A.G. Alamu


          It has been established by great minds of ages that the greatest problem of humanity is that of leadership despite the technological, scientific and economic advancement in the global context. Among such great minds of ages was Kunz-fu Tzu (“Confucius,” as Latinized).

          Confucius (551-479 BCE) was a Chinese moral philosopher. He was a contemporary of Buddha (560 BC) and lived when the conduct of Chinese officials were greatly corrupt. The need arose for him after hundreds of schools of thought contended to provide answers to the leadership problem. The position Confucius occupied was not that of a saviour but as one who put the people back in touch with the ancient. “I transmit but do not create. I believe and love the ancients. I venture to compare myself to our old Peng – an ancient official who liked to tell stories.”1 Consequent upon this, he postulated “the way of the leader”2. Confucianism and its ideal essence of the way of the leader have persisted and laid an ethical basis for political, socio-economic culture of modern-day China3.

          It is in light of the above that we seek to posit in this paper, that the moral solution which Confucius recommended in stamping out the leadership problem in China will be aptly suitable for contemporary Nigerian society. This we shall see as we examine leadership in Nigeria.


Meaning of Leadership

          Leadership in its simplest form can be depicted as the ability to inspire, direct, motivate and encourage others positively to targeted end. Also, leadership is about rising up to the occasion by organizing and adequately coordinating the resources of time, relationship, skills, expertise and finances to achieve a goal for the common good of all 4.

          Leadership is the ability to lead others and not necessarily an availability to lead even though availability might at times lead to leadership position, it is not leadership itself.5

          Dennis in his research on understanding leadership concludes that it seems, the concept of leadership eludes us and turns up in another firm to taunt it again with its slipperiness and complexity. So we have invented an endless proliferation of terms to deal with it, and still the concept is not sufficiently defined. 6 Flowing from the foregoing, it can be deduced that the concept of leadership is complex and dynamic, hence, it connotes assignment, effectiveness, responsibility, accountability, vision, character, productivity, persuasion and realization of targeted goals.

Confucius’ Concept of Leadership

          It is pertinent to note that the age in which Confucius lived before his reform was characterized by great socio-political unrest. By this period, the mighty Chou dynasty (1122-256 BCE) had degenerated into a system of loosely-bound feudal states that were engaged in continuous and interminable warfare, much to the distress of the common people. Thus, this high stake of turmoil and suffering as a result of the warring state weakened both its welders and its target, bending and submitting themselves to the whims and caprices of the aristocracy.

          Occasioned by this situation, “hundred schools” contended in China. Subsequently, two schools of Lao Tzu the old master (Taoism) and Kung-fu Tzu-Confucius (Confucianism, as Latinized) gained prominence in China. Thus, Lao Tzu adopted mystical approach of inactivity, while Confucius adopted pragmatic approach so as to restore peace to the society8.

          It is in light of the foregoing that Confucius postulated “the way of the leader” or “the rectification of names,” which is also called “li,” and the (jen) “perfect gentlmen.”9 By “way of the leader” Confucius meant that ability and will to control situation coupled with the understanding of the implication of the name of the leader to get things accomplished appropriately. Buttressing further, Mencius  said among other things, that it:

Starts with education and knowledge. When true knowledge is achieved, then the will becomes sincere; when the will is sincere, then the heart is set right and when the heart is set right, then the personal life is cultivated; when the personal life is cultivated, then the family life is regulated; when the family life is regulated, the natural life is orderly, then there is peace in the world.10


          This is what the “perfect gentlemen” holds in such high regard, which he cultivates as a true leader to proffer solution to social ills.

          Furthermore, a disciple of Confucius like Mencius once accosted and asked him the first thing he would do if he were to rule a state bedeviled with gross insensitivity. He said the only thing needed is “ the way of the leader” or “rectification of names.” Corroborating this assertion, Nicholas Obi writes:

The solution is simple. It lies in the rectification of names when the leader is truly leader, the minister truly minister, the teacher truly teacher, the father, father, the son, son, the student, student, then-only then-shall society, be restored.11

          Each name – policeman, soldier, priest, president, lawyer, tailor, servant etc. – contains moral implications which constitute the essence, of that class of profession to which the name applies.12 The essence of the leader perhaps is what leader truly ought to be or the way of the leader.

