I am starting this piece on leadership with a hypothesis. And my hypothesis is founded not just on my perception of leadership over time, but specifically on how my understanding of Yoruba culture and philosophy has affected what I think about the nature, dynamics, and responsibility of leading a country like Nigeria. Leadership is a critical subject matter that brings political philosophers, political scientists and political theorists together, since it is the concept around which we try to understand how to facilitate human flourishing in a social and political space. And it is even more crucial for Nigerians since independence because that is the key to the transformation of the Nigerian state. And hence, this explains my ongoing curiosity, as a political theorist and public commentator, about how we can keep orienting and expanding our understanding of what leadership means. The 69th birthday celebration of the ubiquitous Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu provides me with yet another opportunity to test my ideas.
Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu has become a curiosity in the Nigerian political firmament before the commencement of the democratic experiment in 1999. He has become a significant gladiator in the agitation concerning the future of the Nigerian state. His views, opinions and even silences have been subjected to heated debates that explore the boundaries of personal, political and cultural understanding of an average Nigerian politician. But Asiwaju is not an ordinary Nigerian politician. However, beyond any analysis of who they are and what possible understanding we can have of their motives, politicians should be studied in ways that enlighten us about leadership and its dynamics. And this is even more so in the case of Tinubu. I doubt that there is any “popular” leader in the sense of someone who enjoys consensual support across the many spectrums of political opinions and interests. Leadership popularity is even all the scarcer in Nigeria because of the acute nature of what is demanded from anyone wishing to lead in such a politically inflammable context.