SELFLESS LEADERSHIP: Anatomy of Elechi’s Stewardship



Hardly had I arrived Nigeria from Switzerland on Sunday May 10, 2015 than I got an invitation to deliver this brief talk. For weeks between April 14, and May 6, 2015, I had been in Central Europe in an international conference organized by Concerned Christian Media Workers at Freiburg-Germany with practical segments hosted in Austria, Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Poland. The most striking of all the topics discussed was the question posed by a Jesuit researcher, “Of What Need is the Church Again?”

This question looks sacrilegious and silly but if one is at home with the social values like selflessness, justice, accountability which political order has help to achieve in Europe, one can as well appreciate that the question is worth our reflection. Unfortunately, African politics is dead and religion which ought to regenerate it is oozing out fatigue of political patronage and hypocrisy.

Today, Nigeria is a reputed country of missed opportunities. While Achebe insists that these anomalies have their root in the failure of leadership[1] so stereotyped to be selfish, I add that there is also a failure of followership. Nigeria’s many years have been lost to wasteful, visionless squander mania as rampant, unchecked elite egoism has smothered many a promising grand idea. The country is today a huge graveyard: a cemetery littered with shattered dreams, dashed hopes and aspirations.


Nigeria wants to be great but greatness never comes by accident, nor is it imposed by divinity on an unwilling people. ‘A country, like a person, must prepare -be prepared- for greatness. It starts with dreaming greatness, imagining it, contemplating what it must take, and deciding that the venture is worth the risk, that we are willing to invest the time, intellect and material resources to translate the dream into reality.’[2]


Sad enough, we are not prepared for change. Read Nigerian newspapers or watch any Nigerian television station and you are bound to realize this. It is all about one empty-headed politician decamping from one political party to another; one squabble or another between two politicians or two political parties; one hireling or another warning that power must stay where it is or must be transferred to a person from a different geo-ethnic zone, or it is hell in Nigeria; some pastors or imams declaiming that God whispered into their ears that Nigeria must fast and pray more.


Start from where we are and look Southwest- there is Ekiti which used to be everybody’s pride, even Lagos- it is crisis. Now go northeast of us, from Borno through Yobe and Adamawa, the horn of Nigeria, which have become home of warlords. Then look forward to the heart of Coal City, the easterners’ pride, Enugu, there is war. And from Edda, watch our neigbouring Abia, there is mismatch of political genotype as governance has become a family affair. A little more south-south, Rivers is on and off war. Bayelsa is always being prepared for controversy for presidential interests. The phenomenon of crisis is the quintessence of the failure of leadership, the very image of chaos. Clamant arma, silencia leges. (At the clash of arms, the laws are silent).

In some parts of Nigeria, where there is no shooting war, you probably have some form of reign of terror- insecurity of life and property, armed robbery and hired assassinations, thousands of riot-ready, unemployed youths. For the rest, the country enjoys the unenviable distinction of being the poverty nation, the misery zone.

Since this is a situation that should have been taken care of by good leadership, and since this is not the case, this is partly why we can say there is crisis and want of selfless leadership in Nigeria. And this is an understatement. A crisis is a point of danger, a critical turn, the peak of a problem. The term tragedy is more appropriate like a basket case. What have we not got in Nigeria? Through bad leadership, Nigeria leads in virtually every form of crime against good leadership. Nigeria has given the world one of the most corrupt reigning political parties and the reigning ruling military juntas.

Our leaders who should have been encouraging and leading us by examples of principled frugality or husbanding the nation’s resources optimally to achieve the common good or exhorting us to a more equitable distribution of our meager resources- have gone beyond maximum corruption to looting of treasuries.

No less selfish is the followership. If the leaders are bad, the followers are often worse. They are so taken up with immediate and petty gratification, so incapable of remembering they were fooled only yesterday, so ready to be fooled again and again, repeating the same mistakes like the legendary seven foolish brothers who all fell to their death from one palm tree, each of the last six just trying to demonstrate how the first one did it, how the accident happened.

