Promoting stewardship in public service | Dr.Kayode Fayemi’s full speech Daystar Christian Centre's Conference
- Let me start by thanking my friends Pastors Sam and Nike Adeyemi and the leadership of Daystar Christian Centre for the opportunity given to me today to share some of my thoughts on a very important topic with this distinguished audience. Pastor Sam provided a very broad shoulder to lean on in my years in office as Governor of Ekiti State and I remain greatly indebted to him for his constant prayers and wise counsel. It is always a delight to watch from a distance the good work that this ministry is doing in advancing the life and the light of God in this increasingly perverse world. I count it a rare privilege to participate in the very noble effort that the Excellence in Leadership Conference is, which I have been made to understand, serves the purpose of extending the frontiers of the Church’s influence beyond the four walls of brick and mortar, in shaping every area of our national life with our transcendent values and ultimately raising role models.
As I contemplated on the theme of this conference – Promoting Stewardship in Public Office – I could not help but reminisce on an event I attended as a guest speaker sometime in February 2013, organized by a group called the “Apostles in the Marketplace (AIMP)”. The event had a similar focus and I remember the paper I delivered that day was titled “Christians in Politics: The Challenge of Transformative Public Engagement”. It is interesting to note that many of the participants at that event over 2 years ago have gone on to deepen their participation in politics and governance at different levels, and by the grace of God my brother and friend who was a co-speaker at the event, Pastor Yemi Osinbajo has gone on to become our Vice President, while one of the conveners and Chairman of the Board of the AIMP, Mr. Okechukwu Enalamah and I, has been confirmed to serve in President Buhari’s cabinet alongside other faithful servant leaders. I hope this session will similarly inspire as many of us as possible to get more involved in politics and public service, even as I pray God opens more doors for more Godly men and women of faith to attain strategic positions in the public sphere as we work together to redeem the desolation of our land and generation.
In 1983, Chinua Achebe wrote, The Trouble with Nigeria, in which he offered his famous diagnosis of Nigerian society: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility [and] to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.” Achebe’s theory of leadership failure is one of the most frequently quoted statements about Nigeria. It was a damning critique of Nigerian elites that has continued to resound even after three decades that the notion of an overarching leadership failure as the root of our society’s ills has almost become a cliché trotted out by everyone including successive generations of leaders to explain our chronic national underperformance.
Without a doubt, the need for us to evolve a new paradigm of leadership on our shores has never been more urgent. The nation is undergoing a period of economic uncertainty occasioned by declining oil revenues. At the same time, a fast growing population poses pressing questions in terms of the challenges of feeding, housing, educating, employing, managing and leading tens of millions of citizens, levying new demands for public goods. There has been a breakdown of societal values and a corresponding degradation of vital social and moral institutions.
The most pungent expression of these issues is to be found among young Nigerians who constitute the country’s largest demographic category. A lot of our youth no longer see a clear, scrupulous path to a decent and fulfilling life. Many of our young people are entranced by the possibilities of upward social mobility inherent in fraud and a variety of get-rich-quick schemes that reflect our societal bias for instant gratification. Others have been initiated into terrorism and political violence. If leaders are role models and influencers, what sort of leadership are we modeling for our young compatriots? What sort of examples are we setting for them from our places of privileges high up in the pinnacle of society? What kind of leadership will inspire, mentor and rally them towards a greater sense of purpose?
The sort of paradigm of leadership that prevails in any society is predicated on how that society answers a vital moral question. Is power for self-aggrandizement or is it for serving the common good? If a society comes to believe that power is for self-aggrandizement, then public office and leadership will be marked by hyper-authoritarianism, corrupt enrichment and dysfunction. There is a clear difference between a leadership that preserves the common good and a leadership that promotes the affluence of a privileged minority. The former creates a climate of inclusion, unity and mutuality. The latter fosters imbalances, inequalities and inequity.
