Leadership and The Challenge of Development in Nigeria – Moghalu

The 10th Emeka Anyaoku Lecture(2021)

By Professor Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu, OON, FCIB.

August 12, 2021

Dora Akunyili Women Development Centre

Awka, Anambra State.



I am greatly honored to have been asked to deliver the 10th Emeka Anyaoku Lecture. The Emeka Anyaoku Lecture Series honors a uniquely and globally distinguished elder statesman, a great Nigerian, a great son of Anambra State, and a world leader that I am proud to call a mentor and friend. As the Secretary-General of the 54 member-State Commonwealth of Nations from 1990-2000, and for two decades earlier as Deputy Secretary-General, Assistant Secretary- General, and Director of International Affairs of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku led The Commonwealth’s diplomatic, political and economic support to its member nations in Africa, Asia, Australia, North America, and the Caribbean with great success over a period of 34 years.

The organizers of this lecture event asked me to speak on any topic related to good governance, a very popular phrase and aspiration. I decide to step back a bit and dwell on the real foundation for the good governance and development that continues to elude Nigeria after 60 years of independence. My goal in this lecture, therefore, is to establish clearly in our minds why and how visionary, capable leadership is the secret but often overlooked sauce without which Nigeria simply cannot achieve the more popular aspirations of good governance.


I will also make suggestions on how we can successfully develop a culture of leadership in and outside government in order to achieve development. We have spent five decades including our 22 years of democracy since 1999 chasing shadows because we have failed or neglected to focus on the question of leadership.


This failure of leadership, largely because of our importance to understand and prioritize leadership and what it means, is why we have politics without governance, and why politics is the biggest business in our country while real businesses and the economy are being steadily destroyed by leadership failure and incompetence. It is why Nigeria, with 200 million people, has only 5,000 megawatts of electricity after 60 years of independence while South-Africa with 50 million people has 60,000 megawatts and Brazil with 210 million has 120,000 megawatts.

The Nexus of Leadership and Good Governance

Leadership is the ability to influence a group of people or unit to actions that achieve goals and by doing so, create progress. True leaders have the ability to envision, to inspire, to motivate, and to mobilize people or institutions for action. A leader must also be able to take calculated risks. In short, a leader’s task is to take societies, family units, organizations or institutions from A to Z or whatever point in the 26 alphabets is relevant, necessary and possible. It is not, as we often misunderstand it in Nigeria, about merely holding positions of power or deploying authority mainly for self-serving purposes.


True leadership requires a kind of character that emphasizes and upholds core values, a sense of sacrifice to consciously forgo opportunities to advance self or other interests, and the competence to bring these values to bear in a manner that creates change and sustains social progress. Dr. Michael Okpara, former Premier of the Eastern Region of Nigeria, was one of the greatest examples of true, transformational leadership


Among the top qualities of leadership, or leadership competences, are high ethical and moral standards, communication, the ability to create a feeling of succeeding or failing together, and helping others grow into next-generation leaders.


For economic, political, institutional development to happen, effective leadership must be backed up by good governance. This is the process by which government and public institutions conduct public life and manage public resources. What is good governance? I believe it can be measured or assessed by its elements. These are:


A. Effectiveness: this means that the government must govern. A government must deliver on the promises it has made or deliverables that are essential for effective governance. These deliverables include, at their most basic, security of lives and property on the one hand, and economic development-human development indices such as health care, education, and potable water supply. This is what the Nigerian Constitution requires in section 14(2)(b) where it states that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. Effectiveness is the most important component of good governance.


A government cannot be effective if the fundamental requirement of leadership capacity is absent. If leadership is weak or absent, it is wishful thinking to expect good governance that is anchored on the primary plank of effectiveness. Leadership in this context includes not just innate abilities to vision, inspire and motivate, but also subject matter competence in public policy and the ability to select, appoint, organize and supervise a competent leadership and management team.


Leadership includes the ability to accept responsibility. “The buck stops here” was a favorite plaque on the desk of former American Presiden Harry Truman. There is no place for the phrase we hear in Nigeria: “The President or The Governor means well but…(fill in the blanks).


