Governor Fayemi’s Goodwill Remarks at NLI Awards Annual Ceremony

Protocols / Introduction
Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to join you this fine evening, to celebrate and fellowship. First, I would like to celebrate and thank the founders of this great movement which is NLI – Dr. Christopher Kolade and Mr. Segun Aganga – for the foresight and hardwork it has taken to properly diagnose the problem of Nigeria and design a series of appropriate responses deployed and managed by an extremely dedicated and professional secretariat.

I must also celebrate the growing NLI family of Senior Fellows as well as the cadre of Associates who are high achieving young people who hold a lot of promise for our great country. These exceptional leading lights some of whom I have as friends, are all networked together thereby increasing the change they are leading in their various spheres of influence exponentially, because together we are greater than the sum of our individual parts.

Lastly, I celebrate in advance the distinguished personalities who would be receiving awards in the categories of ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’, ‘Integrity Award’ and ‘Values Based Leadership Award’. I trust that the recognition of your good work by such a credible platform as this would encourage you to do even more in the service of God and country, and be an encouragement to others in the society, that it is possible to win by righteousness.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, indeed this is a night of celebration and not a night of long speeches. It would however be negligent of us not to seize this opportunity to reinforce our shared perspectives on the values that bind us together and re-align our sights on our objective of national rebirth and how we are doing so far, and consider some imperatives going forward.

Are Leaders Made or Born

The first sentence in The Trouble with Nigeria, the well-remarked book by the novelist and grand story-teller, Professor Chinua Achebe, goes as follows:

“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.”

Chinua Achebe

The searing critique of the Nigerian condition though delivered what seems like an eternity ago in 1983 remains relevant today. It is probably the most quoted statement by any Nigerian about Nigeria, so much so that it has become an article of faith for so many pundits and commentators. Given our chronic diatribes against bad leadership, we must ask ourselves whether we are doing enough to encourage the opposite trend. Are we investing enough in the creative nurture of good leaders as a much needed antithesis to bad leaders? Is there a conscious effort on our part to produce leaders not only to stem the tide of decay but to effect a complete break with the past thereby inaugurating a new chapter in our national history in which we finally as a people begin to fulfill our much vaunted potential?

In the process of addressing ourselves to these questions another rises: Are leaders born or are they made? There is an argument that posits a sort of messianic exceptionalism as an explanation for good leadership. According to this view, iconic figures like Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. are rare luminaries sent to this world by providence to lead humanity into a higher state of consciousness. Such leaders, it is said, possess such rarefied gifts that they cannot but be uncommon exemplars that are ordained to appear perhaps once in a generation. For those who hold this view, leaders are born not made.

However, it is important to note that Nelson Mandela was not a lone star in his generation. Mandela belongs to a very distinguished cast of leaders that included freedom fighters like Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki. And these heroic freedom fighters were themselves the second generation of the struggle ordained by the founders of the African National Congress. They were heirs to Albert Luthuli, John Dube, Sol Plaatje and other heroic patriots. Together these patriots forged a political tradition of such resilience that it altered the course of South Africa’s history.

Martin Luther King Jr. emerged from a distinguished and an intellectually robust African-American ecclesiastical tradition of socio-religious activism and speaking truth to power. He belonged to a generation that unleashed a number of iconic liberation movements including the Black Panthers, Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X among others. These forces combined and brought about the pressures that made the tumultuous 1960s a great decade for civil rights in America. Gandhi may seem like a lone ranger in the annals of Indian history but he fashioned his famed passive resistance methods from already existing concepts in Hindu philosophy and on the moral example laid down by Jesus Christ himself two thousand years earlier. Furthermore, Gandhi was not alone. He was in the same generation as impressive liberation luminaries like Pandhit Nehru and Ali Jinnah.

Consequently, these leaders, who were supremely gifted and remarkable human beings, were not gods. They drew strength from their contemporaries of like minds, and from the spiritual resources laid down by generations past. They were hewn from the moral traditions that equipped them for the rigorous struggles of their time. This caveat suggests strongly that leaders are made not born. For us in Nigeria, given our historical challenges in this regard, the question is whether we are consciously making leaders from the undeniable pool of potential recruits supplied by each generation.

The Imperative of Youth-Led Change in Nigeria

Any truly transformative movement in our current national circumstances has to, of necessity, be a youth-driven movement. That is to say that it has to be fuelled by the aspirations, energy and anger of the generation of Nigerians that have come of age. Nigeria is overwhelmingly a country of young people. 70 percent of its population is less than 35 years of age. What this means is that the vast percentage of our population will bear the consequences of the politics and policies of today in the coming decades. Many of us gathered here today will have to deal with a raft of developmental challenges that will severely test our country in the next few decades. Some of these challenges include a rising debt burden, the likelihood that crude oil upon which our economy is based will cease to be a strategic resource due to technological innovation in the energy sector, and the consequences of such a shift for our fiscal health, economy and political stability.

What this means is that young Nigerians have the greatest stake in the political dynamics now shaping the country’s way forward in the next decade and beyond. The youth are the constituency most affected by the policy measures of today’s government. This should make them a politically active constituency, far more engaged in public affairs, and a bloc influential enough to be courted by politicians.

But this is not the case. Young Nigerians frequently complain that the gates of politics and governance have been slammed shut in their faces and that have been barred from participating meaningfully in public affairs by old guard political elite who have simply refused to quit the scene even after having dominated public life for several decades. The youth make a compelling case. They can point at public figures that have become almost permanent fixtures in government circles and seem to rotate in and out of successive administrations. They can point to political actors whose public careers have spanned such a long period that they are as present in the history books are they are in contemporary newspapers.

