Lessons on Leadership

I love airports, even Nigeria’s. On some days they have all the features of a motor park and on others, they shed off a little bit of these. I love it when I’m able to arrive in time to check in for my flight and then find a room to squeeze my tiny body, let my eyes sweep the varied personalities that litter the available space, and think. Yes, think! That seems to be all I can do when I’ve time to spare. I’m thinking of yesterday.

Yesterday, the world celebrated Barack Obama’s electoral victory and accompanying speech while his photograph dotted the cyber space. In Nigeria, virtually all my social media friends had something to say. It was either they cursed Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, the president, the politicians or they noted the marital bliss of the Barack-Michelle duo. In fact one admittedly posted “I wish I was American.” Yesterday, a colleague and friend told me “Charles, we contributed to Obama’s victory. We were there as part of the strategy team.” He was referring to a meeting he and I attended almost two months to November 5.

It was in October when Mohammed and I had the privilege of being invited to be part of America’s celebrated democratic process. The venue was the City Hall in Philadelphia and the meeting was a strategy session hosted by some members of one of The Mayor’s commissions. We arrived when the meeting had just begun and seats were made for us. It was a very communal meeting that had one major agenda, which was to get Barack Obama back to the White House. The means was to successfully mobilize against the voter identification brouhaha that the Pennsylvania Government was championing alongside other states as well as to also get people out to vote. At the meeting were diverse professionals with ancestral roots traceable to many countries of the world. Mohammed and I had a chance of being officially introduced and I was happy to hear them say “…from Nigeria.” After the meeting we got around to meet some of the attendees, including Nigerians, among who was an Efik woman, my “village woman.” Incidentally, she happened to have a cousin working in my organization. It was a lovely evening, after a hectic day of business meeting.

When I arrived New York from Philadelphia and sat down with my brother to discuss the American elections, he was nostalgic about Nigeria. He reminded me how, as children then, we were used to rig elections in favour of National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Since then he had never voted in any election, though he seemed inclined to vote in the coming one. When I asked him whom he would likely vote for between Obama and Romney, he admitted that he wished he didn’t have to make the choice, but that Obama stood greater chance of getting his vote. Later that day when I went to honour a dinner invitation from a friend, the discussion was entirely on Romney. My brother and the friend knew each other’s stand, in spite of the shared friendship. Both sides had their strong reasons and stance, but knew that their love for each other was deeper than politics.

As I look back to the zest that Nigerians expressed about the United States elections I feel a civic burden and share the anger of many who wished things were different in Nigeria. This morning, I expressed a deep-seated wish to a friend. “I wish we could exchange Jonathan for Obama,” I muttered. She quickly added, with undeniable seriousness “And bring Michelle too.” I nodded limply, with total agreement. But somewhere, beneath my consciousness, the proverb “as you make your bed, so you lie on it” was throbbing for breath. I shared with her my thoughts about the concept of the critical mass and the magnetic energy inherent in it. Then, I brought up the interest which Nigerians have shown in American elections. I pointed out to her a soft sell headline from a national newspaper that read “US Election tears PDP, ACN, Others Apart.” I told her I didn’t bother to read the story since fights among Nigeria’s politicians were commonplace, but added that my pondering was on our capacity to conceal our failure in the face of American success. She wanted to know what I was driving at. I told her that if only Nigeria would fix its presidential elections to coincide with that of the United States, same date and same year, perhaps there could be some form of transferred redemption as we could be caught by shared magnetic energy. She was quick to remind me of the plethora of obstacles that would attain such effort. I don’t want to list them here since I don’t believe human-created obstacles cannot be surmounted. After all, man has demonstrated such capacity on many fronts.

I believe in Nigeria, but I don’t believe in the present crop of Nigeria’s politicians as a collectivity. I don’t even want to believe in them, except in hindsight. Sometimes I think the bad ones, taken individually, are greater than the sum of the good ones. There is dearth of widespread self-consciousness that is needed to create the critical mass. There is abundant intellectual laziness, such as that which deprives people the capacity to adopt a systemic view at problem analysis and solution. Not that we don’t have the capacity for such self-consciousness, but we don’t consider it expedient to activate. Thus, we perish because of the non-use of knowledge, rather than its lack. After a few days, America will move on, the memory of the elections would have faded and we would willy-nilly prepare to fail the next test that comes our way. Whatever lessons we take from the United States, let us not forget the lesson of leadership. That, in my mind, is the strength we need. Leadership that is earned.

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