As an imperative in any community, the significance of leadership cannot be downplayed. A congregation of two or more must spring forth a leader who would be responsible for piloting the affairs of the group and providing them with guidance and direction. Leadership therefore is inevitable in any society. That apart, leadership is critical to the progress or downfall of any group. Hence, the famous aphorism; ‘a tree falls from the top and not from the bottom’. 

The Nigerian situation offers an apt illustration. With enormous and industrious population, a sizeable land mass and vast material endowment; Nigeria at independence in 1960 was tipped to rise swiftly from the horizontal multitudes of nations to become a world power. The emerging nation was thus christened ‘Africa’s giant’. Expectations were high and hopes raised to high heavens. A few years after independence, military junta ascended power and led the country to a damaging civil war. The civilian administration which took over was no better. Corruption became the order of the day. Positions of leadership transformed to money-making ventures.

Today, after 100 years of nationhood and 53 years of independence, much of those hopes of greatness have diminished. A cursory glance at the nation’s sojourn shows both betrayal of expectations of greatness and the irony of the nation. Despite abundant human and material resources, Nigeria remains an underdeveloped country with clearly more than half of its population living below poverty line. It is also plagued by myriads of problems which continue to undermine its potentials: problems such as insecurity, disunity, corruption, poverty, unemployment, and chronic frustration of citizens.

However, behind the mask of these problems rest the abyss between Nigeria and greatness - leadership. This also is the unavoidable conclusion of prudent analysts. Chinua Achebe, a literary giant remarked that ‘the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership’. I concur with him. The leaders have not done enough to solve our problems; to unite the nation; and to improve the life of the common man. They have tacitly aided collapse of national ideals and social values; the pervasive culture of impunity;  and widespread celebration of mediocrity.

There is almost a consensus that our fate as a nation rests on the leadership. What is missing in Nigeria is moral leadership. This is why focus must be shifted from mere leadership to moral leadership for while leaders pilot people’s affairs; moral leaders pilot the affair on principles and standards of right and wrong.

Moral leadership embody ideas of ethics and morality in leadership. Any society with moral leadership inevitably thrives in peace and happiness. Moral leadership, for me, encompasses a host of ideas, precepts, standards and values but often too, one can tell what moral leadership is by looking at what it is not.

First is that moral leadership is not self-serving; it serves others. Moral leaders do not just lead others; they serve them. A moral leader therefore perceives himself not as a chief executive but as the overall servant of the society. A moral leader does not pursue parochial interests. Rather, he pursues the larger public interest. Gani Fawehinmi is an acute example. He was a Nigerian lawyer renown for public interest litigation. At the expense of his life and liberty, he opposed arbitrary laws and policies. While other lawyers were after their personal safety and mouth-watering briefs; he stood out as the advocate of the masses, the voice of the voiceless. His watchwords were ‘stand for what is right even if it means standing alone’. He pursued the larger communal interests selflessly.

Also, moral leadership entails having an outstanding personality full of valour and virtues. People are usually enthralled by the personality of the leader before they embrace his ideas, policies and programmes. A moral leader therefore possesses fantastic personal and inter-personal skills. He must be an excellent communicator and an incredible team player. He must be creative, persuasive, analytical, courageous, firm, decisive, disciplined, confident, prudent, principled, solution-oriented, tenacious, focused, passionate, just, understanding, matured, wise, enlightened and alluring too. A moral leader has high emotional intelligence, self-control, self-esteem, self-respect; and respects others too. Moral leaders care about people and worry about their plights. Moral leaders do not compromise their morality.

Furthermore, moral leadership connotes integrity. It is with integrity that a leader earns the respect of followers. A person of integrity possesses high moral standards. Moral standards are largely derived from moral codes embedded in religious doctrines. That is why at present, I am unable to conceive any morality devoid of acknowledging the existence of ‘a God, deity or supreme being’. The consciousness of being watched by this Being imposes restraints on a moral leader. Therefore, a moral leader must, in my view, be God-conscious.

Clear vision and a higher sense of purpose are hallmarks of moral leadership. A moral leader is visionary and has a strong conviction in his vision. He inspires others with this vision and purpose. He interrogates the status quo and challenges its proprietary. For example, at a time when racism was pervasive in America, Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned an America where people will be judged by the content of their character. Today, just about five decades later, a Black is the president of that powerful nation!  Also, within the four walls of his prison cell, Mandela conceived an apartheid-free South Africa. Again, today, a black is the president of South Africa.

Additionally, Moral leadership is exemplary leadership. Moral leaders lead not just by words but by actions. They lay precepts for others to follow. Moral leaders realise that dreams and vision are not self-enforceable. Thus, they deploy available arsenals to advance their courses. They act. Martin Luther accompanied his dream with actions such as non-violent protests, writings and dialogues. At the firm I interned during the holiday, there was this rule: no one must sign in later than 8: 05am. The Head of Chamber imposes corrective measures on those who came late without genuine excuse. He himself was the master of punctuality. He precedes most people to the workplace daily despite living afar. Through his exemplary leadership, the interns imbibed punctuality as a necessary quality. That is moral leadership - doing what you preach.

Moral leadership also mean financial prudency.  A Moral leader sees public funds as trust which he must handle scrupulously. He sees leadership as a call to service. With this mindset, he is responsible in spending public funds. He is also transparent and does not go behind any veil so as to surreptitiously hide fraudulent transactions. A moral leader accounts for public funds. He does not dodge public scrutiny of government coffers. Moral leaders are financially discreet and they do not mix public with personal funds.

In addition, moral leadership means honesty, sincerity and transparency. A moral leader is honest and therefore capable of earning trust among his followers. A moral leader is not one who when he says it is morning, people will have to go confirm if truly it is morning. A moral leader does not deliberately concoct falsehood. He is truthful to himself and to others. When leaders are truthful, followers will also learn to trust them. An industrial strike by lecturers in public universities in Nigeria dragged on for six months because the lecturers could not trust the government to make good its promise to implement their agreement. It was only when the government deposited funds, as agreed, and made public the receipt of deposit that the lecturers suspended the strike. If the leadership had earned the trust of its citizens, the strike would have been suspended long before then.

Also, Moral leadership means uniting people of various interests, orientations, dispositions and affiliations. Were moral leadership existent in Nigeria, cessation separation would be a non-issue. There are nations like America whose diversity goes beyond ethnicity to nationality and even race. But issues of cessation are hardly heard even in heated political discourse. However, ethno-religious differentiation is fast threatening the very existence of the Nigerian nation. What is needed is moral leadership to steer the straying ship back on the track of peace and unity.

From all I have said so far, it may be thought that my conception of moral leadership equals perfection. No, it does not. As long as we are humans, mistakes are unavoidable. The moral leader is not exempted. The mistake may even be one reprehensible as a universal moral lapse such as the ‘Watergate’ scandal. But the moral leader accepts his mistakes as mistakes; learn from them; and makes correction. Rather than find lame excuses for default, he apologise where necessary. A moral leader sees a window of self-rectification and improvement in every mistake.

Even at the global level, moral leadership can inspire international cooperation; foster the advancement of humanity and rectify anomalies plaguing our planet.

While leadership merely guide and direct, moral leadership better lives and develops the society. What is left is that we embrace it!

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