It has long been established that leadership recession is the bane of Nigeria’s development. As far back as 1983, the late Professor Chinua Achebe in his seminal book, The Trouble with Nigeria, unambiguously identified leadership failure as the cardinal challenge of Nigeria. In his eloquent but pointed words, he avers:

“The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.  There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”

Some have disputed Achebe’s thesis and threw up one or more of the more familiar national plagues like corruption or economic recession as the challenge of Nigeria. The truth, however, is that neither corruption nor economic recession is the problem with Nigeria. Indeed, Boko Haram terrorists terrorizing citizens in the northeast of Nigeria, cattle herdsmen terrorizing communities across Nigeria, Niger Delta Militants blowing up petroleum pipelines, the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) agitating for an independent Biafra nation, the subtle agitation of the Southwest region for an Oduduwa Republic, the malignant cancer of corruption that has eaten deep into the marrow of the Nigerian state, the education system that is in a state of near collapse, the ticking time bomb that is youth unemployment and restiveness, the alarming increase in social vices and crime like armed robbery, kidnapping, drug and human trafficking, ritual killing, prostitution and drug addiction, as serious as all these issues are, they are equally not the problem with Nigeria. They are only troubling symptoms of the real problem: Chronic Leadership Recession.

By way of example, treating a man of malaria every four months and after every four months the man is back to the hospital for another bout of malaria treatment is patently unproductive. A more productive approach will be to address and resolve the prevalence of mosquitoes in the man’s immediate environment and the challenge of recurrent malaria sickness will cease. Concomitantly, what successive governments in Nigeria have been doing is to attack the challenge of corruption and yet the incidence of corruption has perennially continued to increase. A better strategy will be to address the real challenge of a chronic lack of values based leadership in Nigeria and corruption would be significantly mitigated. A situation where the leadership at the local, state and federal governments is unpatriotic, selfish and inept, no effort to stem graft and grow the economy will yield gratifying results. Unless and until the leadership deficit is addressed the economy cannot grow and corruption will remain prevalent. The implication of this is that Achebe’s thesis is still as relevant and germane as it was when it was first written 34 years ago.

But so long as we continue to throw up visionless, valueless and unpatriotic people as leaders, no amount of restructuring will achieve the progress and development Nigerians desire

The search for what Achebe referred to as true leadership in Nigeria, which can be referred to as transformative leadership began since 1960 and has continued since then right up to the last round of national elections in 2015 to this present time. The historic 2015 general elections in Nigeria in which Nigerians set a new record of removing an incumbent President and his party from power and elected a new President and party to govern has been described in various terms. Political pundits and democracy watch groups have attempted to define the epochal outcomes of the 2015 elections simply as the triumph of electoral reform and a positive indicator of democratic progress. As valid and legitimate as these characterizations may seem it fails to underscore a fundamental message of the elections outcome. That is that the vote and its outcome are best located and appreciated in the context of a desperate cry, by citizens, for the enthronement of transformative leadership in Nigeria. So desperate and determined were Nigerians to usher in results and values based leadership that they chose a 72 year old retired military general and farmer against a young and vibrant 54 year old incumbent President, retired university lecturer and PHD holder. The defining message from that election, therefore, is that Nigerians clearly understand the critical import of leadership to the development of their country and they are willing to make great sacrifices and go to great lengths in search of it.

And so today, your excellences, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we will be exploring the implication of leadership or the lack of it in Nigeria and we will be doing this within the context of the title: Leadership Recession and the Perennial Predicament of Deferred Development in Nigeria. I respectfully invite you to come along with me in the next few minutes on this interesting, revealing and hopefully rewarding journey of discovery.

Expectations Vs Reality

The entire history of Nigeria from 1960 to date can, in a sense, be summarized as an odyssey in search of leadership. From parliamentary to Presidential democracy. From military to civilian rule. From three regions to the present federal structure. From the current unwieldy 36 states plus the FCT to the ongoing clamour for a restructuring of the country, it has all been and it still is about the search for leadership. Again what we are yet to understand is that the challenge is not so much with the system of governance or structure of the country. The challenge has always been the deficit of values and vision with the leadership cadre.

Recently, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar opined that “for Nigeria to develop – or even make any appreciable progress – we must re-structure Nigeria’s political, administrative and political architecture. That way we can free resources that would otherwise go to unviable ventures and projects, then commit same to areas that directly cater for and benefit the people.’’ The thinking and philosophy behind this idea is patently sound but again, the reality is that we can restructure the country as much as we want but so long as we continue to throw up visionless, valueless and unpatriotic people as leaders, no amount of restructuring will achieve the progress and development Nigerians desire.

