Successful leadership, be it in business, politics or sports, operates on identical underlying principles. As such, successful leaders learn from one another across the different sectors of life and terrain of leadership in which they operate. Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, has a lot to learn about leadership, and he has plenty of options to choose from. But he needs not look far. In his mostly unremarkable government, the sports sector, especially football, especially the national male football team, Super Eagles, have enjoyed unprecedented success. This due in no small parts to the efforts of the Glo/CAF African Football Awards 2014 Coach of the Year, Stephen Keshi.
Since his appointment in 2011, Keshi has led Nigeria to qualification for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, which they went on to win, becoming one of only two people (along with Egypt’s Mahmoud El-Gohary) to have won it as both a player and a coach, secured qualification to the 2014 World Cup and is through to the semi-final of CHAN2014. Keshi’s success has not been accidental, and in his handling of the team, some particularly stellar leadership attributes shine through that the man from Otuoke can learn from.
Leaders deliver results, not excuses: Jonathan has a readymade excuse for why nothing is working in Nigeria. From corruption to terrorism to poor state of infrastructure nationwide, none is due to Jonathan’s inability/failure to effect change. Past Nigerian leaders, the opposition, the children of anger, some aggrieved ethnicities, these are the groups responsible for everything that is wrong with Nigeria. And this has gone a long way in entrenching the culture of complacency in his largely incompetent team who know they are not to blame for failure. Keshi as Super Eagles manager has an opposite philosophy, get results and you won’t have to give excuses. And this has worked for him, as the team knows a bad pitch or weather and even biased officiating is not a reason to lose.
Leaders make sacrifices, especially big sacrifices: “To save Nigeria, we must all be prepared to make sacrifices. On the part of Government, we are taking several measures aimed at cutting the size and cost of governance, including on-going and continuous effort to reduce the size of our recurrent expenditure and increase capital spending. In this regard, I have directed that overseas travels by all political office holders, including the President, should be reduced to the barest minimum” – Goodluck Jonathan (January 2012)
“Our administration believes that the cost of governance in the country is still too high and must be further reduced. We will also take additional steps to stem the tide of corruption and leakages. Foreign travel by government personnel will be further curtailed” – Goodluck Jonathan (January 2014)
In the two years between the two statements from Goodluck Jonathan above, he has spent over N3 billion on foreign trips, recurrent expenditure has increased to 72% of overall government spending, Aso Rock feeding and entertainment budget has stayed at N1 billion and Mr President is planning to acquire an 11th aircraft for the presidential fleet.
Keshi and his assistants on the other hand are being owed a total of 7 months’ salary and allowances running into about N78 million. In the face of this, he has ensured that no player is owed match bonuses and has not failed to deliver results on the pitch. Jonathan and his aides are living in obscene opulence while asking Nigerians to make sacrifices for the nation’s development. Errrrr, it all starts with you sir.
You are only as good as your team: Since his accidental ascendancy to the highest political office in Nigeria, Mr Jonathan has managed to assemble arguably the worst Federal Executive Council since return to democratic rule in 1999. Men and women of low competencies, questionable character and proven records of corruption/mismanagement have been given control of sensitive positions in return for political devotion. Mr Jonathan has shown that he values political loyalty above competency, and that is politics, not leadership. In this regard, he should learn how Keshi picks his team, making sure the best available players are selected, not those who spent more time with the press praising his managerial skills.
Leaders know what and when to celebrate: One of the most disappointing moments of Jonathan’s presidency for me was when he told CNN’s Christine Amanpour during an interview that power situation in Nigeria has vastly improved and Nigerians are happy with his administration in that regard. Amanpour went ahead to disprove this claim so effortlessly. In truth power generation had increased to more than 4000MW then, but that hardly calls for celebration and smugness considering that Nigeria needs about 20,000MW to stand any chance of being one of the top 20 economies in the world by 2020. Jonathan stops short of calling a party for every hundred MW added to the national grid or every kilometre of road patched. Mister, it’s like celebrating victory after winning the first free-kick in a football match. Keep calm and get to work, like Keshi does. Don’t pop the champagne until the trophy is in the cabinet.
Leaders know the people are priority: I do not understand the polimathics of FIFA rankings, and I got even more confused when in December 2013 Nigeria slipped three places from 33 to 36 despite having arguably the best year of all African teams. So was Keshi, but something struck me about his response:
“I am shocked (by the latest rankings). We won the Africa Cup of Nations this year, qualified for the World Cup and four-time world champions Italy held us to a draw, so I am surprised. We should continue to win and make Nigerians proud because that is what is most important to me and Nigerians. If we remain in wherever we are in the ranking and keep winning and Nigerians are happy, then I am happy.”
This contrasts sharply with the selective acceptance game Jonathan’s government plays with global governance and human development rankings. It is not unusual to see Mr Jonathan’s media aides base their principal’s successes on positive comments from international organizations like the World Bank and IMF. When however, the spotlight is on corruption and poverty, in which the report is almost always unfavourable, they swing to action and give a thousand and one reasons why such reports are inaccurate.
Failure to realize that democracy is a government of the people, and the most acceptable index is the people’s assessment, is the foundation of Mr Jonathan’s woeful performance as Nigeria’s president. And as long as he continues to seek acceptance from local power blocs and international organizations at the detriment of the wishes of the people, the story is not likely to change.
If Jonathan is to record any success worth remembering as he enters the final year of his presidency, he should learn from how Keshi has managed to turn around the fortunes of a Super Eagles team that failed to qualify for the nations cup into African champions. While Keshi has proven to be Nigeria’s most successful football coach, Mr Jonathan might just be the worst president in Nigeria’s modern democratic history. It’s all about leadership.
Ogunyemi Bukola (@zebbook) writes from Lagos, Nigeria.