By Jaye Gaskia
[PAPER PRESENTED AT THE NATIONAL YOUTH SUMMIT ORGANISED BY NATIONAL YOUTH DEMOCRATIC ASSOCIATION (NYDA) IN BENIN, MAY 29TH 2021]
SETTING THE CONTEXT:
First, let me make a clarification. This paper is an adaptation and update of an article that I wrote on the first of January 2017 on the subject of leadership. I consider it very apt for this occasion of the convening on a National Youth Summit, by one of the youngest Pan Nigerian youth formations in Nigeria of today – The National Youth Democratic Association [NYDA] – a youth association that has signified its intention to be a political force through seeking registration as a political party, and one that is further demonstrating the seriousness of its political commitment by becoming affiliated to the Alliance On Surviving COVID 19 And Beyond [ASCAB], participating in The Peoples Alternative Political Summit [TPAPS], and becoming one of the founding affiliates of the new, emergent, broader and wider left political coalition – The Peoples Alternative Political Movement [TPAP-M] established by the summit.
Given that the theme of this National Youth Summit is on leadership, I have chosen to represent my submissions in the article of 2017 on leadership to this gathering of new youth and young activists for the radical social transformation of Nigeria.
The arguments in the original article were woven around the theme, and content of the poem; “The Vultures” by David Diop; as well as around the life of the poet. I am certain that a politically committed youth movement such as this, and one in search of an appropriate model of leadership, will, or should find these useful.
However, before we return to the article, let us deal with a number of questions about leadership. What is leadership? What are the characteristics of effective leadership? And what should be the attributes of a leader?
A very important note here. Leadership is a collective attribute, and my references to leadership is framed within this context, that is the context of class leadership. So, the question will also need to be asked as which class in society is providing leadership, in the interest of whom, and towards what end? For if we do not situate our conversation in the context, we risk losing the chance to understand leadership, understand why the ruling class has failed in the task of national and human development in our country, and understand why transformative leadership will have to be provided only by a class with an interest in transforming their conditions of living, and only by a class that has and can demonstrate agency. Such a class must also have initiative. In point of fact initiative and agency are two sides of the same coin, the one is dependent on, and simultaneously also drives the other.
But what is agency? Agency simply put is the ability and the capacity to be able to act autonomously, in one’s own interest. But this requires the ability to identify and understand one’s own interests. And what is initiative within this context? Initiative is the ability to take risks, to embark on a new risky venture, understanding that without taking such risk, one will be unable to move forward.
A class that will provide transformative leadership, that can enable the radical and socialist transformation of the conditions of living of the people and the conditions of existence of the nation; that is one that can assure equitable, socially just, qualitative and inclusive national and human development; must be one that has agency and initiative. It is clear that Nigeria’s ruling has neither of these, and has since lost these abilities. It is also clear that the working classes and the labouring masses, must through their organising and organisations acquire these abilities in order to be able to provide transformative leadership, and assure the radical and socialist transformation of Nigeria.
It is in this sense, of acquiring active agency and initiative, through political consciousness, that referencing Marx, a class makes the transition from a class in itself [that is a class that exists because of its role in production in society], into a class for itself [that is a class that understands its own interests, and acts on its own behalf to realise those interests].
So, what is leadership? Leadership is very simply the state of being a leader; or more qualitatively, the ability and capacity to lead or be a leader. Essentially therefore in a more functional sense, Leadership is about coping with change; it is about coping with transformation.
So, it begs the question, who is a leader? A Leader is someone who goes ahead of others to show the way, to direct on the path to take. Essentially therefore a leader is a guide, someone who provides guidance and direction.
And now, what are the attributes of leadership? There are about five such attributes, including; Direction Setting – providing guidance on agenda setting and defining the path forward. This requires the ability to envision; to understand and interpret trends;
Aligning People – involves providing guidance in linking different people and different interests and interest groups to comprehend, embrace, and own a vision, in such a way that they become better empowered to work together, build synergy and coordinate to achieve a shared vision. This requires the ability to communicate effectively and to inspire others;
Motivating People – leadership requires the capacity and ability to motivate others, to inspire them; to get people energised to achieve the vision;
Creating a culture of leadership – this is about providing guidance in the evolution of a system and mechanism for institutionalising leadership, such that everyone becomes an integral part of the functioning and exercise of leadership;
Leadership is a collective attribute, of individuals who are leaders exercising leadership, that is coordinating and working together. Strong leadership is thus in this sense a prerequisite for strong institutions.
