Nigeria and the followership problem

From book authors to musicians and to almost every journalist that writes on political affairs “Bad leadership” has long been identified as the bane of the Nigerian society. This piece is about the less talked about but equally negative trait asymptomatic of our society, the effects to “bad follower-ship”.

It is amazing how little thought has been given to the effect of the followership on the leading elite and the society at large. Of course the fact that most political analysts are themselves outside the political leadership, it makes sense that all the finger pointing goes in the direction of the leaders; but what if our leaders and indeed society had a mouth and indeed something to say about the followership culture in Nigeria, what will they have to say? Being that it is politically perilous for our elected leaders to lay any kind of blame at the feet of the electorate, the purpose of this article is for us to tell ourselves the truths that our leaders dare not tell us.

That the followership creates the leadership is one of the lesser known truths of society. A society gets the leader it deserves. If our leaders are inept and corrupt, it is a clear reflection not just on the individual leader but on the electoral system that brought him/her forth and the structures and personalities that support that electoral system. By this I mean the electoral commissioner, the INEC official, the youth corps member and teachers that helped deliver the voters registration exercise, the community leaders that mobilized the people, the party electoral observers, the thugs that helped rig the election- if we dig far enough, the finger will be pointing at a family member of ours who completes this chain.


Our modern day Nigeria’s money-centric culture places a premium over cash than indeed anything else. To get my vote-cash; to win my constituency- cash; we pay a politician a courtesy visit- we expect cash; a politician visits our constituency- we expect cash. In fact, because a politician I know has been elected a local government chairman, I go to put together what essentially is a 10 page pamphlet and declare a book launch for a piece of work that holds no literary value to any living soul and I invite this local government chairman as the chief launcher- I expect cash! And should he dare give me anything less than N150, 000, I will be very disappointed; mind not that his declared take home pay clearly shows that he should not be able to afford to put down that amount conveniently from one month’s pay. I have succeeded in pushing him in the path of corruption!nigeria

Imagine how much individual pressures those who have some form of access to political leaders put on our local government chairmen, our state  representatives, commissioners, ministers and federal house of assembly members to name but a few. Very few if given the opportunity will choose to be exempt from these actions that have essentially become our way of life including religious leaders, traditional rulers, old students associations members among others. I personally believe that second to sheer greed; the most corrupting influence in Nigerian politics is the expectations of the followership- whether this followership be the political party, clubs and societies or the numerous individuals that place their myopic self-interest driven demands on the financial and time resources available to our elected officials.


The more cash a leader throws around, the more followers (Pshyochophants) he gets! I know a very popular man who got elected to represent a body of professionals at national level; he was, prior to his appointment living just a few doors away from our flat. In two terms in office, supposedly serving the ‘interests’ of his colleagues, he returned with enough wealth to buy the choicest properties all around our street and with enough cash to run for and win a senate seat! Till this day, no individual, government agency or his very professional colleagues, as far as I know, has publicly questioned the speed at which this flat tenant became a street owner. Perhaps he has perfected the art of giving gifts to those who should be questioning? The followership!

In advanced economies, the most noble task of the electorate (followership) is to hold its leaders to account. To demand more of them, to place them consistently under the searchlight of the performance radar, to watch out for any signs of personal aggrandizement and to bring to account leaders that are found wanting in any areas of the electorate’s expectations.

Without attempting to be alarmist in any form, for this generation, Egypt’s Tahir Square will perhaps be a lasting reminder to the new democracies of the world (Nigeria included), a clear symbolism of power belonging to the people. In our individual worlds, that power is the single vote and the subsequent followership we provide our leaders. That followership needs to become more sophisticated, it needs to move beyond cash; it needs to demand more, to scrutinize more, to communicate more, to idolize less. We need to get the right perspective as to the fact that the so-called leader is actually a servant we send out to do a job for us and that it is our constitutional and patriotic duty to ensure that he does that job, to support him to do that job and to remove the demands that distract him from doing that job and ultimately to hold him accountable for what he has or has not done!

Followership can be as powerful as leadership in shaping the future of a people. By changing our followership attitudes and mindset, perhaps more than any single factor we can change “bad leadership” to intrinsically “good leadership”. The influence of the followership’s expectations on the decisions and choices of the leadership is perhaps not appreciated enough- Leaders perform to the expectations the followership creates; not the expectations of the vocal few but that of the cash- driven many with whom they have to deal every minute of every day!

If we do not change, our leadership CANNOT change.

God bless Nigeria!

‘Yemi Shodipo


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