Looking back at Nigeria’s socio-political trajectory, it is no mystery as to which leadership model has been ascendant for much of our history. Despite the riches and natural endowments with which Nigeria has been providentially blessed, the benefits of our commonwealth have not been equitably distributed. Wide disparities of income persist and millions of Nigerians still live in grinding poverty. For such a young population, lack of legitimate means of social mobility breeds social discontent and unrest thus explaining the escalation of crime and conflict across Nigeria in recent years.
While it is true that abuse of power and impunity are as much a reality of leadership in every sphere of national life as it is with the public sector, leaders in the public sector bear more responsibility as those with the vested authority to utilize the instruments of office in moderating the conduct of the citizenry. More importantly, public sector leaders usually have the charisma that endears people to them, making it possible to influence their behaviour. Nigerians are good followers and will key into whatever is modeled by our leaders. We do what we see our leaders do, not what we have been asked to do. If leaders lead with integrity, the message will be clear that this is a nation of honest people, who believe in hard work and integrity. These values from the public sector will effectively translate into other spheres.
Clearly, we need a new paradigm of leadership in Nigeria. We need a new definition of leadership which cuts to the core essence of the social contract between government and the governed, and recognizes that the people have the power, and leaders are servants empowered by the people to do their bidding. As the old order that never worked for us is becoming obsolete, we need to embrace the emerging order of Servant Leadership, largely energized by the power of personal example modeled by President Buhari, who the Almighty God who rules in the affairs of men, in His wisdom, has chosen as He did King David in biblical times, to lead Nigeria at this auspicious time with the integrity of his heart.
Robert K. Greenleaf (1904–1990) is credited as being the first to coin the phrase “Servant Leadership” in The Servant as Leader, an essay he first published in 1970 but which had subsequent editions. I agree with a lot of Greenleaf’s submissions and urge further reading of his works, being one of the greatest contributors to the body of knowledge on the subject of our discourse. Though most of his work sought to address the power-centered authoritarian leadership style that was prominent in institutions in the United States during his time, there are key lessons which are relevant to our contemporary Nigerian experience.
However, the concept of Servant Leadership is timeless. The greatest teacher of all times, our Lord Jesus dedicated much of His teachings to this important concept, giving instructions to both leaders and followers that transcend the spatio-temporal context of His admonitions. He famously contrasted authoritarian models of leadership with His prescribed paradigm of servant leadership while expressly rejecting the former. He repudiated the leadership culture of His day that was characterized by hypocrisy, ostentation and blatant abuse of authority and warned His followers not to “lord it over” those under them. He called for a radical change in the style and substance of governance – a call that is still very relevant today.
The concept of servant leadership may be difficult to readily grasp but its defining features are humility and service. Authoritarian leaders perpetuate an alienating gulf between themselves and the people they lead which in turn fosters a master-servant dynamic. In contrast, servant leadership inverts this dynamic by defining leadership as a position of service. At the risk of appearing to be sermonising or spiritualising an otherwise secular concept, I submit that the life and ministry of Jesus is one of the greatest models of Servant Leadership that we all need to learn from in developing a new paradigm of leadership that puts the people first.
Still on the point that Servant Leadership is a derivative of God’s design for man, the theme of servant leadership is deeply connected to the idea that leadership is a trust and that all power comes from God. Above the structures and systems of governance stands a great sovereign from whom ultimate legitimacy flows. The idea of a transcendent authority above all earthly sovereignty is readily acknowledged in various religious and moral traditions. The bible tells us in the 13th chapter of Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans that “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” It is variously articulated as a higher power or a higher law, but whatever its depiction, the point being clearly made is that earthly institutions do not have the final say over the fate of people. Leaders must still answer to a higher power.
The ancient Chinese sages defined this standard of transcendent morality as “the Mandate of Heaven” – a crown of legitimacy that inhered in governments that rule according to the dictates of justice and ethics. In Chinese philosophy, heaven would bless the authority of a just ruler but would withdraw its mandate from an unjust ruler. The mandate of heaven would then be transferred to those who are better suited to rule according to the dictates of higher morality.