Some of the characteristics of a leader as a part of a collective leadership, and a collective leadership, will thus include being: Visionary; Approachable; Simple; Humble; a Knowledge producer and disseminator; an Educator – that is one who can teach, but who is also teachable; as well as being Motivational and Inspirational.
BACK TO THE NARRATIVE AROUND THE POEM:
Let us begin with a poem by David Diop titled ‘The Vultures’. But first who was David Diop? He was a poet of the African independence movement era, born to a Senegalese father and a Cameroonian mother in France, the colonial master. He was educated in France and lived in France. He began writing poetry pretty early, and became one of the leading poets of the Negritude literary and political movement led by Leopold Sedar Senghor, who will go on to become Senegal’s first, and post independent president in 1960.
David Diop himself however did not live to see Senegal’s independence, nor did he live long, he had gone to Guinea in 1958 as part of the wave of influx of the African Diaspora into Guinea to support that country after that country gained independence from France in 1958 prompting the French to maliciously and precipitously withdraw all French expatriates and technocrats from Guinea in act of vengeful punishment for daring to vote for independence.
David Diop aged 33 years and his wife were to perish in the Air France plane crash of August 29th 1960 on his way back home on holidays on the flight from Dakar to Paris that crashed over the Atlantic.
David’s poetry received critical acclaim and his poetry was described as angry but full of hope by critics. He was you could say the poet laureate of the ‘Angry Hopeful’ community, an essence shared by many in the anti-colonial struggle, and a context that many who have been engaged in the struggle for social justice, equality and good governance since the failure to realise the potential of African independence can relate to and with.
This ‘angry hope’, or what I like to refer to as ‘Hope driven by anger, and anger focused by hope’ is a phenomenon that I know very well, it is an integral part of the context that has shaped and continues to define my experience since my first conscious act of political and social rebellion more than three decades ago.
It is an anger that I still feel, a hope that still inspires me to this very moment. Why have we failed to realise the full potential of independence? Why are we where we are today? Why are success stories the exception to be celebrated, not the norm in Africa today, more than half a century after the flag independence ‘wind of change’ blew across the continent?
Coming closer home, why has a country with so much potential like Nigeria failed to thrive? Why is the most populous black nation on earth, the country with a fourth of the continent’s population, and a country with a fifth of the black population still struggling to crawl with all the resources – human and natural - at her disposal when it should be colonising – that is building human settlements on - the planets?
Why should a country with four moribund refineries, and one of the largest producers and exporters of crude oil also be one of the largest importers of refined products? Why is our diversification program still based on exporting raw materials, mainly primary raw materials and even seldom secondary raw materials?
Yes there was the catastrophic contact with Europe and Asia through the Arabs, the unequal trade, the slave trade and the wars which it precipitated and which not only depopulated the continent but also disrupted its socio-economic developmental pathway; and of course there was colonialism, and the combined legacies of this violently disruptive 500 year experience.
So it maybe possible to argue that we are barely 100 years out of a preceding 500 year period of bondage; yes this is true, but it is not sufficient reason to have failed so woefully in reconstituting our civilisation.
Africa was great once, and it can and should be great again. It was the cradle of human civilisation. The first human civilisations were built on this continent, and they were of black African origin.
This year, the year of the establishment of our new political movement, our collective beacon of hope for radical socialist transformation, if we read nothing else, we must return to read and study our history. It is important that we understand what we were in the past, how we achieved what we achieved, where we took the wrong turnings, and how we got to where we are today. It is only by understanding our past and our present that we can have any hope of shaping our present and defining the trajectory of our future.
Therefore, during this year, please do take some time off to read and to study, to read beyond the headlines and the news threads of the social media, to study more deeply and gain a more in-depth knowledge beyond the limits of 120 to 140 characters prescribed by twitter and Facebook.
This year, take time to study, to revisit and rediscover, discover and engage with Frantz Fanon’s ‘Wretched of the Earth’; Prof Cheik Anta Diop’s ‘The African Origin of Human Civilisation’; Prof Chancellor William’s ‘The Destruction of Black Civilisation’; Read the literary works collected in the African Writer’s Series – Sembene Ousmane’s ‘God’s Bits of wood’; the novels of Ngugi; Ayi Kweh Amah’s ‘Two thousand seasons’; Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things fall apart’ and ‘No longer at ease’. Read the collection of poems in the African Writer’s Series containing David Diop’s poem.
