At the heart of the article ‘Shall the President not wash my feet?’ written by Mr Ikeena, and  published on 31st July ‘09 by the Daily Sun, is the truism that the identity of servant-leadership as practised in Nigeria, at the political leadership level, is manifestly different from its true nature.

It is interesting to note that though the concept of servant-leadership dates back to 500BC in the writing of Lao-Tzu and the more westernised concept developed from the act of Jesus Christ washing his disciples feet, and his injunction to his disciples ‘THAT HE WHO WANTS TO BE GREAT MUST BE THE SERVANT, AND HE WHO WANTS TO BE FIRST MUST BE LAST’, but, it was not until 1970 that the phrase servant-leadership was coined, from the essay written by Robert Greenleaf, titled ‘The servant as leader’

Robert Greenleaf described servant-leadership this way:
‘The Servant-Leader is servant first …. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions ………
The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served’.

From the above authority, the leader first power model is about how to accumulate power, and manipulate people for personal gain, it’s about the amoral use of raw power based on deceit, cunning, hiding intentions, exploiting people. Power itself is the end, and not a means to make life better for others, except the power holder and his cronies.
Dr Keith can find further authority in the book, the case for servant-leadership, who said, “If pretending to care about people is good for acquiring power, the power –seeking leader will pretend to care.  The leader will identify some needs, and will make promises about meeting those needs. But once in power, the leader may do little to implement those promises. In fact the leader may do just enough and only just enough to keep his or her power ……. If the leader can gain power without helping anybody, he or she will do so’.

 The servant model of leadership, on the other hand, is about identifying and meeting the needs of others. To Greenleaf the servant-leader will ask, “What do people need? How can I help them to get it? What does my organisation need to do? How can I help my organisation to do it? Thus rather than embark on a quest for personal power, the servant leader embarks on a quest to identify and meet the needs of others’.

Under the servant-leadership model, power comes from gaining the trust and support of people, and is given freely as a gift.  Power is a means for helping others, and not an end in itself. It’s to be exercised on behalf of others. It’s only a tool, and its true test is determined by the improved welfare of people.

However, sometimes it is possible to think that one is serving others, whilst really using the power model; one might have set out to serve others but become so consumed by power that one ends up having others serve him.

Paradoxically others may set out on the power model, but soon discover the passion of service, and commit themselves wholeheartedly to serving others.

In Nigeria, though the phrase servant-leadership is now a part of our collective lexicon thanks to President Umar Yar’adua , and the Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, little has changed at the political leadership level, within 95% of the political leadership class it’s  business as usual; our identity of servant-leadership is chop- i-chop.


In Nigeria, political leadership is no longer seen as a thing of honour, our traditional leadership orientation takes the form of the leadership first power model, a big hustle, where most gains are ill-gotten, and where the little guy feels the only way to get ahead is by imitating the political leaders –the big guys, it finds expression in mass looting of state resources, purchased mandate, vote rigging, examination fraud, ‘419’, cheating and cutting corners - ‘the Nigerian way’. 

Like changing a bad habit, changing from our leadership first power model orientation would demand a yet to be demonstrated iron clad political will and determination, at the top; and change must start from within our political leadership class - our leaders must do the right thing, being manifest by service delivery to the people, and set a good example.

Centre For Servant-Leadership (Ltd/Gte)
Plot 561 METF Estate, Kado, Abuja
[email protected]

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