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Integrity in Leadership: A Panacea for a New and Prosperous Nigeria


Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles[1]. The word has its roots from the Latin word integritas, from where the word integer[2] was coined. This meant ‘intact’, ‘entire’ or ‘wholeness’. A man of integrity is a man who is truthful, accountable in actions and not dishonest. A good antonym for integrity is hypocrisy. A hypocrite is not able to stand on a definite platform and defend the truth; he instead dillydallies between two opposing views and can subvert the truth. A man of integrity is the quintessential citizen, an honest business man or a committed teacher. He is predictable because he will always stand on the truth. In the light of our Nigerian experience, this paper will adopt the word ‘corruption’ as the antonym for Integrity. A corrupt person is a person who lacks integrity.

Gerald[3] in discussing integrity from the framework of ethics opined that an individual is a person of integrity when his decisions are predicated on a framework of principles he believes in. The person of integrity has a value-core that makes his actions predictable and in consonance with those values. Thus, a person of integrity has a world view, a bed line train of thoughts that decides his behaviour, his actions and his reactions to issues.

Politically, integrity is a very important quality for leaders. A politician decides policy for the rest members of society; it should be possible to trace his pattern of behaviour, his convictions and where his deepest values lie. A politician devoid of integrity is a deleterious time bomb who wants to have his cake and eat it. Other virtues which are important for politicians are faithfulness and humility.

It goes without much argument that the main problem with Nigeria is a problem of leadership. Achebe identifies this problem succinctly in his book ‘The Trouble with Nigeria’,

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’

Leadership of responsibility or leadership by example is a leadership by a person of integrity. It is the lack of theses leaders of integrity that has served to keep Nigeria at this sorry state of affairs.


                        ‘The Labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain’

An investigation into our development as a nation will reveal that the labours of our heroes past were at sundry times marred by a lack of altruism. The leaders who laid the building blocks for this nation were at some time unable to stick to ideals of which integrity was one of them.A brief examination from Post-independence Nigeria will prove this. There is no better moment that a political leader would have to show he is a person of integrity than when he has to superintend over how the person that will take over from him is selected.


The Nigerian democratic experience started during the colonial era. On June 24 1923, the first Nigerian political party was formed: The Nigerian National Democratic Party. This party was followed up quickly with the formation of the Nigerian Youth Movement. The main problem with the elections at this time was that participation was severely limited to only male adults who earned up to £100 per annum[4]. However, during the period, political parties did not allow for internal democracy[5]. There were personality clashes especially in the Nigerian Youth movement between Ernest Okoli and Samuel Akinsanya which ultimately led to the fractionalization of the party.

The implication of the law that made it possible for only male adults who earned up to £100 per annum to vote in elections was that every other citizen who was old enough to vote but was maybe female or not rich enough was disenfranchised. This was the first signs of the hypocrisy of the colonial masters. In 1951, Lord John Macpherson brought his constitution into effect in the colony of Nigeria as it then was. This constitution did little to solve the main problem of disenfranchisement[6].

Elections at this time were opposed by the nationalists who wanted an election that will give all adults the right to vote, but the nationalists soon developed problems of their own. During this period, tribalism and nepotism and gender discrimination began to rear its head in the affairs of the country. Political development was not uniform throughout the country. For the North, until the coming into effect of the 1963 Republican Constitution, suffrage was mainly for adult males[7]. This problem of disenfranchisement of the North stalled the integration of Northern women into the Nation’s political process on time. The main instances of institutional corruption would first stem from the actions of the colonial masters in making sure that suffrage was not granted to the entire adult population of Nigeria, and the action of the leaders at the time whosoon descended into ethnic politics.


As the colonial masters left the leadership of the country, there came a need to conduct elections into the newly created seats in the Federal House of Representatives. As one author would put it, ‘the 1960 elections were meant to favour the North’[8]. This allegation was made based on the fact that the North had more than half of the total seats in parliament. The North alone had 148 seats while the East had 89 seats and the West 75, represented by their regional parties which were the Northern People’s Congress(NPC), National Convention of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) and the Action Group(AG) respectively.

