A friend recently argued that Nigeria's ruling elite lack the education necessary to lead the country in the right direction and cited the fact that current President Yar'Adua is the first President to graduate with a college degree in support of his thesis. He believed that the lack of education amongst the nation's leaders is the reason why Nigeria is not better off than it is.
While I could respect his stance, and he was very passionate about it, I disagreed with him, somewhat. While education is important, I felt that the lack of a formal education alone is not the main reason why things are not better in Nigeria. I argued that ignoring all the other obvious reasons that could be proffered such as corruption, tribalism, the use of religion as a wedge, and many others, it is the lack of intellectual challenge amongst Nigeria's ruling elite that has been the nation's undoing. In my opinion, the ability to participate in an exchange of ideas, debate them peacefully, agree to disagree and develop your own opinions/arguments without resorting to violence (or something like it) is more important than a formal education. My friend immediately countered that such is only possible in an environment of formal learning. We ended the conversation with an agreement to disagree.
Now, I wonder what is crucial for good leadership? What qualities or attributes would I want the ideal (or slightly less than ideal because after all, no one is perfect) Nigerian leader to embody? I know for a fact that a formal education, while important is not crucial, in my humble opinion. It is more important to have a leader who recognizes his/her shortcomings and is not afraid to reach out to those with the skills or knowledge he/she lacks for support. I don't believe that such an attribute can be obtained through formal education. One either has that or does not. Only life and maybe upbringing can impart such a lesson on someone.
Any leader worth their grain of salt must recognize that ultimately they are a servant of the people and thus commit themselves completely to that service. Clearly, simply having that attribute will not grant success, but I still believe that it is a crucial element of good leadership. If a true "servant leader" can have the savvy and wisdom to maneuver through the stormy waters of politics without being overly corrupted by power, that would be a significant plus. Power has always been a corrupting element and most powerful people have managed to live out the phrase - "power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely." One need look no further than the recent arrest of Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, who on U.N. Anti-corruption Day (December 9th) was arrested in a growing corruption scandal.
Real leaders also have to have vision - an idea of how they would have made things better for not just themselves or their families and friends, but for others, and particularly those who depend on or look up to them. They must not just have goals but they must also have a roadmap on how to achieve those goals. That, I think is an important difference between leaders that produce, and those that fail.
And, although my friend and I disagreed, I continue to believe that the appreciation of intellectual exchange remains a crucial factor in good leadership. After witnessing many a leader clamp down on dissenting opinions and isolate, arrest or even kill those who disagree, tolerance for differing ideas, an attribute that I feel is fostered by intellectual exchanges, is a necessity, especially in Nigeria and other African countries struggling to gain their democratic footing.
By Solomon Sydelle
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