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  • November 14, 2017
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I want to sincerely thank you, Proprietors, Members of Staff and Students of El-Amin International School, Minna, for the invitation to speak to you this evening. It was obvious that I must be present here for this lecture, given the way my kids, have underlined the importance of my presence. I would have disappointed them a great deal, if I failed to show up today! And that is not what I would be proud to do. So, Zainab, Aanisah and Mahmoud Modibbo Kawu, I am glad that I did not disappoint you. In truth, I was actually supposed to be addressing a training program for members of staff of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), in our Uyo Zonal office this morning; but I made a choice to skip attendance of that training program, to be here with you at El-AIS, Minna!


You have asked me to speak on LEADERSHIP AND IT’S CHALLENGES IN NIGERIA: ROLE OF THE MEDIA. I will therefore address the issue this way: first, what is the concept of leadership? What is the relevance of leadership in the Nigerian society? And critically, what is the role of media in leadership? It was Nigeria’s greatest writer, the late Chinua Achebe, who once thought deeply about Nigeria’s long history of challenges with leadership failure, and made a very simple and far-reaching assessment. Achebe said: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the land or climate or water or anything else”. Our greatest writer was clearly exasperated with the obvious failure of the democratic process of Nigeria’s Second Republic: 1979-1983. He had actively participated in the political process of that period, and had in fact bee a member of the People’s Redemption Party, PRP; and in the 1983 General Elections, he ran as the running mate to Malam Aminu Kano. Malam Aminu Kano was one of the most principled political leaders in Nigeria’s history; he dedicated his life to the emancipation of the poor people, especially in Northern Nigeria. The politics of the 2nd Republic had been characterized by various levels of failure, which quickly led to disappointment amongst the Nigerian people, and by December 31st, 1983, the military took over power, and we would go through a long period of military dictatorship, for 16 years, until we returned to civil rule in May 1999.



Nigeria is one of the most important countries in Africa, and certainly we cannot be ignored even by the international community. We have the largest population in Africa. According to WORLDOMETERS (, a process of data elaboration by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, Nigeria’s current population is 192.626 million people. That is the equivalent of 2.53% of the world’s current population. This means that Nigeria is the 7th most populated country on earth. Today, 50.2% of our population now lives in urban centres. But more importantly, the median age is 17.9 years. To put it more graphically, 45% of our population is under 15 years; 63% is under 25 years; and 75% of our population is under 35 years. As a matter of fact, those who are 60 years and above, are only 3% of Nigeria’s population! By 2050, Nigeria’s population is expected to reach 410million people, and that would be 4.20% of the world’s population. In 1999, life expectancy was 53 years; and we had a literacy rate of 47%.


In terms of resources, Nigeria is one of the richest countries in Africa, with extensive oil and gas resources. These have brought Nigeria vast sums of money. In 58years of oil exploration, from 1958, Nigeria earned about N96. 212trillion! We are also rich in other mineral resources; we are blessed with some of the most fertile soil in Africa, and only a tiny fraction of that is regularly cultivated. Similarly, we have a relatively well-educated population; and as of 2017, we have 40 Federal universities; 44 state universities and 68 private universities, these are according to the statistics of the Nigeria Universities Commission (NUC). And similarly, by 2017, we have 21 accredited Federal polytechnics and 38 state polytechnics in Nigeria.


So Nigeria has always been a country of tremendous potentials. This is what Nigerians ourselves, and others have always recognised. This is in fact one of the reasons that most of the others countries on the continent, have always seen Nigeria as a natural leader in Africa, especially in building strong states, democracy as well as modern economies. But as we have noted, from the quotation from Chinua Achebe, our country has been wracked by serious troubles all through its history, since independence in 1960. Whether under civilian governments or military regimes, the Nigerian state has not been able to quite live up to its potentials. There had been the extremely low and tragic point of the Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970, when an estimated over two million Nigerians lost their lives. But even in periods of relative stability, Nigeria has had to grapple with problems of corruption, ethno-religious crises, and poor organisation, characterised by the inability of leaders to carry through their policies and programs in an effective manner, as to positively achieve the country’s potential greatness. If we look at economic potential, for example, we can see a disappointing trend, despite substantial human and natural resources. From 1965 to 1980, Nigeria’s GNP grew by an average of 6.9% annually, reflecting partly, the growth related to a limited industrial development and exportation of oil. But from 1980 to 1987, the economy shrank by an average 1.7% per year, that is a total of over 40% for the period as a whole.


