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Leadership in developing democracies: A Nigerian perspective (2)

AminuThis is the second installment of a paper delivered by Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, CFR, speaker of the House of Representatives at the Council on Foreign Relatons, Washington DC, USA

LEADERSHIP as key to the success of Emerging Democracies

There is no denying the imperative for the success of the democracy experiment in developing countries. Failure is not an option.

A study of the historical evolution of developed nations will reveal the critical role that democracy plays in unleashing the full potentials of nations and in harnessing the entrepreneurial acumen of their citizens.

It is now well established that democracy, along with its attendant normative values such as freedom, equality and respect for the rule of law and for due process are vital to the enduring development of nations.

The absence of these values in the early stages of the evolutionary cycle of most developing nations has been cited as a major factor in their underdevelopment.

Their subsequent embrace of these values was therefore informed by a desire to sign on to a system that has proved so useful and so successful in the Northern hemisphere. It is, therefore, imperative that these countries stay the course no matter how difficult the journey.

Clearly a lot of work remains to be done before the developing democracies can enjoy the developmental dividends of democracy.

This is where leadership comes in. Leadership plays a key role in the successful nurturing of the democratic system to maturity. Visionary and committed leadership is the principal element that will ensure that the system serves as a veritable vehicle for the attainment of the socio-economic aspirations of the citizens.

The essence of the democratic system of governance is representation. The people in their wisdom choose (by election) a few individuals to represent them, to take decisions in their stead, to take actions on their behalf, to lead them. It is these individuals chosen by the people to represent their interest that constitute the political leadership of the State.

Thus, in a democracy, representation is leadership, and true leadership is effective representation. This brand of leadership is a trust.

The leaders are servants of the people, and are supposed to exercise their power and authority in the interest of, and on behalf of the people, and most importantly in accordance with the terms of the mandate given to them by the people. The people remain the ultimate repository of the supreme power of State. It is the duty of the leadership in a democratic system to recognize that their position is a trusteeship.

This at least, is the theory. Whether it is always works out way in practice is another matter altogether. There is an obligation to not take the integrity of the process for granted, but to always ask the questions whether the leaders were actually properly chosen by the people through the established selection mechanism or whether they assumed their position through a manipulative process that did not reflect the will of the people. Equally important is the question whether the leaders even when properly elected actually represent the interest of the people they claim to represent or if after having been duly elected they proceed to represent themselves and not the people. These questions address some of the core concerns with the integrity of the democratic process.

Unfortunately, these concerns resonate more in developing democracies.

Advanced  democracies

The danger that leaders may get into office through some means that thwarts instead of reflects the people’s will, and the danger that leaders, once in office, may end up advancing an agenda that is not representative of the people’s interest are more potent in developing democracies than in developed democracies, for the simple reason that in the latter, the system is robust enough to absorb and repel any assault on its integrity. Even poor leadership cannot compromise the integrity of a system that has survived for centuries.

In advanced democracies, the people by virtue of their rich history of democracy appreciate the value of the system and are resolute in defending the integrity of a system that has served them so well for so long. Furthermore, by virtue of their long exposure to the system, they have acquired the sophistication to know how to select the right calibre of leaders (most times), how to hold their leaders accountable and how to get rid of leaders that do not represent their interest.

This is not the case with developing democracies where the system is in relative infancy. Here, the people may not yet be invested enough to be enthusiastic about the democratic process, and may not be sophisticated enough to understand the importance of setting standards for the leadership and holding the leaders accountable to those standards. The culture of democracy has not yet seeped into their blood stream as to make them instinctively conscious of their rights and entitlements as well as their duties and obligations under the system. Some citizens may want to do something, but they may not know what to do.

Consequently, in as much as leadership is vital to all democracies (and even to non-democratic systems of governance), it is of much greater importance in emerging democracies. The less experienced a nation in the practice of democracy, the more that nation’s democracy requires qualitative leadership.

There is also the crucial matter of economics. It is not a coincidence that, as we noted above, democracy in its most advanced form is practiced in the economically advanced nations. The citizens of the developed nations having overcome the challenges of basic subsistence are better equipped and better disposed to focus on the dynamics of the democratic system, and better educated to appreciate that the supreme power resides with them. In developing democracies, on the other hand, the people are still too preoccupied with daily existential challenges to devote much attention to political matters. They end up denying themselves of the exercise of powers that are legally and naturally theirs.