Effective governance requires more than good intentions. Meritocracy is an important component of effective governance. Competent individuals must be selected to positions of public trust. Merit cannot be sacrificed in the alter of the Federal Character principle, because we know we have competent and skilled Nigerians from every part of our country.


B. Transparency: governance process, in particular decision-making should be easily visible and open to monitoring by other arms of government, citizens,civil society or the private sector. Transparency in government builds trust between citizens and also helps curb corruption. It is in fact the most effective and preventive anti-corruption mechanism.


C. Accountability: governments should be accountable to their citizens and constituencies, but governments in Nigeria overwhelmingly are not accountable. Especially in a democratic system of governance, Nigerian citizens need to wake up to their power and turn it into a culture of accountability.


D. Rule of Law: This is what differentiates a real democracy from despotism. Government decisions must follow and respect legal norms and due process.

E. Inclusion and Participation: all relevant stakeholders and citizens more broadly, must be included and participate in the government decision process. Inclusion also requires, in a diverse polity such as NIgeria , that citizens of all ethnic nationalities and religious affiliations should be part of government decision-making. Where some groups are excluded, trust between the government and excluded groups breaks down. This works against the achievement of national unity and in extreme cases can breed political and even armed conflict, e.g. the secessionist agitations we are experiencing in our country today.

F. Efficiency: This has two dimensions; First, the efficiency of processes , which influences governance effectiveness, and second, the resources consumed by the government itself relative to results achieved. The second decision is commonly referred to as the cost of governance. The waste created, and efficiencies destroyed by the huge costs of governance in Nigeria across the board, at the levels of both federal and state governments, is a predominant aspect of bad governance in Nigeria.

In all these dimensions of good governance, we see an intrinsic link between that concept and that of leadership. Without the ability to envision, inspire, mobilize, motivate and take calculated, managed risks to achieve a destination, it is impossible for anyone in a position of authority, especially through elective office, to run an effective, transparent, accountable, inclusive and rule-of-law abiding governance unit, whether a local government area, a state, or Nigeria as a country.

Nigeria’s Development Challenge- What Leadership Must Deliver

Our quest for competent and capable leadership for a 21st century Nigeria must begin with an understanding of what such leadership must deliver. This requires us to understand what political theorists term “political order formation”, how the formation of political order in Nigeria was subverted, first by colonialism, then by military rule, by the foundationally ethnic underpinnings of the contests for political power in Nigeria, by the role of culture, all of which has resulted in the inability of a visionary leadership to emerge in Nigeria.

A political order means the political system, structure, arrangement and norms that have governed human societies from ancient to modern times. These arrangements, structures and norms evolve over time. The American political economist Francis Fukuyama has argued in two powerful books. “The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution” (2011) and “Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to The Present Day” (2014) that the three components of a functional modern political order are (a) state building , (b) rule of law, (c) accountable government. Fukuyama wrote on how these components were developed in different countries and parts of the world, and argues that different geographies developed these components in a different order of emergence in different ways and to different degrees.

How is all these relevant to NIgeria’s challenge of development and the role of leadership in fixing it? Nigeria still lacks a modern and strong state with strong, independent institutions and the rule of law. Our eyes are assaulted daily by numerous examples such the extra judicial killings by security forces of the government without consequence, as happened with the shootings of peaceful protesters of the EmdSARS movement at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos in October 2020, and the refusal of the Federal Government of NIgeria to obey the orders of competent courts on several occasions including the case of the Shiite leader El Zakzaky and the trial of the Biafra secessionist agitator Nnamdi Kanu. These examples establish clearly that the rule of law is weak or absent and real accountability as a characteristic of governance simply does not exist. If there was any iota of accountability in governance in Nigeria, we would not have the humongous levels of corruption we have in our country. Although we are meant to be a democracy, we are in reality a pseudo-democracy.

Nigeria today utterly lacks state capacity which signifies a strong modern state as identified by Fukuyama as the first component of political order. State capacity means the capacity of the state and its government to secure its territory and its citizens, to extract resources for development through efficient and effective taxation, and to provide administrative services efficiently and effectively (service delivery).

