Emeka NjokuTuesday, April 7, 2009
London, Canada



lacks in general and Nigerians and Igbo people in particular confuse who they are (identity) with what they do (profession, position or title). This lack of self-knowledge and identity (character) has devastating effects. The same goes for the confusion between leadership (moral authority) and titles or position (formal authority) or celebrity/personality.


Recently, some Igbo people in USA decided to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe (Zik), the former ceremonial president of Nigeria, as Igbo leader. Some suggested that democratic leadership was Zik's asset or legacy to Nigeria.

Nigerians and Igbo people have suffered greatly due to lack of leadership. This makes the issue of Igbo leadership or Nigerian leadership as well as who really qualifies as a leader a very important matter. The question is: was Zik an Igbo leader? And was Zik a Nigerian Leader? My main focus is Igbo leadership but the principles apply to Nigeria and Africa.

In pre-independence Nigeria, there were 3 regions and 3 personalities from each region namely Zik(East mainly Igbo), Obafemi Awolowo (West mainly Yoruba) and Ahmadu Bello(North mainly Hausa-Fulani).All the 3 are now dead. Northerners celebrate the leadership of the late Sir Ahmadu Bello( the northern leader ) while the Yoruba celebrate the leadership of the late Obafemi Awolowo( the Yoruba Leader). It would seem logical that the Igbo celebrate the legacy of the late Zik as an Igbo leader.

While both the late Ahmadu Bello and Awolowo qualify as Northern and Yoruba leader respectively, Zik does not really qualify as an Igbo leader. Why?

Leadership is not the same as rulership or position or title holding. Leadership cannot be appointed or awarded or assigned (John Maxwell). That a person was a president or governor or minister or senator does not give the person a legacy of leadership. Nigeria as a country has not had a leader but it has had many rulers or position and title holders and personalities. Northern Nigeria has had a political leader named Sir Ahmadu Bello and the Yoruba has had one named Awolowo. The Igbo has had political leaders such as Dr Michael Okpara or Dr Akanu Ibiam but not Zik. Pretend for a moment that you are either my client or student on leadership, you would hear me hammering the following points.

Leadership is about character especially integrity and humility. About 90% of all leadership failures are character failures. Integrity is the foundation for goodness and greatness. It is about being principled, constant and consistent. It is about being trustworthy. It is about doing the right things. It is about sacrifice. It is about service above self. It is about vision and direction. It is about defending and protecting your people collective interests even if it means paying the ultimate price. It is about standing for something. It is about improving the economic well-being and quality of life of the people. It is about transforming the people and group. It is about making a difference.

When you apply these and many other leadership criteria, it is obvious that Zik was not an Igbo leader. It is also obvious that Nigeria has not had leaders. It is obvious that Africa is a continent bereft of leaders except few like Nelson Mandela.

Specifically on Igbo leadership, the Igbo culture is very clear about what makes one fit or unfit for leadership. A thief or a traitor (sabo) cannot be a leader. Being a thief or traitor is the lowest of the lowest (an abomination or nso ala) among the Igbo. In fact, it automatically makes on an outcast. Whether one likes it or not, the defining moment for the Igbo in Nigeria was the Nigeria-Biafra war (1967-70). It was the litmus test. Zik crossed over to the Nigerian side because of personal difficulties with the Biafra leadership. Biafra or the Igbo was fighting a war of survival and freedom after being massacred in Nigeria and attacked militarily. Zik was in favor of Biafra as long as he called the shots and the going was good. Biafra is a matter of principle not personal feelings about Ojukwu or his leadership style. This pattern of unprincipled behavior and egotism were characteristic of Zik whether it was in Nigeria or Biafra. When things were not favorable to him personally he would decamp. He did not make and keep promises. Space does not allow me to go into full details and explanations but only to say that a leader acts based on principles and collective interests not personal interests or egotism. Making and keeping promises is the cornerstone of leadership or a person.

Zik like many African rulers had a major character and integrity problem. At the root was his self-concept or self definition(the way one sees oneself). He saw himself in his own words as a "Beautiful Bride" for the highest bidder as well as indispensable. The former executive president of Nigeria, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, a mild mannered man captured it well when he told Zik during the 1979 election campaign: "when you switch husbands one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight times, you are no longer a beautiful bride but a harlot." Zik was a weather vane-go where the favorable wind blows. A "Beautiful Bride" mindset is exactly the opposite of the leadership mindset. In 1954, the Sutton-Foster Inquiry found Zik's conduct below what was expected of an honest and honorable person. He also has Black neocolonial/elitist mentality like many African rulers and political class.

Regarding the sacred duty of leadership to defend and protect your people and their collective interests, the record is clear that while Ahmadu Bello protected the Northern interests and Awolowo did the same for the Yoruba interests, the Igbo were left undefended and unprotected by Zik. This vacuum created at the critical formative years of Nigeria caused an irreparable damage to the Igbo. Also, I have never read where Zik publicly stood up and fought against the endless massacres and injustice meted to the Igbo.

