A speech given at the 70th birthday of Mr. Akin Kekere-Ekun.
By Professor Folasade Ogunsola
“We need heroes (leaders), people who can inspire us, help shape us morally,
spur us on to purposeful action.” –Robert Coles
First of all, let me say that I am honoured and delighted to have been asked to speak on this occasion of Mr. Akin Kekere-ekun’s 70th birthday. I must add that I have not yet been able to fathom Why he asked me. When he told me the theme of the talk, I knew he still had some explaining to do in the future. However, you’ve got me and I have the microphone! I must add it made me realise that I had never given thought to the difference between virtues and values. Preparing this paper has been an eye opener. My hope is that this speech will provoke discussions around the kind of leader we want or need.
I have been asked to speak on the virtues and values of Leaders, effective leaders, and when we look at the history and seasons of our country there is no time better than now to talk about this. We are at a flexion point in which the citizenry is fighting back and rejecting the status quo. The young people in this country, in particular, showed great courage to ensure that their voices were heard. We all heard the cry of their discontent. What is now certain is that any leader that ignores that cry does so at his or her political peril and this is at all levels of leadership. However, not only the youths cried out, so did the elite and others who had previously not voted or involved themselves in the political process. We are tired of poor leadership, we are tired of a country that does not work but is filled with warm, vibrant, intelligent, hardworking, creative people. We are tired! Nigerians want a leader that will work for them and work for the common good so that we as a nation will come into our own. We need a leader that will ensure the centre will hold and curtail the anarchy that is loosed upon the land!
Joseph de Maistre, a French philosopher, writer, lawyer, and diplomat who lived between 1753 and 1821 said in 1811 that “Every country has the government it deserves” This statement could be interpreted to mean that when a people cause corrupt or bad leaders to be appointed either by commission, omission or indifference or when they lack the will to force change, then they deserve that leader and the corruption that befalls them. Let me stop here to define leadership. A leader is the one in the charge, the person who convinces other people to follow. A great leader inspires confidence in other people and moves them to action.
Nigeria has had 16 heads of state since 1960. Seven (7) of them were Military who spent about 30yrs in office cumulatively. We have now had 35 years of democratic rule with the last 24 years being continuous. Unfortunately, in that period we have spiraled down on all indices associated with good governance such that we are the third worst (102/104) country globally on the Good Governance index. We have managed to entrench corruption, mediocrity, insecurity, poverty, poor education and poor healthcare. You could argue, according to Maistre, that we got the leadership we deserved and maybe we did. While some of us looted the treasury and mortgaged our future, the rest of us went into personal survival mode, we left the country, we shipped our children abroad, we fortified our homes making them mini municipalities, providing our own electricity, water, and security system, and talked endlessly about our problems. Then COVID struck and reminded us that we had only one country and we would have to live with the consequences of our commission, omission, or inaction. The youths also decided that enough was enough and we got the End-SARS revolt and the disruptive wave of the last election process. It would appear that we are waking up and prepared to force change, that we are beginning to recalibrate the leader we deserve. This new leader that we believe we need, must be able to bring development, security, peace, justice, good healthcare and education to Nigeria. More importantly, must be able to inspire us to follow him. My question: Have we yet found the leader who will inspire us as a collective to action for the common good? A leader that will glue us together so we can move to action with one vision to make Nigeria Great? There is a global movement towards virtues-based leadership and the recognition that the quality of life of a community, depends on the character (or values) of all its members and on the virtue of its leaders, after all leaders come from us.
What Do We Mean by Virtues and Values
When I was asked to discuss this issue of values and virtues, I realized that it was the first time I have had to think through their differences. The two words, virtues and values are closely related concepts and are often used interchangeably though they have some really key differences.
The Webster dictionary defines Virtue as “Behavior showing high moral standard” or a quality considered morally good, or the quality of doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong. It comes from the Latin root vir, meaning man. Initially virtue meant manliness or valor, but over time it settled into the sense of moral excellence. Virtue is an intrinsic quality of goodness and is not affected by the premium attached to it by a person or group. For example, courage is courage! it is hard to find anyone speaking against courage even if they do not exhibit it. Its intrinsic value is not diminished by our opinion.