The evolution of political order in Nigeria was short circuited by the colonial experience which prevented the development of endogenous systems of societal organization and governance, which is necessarily unique to every society. Second, the British amalgamated the northern and southern protectorates in 1914, and ultimately gave Nigeria independence on the basis of an arrangement that, for selfish reasons, deliberately favoured a part of the country with political dominance over the others, thus sowing the seeds of political instability. The weak foundation of political order formation in Nigeria has created political and armed conflict ever since. It has also contributed to preventing the emergence of transformative leadership in over 60 years of independence. The result is that it sometimes appears as if Nigeria today is going backwards in time or is stuck in a time warp.

There is also another aspect of political order formation that affects Nigeria’s development. This is the “sexual political order”. In a recent book, “The First Political Order: How Sex Shapes Governance and National Security Worldwide”. The American scholars Donna Lee Bowen, Perpetua Lynne Nietsen and Valerie Hudson have argued that the first political order is the sexual political order established between men and women in the household.

The character of the relationship between the sexes determines the strength of governance and national security, as the authors demonstrate convincingly. Countries where women are subjugated, denied property rights and resources and are subjected to gender based violence, tend to witness political instability and armed conflict. We can see how Nigeria provides a live demonstration of this theory with the terrorism and armed conflict in the Northeast and Northwest regions and the targeting of female school children by terrorist kidnappers to perform sex slavery and other related functions in terrorist enclaves.

All of this means that the leadership Nigeria needs now and in the near future is one that has a clear understanding of how the weak — nay deformed political order formation in Nigeria is the fundamental development challenge that confronts us, and has a clear vision and plan to address it. Such leadership, which must transcend mere politics, must therefore deliver the following outcomes:

a. Nationhood: a united and capable state with the capacity to secure its territory and citizens;

b. Human development, economic growth and structural economic transformation;

c. Restoration of Nigeria’s standing in the world.

We have many examples from other countries of the fundamental reality that it is leadership, which is not just about electoral politics — that creates political and economic transformation and global technological, military and economic power and relevance. The founding fathers of the United States, including George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin were visionary leaders of men, and also were men of profound philosophical ideas that created a democartic system of governance which has profoundly shaped the world. Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore was a politician and intellectual who took his country from Third World to First, he titled his well known book.

Dr Mahathir Mohammed of Malaysi was a visionary leader, as well as a politician who drove the transformation of Malaysia from a resource-dependent country to one with a diversified industrial economy. Sheikh Al Maktoum took Dubai from a primitive dessert kingdom that once looked up to Nigeria to a modern world wonder that has recently waived visa requirements for visitors from Ghana but not for Nigeria.

Sir Seretse Khama and subsequent leaders of Botswana took their country from the world’s poorest in 1966 to a prosperous upper middle income country today. Kemal Atartuk of Turkey modernized Turkey, including by making it a secular state, during his time. Closer home, our multiple founding fathers Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello and Obafemi Awolowo and the great second premier of the Eastern Region, Michael Okpara took Nigeria forward on a strong path of economic development, but failed to manage successfully the demons of Nigeria’s domestic politics of ethnic domination. The military interventions of 1966 onward, initially cast as solutions to political crisis, further weakened Nigerian political order formation.

Nigeria’s Leadership Conundrum

Nigeria’s leadership challenge is complex, but is reflected in three conundrums. These three conundrums are:

The Us versus Them, the Power versus Responsibility syndrome and the Loyalty vs Competence syndrome.

Us versus Them:

This is the problem of the ethnic, religious or other atomistic identity that defines the acquisition and exercise of political power in African States that are largely artificial creations from colonisation. An extreme attachment to primordial identities creates factions and mitigates against building a modern state. Political power obtained on the basis of this kind of primordial worldview can hardly be deployed to broad transformative purposes. To be fair, this problem also exists in mature democracies such as the United States, Belgium, Spain, Canada`and the United Kingdom, resulting in some instances in demands for self-determination. The difference is that these countries have achieved advanced stages of economic transformation as well as advanced political maturity, and so the problem is better managed in the wider national interest.