          Confucius believed stoutly that leadership at its most fundamental level, comes from within. The ability to lead is generated within the context of a person’s ethical and philosophical framework in consonance with one’s followers and constituents, it is a function of character, not an accident of birth or a prerogative of position. This character of strong and ably leader can be developed only through careful, intentional practice. 13 Donald Krause, extracting his understanding of “the way of the leader,” applied the

Analects of Confucius to understand the nature of the leadership as the will to control events, the understanding of the implication of name of the leader to chart a course and the power to get a job done, cooperatively using the skills and abilities of other people.14


          In essence, if a leader does things according to the way of the leader then, he is truly a leader in fact and indeed. There is a correlation vis-à-vis name and actuality.15 Thus, an individual may be popularly called a leader, but if he fails to carry out the responsibilities of a leader, but if he fails to carry out the responsibilities of a leader as his name implies then he is not actually a leader. Therefore, the Confucian virtue affirms that every name in social relationship denotes certain responsibilities and duties.16 Leadership position is saddled with the responsibility of fulfilling its duties according to its nomenclature. The leader of men essentially thinks of his character, self-cultivation, nomenclature, and is humble, and deferential to superiors, generously kind and always just.17 Also, leader promotes those who are able and instruct those who do not have it and they will be anxiously willing to be led.18

          Undoubtedly, the leader of men is not contentious; rather “he contends only as in competitions of archery and when he wins he will present his cup to his competitions.”19 Succinctly, Confucius postulated that a true leader should ensure that he is diligent and faithful to his followers and unconditionally makes sacrifices for the total well-being of his followers. The achievement of a leader, according to him, is returned back to the masses as a result of their support during his rule. The following assertion of Confucius sums up tersely who the perfect gentlemen is:

The (leader) and indeed every man, should without thought of personal advantage, unconditionally do what he ought to do., And be what he ought to be. He should extend himself so as to include others.20


Leadership in Nigeria

          Virtually in all human endeavor, be it in the home, corporate, religious and national setting, leadership is the pivot. Every leader has a primary jurisdiction. To the family head, it is his immediate environment. To the politician, it is those who voted him into office after unfolding to the people his manifesto of what he will do. For a corporate leader, it is shareholders of his corporate enterprises, people that reposed their trust in him with their life savings. For the clergy, it is his parishioners that look up to him for moral and spiritual guidance.21      

          It is safe to say that a leader worth his salt will keep his work to his primary constituency. To do otherwise, as always done in Nigeria by some leaders, is dishonest and below the dignity of man.

          Evidently, leadership in Nigeria is perhaps pollution of leadership qualities, a bastardizing of revered tradition, convention and culture. Thus, leadership in Nigeria is seen as a means of exploitation, personal enrichment, fulfilling parochial interest and selfish ambition, 22 which does not portray the way of the leader. As a matter of fact, leadership problem in Nigeria has reached an extent that on may compelled to join Wambutda in saying that:

Nigeria is certainly in desperate need of good leadership, for the constant change in the leadership in our history clearly testifies that we are a people groping in the dark, searching and yearning for a more reliable form of government –government which is fair, just and caring enough to evoke spontaneous patriotism form the citizenry. 23  


          Sequel to the above fact is that Nigeria is bereft of good and quality leadership, which constantly gropes the masses in the dark togas. Corroborating this assertion on leadership in Nigeria, Ehusani writes:

…leadership in many today’s communities in Nigeria is a pollution of leadership qualities… what we have as leadership is an adulteration of courage and valour and a shameful display of spineless acquiescence. What we have as leadership is an uncharitable display of material arrogance and a distasteful reminder of group exploitation.24 


          Furthermore, the apathy and the bane of quality leadership are the crass and logical representation to debase and devalue the noble qualities of leadership and to elevate leaders without character and orientation with a view to promoting mediocrity.