For years, we have avoided hard choices by retreating into a fantasy world where difficult problems simply don’t exist. We think our state will have wealth without working for it and security without defending it. We have not been honest with ourselves. We are emerging from pattern of self-deception that transcends partisan and ideological lines. Repeatedly refusing to face the facts, we have been surprised by obvious events that we only missed due to our determination to deceive ourselves.

The mass ignorance and illiteracy of the vast majority makes it nearly impossible for the populace to see their problems clearly, let alone think of their solution. It makes them vulnerable, gullible and easy to confuse and manipulate. And corruption is at hand to help them stew in their own juice since they are hungry to resist bribes from crooks too eager to give bribes for votes. Elections become charade, with charlatans and hypocrites parading as leaders, they themselves as ignorant and clueless as the populace, only more deceptive and more with their eyes on power and money. The corrupt crowds roar approval and sell their corrupt votes at a cost at times no more than a bowl of rice, a piece of stockfish, or a few hundred naira like Esau selling his birthright for a mess of potage.

All our woes have not been acts of God, but the failure of man, especially in leadership and followership. Looking from all angles, it seems clear that a major explanation is the lack of understanding of the meaning and purpose of government itself. Is it an exclusive power club one gets into and becomes more or less immune to accountability, and heir to privileges? Is getting in to the government the easiest road to riches or essentially service to the public?


Leadership is “a process of social influence in which a person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.”[3] It is a process of directing people’s behaviour towards realizing some set objectives in line with organizational policies, procedures, and job descriptions. It is a process by which a person influences and motivates others to accomplish willingly an objective or task that they would not have willingly accomplished and directs the organisation in a way that makes it more cohesive and coherent.

Governance can be defined as the ability to dispose available means to achieve desired or predetermined goals.[4] It is a fair distribution of rights and privileges among members who form social contract by one who has the care of the community. Good governance requires good leadership ability. It doesn’t matter if the resources are enough. Commitment to goodwill, sincerity and fairness makes a good or bad leader.


It is this ability that connects leadership to management which itself consists of rational assessment of situations and the systematic selection and prioritizing of goals and purposes; systematic development of strategies to achieve these goals; the marshalling of the  required resources; the rational design, organisation, direction and control of the activities required to attain the selected purposes.


To inspire good leadership, there are certain things one must BE, KNOW and DO.

A leader must BE

  • Able to use power effectively and in responsible manner. Power is the ability to induce or influence the beliefs or actions of others.
  • Able to comprehend that human beings have different motivating forces at different times and in different situations
  • Able to inspire
  • Able to act in a manner that will develop a climate conducive to responding to and arousing motivations

A good leader must KNOW how to

  • challenge the process;
  • inspire a vision;
  • enable others to act;
  • model the way;
  • encourage the heart.

A leader according to Stephen R. Covey must acquire the following seven habits

  • Be proactive- this is about making things happen
  • Begin with the end in mind-energy flows where attention goes.
  • Put first things first-scale of preference
  • Think win/win-principle of interpersonal leadership
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood-principle of empathic communication
  • Synergize-create more together with others than we can by ourselves.
  • Sharpen the saw-making up for lost time




According to Doug Dickerson, an author, a columnist and speaker, there are four traits of selfless leaders[5]. They are

  1. Selfless leaders empower their people– Until you empower your people, they are only spectators. When they are empowered, they can produce, achieve and succeed.
  2. Selfless Leaders share the credit– Billy Hornsby once observed that if it is okay to let those you leader outshine you, if they shine brightly enough they reflect positively on you. A selfless leader will concede being in the spotlight and put others first.
  3. Selfless leaders initiate the conversation: The mark of maturity in a leader begins to take shape when he or she invites open and honest conversation instead of dodging it. If a leader’s head is buried in the sand, the view of anyone else is not pleasant.
  4. Selfless leaders Create Culture– leaders generally set a tone and create the organizational atmosphere. Values are created where values are given. Selfless leaders know that when they help others succeed they succeed too.

