As world leaders scramble for ways to deal with unprecedented amount of chaos and conflict in our world - especially the ongoing revolution and cry for freedom in the Middle East and Africa, natural and nuclear disasters in Japan, the challenge of developing new kinds of future leaders is an even greater one. Today, many nations around the world face extraordinary circumstances and challenges – natural disasters in Haiti, Chile, Australia, Japan, etc., terrorist attacks, conflicts between ideologies, races and classes, wars, epidemics and all sorts of emergencies; demands a new kind of leadership – wise, compassionate, and courageous leadership. There is an urgent need for a major leadership transition in many of the countries in our universe.

John F. Kennedy popularly referred as JFK was the 35th President of the United States serving from 1961 until his assignation in 1963. In his inaugural address on January 20, 1961, he spoke of the need for all Americans to be active citizens, with his famous saying, "Ask not what your country can do for you, and ask what you can do for your country." He also asked the nations of the world to join together to fight what he called the "common enemies of men: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself." Despite his rather brief time in the oval office, he inspired a new idealism, innovation and vision. He energized the nation and created an administration and institutions that ushered new hope, progress and prosperity that prepared the U.S. to be the world leader in virtually all human endeavors.

As our nation prepares to vote in general elections next month, the political terrain does seem to exhibit some signs that Nigeria is heading for free, fair and credible pools this time around. So much awareness has been created and put in place to educate and enlighten the masses of their rights, privileges and power in a democratic government. I must commend the Federal Government, Civil Societies, Religious Institutions, as well as International Organizations for working together for a fair and non-violent election in Nigeria this time around.

I must also congratulate INEC chairman Professor Attahiru Jega and his officers for registering nearly 70 millions voters for the April 2011 national elections. This is highly commendable in view of the poor beginning of voter's registration exercise due to the malfunctioning Direct Data Capturing (DDC) machines. It was a monumental task. Now all must work together to protect the voters and make sure that our votes are counted and results are properly communicated.

However, I don't think that two policemen being proposed by IGF, Hafiz Ringim to monitor violence and rigging at the voting stations is sufficient. Depending on the size of some polling stations and looking at the election history, some notorious polling stations – especially PDP controlled areas should be given more armed police force, unless the police will be aided by armed Para-military personnel. Nevertheless, it is general believed that the April 2011 general elections will be more credible than 1999, 2003 and 2007 – perhaps a repeat of 1992.

Also, the ongoing debates – especially the presidential debate is a welcome development in our nation's democratic government. Debates should be encouraged in all tiers of government – President, Governors, Senators, Legislators, and Local Government. As a matter of fact, debates should be enforced in our political process. Nigerians have the right to hear the vision and campaign promises of those aspiring to lead them. If candidates fail on their promises and vision, then Nigerians should come together irrespective of tribe, language and religion to vote out such person during reelection.

I look forward to the day when Nigerians should stop looking at personalities, but ask what candidates will bring to the table, how they will use the power, authority and immense resources within their influence and control to improve, empower and better the lives of millions of impoverished masses. I pray for the day when we will arrive at such culture of thinking and habit. I believe we will get there soon. This is just the beginning.

Unlike his predecessors, the incumbent President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan recently told a mammoth crowd at the PDP rally in Abuja that he will accept the ‘will' of the people in April presidential polls. Therefore, the presidential election will not be a ‘do or die' for him. Additionally, he has consistently told the crowd as he campaigns around the nation that crooks, cronies and corrupt politicians will be eradicated in his so-called transformational government.

In this piece, I like to bare my mind briefly on the concept of transformational leadership and how Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the incumbent president and presidential candidate of PDP, or any of the other candidates – former military ruler Gen. Muhammadu Buhari of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Nuhu Ribadu of Action Congress (AC), and Alhaji Ibrahim Shekarau of ANPP, can truly become a change agent and a transformational leader that Nigeria desperately desires. We have been trapped in this vicious cycle for long – recycle of inept and visionless political leaders who are incapable of moving Nigeria forward and unable to restore her dignity in the comity of nations. Whoever wins the presidency next month must assure Nigerians that he is willing to move Nigeria upward. Nigeria needs a leader who can exhibit temperament, strength, and courage. Nigeria needs a wise, courageous and fearless president, because most of the duties of the president are decision-making anyway.

In the book, "Preparing for Leadership – what it takes to lead," Donna J. Dennis Ph.D. and Debbie Meola, argued that transformational leaders respond to individual followers' differences and need and empower each individual to align his or her objectives and goals to the larger organization. They outlined models of leadership influenced by the theory of transformational leadership which includes five main components necessary for strong leadership: Communicating Direction, Inspirational Motivation, Problem Resolution, Building the Team, and Trust.