A Nigerian Perspective: I have not forgotten that I am supposed to be presenting a Nigerian perspective in this discourse. However, I have more or less travelled a general non-particularized path because the problems of emerging democracies are essentially uniform and there is really not a Nigerian perspective different from the perspective of other developing democracies.

In terms of nature and definition of the challenges confronting emerging democracies, Nigeria is not unique. Nigeria is confronted with the same challenges of leadership and governance as other developing democracies coping with political, economic, socio-cultural contradictions. However, it is in the matter of scale that Nigeria tends to stand apart. Nigeria is one of the largest of the world’s developing nations. It is the most populous nation in Africa, with a population of over 160 million people, comprising over 400 languages and a multiplicity of cultural and religious diversities. Nigeria is certainly one of the most complex developing democracies in the world. Consequently, challenges that are common to all developing nations are amplified and exaggerated in the case of Nigeria. This is also the case with the challenges to democracy. This in turn means that leadership in the Nigerian democratic experience is often more challenging than in other nations of similar status. Thus while it may often appear as if Nigeria’s democracy has a unique set of problems, the truth is that it is the same problems that exist elsewhere, just that in Nigeria, our size, complexity and geo-political importance give our problems a much larger dimension.

There is a paradox in the dynamics of leadership in that leadership can be both a problem and the solution to problems. This is the case with leadership in developing democracies. On one hand, one of the problems confronting developing democracies is leadership. The wrong people have often assumed positions of leadership in these nations and instead of engendering the progress of democracy have served to retard the progress of democracy.  On the other hand, even the most well-intentioned leadership in developing democracies has to contend with several intractable problems that make effective leadership almost impossible.

The full range of problems that continue to burden the people and challenge the leadership of Nigeria, and other developing democracies, may be categorized into:

•Political Problems including weak political institutions, weak democratic culture which leads to political instability, and political apathy on the part of the people, which makes room for the emergence of the wrong caliber of leaders.

•Economic Problems including poverty, unemployment, weak resource base and attendant low revenue profile, weak infrastructural base, etc

•Social problems including insecurity, corruption and separatist mentality fuelled by ethnic, religious and cultural differences that are a feature of most nations but are most pronounced in developing nations.

Governance challenges

Some of these problems defy mono-categorization. For instance illiteracy can be both an economic and a social problem, while corruption comfortably fit into all three categories. These problems conspire to present severe governance challenges that often overwhelm the leadership with the effect that good leaders get demoralized and voluntarily leave public office; bad leaders take advantage of the situation to entrench themselves in office, and the quality leadership material that abounds outside the system gets discouraged from aspiring to political leadership. This last point is a particularly dangerous phenomenon. Democracy cannot thrive in a society where the best talents refuse to get involved in the enterprise.

The leadership of Nigeria’s democracy, like their counterparts in other developing democracies, are battling all these monsters, to varying degrees of success.

One interesting challenge for growth of democracy in developing countries is that the people have been slow to make the psychological and structural pivot away from the ‘Big Man’ leadership model characterised by a dominant authoritarian figure wielding unlimited powers and whose tenure of office lasts for the duration of their natural life. Citizens of some emerging democracies still struggle with the idea of leaders having circumscribed powers and serving for circumscribed tenures. This is a serious mental block to wholesale popular embrace of the tenets democracy ethos in many emerging democracies. Fortunately for Nigeria, our people are sophisticated enough to make that pivot and are now less inclined to tolerate any manifestation of ‘Big Man’ leader mentality. Democracy is taking root in Nigeria.

Anthony-Claret Onwutalobi
Anthony-Claret Onwutalobi
Anthony-Claret is a software Engineer, entrepreneur and the founder of Codewit INC and CEO of Portia Web Solutions. Mr. Claret publishes and manages the content on Codewit Word News website and associated websites. He's a writer, IT Expert, great administrator, technology enthusiast, social media lover and all around digital guy.

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