By Tochukwu Ezukanma
Without being hyperbolic, I can state that leadership is everything. It is leadership that builds or destroys a nation. No wonder, the 18th Century French philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau, wrote that “… no nation would be other than what the nature of its leaders made it”.
Great leaders seek power with a sense of mission. They believe in their mission and their ability to change the course of history to the point that nothing, not personal gain, and, not even, their own personal survival matters to them. Bad leaders seek power for personal gains, thus, without a sense of mission or dedication to service. A one time president of United States of America, Richard Nixon, once wrote that: those who seek power without a sense of purpose, but for personal gains, will, at the very best, be dangerous leaders. The problem of the Igbo nation is bad, actually, dangerous leadership.
Up till 1966, the Igbo had good leaders. They recognized the strengths and weaknesses of the Igbo nation. They took measures to harness Igbo strengths and ameliorate their weaknesses. They did such an outstanding job at these objectives. Not surprisingly, all over Nigeria, the Igbo excelled in business, politics and the professions. Our dazzling successes in all facets of the Nigerian social life got the other ethnic groups of Nigeria railing against “Igbo domination”.
Subsequently, the quality of Igbo leadership declined. Arrogance, recklessness and disdain for reason and caution became the hallmarks of Igbo leadership. Bravado and bombast were taken to unparalleled and pernicious heights. Image and make-believes became more important than substance. Showmanship and oratorical pyrotechnics obviated somber reflection in statecraft. The leadership’s all or nothing politics marked by intransigence and disregard for counsel plunged the Igbo nation into a war.
According to General Dwight Eisenhower, “the object of war is victory”. To the Igbo, the object of war became blurry because the motivation for the war was inseparable from the personal ambition of an arrogant despot. He rebuffed series of options for a peaceful settlement to the war and continued to waste more and more Igbo lives, even, as the futility of continued fighting became blindingly clear. These set the Igbo nation many years, possibly, 100 years back; relegating us to the dregs of the Nigeria society.
Now, the Igbo have an opportunity to choose a new leader. In identifying this new leader, it is important to note that a leader is not a manager. A manager/administrator is usually a narrow-minded conformist preoccupied with the exigencies of the time. And, as such, he can only manage/administer the status quo. Management solves problems and improves existing conditions but leadership strives to bring about a new order. Management is prose but leadership is poetry.
Secondly, a leader is not a ruler. A ruler is appointed and/or coronated over a people. To enable him exercise his control and authority over the people, some trappings and symbols of power, deliberately designed to intimidate the masses and hold them in awe the ruler, are fashioned around him. In his elitism, he can detach himself from the mood and sentiments of his subjects and choose not to share in their pains and sorrow. He can therefore live in the comfort and security of a bunker and indulge his hedonic and lecherous lifestyle while the generality of his people starve to death and die from bombardment and superior enemy fire power. He may have no qualms in sacrificing more than one million (of his people’s) lives in a futile enterprise. And finally, as the ravages of war and the risk of death close in on him, he can abandon the struggle and run for his own dear life.
On the other hand, a people willingly follow their leader because he personifies their dreams, hopes and aspirations. A leader is courageous and strong willed. He is farsighted – a dreamer and a visionary. He sees more than others and then labor to bring into existence that which others, sometimes, can neither perceive nor comprehend. Richard Nixon called this farsightedness, this ability to dream, “having the mountain top view”.
Martin Luther King Jr., the most prominent Black American leader of the 20th century was a dreamer. He dreamt of an America where people will be judged by the content of their character, and not the color of their skin. Robert Kennedy, that idealistic aspirant to the United States’ presidency whose life was snuffed out by an assassin’s bullet, was a dreamer. He talked about his capacity to dream when he said, “others think of what is and ask why, I think of what is not and ask why not”.
“What is” is the status quo, and that is the purview of managers and administrators. “What is not” is that which only a dreamer, a visionary, that man with the “mountain top view”, can grasp, and as a leader labor to bring into reality. Leadership sets the moral tone and brings about a new dispensation. It represents a current in history.
We should reject the managers and prospective rulers posturing as the new Igbo leader. We should also reject that offensively self-assertive proponent of Igbo secession from Nigeria that is trying to forcefully impose himself on the Igbo as a leader. In addition, we must reject any hereditary coronation of the new Igbo leader.
The new Igbo leader will be one of us that towers above others because, in addition to his leadership qualities, he has distinguished himself in courage, honor, commitment to the Igbo cause and the willingness to risk his life for the Igbo nation. Thomas Masaryk, the founder of modern Czechoslovakia, once stated that “great political and social changes begin to be possible as soon as men are not afraid to risk their lives.”
He will not be desirous of immediate gratification (titles, unmerited wealth, etc) because what is at stake is not his personal ambition but life or death, prosperity or poverty, happiness or tragedy for millions of his people. He will abhor titles because they confer cheap, unattained glory, and are the obsession of little minds, those that have nothing to offer and, as such, cannot find glory in achievement but in image making.
Great minds are recognized for their accomplishments. Not surprisingly, the greatest men in history do not have titles. In line with the foot steps of the greatest men in history– Mahatma Gandhi, John Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, etc, the new Igbo leader will want to bestow his name to posterity without a title. So, he will be called by his name because he will refuse such empty and frivolous titles as Chief, Eze Igbo and, of course, Eze Igbo Gburugburu.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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