Leadership and the Challenges of Development in Nigeria

Leadership and the Challenges of Development in Nigeria

Friday, June 21, 2019 1:52 pm

Senator Ojudu delivering his lecture

By Babafemi Ojudu

Good afternoon, my learned colleagues. You and I are colleagues only by the privilege of my (recently) siring a lawyer. Any thing beyond that deserves the accusation of impersonation. Even at that, the son whom I christened, Olasunkanmi Temitope Ojudu, at birth, has not only dropped the nomenclature, he has chosen a moniker. He is now known as Morello, after having dropped his wig and gown and taken up the saxophone. Well, I am still very proud to announce to whoever cares to know, that my son is a lawyer, a pride I deprived my dad of when in 1980, contrary to his wish, I chose English Studies at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in place of Law. My dad made do with being seen as Baba Journalist, and not Baba Lawyer, as he would have loved to be known. Presently, irony has brought me to be known, not as Baba Lawyer, but as Baba Morello, the musician.

So much for that. Let me congratulate all of you on putting this together. You asked me to speak on leadership. Leadership is not such a difficult concept as people tend to view it. Leadership or leaders are those who lead the pack , take the risk , be of courage to ensure that actions that keep a group, community, or society going, are taken for the benefit of all.

Let me illustrate this with the story of two friends of mine. They live about an eight hour drive away from me. They head a group. One day, I got a call from one of them asking me if they could both meet with me. He said there is something important they would love to discuss with me. I tried to discourage them by saying that I live a good distance away, and that the roads are bad and dangerous. I reminded them of the incessant cases of robberies and kidnappings along the way. “Give us a time and venue, we shall come,” they said. These friends of mine had no income . They live off of their parents, whom, if from certain states, most likely might not have earned a salary for months.

I was therefore shocked and surprised to see these two friends in my office in Abuja. What were they actually there for? They came all the way from your campus just to invite me to deliver this talk. Help give a round of applause to the duo of your chairman and secretary.
If what they did was not an example of good leadership, what is?

Leadership is about sacrifice , ability to give more than the rest of the pack, even at the expense of your own personal comfort and security . This quality could be observed in humans, as well as, in animals.

Recently, I watched a video clip of a colony of turkeys preparing to cross a road. The video was posted on LinkedIn . I observed one of the turkeys standing majestically in the middle of the road, stopping the cars from moving, while the rest of the colony crossed the road. Sometimes little occurrences teach us great lessons. The leader turkey, or even all the turkeys could have been run over or killed by one of the vehicles had the leader not taken such remarkable actions. There it was saying, “I offer myself up for sacrifice for the survival of the pack.”

This act reminded me of Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevoh, the physician, who working at a hospital in Lagos demonstrated the stuff a leader is made of. An Ebola patient , a foreigner, showed up in her hospital, she knew the implication to her life of keeping the patient and letting him loose on the society. She was oblivious to the priority of her personal safety and chose to keep him. She insisted on not allowing the patient out of the hospital. Unfortunately, she contracted the disease and died of it. We were lucky to have a leader in Dr. Adadevoh on duty that day. Had she not been there, and had she not taken the steps she took, an Ebola epidemic would have broken and wiped out most Lagosians, followed by a deadly domino effect around the country. That was leadership.

Senator Ojudu and the students

Courageous, selfless leadership.

This is the kind of leadership our country deserves today at all levels. This is the kind of leadership incubating in most of you that has inspired you to appropriately put this event together, rather than spend your time organizing a party, or indulging in a drinking binge.

Our nation is confronted with a lot of problems that demand individuals who possess all the qualities of good leaders, without which, our nation will go nowhere. You must have heard the cries of the Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, who once described his generation as a wasted one. Hmmmm Wole Soyinka. Please as you go into the world afford yourself the opportunity of reading the life story of this exceptional man. It will help you a great deal.

You must have heard Chinua Achebe when he lamented that there was once a nation. My own generation could be regarded as a frustrated generation, which may soon end up becoming a wasted one too.

