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Corruption, Social Norms, And Behavior Change In Nigeria



Prof. Toyin Falola during the lecture .

By Toyin Falola

Nigeria has been grappling with the pervasive problem of corruption for a considerable period, and its consequences have had far-reaching effects on its development, governance, and society. The term “corruption” encompasses the misuse of power or influence for personal or collective advantage, with far-reaching consequences for various sectors such as the economy, politics, public administration, judiciary, and the private sector. Corruption is a pervasive issue that weakens the foundations of the rule of law and erodes the trust that the public places in their institutions. Its detrimental effects go beyond mere financial implications, as it obstructs the delivery of essential services and contributes to setbacks in development. Moreover, corruption exacerbates socioeconomic inequalities, widening the gaps between rich and poor, men and women, and various social segments in the country. Furthermore, it hinders economic growth, limits potential investment opportunities, and disrupts the efficient allocation of resources.

To effectively address corruption, it is essential to delve into the intricate web of societal norms that perpetuate and enable such unethical behaviour. In the fight against corruption, it is crucial to focus on transforming behaviours and fostering a culture of integrity and accountability. This requires active participation from individuals across different sectors.

A holistic approach is required to effectively combat corruption. These measures should primarily bolster institutions, promote adherence to rules and regulations, foster transparency, and actively involve citizens. We can create a robust framework to tackle corruption head-on by addressing these key areas. To find effective solutions, it is crucial to implement preventive strategies and educational initiatives and foster collaboration among multiple stakeholders. These three components work together to address various challenges and ensure long-term success. Preventive strategies help to identify and mitigate potential issues before they escalate, reducing the overall impact. Educational initiatives are key in raising awareness, equipping individuals with the knowledge and skills to make informed decisions. Lastly, multi-stakeholder collaboration brings together diverse perspectives, expertise, and resources, fostering innovation and creating a collective effort towards development. In the battle against corruption, addressing socioeconomic factors such as poverty and inequality is imperative.

The corruption issue in Nigeria runs deep, intertwining with various aspects of politics, governance, and society. The origins of this issue can be traced back to various factors, such as inadequate governance structures, the consolidation of power among a select few, and the lingering effects of historical events. Political corruption is a pervasive issue encompassing illicit activities such as bribery, embezzlement, and electoral manipulation. These nefarious practices have far-reaching consequences, resulting in a shortage of crucial services and hindered infrastructure development. The functioning of the judiciary and law enforcement is significantly impacted, leading to an erosion of justice and a decline in public trust. 

Corruption within the business sector poses a significant obstacle to fair competition and economic growth. Beyond its economic implications, it also perpetuates social inequality and undermines the very foundations of ethical principles. When corruption takes root in the business world, it distorts the level playing field essential for fair competition. Unscrupulous practices such as bribery, embezzlement, and fraud create an uneven landscape where success is no longer determined by merit and character.  Addressing the issue of corruption necessitates a multifaceted approach that encompasses wide-ranging reforms, a commitment to transparency, a system of accountability, and the cultivation of a culture rooted in integrity. Addressing this pervasive issue requires more than effort; it demands sustained dedication and unwavering political commitment.

Corruption in Nigeria is a complex issue deeply rooted in social norms and cultural factors. These influential forces play a significant role in shaping the prevalence of corruption within the country. The practices of “clientelism” and “godfatherism” play a significant role in fostering corruption within societies. These phenomena involve individuals in positions of power engaging in a system of exchanging favours for political support while influential figures exert their influence to sway political decisions. The “ostracism” phenomenon can significantly influence individuals, compelling them to resort to corrupt practices to seek acceptance and inclusion.

Moreover, religion has been observed to be employed as a means to rationalise and legitimise such acts of corruption. Within our society, a phenomenon known as a “culture of impunity,” where the enforcement mechanisms designed to uphold justice and accountability are weakened, ultimately allowing corruption to flourish. This troubling state of affairs highlights the need for a closer examination of our systems and a collective effort to address this pervasive issue. To effectively address the pervasive issue of corruption, it is imperative to implement a range of comprehensive reforms that encompass legal and institutional changes and foster a culture of transparency and accountability. These reforms should be accompanied by a profound societal transformation that challenges the prevailing norms and attitudes towards corruption. By tackling corruption from multiple angles, we can create a more just and equitable society that upholds integrity and fairness. 

