mentality, psyche, psychology, constitution and make-up of an individual. This is what makes a leader what he is; how he will make, execute policy and react to the society he leads. Thus, a leader who is dishonest will make dishonesty an instrument of state policy; a compassionate person brings the quality into his leadership, etc. Character is vital to leadership; it holds the key to the gravamen of leadership. Character is not developed overnight. It is developed over time and cannot also be changed suddenly except there are hash life lessons or the leader imbibes distinctive lessons in discipline overnight.
Nigeria’s presidency is not a home to criminals who have not been convicted and who simply used the legal system to shield themselves from jail. Nigerians do not need any special purpose vehicles of fraud or persons who have been generally and specifically called out as thieves but they simply hide under the general-purpose legal norms that since they have not been charged and convicted before a court of law, they are not guilty. What happened to the law of libel and slander when a presidential candidate is called a thief to his face and he has not sued anyone? Furthermore, anyone who has forfeited drug money or money he cannot account for its source to legal authorities is not a fit and proper person to lead Nigeria.
Decision-making is at the heart of governance. It manifests in plans, policies, laws, executive and administrative orders. Essentially, a leader’s job description is to make decisions involving the everyday life of the citizens, especially to guarantee their security and welfare. This is where competence and capacity manifests. Competence and capacity are products of the stock of knowledge, exposure, clear thought process and quality of advice available to the leader. These are reinforced by the nobility of volition of the leader. An otherwise knowledgeable and competent leader could make decisions that denude the security and welfare of citizens simply because of negative volitions. Implementation of a noble policy could also defeat its goals.
Integrity in leadership is fundamental. The relationship between the leadership and the led is one trust, fiduciary and of utmost good faith. Citizens entrust the management of their collective affairs to the government in the expectation that the leadership will deliver basic services, maintain law and order, etc. If this trust is abused, then the basis of the authority for continued governance is severed. Integrity is about ethics, values, honesty and strong moral principles. A leadership with integrity is one that has disciplined its passions; practices forbearance and sparingly exercises raw power. Pray, can you entrust your personal business to your favourite presidential candidate and hope that when you come back, he will render truthful accounts to you.
Humility is about modesty, lack of pride and lack of vanity. It is a quality to be admired in leadership, because it provides the leader the opportunity to feel the pulse of the led and as such, properly understand their needs and challenges. It is difficult to be elevated like a president or governor with sirens chasing people out of the way, the national anthem preceding your speech, to still be humble. Humility is a product of discipline, proper upbringing, etc.; it is a virtue and it facilitates governance because the humble leader will not be self-assuming; he will have compassion and fellow feeling. He will understand that he does not know it all and will be ready for consultations while listening to good advice.
Nigeria needs a leader in good physical and mental health. Our leader must be coherent, have cognitive ability and be able to speak on issues without a written speech. He must be able to do one-on-one interviews and cannot shield himself from Nigerians. Definitely, questions will be directed to him from time to time and he owes us a duty to answer them without creating a comedy skit. We do not need a president who will spend a good part of his time receiving medical attention and unable to perform the duties of his office. The days of having a leader who is unable to perform the functions of his office due to infirmity of mind and body but refuses to leave office is over.
This cannot be a comprehensive list of the qualities needed for Nigerian leadership at this critical time. This is simply a reminder for us to draw up an appropriate checklist. The power to choose is in our hands. Let us use it wisely.