Religious lessons for youths to learn about leadership from the bible


The paper identifies poor leadership as a serious problem that has plagued the Nigerian nation for many years with very sad consequences. Employing the narrative method in studying this problem, the paper notes with dismay the following: that although election manifestos of many Nigerian leaders look people oriented, their actions as they get into office prove otherwise; that a better name for many Nigerian leaders since independence to the present seems to be “corruption” as their endless looting of the nation’s treasury has forced many Nigerians to languish in poverty; that leadership, which from indigenous African perspective, is a divine call to a sacred duty, has been desecrated and made profane by many Nigerian leaders. All these have resulted in the underdevelopment of the nation. As a way forward in the attempt to achieving any meaningful development, the paper suggests that Nigerian leaders should adapt and apply some religious lessons from the Old Testament such as fear of and obedience to God, commitment to the peoples’ well-being and general religio-ethical values. It is believed that these would usher in the much needed integral development that in turn make Nigeria a better place to live in.



For any organization, association, institution or nation to succeed in whatever it sets out to accomplish, there must be a good leader. The quality of leadership in any organization affects to a large extent the success or failure of that organization. According to Alamu leadership in its simplest form is the ability to inspire, direct, motivate and encourage others positively to a targeted end. He also explains that leadership has to do with organizing and adequately coordinating the resources of time, relationship, skills, expertise and finances to achieve a goal for the common good of all (Alamu 2004: 318).

A study of leadership in Nigeria shows that the quality of leadership in Nigeria is a far cry from what is expected. The underlisted comments by some scholars would drive home the point.

The yearnings of Nigerians to have a good political system and economic stability had not been fulfilled by our political leaders since independence in 1960. It is regrettable that although election manifestos and statements of political parties and leaders respectively seem to be people oriented, actions of many of these political leaders prove otherwise (Makinde, 2004:222). Adebayo laments that “the rate at which Nigerian leaders are perpetrating corrupt practices is terrible”. Besides stating how this evil is perpetrated the effect is also mentioned as he explains “The looting of the nation’s treasury by these unpatriotic and infidel leaders has contributed to the high rate at which Nigerians are languishing in abject poverty” (Adebayo, 2004:233). Amanzee rightly observes that in Nigeria much of the contemporary debate about leadership stems from the fact that most of the people who have been entrusted with the sacred responsibility of leadership have woefully failed (Amanzee, 2004:75).

The above shows that the problem of Nigeria is clearly and squarely that of leadership. This very problem has adversely affected the development of the nation. The question now is what is the way forward from this problem? Can this problem be successfully tackled from the religious perspective? This is the burden of this paper. A close study of the above observations by some scholars shows that since independence many Nigerian leaders have been deceiving and misleading the masses by promising one thing and doing the exact opposite. It also shows that their incessant looting of the treasury ensures abject poverty which is an index of serious under development. Finally one of the comments identified leadership as a sacred responsibility which in the Nigerian context has been bastardized, profane and made irreverent. This made Alamu (2004:319) to describe leadership in Nigeria as a means of exploitation, personal enrichment, fulfilling parochial interests and selfish ambition. It is quite clear that poor leadership in the present day Nigeria is not just a social and political problem, but a religious and moral one too. It is from this perspective that, this paper strongly contends that adapting and applying religious lessons from the Old Testament to Nigeria’s leadership problem would ensure the desired level of development, thus making the country a better place to live in.

Leadership Explained: There is no one generally acceptable definition for the term leadership. This stems from the fact that the issue has always been approached from various perspectives. Leadership is said to be the ability to lead, to show the way, conduct, guide and direct the course of others by going before or along with them (Iwuchukwu, 2009:80). Leadership can also be seen as both arts and sciences. As arts it refers to the personality, beliefs, convictions and people’s skills. As science, it has to do with goals, structures, policies, times, boards and committees (Janvier and Thaba, 1997:2). Leadership has to do with both people and programme. A leader works with people, is responsible for them and is accountable to them. Amanzee rightly upholds that leadership is the ability to direct, guide and control while in the office. It is like beauty which is difficult to define but easily recognized when seen (Amanzee, 2004:75).