To effectively combat corruption, it is crucial to have a combination of public awareness, strong institutions, and the active participation of religious and community leaders. These three elements work together to create a powerful force against corruption, ensuring that it is acknowledged and actively fought against. Public awareness plays a vital role in addressing corruption. When people are informed and educated about the detrimental effects of corruption on society, they become more vigilant and less tolerant of corrupt practices. Awareness empowers people to stand against corruption and demand accountability from those in power. Robust institutions are another key component in the fight against corruption. These institutions, such as anti-corruption commissions and independent judiciary systems, provide the necessary investigative framework. To tackle the complex issues of social acceptance, tolerance, and collaboration in corrupt practices, it is crucial to prioritise education, transparency, accountability, and establishing a robust rule of law. These factors play a pivotal role in fostering a society that is more informed, open-minded, and actively engaged in combating corruption. By investing in education, individuals can better understand the detrimental effects of corruption and the importance of upholding ethical standards. Transparency ensures that information is readily available, enabling citizens to hold individuals and institutions accountable for their actions. Moreover, a strong rule of law provides a solid foundation for justice, ensuring that corrupt practices are met with appropriate consequences. By addressing these fundamental pillars, we can work towards a more inclusive and just society that actively rejects corruption and embraces values of integrity and fairness

To combat corruption, we must prioritise strategies that aim to transform people’s behaviours by promoting ethical principles and fostering a sense of accountability. Education and awareness initiatives are vital in fostering a deep understanding of the detrimental impacts of corruption and promoting a culture of accountability. By shedding light on the negative consequences of corrupt practices, these initiatives empower individuals to take action and report instances of corruption. To effectively combat corruption, governments, commercial sectors, civil society organisations, and international partners must join forces and work together. By collaborating, these entities can enhance their anti-corruption measures and create a more robust framework to tackle this pervasive issue. This collective effort will not only help in preventing corruption but also in promoting transparency, accountability, and integrity across various sectors. Through such collaborations, we can foster a culture of honesty and fairness, ensuring a brighter and more equitable future for all. Ethical leadership plays a crucial role in shaping a virtuous and transparent culture, not only in the public sector but also in the commercial realm. By embodying principles of integrity, honesty, and fairness, ethical leaders create an environment that actively discourages and prevents corrupt practices from taking root. Their unwavering commitment to upholding ethical standards sets a powerful example for others to follow, fostering a sense of accountability and promoting a culture of trust and integrity. Whether in government or business, ethical leadership is a guiding light, illuminating the path towards a more ethical and corruption-free society. 

It is crucial to prioritise the enhancement of legal and regulatory frameworks, ensuring they are robust and effective. Equally important is the impartial enforcement of anti-corruption laws, leaving no room for favouritism or bias. Additionally, promoting transparency in financial transactions is a key aspect that cannot be overlooked if we are serious about creating a just society. To effectively combat corruption and bring about lasting change, adopting a comprehensive and multifaceted strategy is essential. This approach should encompass institutional reforms and tackle the root causes of corruption, such as socioeconomic inequalities. The environment should foster behaviour change and ensure anti-corruption efforts’ long-term success.

Effectively combating corruption necessitates a comprehensive understanding of its underlying causes and the ability to navigate through numerous challenges and barriers. The absence of political determination and effective enforcement mechanisms poses significant obstacles to progress. Corruption, a pervasive issue in societies worldwide, is influenced by the search for wealth, poverty, inequality, and greed, among other factors. Entrenched patronage networks and institutional weaknesses often foster corrupt behaviours.

All stakeholders must develop a comprehensive package to solve the problem that can destroy the country and its people. This strategy should involve the government, civil society, businesses, and international partners. By bringing together these diverse groups, we can ensure a well-rounded approach that addresses the needs and perspectives of all involved. The active involvement and responsibility of citizens play a pivotal role in ensuring the effectiveness of anti-corruption initiatives. By constructing alliances, stakeholders can achieve remarkable results that have the potential to bring about significant change.  

