Character and competence to guide leadership choices in 2023


By Umar Ardo, Ph.D

“Look for 3 things in a person – intelligence, energy and integrity. If they don’t have the last one, don’t bother with the first two”.

The above quotation comes from Warren Edward Buffet, an American business magnet, investor, speaker and philanthropist who is reputed to be the fourth richest man in the world. A member of the United States Democratic Party, Buffet insists that the number one trait to look for in selecting a leader is integrity, which he places over and above all other qualities. And integrity, he says, is about choosing one’s thoughts and actions based on values rather than personal gains. This, therefore, means that integrity is fundamentally a function of character.

But Warren Buffet only validates one aspect of the time-tested historical trend in leadership selection – i.e. character! The other aspect is competence. Warren might have added, “when you get the 3rd then look for the first two”. For all through history, the two most essential ingredients for selecting good leadership have always been character and competence. Although other ingredients such as energy, capacity, empathy, toughness, knowledge and intelligence are frequently mentioned, these traits are all too often really subordinate aspects of character and competence. Encarta English Dictionary defines character as a set of behavioural qualities that make a person distinctively attractive; and defines competence as the quality of being capable, fit, with adequate or enough skills and ability to perform a task. Other qualities are listed as honesty, sincerity, humility, courage, generosity, forthrightness and virtue.

These are basically essential aspects of character, which Dwight Eisenhower, the 30th president of the USA, described as “the supreme quality for leadership”, without which no man is fit to lead others. Because leaders hold not just the lives of people they govern but even determine the destiny of society, it is supremely important that people trust those who lead them. And trust is earned through character. This therefore goes to suggest that the insight for good leadership depends on the virtue and character of the individual; while the bases for effective leadership is typically acquired through study, tutelage and experience.

As we all sometimes in our affairs experience, it is always frustrating, disappointing and annoying if people betrayed the trust we put in them, or proved incompetent in the task entrusted to them; it is even worse if these people are elected public figures who cook up phantom political expediencies as justification for their personal character flaws and inabilities.

A fundamental flaw of character is dishonesty. This can come in several forms. For example, a man or woman of easy virtue, who lacks morals, who cheats, or condones cheating; or a person who cuts corners in executing an affair with the intention of depriving someone else of their rightful claim to something so that the executioner will have all or more than his fair share of it can rightly be adjudged as dishonest. A person who is given public trust or holds a public office and leverages on that office to increase his personal benefit and wealth, or of his kith and kin, against public interest, or to gain undue advantage for himself, or for his kith and kin, over others, can also be categorized as dishonest. In other words, the person is corrupt; for corruption is also defined as a deliberate alteration or distortion of a rule with ultimate negative effect to a system.

Dishonesty can similarly come in a form of deceit – that is a person who portrays himself to another person or people what he actually is not with the intention to get something which otherwise he wouldn’t have gotten if the truth of him or of his ability is known. Such a person too can be listed as dishonest. Furthermore, as Winston Churchill, a foremost Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, once remarked, even though the pursuit of power with the capacity and in the desire to exercise it worthily is among the noblest of human callings, still a person who seeks power for the sake of lording it over fellow creatures or adding to personal pomp can also be rightly adjudged as dishonest. In other words, a dishonest person cheats, manipulates, deceives, lies and/or hides his true intentions and ability, whatever the person does is aimed or meant to deceive, defraud, or trick people with the intention to serve a selfish end.

When these flaws ultimately become open and known to the other person, or to the society, then that person loses his integrity and becomes a person of lowly character. Automatically, his behaviour and failure become morally repugnant and liable to make him lose respect of others. He will also be viewed as a dishonourable and unjust person, and concomitantly loses the trust of the other person or of the society. This person cannot therefore distinctively be trusted with or selected to a position of leadership.

Against this backdrop, therefore, as Nigerians prepare for the next round of elections in 2023 to elect their leaders who, in turn, will determine what happens to the present and future generations of the country, it is cardinal the electorate elect trustworthy and competent persons. And, as earlier said, trust is earned through character. In other words, it is supremely important that the electorate base their choices on the strength of character and demonstrable competence of those they elect. Having experienced several disappointing leaderships since independence, betraying the trust of the people and responsible for the country’s current state of underdevelopment, it is now critical that Nigerians develop a discernible enthusiasm for change in the selection of persons and style of leadership for the country. In the 2023 elections, Nigerians must demonstrate their resolves either to develop or destroy their country by the standard they employ to elect their leaders. Nigerians must change the dysfunctional method and system of selecting the nation’s leaderships, and set out a novel platform of ideologically balanced group of professionals, intellectuals, politicians and other key stakeholders to assess and rate in Order of Mean Score the various candidates to be put forth for elective public offices. This will help prevent getting men and women of easy virtue, of lowly character and of poor ability into power to superintend over the country’s public institutions.

As the universal dictum goes, honesty is the best policy. Having been disappointed by the outcome of previous choices, henceforth Nigerians must see clearly, like the rest of the civilized world, the essential role of personal forces in shaping destinies of nations and societies. So, faced with the dire challenge of nation-building, Nigerians must refuse to be misguided by sentiments, emotions or selfish interests, or by rains of stolen naira and dollars that have been the bane of the problem at hand, but must go on headlong to elect leaders based on their strength of their virtuous character and skillful competence in the sure belief that it is only such leadership that can bring positive change to their lives.

As Nigerians had before elected leaders on account of character and competence against sentiments, emotions or monetary considerations, to attain such a feat in 2023, it will revive interest in personal character and competence as bases for electing people into positions of leaderships for the country henceforth. 2023 is our opportunity for such ethical revival if our country must survive, develop, progress and take a prime position among the comity of nations at the world scene.

Dr. Ardo is the Gubernatorial Candidate of the SDP for Adamawa state.


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