Nigerian leadership:When ‘cabinet’  becomes ‘casket’

By Busuyi Mekusi


Leadership is central to having virile human societies, as established socio-political and economic structures prescriptively govern how different members of the societal strata relate with one another. To this end, Marxists believe that different units in the society are constantly at loggerhead with each other or one another, as the case may be, as one, particularly the super structure, tries to suppress the lower compartments. With the collapse of socialism and ascendancy of capitalism, the structuring of human societies has advantageously favoured the economically rich and political powerful, to the detriment of the socially, politically and materially impoverished. Postmodernism is still in love with monarchy, as King Charles III coronation holds.  

As part of the efforts to foreground leadership by opinion moulders, the eight models or styles enunciated are: democratic leadership, autocratic leadership, laissez-faire leadership, transactional leadership, charismatic leadership, servant leadership and bureaucratic leadership. With each of the categorisation prone to criticism and inadequacies, as a result of perceived probable negative response it could precipitate from the followers, many people have approved of democratic leadership, as it allows for the participation of everyone, who would be given the opportunity to share their opinions, which would in turn be heard, processed and possibly used by the leader. The equal participation granted people across the relationship chain is considered to be able to engender the building of resilience and agility across board, with the possible positive outcome of revitalising the relationship or organisation in which the relational engagements take place.         

The undemocratic realities in Nigerian democracy have perpetuated oppressive silencing of the voices of the poor by people in leadership positions across all sectors of life. From academic institutions to the civil service; from religious settings in churches and mosques to day-to-day interactions in business places; from artisan training workshops to plantation farms and fields, etc. leadership has frozen the voice of lowly-placed Nigerians while emboldening rascals that usually assume offices as part of the accidents of history. It is to this extent that the encounter between a clergy and his senior Bishop would avail us the dreadfulness of the former in relating to the prestigious placement of the latter, when confusing nervous condition that set in informed the priest calling office ‘cabinet casket’.

Sometime ago, a priest was required to give his boss, the Bishop of an Episcopal church, the feedback on a document. The Bishop was a stern disciplinarian that would not spare any jab to get at any of the subordinates that defaulted in basic expectations. Apart from the stringent personality traits of the Bishop, the official gap between him and his junior clergy, as well as the glamorisation and valorisation of the office of the Bishop mystified the person of the Bishop, and degraded the confidence of those who nursed heightened dictatorial relationships with him. As the clergy undertook his narration, he claimed that the document in question was kept in the casket, while he meant to say cabinet. While the cabinet is a metal safe or storage closet used to keep important files and documents in organised offices in private and public establishments, the casket is a repository used to package a mummy for display and burial, mostly found among non-Muslim faithful. No doubt, religious leaders, notwithstanding their human frailties, are considered among their followers to be representatives of God.     

For the sake of survival, and due to the deification of superior persons over and by their subordinates, hero-worshiping of senior human agencies has been made the standard practice, while also exposing the hypocrisy that underlines human engagements, particularly in spiritually-configured spaces. It is to this end that the nervous conditions of the lowly clergyman that made him to refer to a cabinet as a casket attracts our attention, to interrogate how nervousness causes low-ranking people to murder truths, when confronted by a wilfully or erroneously-constructed monstrous leaders. While not intentionally fixated on the controversial leaked alleged conversation between Obi and Bishop Oyedepo, it in itself collocates with the experience being explicated here. No doubt, ‘Yes, daddy’ is both subservient and strategically condescending!  

Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions is a postcolonial novel that examines filial relationships amidst socio-cultural personality migration of the protagonist, Tambu, and the confrontation of a patriarchal agency, Babamukuru, by his daughter, Nyasha, who ends up being psychologically disorientated by the effusing stultifying realities of gendering,  male domination and principally colonialism. As a result of the degeneration of Nyasha, Tambu resolves to relate with white cultural dictates with caution. Ironically, the questioning of the fatherly authority of Babamukuru by his daughter, Nyasha, and her attendant psychical degradation, appear to be ironically suggestive of the imperative to willfully lose one’s voice to the overbearing clouts of a superior, but nonetheless indicate the vulnerability of someone’s whose voice is deprived him or her to psychological disorientation that would negatively impact the society at large.

The relationship and dealings between the low-ranking clergy and his Bishop boss painted above in this piece speak to the many that define formal and informal engagements in Nigeria. Positions and placements in the various strata are deified, elevated and mystified by both the occupiers and people who relate to them, not merely as a response to established protocols but largely an attempt to show regard and obtain deserving and unmerited favour, as well as approval from the super structure.

Another implied intention in the unnecessary subservience of the lower agency to the superior is the conveyance of loyalty that is often consciously desired by holders of positions that feel unsafe, amidst the intrigues at their sphere of positioning, gravitating towards the personalisation of an office that is held temporarily in trust. Covert and overt efforts have been made in some instances to subject subordinates to oaths of allegiance, loyalty and secrecy, particularly when the atrocious or deficient leadership in place is to be insulated from scrutiny or usurpation. These secretive individuals often forget, like Yoruba people believe, that walls have got hears!            

The clergy’s usage of cabinet for casket is not only indicative of instance of misuse of words, but suggests how a momentarily demented person in a conversation chain could lose confidence and stability in verbal engagements. It further shows how a subordinate’s lack of confidence could make him or her malleable in the hands of a deified superior. Similarly, the uncoordinated disposition of the clergy, as against the confidence exuding comportment of his superior, implies how emotionally unstable people could mismanage a simple process, inadvertently distort information, and subvert outcome of a predictable procedure, leading to avoidable complications. This is not to mention the fact that the fidgeting clergy lacks the voice to speak in favour of a system he is expected to defend, having willingly surrendered it to his deified Bishop.            

Predictably, the effects of nervous conditions on the larger Nigeria society are huge, as found in failed systems across all sectors, unmitigated corruption, reign of inappropriate people in sensitive positions, perversion of processes, etc. While it is arguable that positions and placements prestigiously demand respect and obeisance, the mystification of positioning in public offices, civil service and other government institutions, as well as some corrupted private sectors, is uncalled for, and inimical to the total health of the nation. Positions with established protocols should not be further deified to remove them from the reach of citizens, as every public space is meant to serve the people, and the occupants are expected to be accountable to the citizens.

Going forward, we must note that anyone who loses his voice, and had reasons to call ‘cabinet’ ‘casket’, is a misfit, and whoever has been valourised so much that his subordinates dementedly and nervously willfully fail to defend the system they both serve, possesses a leadership style that is not only dictatorial but negatively transformative. Moreover, for us to move forward as institutions, states and nations, we must; play down on enslaving mentality, embolden the week and the strong to defend collective interests, and kill every butterfly that might have lived for too long in our stomachs. We need people that are transparent, sincere, and courageous to say the unsaid de-robe mystified idiocy, and set pragmatic agenda for sustainable development, as these are the hallmarks of creative leadership. As people ‘lobby’ the President-Elect for political patronage, may he not appoint people that will call ‘cabinet casket’! 

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