It is with gratitude to Allah (SWT) that I stand before you to express my deep appreciation to the founder and chief executive of the Centre for Values in Leadership, Prof Pat Utomi and his able team, for inviting me to this august gathering as Special Guest of Honour. I congratulate the Centre for its indefatigable efforts in sustaining, over the last decade, a healthy discourse on leadership and values in Nigeria and for promoting leadership development in various facets of our national life.
It is our ardent hope and fervent prayer that Allah (SWT), in His infinite mercy, will find this noble undertaking worthy of His blessings. May Allah (SWT) grant us all, the wherewithal to contribute our quota to the development of Nigeria and to the advancement of its people.
Mr. chairman, distinguished guests, this annual lecture on Leadership and Values holds a special significance to me for two fundamental reasons. Firstly, it is an acknowledged fact that our country Nigeria, has for some decades now, been facing an acute leadership crisis which has impacted negatively on national development and on the attainment of the nation's strategic goals and objectives.
The leadership deficit and its attendant symptoms, at all levels of state and society, is not getting better but becoming more acute as the days go by. One is forced to ask: What is responsible for the systemic failure of leadership in Nigeria and its glaring inability to rise up to the challenges of nation-building and national development despite its enormous endowments in human and material resources?
Why should we allow the cankerworm of corruption and ineptitude to eat so deeply into the fabric of our national life and leave us prostate at the feet of fraudsters, terror groups, robber barons and economic syndicates, with no determined effort to escape from their deadly grip? Why do our courage and our confidence evaporate at the mere sight of an obstacle, depriving us of the ability to hold to a bold vision of the future and to work concertedly for its realization?
I ask these questions not to recount our national woes but to underline the fact that integrity and leadership, re-enforced by strong core values, constitute the bedrock upon which any meaningful national transformation is predicated. It is also to appreciate the great service the Centre for Values in Leadership is rendering for the regeneration and development of Nigeria.
Secondly, the Sokoto Caliphate tradition within which I grew up also places a high premium on leadership and values and their role in societal transformation. The founder of the Sokoto Caliphate, Shaykh Uthman Ibn Fodio and his disciples were not only astute political leaders but veritable scholars who actively promoted learning and scholarship in their respective domains.
Although the Sokoto Caliphate leaders lived and worked in the first half of the nineteenth century, the examples they set and the seminal ideas they propagated remain as incisive and relevant as they were two centuries ago. It is a belief that I share with many that our rich cultural heritage and our diverse intellectual traditions, when properly interrogated, can provide an indigenous framework for leadership development in the country and a veritable source of leadership values which we so urgently require for Nigeria's socio-economic and political regeneration. It is on these values, as proffered by the Sokoto Caliphate leaders that I wish to address you.
Mr. chairman, distinguished guests, the first issue I wish to raise is the primary purpose of seeking power and leadership. Why do we contest elections and spend millions and in some instances billions of naira to defeat our opponents? How do we assess our view of the electorate when contestants are willing to kill and maim the very people they seek to govern?
Why should the power of the state be built on the misery and disenfranchisement of the same people who have given them the mandate to superintend their affairs? While the Sokoto Caliphate leaders were not directly addressing the concerns of 21st century Nigeria, their view of the purposes of power were clear and forthright. As Shaykh Abdullah Ibn Fodio says:
"The governor has to see to the welfare of the people. The governor must not think that he is the owner of the province over which he is made to govern; whereby the land becomes his personal property which he can give to whom he likes and refuse who he wishes. Such action is misguided and belongs to the Days of Ignorance (Jahiliyya). He should realize that he has been entrusted to take charge of the people only for the purpose of looking after their religious and temporal interests."
Emphasizing the importance of peoples' welfare, Shaykh Uthman Ibn Fodio was in fact more categorical:
"Seeing to the welfare of people is more effective than the use of force. It has been said that the crown of a leader is his integrity, his stronghold is his impartiality and his wealth is [the welfare of] his people. There can be no triumph with transgression, no rule without learning and no leadership with vengeance."