The quality of leadership in an organization affects to a large extent the success or failure of such organization. In Nigeria today, leadership tends to be a mystery because everyone seems to have an idea of what a good leader is but without finding an acceptable example. There appears to be greater pressure on leaders today in Nigeria since the opportunity for service and temptations for abuse of power are equally many. Leaders are expected to develop their people and society. Experience within Nigeria has however shown that leadership has been of all kinds that include the weak, unprincipled, selfish, autocratic, dictatorial and power drunk (Jemiriye, 2004:251). Gabdero laments that “one problem militating against the development of our country is leadership”. He quotes the former speaker of the house of representative, Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari as saying “our leaders have failed Nigerians, we political leaders have failed to conduct ourselves in a manner befitting of the various offices we hold in trust for the attainment of peace, order and good governance” (Gbadero, 2009:172). This leads us to the subject of development.

Development Explained

In the early times, development was seen mainly in terms of industries. However, given the fact that increased industrialization in most of the hitherto “primitive” areas has failed to usher in the much desired eldorado, it has been clearly seen that economic growth alone is not development. Development encompasses more than the financial and material side of people’s lives. Any sense of development that harps mainly on physical development without due consideration to human resources development is incomplete. Since development has to do with change, then the human element is of much importance. This is why development should be a multi-dimensional process not restricted to macro-economic variables but extended to man and his well being; thus making human beings the fulcrum upon which development revolves.

At the individual level, human beings should be seen as the epicentre of development, thus making human development a pre-requisite for real development. In other words, development at the individual level implies mental and academic sophistication, moral rectitude as well as material well being. It is believed that with this pattern of development the society having exploded the shells of backwardness would attain genuine development.    It is from this perspective that some radical scholars forcefully maintain that the first step towards development is the overall improvement of man who is expected to be the harbinger of transformation and change (Okereke and Ekpe, 2002:6).

It is sometimes argued that since development is dependent on human labour, then development should centre around human beings. From this premise development implies the ability by the collectivity of individuals to organize themselves with a view to eking out a living from nature. Development should then be seen as being inspired by people, centering on human beings and anchored on the citizen. Since people are the agent of change and development, then the quality of life and well being of mankind should be directly affected by development. It is from this stand point that Okereke and Ekpe rightly see development as implying the qualitative and quantitative change in the standard of living and the transformation of the society in all its ramifications. Hence the availability of such development indicators as high literacy rate, good road network, constant supply of electricity, improved medical facilities, decent housing as well as equitable distribution of income are indicative of a developed society (Okereke and Ekpe 2002:13).

Leadership in the Present Day Nigeria

Nigeria is a country that is richly blessed in all ramifications, yet many of her citizens are languishing in abject poverty due to poor leadership style. From the African traditional perspective, leadership is a call to service and it is a post from which many God fearing people are trying to avoid due to its moral and spiritual high demands. However in the present day Nigeria, leadership is canvassed for by contestants which explains why victory at elections has become a matter of life and death. This is done not because they love the country but because they see their leadership position as a way of making quick money and gaining material wealth.

There are uncountable privileges enjoyed by Nigerian leaders. Conventionally, leaders and the party that controls the government enjoy certain social prestige, monetary allowances and other benefits which civil servants or private sector do not enjoy. For instance in Nigeria the president and governors feed freely at the nation’s expense, with their domestic servants paid from the public funds. Besides, they receive a lump sum of money as entertainment allowance and as security votes. They have access to unrestricted number of official cars besides the free access to loans with which they purchase innumerable private cars and house for themselves, relations, friends and supporters.

In addition to this, leaders in Nigeria at all levels receive very high salaries which are not commensurate with their academic or professional qualifications. Being in power, they, through their influence, always secure employment and obtain admission in any educational institution for their friends and relations. From the way they live, one can conclude that they wield absolute power.

From the above discussion it is clear that the present system of leadership in Nigeria besides encouraging love for material wealth ensures the welfare of the leaders at the expense of the poor people. This explains why holding a leadership position is considered the easiest and fastest way of amassing wealth. Since this system also encourages corruption, either to attain a post or to administer the state after election or appointment, we witness election malpractice, assassination, certificate racketeering, and other forms of malpractices as the main features of our leadership history. When Nigerian leaders assume office inflated contracts are awarded, national and state treasuries are looted, not minding the fact that trillions of naira are expended for administrative and overhead cost. It is always worrisome to note that those in the corridors of power and the aristocrats are swimming in the ocean of naira and dollars while the common men are in huge misery and frustration, finding it difficult even to live from hand to mouth.

