Nigeria: Selfless Leadership and Good Governance in Nigeria

27 July 2021

Attahiru M. Jega, former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission dissects the concept of selfless leadership at the memorial workshop in honour of the late Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, first civilian Governor of Lagos State, organised by Federal Social Democrats.


I appreciate the honour of being asked to make this presentation at this event and I am glad to do so. Late Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande was indeed a selfless leader in governance. He was among the very few selfless leaders Nigeria has had, in his time, since then and indeed in our country's entire history. He was not only selfless but also a visionary leader, focused on initiating and executing policies, programmes and projects to address the fundamental needs and aspirations of citizens. By so doing, whether as Governor of Lagos State October 1979 - December 1983, or as Minister of the Federal Republic September 1993 - June 1998 (?), in the discharge of his assigned responsibilities, he was impactful and he touched lives, consequently his legacy and memory live forever.

Nigeria has been afflicted by or with the misfortune of having characters in governance, who are neither selfless, nor visionary; who are rather essentially greedy (for power and/or money), clueless, reckless and therefore perpetrators and consolidators of poor / bad democratic governance.

One of the major challenges of good democratic governance in Nigeria, therefore, is that of getting selfless, visionary, patriotic, pro-people, inclusive, focused and effective leadership, to drive/pilot Nigeria's national affairs and the political economy towards good, democratic governance. We have muddled through national problems, with epileptically energy superficially, essentially due to the absence of such requisite leadership, as a result of which the challenges have magnified and become complexified, appearing daunting and insurmountable, and pushing the country towards the precipice and potentially off the cliff. In the current situation, getting things right and reverting to the appropriate trajectory of good democratic governance would require selfless, visionary leadership committed to, and focused on, people-oriented policies for socioeconomic growth and development.

In what follows in this presentation, I elaborate upon the following points:

*There is the need for proper understanding and appreciation of the concepts of "Good Governance" and "Good Democratic Governance". What Nigeria needs and requires is not merely good governance but good democratic governance

*There is a correlation between selfless leadership and good governance, especially good democratic governance in Nigeria

*Although a necessary condition, selfless leadership is not a sufficient condition for good, democratic governance

*For Nigeria's progress and development, which address the fundamental needs and aspirations of the citizens, Nigeria would require people in leadership positions who are not merely selfless, but also visionary, patriotic and people-oriented; who have the capacity, competence and ability to appreciate and manage the complexity of our diversity, on the basis of equity, equality of opportunity, fair-play and the rule of law. Leaders who can protect, defend and advance citizenship rights against discrimination, marginalization, predation and exclusion.

Conceptualizing Governance, Good Governance and Good Democratic Governance

In the context of the public sector in modern states, governance is about "steering" the course amidst "the changing boundaries between the public, private and voluntary actors, [which] may include a range of themes [such as] "the process of engagement (politics), the substantive issues (policy), and the institutional structures through which state and other actors relate to one another (polity)" (Hardiman, 2014: 228). Even in stable democracies, the complex interactions and associated outcomes, which governance represents, are in constant need of refinement and replenishment through reform measures.

In unstable and transitional democracies, such as in Nigeria, governance requires constant attention and requisite reforms for it to deliver on the fundamental needs and aspirations of citizens, amongst which human security is paramount. Human security, broadly defined, is essentially about wellbeing, peace of mind and happiness of the entire citizens, without which, no nation can ever be at peace. Governance is therefore intricately linked to human security. Good democratic governance is the panacea for national socioeconomic growth and development and human security in countries that are democracies or aspire to be so. Bad governance and mis-governance, on the contrary, obstruct democratic development, undermines economic growth and nurtures, as well as entrenches human insecurity.

Governance is often confused with government. But, as Heywood has noted, "'Governance' is a broader term than government", in the sense that it "... refers, in its widest sense, to the various ways through which social life is coordinated [in a given polity]. Government can therefore be seen as one of the organizations involved in governance... " (2015: 84). In this sense, government is the organizational platform of governance in the public sector, as "market" is the organizational platform of governance in the private/economic sphere, and "networks" are the organizational frameworks for governance in the civil society sector.

