Weak leaders can’t build strong institutions

Nigerians were shell-shocked last week when the news broke that leaders of the National Assembly had perfected plans to block electronic transmission of election results which ought to be the fulcrum of the amendment of the Electoral Act 2010. The development was both gnawing and annoying because it was contrary to the resolution of the joint committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives which states in Section 50(2) of the Bill that voting in an election and transmission of results under the act shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). But the leadership of the National Assembly clandestinely modified the clause to read: “Voting in an election under this Bill shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the Commission, which may include electronic voting, provided that the Commission shall not transmit results of elections by electronic means.”

The move by the National Assembly’s leadership has many implications. The first is that treachery operates at the highest level in this country. The second is that steps are already being taken to rig the 2023 elections through legislation because with this alteration, votes will no longer count; it is whatever INEC says that stands. The third, and the most worrisome, is that the nation’s leaders are very weak.

During his tour of some African countries in 2012, Barak Obama, a former President of the United States of America, said that Africa needs strong institutions to ensure its development, not strong men. Shortly after Obama’s statement, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former president, made a snide remark about the nation’s parliament at both the state and national levels, saying they comprise of rogues and robbers.

The erstwhile Nigeria leader had said, “Today, rogues and armed robbers are in the state Houses of Assembly and the National Assembly. The judiciary is also corrupt. During my tenure, many of the corrupt judges were removed, some are still there. If the judiciary becomes corrupt, where is the hope for the nation? Justice, no doubt, will go to the highest bidder.” He added, “Integrity is necessary for systems and institutions to be strong,”

The correlation between the two statements is straightforward; Obama’s speech was an endorsement of the progress Ghana had recorded in its democratic journey, while Obasanjo’s observation was a knock for Nigeria’s failure to match the expectation of the world. But the connection goes beyond that; Obasanjo’s treatise is the conclusion of Obama’s exposé. Obama spoke of what should be done; Obasanjo spoke of how it could be done.

The natural question is why is it so difficult to have strong institutions in Nigeria? The answer is simple; Nigeria lacks strongmen and is, consequently, unable to build strong institutions. I will expatiate presently.

When Obasanjo said, “Integrity is necessary for systems and institutions to be strong,” he was in effect saying strong institutions could only be built by men of integrity and character. Like begets like; it is only those who have strength of character that can build strong institutions.

Ghana’s immediate past is not any better than the current experience of Nigeria. Ghanaian economy was run aground by greedy rulers; corruption and nepotism became a way of life, while rule of law was thrown to the dogs. But the situation has since changed. Now, Ghana is a model. Its embrace of good governance has resulted in development. Now, everyone wants to identify with the country’s success.

The credit for this transformation goes to the late Jerry Rawlings.

Rawlings started as a military ruler who had the will to change Ghana. His strength was not in his military background but his character. He walked his talk; he was able to punish infraction because he refrained from committing same. Rawlings was able to build a new Ghana because he rose above sentiments. He placed himself so much above sentiments that when leaving office after eight years as an elected president, his party lost the presidential election, a rarity in Africa.

Right from the time Rawlings became Ghanaian leader, Nigeria has become Ghana’s antithesis. Nigeria has been sliding steadily into a banana republic, while Ghana is becoming a virile and veritable nation. In the past, Ghanaians longed to be in Nigeria, but now Ghana has become Nigerians’ Mecca.

Unfortunately in Nigeria, weak people are at the helm of affairs. Our leaders are integrity-deficient, morally bankrupt and primordially sentimental. They worship at the altar of lust, offer sacrifices at the temple of perfidy, pay obeisance to the god of self-indulgence and genuflect to tribal and religious demons. They fail to understand that occupants of high offices must be above board. A leader that will build strong institutions must understand the demands and responsibility of high office.

Paradoxically, while weak institutions protect weak leaders, strong institutions are the bulwark of the society and its systems. So, there is no motivation for weak leaders to build strong institutions; it will be self-defeating. A man’s action is a reflection of his conviction; a corrupt man cannot crusade against corruption; a weak leader cannot advocate for strong institutions.

One way to strengthen institutions is to have political leaders, especially at the highest level of government, who are courageous enough to step on toes and punish every breach. But how can leaders with soiled hands come to equity? How can leaders who forge documents in favour of themselves question forgery in the society?

Building strong institutions starts with a strongman who is able to say no to his weaknesses and is ready to curb the people’s excesses. The institutions initially will require the protection of strong leaders from manipulation but eventually they get so strong that they no longer need the shield. Then, on their own, the institutions can defend the people’s patrimony without being at the mercy of a few persons, including the benevolent strongman. That is what happened in Singapore.

Until we have leaders who are strong in character and can rein in their primordial sentiments, the hope of having strong institutions will remain forlorn.


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