Addressing corruption is a complex challenge that necessitates civil society’s collective efforts and citizens’ active engagement. Civil society organisations play a crucial role by actively engaging in activities to raise awareness, educate citizens, and foster a culture of reporting corruption. These organisations serve as powerful catalysts for change, working tirelessly to ensure that citizens are well-informed about the detrimental effects of corruption and equipped with the knowledge to combat it. By raising awareness, civil society organisations shed light on the various forms that corruption can take. The active involvement of citizens in public affairs fosters a culture of transparency, responsibility, and the pursuit of positive change in policy-making. The enhancement of civil society plays a pivotal role in the oversight and accountability of public officials. Civil society is crucial in driving positive transformation by acting as passionate advocates for change. They engage in various activities, such as conducting thorough research, analysing policies, and launching impactful campaigns to push for much-needed structural reforms. Through their dedicated efforts, civil society organisations contribute to shaping a better future for society.

Nevertheless, these individuals may encounter many obstacles and resistance from nefarious forces. Preserving the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and association plays a crucial role in upholding the autonomy and strength of civil society. The synergy of governments, civil society, businesses, and international actors can greatly amplify the effectiveness of anti-corruption endeavours. By coming together, these diverse stakeholders can cultivate an environment of transparency and accountability, leading to more fruitful outcomes in the fight against corruption. Adopting a unified approach has the potential to significantly enhance the effectiveness of efforts to combat corruption. By bringing together various stakeholders, such as government agencies, law enforcement, civil society organisations, and the private sector, a unified approach can harness collective expertise and resources to tackle corruption more comprehensively. This approach promotes collaboration, information sharing, and coordinated action, enabling a more strategic and targeted response to the complex challenges posed by corruption. 

To effectively tackle corruption, it is crucial for all parties involved to dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to sustained endeavours and enduring strategies. Governments, civil society, and international partners must unite and foster a welcoming atmosphere that encourages and supports anti-corruption initiatives. To combat corruption effectively, prioritising ethical leadership, fostering economic development, and promoting social justice is crucial. These three pillars form the foundation for creating a resilient society against corrupt practises. Ethical leadership sets the tone for integrity and accountability, ensuring that those in positions of power act in the best interest of the people they serve. By fostering economic development, we can create opportunities for growth and prosperity, reducing the incentives for individuals to engage in corrupt activities. Additionally, promoting social justice ensures that all members of society have equal opportunities to the benefits of the nation. By bolstering institutions and fortifying systems, enforcing stringent laws, and encouraging citizen engagement through enlightening campaigns and civic education, we can cultivate a society that values integrity and accountability. Promoting transparency and citizen engagement plays a crucial role in fostering an environment of openness and accountability in the ongoing battle against corruption.

Addressing corruption in Nigeria necessitates the implementation of comprehensive strategies, given its intricate connection with social norms and the need for behavioural change. Corruption has unfortunately become deeply ingrained in numerous sectors, with its prevalence being attributed to a combination of factors. One significant obstacle is the absence of political determination to combat this issue effectively. Additionally, weak enforcement mechanisms further contribute to the persistence of corruption. Moreover, socio-economic factors also play a role in perpetuating this problem. Corruption is not solely fueled by individual motives, but also by vested interests and patronage networks. Promoting anti-corruption values through education and awareness initiatives plays a crucial role in fostering a society that values integrity and transparency. Civil societies must keep fighting for transparency and accountability. These organisations serve as a vital check and balance mechanism, holding governments and institutions accountable for their actions. By actively engaging citizens and mobilising them towards collective action, CSOs empower individuals to participate in shaping their communities and advocating for their rights. One of the key functions of CSOs is oversight. In order to effectively combat corruption, it is crucial to have ethical leaders who prioritise integrity and international cooperation. These two factors play a vital role in ensuring that anti-corruption efforts are successful and impactful. Ethical leadership sets a strong example for others to follow, promoting a culture of honesty and transparency. When leaders prioritise ethical behaviour, it creates a ripple effect throughout organisations and societies, encouraging others to uphold similar values. Furthermore, international cooperation is key in the fight against corruption. Corruption knows no boundaries. 