Read all of these works and more and you will understand why we need to be both angry and hopeful.
But also read some other works so we can gain the courage from the global experience of humanity to understand why understanding our history is a necessity for understanding the urgency of action that is, why taking liberating collective action is both urgent and possible.
So read about the Experience of the ‘Paris Commune’ so evocatively and educatingly captured by Karl Marx; read the three volume ‘History of the Russian Revolution’ penned by one of the leading protagonists of that epic battle, Leon Trotsky. Studying about and engaging with the history of the Russian revolution of 1917 is very instructive and important, not the least because we have just passed the centenary of that Revolution, when ordinary workers and peasants dared to struggle, and did actually take political power into their own hands, enabling them for a while at least to shape directly their own destinies. In the October Revolution of 1917, the working classes and labouring masses of Russia, saw the years of political struggle, during which as a class and alliance of class forces, they acquired active agency and initiative, bear rich revolutionary fruits. That class became a class for itself.
Then proceed to study contemporary history, the rise [and fall] of the left in Latin America over the last two decades that had ensured – for a long period - that Latin America was the only continent to have reduced inequality by half in the previous 20 years. And of course study the recent rise of the radical left across Europe.
What is the point of all that I am saying? Well, I guess the point being made is that Africa in general, and Nigeria in particular has failed to realise her full potential because of the failure of leadership – that is collective class leadership of the ruling class, the progressive and now precipitate decline in quality of leadership, since independence, and the consequent legacy of bad and failed governance and of the continuing decline in the quality of governance. In every respect, whether it is in the provisioning of the welfare and wellbeing of the people, or it is in the provisioning of the security and safety of the people, this light fingered, treasury looting, administratively inept and historically incompetent ruling class has failed. The consequence of their failure is now manifestly visible in the existential threat facing the country and our people.
Before we go on any further, it is necessary that I make a very important clarification; when I speak of leadership, I refer to class leadership, the collective role of a class. It is this that has failed, it is the quality of this class leadership that has so precipitously declined over the last half a century of independence engendering the current catastrophic socio-economic reality of our continent and nation.
The implication of the foregoing is that we as a people cannot continue to trust this ruling class with the management of our affairs, with the responsibility to define our current priorities and shape our destinies.
This ruling class is incapable of transforming itself let alone lead the transformation of Nigeria or Africa, not the least because in its current form it is rootless, it is a class weaned on Europe and the North Atlantic, one that sees Europe and North America as its adopted home, one that is ashamed of the African reality and experience, one that views Africa as the farmland of the peasant, where the peasant exploits nature and extract surplus value; while Europe and North America is seen as the home, the village where the farmer invests the extracted surplus and builds permanent structures.
This psychosis is the historical condition and conditioning of this ‘lumpen bourgeoisie’, this ‘surrogate ruling class,’ ‘these Bandits In Power’.
How do we break from this existential bondage? We must educate ourselves, we must organise ourselves, and we must mobilise resistance, while simultaneously organising and mobilising to make the leap from resistance to revolution, from protest to power. We must be prepared not only to protest against the incompetence of this ruling class; we must also be prepared to contest for, take and wield power in the interest of the people.
We must not only organise and mobilise ourselves by articulating what we are against, our organising and mobilising must also be based on a comprehensive articulation of what we are for. Yes we must know what we are against, but we must also know what we are for.
We must not only Oppose, we must also Propose. And if we are to Take Back Our Country, and Reclaim Our Humanity, then we must go beyond organising protests and shouting slogans, we must begin to organise and mobilise to build a Mass Political Movement, with a very well-articulated program of action, not only aimed at ensuring successful challenge of bad governance, but also more decisively aimed at outlining our vision for a new society.
We must develop a program of action to enable the political movement take political power, as well as one that will state clearly our pathway to rebuilding our society once we are in power.
We must be imbued with the understanding that though civil society activism is important, it is not self-sufficient; everyone active in civil society must understand that we need to urgently move beyond the narrow-minded need to single focused induced competition and mutually exclusive agitations for percentage allocation to competing sectors; and move to build the movement that understands that as citizens we first need to gain 100% control and ownership of our resources and budgets, so that we can then allocate them within a comprehensive and integral plan to the different sectors of our economy to rebuild different segments of our lives.