Many young people say that they feel marginalized and alienated from mainstream politics and governance. To compound their frustration, the old guard political elites tend to deprecate the skills and records of the younger generation in ways that suggest that only their own generation of veterans possess the talent and nous to move the country forward.
Consequently, youths feel that they are simply not taken seriously by the establishment. Dismayed, many young Nigerians have come to see politics as a dirty game played by mean-spirited old men and women who simply do not care about the legacy and inheritance they are leaving behind. This sense that young Nigerians have of being shut out from politics is accentuated by the demographic trends now defining politics and leadership in other climes. Barack Obama was one of youngest candidates to be elected president of the United States. He was 44 years old when he took office in 2008. A year later, Britain elected David Cameron, the youngest ever prime minister to occupy No.10 Downing Street. Indeed, Cameron is representative of a generation of young British political operatives who are in their thirties and forties. It is somewhat understandable that Nigerians should see their contemporaries taking charge of their nations and then feel frustrated at their apparent lack of opportunity at home.

Leadership and governance make up the society’s existential continuum. Progressive societies understand the imperative of preserving institutional memory and renewing their leadership elite. This means a commitment to refreshing and rejuvenating the ranks of the elite with fresh blood in each generation. In the absence of such renewal, society’s institutions atrophy and ultimately collapse.

As James Freeman Clark said, “A politician thinks of the next election, a statesman, of the next generation.” For our leadership to truly stand the test of time, it must be driven by a trans-generational perspective. We must build up those who will take our exertions for a better society to higher levels. I am convinced that through carefully and consciously developed formal and informal programmes of leadership development, we can build a cadre of young Nigerians who are committed to social transformation and genuinely want to work for change.

To this end, we absolutely must begin to mentor young people. The litmus test for our success as leaders is not how many people we are leading but how many people we are transforming into leaders. In other words, how many people are we empowering to realize their own potential as leaders? Each generation of leaders must stand on the shoulders of the giants who have come before them. We have a responsibility to boost the next generation up on our shoulders. Whatever our successes as individual leaders, they are incomplete until we have prepared the grounds for succession. This is how positive leadership cultures are perpetuated. Too many promising movements and organizations have died out with their charismatic founders because they failed to mentor the next generation to carry the baton of leadership into new frontiers.

Consider Singapore. Many of us are familiar with the tale of how the sterling leadership of Lee Kwan Yew steered the small island from a pacific backwater to a first world city-state and one of the best run nations in the world. But Singapore’s success story also owes much to adequate succession planning in which leadership has been taken up by a corps of younger leaders that were initiated into the governing party in 1980. They now constitute the second generation of leaders charged with consolidating the success story of Singapore.

NLI’s New Chapter of Consolidation and Advancement

Ladies and gentlemen, Nigeria Leadership Initiative (NLI) exists as an unequivocal answer to all of these challenges. It was established with the mandate of serving as an incubator of transformational leadership. Its founders hearkened to the urgent need to supply the nation with new perspectives on public service. Its very existence affirms the notion that leaders are made and not born; that through a conscious inculcation of positive values and the acquisition of the right skill set, the emergent generation can furnish society with leaders capable of tackling the challenges of the day. Consequently, NLI is an agent of social and moral renewal. Today, I wish to affirm that I stand shoulder to shoulder with the NLI and that I identify wholeheartedly with the vision of its founders.

I would like to use this opportunity to charge the NLI family not to rest on your oars. You have indeed come a long way in the fulfillment of your mandate, but there is still a lot of ground to cover. I encourage you to shake up everybody within your ranks and your networks and avoid the pitfalls of being caught up by the prevailing apathy about the state of affairs by the generality of Nigerians. This is not a time for your Senior Fellows and Associates alike to be associated with NLI for the feel-good effect. This is the time to mobilise, organise and network in order to contribute to delivering the change that is upon us.
Our great country is at crossroads with a bright future beckoning if we seize the moment. On the other hand, the prospects of our country are dire if we just sit back and watch. Ladies and gentlemen, Change is upon us.


Yours truly and other activists of like passion who have taken the struggle for a better society to the precincts of public office look to influential non-state apolitical actors like NLI to hold the forth and keep the pressure coming as we all battle for the soul of our nation.
One of my aims in public life has been to demystify leadership and to redefine it less as a task reserved for a select group of highly gifted individuals but as something each of us is called to accomplish in various ways and in diverse sectors of public life. This entails a shift away from the idea of the “leader as messiah” – the notion that all it takes to transform our society is the miraculous emergence of one extraordinarily endowed leader. We simply cannot afford to reduce leadership to holding political office. Since its inception, NLI has followed a similar track by training and releasing hundreds of fellows into various sectors of society.

In closing, let me address the theme of leadership in a way that will be accessible to our youths. In order to discover and exercise our leadership potential, we first have to find the spaces and environments in which are best suited to succeed. Whether you are a journalist, an educator, a law enforcement agent, a lawyer, or a medical practitioner; the essence of leadership is to find where your natural gifts and aptitudes will thrive, and then once in that place, to act for the common good. All great leadership is driven by the search for the common good – the quest for something that transcends personal gain. Wherever you are, if you live with the conviction that it is within your power to make a difference, you will find that you have begun to lead. It is time for us to seize the day and begin to build the future of our dreams – a future that will make our children and their children’s children proud to call us their ancestors.

Through, its invaluable work, NLI is enriching our fund of hope for the future. For this it has the appreciation of a grateful nation, my own thanks and full support in the furtherance of its mission to raise the bar of leadership performance in Nigeria.
Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for listening and wish us all a pleasant evening.

Thank you.

Dr. Kayode Fayemi
Governor of Ekiti State, Nigeria
Friday, November 22, 2013