The educational level of Nigeria’s political leaders has increased considerably, but good governance in the country has reduced drastically. The present political leaders in Nigeria – councillors, local council chairmen, federal and state legislators, governors and those at the centre – are mostly individuals with high educational qualifications (first, second, third degrees, including professorship). Despite this, it has not translated into noticeable good governance in the country. Indeed, it is not out of point to say Nigeria only witnessed her period of good governance at a time that those in political power didn’t possess the array of academic qualifications the current political leaders boast of.
Many studies have shown that a nation’s economic growth and quality of governance are enhanced by having leaders who are well-read, competent with the right leadership skills, exposure and behaviour. Furthermore, it is a general belief that a well-educated leadership is a competitive advantage for any nation and there is a correlation between good governance and leaders’ level of education. It seems this theory is not working in Nigeria. So what is wrong? Is it the quality of the academic qualifications? Is it the system? Has having more educated leaders resulted in the current sophistication of corruption in Nigeria?
It is known that most of Nigeria’s current leaders attended the best schools in or outside the country. And the laws, codes of conduct and regulations in the Nigerian governmental system are modest enough to guide those in power. So, what could be responsible for poor governance style by our leaders? This writer is of the view that the ‘strange’ character of an average Nigerian politician (which is not learned in school) could be responsible.
The absence of an appreciable level of good governance in Nigeria despite the high educational level of its leaders is a strong indication that leadership’s array of certificates doesn’t matter, but the individual character and behaviours. For instance, a professor who teaches basic knowledge in school, when given a political position behaves like a motor park tout. With such situation, one can say leadership is not all about academics but character, because past leaders in Nigeria with lower educational level have proved to be more competent and were able to conceptualise sensible ideas which enhanced all-round national development. They also governed with broader focus on public interest than the current leaders who have higher educational qualifications.
Some educationists have observed that political leaders, who possess high educational qualifications and misbehave did not earn such qualifications scholarly. Hence, they display disgraceful character in positions of political leadership. Other people have also summed up the reason for the lack of good governance to the fact that most individuals in leadership positions in Nigeria are never prepared for the job. Furthermore, the political system is so corrupt that the easy way to secure an elective office is to have the right godfather, belong to the political party in power whether at the centre or in state, and during electioneering campaign all that is needed of one is to climb to the podium, rain abuses on the opponents, shout the name of your political party and dance. Shikenan! Such system would never produce good leadership.
Notwithstanding the array of reasons for the absence of good governance in Nigeria, the highly educated Nigerian leadership is still not performing as expected of well-read leaders with global mindset, because everything in the polity is ascribed to politics. When politicking overtakes policies, leadership degenerates – and this is the disease affecting the average Nigerian political leader. The politics we are referring to is when a political office becomes an opportunity for self-enrichment and is associated with pride, arrogance and larger-than-life attitude. Another factor that leads to the bad governance in Nigeria is this: the society sometimes encourages national leaders to transform into regional, ethnic or religious champions after serving at the centre. In addition, some members of the Nigerian society expect ‘their people in power’ to have or do certain things even if they are wrong, just because one ‘lagbaja’ had or did it before.
Despite the established fact that highly educated leaders develop good policies for economic growth in their countries, influence international public opinion towards their countries and easily attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to their countries, including separating their personal interest from the public good, it is puzzling that the more highly educated Nigerians ascend to political power, the more the country experiences bad governance.
The average Nigerian leader can be helped to mend his character – there is a popular saying that positive character traits can be both taught and learned. The society needs to disapprove of the arrogance, pride, self-enrichment and larger-than-life attitude associated with public office. The Nigerian society should celebrate leaders who put more energy into feasible economic objectives and provision of public good and infrastructure. And not celebrate leadership that concentrates on mundane politicking and narrow personal interests which tend to have adverse effects on the provision good governance. There is no doubt that the educational level of whoever aspires for a public office in Nigeria matters, but individual good character and behaviours are essential for listening and servant-leadership.
ZAYYAD I. MUHAMMAD