So by the year 200, about 7% of Nigeria’s children do not live up to their first birthday; 18% died before they reach their 5th birthday, while those who survive childhood, only reach 53 years of life, while only 38% of Nigerians had access to safe drinking water. With most of our population now living in the urban centres of our country, at least 60% of the urban population lives in slums. We can go on and on, about the situation in our country. But it is leaders, elected under democracy, or not elected, when we had military regimes, that have largely been responsible for these conditions that we have been describing. So what is wrong with Nigeria’s leadership? In recent years, especially during the military administrations, Nigerians began to re-assess their own history, and came to the conclusion, that the post-independence leadership, had shown a greater level of self-discipline and commitment to the common good, than their successors. So there came a tendency, to romanticize the leaders of the First Republic, 1960-1966: Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe; Abubakar Tafawa Balewa; Sir Ahmadu Bello; Chief Obafemi Awolowo and their lieutenants. They had certain belief systems and organised their political parties to actualise visions of development, that Nigerians have continued to valorise.


Yet, it was also the political crises associated with leadership schisms, that eventually precipitated the conditions that led to the overthrow of the post-independent Nigerian leadership in the coup of January 1966. We went through years of military administration and the curbing of the development of leadership in the context of democratic development. The command culture of military organisation, became the ethos of life in practically all areas of human endeavour in our country. A few years ago, when I worked as the Editor of DAILY TRUST newspaper, we interviewed Malam Adamu Ciroma. And in respect to the crises associated with politics, after the 1999 transition to civilian rule, he noted that there had been a break in continuity of political tradition and consequently of leadership tradition in Nigeria, as a result of the long period of military rule, between 1983 and 1999. The parties of the 2nd Republic (NPN, UPN, NPP, PRP, and GNPP), still had some organic links with the values of the parties of independence, in 1960: AG, NCNC, NPC, NEPU.


But the long period of military rule had also been a period of political engineering, that attempted to purge the links with the old political tendencies. The military banned and unbanned politicians; they attempted to create new political values, more in tune with the ambitions of the military. Nigeria saw the emergence of “New Breed” politicians who were not rooted in any political tradition and so found their legitimacy, not from the Nigerian people or older political traditions that the people remembered, but from the military administrations. They were short in experience and because they never had legitimacy, could not provide the leadership for the development that the country yearned for. Nigerian intellectuals and journalists began to lament that we have a major problem with leadership recruitment. This is because we seemed to be recruiting to the highest points of leadership in our country, individuals who did not seem prepared for the positions they occupied. It became the norm, that individuals who had not been known with any pedigree; experience or work ethic suddenly become very rich. And in a country where it became easy to be corruptly rich, such individuals are all over the place! So using connections; manipulating the huge sums they have corruptly amassed, these individuals suddenly aspire to become legislators; governors and even president of Nigeria!


A few years ago, there was a story in the media, of a police officer who was elected as a Senator and on resuming in the national Assembly, discovered that one of his new colleagues, was an individual, that he had once arrested as an armed robber! There was also an individual who had been arrested and convicted as a drug peddler; he used to be a popular member of the Lagos social circles, regularly praised by musicians. The same individual became elected as a member of the House of Representatives in 1999! There is no country that took its own leadership recruitment seriously, that would allow such individuals to find their way to such positions. So we have lived with this problem for a long time and as I have stated earlier, it is one of the reasons that we have not been able to actualise the huge potentials that our country possesses. But some other more dangerous trends have arisen that should deepen our worry. As our country has become increasingly younger, in terms of the demography, note that the median age is now 17.9 years, the younger people have also become more and more disillusioned with the manner that the country is being led. This is a tendency that is being witnessed all over Africa, where the average age of the population is 20 years, but the average age of the African leadership is 65 years! Let me also point out one fact that might surprise us; 75% percent of all who live in Nigeria today, were not even born, when President Muhammadu Buhari was military Head of State! That is how young Nigeria is today.


When a country is made up of a preponderant of the young, then society and leadership must focus public policies in the direction of education, skills acquisition and jobs. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, these are areas of major crises; the school system, especially the public school system is in crisis: dilapidated; badly underfunded; teachers that are lacking in basic qualification and improperly remunerated. Recently, Kaduna state sacked over 20, 000 teachers who could not pass exams meant for primary four students, while a few years ago, former Edo state Governor, Adams Oshiomhole was recorded drilling a teacher through a simple certificate that she could not read! Yet these are the people teaching Nigerian children in thousands of primary schools all over the country. We now have graduates who cannot read or write; and are for all intents and purposes, functional illiterates, not prepared for the world of work of the 21st Century!


