Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Transformational Leadership and National Institutions

By Olu Akanmu

Two days ago, on Sunday the 18th of November, 2012, Dr. Fareed Zakaria was in Nigeria to deliver a lecture at the Airtel Night of Influence titled “African Political Economy: The Challenge of Leadership”. The essence of his lecture was that the challenge of leadership in Africa, if Africa must move forward is that of building strong institutions. I had examined the same theme in a speech I gave at the African Centre for Leadership and Development (Center LSD) in Abuja on the 14th of May 2011.

I reached the same conclusions with Dr Zakaria but further espoused on the problem of “elite institutional capture”, that we must find ways to prevent our institutions from being captured in the self -interest of few elites if we are to build these strong social institutions. How could this be done? I developed further on my Centre LSD speech into a full Op-Ed published in the Nigeria Guardian 24th May 2011.

Please, click on link above or read full Op-Ed Essay below.

While it will always be important to learn leadership theory in classrooms from Kuru to Cass, it should be emphasized that leaders are not made in the classroom. Leaders are made in the real world of action, in the world of life challenges and battles. Leaders are made in the world of conflicts and consensus and of visions and divisions. This is the real world which students of leadership will have to apply their theory to make a difference in society. 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. Leadership learning, whether formally or informally must involve a strong element of leadership theory or a set of leadership paradigms which a leader applies when called to duty. Aristotle’s theory of leadership since 350BC remains relevant in its timelessness and simplicity. That a good leader must have ethos, integrity and moral character which confers on him the credibility to ask for followership. That a good leader must have pathos or emotional connection with his followers. It will not be wrong for leaders to cry if it is genuine. And when heroes fall and followers mourn, leaders must be seen mourn with them. Good leaders must also have logos- they must be able to give solid, compelling reasons for their actions in relation to the common good, to persuade people to follow them.

A student of leadership must evolve his or her own authentic leadership style, which is a function of her leadership theory, unique personality trait and her personal moral and value system. In our quest to lead, we will, in on our life journey have to discover ourselves. We will have to discover our greater life purpose for which we have been endowed with, our personality traits and unique natural gifts. We will be confronted with making tough leadership choices based on our moral and value system. In Nigeria, the crisis of leadership is exemplified by the absence of sound moral and value system at the individual level of leadership which makes our leaders make wrong leadership choices. We need to return to the old values of “character, honour and common good”. From North to South, East and West, the most enduring periods of progress in our communities have been built on these old values.

We have had a “serial failure of leadership” since independence. We might have had occasional successes, but those successes have been small oasis in an expansive desert of leadership failure. Paraphrasing the late Pa Alfred Rewane, we prayed for a better future for Nigeria at independence; today, getting to that future, we now pray for a better yesterday. We have today, a country so blessed in natural resources that cannot translate its blessings to prosperity for its people. We have a country so blessed in human talents yet cannot educate its children. We have a country that produces oil, yet does not have oil to fuel its cars. We have a country with abundant sunshine that yet remains in darkness. The imperative of national transformation or transformational leadership cannot be over-emphasized.

Leadership in Nigeria in public and private sector has lost public trust. In our polity, the electorate believes that the elected are largely acting for themselves and 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 become worthless in the shortest possible time. Personal and corporate integrity in leadership is low. Trust in leadership is little. How then can such 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? 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?

Leaders deliberately weaken our institutions by compromising or capturing them. They do this through appointment of lackeys who will in-turn foist a wrong value system on the institution as we see in the old INEC. Political parties, for example deliberately cultivate relationships with judges and senior police officers. And in business, as we see in the saga of the Petroleum Industry Bill, companies seek to capture the legislature and their regulators to ensure that rules of engagement do not exist, or that such rules exist only in their favour. To strengthen our institutions, we must address four key issues. These include developing the right value system for our institutions, strengthening internal process and systems to ensure delivery of institutional mandate, developing a binding rule of engagement for internal and external stakeholders; and the strengthening of public transparency and accountability of those institutions. In the case of INEC for example, there must be a purge of the old corrupt guard to ossify the right value system in the institution. While the last elections were better than the previous, they have not been totally free and fair given manifest rigging in some states. INEC staff with proven electoral malpractices must be purged and punished. INEC must also strengthen its internal system and processes to deliver the next election without postponement. INEC must see itself essentially as a project organization similar to construction companies that deliver projects within a specified time frame, at specified cost and quality. Project management competence must be ingrained from top to bottom of INEC. Our electoral laws as our binding rule of electoral engagement must be strengthened to make elections free and fair. President Jonathan might have been magnanimous by not appointing a lackey in Jega. Future Presidents may not be the same. The power to appoint INEC Chairman must be taken from the President and given to an independent National Judicial Commision as recommended by the Uwais panel, to reduce unfair incumbency advantage.

President Jonathan would be a truly transformative leader if he summons courage, despite contrary pressures from his party, to push for the full implementation of the Uwais panel report on electoral reforms. Finally, INEC, and all our public and private institutions must become internally transparent to themselves, particularly its staff and the larger public. Lack of full internal transparency is the umbrella that hides wrong value system, corruption, abuse of power and poor corporate governance. These must be combined with a mandatory accountability of these institutions to the public through the institution of a free press and an ethical strong parliament. As we build different our institutions, from the electoral system, free press, strong parliament, strong crime prosecution and judicial system, their individual strengths will become mutually reinforcing of each other. It therefore beholds that the greatest task for President Jonathan and others in leadership, if they will be truly transformative, will be to leave a legacy of strong institutions.

Olu Akanmu

24th May 2011..