In the public sector, governance is a form of public management, which involves "rowing" (administration or service delivery), or more recently, "steering" (setting targets and strategic objectives) in addressing the welfare and wellbeing of citizens. In this context, to 'govern', "is to rule or exercise control [over] others" and to preside over and coordinate the traditional government organization, the bureaucracy, through 'top-down' authority systems (ibid. 85).

Governance in the context of a modern nation-state is first and foremost about providing for the fundamental needs and aspirations of citizens, through governmental institutions and processes, steered, driven and guided by chosen representatives of the people through competitive elections, which are free, fair and credible. Amongst what can be termed as the fundamental needs and aspirations of citizens in any country are: food, shelter, health, education, rights, wellbeing and human security, which is indeed paramount.

In the crisis and adjustment period of the mid 1980s, the Washington Consensus served as the framework for the intervention activities of the World Bank and other international economic development institutions in the "economic development" of African countries, such as Nigeria (World Bank 2000). It pushed for "massive deregulation of markets, tightening of public spending, guarantees for property rights and large scale privatizations" as the requisite conditions for economic growth and development (Rothstein 2014a: 144).

The notion of "good governance" evolved with the failure of structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) to catalyze economic growth and development in the so-called developing countries, and seem to have replaced the Washington Consensus in the 1990s. Since the 1990s, scholars have attributed the failure of the Washington Consensus strategy to the lack of functional, or weakness of, institutions and have been preoccupied with the search for measures and mechanisms of reforming public institutions and making the delivery of public sector services to the public more transparent, accountable, efficient and cost-effective through reform processes.

As Rothstein has noted, "since the late 1990s, economists and political scientists alike have started to argue that dysfunctional government institutions play a central part in many of the world's most pressing economic and social problems" (2014b: 5). Hence, panacea was seen as "good governance", which can remove distortions in the public sector and restore functionality of institutions. Thus, "good governance" became the framework within which to introduce market mechanisms into the public sector governance processes. Many conceptions of "good governance" abound, as summarized by Rothstein: from good governance as small government, to good governance as the absence of corruption, to good governance as the rule of law, good governance as democracy, to good governance as government efficiency, etc. (ibid. 2014a: 146-152).

In advancing the case of good governance, many other concepts are also bandied about; such notions as "devolved governance" related to organization of public administration; "delegated governance", in regulatory policy; and new issues were introduced to "fiscal governance" (Hardiman 2014:236). In particular, under the framework of "good governance", African countries were guided to "bring managerialism into the public bureaucracy" and introduce "public management reforms" which have the objectives "of increasing efficiency, cutting costs, and helping the public sector to deliver high-quality service" (Pierre 2014: 188 &190).

In any case, good governance came to mean the absence of bad governance. Characteristics of "bad governance" are identified as: lack of accountability and transparency, interference with the rule of law and corruption. Indeed, bad governance is perceived as the inability of public institutions to manage public affairs and public resources; and the failure of a government to meet the needs of society while making the best use of all the resources at their disposal.

Ironically the World Bank's conception of "good governance" is applicable within the contexts of both democratic governments and authoritarian regimes, with profound contradictions being evident. Cutting costs, "rolling back" the state, efficiency, institutional capacity building, were pursued vigorously at the expense of inclusivity, participatory processes, bottom up approaches and to some extent, even transparency and accountability. Thus, good governance is stripped off its normative democratic content.

Perhaps a more useful concept would be that which qualifies governance, such as a notion of "good democratic governance". In a transitional democracy, such as Nigeria's, whatever else governance could be, it must include a democratic content: it must be participatory, with bottom-up processes and it must have inclusivity.

What does good, democratic governance entail? Its framework is necessarily democratic, it is governance within a constitutional framework and based on the rule of law, as well as circumscribed by universal rights and freedoms. Governance in an undemocratic context and framework, no matter how good, may not necessarily be sustainable. That is why it is better to focus on good democratic governance, rather than just good governance.