What we require now more than ever is an all-embracing movement that enables us all to see the bigger picture, which ensures that we are not dissipating energy agitating competitively for percentage slices of the economy.
This is why we must all, redouble our commitments, and our efforts towards building our emergent new political movement – The Peoples Alternative Political Movement [TPAP-M].
For as our most recent historical experience is once again teaching us, it is one thing to want, and take power; it is another thing entirely to govern and be able to govern; both processes require well-articulated programs of action and strategic planning, organising and mobilising. As the presidency of PMB and the government of the governing APC is making clearer by the day;
‘A Slogan is not the same thing as a program of action; Platitudes no matter how often they are repeated cannot be substitutes for strategic national and human development plans and policies; and definitely, ‘Good intentions’ is not a substitute for, nor is it identical to ‘Good governance’.
Fortunately the task confronting us is not insurmountable; we have been at similar historical junctures before. Long before it became fashionable since the half measures of the MDGs and SDGs to articulate development goals, we had articulated programs for social transformation of our country and continent. Just sieve through all the historical documents of the proclamations, meetings, conventions and conferences of our movements. We are no novices in the business of development planning, what is amazing is our continuing hope that those who did not articulate those programs with us, those against whose rule we articulated those programs, will somehow turn around to implement them for us.
The duty is ours, nobody elses. Period!
In the 2017 article, I had concluded thus - Before we return to draw inspiration, the type of the ‘Hope driven by anger, and anger focused by hope’, from the poem of David Diop titled ‘The Vulture’, let me articulate with urgency the Call To Duty For Our Own Generation Today;
The leadership of the Revolutionary Activist Movement, the leadership of the Trade Union centres and the wider Labour Movement, the leadership of the Progressive Civil society movement, and every active citizen must take on personal and collective responsibility to step forward, convene a meeting of Radical Activists for social Transformation, and begin to lay the foundation for a new Mass Political Movement and Party, and articulate a program of action as a new vision To ‘Take Back Nigeria, Rebuild Our Society, And Reclaim Our Humanity’.
It is instructive to note that this call to duty, has been taken up, and is being taken up, with the joint convening on the 26th and 27th of March 2021, of The Peoples Alternative Political Summit [TPAPS], and the joint resolutions contained in the communique of that summit that has now established The Peoples Alternative Political Movement [TPAP-M] – as a Coalition [of our various left led, left leaning, and left political formations] committed to the emergence of A Mass Workers Party and the Socialist Transformation of Nigeria.
Before we conclude, let me recall a quote from Frantz Fanon, a quote that was one of the most defining clarion call for my generation; “Every generation must out of relative obscurity, discover its mission; and fulfil it or betray it.”
I am hopeful that this logic and aspirational call resonates with you as it did with us, and that we can all continue to collective find usefulness, inspiration, hope, as well as drive from this call to action.
For implicit in that call to action is the fact that every generation will face existential obstacles, and will thus be called upon to identify, embrace, and define its mission, its historical purpose. But then after identification of the purpose, what next? We are then confronted with a choice – Fulfil that purpose, this mission, or betray it! Understanding that we make that choice fully aware that choices, that is decisions, have consequences.
We have reached that historical junction once again, where we have a choice to make. We have identified our mission – a mass workers party for the the socialist transformation of Nigeria. We have gone ahead to establish a coalition, our new movement [TPAP-M] as the vehicle to help us achieve this mission. And it seems, that in so doing, we have made the choice – this generation [overlapping generation of activists – to Fulfil our mission, not to betray it.
So now let me conclude with what I was supposed to have begun with, the poem by David Diop, hopefully I have wetted your appetite enough:
In those days
When civilisation kicked us in the face
When holy water slapped our cringing brows
The vultures built in the shadow of their talons
The blood-stained monument of tutelage
In Those Days
There was painful laughter on the metallic hell of the roads
And the momentous rhythm of the paternoster
Drowned the howling on the plantations
O’ the bitter memories of extorted kisses
Of promises broken at the point of a gun
Of foreigners who did not seem human
You who knew all the books but knew not love
Nor our hands which fertilise the wombs of the earth
Hands instinct at the root with revolt.
In spite of your songs of pride in charnel-houses
In spite of the desolate villages of Africa torn apart
Hope lived in us like a citadel
And from Swaziland’s mines to the sweltering sweat of Europe’s factories
Spring will be reborn under our Bright Steps