Good leaders do not spring into the world fully formed, they wrote. In fact, it often takes successful leaders years to reach their stride. Transformational leaders requires lifelong learning, flexibility to shift styles, and highly levels of self awareness and reflection. They can transform people, nations, organization to be resilient, growth oriented and innovative. A transformational leader inspires other people to succeed and prosper.

On the other hand, poor leadership can be a downright destructions causing conflicts, turnover – recycling of same old stock, and confusion. In fact bad leadership cause more harm than no leadership at all.

There is no doubt that Nigeria had remained relatively a poor country in terms of "Per Capita GDP" ranking despite enormous human and natural resources due to poor management of those resources and bad leadership. The eminent scholar and International poet, Prof. Chinua Achebe in his famous book entitled: The Trouble with Nigeria, succinctly writes, "The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership." The late Dr. Joseph Nanven Garba, former ambassador of Nigeria to United Nations and scholar, in his book, Fractured History – Elite Shifts and Policy Changes in Nigeria said, "Nigeria, to my mind, does not lack real men and women. The ingredients for creating a formidable nation exist. What is lacking is leadership with the political will and the selfless dedication to galvanize the entire nation."

It can't be gainsaid enough that that lack of good and proper leadership has kept Nigeria aloof to windward among the comity of nations despite its vast manpower and mineral resources. Most honest Nigerians as well as foreigner observers have also attributed the pandemic poverty, diseases, corruption, and violence, ethical and moral decadence in our society as a result of lack of leadership. For nearly fifty years, the nation was hijacked by a group of selfish, greedy, egoistic, visionless, malicious, mischievous and treacherous rulers. Since she gained independence in October 1st, 1960, Nigeria has not had good leaders to pilot the affairs of the country. Nigeria as a nation has not really enjoyed any genuine political peace and national prosperity despite enormous blessings that God endowed on her. Instead, the country has been ruled and governed by military and political dictators that denied the people of Nigeria security, order, peace and basic needs of livelihood. For over forty years, we have had a military dictatorship, political hypocrisy, idolatrous religious system, and extravagantly indulgent corrupt judicial system that oppressed the poor, children and minority members of the family? In a nutshell, Nigeria's rulers have failed to fulfill their obligation to the nation and its people.

Recently The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa'ad Abubakar III, speaking at the 10th annual lecture in honor of the late Premier of the defunct Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, who was killed in the 1966 military coup, said with some lucidity that "Northern leaders have failed the people." I share his sadness. The Northern leaders have not only failed the North but the entire Nigeria. They have not only misruled and deceived their people but rubbished Nigeria and denied the giant of Africa of its rightful place among the comity of nations. Today, Nigerians carry such a bad stigma.

I also agree with CBN, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, young and emerging Northern leader, speaking at the same event, said, "Leadership requires training and preparation…" Yes, effective leadership requires rigorous physical, emotional, and spiritual preparation. Without adequate training and mentorship, leadership will suffer and be painful. Preparation is so much neglected by Nigerians-cum-African politicians. There cannot be a true and genuine leadership development without instruction, learning, and mentorship.

John F. Kennedy said, "Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other."

Leaders everywhere recognize that preparation and lifelong learning are no longer an option – it is a necessity. In a rapidly challenging world, increasingly volatile and interconnected world, public leadership demands a continuous commitment to personal and professional development. In fact, whenever a leader ceases to learn, he or she ceases to lead.

The problem I see in Nigeria is a premature exposure to power and authority. It is perhaps one of the major roots of Nigerian leadership failure and the archenemy of peace, progress and stability of democracy and civil rule in Nigeria and in most of Africa. Nigeria's political history is clogged with many uneducated and untrained people thrown into position of power and authority overnight without knowing how to handle the pressures and weighty issues of governance. The premature exposure to power and positions of authority always creates strife, agitation, and chaos. It also undermines justice, which results in all forms of unrest, violence and conflict. Even people with great talents, abilities and potentials have been destroyed due to premature exposure to position of power and authority.

What we see today in Nigeria are all sorts of people with leadership aspiration joining the game of politics without adequate training, education and public accountability. As a result, we have seen, and still witnessing some of the worst forms of anarchy, dictatorship, and tyranny. The result has been abuse, vandalism, embezzlement or intoxication under the influence of power even to the point of insanity. Nigerians have suffered unimaginable pain and suffering throughout her history because of premature involvement in various positions of power and authority. In their insatiable lust for power, many will do anything and will not desist from using the most savage, crude, barbaric, unethical, and inhumane ways to achieve their selfish ends. The overall impact has been indescribable sufferings and seemingly incurable wounds inflicted on countless lives.