          Some political leaders in Nigeria, for instance, succeed at will in finding their way to public offices of trust, and proceed methodically to strip the public treasury for their own pocket and their cronies, thereby reneging on their manifestoes. This obviously informs that political leadership in Nigeria is often defined along the parameter of the moment. 25 Undoubtedly, political corruption among some leaders beams like a carnival and strives like ferms in the open field. In fact, some corrupt leaders become the beloved, while the hated are those who spurn the vermin of corruption. 26 Put differently, some corrupt leaders explore many avenues of bleedings the nation’s treasury among a class that is addicted to corruption.

          Some religious leaders have continuously lost the moral authority to address the issue of corruption in the policy, abuse of power and moral decadence. 27 In a sense, they ought to be leaders with a difference, and with a firm grasp of basic leadership principles that characterized the extraordinary way of leadership.

          Obviously, leadership is a service rather than a status. Leadership does not depend on other people’s rating and accounting. It is not first an impression built on people; it is not the vote that plants a man in leadership: it is God-ordained. It does not walk with people’s acclaim. God has chosen and prepared for it. 26 However, the fact remains that this unfeignedly good intention at the very inception later turned to canal ambition.

          Akanni is apposite when he stresses this worldly ambition of some of these religious leaders after finding themselves in public office as against their beliefs and practices. He says:

This seemingly good desire most of the time comes with a strand of canal ambition. The lust for power and prominence; the hunger the place and position often gets mixed up with many of our cries for God’s manifestation of power through us. 29 


          Essentially, the core value of quality leadership is damaged and in no small measure endangers the future leadership. The stark reality is that some of the elects or leaders of the system have plunged Nigerian into the situation we are now. Supporting this statement Aloy Ejiogu enunciates that Nigerians do not need a diviner to inform us that national development cannot be achieved in a situation that extols or at best resigns itself to act of immorality, the likes of which have just been identified. 30 In fact, leadership in Nigeria becomes a sick baby in the hands of a foreign mother, which informs a missing variable in contemporary Nigerian leadership. The leadership problem in Nigeria arising from the above is essentially a moral one. No doubt our present leadership situation in Nigeria is reminiscent of Confucius’ time.

          As a matter of fact, some leaders do not follow the rectitude and the significance of the way of the leader, hence, Confucian quintessence of the way the leader to 21st century leaders is relevant here in Nigeria.


Antidote Toward Resolving the Leadership Problem in Nigeria

          Arising from the Confucian virtue of the way of the leader, those in public leadership positions in Nigeria should imbibe and cultivate moral character, piety, human-heartedness, self-discipline, purpose, accomplishment indispensable for quality leadership with deep convictions, responsibility, knowledge, leadership with example, 31 which form the essence of leadership.

          Invariably, Nigeria where some corrupt leaders become the beloved can be stripped of their corrupt practices consequent upon rectifying their names. Suffice it to say that all must join hands to build a nation of high moral standard in which hard work and sweat in the service of the nation will be commended and encouraged. 32 Not only that, piety which is a sine qua non and a household name in China should be manifested in Nigeria Leadership. This should be displayed in sincerity, trustworthiness, truthfulness; for pious leaders who are dependable and be counted upon to honour their duties and obligations. The 21st century leaders should be ready to serve, adopt constitutional model of leadership, resolve difficult paradoxes to create synergy, 33 learn from experience continuously, because history is a book of lessons for the wise, while aligning organizational elements and empowering people to unlock their enormously gifted talents, ingenuity, intelligence and creativity. 34

          Again, self-sacrifice should form primarily a duty which must be carried out in fear and trembling. “Self-sacrificed in the art of leadership is perhaps most powerful in attracting loyal followership. 35 Leadership is by example and not just by tenets. Hence, human leadership is delegated responsibilities used with a high sense of humility on God’s behalf. The quality is always one who is willing not only to be selfless but to die for his subordinates. 36 In summary, a leader must recognize the essence of the way of the leader and follow its meaning diligently, because leadership is not certainly for all comers as it is obvious in Nigeria. In China, Leaders focus more on responsibilities with full awareness of the varied qualities that are needed for a good job than devoting times on right and benefits to be derived. For leadership is a most powerful force to be entrusted to devoted and responsible men, since it affects everyday lives.


