At Awo institute, experts tackle Africa’s leadership challenges

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By TOPE ADEBOBOYE
Recently, a number of politicians and political leaders in Nigeria, as well as academics and experts in politics, sociology, politics and other fields from different parts of the world, converged on the Obafemi Awolowo Institute of Government and Public Policy, Lekki, Lagos. Their mission? To dissect and proffer solutions to the challenges of leadership that have, for long, retarded the socio- political and economic progress of African countries.
For two days, participants at the International Conference on Leadership and Governance in Africa, coordinated by the duo of Dr. Wale Adebanwi, an associate professor at the University of California, Davis, United States, and Dr. Ebenezer Obadare, of the University of Kansas, Lawrence, United States, examined how Africa (and Africans) had fared in the hands of the continent’s despotic rulers and the few ones that had provided purposeful leadership for their people. The event also brought back emotional memories of a painful past, memories of the times when the late leader of Western Nigeria, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was detained in a secluded building overlooking the waters of the Atlantic. It was more touching as that jailhouse of yesteryears has been pulled down and reconstructed. It has since metamorphosed into an institute named after the same Awolowo.
Among participants at the conference were Ekiti State governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi; Lagos State governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, represented by Rev. Tunji Adebiyi, Special Adviser on Regional Integration; The Chair, Board of Trustees of the institute, Chief Adebisi Akande, who also served as chairman of the opening ceremony; Nigeria’s former Ambassador to the Netherlands and daughter of the late sage, Dr. Olatokunbo Awolowo Dosumu; Oyo State governor, Chief Abiola Ajimobi represented by Pastor Taiwo Otegbeye, Commissioner for Information and Orientation; Osun State governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, represented by Ajibola Basiru, Commissioner for Special Duties and Regional Integration; Chairman, Lekki Local Council Development Authority (LCDA), Alhaji Olaitan Ogidan and celebrated poet, Odia Ofeimun. Director-General of the institute, Professor Adigun Agbaje, was the chief host. The keynote speech was given by Professor Olufemi Taiwo
Dr. Awolowo-Dosunmu held everyone spellbound with a recount of her last visit to the venue. It was in the 1960s, and her dad was being detained there by the Tafawa Balewa-led federal authorities. She recalled the loneliness of the entire place, a melancholic milieu accentuated by the scary presence of the wild, wide sea. According to Dr. Awolowo-Dosunmu, she watched as her father cast a long look at the expansive ocean, wondering what deep thoughts could have preoccupied the old man’s mind.
In his introductory remarks, Dr. Adebanwi asserted that Africa has for long been beset with poor leadership. In many ways, he observed, “the unenviable history of the African postcolony can be written around the subject of the absence, for the most account, of positive leadership and good governance. Given the inefficiency, ineffectiveness, incompetence, excesses and eccentricities displayed by many of the leaders that have emerged on the continent, their behaviour exercises an unusual level of fascination for scholarly analyses and theorizing.”
The respected scholar informed, however, that in spite of the palpable gloom, the continent has also produced some individuals with sterling leadership qualities, leaders that have impacted positively on their generation.
Said Adebanwi: “It is important to note that despite the popular focus, in both academic and lay literature, on bad leadership in Africa, the continent, no doubt, has also produced outstanding leaders in all spheres of human endeavour and at every level of state and society. From exceptionally self-sacrificing leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Albert Luthuli, thinkers and visionaries like Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, revolutionary leaders like Amilca Cabral, social reformers like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Amini Kano, activists and public intellectuals such as Wole Soyinka, Ngugi Wa Thiongo, Ruth First, Steve Biko, Africa also has had a legitimate claim to exceptional leadership.”
He told participants that the conference was organized “to address the leadership and governance question in Africa, including the fascination with African leaders and the pertinent dynamics of leadership in other spheres in the postcolony in a critical, theoretically-grounded and empirically-rich ways.”