The resurgent case for Nigeria to restructure in search of solutions is akin to you buying a different model of car each time your driver has an accident with your car. So, today your driver has an accident with your Toyota Highlander. You dump the Toyota Highlander and buy a brand new Nissan Pathfinder. Your driver has another accident tomorrow, and again you dump the Nissan Pathfinder and buy a brand new Honda Accord. The truth is that, it doesn’t matter the model of car that you buy, the driver will keep having accidents with them until you realize that the problem is not with the car but with the bad driver. So only when you finally sack the bad driver and employ a well trained, disciplined and cautious driver, will the frequent accidents with your cars stop. Invariably, when you restructure the country and you still have the same valueless leaders, they will consciously compromise and weaken governance institutions and continue to entrench corrupt practices that defer national development. So in the end, what we will have is a restructured federation with a consolidated class of valueless and vision less leaders who will simply continue with business as usual under a new federal structure.

Yesterday, Nigerians changed the ruling party from PDP to APC thinking that it will solve the challenge of corruption and arrested development. But what Nigerians failed to realize is that they only changed the vehicle but the drivers are still mostly the same and so the results at the end of the day may not be distinctively different. Within the new ruling elite, it is safe to say that only President Buhari and Vice President Osibanjo demonstrate a sense of the values based orientation of the new kind of leadership which Nigerians earnestly desire. For the rest of the new governing elite, it is, from all the eyes can see and the ears can hear, a continuation of business as usual under a new name and canopy.  Clearly, it is not about restructuring or resource allocation. It is and has always been about leadership.

The truth is that practically any system, structure or name adapted will work productively for Nigerians and Nigeria so long as values-based and competent leaders are elected to provide transformative leadership and good governance. To further underscore this point and the invaluable significance of leadership to the growth, development and good governance of a country, let us briefly consider the following facts.

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy – that is a form of government where the monarch rules unhindered without opposition. Yet Saudi Arabia is a very prosperous, developed, organized and well run country. Libya, under the late Colonel Muammer Ghadaffi was a dictatorship but it was also a prosperous, well functioning and developed country where the leadership provided all the good things of life for citizens apart from the freedom to vote. And we know that Libya was a choice destination for many of our compatriots who decided to run away from Nigeria. Singapore runs a multi-party parliamentary system of representative democracy in which the President is the head of state and the Prime Minister is the head of government. Singapore is one of the most advanced countries in the world today. Here in Africa, the island country of Seychelles runs a Presidential system of government with a multiparty democracy like Nigeria but unlike Nigeria, Seychelles is number one in the Human Development Index (HDI). Globally, Finland which is touted as the best governed country in the world is a parliamentary representative democratic republic with a multi-party system.

To be clear, Nigeria is not poor. She is just poorly led. We can go on and on to examine more statistics on education, health, life expectancy, ease of doing business, manufacturing, etc and the data will show again and again that there is literarily nowhere that Nigeria comes out shinning as the best or even close to being the best in Africa. These and so much else are the sad and sobering cost of leadership recession in a country that has been so richly blessed by God

So clearly, the data show that good governance is not purely a function of democratic system of government or the structure of the country. While these are important, good governance is however heavily contingent upon the character of the leadership of the country. As we have seen from the foregoing data, there are countries that are absolute monarchies and dictatorships but are well governed and are high on the HDI. So the challenge of good governance and national development for Nigeria is not the type of government nor the structure of the country but, more importantly, the quality and character of her past and present leadership.

Speaking in specific terms, in 1999, Nigeria returned to democratic rule after a long military incursion in governance. Under the progressive leadership of President Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s quest for development which was showing positive signs of life, was fatally derailed and deferred in the unfortunate miasma of the infamous ‘third term agenda’ project.

President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had good developmental intentions but was too sick to deliver results so unelected impostors took over and again national development was deferred. President Goodluck Jonathan came along with an ambitious transformative agenda for national development and in the short run succeeded in moving the needle of development in specific sectors. To President Jonathan’s credit, Nigeria under his watch rose to become the number one destination for foreign direct investment and the largest economy in Africa. But that was where the story ended. The twin monsters of impunity and corruption conspired to ensure that any further development was deferred.