The manner of the distribution of the Nigerian political positions made the other regions to feel severely marginalised and this played a big part in the demise of the first republic. ‘The first republic collapsed because there was no respect for the core principles of liberal democracy- free and fair competition for power through elections’.[9]

It can be seen clearly that the foundations of electoral malpractices laid from the formative years of this nation was to further rear up its head in subsequent elections. Within this period, there was election violence in the western region in 1965. During the elections in the western region, politicians at the time were involved in snatching of ballot boxes, burning of ballot papers, thuggery and fighting.

 It is important to note that these events were happening between the first six years of coming into birth of the Nigerian nation.


In 1966, there was military intervention in the governance of the country. This intervention lasted from that period to the year 1979. General OlusegunObasanjo concluded the program of return to civil rule of General Murtala Muhammad. There were elections into the office of the President, the representatives and the Governors. The elections results were disputed in courts. The political climate at this time was still inundated with politicians who showed little desire to do the right thing and put their country first.


This was to be the first elections conducted by a civilian government in Nigeria. It laid bare the sheer ineptitude of the civilian government to conduct any elections in the country that would be free and fair.  The elections were marred with widespread irregularities which were sufficient to question the conduct of the entire elections[10]. It was a mark of irresponsible leadership that showed when the first civilian conducted elections in Nigeria were even worse than the elections conducted by the military regime.


An election which analysts have voted would have passed as the freest and fairest elections in Nigeria was the 1983 elections. The Ibrahim Babangidamilitary administration conducted an election that did not see the light of day. 



Nigeria began its fourth republic journey with the advent of OlusegunObasanjo as the President of the country. However the various elections held during this republic has been marred by unusual electoral malpractices.

This fourth republic has seen unprecedented rise in the manner of electoral malpractice in Nigeria. It’s like each fraudulent election births a worse monster. The 1999 elections were between two major candidates:OluFalae and OlusegunObasanjo.Obasanjo won the presidential elections butOluFalae did not accept the results of the elections and contested it in Court; the Courts returned Obasanjo as elected.

So far, Nigeria’s journey to statehood had been marred by one form of electoral malpractise or another[11]. Integrity has generally been lacking in the nation’s polity. There has been the recurrent issue of political killings and assassinations.  Between 2003 and 2007, there have been so many political deaths[12] that an investigation is important. There have been allegations of bribery in the House of Representatives[13]

Elections in Nigeria have improved from the dark days of politically motivated assassinations. Nowadays there is a renewed trust that the people have in the electoral system of the nation.


Political positions are positions of authority where a person who occupies the position can take serious decisions from. A duty to be a person of integrity is immediately behoving on a person who is an occupant of a political position. Nigerian politicians must understand this. It is pathetic that the general perception of Nigerians is that their elected officials are all thieves and evil men. A cartoonist once satirically referred to people in the lower Nigerian legislative house as Representathieves and the legislators as legislooters. This description by the cartoonist is a common perception among Nigerians of their elected representatives. This is because over time, the machinery to keep politicians accountable have been hijacked by the politicians themselves. The courts are the machinery of justice but what obtains now is that politicians to a large extent use the weight of their political power to coerce the courts to subjugate justice.

But there is a duty on the politician to be a person of integrity. Integrity in politics is a fundamental requirement that should even ground the electorate’s choice on who their leader should be. Knowing a person’s standards on matter that have to do with corruption and subversion of the public good, will arm the electorate with enough information to decide whether such a leader is who they trust to lead them.


A man of integrity is a leader with the interest of the people at heart. Brett and Kate[14] mention four qualities that are essential for the statesman. These are: a bedrock of principles, a moral compass, a vision, and an ability to build a consensus to achieve a vision. Functionally, the first two points can be explained as integrity. In explaining the heading ‘A Bedrock of Principles’ they have this to say

The statesman builds his platform on a foundation of firm, unchanging, fundamental truths. These are the things he believes at his very core, his overarching philosophy. Just as in the foundation of a house, storms may buffet the structure, opposition and challenges may arise, times will change, but the foundation remains.

In explaining ‘Moral Compass’ they both have this to say

The statesman makes his decision by following his own moral compass. He is not a relativist; he believes in absolute truths, and his moral compass is rooted in a sense of absolute right and wrong.

Some dictionaries define a statesman as ‘an important and experienced politician’[15]. This definition is banal as it does not address the real meaning of the term as used by social scientists. Brett and Kate are more consistent. By the definition of a statesman and the characteristics ascribed to him by Brett and Kate, it is safe to conclude that the statesman is mainly a politician with integrity. This means that the leader with integrity cannot be distinguished from the statesman. Both characteristics describe the same person.

