The Leadership Worldview Of A Certain Ijaw Chief By Alfred Omolewa


“No psychologist should pretend to understand what he does not understand… Only fools and charlatans know everything yet understand nothing.” -Anton Chekhov

One of the most profound observations now becoming a cliché is: “You don’t know what you don’t know”.  How true this is of Chief Edwin Kiagboro Clark’s recent observation and conclusion that the Yoruba nation does not have leaders. Obviously, the Ijaw chief has a limited worldview of leadership and, having searched through that limited and flawed prism, failed to find among the Yorubas a persona or personae fitting his own concept of leadership.

But, alas, he does know what he does not know. 

The Yoruba concept of leadership is clearly alien to the Ijaw chief’s worldview. He started out as a headmaster and has gotten used to being the man in authority, who lords it over all others, commanding obeisance and dictating what should be and what should not be.  Advancing early in life after opportunities to occupy prime government offices, he is held in awe by his people and, being the loquacious and vociferous type, his people have donated to him their collective voice to agitate and advocate for the perpetuation of their kinsman’s hold on power. 

That is the type of leader the Ijaw chief was looking for among the Yorubas. But, he does not know what he does not know:  the Yorubas are not so!

First, the Yorubas, being so politically, culturally and educationally sophisticated do not need to have one seemingly ‘all-knowing’, ‘all-wise’ headmaster as their leader.  It is only those who are pupils, who are not disciplined, who are at the rudimentary stages of cultural and political development that require such leaders.  Historically among the Yorubas, the acknowledged and acclaimed political leader is merely a primus inter pares.  If the Ijaw chief would so re-condition his concept of leadership (admittedly, a no mean task given his advanced years), he would surely and clearly identify the present leaders in the fold of the Yorubas.  But if he continues to search for the equivalent of his headmaster-style leadership among the Yorubas, he will not find it.  And, God forbid that the Yorubas regress to that level of de-sophistication where they would need a headmaster to lead them.

Second, the Yorubas have always been led more by ideas and principles than by men such that anyone who courageously, prominently and steadfastly advocates for commonly held and cherished principles and ideas is acknowledged as a leader among them.  Given the Ijaw chief’s background, this may be difficult for him to comprehend since there is no equivalent of philosophy from where he stands.  We know he is the appointed ruler of his people, but we also know that dead silence will meet any question seeking to know the philosophy driving his leadership.  Beyond the fight to keep the spoils of office for his kinsman and his people, what is his leadership about?

On the other hand, the people that the Yorubas have acknowledged as leaders have been men who espoused and made great sacrifices for lofty ideas, ideals and values that are way bigger than them and their people.  That is why Israel Oludotun Ransome Kuti did not need to be selected or elected as the Leader of an Elders’ Forum to be recognized and acknowledged as a leader among the Yorubas; his devotion to the cause of the education of his people earned him that. 

That is why Olayinka Herbert Samuel Macaulay did not need to have a kinsman installed or preserved as President to find his voice as the leader and advocate for the ordinary peoples of the colonies. 

That is why social change advocates like Dr. Akinola Maja did not need any ethnic or parochial motivations to lead the crusade for social rights and emancipation. That is why people like the late Chief FRA Williams became acknowledged as leaders among the Yorubas, not for their lordship over the people, but for the distinction they achieved in their professional pursuit and the application of those distinctions to the service of their people.

Were he a Yoruba man, the Ijaw chief would have no prominent place in leading the Yoruba people, even if he had more wealth and had occupied higher offices that he has.  This is because the Yoruba people would not tolerate an opportunist and a hypocrite.  He is a leader to the Yoruba people who would fight the cause of the oppressed, whose election was annulled even if the cheated candidate was not one of his own political leaning.  He is not a leader to the Yoruba people who would nurse an unconstitutional third term in office.  However, when that same man finds his voice in condemning an incompetent, corrupt and self-serving government, he becomes the darling of the principle-cherishing people of the Yoruba race.  The Ijaw chief should be reminded that the leaders of the Yorubas are those who led their people to fight the cause of a certain Vice President from another tribe when the powers that be attempted to deny him his constitutional right to ascend the Presidency. 

Given the above attempt to describe the concept of leadership among the Yorubas, the Ijaw chief should now understand why Chief Obafemi Awolowo is eternally regarded as a leader among the Yorubas, nay, among the entire peopleof Nigeria.  It was not because he rose to high offices.  It was for his courage in fighting for high and lofty ideas at the expense of his freedom, health and reputation.  His sacrifice for the educational advancement of his people and for good governance earned him an enviable place in history. 

The Ijaw Chief may now understand why the late Chief MKO Abiola, after years of being in the minority section of the political class among the Yorubas became a leadership symbol when he displayed the courage expected of Yoruba leaders to fight for democracy and the rule of law.

The Ijaw chief may now understand that it was not only their advancement in age that earned the likes of Chief Adekunle Ajasin and Chief Abraham Adesanya their leadership epaulets; it was their readiness to sacrifice for their people, to be the courageous voice during a brutal military dictatorship, to identify the right and support it and to spot the wrong and condemn it.

The Ijaw chief may also now understand why Chief Olusegun Obasanjo is now a hero to his people.  For, in spite of political differences, he has displayed the character and courage expected of leaders in condemning a Federal administration being run in such a clueless and corrupt manner to the detriment of the people.

Does the Ijaw chief think that Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s claim to leadership is simply that he was once elected to the Senate of the Federal Republic or that he performed as one of the most conscientious Governors of Lagos State in recent years?  No!  It is because of his profile in courage! It is because of his sacrifice for the greater good in good times and bad times.  Who was in the forefront of the global assault on the regime of General Sanni Abacha?  Who was the rallying point and strategic voice for all the opposition figures inthe dark days following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential elections?  Who was the governor that redefined governance after years of mismanagement by the military? Who was the governor with the courage and vision to fight all the way to the Supreme Court to establish the fiscal rights of States in the Federation?  Who is the politician with acumen and endurance to organize the political opposition that a democracy surely needs to survive? If the Ijaw chief would answer these questions truthfully, he will find the leaders of the Yoruba people.

Indeed, Chief Edwin Kiagboro Clark’s role in recent affairs can only be honestly described as the antics of an otherwise intelligent and respecta ble elder blindsided by bigotry and ethnic loyalties.  Chief Edwin Clark and his other mischief makers belong to that class of men who, in honour of present favours, mischievously distorts history, maligns otherwise honourable men, saying “…with our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?”

In making that mischievous assertion about Yoruba leaders, it is well known that the Ijaw chief was only doing his usual and less than honorable bid to outdo all others in the display of blind loyalty to his kinsman President; he was merely attempting to shoot down the people perceived as being not on the same political turf as his political ‘son’; he was merely playing cheap politics. He was doing all that a leader ought not do.  He was doing all that the Yorubas would not tolerate in their leader.

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg address, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what we do.”  Aside the ignominious desperate struggle to maintain the hold of his kinsman on power in the face of glaring incompetence, what is this Ijaw chief doing today worthy of historical remembrance?

On the other hand, what are today’s Yoruba leaders doing?  They are in the forefront of the fight for justice, for good governance, for the integrity of the ballot box, for real development and for change in a corrupt and dysfunctional polity. They are echoing the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln, who himself paid the supreme sacrifice in his leadership of his people by dedicating themselves to the unfinished work which heroes in the past have thus far so nobly advanced.  They are dedicated to the great task remaining before us: that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish.

If the Ijaw chief would view leadership from this philosophical prism, he will easily identify the leaders among the Yorubas.  But, alas, how can he know what he does not know?

Alfred Omolewa, a public commentator, writes from Edo State

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