. Excerpt of Lecture, Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria (ACAN), August 15, 2023.


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Nigerian Elections: A Democracy In The Hands Of A Judiciary 



Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon
Prof. Toyin Falola

By Toyin Falola

To run for an election in Nigeria, as you raise the money you need, now in billions of naira, remember one thing: divide the money into two—one for the elections and the other for legal matters. If you win, the loser will take you to court. If you lose, take the winner to court. If the winner had the money for the election and no money for the legal matters, his fortune would be reversed. Three sets of people now decide for us: the voters, the lawyers, and the judges. Democracy is no longer solely about the legitimacy of votes but also the legality of how those votes are obtained and counted. Legality is now above legitimacy. Please allow me to explain.

The history of elections in Nigeria has always been of interest, but that of its aftermaths creates crescendos of the former, far more important sometimes and far more disappointing most times. In several instances, a party’s candidate would be elected with some level of presumed or deductible public support, and when the lens or the “VAR” of the judiciary looks at it, the people’s results get dashed. Sometimes, the supposed winner could be one that does not have the people’s approval, and after much process of vetting, the judiciary installs who they want or think to have fulfilled the law the most. Some other times, there is not much difference.

The roles of the judiciary in pre- and post-election matters will never stop to beg the question of what should be held supreme: legality or legitimacy. Of course, both the two concepts semantically cross each other’s borders, but to what extent should the extremes of each be tolerated? What should decide legitimacy? Is it the quantum of legal compliance and due processes or the invested aggregated public interests? And should election results be held within the bustles of Electoral Acts, Constitutional Provisions, Court Rules, Practice Directions, and other legal reality checks? This dilemma has been a perennial occurrence and has severally and severely brought the people to some antagonistic vantage points, pitted  against the Milord’s Temples of Justice.

For instance, it is close to a month since the results of the petition at the Court of Appeal against the supposed victory of the APC at the 2023 Nigerian elections, and the people of Nigeria are nowhere near satisfied. It is incredible how a country with a unique history of repeated final determination of election results at the courts, as opposed to the polls, still keeps getting it wrong. The situation is evidence that the people take the judiciary as a betting house and take the chaos of doubts to its temple, as this has run throughout the history of Nigerian democracy.

Take also, for instance, the notorious case of the 2019 Imo State Gubernatorial elections, where the Supreme Court annulled the victory of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Candidate, Emeka Ihedioha, and installed the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Hope Uzodinma as governor; a candidate who did not just lose to Ihedioha in the initial race but finished a distant fourth position and the reaction of the people to the situation. What about the Adeleke election saga in Osun State in recent history? This, however, seems to be an accepted decision by the people because of the supposed popularity of the candidate and the finesse of his dancing steps.

Another very controversial case was the court’s decision in the Bayelsa State elections, where the Supreme Court also annulled the victory of the winner of the elections because it was discovered that his running mate had presented some fake documents. He was, therefore, disqualified, and his opponent was installed as governor.

This history of judicial intervention in elections is no short one. Since the petition originating from the election between Shehu Shagari and Obafemi Awolowo in 1979, Nigerians have had to severally vest their hopes in the judiciary and watch as they act as umpires in matters that are originally designed to be settled by public vote.

There is a cross-road between legality that informs the court’s decision to the extent that irregularity would amount to fundamental decisions that would affect the fate of the people and aid an illegitimate and unpopular government. The people would then be left to struggle with a largely unwanted government or such that could not be ascertained to have won the popular confidence of the generality of the electorate. The court is the home of determining matters based on some objective parameters, explaining why laws are set to guide every matter brought before the court.