Thus Nigeria is described as a country of two cities – one for the overwhelming majority of the poor and the other for the affluent parasitic class of past and present rulers and their cronies (Adebayo, 2004:238). The superiority complex of Nigerian leaders is seen in their none patronage of the nation’s hospitals and sending their children to attend educational institutions outside Nigeria.

Underdevelopment as an Effect of Poor Leadership

Simply put, the effect of poor leadership in Nigeria is underdevelopment. As a term underdevelopment describes a country or society which has few industries and low standard of living (Wehmeier, 2000:1301). This describes well the Nigerian situation. It is disheartening to note that Nigeria, the sixth largest exporter of crude oil and the seventh nation with the greatest natural reserve, which has been earning over 600 billion US dollars from oil since post independence, is among the world’s poorest countries, with 70% of the citizen living on a dollar per day (Umejesi, 2007:98). That poor leadership breeds underdevelopment is seen in the ravaging poverty and related social ills like human and drug trafficking, prostitution, armed robbery, kidnapping and unemployment. Underdevelopment is said to be the state of backwardness, retardation and economic distortion caused by the exploitation and plunder of the economies of the developing areas as a result of their integration into capitalism (Okereke and Ekpo, 2002:17). Applied to the Nigerian situation underdevelopment is the state of stagnation and exploitation of the masses resulting from the corrupt practices of the rulers and the well placed (Udofia, 2009:113).

Besides creating a wide gap between the ruled and ruler, poor leadership in the present day Nigeria ensures much poverty among the ruled. When the money earmarked to improve the lot of the poor is selfishly embezzled by the unpatriotic leaders, they resort to taking foreign loans for execution of programmes. In this wise the nation’s problems are aggravated as the nation’s external debt grows and neither the teaming urban nor the rural poor dwellers benefit from such loans.

Leadership in the Old Testament

In the Old Testament is found the stories of God’s relationship with the Israelites. As a people they were enslaved in Egypt and they believed it was God who raised Moses to lead them out from Egyptian bondage. Thereafter they were constituted into a nation and were given the law (the ten commandments) at mount Sinai (cf Ex. 19ff). Moses continued to lead them and before his death, God asked him to appoint someone to succeed him. He caused Joshua to succeed him. Joshua led the Israelites to the promised land. After his death many judges led the people until they demanded a monarchical system of government. This system opened up with Saul as their leader and David as the most popular of the leaders.

It is important to note that leadership in the Old Testament depended solely on God who is believed to have formed the people and establishing a covenant with them. It can safely be said that theocracy was the form of government for the Old Testament people. This is an institutionalized form of government based on the revealed teachings of God as implemented through God’s representative. The view by some scholars that theocracy in Israel ceased with the enthronement of monarchy is no more tenable in view of the fact that in ancient Israel religion was not separated from secular life. The undisputable fact is that in ancient Israel God was their king maker as he was believed to be the one who supposedly chose the King for his people beginning with Saul (I Sam. 9:17), David (I Sam. 16:1-3) Solomon (1 King 1:32-40) and others.

This paper contends that if the present Nigerian leaders would, like ancient Israelite leaders, see their position as a sacred one, held in trust for God and the masses as God’s flock entrusted to them to properly cater for, then Nigeria would be a better place to live in.

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The Way Forward

The suggested type of leadership and development for the present day Nigeria             

Underscoring the value of religion in a comparative study of leadership values between the traditional Nigerian leadership style and that of the present period Ekunife rightly observes thus:

Basically, traditional leadership in Nigeria is a down to earth, realistic and communal oriented leadership. It is a moral and ethical leadership, an outcome of their religious world-view that is anchored in such moral values like truth, sincerity, justice, fairness, selflessness, openness to communal and spiritual indictments and so on. Modern Nigerian leadership is essentially propped by borrowed political theories with little or no relevance to Nigerian contemporary needs … It is further based on a scientific secular world view … Values exhibited by such leadership tend to neglect traditional values on the same issues. Thus under this modern system, diplomacy and hypocrisy becloud the traditional virtues of sincerity and truth. Other negative vices include some human vices like pride and prejudices, injustices covered by propaganda, bribery and corruption, naked destruction of imagined and real enemies, rigging of elections in order to perpetuate one’s stay in power … Under-girding these negative moral human vices in Nigerian present leadership system is the attitude of self centeredness rooted in self interest that is radically opposed to the common good of the society (Ekwunife, 2004:267-268)..