Today, there are those who argue that the problems in Nigeria and most of Africa are symptoms of weak institutions, and not the lack of leadership. Nothing can be further from the truth; Nigerians cannot build such institutions out of a vacuum. Such institutions can only be created through the inspiration and motivation of visionary, strong and courageous people - especially those in position of power and authority. Additionally, such institutions can only be sustained in a society emancipated of extreme poverty, injustice, and moral decay. Throughout history, leaders who have made impact are those who have led with divine strength and great courage. The father of the American nation, Abraham Lincoln did not only abolish ‘slave trade' – an evil institution through the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, but he was courageous enough to unite a nation and preserved the Union through a policy of reconciliation despite the apposition from his party. During Nigeria's independence struggle, our nationalist leaders like late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Belwa, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, Ernest Ikoli, H. O. Davis, Chief S. L. Akintola, Dr. M. I. Okpara, Solanke and Eyo Ita among many other nationalists showed such courage against the British imperialist regime to achieve Nigeria's independence and freedom from Britain.

The problem with Nigeria today is that the game of politics has become the quickest and easiest means for instant wealth. What we have in Nigeria is a vicious cycle - a recycle of jobless politicians who are only interested in their personal and selfish interests. It is a shame.

Recently, the legendary Harold Smith, former colonial leader assigned to Nigeria, granted an interview in which he revealed some astonishing and hidden British agenda on Nigeria's past, present and future. He concluded his long interview by saying that the British really let Nigeria down. And he asked for forgiveness. Sir Lord Harold Smith revealed what most Nigerians already knew about British atrocities in Commonwealth Africa - especially in Nigeria. He knew he cannot go to his grave without making this confession. His conscience won't let him - he's a brave man. Most courageous people usually make such confessions before going to their final resting place. However, Nigerians can't live in the past. Let the past be by-gone. The nation has not done badly. Despite the civil war, ethnic bias, religious intolerance, poor leadership, corrupt institutions and injustice in the system, Nigeria would have been at par with countries like Brazil and the Asian tigers. We have to recognize that our strength and potential is tied to our unity and diversity. We can still accelerate our development and progress, provided we sheave our differences, grievances, animosities – in a nutshell, the past and work together for the future. The young and next-generation of Nigerian leaders will have to work at it by the grace of God. For me, the future still looks awesome. We will get there.

Bernard M. Bass, the leadership scholar and author of Leadership and Performance beyond Expectations, characterizes transformational leadership as that kind of motivation which raises the consciousness of people about what they want. He distinguishes transactional leaders from transformational leaders as follows:

  • Transactional leaders talk about payoffs; transformational leaders talk about goals
  • Transactional leaders work within the situation; transformational leaders change the situation.
  • Transactional leaders accept what can be talked about; transformational leaders change what can be talked about.
  • Transactional leaders accept the rules and values; transformational leaders change them.
  • Transactional leaders bargain; transformational leaders symbolize

In short, says Dr. Bass, the transformational leader motivate people to do more than they expected to do, by raising their awareness of different values, by getting them to transcended their self-interests for the cause and by expanding their portfolio of needs and wants.

Transformational leadership is, however, a double-edged sword. When we look for leaders who can transform we need to be aware that people can be transformed down in destructive ways as well as to lift their level of achievement. Mother Theresa was a transformational leader, elevating the aspirations of poor and rejected people of India. So was Jim Jones, the religious guru, only led his followers into a downward spiral, blind obedience which ended in a mass suicide as a jungle camp in Guyana. The same dynamics which can lead people to better things can also be used to lead leaders in ways that bring great social disorder, as the legendary historian Barbara W. Tuchman wrote so vividly in her book, "The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam." Such examples are many in our world.

The winners of April 2011 general elections in Nigeria must develop the ability and new set of skills and preparedness to manage the dynamics, challenges, adverse circumstances and human behavior. The demand for wise, courageous, and compassionate leaders is urgently needed to manage poverty, infectious diseases, conflicts, and human suffering. This is where new kind of leadership – good transformational leaders are needed - transformational leaders who know how to be creative, and be innovative in providing good governance for the people; public leaders who will lead with shared vision and sound strategies that produce result for its citizens. Leading in the 21st century will require new kinds of leaders and skills required to manage dynamics of crisis, conflicts and chaos.

The next president of Nigeria must be a leader who is prepared to manage crisis with care, compassion and courage. He must be a master negotiator with various stakeholders of the economy and society. He must be bias free leader who knows to build agreements across boundaries and tap into the rich diversity that makes up the Nigerian nation. The next president of Nigeria must be a genuine transformational and courageous leader, who understands the importance of inspiring, motivating and helping various stakeholders to build strong institutions that will prepare Nigeria for vision 2020.

Goodluck to Nigeria in April 2011 polls!

Dr. C. K. Ekeke is a theologian, author, consultant and leadership scholar. He is the president of Leadership Wisdom Institute, Inc.