From history, it is quite clear that many decisions made on election and election-related matters are either won or dismissed based on irregularities, technicalities, and procedural errors that would deny justice on substantive matters. Of what benefit would a suit that was dismissed based on its lack of conformity with an established form or because it was instituted by a writ of summons rather than being brought by way of a petition? When a matter is determined based on this and other preliminary fulfillments or procedures, the substance, which goes to the root of the legitimacy and desires of the people, is buried or forgotten.

The Constitution and the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules have established that fundamental rights issues should not be discountenanced based on mere irregularities and that as sui generis issues, the standard of expectation should be brought lower compared to other matters before any court. Fundamental rights issues in Nigeria can be brought before the State High Court, Federal High Court, or National Industrial Court. It could also be brought by any means, making it quite easy for a person whose right has been trampled upon to seek justice.

But is a fraudulent election and mandates conferred on people unjustly not worth the similar care given to human rights issues? Where legality and procedures are reconsidered on cases from Chapter IV of the constitution, how many more issues are traced back to legitimacy, the people’s future, and the nation’s progressive projections? Isn’t an election fraud injustice to the generality of people and a collective breach of the collective rights of the people?  

The consequence of elections to the sociopolitical consciousness of a people must not be taken lightly. Not just because elections are the system through which the next leader of a democratic nation is decided but because that system is in and of itself the embodiment or the defining expression of the democratic soul of the society. The iconic 16th president of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln, famously defined Democracy as the “rule of the people, by the people and for the people”; a concise yet comprehensive capturing of the essence of the ideology. 

No society can claim to be democratic in principle without having its people come together to decide who its leaders are. Because those elected are not just “leaders,” but in a more honest sense, are representatives of the people. And since they are representatives of the people, it would be an undeniable logical inconsistency, as well as a great political absurdity, if the people’s will were to be ignored in the selection of their next leader, no matter how legal, constitutional or judicially viable, that process of selection is. It is this understanding that should primarily guide the decision-making of the judiciary that elections are an expression of the will of the people, and so in their decisions, their foremost objective must be the protection and enforcement of that will.

When you see that the entire nation is not only interested but has a stake in the matter, one would expect that the judiciary takes a decision that is the most accurate reflection of the will of the people. Instead, we saw the judiciary dismissing what seemed to be worthy petitions because one preliminary matter was not filed or one issue arising from the whole pool of matters was supposed to be decided by another court. This system and mentality is an outright mockery of the people’s desires. They ignore important, weighty arguments on the grounds of minor, less significant matters of procedure, sacrificing Justice on the altar of technicalities.

My question to the Justices who sacrificed justice for technicality is this: was the law made for man, or man made for the law? The obvious answer to this question is a foundational concept of law, which ought to guide their reasoning. Law is very important to ensuring order and progress in society. But when that law is exalted at the expense of the best interests of the men it was created to serve, then that law is pointless and nothing more than a stumbling block to the progress of society. Law is good because it ensures legality. But man is ultimate because it is man that gives legitimacy. Legitimacy to other men, legitimacy to a government, and legitimacy to even the law itself. So, to all those who view the judiciary’s actions through the mediocre lens of legality, here is a better question: it may be legal, but is it legitimate? Do not get me wrong; I do not mean that the law should be thrown into the winds and disregarded at every instance; of course, “he who comes to equity must come with clean hands,” and “he who wants equity must do equity.” However, there should be a relaxed line so as not to run into the dangers of positivism.

The court must be able to see that what is more important at every point before making its decisions is the importance of legitimacy and popularity. The political and social consequences decisions of the court can cause. This is because every institution is established in the back of the people, and since people are the law themselves, the law should never be clogged to their wheel. The law should be for the men and not men for the law. 

When questions like this are taken more seriously, we will begin to see changes in this country. Our democratic institutions need to be recalibrated and strengthened. Judicial recourse is useful, but when it becomes repeated, it insults and nullifies the point of the precious will of the people. Going forward, we must ensure that we fight to protect that will. All involved from the government to INEC, to the courts, must do better. To close, the preamble of the Nigerian constitution opens with “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria…Do hereby make, enact, and give to ourselves the following constitution”. If it is we, the people, who give ourselves the law, then it must be we, the people, who give ourselves our government. We must defend that right, always.