Other authors identify other qualities of a self leadership. These include the following from Spears and Others,[6] Frick and Sipe[7] and Russell and Stone[8]. They are:

  • Humility (Spear, Sipe & Frick)
  • Stewardship (Spear, Russel & Stone)
  • Commitment to the People (Spears)
  • Mentor-minded (Sipe & Frick)
  • Considers the Greater Good (Sipe & Frick)
  • Service (Russel & Stone)
  • Modelling (Russel and Stone)
  • Empowerment (Russel & Stone)
  • Teaching (Russel & Stone)

A selfless leader must therefore be technically proficient. He must seek and take responsibility of his actions. He must make sound and timely decisions. He must set example, know his people and look out for their well-being. Selfless leaders develop through a never ending process of self-study, education, training, and experience.

For instance, Nelson Mandela suffered 27 years imprisonment for his anti-apartheid work in South Africa. When he was eventually released, he sought not vengeance against his antagonists and opposition. Instead he pursued a route of reconciliation while simultaneously driving the abolition of apartheid.

Arthur DeMoulas was the CEO of the 71 Store New England grocery chain, Market Basket. Arthur is known for humility and service to employees and their families. Through his work, the privately-owned company went above and beyond their competitors with regards to salaries and employee benefits. In 2014, an attempt by rivals to oust the CEO failed terribly, when employees and customers boycotted the centre for weeks until they returned the servant leader to the post.[9]


In 1996, the birth of Ebonyi State was a great milestone as our forebears brought forth on this nation, a new state, conceived in liberty, and dedicated on the preposition that men are created equal. Before then, it was the aborted FIFA U-20 championship of 1995 that brought the world closer to Abakaliki. The cholera outbreak in the South Eastern cluster city was just enough reason for FIFA to deny Nigeria the hosting right with the argument that Abakaliki was close to Enugu, one of the centres for the championship.

At creation, everywhere deserved attention. The capital city was rustic, abandoned and neglected, the basic amenities were barely non-existent; education was dead and human resources to drive the new state simply below average; medicine was unorthodox; communities were cut off due to inaccessible roads; and the worst is that people had imbibed the myth of the inferiority and were not psychologically fertile to plant new ideology.

Thanks to Captain Walter Feghabor for opening the state and inspiring the people greatly to believe in themselves through his exemplary zeal and hard work.  Thanks to AIG Simeon Oduoye’s midwifery to democracy. And no less thanks to the 1st civilian government of Dr Sam Egwu for confronting human resources challenges and declaring aggressive education for human resources development.

On May 29, 2007, Chief Martin Elechi took over the baton of leadership. As a man with the logic of 39-years old agitation for the creation of the state, he knew the logic of our backwardness. In his mission statement Gov Elechi in 2007 vowed: “… to deploy my energies, talents and experiences to the task of deepening the cause of good governance, entrenching the culture of due process and best practices in public service; mobilizing the Ebonyi citizenry to participate actively in extending the frontiers of development of the state and leading the people by personal example to achieve the twin projects of infrastructural development and attitudinal change I commit myself to the consolidation of gains already made and diligently striving to improve on them”.

He went further: “Your expectations of the new administration are indeed very high. I want to assure you that our zeal to serve you better is also on high voltage…Our problem is two-fold: To change our attitude to work and establish durable structures infrastructurally”.

In cumulative assessment, record from Ebonyi press office as at October 2014 indicates that in the past eight years of Gov Elechi’s stewardship, he built 36 bridges codenamed “Ebonyi Unity Bridges” with only 2 awaiting completion. He asphalted 1500km of rural roads, dualized 15 km of Enugu-Abakaliki from the PDP Secretariat to Onu-Ebonyi Axis and 3.5 Km of the Abakaliki-Afikpo road from Akanu-Ibiam Roundabout to the Mammy market Nkwagu. He constructed an ultramodern Staff Development Centre, Abakaliki.