These thousands upon thousands of hopeless young people are those who burst pipelines in the Niger Delta; kidnap in urban cities all over the country; do internet crimes; attempt the dangerous sea-bound crossing and end up dying in dozens; and they are the recruits who carry out the atrocities associated with the Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria. They are also the members of cult gangs that shoot themselves, many times as clients of members of the Nigerian political leadership. This picture I have painted is quite bleak but the truth is that our reality is very dire!



“Like Siamese twins, the history of journalism is congenitally bound with the history of the nation. The narrative of the nation is also the narrative of its press. Perhaps more than any other profession, the health and state of journalism always provide compelling medical evidence of the nation. The physician must heal himself first” – the Essayist and Columnist, Professor Adebayo Williams, in “The Nature of National Narratives: The Press and The Evolution of Modern Nigeria”.

The Nigerian media has always played a very important role in leadership in Nigerian history. In the first place, we can even argue, that the media helped to create Nigeria, because, the media is older than Nigeria! Some of the earliest nationalist leaders were in fact journalists, who used their pens to argue for anti-colonial freedom. As Professor Adebayo Williams described it: “The history of modern Nigeria reads like the private biography of these great men who lifted themselves up by the bootstraps to reach journalistic and political stardom”, and in doing so, they helped to give birth to our country. Herbert Macaulay; Nnamdi Azikiwe; Obafemi Awolowo; Sa’adu Zungur; Dr Abubakar Imam; Chief Akintola, to mention a few all used their abilities as journalists to campaign and some of them, like Chief Awolowo, Chief Akintola and Dr. Azikiwe, would make a transition to leadership positions as Premiers and President of our country. It is testimony to the position they occupied and their contributions, that we still remember their leadership today, as perhaps the golden period of leadership in Nigerian history. Even in the Second Republic, 1979-1983, the famous journalist and columnist, Chief Olabisi Onabanjo, known as Aiyekooto, was elected Governor of Ogun State. In the same Ogun state, Chief Olusegun Osoba, another well-known journalist, served as governor twice; during the SDP/NRC days of the Babangida political transition as well as between 1999 and 2003.


The media offers platforms for the interrogation of the activities of leadership in society. That is what the media has always done. In the struggle against colonial rule, the media was at the forefront of agitations and when they time came for Nigerians to fight for the restoration of democratic rule during military rule, again the media moved to the forefront of the agitations too. As a matter of fact, it was the media that became the most consistent opponent of continued military rule in Nigeria! Chapter II 1999 Nigerian Constitution, is the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy. That is in my view the MOST IMPORTANT section of the Nigerian Constitution, which unfortunately is not justiciable! However, Section 22 of the same Constitution, sets out the Obligations of the Mass Media. It states clearly, that “the press, radio, television and other agencies of mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people”. So in respect of the leadership problems that we have spoken about so far, it is the duty of the Nigerian media to hold these leaders accountable. And that is what the media does, in reportage; in commentaries; in editorials; in special reports; in columns and in documentaries and features on radio, television and in newspapers! Over the years, we have witnessed the manner that the media has broken several stories of scandals; of corruption; of the abuse of power and even following the trends in economy, in society and in the day-to-day activities of leaders. In democratic times, the media tends to have a greater latitude for its work; but at the same time, it is also a period of danger for independent action by the media, as political leaders and other members of the elite, attempt to influence the media; attempt to buy off journalists or out-rightly bribe them to look the other way as they corruptly misuse the levers of power in society.

The media have a very important role to play in the progressive improvement of the leadership recruitment process in our country. We must help Nigerians to understand the individuals who get into or are recruited into leadership positions: What are their antecedents? What qualifications do they have? What is the level experience they are bringing to leadership? Do they have the emotional and intellectual capacity to assist the nation’s development process? These are not easy assignments but they are obligations of the media and are duties that must be performed so that we can, on an incremental basis, begin to recruit the type of leadership, that can assist Nigeria to translate its potentials into actually tangible developments that work for the Nigerian people. Where the media shirks its responsibilities and fails its obligations, it would have failed the country. A failed media, is a recipe for the failure of leadership! But the point must be stressed again, and I will still borrow the words of Professor Adebayo Williams: “Despite its failings and manifest contradictions, the Nigerian press is an acute dialectical mirror image of the Nigerian nation…The press as an important ally and ideological apparatus of the state cannot but reflect the state of the Nigerian post-colonial state”. Nigeria has seen too much leadership failure, over the years, we must do things in a different way. The media has a major responsibility for a successful Nigeria!


Thank You Very Much for Your Attention!

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