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Democracy’s Broken Promises 



Prof.Hope Eghagha

By  Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

            The average Nigerian or African believes that democracy’s promises to the people have been broken. Hunger, the prevalence of official corruption, the opulent lives of government elite, and collapse of institutions testify to this belief. Participation in the process of producing elected officials is severely compromised. The institutions which ought to safeguard democracy are feeble, weak, and compromised. Justice can be bought. No one cares for the poor. There is disenchantment with the antics of the small click of powerholders across the country.   

In theory, democracy promised and promises equal access to the ballot along with the power of the ballot to change the fortunes of a country or an unpopular government. But Eric Li argues that liberal democracy is failing because so many ‘countries face severe problems: persistent inequality, political corruption, collapse of social cohesion, lack of trust in government and elite institutions, and incompetent government’. Ethnic and cultural nationalism also pose a threat to democracy as envisaged by the proponents of that doctrine. It is reasonable to argue that democracy did not reckon with the complexities of nationhood in Africa when it was shoved down our throats at independence. Events in the Congo, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin Republic, Gabon, Cameroun, Uganda, and a couple of other countries show that we must rethink democracy. Can we say that the current beneficiaries of our democratic experiment are democrats? Is democracy simply concerned with the power or lack of power of the ballot box?

            It has been argued that the big argument about the failure of liberal democracy is not applicable to African nations, and that what exists on the continent is pseudo-democracy because we do not have institutions that can carry the burdens of liberal democracy. Without an independent judiciary, and a vibrant press what hope do we have to practice democracy as envisaged by its proponents? Why has the vibrant media in Nigeria disappeared? What, I may ask is the alternative to what we currently practice in most African countries which routinely announce general elections that produce dubious results?

            If separation of powers, an independent judiciary, a system of checks and balances between the different arms of government, a multiparty system, existence of viable political parties, transition from one government to another through the ballot box are the hallmarks of democracy, no one can beat their chest in loud proclamation that the experiment has been a successful one. We have been witnesses to arm-twisting of the judiciary, corruption, acquiescence under severe threats. We have also witnessed attempts to alter the Constitution of some countries to favour tenure elongation. Add to this the use of state security and apparatuses to threaten or exterminate the opposition, and the entrenchment of an elite that is not accountable to the electorate. The so-called Fourth Estate of the Realm in most African countries have become an extension of State House because their publishers are beholden to government for survival. In Nigeria, for example, where are the West African Pilots, or original versions of most of the independent newspaper houses in Nigeria?         

Democracy also promised the creation of an egalitarian society where all rights are guaranteed. By stating that democracy is a ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people’, democracy enunciated full participation of the people in shaping the course of history by establishing a good government. In practice, the experience of African nations has been a negation of these ideals. The resurgence of military coups on the continent is a direct consequence of the failure of liberal democracy.

  It is in the abysmal failure to combat poverty and build a pro-people infrastructure that most so-called democratically elected governments in Africa have failed the people. Indeed, the big question is: have these governments been genuinely elected by the people? What is the level of participation by the people? Do the so-called elected officials really receive the mandate of the people? What can we say is the acceptable percentage of mass participation to guarantee acceptability and legitimacy? Why is it acceptable for the electorate to be ignored until the next election cycle? What accounts for that disconnect between the elected officials and the people. Some sixty odd years after independence?

     Ethnic and primordial loyalties are still rated higher in the scale of things than competence, skill, and the nation has suffered for it. There is a deep disregard for the ordinary people of the continent. A big wall exists between office holders and the mass of people. Local governments are created for development. But they have been turned into avenues for personal development. Local office holders are not close to the people. They avoid the people. They cannot tar roads. They cannot maintain hospitals. They cannot provide potable water. They cannot run primary schools located in their domain. In times of crisis, they have little or nothing to offer because the big men in the capital city have seized all funds.

The central and state governments decide on what the people want without consulting them. Government ought to be for the people. If the people have no confidence in the government, they should be able to dissolve the government. This is only possible through the ballot box. The ballot is the symbol of the power of the people. If the rulers subvert the will of the people by massively rigging elections, the people are not obliged to obey and respect the impostors in power.