In solving perennial water problem, the administration embarked on construction of Oferekpe and Ukawu and revamping of Ezillo Water Scheme. And through MDGs, boreholes and small town water projects were executed. In agriculture, he built 3 modern rice milling factories spread across the 3 senatorial zones and sponsored two contingents of over 120 youths for practical training in modern farming techniques at the Songhai Farms in Benin Republic empowering them to set their own farms with credit package of over N200 million. He also floated Tractor Hiring Services Company.

In rural health care, the administration disbursed the total sum of N1.9 billion to mission hospitals in the state and awarded contract worth N2.6 billion for the construction of 5 additional General Hospitals and renovating the existing ones. There is the United Nations’ award winning Mother and Child Care Initiative (MCCI), the brainchild of Her Excellency.

In the ICT, the state built and equipped a digital radio and television station. The administration in 2009 initiated the construction of a brand new State Secretariat complex comprising 11 blocks of 4 storey buildings at the new Ocho-Udo City.   There is also Abakaliki International Market located on 54-acre land space. Determined to clean up the state, the administration relocated timber shade and quarry cluster and permanently sited them through the enacted environmental law. It also entered into a contract with POSCO Engineering & Construction Co. Ltd, South Korea for the procurement and construction of over US$1.14b of Ebonyi State Independent Power Plant (EBIPP) with a capacity constituting 9 units of 310 megawatts (MG) Open Cycle Gas Turbine of 2, 790 MG in the first phase.

In consolidating the state, the administration continued the projects inherited from the previous administration like the State Trade Centre, the State Library Headquarters, the Ebonyi 5-Star Hotel and International Conference Centre.

And with the Attitudinal Change Philosophy of governance, the administration created a Directorate to mobilize Ebonyians through social reorientation to adopt time consciousness, integrity in service, positive work ethics, environmental cleanliness and zero tolerance for violence.

These appear impressive but not all these efforts have produced results. And that is why there were and still reservations with the scale of preference. Unfortunately, there was and still no consensus on how the priority should have been reordered. There are those who faulted the choice of embarking on too many projects with our scarce resources and regretted why government went to the open market to seek for bond. There are some who wanted more human empowerment rather than construction. Workers wanted a better pay package. Students wanted reduction in school fees. Sportsmen wanted Ebonyi to buy Stamford Bridge. Party boys wanted more money shared and more youth empowerment programmes. Youthful politicians wanted routine change of political appointees and better culture of political selection. In attitude, some parts of the state think they should have deserved more attention. Some wanted the administration to be more humble and tolerant to opposition. I personally wanted more political will to hold our contractors to account, to deliver neat jobs and on time.

Yesterday we voted along these issues and today we have returned as Ebonyians. These issues will still be relevant for discussions in 2023. That is the beauty of democracy- the gift of freedom. It behooves on the incoming administration of Chief Engr. Dave Umahi to take up these issues in fashioning up his agenda for Ebonyi and in consolidating the gains already made.

However, we do not need Hegel Whig interpretation of history, in the notion of perpetual progress towards ever greater freedom to feel that some grounds have been gained between AD 2007 and 2015. When we deny this we betray our prejudice but when we think we have got everything right we betray our narrow-mindedness. The truth is that we are no longer what we were but we are not where we ought to be. And that is why the road ahead is so crucial in terms of comments that can jeopardize Ebonyi future.

Napoleon Bonaparte, a beneficiary and victim of power once remarked that “nobody can lay on the bed of kings without catching from it madness of destruction.” But toward 2008 America general elections, George Walker Bush had become synonymous with incompetence and bad judgment. Few hours before vacating office in 2009, he acknowledged his unpopularity even as he challenged his hard-line critics that he got his big decisions right. He said: “Like all who have held this office before me, I have experienced setbacks. There are things I would have done differently if given the chance. Yet I’ve always acted with the best interests of our country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right. You may not agree with some of the tough decisions I have made. But I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions.”

