President of the Senate, Federal Republic of Nigeria

At the International Conference on Leadership,

Organised by the Leadership Institute, Nigeria,

On 17th -21st September, 2001 on the Theme:

“Contemporary Challenges of Leadership” at the

ECOWAS International Conference Hall, Asokoro,

Abuja, Nigeria

It gives me much pleasure to be here today, to participate in this International Conference On Leadership, organised by the Leadership Institute of Nigeria. May I straight away congratulate the Institute on their choice of theme – Contemporary Challenges facing Leadership. The theme is most current and appropriate. It points to the heart of a major affliction preying on Africa and the world. I welcome our international speakers to this conference. I hope you take some time out of your busy schedule to enjoy the hospitality of our people.

Leadership is a study in irony. It is an invaluable strategic resource so much needed by man, but its production is often ignored by the society. It is ironic that the subject of leadership, especially the formal systematic study of its character and production, has until recently been a neglected area of rigorous engineering. The emergence of leaders in polities and societies has been left by and large to random Factors. The result of this neglect has not been a cheerful testimony to man’s ingenuity. Those who emerge as leaders are often not the best available in the society. From Hitler’s cannibalism through the myopic self-indulgence of Bokassa and Mobutu to the ruthless self-pursuit of Europe’s nation-states that spawned two world wars, the world today bears the grim cost of our neglect in this area. It is probably a reflection of the society’s relegation of the production of such a vital commodity to chance and luck that a sage once quipped that “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

We must thank this conference and Nigerian’s Leadership Institute for this epoch-making role in containing the vagaries of chance and luck. This conference must build on other pioneering efforts to chart a predictable course to the nurture of good leadership and must make effort also to define the attributes a good leader must aspire to especially in Africa.

The challenges of leadership in the world today need not be over emphasised. Our shrinking world is daily mocking the limitations of territorial and ethnic boundaries. Interdependence demands peace. Peace is anchored on minimisation of poverty and sense of relative deprivation and institutionalisation of equity. The end-result in every society is the function of eflicient management of material and human resources. Thus, development of society in every material social and spiritual sense is the challenge of leadership all over the world.

If leadership challenges are so tough in the world, they are daunting in Africa. Disoriented by colonialism and dependence syndrome, Africa is yet to acquire the right mind-set to take up the challenge of responsibility and the burden of self-renewal. All the evidence of decay and underdevelopment confront African leadership everywhere- poverty, corruption, yawning primordial divides, and the reluctance of our various ethnic nationalities to melt into larger plural societies. However, I must say that any excuse for the continuation of this situation is no longer tenable. To blame foreign enemies after decades of independence is escapist. We must pull our selves up by our boot-straps. A people who shun their responsibility and betray their present are condemned to mortgage their future.

The greatest want of Africa today is not financial want but want of true and capable leaders. We must produce men who draw their strength from Africa and their vision from the best in the world. We need leaders whose feet are solidly planted on the ground of our past, whose minds have been methodically nourished on the appropriate skills, and whose eyes are steadily focused on the lure and laurels of a great future. In his comments on the English Constitution (1867) with respect to the monarch, Walter Bagehot noted “The only fit material for a constitutional king is a prince who begins early to reign – who in his youth is superior to pleasure – who in his youth is willing to labour – who by nature a genius for discretion. Such kings are among God’s greatest gifts, but also among His rarest.”

I have no doubt that the greatest need of a would be successful leader is divine guidance, such guidance from God will produce vision; generate dreams and support courage and sacrifice. It is only such divine guidance that can sustain character, commitment and determination to prefer labour to pleasure. According to General Norman Schwarzkopt, “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without strategy.”

I cannot agree less with General Norman because while strategy may fail even as a result of human error, character cannot fail because its virtue revolves around the fact that it commands confidence and trust. “People will tolerate honest mistakes of a leader, but if you violate their trust, you will find it very difficult to ever regain their confidence.” (Mr. Craig Weatherrup, the CEO of Pepsi Inter.).

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I find it very alluring at this juncture to share my experiences so far as the leader of the Nigerian National Assembly – Africa’s largest democracy. On assumption of office in August, 2000, I was inspired by God to set for myself a definite pattern or approaching my challenges, i.e. consensus, dialogue, uniform standard for all my colleagues and sacrifice on my part. My dear audience, this approach enabled me to reduce the friction between the Legislature and the Executive and indeed helped me to contribute my own quota towards stabilizing the entire political system. On the other it did not insulate me from attacks from within and outside the National Assembly.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the point I am trying to make is that the leaders in Africa have peculiar challenges, i.e. the challenges of ethnicity, nepotism and self-centeredness, this is to say that in Africa and in particular in Nigeria the performance of leaders are not measured by their genuine efforts rather the encouragement and support any leader could muster would depend on what tribe he is, who are his mentors or sponsors and how many pockets are fed from his office. The resultant effect of these is the complete lack of National consciousness with its attendant absence of patriotism. 

The implication of this is that we have citizens without a country. This is so because any individual without national consciousness or commitment to any particular nation is indeed stateless. My brothers and sisters, may I ask – which leader can rise above these odds except by divine enablement coupled with the active support of co-compatriots? May I assert at this juncture that the credit and glory of my successes so far goes to God almighty who not only have inspired me but have also raised to my favour the support of my dear colleagues. My convictions, buttressed by my experiences in offices rekindles in me the belief that there can never be a time a single individual acting on his discretions can succeed as a good leader. Accordingly, I belief that the leadership style that can succeed in our environment must accommodate the following:-

Character and fear of God in order to inspire and secure the trust and confidence of the led. I must mention that such relationship of trust can only be achieved through integrity, honesty, transparency, accountability and self-sacrifice.

Team work and collective leadership – such team work must cut across ethnic and social divides.

Strategy of constructive engagement of all the components groups. Visionary, clear focus and sacrifice are all indispensable ingredients for a successful leader.

Grand fellows and fellow self-leadership, I congratulate you on being the first recipients of such awards in Nigeria. I congratulate the Institute on its vision and trail-blazing mission. For our former Head of State and President, I particularly rejoice with you that you have been singled out from so many, for such a singular honour. I believe and pray that the leadership qualities in you, which attract these awards, will inspire the future leaders of our dear country.

For the organisers of this conference and speakers, I once again express our deep appreciation for your work of a pathfinder. Africa has great potential for world leadership. The future beckons to Nigeria and to Africa. This future asks only for one prize – the right leadership. The right leadership is the key to our great future. This conference will help to provide this key.

Your Excellencies, my Lords, award recipients, participants, gentlemen of the press, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure and privilege to declare the International Leadership Conference taking place at the ECOWAS Secretariat, Abuja, Nigeria officially open.