Leadership lesson from South Korea

Nigeria has so much going for it as a country. Our tsunami is bad leadership. The hurricane of bad leadership which buffets all facets of the Nigerian society from all sides has left the lands so devastated that its inhabitants are beginning to lose hope of the possibility of a revival.

The resignation of the South Korean Prime Minister, Chung Hong-won, over a ferry accident that claimed about 300 lives has again underscored the fact that many of the atrocities and shortcomings of Nigerian leaders will not be tolerated in civilized climes where value is placed on human lives.

The Sewol ferry with 476 people aboard – over 300 of them school children and their teachers -sank off South Korea on April 16 while on a trip to the holiday Island of Jeju.

Shortly before announcing his resignation as the Prime Minister of Asia’s fifth largest economy, Hong-won cited official corruption and deep-rooted evil as factors responsible for the sinking of the ill-fated Sewol, a RORO/Passenger vessel known in shipping parlance as Ropax.

When he visited the families of the unfortunate passengers at a hall provided for them by the government, the families vented their anger on the sober Prime Minister. Despite the barrage of insults and curses hurled at him, Hong-won remained sober and apologetic. He did not raise his voice or try to defend his position. He kept apologising to the bereaved and took responsibility for not doing enough to protect their loved ones.

He admitted the slow response of authorities to the tragedy. Chung Hong-Won admitted he had not been up to the task of overseeing rescue operations after the Sewol capsized offering his unreserved “apology for having been unable to prevent the accident from happening and unable to properly respond to it afterwards.”

“As the Prime Minister, certainly, I had to take responsibility and resign,” he announced. Now that is one decision many Nigerian leaders will find difficult to come to terms with.

Hong-won is a man of honour. He admits errors and takes responsibility. He knows that a leader can delegate authority but must shoulder responsibility. He is a leader who understands what it means to take responsibility especially as it affects the lives of the citizenry.

Hong-won said when he saw the pain of the grieving families and the resentment of the public towards the government; he thought he should take the responsibility as the Prime Minister. I watched in awe as he bowed to the families of the victims appealing and apologising to them. I was moved to tears. I found myself telling whoever cared to listen that the man is a great leader.

A few days after the Prime Minister announced his resignation, the President also tendered unreserved apology to South Koreans over the unfortunate incident.

Now let us come back home. On 27 January 2002, at least 1,100 people died as a result of the Lagos armoury explosion at Ikeja Military Cantonment in Lagos. Then President Olusegun Obasanjo visited the cantonment the following day and while the wives of some of the dead soldiers were weeping and demanding explanation and compensation, he climbed onto the bonnet of a vehicle, standing akimbo with microphone in one hand; Obasanjo lambasted the bereaved for “insulting” him and stormed out of the military barracks in anger.

On 15 March 2014, the Minister of Interior and the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) organised an infamous recruitment scam. Hundreds of thousands of jobless youths were asked to apply for jobs in the NIS. A fee of one thousand naira was collected from each of the applicants numbering over 500,000. The youths gathered in their hundreds of thousands at various stadia across the country to write some phony tests. Safety measures were not on the agenda of the greedy leaders despite the large army of youths that thronged the advertised venues. There was no provision even for crowd control; only money collection points were provided. Stampede eventually ensued claiming the lives of 16 of the applicants with scores of others suffering various degrees of injuries.

The Interior Minister’s initial comments were appalling as he blamed the applicants for their own misfortune.

Speaking in Jos, Plateau State, where he inspected the exercise, Abba Moro said the applicants should blame their “impatience” for the stampede and the deaths!

He said applicants refused to follow instructions handed them by the recruiters.

“The applicants lost their lives due to impatience,” he told journalists. “They did not follow the laid down procedures spelt out to them before the exercise; many of them jumped through the fences of affected centres and did not conduct themselves in an orderly manner to make the exercise a smooth one. This caused stampede and made the environment unsecured.”

He blamed the victims. He said those who died killed themselves. What could be more appalling? And Abba Moro is still in office as Interior Minister!

Several other examples abound about the worthlessness of lives to Nigerian politicians. Perhahps the only lives that matter are theirs and those of their families. Or how else do you explain the fact that the Federal Executive Council did not as much as observe a minute of silence for victims of the Nyanya, Abuja bomb blast but would go as far as cancelling its meeting of 30th April, 2014 in to “mourn the younger brother of Vice President Namadi Sambo” who died in a road accident few days before?

Our politicians and political leaders made Nigeria the Sodom and Gomorrah it has become because they lack moral consciousness.

South Korea might be described by the West as a Third World country but the country is certainly not in the same league with Nigeria.

In his book titled The Trouble with Nigeria, Chinua Achebe aptly captured Nigeria’s leadership problem: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”

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