My generation of students here, in Ife, studied with high hopes and with the highest of ideals. We had great tutors and a great studying environment. We studied hard and we struggled hard. We envisioned a country of our dreams, where we could stand shoulder to shoulder with our counterparts anywhere in the world. Then came President Ibrahim Babangida’s Structural Adjustment Programme. Things fell apart after its introduction, and the falcon could no longer hear the falconer. Our hopes were lost and our dreams slowly turned into a nightmare. All that is history now, so we have to look towards the future.

Senator Ojudu at the conference

Those of you sitting down here today, listening to me, are that future. In order for you not to be wasted, like the Soyinka generation, and not to suffer frustrations like mine, you need to equip yourselves with those qualities that make for great leaders.

Leaders who solve problems, leaders who take their nation from lower to higher points, by envisioning what may seem impossible, but is made possible by the determination and grit of individuals who prepared themselves for leadership.

In the years to come, a lot will rest on you and your generation. You’re either going to take up the challenge, or betray your generation. Lamentation over what has befallen us over the failures of the past will get you nowhere . You will have to seize the moment, put a lid on the breaking dam and say to yourselves, “enough is enough.”

My hope is that when you are of my age one of you or a group of you will rise up and proudly say as Lee Kuan Yew said of his country, Singapore “ From Third World to First World- The Nigeria Story.”

However, your ability to do this will need dedication, you will have to be selfless, and you must possess enabling thoughts, a quality some others refer to as, being visionary. You must be like that ‘turkey’, that took charge, and like Dr. Adadevoh, who was a risk taker, oblivious of her personal safety and selfless in her pursuit.

You must be courageous. You must have passion. You must be quick-witted, and calm in the face of danger. You must be focused , a strategic planner, you must be inspirational, you must show humility, you must be accessible and have the ability to suppress your ego. Above all, you must be a person of integrity.

In past history, every person or group of persons, who have demonstrated these qualities, have wrought changes in their societies, in the face of difficulties or arrays of power ranged against them.

Let’s take the likes of Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro, Barrack Obama, Lee Kuan Yew, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Obafemi Awolowo, Jerry Rawlings, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Pa Imoudu, Gani Fawehinmi, as well as several others. It’s a combination of the aforementioned qualities that have taken these leaders to the heights at which they have ultimately found themselves. If you do not know them or have never heard of them go and read up about them. You are just a few naira worth of data away from discovering their unimaginable attainments.

Nature and history have bequeathed you with a potentially great country. Potential is, however, not enough. In order for our nation to actualize her potential, we require men and women who have tutored themselves in the art and science of leadership, and have answered the call to bring our country out of the morass it has found itself.

As a patriot and most gracious citizen of our beloved country, Nigeria, it is only fair to reiterate that, amidst all the country’s shortcomings, there are several reasons Nigeria is considered the giant of Africa. When I was asked to deliver a speech today about the problems facing this country, I thought to myself, these will not be hard to lay out, but then I thought, “why not also talk about some of the positive things surrounding our beautiful country?”

First and foremost, Nigeria has continued to develop, although at a slow pace. We have some of the best agricultural resources in Africa, particularly, our rich soil. In the last one week I have been tilling the land. It is amazing what I have found and the advantage we have not explored for our benefit and the benefit of humanity. We ought to feel blessed for having such resources.

Traveling around the country and getting the opportunity to observe and learn about our beautiful cultures have made me realize how resilient a people we are. Besides being resilient, we are extremely brilliant, confident, entrepreneurial and hardworking. We are a special breed. All we need do is put the specialness in us to positive and productive use.

Senator Ojudu and the students 2

No matter how rough things might get for most citizens here, they find ways to stay happy, and this helps reduce the inescapable endemic of depression. Otherwise, suicide rates would be a whole other problem in itself.

These are just a few modules that make up the beauty of this nation. If we all come together with the sole objective of bettering things for ourselves, I am pretty sure that in no time and with little effort, we will be able to boast of much more, in years to come.

Now I am going to deviate a little and discuss some of the major issues that make up for the drawbacks in our society, so that you can learn and begin to think of how to solve these problems when, in a few years’ time, it behoves you to ultimately become our leaders.

There are over 200 million people in this country, and the slightest shift in the core of our systems can cause major disruptions to the state of our affairs, which is why absolute focus and attention should be cast on improving the stability of our society .

