One good thing in today’s Nigeria is that the integrity of our elections is improving steadily. This means that citizens who feel that their leaders have performed poorly could vote them out at any level… The North, and indeed the country, cannot afford to be naïve or complacent on this critical issue of leadership selection.


The 15th of January is the anniversary of the massacre of Northern leaders during the first coup of 1966. In commemoration of the day, the Arewa Research and Development Project and the Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation organised a workshop on the North and the challenge of leadership. The problematic was clear: Over the past two decades, successive sets of elected officials have ended up pauperising the citizens, deepening corruption, and dividing the country along its fault lines. The outcome is that poverty has more than doubled, state and federal institutions are collapsing; insecurity is increasing and becoming systemic; structured and horizontal violence is becoming the norm; and the economy is down, unable to pick up, much less create jobs. Even more serious is the reality that our societies are decomposing and the confidence of citizens in democracy is waning. Most political leaders appear increasingly clueless and unable to provide any solution. In all these developments, the North has been the worst hit.

For too long, poor leadership has been the bane of development in Nigeria, more so in the North were the calibre of leadership has been particularly poor. Clearly, the North has lost the tradition of leadership selection that could produce people who have a sense of values that could orient governance towards public service. According to Dr. Usman Bugaje, the worst elements in society – the most corrupt, the criminals and crooks, the scammers and 419 elements, the crass contractors with more money than sense and the products of nepotism constitute the bulk of the leadership in the North. Political parties have proved themselves to be totally incapable of choosing their best in leadership selection. Party congresses and conventions are routinely rigged or manipulated, producing leaders that embody the worst in society.

The days of visionary leadership are gone and citizen action is urgently required to improve the calibre of leaders. The keynote speaker, Professor Alkasum Abba drew attention to what he called the erroneous impression that Sir Ahmadu Bello was a lackey of the British colonialists. He argued that on the contrary, the British tried to remove him from power because he had a mind of his own and would only do what he thought was right. He pointed out that in the build up to the First Republic, leaders were chosen from among those who had shown their capacity within the system of Native Administration and could therefore be assessed on their leadership qualities. Today, people who have never exercised leadership at any level of society could emerge as legislators or even governors.

Today, many are regretting that they were not more discerning in choosing their leaders. As we get closer to another circle of elections it is absolutely necessary to find a way out of this political culture of choosing the worst to govern us. There has to be widespread discussions and debates on the types of qualities and qualifications people who aspire for leadership should have.


In his classic lecture on leadership qualities – “Mutumin Kirki: The Concept of the Good Man in Hausa Society”, Anthony Kirk-Green defined the attributes that people seek for in good leaders. They are truthfulness, compassion, integrity, trust and generosity for those in need. Wealth and material success were not considered important attributes in the selection of leaders. Today, those who can provide the biggest bribes for the biggest number emerge as our leaders and this culture must change. There was an overwhelming consensus in the conference that political leadership cannot remain the only job for which no qualification appears necessary, except to have a lot of money; stolen money. It is clear that for as long as the current leadership recruitment continues, our troubles will also continue. We have to find a way of bringing relevant criteria to bear on the selection of leaders. We have got to find a way of making character, competence and capacity to determine who leads.

During the 2015 General Elections, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) called on its members to adopt the principle of “APC sak”. Voters were called upon not to assess individual candidates but to vote for them simply because they were APC candidates. I recall that often, people were conflicted because they knew that some of the candidates chosen by APC were not suitable for leadership. Today, many are regretting that they were not more discerning in choosing their leaders. As we get closer to another circle of elections it is absolutely necessary to find a way out of this political culture of choosing the worst to govern us. There has to be widespread discussions and debates on the types of qualities and qualifications people who aspire for leadership should have. The criteria to guide the choice of leaders at various levels of governance should be clearly articulated, and advocacy should be organised to ensure that voters know them even at the grassroots.

One good thing in today’s Nigeria is that the integrity of our elections is improving steadily. This means that citizens who feel that their leaders have performed poorly could vote them out at any level. Elected leaders who have devoted their time to stealing public resources, refusing to pay workers’ salary or improving the welfare of people must be voted out of power for their failure in delivering good governance. The North, and indeed the country, cannot afford to be naïve or complacent on this critical issue of leadership selection. Nigeria cannot continue to groan and watch the largest black nation go down the drain under inept and clueless leaders, even if they are sons of the soil. More importantly, we cannot continue to lament in the comfort of the privacy of our homes and those of friends, while selfish and incompetent people destroy our nation. We must act to choose the leaders that we deserve and the time to act is now!

A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, and Chair of the Editorial Board of PREMIUM TIMES.