The mandate of heaven is a metaphor for the moral legitimacy of rulers but it also points to the need for leaders to be on the right side of history. One of the defining traits of servant leadership is a consciousness of that transcendent sovereignty in which true legitimacy resides and the awareness that they will be weighed on scales more consequential than those of the media or critics.
Servant leadership defines power as a part of a social covenant that frames the relationship between the leaders and the people they lead. We can see a new moral principle which holds that the only authority deserving of one’s allegiance is that which is freely and knowingly granted by the led to the leader in response to, and in proportion to, the clearly evident servant stature of the leader. Those who choose to follow this principle will not casually accept the authority of existing institutions. Rather they will freely respond only to individuals who are chosen as leaders because they are proven and trusted as servants. To the extent that this principle prevails in the future, the only truly viable institutions are those that are predominantly servant-led.
This relationship between servant leaders and the led underpins public sector governance in modern societies especially within the context of a democracy. Democracy is by itself a contract, not a process. Democracy is based on one fundamental assumption: Society, through a process that is open and transparent, agrees to cede its individual power to some among its ranks, who exercise it with the aim of achieving a general will of the society rather than the private wills of all of society. In order to achieve this, the appointed individuals, under an institution known as government, develop norms and rules that are agreed on by the society, and which form the basis of the contract. It is the responsibility of the appointed individuals and the larger society to adhere to these rules and norms – often seen in constitutions, state structures, national visions and policies that direct development and governance of the society. This is the basis of not just democratic governance but of all types of governance. No government can exist without the consent or at least the acquiescence of the majority of the people.
It is my understanding of the foregoing concepts that guides my involvement in public service and governance. Furthermore, as someone who cut his teeth in leadership early in life by serving as an altar boy – a mass server in the Catholic Church, the defining principle that has informed my passionate involvement, from my years in student activism in high school and university to the frontlines of pro-democracy activism in exile and now in politics and public office, has been the idea of serving a higher purpose in the public square and locating the right vocational channels through which to actualize my obligations as a man of faith to God and country.
I am therefore pleased to share from my modest experience, insights on five defining characteristics of Servant Leadership and its advantages in bringing about better peace and development outcomes in our country.
A key leadership deficit evident both in the realms of public sector governance and indeed every sphere of our national life is the failure to facilitate succession planning. This failure is traceable to the dominant model of leadership in our institutions which we earlier identified as typically authoritarian and dictatorial. In politics and in many of our public sector institutions this paradigm has effectively created personality cults in which fawning loyalty rather than competence dictates the allocation of reward and in which divergent thinking, innovation and initiative are punished while servile group-think is rewarded. In such environments, members who are desirous of prolonging their careers tend to blend in rather than exercise initiative, thereby crippling their leadership potentials. Many politicians and public servants run public offices as personal fiefdoms which cease to function effectively whenever they are physically absent.
In such dysfunctional organizations, leadership is seen as being vested in a single authority figure rather than as a function diffused among several empowered actors. Leaders in these environments tend to be psychologically insecure and are simply unable or unwilling to mentor and empower their subordinates. Under these circumstances the executive impulses of young potential leaders are stifled and they are not effectively equipped to undertake greater responsibility. The only types of personalities that rise in these settings are those who are equally insecure and egotistical. Having become adept in the dark art of survival in repressive official environments, they eventually assume high office only to reprise the authoritarian styles of their predecessors, perpetuating a circle of mediocrity.
Servant leaders are not self-perpetuating and insecure. They don’t arrive in positions of authority unprepared for the demands of authentic leadership. They are empowering of others. They connect success with succession meaning that they measure their success not in terms of how much they have been able to hoard power but by how much they have been able to distribute it among others thereby enabling a greater multitude to achieve their own potentials. They are not arrogant to think of themselves as infallible or indispensable. By preparing and mentoring others to succeed them, servant leaders demonstrate a keen sense of their humility and dispensability in the scheme of things.