Some of the issues surrounding our country are, but not limited to, corruption, high poverty rates, unemployment, and a run-of-the-mill healthcare system, disunity and ethnic and religious suspicion. Others are nepotism, godfatherism, impunity, tribalism, religious bigotry, the “me, myself and I” mentality, lack of political will, lack of meritocracy, lack of honesty, a cloudy vision or no vision at all, lack of ideal practice of elitism, and lack of selfless leaders and values challenge.


Unfortunately, in the world today, Nigeria is ranked 144th out of 180 nations when it comes to minimal levels of corruption. It has come to be a way of life amongst our people. Nigeria is one of the richest federations in Africa, but past top leaders in our government, as well as our civil servants, were overly occupied with thoughts and activities on how to enrich themselves and their families with the country’s resources. It is what Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has referred to as grand corruption to the annoyance of elements who have looted the country dry and are now spewing out rubbish as opposition elements.

Also, many Nigerians have developed the habit of not being candid. Whether it be in business, or the slightest task of following protocol, many Nigerians have adopted the mantra of dishonesty. A simple instance is when you’ve been waiting to meet with a particular person at the Eko Hotel, you call them up to find out their location and instead of telling you they are just now grabbing their car keys and walking out of their home, they tell you they are close to the Island, but stuck in traffic on the mainland bridge and that they will be with you shortly. They don’t show up for another 2 hours!

The other day, a friend of mine who lives in Lekki was to meet me up for a very important appointment in Ikeja. When I called him he said he was on Third Mainland Bridge only to hear the sound of a running shower in the background. Needless lies.

Simple honesty is becoming rare. Not only has corruption become a quandary for our nation, but it is becoming an embedded root in the fabric of our culture. This is a country where a five- year old can be plotting on how to get over on you. It is sad, but it’s the truth. This is a country where most people find it hard to trust their parents, brothers, sisters, or even their children. We cannot sit still and watch, while these values keep being passed down generations , otherwise we will hit a point of no return. There is no quick fix for a solution to this problem because it has taken quite a few decades to create .

But what I can say is that we need to start turning things around now, and not tomorrow, next week, or the year after. And the only way we can start to do that, is to first, acknowledge it, call it out for what it is, and hold each and every one of us accountable for our actions. That is only the first step.

Our current administration has done a lot, not only to curb corruption, but its efforts in retrieving stolen funds and persecuting offenders have been somewhat successful. It would have been more successful if the justice system has partnered with the President. The police are still very corrupt and impervious to doing things with transparency. The justice system is very slow and it has taken a reverse in its pursuit of what is right and just.

The President continues to hit hard on the rock of solid putrescence of corruption and bad behavior by showing good example. Good example is fine, it is however a movement as well as a structured battle that can remove this blight from our space.

Senator Ojudu and the students 3

That is not where our efforts stop, so where do we go from here? Although corruption continues to envelope our youth and children, your generation should give us the hope that this problem can be turned around for good. You have no choice. It is in your best interest. If you do you will bequeath a better country to your children. If you don’t God helps you and your offspring.

When it comes to providing cure for this malaise, we should acknowledge the fact that we have the luxury of recruiting our youth from diaspora, who have experienced what a society can be with minimal corruption. We have very well educated and intellectual citizens, who we can begin to enlist, in order to help put in place customs and practices on how to follow the law. Once that starts to become a part of us, I believe corruption can gradually be reduced in our society.

Unemployment Rates

Nigeria, being one of the fastest growing populations, has a major problem of graduate unemployment. I attended university here, in Ife, and emerged a successful journalist and politician thereafter. This has not been the success story for most of our graduates. It is unfortunate that a graduate, today, has a chance of employment only if he or she has someone influential to give him or her a referral. This is a problem that the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, has tried to solve by using a social media platform to recruit 500,000 youths into the work force. Many were not happy with this. They see it as anathema to their personal influence and importance but he continues to insist that the sons and daughters of Mr and Mrs Nobody should be given opportunities too. He is being challenged and sometimes ferociously too but he is insisting and he continues to stand on this point.

