…Nigeria, as a development challenge, is a social conversation. Put this way, our values, the very material that our “context” comprises, are of a vintage described by one of the more arresting titles off Nkem Nwankwo ― his 1975 My Mercedes Is Bigger Than Yours!


Leadership. Judging by the roll-call of motivational speakers on our paid speakers’ circuit, this is one concept that, regardless of our social status, Nigerians appear to have some proficiency in talking about. On a slightly different evidence mark, though, few of us know how to live this concept. The clearest illustration of the tension between these two readings on leadership comes from our political space. The ructions at the highest levels of government in Edo State, to take but the most recent example of our dilemma with this notion, where the governor is locked in mortal combat with his mentor, is the latest iteration of this problem. However you may read the Edo debacle, one thing is certain: the godfather as mentor (or is it the mentor as godfather?) is the most abused relationship when leadership is considered here.

How so? When individuals move up career ladders, the helping hand, the leg-up, the calming hand on the shoulders, the voice that stills when despondency swells ― without these, the opportunities and threats that define critical career junctions could be overwhelming. In other words, the mentor plays important roles in bedding a diverse array of talents. In his/her own way, the godfather does, too. Context, though, is the difference between both roles. In a criminal enterprise, the godfather provides the security and assurances without which the impunity necessary for a sicario to perform his roles is rendered impossible.

Context, also, is what makes the conversation around leadership styles, here, different. For, in truth, a political party needs funds to run its diverse operations ― maintain its many offices, conduct polls, and turn out the army of volunteers that help win elections. Across the world, a multitude of means have been devised to meet this challenge. Donations. Membership subscriptions. Merchandising. All of these are legitimate ways by which political parties may raise funds. No less legitimate is the concern about how each of this may conduce to special interests seizing control of political parties and subverting the will of the “people”. And in sundry jurisdictions, lets on the use of these different funding arrangements have been devised and implemented.

In discussing the quirks of leadership, here, then, the goals around which society organises itself ― context, once again ― is key. The context within which leadership emerges and is elaborated in our case is, regrettably, neither political nor economic. The dominant leadership themes are not about the tasks around which a developing economy may organise itself…


Donations play some role in our politics. Membership subscriptions and merchandising, not so much. But clearly these monies are not enough, if the never-ending tensions between principals and agents in our political space are anything to go by. Apparently, party leaders need access to the state coffers for a variety of other spending needs. It doesn’t matter whether these outlays are legit or not. It is enough that they impede elected officials’ ability to deliver on their electoral pledges. In this sense, our leadership dilemma conflates two problems. First, is the governance one that seeks to hold to a minimum the influence of unelected persons on the exercise of state power. Then, there’s the outcomes of governance and the efficiency with which these are realised.

In discussing the quirks of leadership, here, then, the goals around which society organises itself ― context, once again ― is key. The context within which leadership emerges and is elaborated in our case is, regrettably, neither political nor economic. The dominant leadership themes are not about the tasks around which a developing economy may organise itself: Growth and development, how to apportion the gains from progress in a way that does not endanger the social fabric, etc. If politics always trumps economics, ought we not to worry about the content of our politics? It is, evidently, not ideological. We nearly never spend time discussing or disagreeing over the preferred size of the state in the management of the economy. Arguably, if the flexibility with which our politicians move between parties is any indicator, then, matters ideological do not drive us.

We are not an economic argument either. At heart, we are prepared to prioritise “good intentions” ― whatever this are ― over a dispassionate assessment of goals, the resources with which these may be realised, and the implementation sequences proper to these processes. Little wonder, therefore, that there’s nigh consensus across the land that the laws of economics do not work in Nigeria.

For far too long, we’ve focused on restructuring the economy and re-shaping our political organisation to no real effect. Our goal of repurposing the country may then invite us merely to pay more attention to our social organisation.


Instead, Nigeria, as a development challenge, is a social conversation. Put this way, our values, the very material that our “context” comprises, are of a vintage described by one of the more arresting titles off Nkem Nwankwo ― his 1975 My Mercedes Is Bigger Than Yours! Of interest in this respect, is not what the car does ― the size of the engine, how much torque it delivers, its road-handling abilities, etc. No. None of these matters. To be worth anything, the ideal vehicle simply must turn heads when it’s being driven. You could go on, pace Oscar Wilde, to describe all such as are swayed by this worldview as knowing the price of everything, but the value of nothing. Any which way, you end up with the ridiculous spectacle of a Rolls Royce being driven home by one of our head honchos through roads so rutted horses will shun their use.

For far too long, we’ve focused on restructuring the economy and re-shaping our political organisation to no real effect. Our goal of repurposing the country may then invite us merely to pay more attention to our social organisation.

Uddin Ifeanyi, journalist manqué and retired civil servant, can be reached @IfeanyiUddin.