This is a challenge to us; both current and aspiring public servants, to pay attention as true Servant Leaders, to building a successor generation that can sustain and build upon our efforts in the making of a new Nigeria through rigorous succession planning.
I have never seen a good servant who acts on his or her own accord. Every servant takes instructions from the one at whose pleasure he or she is appointed to serve. Many of us in our individual lives and careers have little patience for opinionated subordinates who refuse to take instructions, and we speedily reverse the employments of such people classified as recruitment errors. In the same way, Servant Leaders are good listeners who craft their programmes and policies only after seeking input from all stakeholders especially the majority of the people at the grassroots who they represent. Even in our pre-colonial traditional societies where the monarch is seen as the embodiment of all authority and power, every member and every household of the community had a say in the matters of collective interest. Governance was based on widespread consultation in the village square that broadened the pool of opinion and the building of consensus. In the end, the decision, though sanctioned by a chief or a king, had to be a collective one of which he was just the instrument of execution.
To be truly effective, the design of programmes and policies by public servants has to emanate from the people’s perception of their own needs. In this sense, the limitation of leadership in Nigeria is our emphasis on the conduct of elections often at the expense of the democratic relationship between the government and the governed. We have not yet come to see that democracy means participatory governance which in effect means that policies are generated from the bottom-up not imposed from the top-down. There is a hubris which occasions leaders presuming to know far more about the people’s problems than the people themselves. This paternalistic attitude causes us to prescribe solutions that often have no relation to the challenges on ground and consequently devise strategies that are unworkable. Yet, there are times when leaders armed with greater insight and a more dispassionate appraisal of the challenges, must stand up for what they believe is in the best interest of the majority and not be afraid to stand alone. Times when short term populism must not be allowed to take the place of the long term interest of the people. Even then, conveying such positions to the public is an exercise in effective public communication.
Despite the tonnage of well-intentioned and even altruistic efforts to fight poverty in Africa, these programmes fail because they are largely imposed on the people by political elites. They have no buy-in at the grassroots level. For development plans to work, the people have to take ownership of their conception and drive their execution. For this to be the case, the development goals have to be generated by citizens and tally with their own needs and aspirations. A more meaningful approach to policy conception and execution calls for us to adopt a more robust posture of listening and attentiveness attuned to the pulse of the communities on the receiving end of our initiatives. This means a return to the ethos of consultation and consensus that our forefathers used to good effect. In our times, this can be interpreted as the forging of strategic partnerships between public servants and civil society organizations and other non-state actors that help to articulate the frustrations and the priorities of the people. Servant Leaders in the Public Sector absolutely have to listen.
Servant Leaders lead by example. They demonstrate in their private and personal conduct the type of behaviour they require from the people. We have unfortunately had a dearth of servant leaders in the public sector who inspire us with their personal integrity. Furthermore, our society has been socialised to entertain dichotomies that fragment life into separate, often disconnected domains. Thus, many of us believe there is a wide gulf that separates the private from the public, the personal from the professional, and the moral from the practical. The consequence of this belief is the notion that we can and often act according to different dictates in these realms. So, for example, we might preach virtue and rectitude at home while participating in public theft and corruption. When legislators brawl in the glare of television cameras, it rarely occurs to us that these law makers are also parents who surely in their homes admonish their children to be of good behaviour in school. A parent who rages against stealing at home may be involved in creative accounting at the office.
Obviously, the result of such dissonance is hypocrisy which does not escape the notice of the next generation. They take note of the inconsistencies and contradictions between what we say in private and what we do in public. Indeed, few people are as adept at spotting such hypocrisies as children. They lose faith in our utterances and our moral authority begins to wane. Most tragically, they learn that “talking the talk” need not necessitate “walking the talk.” The fragmented view of life that entertains these dichotomies is incompatible with servant leadership which manifests through the example of a whole and holistic life of integrity. In this regard, an authentic servant leader is one who exemplifies constancy across the various domains that he or she is involved in. In sum, authentic servant leadership is defined by personal integrity.