Nigerians, increasingly desperate for good leadership, ushered in President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. The story of this current experiment in developmental leadership under the watch of President Muhammadu Buhari s still being written and it is still far too early to make any conclusive objective pronouncements on its developmental progress or lack of it. Nevertheless, comments by Governor El-Rufai seems to suggest that this APC administration is experiencing a rough and turbulent take off: “our APC administration has not only failed to manage expectations of a populace that expected overnight ‘change’ but has failed to deliver even mundane matters of governance.”

Resource Wealth, Leadership & National Development

Nigeria is abundantly blessed with human and natural resources. One would therefore have imagined that with all these resources and with trillions of naira earned and appropriated since independence in 1960, Nigeria would have developed much farther than it has today.

Across the globe, resource poor countries like Japan, Hong Kong, Belgium, Switzerland, Isreal and South Korea have managed to excel and develop economically. The continuing position of Nigeria as a third world country predicated on her  failure to develop in spite of being resource rich is not only a prime example of the ‘resource curse,’ but also suggests that there are other vital variables other than resources that indicate a country’s economic growth and development.  To this end, experts argue that “resource-rich countries often do not pursue sustainable growth strategies. They fail to recognize that if they do not reinvest their resource wealth into productive investments above ground, they are actually becoming poorer. Political dysfunction exacerbates the problem, as conflict over access to resource rents gives rise to corrupt and undemocratic governments.” In simple terms, resource wealth rather than stimulate rapid economic development tends to encourage leaders to act in unproductive ways that compromise governance institutions and ultimately undermine national development.

Impact of Governance & Governance Institutions

There are four factors that facilitate economic growth and development in any given country, namely:

  1. Leadership
  2. Institutions
  3. Culture
  4. Resources

Evidently, Nigeria has done well in terms of resource wealth (human, financial and natural). Nigeria has equally faired reasonably well in terms of culture. The only areas that Nigeria has perennially failed to impress are in leadership and institutions.  The fact that Nigeria has now been practicing multiparty democracy for nearly two decades, is significantly resource rich and is equally culturally rich and diverse yet still has an economy that is largely in disarray sufficiently proves two points: one, that democracy and resource wealth are not the panacea they were once thought to be for rapid economic development. And two, that the lack of leadership capacity and credible governance institutions are the critical factors that have perennially compromised Nigeria’s quest for economic development and growth.

As earlier established, it is good leaders that provide good governance and build strong governance institutions that economic growth and development thrives upon. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation defines governance as “the provision of the political, social and economic goods that a citizen has the right to expect from his or her state, and that a state has the responsibility to deliver to its citizens.”

For good governance to thrive, it has to be underguided by critical institutions of governance which must evince fundamental principles like: rule of law, transparency, responsiveness, consensus orientation, equity and inclusiveness, effectiveness and efficiency, accountability and Participation. Because governance institutions are durable, they do not end nor change when there is a change in leadership. Institutions in the words of North “are the rules of the game in a society, the humanly devised constraints that shape human interaction. They structure incentives in human exchange, whether political, social or economic.”

That is why strong governance institutions enable and indeed compel leaders to govern well.  Experts agree that ‘Governance matters for sustainable development because it holds the key to building stable and secure societies and drives inclusive growth within the finite boundaries of our planet over the long term. Fair, reliable, and accountable governing institutions build trust between people and government. Such institutions need to be free of corruption. Meaningful engagement and participation of citizens in shaping decisions which impact on them is also important, as is the existence of independent institutions which can hold government to account.

In this regard, the story of Singapore is quite compelling. It is the single-minded, transformative leadership vision of Lee Kuan Yew to build, sustain and strengthen governance and governance institutions in the small island nation of Singapore that remarkably took that country from a corrupt, inefficient and poor third world country to become the global financial center, beautiful, efficient, functional and prosperous first world nation that we all admire today. The story of Singapore stands as a powerful metaphor and testament of the compelling capacity of leadership to transform, revive and infuse life into hitherto broken and failed nations.

By contrast, the reality in Nigeria over the last few decades has been that of increasingly weak institutions of governance, poor governance and selfish leadership. The manifestation of which is evident when leaders do not obey court orders; when citizens perceive the judiciary as selling justice to the highest bidder; when civil and public servants will not do their job except they are induced with bribes; when the police is so demoralized and broken that they are incapable of performing their invaluable role of securing and protecting the lives and properties of citizens. In response to which, rather than strengthen the police, government has instead compounded the problem by establishing all manners of quasi security agencies performing amorphous roles across the country. In such a chaotic environment, it is difficult for an informed foreign or local investor to make the decision to invest in Nigeria except of course they are ready to compromise on integrity and swim in the cesspit of corruption. Under these seamy conditions, national development suffers because of the failure of leadership to build strong and reliable governance instructions.

