One of the hardest things to be in life is a leader. The fate of a leader is the fate of his people. If he leads a group of people in a society, or a large number of peoples in a country, the advantages and disadvantages of his decisions will be visited upon all his followers equally. Sadly, an irresponsible leader is often the least affected when the consequences of his actions come knocking in menacing forms.

Although anybody may desire to be a leader; it is, however, a truism that being a leader requires more than mere desires. While some are born with exceptional leadership abilities; some are trained to be a leader. While some become leaders by heirship; some leaders are elected. What’s more, however, is the innate content of a would-be leader. The innate content of a man is his character. His character is distinct from his reputation. For reputation is most times a facade – a smokescreen created to conceal and deceive. But a person’s character is internal and eternal.

From a personal viewpoint, the character of a leader-to-be should be an integral determinant before he is elected or chosen. For we can predict what a man would likely become when he becomes a leader if we know his character as a follower and an ordinary man. For instance, a man who has little or no interest in reading cannot really be expected to develop an affinity for reading when he is chosen or elected to lead. In the same vein, a bigot pre-leadership is invariably a bigot during leadership. Likewise, an ethnic jingoist pre-leadership is an ethnic jingoist during leadership. Worse still, an oppressor pre-leadership is an oppressor during leadership.

There is hardly a time when people outgrow their character when given power or elected to a position of power. In fact, the case is usually the unbridled manifestation of their innate self.

The mistake people make often is to evaluate a would-be leader, or anybody for that matter, on the basis of reputation – not character. And unlike a person’s character, a person’s reputation is the most misleading basis for evaluation. A reputation can be easily created and doctored. A reputation is like an audience-specific movie; it is often created to appeal to people’s convictions, or as is usually the case in politics – public opinion.

While I understand that there are people who are truly deserving of their reputation, I must also mention that there are more people whose reputations are ephemeral smokescreens. And that is why it always seem as though power changes people. That is untrue. Power does not change people. You just do not know them enough. Or, it is perhaps incredulous for you to see them in their distasteful and acerbic light – wicked and impassible. For when it seems as though leaders change after being elected or chosen to lead, the truth is that they were able to successfully hide their innate self behind the toga of the reputation that was created for them. And that is why the place of character in choosing or electing a leader must be emphatically prioritised.

Do not get me wrong: the other things matter, too, when choosing or electing a leader. But it is more important to always remember that character is a foundational determinant. The character of the man will determine what his reign would look like. His character will determine his policy direction and cabinet makeup. Just like no ideology is formed in isolation of its maker, no leader leads in isolation of his character. So when choosing or electing a leader, there can be no mistake in evaluating him for that which he aspires to become on the basis of his character.

What’s more, character is very contagious. That is why many leaders become utterly corrosive after being elected or chosen. And when leaders become corrosive, they destroy everything. From the very fabrics of their leadership to the audiences that they lead – nothing is spared in their self-invoked hurricane of destruction.

For instance, we have seen how the reign of a leader who was elected on the basis of reputation and not character utterly destroyed the fabrics of a nation’s leadership. Not only has the nation retrogressed, but the calibre of his leadership construct has also become sordidly tainted. For only a corrosive leader with zero leadership capacity, would turn an exalted office of leadership into an office of institutionalized debauching and fouling of the electoral process by appealing to people’s survival instincts with petty inducements, rather than building human capacity for individual, social and economic development. We have also seen, how character-deficit in leadership has revealed the hypocrisy of those who used to defend the supremacy of the law, but now insanely and shamelessly rationalise its perversion through wilful subjectiveness.

Certainly, many instances of character-deficit in leadership abound in today’s Nigeria. For the true test of a leader lies not in his ability to contrive a reputation, but in his ability to embody the truest character required for leadership to thrive.

In conclusion, therefore, it is important that the Nigerian electorate prioritise the unravelling of the character of those who are aspiring for the highest office of service in the land, or any office of public service for that matter, in 2019. The reputation of these candidates who are aspiring for political offices can be enticing, but more than that, their character must be unravelled and deeply understood by all. For the lifelessness and debauchery that we see in power today are the consequences of our disregard for profundity in 2015. This grave mistake cannot be made twice if we truly want a nation that will make our unborn generation proud.

Adebayo Raphael is the National Secretary of the OurMumuDonDo Movement. He writes from Abuja and can be reached on Twitter via @Asorosobioro.