Monday, May 16, 2011

Leadership, Social Transformation and Institutions

Speech delivered by Olu Akanmu, as Chair’s Opening Remarks at the Second Graduation Ceremony of African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development (Centre LSD), Abuja on 14th May 2011

The Honourable Minister of Information and Communication, the Special Assistant to the President on Millennium Development Goal, key note Speaker and Chairman of the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission, the Executive Director and Board Members of Centre LSD, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.

I congratulate the African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development on the second graduation ceremony of its leadership program. I also congratulate graduates of the program. I have been privileged to see the curriculum and content of the course you have done. I make bold to say that it compares well with the best of leadership courses in civil society and in business anywhere in the world. While I congratulate you, I will like you to note that leaders are not made in the classroom. Leaders are made in the real world of action. Leaders are made in the world of life challenges and battles. Leaders are made in the world of conflicts and consensus. Leaders are made in the world of visions and divisions; the world in which you will have to apply the theory that you have learnt to make a difference in society. While an Engineering student could attend an engineering course, and conclude on graduation, that I am now an Engineer, a leadership student cannot on graduation say that I am now a leader. The best he or she could say is that I am now prepared for leadership. Leadership is “lifelong learning in action”. I repeat leadership is “lifelong learning in action”. It is a discipline that educators call “Action learning” or learning in practice. We however, know that there is no great practice without great theory. By participating in this program, you now have the theory to practice leadership, to accelerate your leadership learning on the journey of life.

Yet, you will not all lead the same way in spite of the fact that you have been on the same program. Each one of you must evolve his or her own authentic leadership style, which is a function of your leadership theory, your unique personality trait and your personal moral and value system. In your quest to lead, you will, in your life journey have to discover yourself. You will have to discover your greater life purpose for which you have been endowed with, your personality traits and unique natural gifts. You will be confronted with making tough leadership choices based on your moral and value system. In Nigeria, the crisis of leadership is the absence of sound moral and value system at the individual level of leadership which makes leaders in public and private sector make wrong leadership choices. I am sure that the distinguished key note speaker today, Dr Sam Amadi, will do justice to this subject.

Leadership is all about making a positive difference for the greater good of all, for our family, our community and our country. This is my very simple definition of leadership. If we apply this definition to Nigeria, we will conclude that we have had a “serial failure of leadership” since independence. Yes, we have had occasional successes, but those successes have been small oasis in an expansive desert of leadership failure.

We see a country so blessed in natural resources that cannot translate its blessings to prosperity for its people. We see a country so blessed in human talents yet cannot educate its children to liberate the fullest of their potential to contribute to their society. We see a country that produces oil, yet does not have oil to fuel its cars. We see a country with abundant sunshine that yet remains in darkness. The imperative of national transformation or transformational leadership which is the theme of this program cannot be over-emphasized.

Leadership in Nigeria in public and private sector has lost public trust. In our polity, the electorate believes largely that the elected largely act for themselves, in their own self interest. Our politicians are not statesmen. In the private sector, we see the betrayal of public trust by business leaders when they cook the books and produce accounting reports that do not reflect the true health of their business, making the gullible public invest in their corporations, only for those shares to be worthless in the shortest possible time. Personal and corporate integrity in leadership is low. Trust in leadership is little. How then can a leadership that is not trusted galvanize the people and mobilize them to use their entire GOD–given potential for the progress and transformation of their society? I am sure that our key note speaker will address this subject.

Finally, distinguished ladies and gentlemen; great societies cannot exist without strong institutions that ensure that individual rational economic agents have the incentives to do the right thing and act in the right way. In politics for example, a strong electoral institution, free and fair participatory democracy ensures that politicians who have acted only in their self-interest are voted out in the next electoral cycle. The judicial and law enforcement institutions also ensure that those who commit crime or steal public funds gets caught, prosecuted and punished, as an incentive or deterrent against corruption. In the private sector, our regulatory and market institutions would also ensure that our corporations are governed well for the greater good of shareholders who owned the companies and the larger society. This is unlike our recent experience where corporations have been largely governed for the good of corporation managers alone. In Nigeria, one would have to ponder “why is it that our institutions have not worked?” Why have our institutions remained perpetually weak and allow our economic players to consistently do the wrong things and keep acting with impunity? Could it be that our leaders deliberately create or weaken our institutions to allow their continuous impunity? If that’s what our leaders want, what must we as followers do to frustrate their attempt to weaken our institutions? What must we collectively do to build strong social, political and economic institutions? I believe these are the challenges of transformational leadership for Nigeria, which our distinguished key note speaker will address.

Ladies and gentlemen, I congratulate African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development, the graduating students and all of us who have come to rejoice with them.

Thank you.