Leadership for Our Season by Gbenga Showole

Dear Readers,

At a time like this when there is not a lot we can do to solve the ongoing world issues, one of the things I find powerful and liberating is writing & reading thoughts from bright minds.

I am extremely honored to have Gbenga Showole write a feature article on the blog about “Leadership for Our Season”.

Gbenga is a thoroughbred professional with experience spanning decades across various continents and is sharing his insights into the type of leadership we need in Nigeria especially at a time like this. He is unarguably one of the most patriotic Nigerians I know despite having lived outside the shores of Nigeria from his childhood and we both share a passion for transforming the leadership landscape in Nigeria.

I hope you find this article insightful. Gbenga and I look forward to engaging with you in the comment section.

Leadership For Our Season

Events are changing so rapidly that by the time you read this many of the facts may be outdated. Things appear so crazy that who knows, perhaps it will not even anymore be the novel corona virus of 2019 (COVID-19) that is humanity’s most present and clear danger. As the world in its successive time zones jubilantly shouted down the waning seconds of last year dancing triumphantly into 2020 it was with confident predictions of grandeur was it not? In scenes that now seem so very long ago I think I recall declarations of the new roaring 20’s.

2020 has indeed let out a loud and terrifying roar. The virus spreading illness in China’s Wuhan province was barely making the news at the start of the year yet now it has infected hundreds of thousands and killed several thousands. Leaders of some of the most powerful countries including Britain’s Boris Johnson and US Senators, to top tier actors and actresses, musicians, writers, and more have contracted the virus and been forced into isolation. Fear has grasped many with stories of Italy’s healthcare system being overrun. Panic decimated global stock markets with loses that have whipped out the record gains of the last 4 years. Businesses, schools, and universities are shutdown indefinitely. Social and recreational activities have been ordered closed. Even the Olympics where modern day’s gladiators compete has been delayed, this virus much too strong a foe. Except for those things deemed essential services there is complete shut down in every single industrialized country with many developing countries either ahead of or hot on the heels with similar actions.

The word unprecedented is tossed about far too often in our vernacular yet considering that the last global pandemic was the Spanish Influenza of 1918 & 1919 one can be forgiven if we say COVID-19 with its speed of transmission due to modern mobility is unprecedented. Doctors and scientists are stunned and grappling to understand the virus. Medical researchers scrambling to test available medicines to find something, anything, that will be efficacious. The only advice experts can give comes from the 100+ year old solution to the Spanish Flu – social distancing and frequent hand washing. It is almost as if in the meantime humans haven’t figured out how to transplant organs, sequence the genome, and clone sheep at all. Modern medicine has no answers. COVID-19 is a complex and scary problem.

Let’s set aside the questions of the origins of the virus and how it spread to certain countries while not others. Let’s not delve into which countries stand to gain and which have already lost. We can hash out the conspiracy theories in search for truth in a separate discussion. For now let’s try to understand what this virus should teach us about the type of leaders the world and specifically Nigeria needs now, in this moment, to face this type of challenge. To do this let’s consider the responses from various national, state, and social leaders. Let me give credit to Adeola Fayehun (IG @adeolafayehun) who compiled some of these responses in her videos on YouTube.

Starting from the top. Nigerian President Major General Buhari failed to address the nation for weeks as the virus was spreading around the world and the situation was getting worse even to the point of cases being identified in Nigeria. When he finally made the address he talked about something called COVIC-1-9. I am not aware of any particular speech impediment that Buhari suffers from so my apologies if he does actually have such a condition. Taking the null hypothesis and assuming he does not have a speech impediment then the question must be asked – what exactly has he been up to that even the basic pronunciation of simple COVID-19 he has not yet mastered?

He holds the office of the leader of hundreds of millions of people. Has he been in meetings and discussions with top aides, with foreign leaders across West Africa and beyond about coordinated defense options? Has he called in the nation’s senior medical leaders, the doctors and administrators at our top teaching hospitals, the leaders of airports, border control, schools and universities? Have the governors of all 36 states been summoned to Aso Rock for emergency response strategy sessions and to ensure each state has the necessary resources to protect it’s citizens? In these and other meetings has COVID-19 not been mentioned thousands of times for President Major General Buhari to hear its correct pronunciation? As he not had to voice the name a hundred times before so that one of his aides could have had the opportunity to quietly whisper that is a ‘D’ not a ‘C’ or ‘K’ and it’s popularly nineteen, not one-nine?

Many will say it is silly to make a big deal about a simple pronunciation error as if we don’t have bigger problems. I would counter that this is exactly why we have bigger problems. When a virus threatens to wipe out hundreds of thousands of lives and destroy the livelihood of millions of Nigerian citizens the president of Africa’s largest country (by population and economy) should know the name of that virus. Not knowing the name is evidence the meetings mentioned above did not happen and that means our people are in eminent danger. Imagine boarding a flight and as the plane is taxing to the runway for takeoff the captain announces “Good evening ladies and gentlemen [meanwhile it’s 9am], this is your captain. Welcome aboard our airtane. Today we will climb to one-zero-comma-zero-zero-zero-metres”. Surely it would be safe to assume more than a few of even the atheist passengers would decide that it’s time to pray! How can Nigerians expect that our government will understand the severity of the situation and act appropriately when we have yet to honour those like Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh who gave her life to steer us from the horror of Ebola?