 A question that must be answered is whether the Nigerian political space has produced a statesman. It remains to be seen that Nigerian leader that will lift himself or herself above the vestiges of tribalism and corruption in order to make sacrifices for the greater good of the entire nation[16].


‘And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skilful hands he ledthem[17]

David was the leader of Israel at the time Israel was threatened by the lands around them. The Bible records David using his skill and righteous heart to lead Israel. This wouldnot have been possible had David behaved like the Kings around Israel. Nations that bordered Israel at the time were nations where the king ran the people like despots and could not be cautioned.

The Davidic model of leadership is the leadership that is skilled and has integrity. It is not enough that a politician is experienced in handling people or that he has served as a leader for a long time. Qualities of skilfulness and charisma must coincide with integrity to make the politician useful to the people.

The topic that this topic is addressing is an apt one, more so when the country is on the throes of another election. The people must decide their leader and his longstanding convictions and values should be known so as to help the people make correct choices.

The division of Israel as a united entity during the regime of David’sgrandson happened because the grandson departed from the pattern of behaviour of his father and grandfather before him. We may not be able to have a united Nigeria soon if the leaders do not jettison corruption and nepotism in favour of a Nigeria where the common man is treated well and value is given to human lives.

Another opportunity to make a difference stares us in the face in a few months. 2019 General elections is another period to remove lacklustre leadership and make Nigeria better. It will not be wise if we let this opportunity pass us by. It is important that we profile the people involved and select for ourselves a leader that truly has integrity and will keep his word.

[1]Google dictionary.

[2]In Mathematics, Integerrefers to whole numbers.

[3] Gerald MacCalum, Legislative Intent and Other Essays on Law, Politics and Morality (1993) University of Wisconsin Press p152

[4] At the time, the Constitution in force was the Sir Clifford’s Constitution of 1922. It was true that this Constitution introduced the elective principle for the first time into any British African territory, but it was not an elective principle that gave every adult equal rights to vote and be voted for.

[5]Dr G Ikechukwu, Parties Parallel Primaries and its Implications to Political Development in Nigeria, (Vol 10 2015) Journal of Developing Country Studies p.109

[6] In its favour, it can be argued that the Macpherson Constitution was the first constitution that was produced after consultations with different levels of leadership in the then Colonial Nigeria. However, due to the fact that the Constitution did  not provide the institutional framework for the achievement of its lofty ideals. This led to conflicts in the regions. Within three years, the Constitution was replaced with the Lyttleton Constitution.

[7] Howard French, NnamdiAzikiwe, the First President of Nigeria, Dies at 91 available on accessed on 16th April 2018

[8]Frederick Forsyth ‘The Biafra story’ 1969.

[9]Jibrin Ibrahim, Election Lessons from 1st Republic: It’s the Republic that matters, Daily Trust Monday 16th April 2018.

[10] Stephen Wright, Nigeria: The 1983 Elections (2008) Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs p. 289

[11]The biggest beneficiary of the 2017 election, President Umaru MusaYar’adua had this to say about the elections that brought him to power  “our focus on the electoral reform is predicated on the belief that elections are the very heart of democracy hence they must not only be fair but they must be seen to be so by our people and the rest of the world … it is our abiding belief that failure in instituting an acceptable process by which the representative of the people are chosen will definitely resort in failure in the long run – this administration has considered it a sacred mandate to institute deep and elaborate reforms that will lead to the restoration of the integrity of the electoral system in this country”- 30th May 2007

[12] Examples of political deaths include the deaths of A S Dikibo, Harry Marshall, Funsho Williams to name a few.

[13] The Governor of Ekiti State has alleged that the former president bribed  the House of Assembly during his tenure. See Vanguard Newspapers of 16 March 2017.

[14] Brett Mackay and Kate Mackay, The Four Qualities of a Statesman available on accessed 16th July 2018

[15] accessed on 16th April 2018

[16] So many Nigerians have made sacrifices to maintain the safety of the nation. A good example that comes to mind is DrMrsAdadevoh, that paid the ultimate prize to keep Nigeria safe from ebola. But she was not a politician.

[17] Psalm 78 verse 72

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