Augustine Akande’s Reflections on Leadership After 3 Months Course in Canada

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Lately, I have been reading a lot about leadership. This quarter alone, I have read two of John C. Maxwell’s books on leadership. They are Leadership Gold and the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. In these books, I have understood that, like many things in life, good leadership can be learned.

As a child, I grew up with my uncle, who listens to Nigerian news a lot. At first, it was a struggle watching with him, who would not rather watch Beyonce, Rihanna, and Jay Z sing on Trace TV than watch politics today on Channels television. With time, I started to subconsciously relate to Nigerian politics. At some point, I could mention all the governors of the 36 states in Nigeria. I could even mention over 80% of the federal ministers. When I left his house for the university, he gifted me a DSTV decoder and a dish (a kind of satellite television in Nigeria). Although I could not install the DTV because I had no money to buy a television set, even if I had money for TV, the minimum monthly subscription for DSTV was 2500 naira. This was 25% of my monthly stipend as an undergraduate student. I simply could not afford to maintain this luxury.

However, at the 400-level, I had some money and bought Go TV (another satellite television in Nigeria) and a television set. Not only was Go TV less expensive, it was also 1400 naira, or 36% less than the DSTV minimum monthly subscription. I started to watch news again, especially political news. I’d go from BBC to CNN to Channels Television to Al Jazeera to BBC again. I became addicted to watching the news and following local and domestic politics. Soon after I got married, I inducted my wife, since it was about the same thing we could watch or discuss together. Getting me to see a one-hour movie is like getting a caramel to pass through the eyes of a needle. I then started to understand how everything starts and ends with leadership. In my over 14 years of following Nigerian and African politics, I have witnessed numerous examples of leadership failures. In my undergraduate class, I also saw firsthand how the body language of the leader can influence the followers. Sometimes in the right direction, sometimes in the wrong. Because some of the student leaders believed that the only way to get good grades in school was to pally lecturers or part with a few thousand naira, many students believed them, and those of us who thought we could get excellent grades without paying a dime or palling with lecturers were seen as fools. In their words, “enimo way, lo moiwe.” That is, he who knows his way is brilliant.

I determined that I was going to change this narrative. As a result, I decided to run for departmental president of my class. Many people who cared about me, including friends, families, classmates, and professors, advised me to abandon politics for the riff raffs. In their words, you have the best grades in this department and one of the best in the entire school; why risk it for student politics? What made the situation worse was that some students at the time said I could not contest to become the president of the department because that position is reserved for the Igalas, and as an Okun man, I could only become the vice president. Indeed, they offered me many alternatives and guaranteed I would get the position unopposed. But I refused. My reasoning was very simple. Firstly, what is the use of good grades without freedom? Secondly, if my grades do not guarantee that I could become whatever I wanted to be, then they do not count for much. And finally, how can I make an impact if I take on a role under incompetent leadership? If I don’t cut the shot, then I cannot influence any change that is not approved by the leader. One of the laws of leadership is never to outshine the master.

I pressed on and removed all barriers on my path. As a senior prefect in secondary school, I learned to make difficult decisions and stick to what I believed was right. For example, at St. Clement Minor Seminary, we used to contribute 500 naira towards Christmas Carol celebration. The senior prefect was in charge of this contribution. Before me, only invited guests were fed; students were never fed. I do not understand the reasoning behind this, nor do I agree with it. When all the students had sent in their contributions, I did the math. We could feed invited guests and students and still have extra money. I did exactly that. Several of my classmates approached me, some arguing that they should be exempted from paying for the celebration. Others, for the possibility of sharing the balance of the contribution after the celebration was over. I resisted them all. One of them even bullied me. I remember on that fateful evening how I was shouting at the school compound, Goliath (not your actual name), you are bullying me! I did what I thought was right: I fed invited guests and students and bought wall clocks for the entire rooms in all four hostels at the boarding house.

At KSU, I succeeded in getting everyone to go to the polls, but I did not succeed in becoming the first elected non-Igala departmental president of the accounting department at Kogi State University, Anyigba. During the campaign and the election, I witnessed rigging, betrayal, and victimisation firsthand. I was satisfied that I got everyone to go to the poll; others after me can continue from there. The fight for freedom is long and gruesome! I graduated a few months later, top of the class and with a first-class. No teacher victimised me. If anything, my results in the last two semesters were better. Everyone must have marked my papers with caution, because you don’t want to be caught in the middle of a scuffle between that crazy guy who took everyone on because of what he taught was correct.

As I reflect on the last three months of this course, what stands out for me is the leadership teachings. I learned that a leader can be transactional, inspirational, or both. Transactional leaders play the give-and-take game. If you win your local government for me in the upcoming election, I will make you the commissioner of finance. If you deliver on the Q4 budget, you get 25% of total production as sales commission. Conversely, inspirational leadership is transformational, charismatic, and based on the idea that leadership is a call to serve. From the course, I learned that a leader can deploy principles from any of the leadership styles to get the kind of results he desires. This course has been very valuable to my understanding of human behaviour in social contexts and interactions. My readings of myself reveal that I am a big-picture thinker. I want to take charge; I want to contribute my quota to improving our world. One of my top three life goals is to obtain a multilateral appointment at the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Health Organization (WHO), or a similar organization. Secondly, be the governor of my state someday, or finally, build a very successful private business. No one can predict the future with absolute accuracy, but wherever I find myself, the lessons I learned in this course, particularly on leadership, will forever remain with me.

– Augustine Akande, a political analyst and a project manager, writes in from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He can be reached at augutineakande@yahoo.com. 


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