Indicators of Leadership Recession in Nigeria

There are numerous views as to the variables that indicate leadership recession in Nigeria. Opinions equally differ as to the legitimacy of these views. Nevertheless, there is broad consensus around a few of the more common variables that indicate leadership recession in Nigeria. These include but are not limited to:

  1. Broken leadership recruitment system;
  2. Weak leadership capacity;
  3. Inadequate and mostly inexistent system of leadership mentoring and preparation;
  4. Poor education and enlightenment;
  5. Crises of values in Nigeria;
  6. Ineffectual governance institutions;
  7. Citizens indifference, apathy and reluctance to hold leaders accountable;
  8. Misapplication of the federal character and quota system law;
  9. Convoluted politics
  10. Unproductive reward system

Cost of Leadership Recession in Nigeria

Nigeria as we have established is rich in natural resources and cultural diversity. Nigeria also claims to be the Giant of Africa, probably due to its expansive geographical size, huge population and enormous financial and natural resources. The sad reality, however, is that all of these advantages have not positively impacted national development and the well being of citizens. So Nigeria may continue to call herself the giant of Africa but the truth is that leadership recession, as the facts show,  has long cost her that lofty status.  Let us quickly examine the relevant data:

  1. In the Human Development Index (HDI), which is a comparative measure ofwell being, life expectancy, literacy, education, and standards of living for countries, Nigeria is ranked as number 22 in Africa. Seychelles, Mauritius Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, in that order, take the first to fifth position in Africa.
  2. The Mo Ibrahim Africa Governance Index (AGI) places Mauritius, Cape Verde, Botswana, South Africa  and Seychelles as the top 5 best governed African countries while it places Nigeria, Sudan, Chad, Somalia, and Angola as the bottom worst governed countries in Africa.
  3. In the table of the richest countries in Africa by GDP per Capita, Seychelles tops the table at number one while Nigeria comes a distant 18 on the table.
  4. The Economic Intelligence Unit index for “Best Place to Be Born in the World”(2013) Places Switzerland as the best place in the world to be born. New Zealand at number 7 on the index comes out as the best place to be born in Africa. Out of the 80 countries in the world that were surveyed, our dear country, Nigeria, which claims to be the Giant of Africa comes in at number 80 on the index. Which means Nigeria is the worst place a child can be born in Africa and in the world. To put this piece of data into proper perspective and show how disconcerting this report is, consider that, war torn Syria, sanction crippled Iran, separatist conflict laden Ukraine, Egypt that is still struggling to shake off the haunting shadows of the Arab Spring, Angola that is only just emerging from the scars of 3 decades of war and Kenya that is struggling with a GDP that is far less than that of Lagos state, all came in ahead of Nigeria as better places to be born.
  5. The Mundi Index of percentage of population living below the poverty line shows that Egypt, Algeria, Uganda, Ghana and Namibia have the lowest percentage of their populations living below the poverty line in Africa while Chad, Liberia, Congo Democratic Republic, Sierra Leone and Nigeria are listed as the countries with the highest percentage of population living below the poverty line in Africa.

To be clear, Nigeria is not poor. She is just poorly led. We can go on and on to examine more statistics on education, health, life expectancy, ease of doing business, manufacturing, etc and the data will show again and again that there is literarily nowhere that Nigeria comes out shinning as the best or even close to being the best in Africa. These and so much else are the sad and sobering cost of leadership recession in a country that has been so richly blessed by God. As one expert puts it, we have over the years fallen into the crippling deception of “celebrating arrival more than we celebrate where we are going”. Nigeria has become a country bereft of role models. Values have taken flight. The leadership class in politics, government, education, religion, etc has failed to lead by example. They have failed to inspire and motivate the youth. Wealth without work has become the culture and prevailing rule imbibed by both young and old in a country that is desperately in need of a values reorientation. The truth however, is that the real and full cost of leadership recession in Nigeria cannot be adequately captured in a short paper like this

To reverse this ageless curse of “potentially great nation” and begin to grow to become a great nation in reality, Nigeria urgently needs transformative and visionary leaders in the mould of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew. Nigeria needs values-based, humble and selfless leaders in the mould of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela. Nigeria needs enduring, cerebral and strategic leaders in the mould of USA’s quintessential Barack Obama. Nigeria needs bold, courageous and strong leaders in the mould of Rwanda’s Paul Kagame. In short, Nigeria needs inspirational leadership that will galvanize the enormous possibilities, potentials and opportunities, latent and atrophying abilities, innovative and creative energies of the Nigerian people to construct a new super highway to national rebirth and development