Democracy does not put food on the table. Democracy ought to respect the will of the people. We cannot say with any certainty that our romance with return to civil rule in 1999 has respected the will of the people. It has always been ‘them’ and ‘us! It is this big gulf that makes the rumbling in some African countries a reality. And the rest of the continent is watching. If there is no change in attitude, the ugly spirit of the 1960s will return in a more furious and debilitating manner. Of that day we must beware!

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The Leadership Question in Nigeria: Is Tinubu  Rewriting the National Narrative?



Prof. Tunji Olaopa

By Tunji Olaopa po

When Chinua Achebe penned the prophetic political tract, The Trouble with Nigeria, in 1983, Nigeria’s second republic was brutally at an end when a coup cut short the civil rule that commenced in 1979. In that short book, Achebe laid his keen insight into what has ailed the nascent Nigerian state—just barely twenty-three years old: the problem of leadership. What even Achebe could not have known then is that sixty-three years on, and forty years after the book was written, Nigeria would still be battling with answering the leadership question. And we watch as other countries tackle their governance and national challenges and keep making enormous progress, from China to Rwanda, and from Germany to Botswana. When Lee Iacocca, in his bestselling 2007 book then ask, Where Have All the Leaders Gone? we know that is not just a rhetorical question. It is a universal question that resonates much more poignantly within the struggle to make Nigeria work better than it has been doing since independence. So far, Nigeria is still struggling to answer the leadership question—what a leader should make with the available human and material resources harnessed to make the lives of Nigerians worth living. 

The struggle to understand what ails Nigeria is brilliantly captured, in equal breath, in Acemoglu and Robinson’s classic, Why Nations Fail (2012). And the answer is that they fail because they neglect the crucial dynamics of building institutions that transcend the selfishness of extraction and primitive accumulation. But then, institutions are not that easily built. And hence we return to the relationship between strong institutions and the strong man. The Rwandan example, like many other states, raises the possibility of an enlightened strong man committedly putting in place institutional dynamics and parameters that would outlast him, and without any iota of doubts about his patriotism. Lee Kuan Yew, the Singaporean strong man, also demonstrates how a strong man could facilitate the transformation of a state’s governance and developmental apparatuses for the benefits of the citizens. It is therefore beyond the pale of any doubt that a weak leader will be able to erect strong institutions, even within a democratic context. 

And it remains axiomatic, when we eventually get a strong leader with the mind and the political will to jumpstart the institutional transformation, that the foremost structural move to make is reforming the public service institutions as the bedrock and most fundamental institutional bulwark for backstopping governance and developmental agenda of any government anywhere in the world. This is what history and the trajectories of political development anywhere teach us. To reform the state system is to give the government of the day a rather fair fighting chance of successfully initiating policy designs and implementation backed by the capability readiness of the public institutions efficiently functional in delivering public goods and services. 

In this piece, I desire to situate President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s leadership profile within the context of the Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) and the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. In past commentaries, I have not only called attention to what I called spheres of performance scattered across the continent, but also the unfairness of deploying global indices of governance performance and leadership dynamics that fail to take into consideration Africa’s unique political sociology that constrains African leaders from achieving their highest potential in delivering the promises of democracy and development for their citizens. This is essentially what recommends the Mo Ibrahim governance and leadership initiatives as a homegrown project that factors into governance assessment what ails the continent and how the African leadership could be encouraged and instigated to get a move on leading. 

The fundamental focus of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation (MIF) locates governance and leadership at the center of the transformation of the continent. The MIF defines leadership as the “ability to make choices, assess and take risks, define and order priorities”, and the prize highlights exceptional role model by recognizing and celebrating African executive leaders “who, under challenging circumstances, have developed their countries and strengthened democracy and human rights for the shared benefit of their people, paving the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity.” And yet, the leadership deficit on the African continent keeps rearing its ugly head—increasing prevalence of coups, the terrible sit-tight syndrome, insecurity and under-performing democratic experiments. And this manifests in the unfortunate gaps the Mo Ibrahim Leadership Prize has witnessed over the year. Two awards were given in 2007 (Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique), and another one in 2008 to Botswana’s Festus Mogae. There was a two-year gap before Pedro de Verona Pires of Cape Verde for the prize in 2011. There was another two-year lull before the prize was awarded to Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia in 2014. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won it in 2017 and Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger won the 2020 edition. 