Adebanwi said the international and inter-disciplinary conference would examine leadership and governance in Africa “from the micro to the macro level, in vertical and horizontal dimensions, in different contexts and terrains and in multi-various circumstances and from different, and/or a combination of perspectives.”
In his presentation entitled What’s Luck Got to Do with It? Pondering the Imponderable in African Leadership and Politics, Dr. Obadare looked at the place of luck in contemporary African politics, with particular reference to Nigeria’s President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. Obadare recalled that Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah of the Sokoto Catholic Diocese had, in an article in a national newspaper in 2010, attributed Jonathan’s implausible rise in politics to sheer luck, or “a monumental act of divine epiphany.”
Obadare argued, however, that accepting and promoting the luck concept might, ultimately, result in unmitigated disaster for the society. While virtually pooh-poohing the luck notion, he wondered: “If everything is a matter of unchosen luck or ‘favour’ (to put it in the language of modern day Pentecostals), where is the incentive to strive, search, or build? And with specific regard to the question of leadership, if leadership or the emergence of good leaders ultimately rolls on the dice of luck, whither the imperative to invest in the training of good leaders? Whither the sociology of leadership? Whither, in fact, justice?”
In his keynote address, Professor Taiwo of the Africana Studies and Research Centre, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, described Awolowo “as a significant thinker in the modern mode whose ideas, circumscribed by the peculiarities of his historical location, nonetheless managed to apprehend the universal.”
Professor Taiwo acknowledged Awolowo’s leadership qualities, regretting that many African leaders lacked such attributes, a situation that has created a rift between the leaders and the led.
Taiwo said Awolowo held a strong belief that the ruled must play their roles in good governance while also having the liberty to enjoy from the abundance of the wealth of their nation.
“My fundamental and abiding interest in Awolowo is that of a scholar. I am fascinated by the originality, depth, and audacity of his thinking in many areas, the richness and complexity of his expostulations, the sophistication and thoroughness of his policy formulations; in short, in his status as one of the pre-eminent thinkers of the last century,” he said.
In his contribution, Dr. Kayode Fayemi said it was necessary for political leaders in the country to elaborate on the ideational foundations of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and reconstruct them in the context of new challenges and new opportunities that would bring about good governance in the country. The Ekiti State governor averred that Awolowo had already provided the ideational foundations for good leadership and good governance in Nigeria
In Fayemi’s words, “whether in the context of political structure, particularly democratic federalism, in the nature, order, purpose and limits of government as evident in the rule of law, the rights and duties of citizens, or in the directive principles of state policy which should be geared towards the economic freedom, good health, liberty and welfare of the people, the struggle that some of us have engaged in, in the last three decades, is based largely on this heritage; that is, a settled conviction in which the one and only purpose of political leadership and governance is the delivery of political goods.
“Long before it became a fashionable neo-liberal consensus for international development agencies, such as World Bank and the IMF, to promote governance as performance, Awolowo had already theorized human beings as the sole purpose of governance and showed how the enhancement of the capacities of human beings to live well in all dimensions constitute the fundamental conditions of the existence and survival of any modern state and government.”
Fayemi observed that the development of the Western Region under Awolowo was an evidence of the sage’s leadership genius, asserting that the five states under Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the Second Republic renewed the possibilities of good governance in the areas of education, social welfare, social amenities, health and infrastructural development even while the federal state was “fumbling and failing.”
During the intellectual exercise, participants took time off to visit the Awo museum at the institute.
Some of the scholars that presented papers at the international conference included Aisha Bawa of the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto; Kathryn Rhine, University of Kansas, Lawrence, USA; Azeez Olaniyan, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa; Pamela Johnson, University of Fort Hare, South Africa; Adetayo Alabi, University of Mississippi; Samuel Ojo Oloruntoba, University of Lagos; Stacey Leigh Vanderhurst, Brown University, Providence, Rhodes Island, USA; Gbemisola Animasawun, University of Ilorin and Elke Zuern, Sarah Lawrence College, New York.

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