Integrity is usually understood as a virtue synonymous with honesty. Integrity comes from the same etymological root as the verb “integrate.” It conveys a sense of wholeness and coherence and is used by engineers when they say “structural integrity” to mean when a structure holds together firmly. To live with integrity therefore means to live an integrated existence or to live a whole life. Living and leading by integrity entertains no dichotomy between the personal and the professional, the private and the public or the moral and the practical. Indeed, for the servant leader, leadership is not merely a position or a title that one assumes somewhere. Leadership is not what we do; it is who we are. Servant leadership is therefore more about how one lives than how one leads. It is a lifestyle.
True leadership is something quite distinct from holding an office or a position. We will enhance the quality of leadership on our shores if we dissociate it from the acquisition of titles and positions. True leadership is influence. It is driven by core convictions, values and ideas. In a profound sense, leadership is living out one’s values and ideas. It is the sheer power of personal example that projects influence.
Servant leaders must offer substance and not just style. Looking back at a passage in the bible we touched on earlier, Psalm 78 verse 72 gives us an insight into why David was such a great leader in his time. We are told that “David shepherded them with integrity of heart”, and also “with skillful hands he led them”. The fact that God Himself testified that David was a man after His heart did not stop him from acquiring a pretty impressive résumé for his time – shepherd, writer, poet, musician and songwriter, astronomer, temple designer, warrior, administrator – and he excelled in all. Integrity is not enough, skill or competence is equally essential for effective leadership in all realms of life.
It is common to come across individuals at the centre of high-profile scandals who are very skilled, persuasive, powerful leaders but who lack integrity, conversely, we also have people who are well-thought of, well-liked, and with good intentions, but who are limited in their ability to get things done effectively because they lack the knowledge and competence.
The armoury of leadership must contain a huge stock of competence in anyone who aspires to lead. The next generation of leaders must therefore be distinguished not by wealth or their possession of shiny trinkets but by the quality of their thoughts and ideas. Those who control the levers of the knowledge economy now control the world. In our contemporary context, the primary index of governmental capacity is intellectual capital. Governance is knowledge based, ideas centered and data driven, with service to the people as its sole motivation. Today, Servant leaders are expected to innovate and generate creative solutions to the challenges their people face. Our readiness to compete effectively in the 21st century global economy is measured by, among other factors, how much commitment we show to knowledge production and intellectual reflection in our political culture and leadership selection process.
The servant leader is first of all a servant who takes care to ensure that other people’s greatest needs are being met and that those people, while being served are the better for it and are increasingly empowered to be independent. In contrast to the old notions of the leader as a power-wielding figure, the servant leader is one whose first responsibility is to consider the needs of others and to create conditions where the led can become leaders themselves.
Often leadership positions have the effect of alienating leaders from those they are meant to lead. In time, the leader becomes so entrapped by the perks of office that he can no longer relate with the people. Their needs become alien to him and he is thus unable to address their problems because he can no longer see himself as part of the people. We have a situation in which our leaders are far removed from the effects of dysfunctional health systems because they fly abroad to avail themselves of better healthcare in more functional countries just to treat common ailments, or a situation where public servants cannot relate with security challenges because they have been assigned personal security details by the state. In such instances, public servants have the tendency to allow the privileges of office and the superficial honorifics used in addressing us to get to our heads – “His Excellency”, “Honourable Minister”, “Distinguished Senator” e.t.c, and lose the essential grounding in our common humanity.
This is why President Buhari on assumption of office humbly requested to be spared such inanities. In this regard, servant leaders demonstrate empathy by remaining humble enough to see themselves as being one with the people. They are great communicators who know how to keep their fingers on the pulse of the people. They have the challenge of ensuring that those that have their ears are people who tell them the truth and not what they want to hear. Sycophants have done a great deal in ruining the legacies of many leaders and they are never in short supply in the famed corridors of power.