During the Mexican War, Henry David Thoreau went to jail rather than pay a tax that he thought was being used to wage a war to expand slave-holding territories. His friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, also an eminent opponent of slavery heard about it. Visiting Thoreau in prison, he gently said, “Henry, why are you here in prison?” Thoreau’s response became the classic reply of the fully committed person to the partly committed: “Waldo, why are you not here?”

Later on, Waldo would write, ‘every person we meet is our superior in one way or the other. In that we must learn from him.’ Chief Martin Elechi is an interesting character who Ebonyians cannot forget in a hurry. However, the history of Ebonyi is told in future, it must essentially include that there was a governor called Chief Martin Nwancho Elechi who ruled Ebonyi from 2007 to 2015.

We have gathered to thank God for Ebonyi State. We have gathered to celebrate our hope over despair. We have gathered to thank God for the opportunity to witness the administration of one our forebears. We are glad that the dream is on course. Working is working and will continue to get strong. Nothing can contrast our size of hope.


While leaving office in the early 1950s, Harry Truman was highly unpopular in America. And decades after, most historians now come to recognise him as a great president who played politics with skill and style but was dealt a losing hand by history. Would Truman factor come into play on Elechi? That will be analysts’ nightmare. Either way, Ebonyi will miss Elechi. This paper is not a blame-fixing effort but valedictory. Ebonyi is stronger. Goodbye Agburunkasi.



On a site of a temple, two brothers once lived. The elder did not marry. The younger did and had three children. The brothers had nothing but a plot of land inherited from their father. They did not want to divide up the land, because they loved each other. Instead they farmed it together and when the harvest was over they counted the sheaves and shared them equally between them.

One night after the harvest, the elder brother lay down but he could not sleep as a nagging thought disturbed him: “my brother has a wife and children to care for, while I am all alone. It is not right that I should share equally with my brother.” At midnight he got up, took some sheaves from the pile and placed them on his brother’s pile. Then he returned to his place and slept peacefully. The same night the younger brother was also unable to sleep. He thought, “My brother is all alone in the world. I have sons who will look after me when I am old. What will my brother do in his old age? It isn’t right of me to take an equal share of the produce of our field. So he took a few sheaves from the pile and placed them on his brother’s pile.

In the morning the brothers saw that their piles were equal. They wondered about it and they did not say a word to each other. The same happened the next night. On the third night as the brothers were carrying the sheaves to each other’s pile, they met midway, recognized each other and wept, for they realized what has been happening. They left their sheaves on the spot where they had met, and without a word returned to their respective tents. God saw what the brothers had done, and he blessed the spot where they had met. Later, Solomon, King of Israel, built the temple on that spot in Jerusalem.

Love is the treasure that multiples by division. It is the one gift that grows the bigger the more you take from it. It is the one business in which it pays to be an absolute spendthrift. Give it away, splash it over, empty your pocket, shake the basket, and turn the glass upside down and tomorrow you will have more than ever. That is why love is a debt a leader owes his subject. To truly love his subject a leader must be selfless.


A Talk Presented at Banquet Hall, Government House Abakaliki at a Thanksgiving Ceremony Marking the End of Gov. Martin Elechi’s Tenure as the Governor of Ebonyi State, this 17th day of May 2015.


[1] This is an apt description used by Achebe Chinua in his book, The Trouble With Nigeria

[2] Okey Ndibe, Opt. Cit.


[4] Oguejiofor O. J, Philosophy and the Governance in Africa, in Oguejiofor’s Philosophy, Democracy and Responsible Governance in Africa (ed). Delta Publication, Enugu, 2004)


[6] Spear, Larry: Power of Servant Leaders (Greenleaf, Spear, 1998)

[7] Sipe, James W. & Frick, Don M.: Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership (2002)

[8] Russell, Robert F. & Stone, Gregory A.: A Review of servant Leadership Attributes (Leadership and Organisational Development Journal, 2002)