Virtue is therefore a characteristic of our true, natural self. It is an expression of an intrinsic value that is not tied to a learned set of societal rules. They are are typically associated with personal character and are seen as essential for leading a good life. They are traits and behaviors that are considered morally good and are focused on taking action for societal benefit. Synonyms of the word Virtue include moral excellence, goodness, righteousness, uprightness, rectitude or conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles. Other examples of virtues include honesty, kindness, and courage.
Aristotle also defines virtue as “the average, or ‘mean,’ between excess and deficiency”. Basically, he says, the idea of virtue is ”all things in moderation”. Humans should enjoy existence, but not be selfish. They should avoid pain and displeasure, but not expect a life completely void of them. To be virtuous is to be kind to others, not do harm and to seek to find the best solutions for all parties without concern for personal consequences, gain or emotional benefit”. To achieve this, he enumerated four cardinal virtues, Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Courage which he argued are central to living a good life.
Values on the other hand refer to goals or ideals or even opinions. Values are principles or standards that are considered as important or desirable.They are not intrinsically about morals or ethical standards. Values are personal or based on an outcome important to an individual or group and derive their importance from the premium placed on the trait or behavior. These beliefs or principles that a person or group holds to be important may be virtuous if a premium is placed on particular virtues. Values expressed are often a reflection of a person’s virtues. Values can guide behavior, decision-making, and the way that a person interacts with others. We often hear our core-values. Examples of values include respect, fairness, and responsibility they could also include being fit, being beautiful, healthy living, financial security and so on.
The main difference between value and virtue is that values are principles or standards of behavior that help one to decide what is important in life, they are aspirational whereas virtues are qualities that are universally or generally considered to be good and desirable. On a personal level virtues can be considered your lived ethical or moral values.
What are therefore the values and virtues that are considered essential for good leadership?
According to Aristotle and these are echoed in many religions including Christianity, and Islam, the cardinal virtues are Prudence, Justice, Temperance,and Courage (Fortitude) are fundamental. Fortitude is often used as a synonym for courage. A fifth virtue, Humanity has been added by some scholars as being essential to good leadership.
Let’s examine these 5 main virtues.
A leader should be prudent in thought, the decisions he takes and his actions. Prudence which means “acting with or showing care and thought for the future, or acting with wisdom or judiciousness, or being shrewd in the management of practical affairs. Some synonyms include cautious, frugal or thrifty. This virtue gives the ability to Judge correctly what is right and what is wrong in any circumstances. Prudence helps the leader to minimize risks and have good judgment for the general well-being of followers and plan ahead for the common good. A prudential leadership is, in fact, an empowering one that brings everyone into a mainstream.
The quality of being equitable. It refers to righteousness, or moral rightness. According to Fr. John Hardon in the modern catholic dictionary, justice is “the constant and permanent determination to give everyone his or her rightful due” A leader should be an epitome of justice and should not discriminate on any basis. A leader lacking justice is not credible and trustworthy and may not be followed.
the ability to do something that frightens you, the ability to be bold in carrying out positive activities in society or showing strength in the face of pain or grief. The word fortitude is also used as a synonym to courage and it implies remaining steady, reasonable and reasoned. A courageous leader therefore promises a sense of safety, a place of steady strength, a place of reason and reasonable-ness. There are 6 types of courage and all may be called to bear. In ruling a country today, Intellectual courage (Expanding our horizons, letting go of the familiar. A willingness to learn, unlearn and relearn with an open and flexible mind), moral courage (Standing up for what is right even when it is uncomfortable or unpopular) and social courage (To be oneself in the face of adversity and risk social embarrassment , exclusion, unpopularity or rejection) are probably called upon more frequently. The others Physical courage –bravery at the risk of bodily harm or death; Emotional courage – allowing oneself to be vulnerable and Spiritual courage – Facing pain with dignity or faith may on occasion, be required.
Leadership requires the courage to take tough and often unpopular decisions especially during hard times. Imagine removing oil subsidy in these hard times especially knowing the history of what happened previously! It takes a lot of courage to stand up for what you believe in but it’s crucial, if you want to be a successful and good leader.Courage can be so inspirational. When you show courage, you inspire others to do the same and may be what allows us to achieve our aspirations.