The second issue, regarding values and leadership, which the Sokoto Caliphate leaders have drawn our attention to, concerns accountability. As staunch Muslims, Shaykh Uthman Ibn Fodio and his lieutenants believed that Allah (SWT) is privy to all our transactions on the surface of the earth, the open as well as the secret; and on the Day of Judgment we must have to render a full account of our activities and answer all the queries that may arise there from. It is because of this that the Caliphate leaders regarded the responsibility of leadership as one of the greatest misfortunes that could befall a human being. In the words of Sultan Muhammad Bello in his "Principles of Politics":
"Be informed. My brother, that one of the most serious misfortunes that may befall a servant (of Allah) is to be a leader for the consequences of having to render a full account of the office. (Normally) every individual servant is accountable for his speeches, his actions and his circumstances. If he is made a leader, he shall, in addition to his personal responsibilities, be held accountable for his subjects.
So if he cannot discharge his personal responsibilities adequately, how will his position be if he were to be held accountable for the actions of his people? It is said for this reason that "whomsoever is placed by Allah in obscurity should praise Him, for He has lightened for him the burden of responsibilities, for which he shall be accountable."
However, the burden of leadership, when properly discharged, could also turn out to be a great blessing;
"And, whosoever is tempted by Allah with public office, should exert himself in discharging its obligations. Although it can be a misfortune, it is nevertheless one of the greatest blessings.
Any person who discharges his obligations [well] and thanks the Benefactor will acquire an endless happiness the like of which never exists. On the other hand, any person who could not discharge his obligations and thank the Benefactor shall suffer an endless misfortune, which can be compared only with disbelief in Allah the Most High."
The third issue which the Caliphate leaders raised is the strategic role of knowledge and excellence in engendering and sustaining good governance. As Shaykh Uthman Ibn Fodio pointed out:
"A man without learning is like a country without inhabitants. The finest (qualities) in a leader, in particular, and in people in general, are the love of learning, the desire to listen to it and holding the bearer of knowledge in great respect. This is in fact the surest way for a leader to be beloved of his people.
On the other hand, if the leader is devoid of learning, he follows his whims and leads his subjects astray, like a riding beast with no halter, wandering off the path and perhaps spoiling what is passes over.... For a leader has set up himself to deal with people's natures, to settle their disputes and to undertake their government. All [these responsibilities] require outstanding learning, keen insight and extensive study.
How would he get on if he had not made the necessary preparations and made himself ready for these matters? Other people do not lack those who oppose them, point out their shortcomings and hold contrary views. That helps a man to train himself and learn where the right way lies.
A leader, on the other hand, does not encounter any of these things because his high position cuts him off from them, since the only people who associate with him are those who glorify his status, conceal his drawbacks and praise him for what he does not possess. Their only reply to him is. 'The leader is right."
On the pursuit of excellence, Sultan Muhammad Bello could not have put it more succinctly:
"If God wishes people good he gives leadership in their affair to the best of them. He also gives them those who will help them.
Such leaders would lead the community in the right path and put matters in correct places. They would seek the advice of people who have ideas that are handy in solving problems. They would find powerful people, knowledgeable people and experienced people to help in their different spheres. They will value the prayers of pious people so that the community will fare well in every respect. Such leaders would advance people who deserve promotion and hold back those who do not merit advancement."
The fourth issue, Mr. chairman, which I wish to draw our attention to, is that of justice which the Sokoto Caliphate leaders regarded as the essence of governance and the equilibrium which makes the effective management of human affairs feasible and realisable. According to Abdullah Ibn Fodio,
"The leader is also under obligation to observe justice and goodness. Justice is that he restores to everyone his right. It is all the same whether that right is extracted from the leader himself or from others."
On the issue of equity and fairness to all, Shaykh Uthman Ibn Fodio had this to say:
"One of the swiftest ways if destroying a state is to give preference to one particular tribe over another, or to show favour to one group of people rather than another, and draw near those who should be kept away and keep away those who should be drawn near ... Another is the seclusion of the leader from his people, because when the oppressor is sure that the oppressed person will not have access to the leader, he becomes even more oppressive.
The people keep loyal to only one ruler so long they have access to him, but when he secludes himself, there come into being many [other] rulers. O leader, you have kept yourself secluded from your subjects, by means of chamberlains and doors and you have set up high mountains before them while God's door is open to petitioners; there is neither chamberlain nor door-keeper there. A kingdom can endure with unbelief but it cannot endure with injustice."