Characteristics and Attributes of Selfless Leadership

Selfless leadership is desirable for societal progress and development as it is focused on satisfying collective needs and aspirations, in contrast to leadership characterized by selfishness, which is preoccupied with personal gain and the advancement of particularistic objectives.

Selfless leadership encompasses, among other things, the following:

*Good character, ethical conduct and moral uprightness

*Capacity and ability to facilitate the happiness, success and aspirations of citizens, at enormous personal sacrifices

*Show of concern more with the needs of others than personal selfish ones

*Thinking and acting more of others beyond self; and sacrificing time, comfort and effort in the service of others

*Humility to listen to, understand and treat others with dignity and respect

*Disposition to be responsible and responsive to the expectations, need and aspirations of the citizens

*Commitment to give one's best without thinking of personal gain

*Courage of conviction


*Motivated by, and striving for, excellence

*Incorrupt ability

Selfless leaders are the epitome of service to the people, deserving of the recognition and title of "Servant-leaders". They devote themselves to effective and efficient service delivery to the citizens, driving satisfaction from positive outcomes and value-addition, and not from personal, material reward or gain.

The truly great leaders in modern history are selfless leaders, people who, by their selflessness, motivate, inspire others and achieve greatness for their countries.

Nigeria: Situational Analysis

In Nigeria's history, both in the colonial, post-colonial and contemporary era, we can point to examples of selfless leadership. Prominent personalities in leadership positions in governance who have made enormous personal sacrifices, eschewed personal material gains, served their country diligently and selflessly not in pursuit of material gains. Admittedly, they are relatively few and far apart. There has not been a congregation or confluence of them in politics and/or in governance to be desirably impactful.

Indeed, it can be asserted without fear of contradiction that, in the contemporary era, i.e. since the commencement of the Fourth Republic in May 1999, the extent and quality of selfless leadership in governance has deteriorated and degenerated. Greed and avarice have become the pivots of governance. The prevailing tendency is increasingly that of accessing leadership positions in governance, at all levels, by hook or by crook, for personal and particularistic gainful preoccupations. Leadership positions are accessed by corrupt, illegal and unwholesome ways and means and, increasingly, people who assume leadership positions, proceed to lead the pack in kleptocratic emptying of the public treasury and other public properties. Or if they themselves do not steal at all, they look the other way as their clients and cronies steal public coffers with impunity. As a consequence, governance become bad, extremely so, citizens become disillusioned and angry due to crises of expectations and mis-governance or bad governance; and the rapacious elite engaged in do or die competition for political power and access to state resources, divide the citizens on the basis "us" versus "them", through the mobilization of ethno-religious and other primordial identities, fanning the embers of conflagration and igniting violent conflicts and crises, destructive of the ephemeral fabric which loosely binds the nation.

Summary and Conclusion

There is no doubt that the almost total absence of selfless leadership in governance is a major contributor to the appalling state of affairs in governance in contemporary Nigeria. However, the enormous challenges which Nigeria currently faces, cannot be successfully addressed by a leadership that is merely selfless. It would rather require selfless, plus visionary, forthright, patriotic and people-oriented leadership, with focused policies and vigorously executed programmes and projects in accord with the carefully articulated vision of what the future represents. Anything short of this kind of desirable leadership would not be remarkably constrained, in taking Nigeria out of the woods of the wilderness, which it is currently.


Although a necessary condition, selfless leadership is not a sufficient condition for good, democratic governance. For Nigeria's progress and development, which address the fundamental needs and aspirations of the citizens, Nigeria would require people in leadership positions who are not merely selfless, but also visionary, patriotic and people-oriented; who have the capacity, competence and ability to appreciate and manage the complexity of our diversity, on the basis of equity, equality of opportunity, fair-play and the rule of law. Leaders who can protect, defend and advance citizenship rights against discrimination, marginalization, predation and exclusion

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