It's Leadership, Stupid

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It's Leadership, Stupid!
 

By

 

George Ehusani

 

 

culled from GUARDIAN, November 15, 2004

I HAVE had two major opportunities for international exposure and training this year. In the month of May I was in far-away Canberra, Australia, studying the dynamics of Christian Covenant Communities, and I came off with a rich experience that I believe will enhance my life and ministry. But while studying in Canberra, the Australian capital city, I took note of the environmental beauty, the structural order and the neatness of the city. I was particularly impressed by the way Canberra (unlike many modern cities), is full of parks, gardens and massive woodlands. Rather than a concrete jungle like you have in Sydney the old capital city, Canberra boasts of shady groves, tall trees and gorgeous hedges lining the major streets. About 50 years ago, the Australian government saw that Sydney was becoming congested and they decided to develop a new capital city in Canberra, located between Sydney and Melbourne. They had a vision to make Canberra one of the most beautiful cities in the world and they have supported this vision with necessary policies and legislations which successive leaders seem passionately committed to.

I savoured the beauty of this city and wondered whether any Nigerian leader has ever visited this place. But my joy soon turned sour when I was informed that Canberra is actually one of the 73 cities all over the world visited by Nigerian leaders and experts when they were planning to build up Abuja as the new capital city. See what mess Nigerians have made of Abuja! Did our leaders and experts close their eyes when they visited Canberra and such other beautiful places in the world? What did they learn from the various modern settlements they visited? What kind of human beings do we have hanging around our own corridors of power?
Once again in the month of October I was spending my leave participating at an advanced leadership training programme in the Haggai Institute located in Singapore. It was an intensely packed course dealing with skills, methodologies and paradigms in leadership, and facilitated by some of the best experts in the field. I learnt a lot from the training programme. I believe that I am a little better equipped to respond to the many challenges that face all categories of leaders in an increasingly complex human society. I am looking forward to sharing my experiences with colleagues in the Church and in the Nigerian civil society as we all grapple with and strive to overcome the messy socio-economic and political circumstances which a succession of visionless leaders have led Nigeria into.

While in Singapore I took some time to look around, read books and ask questions on how such a tiny island that is devoid of natural resources became such a developmental phenomenon, and I kept wondering why resource rich Nigeria should remain such a backward and beggarly nation after 44 years of independence. Singapore occupies a tiny island off the tip of the Malaysian Peninsula and has a population of about 8 million. It started out slightly behind Nigeria, gaining independence by force of circumstance from Britain in 1965, and in under 40 years building an empire of superlative proportions. Today it prides itself on being the cleanest state in the world. It has an efficient airline and a sparkling airport, as is its skyline at night. It operates visa free entry for visitors from Commonwealth countries, and it has order, efficiency, control and courtesy. It has about the largest container shipping port in the world.

With no crude oil of its own, Singapore's petroleum refining facilities are among the best and most efficient in the world. Of nations nurtured and sustained entirely on tourism, Singapore counts among the best in the world. From its waking moment to the end of each passing day, Singapore runs an economy anchored on tourism with other arteries of activity equally contributing to a national economy that generates one of the highest per capita incomes in the world.

With practically no natural resource to count on apart from its human population, Singapore is simply a miracle of human ingenuity and enterprise at work. The small island state is surrounded by sea water. It has no rivers, no springs and no fresh water. So it imports water from Malaysia. With no natural beaches of its own, it developed its exotic artificial beaches with imported sand. Its underwater world of aquatic tourist attraction is quite a sight to behold.

The success story that Singapore exemplifies is a success story of visionary leadership. It is about an individual or a group of individuals cultivating and harnessing their inspirational instincts for development. It is about harvesting and channelling economic gains for the common good. Attracting, trapping and tapping external resources to a resource-barren environment for the realization of such high development objectives became an obsession for Lee Kwan Yew, the highly controversial but agreeably charismatic, courageous and purpose-driven founding father and architect of modern Singapore and his immediate collaborators.

Realising such national development goals of any nation demands sterling qualities and unwavering commitment of the leadership. Along the way, distractive elements such as corruption, lawlessness and indiscipline have to be confronted and neutralized. They have no place in a country hungry enough for development. It is said and is indeed true that people are often able to be carried to as far a height as leaders are willing and courageous enough to carry them. In a society or organisation, the combination of people, ideas, resources and time makes up a basket of the potential force available and capable of propelling it.

The overwhelming majority of a citizenry, perhaps 90%, are in this category that watch things happen and get mildly involved. At the bottom of the pile (about 5%) are the group that neither knows nor cares that things happen and so they do not get involved. But at the top (the critical 5%) are the leaders, the catalytic agents that make things happen, that activate the latent force in society. That is the segment that Lee Kwan Yew championed for the transformation of Singapore which in 1965 had little chance of survival as a nation, but which today is rated among the most developed countries of the world. The leader is thus the defining factor in the pace and direction at which an entire group moves and is thus critical to the degree of success or failure of the group's fortunes.

This is the phenomenon that Singapore has so graphically illustrated in its development profile. It is a nation building on its yesterday and tending its today for tomorrow. This is why, without any natural resources whatsoever, it has developed the structures that have helped it to weather the storm of racial crisis in the late 1960s and the more recent threat of the SARS epidemic to its tourism industry. This is why developing an economically viable process of desalinating sea water to reduce dependence on importation of fresh water is currently high on the national agenda. This is why the country has developed elaborate economic imperatives and incentives to sustain stability and growth. This is why young Singaporean adults gladly and proudly give two and a half years of military service to their country and why the young people are currently challenged to come up with ideas on their vision for an even greater Singapore.

We cannot take anything away from Singaporeans and what they have made of their small island state. We cannot but note with admiration the giant strides they have made towards becoming a socio-economic bee-hive in Asia and on a global scale. We cannot but applaud the single-minded devotion to national development that has seen a third world country become a first world country in one generation. Singaporeans are a mixture of Asiatic cultures that have blended into a vibrant population of hard-working citizens who are proud of what their country has achieved.

Back at home we have spent ourselves bemoaning our lot in a land richly blessed with people, ideas, resources and time. We have agonised over how, in spite of all these gifts, we are rooted to the starting blocks where we started the post-independence development race with societies such as Singapore. We may try the escapist approach by pointing to our sheer size and complexities, but 'Singapore' can be replicated in many places to give a coherent national mosaic. As long as we remain saddled with visionless leadership, corrupt leadership, leadership without moral principles, leadership without responsibility and leadership without discipline, so long shall we remain a bumbling giant holding only a basket of potential force.

As long as our leaders aspire to positions of power without any clear-cut vision and programme, for their constituency, so long shall we remain in our sorry state. As long as our leaders assume unwholesome power without any sense of commitment to the common good, and without the disposition to go out there and lead by example so long shall they be consigned to the scrap heap of history. Lee Kuan Yew and others will forever remain the shining stars of Singapore. He may have been seen to be dictatorial and tough-handed in some of his approaches to realising the national vision, but have we not had our own dose of dictatorship? And where did it lead us except that ours was heavily laced with corruption, mediocrity and ineptitude.

Singapore has been blessed with charismatic, visionary, selfless and courageous leaders with a passion for the common good and a commitment to excellence, but Nigeria has been plagued by a succession of visionless, punitive, selfish and kleptocratic rulers! And so when we look at Singapore and such other countries and we wring our hands and wonder what in the world is the matter with us and our country, and why such places are so blessed and we are in such dire state, the answer now appears to me very simple: The miracle of Singapore is the curse of Nigeria. It's leadership, stupid!
 

bulletRev Fr. Ehusani is Secretary-General of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria.

 

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