The fifth and last issue we wish to raise is that of corruption as understood by the Sokoto Caliphate leaders. Firstly, Shaykh Uthman Ibn Fodio and his lieutenants were of the firm belief that the fight against corruption could only be effective when leaders remain free from it. As Sultan Muhammad Bello puts it;
"Leaders are like a spring of water and all your officials are like water-wheels. If the spring is pure, the filth of the water-wheels cannot harm it. If on the other hand, the spring is polluted, the purity of the water-wheel will have little effect (on the purity of the water)."
It should also be pointed out that the Caliphate leaders had a strict code of conduct on the relations between state officials and the public. In the words of Abdullah Ibn Fodio:
"A ruler is forbidden to touch property acquired unjustly, such as through bribe obtained for appointing a judge or any other officer. The use of such property is unanimously regarded as illegal. It corrupts the religion and opens the doors wide to abuses and oppression of the poor. For the officials may feel that since money is obtained from them as a reward for appointing them to office, they in turn must recover it from the common people.
Another thing agreed upon as being illegal, is the collection of bribes on behalf of the leader or other officials like the judges and other employees. That is the act of collecting something from one of the disputants or from both of them, whether before passing a judgment or after it.
It is also illegal to accept gifts from the common people. For such action, is the door leading to all types of calamities. When a gift finds its way to a man of authority, justice and goodness will find its way out of him and what he does is to purchase for himself a place in hell."
It is also the view of the Sokoto Caliphate leaders that the surveillance of public officials constitutes an essential element in the fight against corruption. As Abdullah Ibn Fodio states:
"The leader should be to his employees like a shepherd among wild lions ... He must be motivated by his desire to find out the true state of affairs on the basis of piety, and not by malice and greed. This applies to matters connected with his employees, by seeking to know about them, by counting their wealth before their appointment and by looking from time to time into their works.
He shall rebuke anyone who fails in his duty; dismiss those who transgress; and replace any person against whom many complaints were made. Whoever is found to have wealth above what he earns from his work, the leader shall confiscate and restore it to treasury. If he is doubtful about origin of the wealth, he shall confiscate half of it from the employee."
Mr. chairman, distinguished guests, these are some of the words of wisdom in leadership and governance from the founding fathers of the Sokoto Caliphate, with the ardent hope and fervent prayer that they serve to assist us in the current struggle to overcome the challenges of leadership facing us in Nigeria.
But we must all realise that change cannot come without a personal commitment on the part of each and every one of us to make real difference in their respective spheres of activity. We must resolve to do what is right and to endeavour to provide the enabling environment for others to act appropriately.
My distinguished brothers and sisters, we must stand up to promote effective leadership and the pursuit of excellence and shun mediocrity and indifference. When the exemplars of hard work and enterprise and the paragons of excellence and innovation are penalized by society for these lofty virtues; and sycophancy, trickery and deceit remain the surest way of advancement within the system; we don't need an expert to tell us that we are in a quandary. Unfortunately, our situation will get more pitiable and perilous so long as we choose to wallow in this avoidable quagmire.
Our distinguished guests, we must come forward to champion leadership education and development and to ensure that we equip the upcoming generation of Nigerians with the requisite knowledge, skills and orientation to function effectively in the competitive and globalized world we live in and to do us all proud. These generations must perform better than the current generation if we are to thrive and prosper. I doubt it very much if we have any other choice.
Our distinguished brother and sisters, we must also muster the necessary courage to say 'No' to those who fan the embers of bigotry, sectarianism and discord within our societies. Those who exploit the fault-lines of our collective existence must be told that they cannot and will not succeed in their dastardly game. We must stand together and work together to defend our common humanity and promote the lofty values we all believe in.
Our distinguished brothers and sisters, we must, above all, come together to recognise and reward integrity, probity and excellence such that those who have made enormous sacrifices to lay the foundation of a new order shall receive the honour they deserve and serve as beacons of hope for building a purposeful and prosperous Nigeria.
I thank you all for listening. Was-salaamu Alaikum!
- Remarks by His Eminence Alhaji Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar, Sultan of Sokoto and President-General Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) at the 10th Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL) annual lecture held at Lagos on Wednesday, February 6, 2013.