In all, only seven African leaders have won the prize in its seventeen years of existence. For three consecutive years now, the prize has not been awarded. This dismal performance is further underscored by the key finding of the 2022 IIAG which warns about the possibility of losing the gains of the last decade, from 2012 to 2021 because of the increasing flattening of overall governance since 2019 and the unraveling dynamics of insecurity that are rolling back democratic possibilities on the continent. Those who have won the award have been chosen because of their transformational style of leadership. And unfortunately, no Nigerian political leader has won the prize. Of course, the operation of the prize award has been the subject of severe analysis on its modalities and decisions. The award to President Issoufou in 2020 raised a lot of outcries on how to correlate the former leader’s ambivalent governance credentials with the MIF’s commitment to governance and democracy. Indeed, others have argued that given that so many African leaders who deserved the prize have not received it, then there must be some other criteria at play in awarding the prize. 

These ruminations around the MIF and the IIAG allow us to ask the critical question of how its ramifications can allow us interrogate how Nigeria, through the Tinubu administration can regain its governance possibilities in global and regional reckoning. Winning the leadership prize does not necessarily delineate the possible success of the administration, but the IIAG provides sufficient modality around which the success of the new administration could be fairly assessed. The IIAG is subsumed into four crucial categories for mapping good governance: safety and rule of law, participation and human rights, sustainable economic opportunity, and human development. This is adequately with the vision and mission of the African Peer Review Mechanism.  

If we take seriously the MIF definition of a leader as a political executive with the ability to make critical choices, assess and take risks, as well as define and order priorities, then we immediately see the coalition of several factors that can make the Tinubu administration a success. Coming from the recent sterling performance at the United Nation General Assembly (UNGA), where President Tinubu outlined Nigeria’s foreign policy dynamics and spoke unprecedently to world leaders about the urgency of perceiving Africa, and Nigeria, not as beggars but global partners, it becomes increasingly clear that the administration is perceptively adapting and learning on the job. Such a far-reaching statement at such a critical global event must point back to a deeply structured governance articulation at home. And for me, it must pointedly signal the government’s intention and commitment to transforming the public service institutions that underscore any administration’s readiness to succeed through strengthening the capability readiness of these institutions that backstop government’s governance and policy architecture. 

There is no doubt that the new administration is now fully in the clear about why the Tinubu administration is assiduously working round the clock to create a viable change space that will create a chain of leadership vision and connection across the critical policy spheres in Nigeria. That space could benefit from the key policy areas outlined by the MIF, with the addition of public service institutional reform. This is my passion, and that passion is founded on what has become an axiomatic administrative truth for me: once the public service system fails, everything else about governance fails. And that truth derives essentially from the known fact that the public service institutions, especially the MDAs, are the engine room for servicing the policy implementation and evaluation successes of any government. And even more so, it is the public service system that carries the weight of the critical policy and governance areas from security to rule of law, from human development to human rights, and from sustainable economic opportunity to democratic participation. 

The type of leadership that the MFI leadership achievement prize gestures at is forged within the context of a deliberately designed and capacitated change space—made up of ministers, technocrats, officials, functionaries, nonstate actors and agencies—that the Tinubu administration is already facilitating. It is from within this space that the Nigerian governance narrative which the government has now embarked upon can be recrafted away from the usual and tired trajectories of benchmarking failures to instilling hope and success through a developmental agenda anchored solidly on the antecedent success of reforming those public service institutions that serve as the structural background for making the agenda work for Nigerians.

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu stands a very good chance of winning the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. But the fundamental criterion in this case is answering the leadership question, and transforming the Nigerian narrative from bad management to good governance. And four years have started counting to make good on that transformation.       

Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, and Professor of Public Administration .

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