Iyinoluwa Aboyeji: “If the people lead, the leaders will follow” (YNaija Frontpage)

“I seen people abuse power, use power, misuse and then lose power. Power to the people at last, it’s a new hour”

-Kanye West (Power Remix ft. Jay-Z)

Lent has been the excuse I needed to get off my twitter addiction. However, the activity around the guilty plea of the “Ogidigbodigbo I of Africa” (as he was aptly renamed) did not escape me.

As you can expect, I defied temptation and logged in to twitter so I could observe the reaction of Nigeria’s twitterati. It was as usual a cacophony of opinions, from the plain ludicrous (Ibori’s press statement takes the ‘grand prix’ for this though) to the very insightful. What I did not see on twitter, however, was the underwhelming self-awareness that should come with the sobering thought that a foreign court (the familiar courts of our former overlords for that matter) had done what their Nigerian experiment could not – hold leaders accountable. Few events could represent a more damning indictment of the very idea of Nigeria itself. As many on twitter rightly observed, the irony of it all is that “Ogidigbodigbo” will return to a jubilant people grateful that their son and “leader” has returned oblivious of the £50 million fraud he committed against them.

I imagine my next few lines should be the usual rant appropriately peppered with decorative insults on the country’s present leadership but I would hate to steal the thunder of a few of my fellow columnists. Instead, I prefer to highlight the direction of the four fingers Nigerians ultimately ignore in their elusive search for incorruptible messiahs.


Many worshippers of church of Achebe will likely disagree with me. After all, according to his political gospel, “the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character.” I disagree.

In fact, I contend that there is something basically wrong with Nigeria and Nigerians. Nigerians– as a collective people –lack the ability to lead. We are forever awaiting inspiration and guidance from something; from God, from the government, from other people we respect, from our friends. The Nigerians’ addiction to approval is sickening.

As such the “failure of leadership” Achebe describes is really just our failure to find a messianic leader who will unlike us, will not need to be forced to do what we already know to be right. Even Achebe himself admits thirty six pages after his more popular diagnosis of Nigeria’s troubles, that “keeping an average Nigerian from being corrupt is like keeping a goat from eating yam”. If the average Nigerian is corrupt, how can Achebe expect leaders that won’t be? When all is said and done, Achebe’s “failure of leadership” applies broadly as a convenient excuse for the absence (or silence) of an enlightened middle class that lacks the moral courage to speak truth to power because they are under its corrosive influence.

Especially when Nigeria is understood in the historical context of a political entity created by Lugard and named by his mistress, the non-existent relationship between citizenship and leadership in Nigeria becomes even clearer. You see, despite the patriotic platitudes we falsely profess to our own detriment; we are not a country, Nigeria belongs to no one in particular, and the only reason Nigeria is, as politicians like to say, “bigger than all of us” is because at ninety-eight years of age, it is older than most of us and our culture falsely equates one’s age with their significance.

Fortunately, things are slowly changing. The forces of technology and globalization are gradually forging us into a community bound by the banality of our unfortunate circumstance. As we go #thisisnotacountry, we unwittingly establish that we recognise it should become one. And every #tcsf reminds us that our lack of citizen leadership in every aspect of society – has had real consequences beyond government and politics.

At the end of the day the challenge is for the average Nigerian to lead in the way that they wish to be led because “if they people lead, the leaders will follow”.


Iyinoluwa Aboyeji | On Leaders and Company

Aboyeji is CEO of Bookneto, a student focused education technology company based in Canada. In 2008, he worked as an intern at the Settlement and Integration Services Organization in Hamilton and then went on to work with the World Youth Alliance at the UN Headquarters in New York as an intern. Shortly before founding Bookneto, he served as the President of one of Canada’s largest student publishing companies, Imprint Publications.

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Comments (6)

  1. Wow, you've just read my thoughts, i wrote a post on how we as Nigerians should firstly live our daily lives like leaders, because as you ave said, the average man today would become a leader tomorrow, and if there is so much corruption in the land today, then i fear for tomorrow.

  2. "The Government is corrupt!" screams the Father who just bribed an NYSC official to get his kid posted to Lagos.

    "GEJ is a thief!" said the bank manager who has asked the customer for his own percentage before issuing granting a loan from the bank.

    "We need better leaders!" the vice chancellor who collects bribes from prospective students for admissions.

    …these are only a few examples. Daily we castigate the Nigerian government for ripping us off and not represeting the populace adequately and I ask: "what have you done to make Nigeria better? how have you contributed your quota to move the country forward?" Nigeria is ours and the sooner we stop the finger pointing and look inwards for solutions the better. Let's fix the loopholes in our daily activities.

    Leaders don't become corrupt overnight. A little short-cut here, a little palm-greasing there…tomorrow when the ball eventually lands in our court, will we be able to shoulder the responsibility and pass on the buck?

    Make no mistakes, the government is corrupt. But ask yourselves; "is the government not a direct reflection of the governed?"

  3. In what is termed 'herd behaviour', people act together without planned direction, and it continues until there are some 'goats' stubborn enough to break the ranks. Then, almost everyone will suddenly realise, like the proverbial little boy in that old kingdom, that 'the king is naked'. The current social system from which our leaders arise is fundamentally corrupt. I presume that's what Achebe was talking about. It is the ranks of this system that requires a 'breaking away from', it is the system where fraud is the norm and integrity is the exception. The most important question, for now, is "where are the 'stubborn' goats?"

  4. Here we go again with the assertion cum assumption that "true" leadership can only come from the bottom-up. This approach appeals to our need for an aesthetically neat, organic leadership but ignores the fact that we are a society.

    Being social means we will necessarily look up to something, someone, some people for ways to live. to learn, to lead etc. Far from being a member of the "God will save us" tribe, I am instead of the position that it is the absence of the Nietzsche-an will to power that is the problem of Nigeria. Iyin mentions a messianic leader here and i quite agree (to his dismay, i'm sure) that that is what we largely expect/want/need.

    Nigeria needs to cultivate Ubermensches. People who are, to use a cliche- self-starters. It is these people who will forge fresh infrastructures of mind and enable the vibrant populace we so direly require.

    Well done, Iyin.

  5. We (Nigerians) can go on about the ills of the Nigerian government forgetting that all the "leaders" were once like us, their attitude now didn't develop suddenly, they've always been that way even while still a follower.

    Yes we want big changes from our government but Nigerians must be ready to make changes too, however little.

  6. Achebe is right. And Iyin is right. This is the other side of the coin that we need to look at. A lizard doesn't grow to become an alligator, regardless of what we feed it. Today's followers are tomorrow's leaders, and if we don't form habits of service now, we'll misuse power when we become positional leaders.

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