Senator Ojudu receiving an award plaque from the students

Our kids have been indoctrinated and taught that the only way they can be successful in life, is to get a good education. But these same kids go to university, work hard, and despite graduating, remain unemployed for long periods of time. This has begun to create a domino effect because these graduates, without any productivity outputs in the economy, have resorted to gaining success through dubious ways. At the same time, this problem will further discourage our children from seeking education, based on the idea that university is a waste of time, especially if there aren’t going to be any jobs awaiting them, post graduation. We cannot afford to have our children in that state of mind. Nigeria has major room for improvement, when it comes to infrastructure, agriculture, and industrialization. The only way to battle unemployment rates is to create infrastructural, agricultural, and factory jobs that can hire these vibrant graduates, and successfully put them to work. If it means digging holes and filling it back we must put our youths to work.

We would also need to encourage our children to study in the areas of agriculture, engineering, health care, ICT, and industrialization. You too have a challenge. Many of our young people too need to challenge themselves. You cannot be a good lawyer if you are not hard working. You must challenge yourself, widen the base of your knowledge. Of what use is a lawyer who does not read. Knowledge and ability to study, understand and apply what is studied is the tool of a successful lawyer. I have encountered many members of your generation, trained lawyers who come to me in search of job and when I ask them to give me the titles of the last three books they have read they are unable . What value do you place on such a lawyer who is weaned on handouts and has refused to improve himself by calling on what others have written?

It was Socrates who said : “employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for”.

A person who does not read is a dead person. Read, study hard for both pleasure and purpose. It helps quite a lot in charting a path for you through life. There is no experience in life, no venture that has not been put in between the covers of book. It is yours to discover and make your life meaningful.

A cross section of the students listening to the lecture

Let me tell you a short story to illustrate my next point on the need ,as potential leaders, to put value on work and toil. On one of the weekends I traveled home as a serving Senator, I woke up in the morning to mow my lawn. A young man came into my compound as I went about this shore. I stopped momentarily to ask how I could be of help to him. He said he was looking for my assistance to pay his school fees. I said ok. I am busy now mowing my lawn and if he could wait for me till I finished I would address his request. He then went , sat down under the shade and watched me continue the task. When I was through I went to him and said “young man you can take your leave “, and added, “ when you have figured out what you have done wrong come back to me.”

Just this last week , a lady called me and told me she was having a challenge paying her school fees at Offa Polytechnic. I told her I would be going to the farm on Saturday morning and she could come see me later in the day . By 6.00 am she showed up in my house dressed in jeans and canvas. “Sir do you permit me to go with you to the farm and assist?”, she asked. I said yes if it is ok by you. She jumped into the vehicle and followed me. On her our return I didn’t hesitate to issue her a cheque to cover her school fees.

Whichever of these individual you choose to emulate or adopt as a model will define who you become in the future. We talked of many of you as leaders of the future. Many are not waiting for the future . They are leading today and providing good example. Work does not kill. It toughens you and make you a responsible citizen. I am cultivating some hectares of plantain. I have not been able to secure a single laborer in my state. I have had to make contacts in Cotonou to get laborers some of whom are students looking for funds to pay their way through school.
Our attitude to work is very bad. No nation develops when 98 percent of her citizenry have no work ethics. In my state most of the youths want to be SAs ( Special Assistants) in Government , earn salary and become big men haw haw as Fela will say. And we are indulging them. No good leader indulge bad attitude and expect society to grow and develop. We must challenge and motivate our people to produce and create wealth. Failure to do this we are doomed.


Even though Nigeria’s GDP per Capita sits at a little over 2230 USD, our oil and gas production is enough to boost the nation’s GDP. Unfortunately, corruption has prevented that from materializing. We are a nation of great resources, but our poverty rates do not reflect the vigor of those resources. This should not be the case. Our hardworking citizens should not be struggling as hard as they do every day, just to make ends meet. As a bread winner in my family, I am required to provide for immediate family and extended family, alike. There are many providers just like me, who do not have the luxury of owning a savings account because of the responsibilities they have to adopt on a daily basis. With opportunities for family members and friends to make a healthy living, the burden on people like me just might be lightened. Our system of government ought to have supplemental programs in place that would enhance the lives of citizens, no matter their level of education. Loan programs in agriculture, petty trade businesses, and wealth empowerment workshops for single mothers are just examples of programs that could help combat the obstacles of poverty in our society. The Buhari Government is committed to working in this direction. All it needs is more support from the citizenry and the civil servants.


