New standards for Igbo leaders


It is leadership that defines a nation. Essentially, it builds or destroys a nation. General Charles de Gaulle relevantly stated that “nothing great can be done without great (leaders)”. In other words, national greatness can only result from great leadership, and corollary, national decline is an inescapable consequence of despicable leadership. Thomas Carlyle made a similar point when he said: “the history of nations is but the biographies of …leaders.” So, the history of the Igbo nation is an anthology of the biographies of Igbo leaders.

The earlier Igbo power elite were exceptionally gifted and far-sighted. They adroitly managed the problems and prospects of the Igbo nation. The then dazzling Igbo successes in all facets of the Nigerian society were testaments to their superb leadership. The subsequent drop in the quality of Igbo leadership, following the 1966 coup, inevitably resulted in the decline of the Igbo nation. Of these post-1966 coup Igbo leaders, Chukwuemeka Ojukwu did the most extensive and profound damage to the Igbo nation.

 Among other things, he brought a new paradigm to Igbo leadership. He taught Igbo leaders that it is okay to lead your people into trouble, and then, abandon them and run away, which is perfidy. And that a leader can justifiably be poised to cash in on power and glory, if the “toil, sweat, tears and blood” of his people yields victory but also be positioned to cut and run, if they end up in defeat, which is opportunism. His examples sowed the seeds for a culture of perfidy and opportunism within the ranks of the Igbo leader.

 Man is a fleshy lump that will finally be consigned under six feet of earth where it inevitably crumbles to dust. Unless attended by purpose, life is an empty shell. It is purpose (which is naturally associated with duty) that makes life meaningful. A German adage says that “the greatest glory is in doing your duty”. And the ultimate duty is in the service of humanity.

 There can be no commitment to serve humanity without the willingness to sacrifice self-interests, comfort and ambitions to the common good. I have always been enthralled by acts of selflessness where the individual gives it all, including his life, for the betterment of others. The obsession to cling on to life is all normal. But to lay it down for a cause, if necessary, is most glorious.

 As I think of sacrifice, I remember a French lieutenant, during the 1st World War, who commanded a company of soldiers ordered to attack a German redoubt. As they ran towards the German position, they came under heavy German machine gun fire. At a point, he ordered his men to take cover. Still standing, and giving orders to them, he was struck by machine gun fire. He fell, and his men panicked, “the lieutenant is dead”, “the lieutenant is dead”. He raised his head and managed to raise himself to his knees, and evidently, with his last breathe, screamed, “Yes, the lieutenant is dead, but hold firm! Advance!” He fell and died.

 And, as I reflect on selflessness, I remember Martin Luther King Jr. He was a 26 year old pastor when the course of his life was redirected by the needs of his people. He employed his elaborate erudition and his abilities to write with power and speak with passion to lead his people out of the fetters of racism. He knew that his death was certain in that struggle to emancipate Black Americans from the shackles of racial injustice. In his last speech, he talked about, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long time, longevity has its place.  But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will…And He has allowed me to go up to the mountain, and I have looked over and I have seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land”. The next day, he laid in the pool of his own blood; his thirty eight year old life squelched out by an assassin’s bullet.

 The valedictory statements of the two men conveyed the same attitude. The lieutenant’s exhortation to his men, “hold firm, advance” and King’s   “I may not get there with you but … we as a people will get to the Promise Land” reveal a willingness to selflessly fight for a cause, even with the certainty that they were not to partake in the magnificent outcomes of the struggle. Is that attitude not in stark contrast to the mindset of the generality of the present day Igbo leaders?

 Most Igbo leaders are selfish; they seek personal gains and immediate gratifications. They acknowledge and respect no other interest but theirs. They expect their “leadership” positions to yield them immediate benefits: prestige, wealth, titles, glory, etc.  And the thought that, to lead their people demands personal sacrifices is alien and inconceivable to them. As such, craven toadies and relentless opportunists parade themselves as Igbo leaders.

 We need to winnow these men; sorting out the few that are answering an inner urge to serve humanity from the spineless, dishonourable lot mired in this tradition of perfidy and opportunism. To do this requires a paradigm shift – new set of standards – for Igbo leaders. The Igbo nation should demand that their leaders live up to the examples of the French lieutenant and Martin Luther King Jr.

 Anyone aspiring to lead the Igbos must have distinguished himself in courage, selflessness and the preparedness to subordinate all: interests, ambitions, and even life, to the Igbo nation. For what is at stake in leadership is not the leader’s interests and personal survival but life or death, happiness or tragedy, progress or retrogression, etc for millions – an entire nation. After all, the individual life is but a moment inexorably sandwiched between birth and death. On the other hand, the life of the Igbo nation is eternal. Therefore, every Igbo, especially, those in leadership positions must be prepared to die for the Igbo nation. Any Igbo leader not ready to lay down his life for the Igbo nation, and therefore, can cut and run for his own life is not a leader but a despicable, perfidious opportunist.

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