Concluding Remarks

          The unequivocal bane of leadership in contemporary Nigeria has been re-emphasized and re-addressed. Be that as it may, all is not lost if some of the leaders and the led can develop a conscience of borrowing Confucius’ approach of “the way of the leader.” It accounts for indefatigable and decorous leadership that reflects in Chinese social and individual behaviour till date. Some of the Nigerian leaders should embrace the Confucian antidote to cure the “ever-with-us” leadership incubus. This approach has the knack of making struggle and lust for power foolish and ridiculous. The leadership problem in contemporary Nigeria is precipitated by uncompromising lack of a philosophy of the Orient.37 Understanding leadership is fundamental to understanding the world we live in, and how we fit into it. If we understand it, we can live beyond the ordinary and mundance in order to make a difference on this earth. If we do not understand it, we will always be subject to it, as described by Confucius. 38

          To this end, the leader and the led are like the “wind” and the “grass” enunciated by Confucius, “for it is the nature of grass to bend when the wind blow upon it.” 39 Of course, the greatest challenge to some of the leaders in Nigeria and the led is to adopt the Confucian quintessence of the way of the leader. For Nigeria can be seen as another success story as the stitches the leadership seams together with the adoption of Confucian virtue of the way of the leader. With this, leadership in Nigeria will be a religion to leaders of the 21st Century.  










Notes and References

1.        J. McDowell and D. Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religion: Understandig Non-Christian Religious (San Bernandino: Here’s Publishers Inc, 1982), p. 77.

2.        Mankind’s Search for God (New York: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, 1990), p. 77.

3.        A.C. Theodore and H.W. James Introduction to International Relations, 3rd ed. (India: Prentice-Hall Inc, 1986), p. 17.

4.        A. Olusoji, The Making of A Leader: Exploring The Skills of Leadership (Lagos: Leadership Publishing House, 2002), p. 4.

5.        Ibid.

6.        W.G. Dennis, “Leadership Theory and Administrative Behavior: The Problem of Authority,” in Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 4. pp. 256-260. See also D.N. Wambutda, “Leadership and Biblical Studies,” in African Journal of Biblical Studies, Vol VI, No 1 (April 1991), p. 17.

7.        Mankind’s Search for God, p. 180

8.        Ibid.

9.        McDowell and Stewart, p. 79.

10.    Mankind’s Search for God, p. 181.

11.    N. Obi, This Odd World (Lagos: Joe en Jude Prints, 1987).

12.    Sage, Vol. 8 (June 1995 – June 1996), p. 31.

13.    F.B.O. Odimegwu, “Leadership: Responsibilities and Imperatives,” NIBREW News, Vol. 40. No 1 (January – March 2002), p. 5.

14.    Ibid.

15.    Sage Vol. 8, p. 31.

16.    Ibid.

17.    McDowell and Stewart, p. 88.

18.    Ibid.

19.    Ibid.

20.    Y.L. Fung, A Short History of Chinese Philosophy (New York: Macmillian Pub. Company, 1996), p. 46.

21.    Odimegwu, p. 3.

22.    G. Ehusani, Nigeria: Years Eaten by the Locust (Ibadan: Kraft Books Ltd., 2002), p. 210.

23.    Wambutda, p. 16.

24.    Ehusani, p. 210.

25.    Ibid.

26.    Sunday Tribune, April 14, 2002, p.3.

27.    I. Hagher (ed.), Leadership and Governance in Nigeria: A Christain Perspective  (Jos: The leadership Institute Publication Series 2002), p. 14.

28.    R. Joyner, Leadership: Power of A Creative Life (Jos: Stream Christian Publishers 2001), p. 44.

29.    G. Akanni, “Leadership in the Church: Some Common Misconceptions,” Living Seed Vol. 9, No 4 (October 2000), p. 10.

30.    A. Ejiogu, Morality and National Development: A Case for National Rebirth (Abuja National Orientation Agency, 2000), p. 12.

31.    See NIBREW News, p. 5.

32.    Ejiogu, p. 14.

33.    NIBREW News, p. 4.

34.    Ibid.

35.    Wambutda, pp. 23-24.

36.    Ibid., p. 25.

37.    I.O. Umejesi, “Lectures on Oriental Religions,” Mimeograph Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma.

38.    R. Joyner, Leadership: The Power of a Creative Life, p. 45

39.    J.B. Noss, Man’s Religions (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co. Inc. 1980), p. 275.