What about providing vision and direction? Both Ahmadu Bello and Awolowo had visions for their people. Both were realistic and visionaries when it came to Nigeria. My admiration of Ahmadu Bello is that he maintained that Nigeria was a 1914 Mistake while Awolowo called it a geographical expression. But Zik in his blind ambition to rule Nigeria pretended otherwise. What would have been the course of history if Zik heeded Ahmadu Bello's perspective ? The Nigeria tragedy would have been avoided!

What about the issue of sacrifice that is so central to leadership. What sacrifice did Zik make for the Igbo. The record shows the opposite. It is the Igbo that sacrificed greatly for Zik. When he was cheated in the Western House in Ibadan as premier, the Igbo gave him the Eastern premiership in Enugu at the expense of Eyo Ita (a non-Igbo) which caused bad feelings against the Igbo in Eastern Nigeria. The Igbo dutifully campaigned and voted for Zik as "our own person" and tribal loyalty but Zik had no loyalty to anyone except his unbridle political ambition to be the prime minister of Nigeria or president and to be worshipped as "Zik of Africa". Luckily, Igbo people have had selfless leaders who sacrificed for Ndigbo especially when they were threatened or faced injustice such as the great Chinua Achebe who refused Nigeria national "honors" because of Obasanjo government's messing up Igboland. There was Dr. Akanu Ibiam who gave up his British Empire knighthood because of British role during the Nigeria-Biafra war. Then there was Sam Mbakwe, the crying governor, who stood up against the injustice of "Abandoned Property." I might add that both Dim Ojukwu and Ralph Uwazuruike are great Igbo leaders and nwa afor Igbo(true son of Igboland) who have never sold out the Igbo collective interests and have fought injustice against the Igbo at great personal risks. These are examples personal sacrifice central to leadership.

Regarding democratic leadership as a Zik asset and legacy, it is doubtful if Zik was really a true democrat. Most Black neocolonialists who took over from the white colonials were not democrats. They just wanted the whites out of power in order to enjoy power and the accolades. When the military took over in Nigeria and seemed entrenched, it was Zik who said that it was unrealistic to expect the military not to be part of the government on a permanent basis. He advocated a system of government he tagged "diarchy" whereby power would be permanently shared between civilians and the military. This is not the principles and philosophy of a true democrat. As usual, it was the Nigeria political/power elite's unprincipled mindset of " if you can't beat them, join them" and expediency that characterized Zik's life. It is absolutely not a leadership and democratic leadership stuff. A true democrat and a leader would be opposed to military regimes and military in governance as a matter of principle. Politics without principles is one of the 7 deadly sins that would destroy humanity according to Mahatma Gandhi. Zik played politics without principles.

Zik held many prominent positions in Nigeria and was well known internationally. However, he did not make any difference either to the Igbo or Nigeria. Positions, titles and popularity are not leadership. I am always told that someone is a leader but when I ask this key leadership question: what difference did someone make, I usually get a different picture. Igbo people in particular , Nigerians and Africans in general must be extremely careful in celebrating title or position holders or rulers or misleaders as leaders.

This article has been a wake up calls to Igbo people, Nigerians and Africans to stop calling as leaders those selfish ego-driven ambitious politicians and power elite who sacrificed collective interests for personal interests. Rulers, position and title holders or being famous are not leaders unless they transform themselves into one by character development especially integrity, service above self , and making a positive difference to the people. Misleaders found abundantly in Igboland, Nigeria and Africa are obviously not leaders. "Beautiful Bride" such as Zik who is available for the highest bidder is a harlot( President Shehu Shagari's word supported by Emeka) not a leader.

Anyone who betrayed his people during war of survival or major danger is not a leader. Anyone who would tell graduating Biafra officers to fight for freedom and defend their fatherland but later crossover to the other side is not a leader. Leadership is about principles and being principled. Sir Ahmadu Bello was a northern leader for being principled and for protecting and defending northern interests. Awolowo was a Yoruba leader for doing the same for Yoruba. Zik did not protect and defend Igbo interests and does not qualify as an Igbo leader. A traitor (Sabo) is an outcast and should be ostracized according to Igbo culture. He does not have a democratic leadership legacy for advocating "diarchy" for Nigeria.

President Obama, the first Black president of America, and the American public recently expressed their outrage when executives of failed USA insurance giant (AIG) were rewarded with bonuses. We the Igbo or Nigerians or Africans should be outraged when our failed political/power elite are rewarded with the all important leadership legacy or national honors. The lesson for the present and future generations is simply this: you must be trustworthy and love and sacrifice for your people; you must do service above self and make a difference to qualify as a leader. Leadership without accountability is simply license to irresponsibility. You will be eventually held accountable especially by Emeka.

Peace to all.