In emphasizing this point, I will like to borrow again from the example of Jesus as the greatest model of Servant Leadership. Christians are encouraged in our faith by the scriptures in the book of Hebrews, which in contrasting the priesthood of the Old Testament and the Priesthood of Jesus, states that “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” The greatest legitimacy Jesus has as a model for us to follow is the fact that He did not sit in the high heavens bellowing instructions to us on earth, but took the form of man to experience the same emotions and frailties we do, and was ultimately victorious. Hence, we current and aspiring public servants have a lot to learn from Jesus’ model of Servant Leadership in ensuring the trappings of office do not alienate us from the pains felt by those being led.
It is important to note however that this is different from the vain populism practiced by some unscrupulous politicians and demagogic public servants, who have mastered the art of showmanship in feigning an affinity with the masses, but whose stewardship of the public trust is largely used to further their personal, selfish interests.
I will like to conclude this presentation by reiterating some points I have previously made. These points bear re-stating at every opportunity. The first is that true servant-leaders owe a duty to the successor-generation to demystify leadership, defining it less as a task reserved for a select group of special individuals but as something everyone of us is called to accomplish in various ways and in diverse sectors of life. We must move away from a culture that sees the leader as the ‘Messiah’ and from all notions that all it takes to transform society is the miraculous emergence of one extra-ordinary leader.
Leadership is therefore not a title or a position. It is influence rooted in a core of convictions and beliefs committed to advancing the common good. Positions, titles and offices merely serve as symbols of leadership. Merely occupying a position and having a title does not make one a leader in the truest sense of the term. An office or a position does not confer moral authority so much as it presumes it. Moral authority is a personal attribute one takes into public office and leaves with at the end of one’s tenure. The timeless leaders that we continue to remember with fondness either never occupied an office or did so for a short period of time – Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi, Obafemi Awolowo remain such iconic figures. These leaders derived their accolades in spite of their public office, rather than because of it. They derived their relevance and significance from their personal attributes of character, competence, courage, intellect and charisma. Yet, many of our public figures – ex-Governors, ex-Ministers, ex-Senators, e.t.c. – very quickly fade into obscurity and have nothing constructive to contribute to national life upon leaving office because they were mere ‘title-holders’ with no tangible legacy beyond the accomplishments of personal gain while in office.
If we accept that leadership is influence through example and not title or office, then we simply cannot afford to reduce leadership to holding political office. In spite of the ‘Naija-pessimism’ out there, I regularly run into many young people that are leading effectively and exerting positive influence in various sectors of society. Many of them are my mentees. These game-changers and rising stars in our country deserve our accolades because they did not wait idly to be called. They experienced great tutelage, honed their competence, built their character on a moral foundation, looked for opportunities in cross-generational contexts and took the efforts of their predecessors to higher levels. In short, they hearkened to the immortal words of Frantz Fanon that every generation must discover its mission or betray it. In order not to betray our mission, every generation must expand the frontiers of achievement, enriching the store of wisdom by which society and its leadership constantly reinvents itself. This is the essence of the idea of a truly progressive society.
So, like I seize every opportunity to tell my young friends, please don’t try to impress me by telling me you want to be like me and attain the heights that God’s grace has helped me attain. You’ve got to do better than that. Make your own mistakes. Benefit from the energy and fiery idealism of youth, but learn from the errors of the past generations so as not to repeat it.
Whoever you are, wherever you are – lawyer, commercial bus driver, auto mechanic, hairdresser, student, doctor, journalist – whatever your profession or vocation and current station in life, I challenge you today to step out of your own comfort zone to realise your leadership potential.
Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for listening.
. Being a speech by a former Governor of Ekiti State and Minister-designate, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, at the specialised session on Government at the 2015 Excellence in Leadership Conference organised by Daystar Christian Centre on November 4, 2015.