In the midst of COVID-19 Nigerians are being given the opportunity to observe their leaders across all levels and spheres. We can take as another example what we observed from Abia State Governor Ikpeazu who said “Abia is the only state mentioned in the Bible therefore corona will not enter”. Is this the thinking let alone the phrase that should be uttered at a press conference by a leader? The Bible also mentions that there will be many false prophets in the last days and that Christians should be discerning so as not to be deceived. With due fear of the Holy Spirit let us not take the Lord’s Name in vain because plain common sense and not the Spirit of Discernment is all that is needed to realize the vitriol spewing from Governor Ikpeaku’s mouth is pure blasphemy. The best response I’ve heard to the Governor is that the Bible also happens to mention Israel but yet that nation has went to extreme lengths to protect itself yet the same corona virus still managed to enter.

Let us not waste time nor ink nor bytes to discuss the statements of Senator Dino Melaye. He has never had anything to say that is worthy of critical analysis so we can only plead with the fine people of Kogi State to please come and collect their person and do the needful. Please. Seriously. He has embarrassed you long enough.

Lack of good leadership within the political realm is sadly mirrored in the social and religious realms. The police have told people not to come to the police station if they have contracted the virus. The leadership of the Nigerian Police Force is so out of touch with reality that he actually thinks people would voluntarily go to the police station for anything let alone an illness wherein the doctors have little power to help. What exactly would the police do if someone were to come to the station seeking help? Is it these same police we see destroying property as if they are raging animals that a sane person will be going to seek help from?

Granted we have little faith in our politicians and police but surely our religious leaders should do better. But alas videos have been released showing church services proceeding in direct disobedience of orders to not congregate and pastors being duly arrested. Does the same Bible they are preaching from not say obey the leaders? Were God’s chosen people not told to quarantine themselves at various times in the Bible?

The 21st century is one wherein dangers will come fast and furious. There will be more viruses like COVID-19, Ebola, and MERS. There will be cyber attacks that extract information from computers, tablets, and phones locking down systems across governments, military, universities, banks, and health care systems. There will be more groups like Boko Haram that use terror in attempt to wrestle away control and sieve power. Data has become a weapon of warfare far more lethal and effective than bullets, bombs, and fighter planes. Beyond these dangers there will be strains on water and other natural resources as people continue to understand our impact on the environment.

This is a time, more than ever before, when leadership needs to be versed in and able to have discussions about science and technology, business and economics while contextualizing them with the understanding of history and sociology. Multiple dangers will arise at blistering speeds therefore leadership teams must have the ability to quickly gather and analytically assess information to make wise decisions that are then deployed effectively through astute staff and equipped teams. Agility and efficiency must be core strengths.

Those are the challenges we know about. What about all the challenges we don’t yet know? What is true with every technological revolution is that along with opportunities there come many unforeseeable dangers. The world has moved to the Information Age so we must ask ourselves – do we have leaders that can even comprehend the challenges? Who is considering the Nigerian solution? To date the response of President Major General Buhari’s administration looks like the US and UK response with correction fluid used to erase USA/UK then replacing it with Nigeria. Where is the local sensitivity? Most of our population does not eat tomorrow if money isn’t earned today therefore a ban on movement is automatically an insistence that children suffer hunger pangs. Working from home works in other countries because there is constant electricity yet even our middle class does not have this basic modern necessity.

After we have copied what we can from Europe and the US and insisted people stay home what happens when we cannot copy their financial strategies? Who is going to enact policies that ensure businesses have the liquidity needed to continue to operate? Will the Central Bank of Nigeria be able to be the lender of last resort and prop up our banks so they don’t collapse turning the imminent recession into a depression? Who will bring together task forces to ensure our hospitals are prepared to handle the next crisis? Who is bringing together our sociologists and actuarial scientists and funding the research right now to gather data and build the models that will inform us and prevent the next crisis?

I just happened to have finished reading Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ again. Achebe was a genius who illustrated for us how the innocent ignorance of the clan of Umuofia destined them to lack understanding when the White man came with his metal horse. The people had no way to know, their leaders took none of the steps necessary to discern. They had lost the war because they allowed the opportunity to fight to slip past. This eventually led to additional missteps, much humiliation, destruction of their culture and death of even their heros. To read Achebe’s work while simultaneously observing the actions of our Nigerian leaders during this time leaves me with the cold chill of impending doom. So to myself and my peers I ask, if we are not awaken by COVID-19, if our hearts are not wretched by the suffering this inflicts upon millions of our girls and boys, women, and men, if we are not disgusted by shameful behavior of our President, much of the federal government, and state governments, along with many who call themselves men of God then what will it take? What will finally compel us to arise as true compatriots and obey Nigeria’s call? This question is for all who are under 50 years old and have real vision and compassion. Let us arise quickly while it is still day.

I look forward to reading from you.

Gbenga Showole