Like I mentioned earlier, Nigeria is gaining population, daily, with its over 200 million people. It is inevitable that a percentage will take ill at some point in time. There should be enough hospitals available to cater to the sick, whether they can afford it or not. We are obviously, a young and growing republic, but I believe we can work towards providing adequate healthcare for our citizens. Our elite should not feel they have to travel abroad for something like a basic check up. We should be at a point where individuals from other African countries can come to Nigeria, in order to receive remarkable healthcare treatment. The only way we can do better in this problem facet, is to invest in equipped hospitals all over the country, recruit the best healthcare providers, based on merit, and not based on who you know, provide subsidies for families who do not earn enough to pay for healthcare, and improve our emergency room services in all aspects of the word ‘emergency’.

Our population is growing at an alarming rate and we are all shying away from addressing it. If we fail to address it, it will someday address us. Neither our resources, nor our planning can meet up with our population growth. It is a disaster waiting to happen.

Our governments, particularly at the state and local government levels need to commit more to the people they govern. Governors hiring private jets and junketing around the country and not settling down in their state to solve the problems confronting their people will lead to nowhere. Let us not see government houses as theatre for self aggrandizement. Awards today, chieftaincy titles tomorrow, lavish birthday parties day after with self sponsored several congratulatory messages on radio, television stations and newspapers solves no problem. They only serve as disorienting the youths, making them to believe that is all to life. Life is much more than that.

Perhaps more worrisome is the disunity in the land . Every thing is now seen from the prism of “what’s your origin” and “which God do you worship?” It has not always been this bad. But some ethnic and religious jingoists using the medium of social media have turned the people of this country against one another. This, as young leaders, you must denounce. Acknowledge every Nigerian as a brother or sister, no matter which tribe, state or home town; class, or religion he or she may belong. Poverty and underdevelopment know no ethnic group, and neither does hunger know religion.

There is an urgent need for the harmonization of the public and private sectors skill-set. The talent pool that goes to the private sector needs to be transferred to the public sector for efficiency.

In some countries of the world, when you attend a top notch university and make a high grade you are destined for the public service. This is particular about Japan, where, if the political class mistakenly puts forward an incapable person, the nation is rest assured and guaranteed to maintain the system. China has even gone beyond this to select her very best in science , technology and innovation to go to study abroad at the best institutions in the world in order to acquire, and possibly steal ideas for development back home. We must, wisely, enable our youths to participate more in major events and also engage in various aspects of Nigeria’s political sphere. The attitude of excluding youths from political engagements, particularly in the southern part of the country, does not augur well for leadership development. If you don’t catch them ‘young’, is it when they are already established in their ways that you now begin to teach them the rudiments of leadership? I am talking of the political jobbers now who are not skilled in anything but want to follow politicians around and praise sing them. I am rather addressing the young who is well trained and need to be mentored for the challenge of leadership. Those of us who have found ourselves in positions of leadership must make it a duty to give them access, mentor them, and show them the way.

In a nutshell, it’s safe to say that there’s a talent gap in Nigerian leadership to solve the palpable developmental challenges in contemporary times.
For Nigeria to excel, we need talent alignment and skill set to tackle the issues around corruption, political recycling, and what have you. Among others, we need an independence of the judiciary, we need to overhaul our security architecture, ensure credible elections, and most importantly, embark on massive citizen and leadership training.

Lastly, I am still one of those who strongly believe in the “youths” of this great country. You all, when you go out into society and begin to execute the law, you need to prove to the common man that “the law isn’t a sham”. As I look into your eyes I see people with extraordinary visions, visions and not dreams, I say, because non of you here is asleep as I am talking. I see big fights in each and everyone of you, and burning desires for what is good, so make sure you go out there and make a positive difference at each turn in your life. Always remember, it is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.

There are several challenges facing Nigeria today, and the most important to me, is what I have moderately touched on today. These are not solutions that will occur in one day, five years, or even a decade. It will require a collective effort from many and all Nigerians. We all love this great nation we call Nigeria, but we all need to work in tandem to make it a better place for us, for our children, and for future generations.

Thank you…

-Senator Babafemi Ojudu recently delivered this address at the Career and Advancement in Law and Leadership Conference 2019, organised by Law students of Obafemi Awolowo University.

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