“You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honour.”
The quality of moderation or self-restraint: Moderation in action, thought or feeling. It is the habit of avoiding the extremes of behavior, of practising self-restraint when necessary. It means we should know the difference between needs, comfort and excess . This virtue helps to prevent against greed – Just because you can take more, does not mean you should.
The quality of being humane. Benevolence. The quality of being kind, thoughtful, and sympathetic towards others. Humanity means helping others at the times when they need help the most. It means forgetting selfish interests at the times when others need your help. Synonyms: kindness, charity, compassion, understanding.
More recently in a book “the 10 virtues of an outstanding Leader “ which included the study of 10 outstanding leaders, it was concluded that a defining factor of each of them was their character and a defining virtue. It was noted that without these ten vital virtues, leadership can become “misleadership.”These 10 virtues are.
Deep honesty, Moral courage, Moral vision, Compassion and care, Fairness, Intellectual excellence, Creative thinking, Aesthetic sensitivity, Good timing, and Deep selflessness
These virtues describe a leader’s way of reasoning, his or her most basic beliefs, and the emotions associated with those beliefs
The Values of Good Leaders
These are the ideals or goals to which good leaders aspire. These include,
- Vision – They must know where they are going.
- Communication. – Must be able to communicate their vision
- Empowerment and development. – Empower their followers to excel, take action and develop
- Reinforcement and influence
- Empathy- ability to understand others, see things from their point of view, and feel what they are feeling.
- Humility- having a receptive state of mind to keep learning and knowing when to ask for assistance
- Passion and commitment about the country
- Respect – as demonstrated by self respect and respecting others regardless of differences;
- Honesty and transparency
We need our heroes: Examples of outstanding leaders.
They were all committed to a greater good and these virtues were expressed to different degrees in each of them.
- Abraham Lincoln – Moral Courage to take on the Slave trade.
- Winston Churchill – Moral Judgement and Moral Vision
- Oprah Winston- Compassion and Care
- Steve Jobs and Apple- Aesthetic sensitivity
- Nelson Mandela – Moral Courage. He sacrificed a great deal of his life fighting against apartheid in the country before becoming the president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999
- Haile Selassie – Fairness, he fought for social fairness and focused on the education of the people by constructing many schools. Ethiopia became a charter member of the UN due to his views and visions.
People must trust their leaders in order to follow them. Unfortunately, there is a huge trust deficit between the people and the leadership in this country. If we are to follow, we need a virtuous leader. We have been disappointed so many times that the leader we need will have to live a life of deep honesty, moral courage, moral vision, compassion and care, fairness, intellectual excellence, creative thinking, aesthetic sensitivity, good timing, and deep selflessness,
Circling back to Maistre who said we get the leader we deserve. Therefore, since our leaders come from us, it means getting the quality of life we want also depends on the character of we the followers not just on the virtue of our leaders. In other words, we cannot have a great country if we as followers do not appreciate the virtues we look for in our leaders and aspire to common values that are good and beneficial for the common good,
I am optimistic, however, that we are recalibrating, we are becoming more accountable we are questioning the status quo. We are engaging and recognizing that Nigeria will not be great if we as followers do not manifest the virtues we require of our leaders. EndSars was not a fluke, the tidal wave of discontent was not a fluke. We are now asking for leaders that will make us better people. We are looking for those who we can all follow, believing that though tribe and tongue may differ we will rise as one to serve our fatherland with love and strength and faith, till we have a nation bound in freedom, peace and unity. We believe we will get the leader we need and that leader will also be the leader we deserve. I have hope because the Renaissance has begun!
I will like at this time to again thank Mr. Akin Kekere-Ekun and my dear friend Justice Tokunbo Kekere-Ekun for giving me the honour to deliver this lecture on the occasion of his birthday. I wish you a very happy 70th birthday. May God keep you in his hands. May you live to be 100yrs with one extra year to repent of all sins. May Good health be yours and may your happiness never end and may you continue to be relevant in your generation. Amen
Thank you for your attention.