Power/Authority versus Responsibility:

In NIgeria, as in many other African countries during pre-colonial rule, the power of traditional kings was absolute. This cultural reality has not adapted well to concepts of modern statehood, democracy, and the checks and balances therefore offered by the separation of powers between executive, legislative and judicial arms of government. This is an outcome of the short-circuiting of political order formation by both colonialism and military rule. Political leadership is thus often perceived in NIgeria as authority rather than service, as raw power rather than responsibility. This is why accountability for non-performance by leaders is often weak.

This power/responsibility conundrum is also reflected in the widespread culture of sycophancy in political leadership and governance in Nigeria. Few aides or government officials can provide objective independent minded advice to their bosses and superiors in government. The culture of sycophancy creates a strong incentive for leadership failure because many NIgerian political leaders have delusions of absolute power and grandeur. A culture of impunity is the result.

Loyalty versus Competence:

The Us versus Them instinct, combined with a sense of absolute power and a psychological need to retain such power for as long as possible, often leads Nigerian leaders to place personal loyalty over competence in the appointment of aides and senior government officials. This leadership failure weakens the prospects for good governance. On the contrary, Nigerian leaders who have been able to place a strong premium on competence at least in key strategic appointments, such as President Olusegun Obasanjo during his civilian presidency, recorded significantly transformative outcomes from such decisions.

Solutions and Recommendations

1. Given Nigeria’s challenge of development, but also the limitations of a democratic or pseudo-democratic political system in which political leadership emerges through elections, political parties in their internal democracy must now begin to prioritize leadership vision and governance capacity in the selection of their candidates for electoral office. This means that we must get beyond the current dominance of politics without governance, to politics that takes good governance as its purpose, as a priority of electoral platforms and candidates. For example, candidate selection by parties for the presidential elections should prioritize aspirants who are versed in the economy, nation building and international relations and foreign policy.

2. We need to focus on the political education of citizens to know what they should be looking for in order to make informed voting decisions. This is a necessary part of a shift in emphasis from mere politics to elections as a democratic search in real leadership without which good governance will remain a mirage. Political education is a function for INEC, primarily, but also for political parties and civil society actors.

3. Non-partisan actors such as elder statesmen including Nigerian’s living former heads of state and government, as well as clergy, traditional rulers, civil society and professional bodies must now begin to play a more robust role in leadership selection in Nigeria. They can do this through public statements, endorsements, or quiet recommendations. Every country must fashion its democracy to its unique environment. Politics is too important to be left to politicians alone. A recent positive example of the potential role of elder statesmen is the recent intervention by former military President, Gen Ibrahim Babangiida on the profile of a potential future president of Nigeria in a media interview to mark his 80th birthday.

4. Leadership and governance training and education should be formally instituted in political parties and in the institutions of government across the board at leadership levels. A reading culture should be encouraged amongst officials in leadership roles in the public sector and politics.

5. The constitutional reordering of Nigeria, returning the country to true federalism including the devolution of powers to regions, will improve leadership and governance by bringing governance accountability closer to Nigerian citizens.


Nigeria’s development failures after 60 years of independence , with our country ranking at or near the bottom in every index of corruption, healthcare, education and human capital development , policing, state fragility and others, can no longer be casually shrugged off or explained away with excuses. The Asian developmental states were also colonized at similar points in history but are today strong, capable as stable states.

With countries like Malaysia and South Korea that were at par with in the early 1960s now far ahead of Nigeria in economic and technological development, and with 100 million Nigerians living in extreme poverty, we face an urgent leadership crisis that we must confront.

Politics as usual will not do the job. We must accept that our democratic politics of the past 22 years since 1999 has not yielded, cumulatively, any significant dividends of democracy in terms of economic and political development. We must therefore return to the fundamentals: Leadership, not just politics, is the main driver of the progress of human societies. We must as a nation move from divisive politics that is making us poorer and weaker collectively, and now turn our politics into a search for real leadership that can unify our country and take it to prosperity.Thank you.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here