Introduction: This week, I would like to begin a series of articles to facilitate a discussion on the qualities that Nigerian leaders should not only possess, but also embody. Drawing on the works of renown political philosophers like Han Fei Tzu, Lao Tzu, and Niccolo Machiavelli, all the way to contemporary writers like our very own Wole Soyinka, and the oft maligned but silently celebrated Robert Greene (author of The 48 Laws of Power), this series will attempt the synthesize some of the key characteristics that individuals who have studied how to effectively wield power and govern people agree on.

As the month of September draws to a close and we enter the final quarter of the year, it is important to note that whether we like it or not, the next general election cycle is already upon us. Not necessarily in terms of proximity (time-wise), but in terms of all the political posturing and maneuvering that tends to begin as we move closer to the presidential elections. Already, some prominent politicians have started offering their takes and endorsements of the individuals that they believe should carry the flag of their party. Regional groups – with no regard for the prior performance of the individuals in question – have already started throwing their full weight and support behind candidates that are still assessing whether or not they will be competing in the next federal elections.

Meanwhile, the whole world – including Nigeria – watches and waits as the United States, a country that some people believe channels the embodiment of democracy, with statesmen and women that many believe exemplify true leadership, chooses its next President. As we watch and wait and focus on what those at the other end of the world are doing, we must not mislead ourselves into believing that our own politics at home has been put on hold “for the time being,” which is also known as: “now that the 2011 elections are over and the 2015 elections are still a few years away (emphasis on “still” and “few”).

In this regard, as the soap opera that is Nigerian politics concludes its current season, and as we prepare to enter a new phase in our collective Nigerian story, as the electorate – the individuals who will be responsible for choosing the next Nigerian President – we must begin to look around at the potential and prospective field of candidates in order to answer the question that has eluded Nigerians since our return to democracy: What qualities should we look for in our Nigerian leaders?

The Enlightened Leader
“Be empty, still, and idle, and from your place of darkness observe the defects of others. See but do not appear to see; listen but do not seem to listen; know but do not let it be known that you know…” – Han Fei Tzu, Basic Writings

The New Nigerian Leader must be worthy of his station. This worth, according to Han Fei Tzu’s ‘Maxim of the Worthy Ruler,’ is measured by his degree of enlightenment. This “enlightenment” in question, is not used in the general sense of the word, nor according to the wisdom of the leader in question, but on the combined wisdom of his officials – whom he picks for their skill. What this means is that the New Nigerian Leader must be a fine judge of character and a patient individual – as he must be able to thoroughly observe and measure the arguments of his ministers. The leader must also be able to discard his individual desires – so as not to be swayed by his own preconceptions, while adopting emptiness (objectivity), in order to fill himself with the factual pros and cons of every argument, when making decisions.

The new caliber of Nigerian leaders, must be able to understand that although they began their respective journeys wearing the tags of their various cultures, in their capacity as a leader, they must be able to discard their beliefs for facts, and their cultural biases for solutions that will bring about the greater good.
For the New Nigerian Leader to be successful in the governance of his people, he must first succeed in the administration of his officials. According to Tzu, he must make “the wise bring forth all their schemes [and] the worthy […] display their talents” – employing each according to his own God-given flair or chosen field – and as such, “his own worth never comes to an end.” This is because when his skilled officials accomplish, he gets the credit, but in the event that he employs the unskilled (as has been the case in many Nigerian administrations, where cronyism trumps competency) he gets the blame. If the New Nigerian Leader is known by all to be an individual that assigns the most gifted individual to each station, he will be able to make and hold his officials accountable for any failures that might occur in the pursuance of their duties – which are a reflection of him.

When the New Nigerian Leader must make a decision, he must be able to call upon all his ministers and officials (which we agree must be chosen for their skill), and ask them for their recommendations.

‘Recommendations’ because, the New Nigerian Leader must let it be known that at the end of the day, the final decision will be his own – even though the reasoning behind the decision stemmed from their ideas and proposals. Again, he must not reveal his leanings, in the event that he has any; as such an action would lead to a situation whereby his officials might attempt to mirror his desires in their arguments, which might not always bring about the best results.

Finally, Tzu says, the worthy ruler must be as warmhearted in handing out rewards for accomplishments, as he is at “doling out punishment” for failures. In this regard, the New Nigerian Leader must let it be known that his officials may distinguish themselves in their various undertakings through merit, while at the same time show that failure will be promptly dealt with. According to Tzu, the leader must never be too “overliberal in his rewards,” as this might make officials that have received rewards in the past “lax in their duties”, at the same time, he must not be too “overlenient” in his punishments – as this might make his officials take him for granted. He must make sure to sparingly decorate his accomplished officials, in order to show others what lies in stock for successes, while punishing the failures of other, by so doing, setting a different kind of example.

If we believe that the old adage “birds of a feather flock together” is true, then with Tzu’s maxim in mind, it is clear that as we begin to scout out the prospective field of potential and undecided candidates for our various elected offices, we must educate ourselves on our leaders, in order to be able to judge the next generation of Nigerian leaders –the New Nigerian Leader – by the caliber of advisers they keep, and the kinds of people (and policies) that they have associated themselves with in the past.

Note: The use of ‘he’ in this article, in reference to the ‘New Nigerian Leader’ is not gender specific.

Let’s continue this conversation on Twitter, follow me @OluOne. Let me know what you think.

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