Recommendations for Progress

The painful reality of perennial deferment of national development in Nigeria does not in any way suggest that Nigeria is beyond redemption. Nigerians are no different from citizens of many countries around the world, like our next door neighbor, Ghana, who have worked hard to turn their economic situation around through a sustained process of values and leadership reorientation. In this wise, let me make the following recommendations for progress:

  1. Reform the broken leadership recruitment process in Nigeria;
  2. Strengthen Institutions of governance in Nigeria;
  3. Amend the fractured 1999 constitution;
  4. Carry out a root and branch reform of INEC and the electoral process;
  5. Introduce civics, leadership and history as compulsory subjects in the education curriculum from primary to secondary school in Nigeria;
  6. Introduce leadership as a compulsory course of study in year one in all the federal universities in Nigeria;
  7. Reform and strengthen the local government administration and reposition it as an incubator for young leaders with potential;
  8. Reform the judiciary and the judicial process
  9. Enact legislation that mandates Open Government;
  10. Enact legislation to create affirmative action that empowers more women and youth to participate in the governance and leadership process;
  11. Enact legislation to allow for independent candidates in all elections in Nigeria.
  12. 12. Enact legislation to lower the age requirement for citizens to qualify to contest elections


It has been rightly observed elsewhere that “the tone and texture of the nation’s leadership can only change when our choice of leaders is based on merit and not on ethnicity, religion, population and quota” No nation that chooses her leaders on the basis of these subjective, sentimental, cosmetic and dubious premises can rationally hope to achieve the work of progress and development. Indeed, Nigeria is urgently in need of a competent leadership backed with the authority and management capacity to set clear objectives and design robust strategies to achieve set goals and targets.

The internationally renowned, award winning and best-selling author, John Maxwell once wrote that “everything rises and falls on leadership” Nigeria is not an exception. Nothing proves Maxwell’s thesis more than Nigeria’s perennial predicament of deferred national development.

Nigeria is blessed with significant natural, cultural, human and financial resources to be able to rise and become a Giant of the World, respected and regarded across the globe. Unfortunately, the huge leadership deficit she has perennially suffered since independence has reduced Nigeria to a pitiful situation where she is not the giant of the world, she is not the giant of Africa, she is not even the giant of West Africa, Ghana has since taken over that role. Nigeria is today, only a potentially great nation and a potential giant of the world.

To reverse this ageless curse of “potentially great nation” and begin to grow to become a great nation in reality, Nigeria urgently needs transformative and visionary leaders in the mould of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew. Nigeria needs values-based, humble and selfless leaders in the mould of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela. Nigeria needs enduring, cerebral and strategic leaders in the mould of USA’s quintessential Barack Obama. Nigeria needs bold, courageous and strong leaders in the mould of Rwanda’s Paul Kagame. In short, Nigeria needs inspirational leadership that will galvanize the enormous possibilities, potentials and opportunities, latent and atrophying abilities, innovative and creative energies of the Nigerian people to construct a new super highway to national rebirth and development.

Does President Muhammadu Buhari possess these imperative leadership attributes? Time and history will avail us an answer. However, what we can confidently answer here and now is that President Muhammadu Buhari presently has the privilege, the power, the potential, the opportunity and the mandate of the Nigerian people to lead the historic journey towards national rediscovery, rebirth and sustainable development.

A New Nigeria Is Possible!

Anthony Ubani is an author, leadership and development communication specialist. He writes this column every Friday

Facebook Comments
Previous articleDogara to Politicians: invest in people rather than politics
Next articleEkweremadu Commends FG for 27km Road Project
Anthony Ubani
Ubani is a development practitioner & highly sought after thought leader in leadership, governance, communication & youth development programming. Ubani has over 25 years of successful leadership experience in building strong program development platforms, driving qualitative governance and leadership projects, forging productive partnerships for effective in-country capacity building and program management; executing result-based communications management initiatives; working to support effective youth & women empowerment platforms; strengthening the development of leadership capacity in Nigeria's corporate and political industry. Ubani is a polyvalent professional with a rich multi-sectoral background. A published author and columnist, Ubani is a compelling trainer/facilitator & speaker.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here