Buhari: Lessons on functional leadership and strategy

As the four-year mandate given to the Buhari administration in 2015 draws gradually towards an inglorious end, and the many incalculable prospects of 2019 are throwing up the strangest of political permutations in the polity, it is not imperceptible to conclude that a generous assessment is that the administration has frittered away the sheer goodwill that brought it to power by grossly underperforming.

 Granted that the security situation “changed” for the better after the administration took the reins of government, however, the overall assessment of this government’s performance can only be fairly attempted after a diligent post-mortem  of the three major promises upon which it sought to be voted in; tackling insecurity, fighting corruption and engendering a robust economy. While the security situation has improved markedly, the same cannot be said of the “corruption war” and the state of the economy.

At the root of the government’s failure with respect to these two core areas are failure of leadership and lack of strategy. Obviously, President Muhammadu Buhari has been the Head of Government -at least he heads or delegates his VP to head the Federal Executive Council meetings -what he has failed to exhibit however, is quality functional leadership. Functional leadership refers to a model of leadership where the leader must focus on the areas he needs to address in order to be effective. What this country has been subjected to since 2015 is almost a rudderless management style rooted exclusively in blame-game and the promotion of purposelessness as statecraft. A good leader is knowledgeable, is a quick-thinker, adapts, motivates and charges his/her team towards the fulfilment of a common set goal.

Events have shown that the so-called campaign promises and indeed the general manifestoes of the APC in that election were not the product of carefully analysed and dissected problems facing the Nigerian state but a shoddy summation of Ponzi-scheme- like promises handed to a people desperately in need of “change”.  That would technically not qualify as a fraud if at least there was a clear strategy behind the gospel of “change” sold to Nigerians. It’s a no-brainer therefore why the effort to “CPR” the economy and make significant gains in the “fight” against corruption have proved fatally unsuccessful.

Take the fight against corruption for example. What is the strategy? How has the fight fared? The downside of declaring a problem a “fight” is that you are “humanising” it and when you do that, you do not talk in terms of “victories” but “victims”. Solution architects will tell you that messaging and your overall communication approach are as important as the strategy you plan to deploy in solving a problem.

Secondly, you don’t declare a “jihad” when your own private kitchen is filled with known “infidels”. The ever-ingenious looters of Nigeria know this and it has invariably made it easy for them to wage a decisive counter war on the war against corruption.

Apart from the fact that this apparent lack of strategy has heaped the heaven burden of hypocrisy on the President, the other unintended consequence of that “fight” is that those who had managed to cleverly stash away proceeds of corruption for fear of prosecution are practically starving the economy of the much needed funds. Corruption is a recognised estate of the realm in this clime; it is a thriving industry with the organised labour that you ought not to disengage without expecting a “strike action”. You do not brazenly declare war on corruption, the “fourth branch” of our government – the branch with perhaps the strongest oversight on the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature (especially the latter) – and expect that the wheel of governance would not grind to a halt! The “fight” has alienated the President and pitted him against the National Assembly. They have refused to swear in his appointees, especially the CBN positions until he bows to their demand for the head of the anti-corruption-czar, Ibrahim Magu. The CBN and by extension the economy are among the victims of the corruption “fight”. While this puerile holding to ransom of the national economy by virtue of the battle of the egos and political grandstanding is condemnable and selfish, a functional leader would have moved to address the impasse or negotiate the buy-in of his co-equal partner in government in the execution of legacy policies.

A broader strategic approach would have been to devise institutional methods of dealing with the problem of corruption. Get a team of technical experts and task them with the responsibility of coming up with sustainable solutions to make it impossible to steal public funds. Corruption-proof the system and do it without fanfare. Strengthen financial surveillance and intelligence and empower law enforcement agents to flag and track eerie transactions. Quietly build up unimpeachable proofs and pursue legal actions against culprits without noise.  Corruption is everywhere, even in the most efficient of economies; what these countries do is to consistently improve their capability to corruption-proof their systems by building sustainable institutional frameworks.

The other less combative method to dealing with corruption is to address it from bottom-up. That comes with recognising that it is a marathon and not a sprint. It starts with reorientation and consistent messaging to put a general disdain for graft in the heart of as many Nigerians as possible. It’s a long shot, but it is achievable. This goes beyond wasting millions on fruitless reorientation or rebranding. It is actually leading by example and showing through strategic examples that stealing public money is not honourable and is certainly not the only way to achieving comfort. That may require the leader going out of political circles to appoint distinguished and capable individuals with modest means and proven records to relevant positions. These ideas are by no means exhaustive but are merely a few suggestions on more sustainable ways of addressing this hydra-headed perennial national challenge. It is not insurmountable!

After the Greeks had unsuccessfully laid siege on the city of Troy for 10 years, they decided to approach the battle with a better strategy: the Trojan horse. They had figured that the city of Troy was impenetrable from the outside and that if they kept charging at the city from its outside gates and walls, they would continue to lose men and fast-depleting resources. They decided to “leave” a gift, a large wooden horse, while they pretended to have fled in defeat. After the Trojans found the wooden horse outside their gate and upon seeing that the Greeks had “abandoned” the war, they dragged the “gift” into their city. The Greek soldiers who hid in the horse dismounted in the dead of the night and killed the guards manning the gates and the city walls. The Greeks went on to win the war and sacked the city once thought to be impenetrable.

No doubt, corruption has been an impenetrable citadel in this part of the world for so long, but that impenetrability is a disprovable myth to a government armed with a superior strategy.  It is doubtful if any Nigerian government to date has actually effectively dealt with the corruption problem with a sound strategy.

The efficiency of a functional leader is not determined by how much integrity or untainted public record he brings to a position but by how he carefully analyses a situation, no matter how dire, and devises sound strategies to address the core areas essential to their overall success.

While it is too early to accurately predict the tide of events in 2019, one hopes that soon Nigerians will start electing people who realise that good governance is neither rocket science nor an elusive ideal but that vision, ambition, sound strategies, inclusive political and economic institutions anchored on functional leadership are the modern essentials for national  greatness.

by Abayomi Ojo

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