With the type of leadership style described above, Nigeria would still be too far from the concept of any meaningful development. An important point raised by the above long quotation is the neglect of Nigerian traditional values in modern leadership style.

It is important to note that the almost perfect traditional Nigerian leadership style was sustained by the values resident in the traditional Nigerian culture and these values sustained the people throughout the ages. It is rather worrisome to see modern Nigerian leaders look else where rather than into their traditional context and traditions for solution to the leadership problems in the country. As regards this problem Sindima’s argument as presented by Ekpo is that modernists believe that there is nothing in African culture that can deliver the people from the present crises, for it appears as if Africans are the only people who do not draw from their cultural heritage. The argument continues that the success of Asia can be attributed to its adherence to her cultural values, but in Africa, the educated, the elite have despised their own traditional values and regard them as signs of backwardness (Ekpo, 2007:20-21). It is from this premise that the paper suggest that Nigerians should draw inspiration and lessons from her richly endowed traditional values towards proper leadership and the much desired development.

Development is a vital issue in all societies. For the much attention give to it development as a concept has generated a lot of controversies. A careful look at this concept shows it to be a situation where an individual and the society interact with the physical, biological and inter human environment, transforming them for their good and that of the entire humanity and being transformed in the process. The lessons and experiences acquired in the process are transmitted unto future generations enabling them to better their capacities to make further valuable changes in their inter-human relations and their ability to transform nature. Development can also be seen as a change from one state to another in such a way that the new state is different from the former in terms of characteristics. Development covers from social, cultural, moral and religious to political and economic aspects of human life. In other words development consists of all activities which ensure positive improvement in the society. Positive improvement should not be interpreted mainly in material terms because a nation can have much of the material wealth while among its citizens are millions of people languishing not only in abject poverty but also in moral decadence as presently found in Nigeria.

Development as envisioned by this paper has to do with plenty of those things that help man to live a descent live in line with human dignity and God’s design for man. Properly understood this means enough material blessings from God and plenty spiritual graces to and from one another as children of the some heavenly father. The level of development for Nigeria as advocated in this paper cannot be achieved by mere acquisition of material things and accumulation of a life of comfort by the leaders and those in their cabal. This alone would not and cannot satisfy man since according to Kanu man is not just matter but also has a spiritual part which matter is too base to satisfy. Man is said to be not just a composite of matter and spirit but has a destiny far beyond the confines of this world (Kanu, 2004:80).

This paper strongly upholds that development in Nigeria should cover more than mere temporal care of individuals. It should reach down to the formation of man in a manner that the Nigeria society enjoys true goodness. This is in line with what Kanu has rightly upheld namely that the development of a particular society is first and foremost the building of the people that make up the society which in effect boils down to the building of individuals themselves (Kanu, 2004:80).

It is important to note that justice, love and peace as essential ingredients for development are products of the human heart hence cannot be imposed by the force of arms. It therefore follows that these qualities cannot be found in the society if they do not first and foremost exist in man’s heart and mind. This means that man must make a deliberate effort to do good and avoid evil. Man must see himself as a creature whose existence depends on a higher power, from whom he came and to whom he must render account for his behaviour and who will finally reward him as his conduct deserves.

It is from this perspective that religion is seen to be an indispensable factor in human development. Man is taught and reminded by religion that he is a creature of an all powerful father upon whom he depends for both life and well being and to whom he must render account of his life.

Religion also teaches man of his obligation not only to himself but also to his fellow human being, the society and to his maker. In this wise religion is seen to have united individuals and communities under the divine umbrella of one heavenly father. If the religious inclination is blotted out from a man’s mind, if the belief in a maker who rewards good and punishes evil is taken away from man, if the idea of an eternal destiny is erased from the man’s mind, what would be left would be a mere animal acting out of sheer materialistic motives. He would only be acting for mere convenience and just obeying laws out of fear for punishment or hope for material gain. The long and short of this argument is that religion is an indispensable factor in any meaningful development.

To some people development consist mainly in technological advancement, having all kinds of modern structures, accumulating inexhaustible supply of sophisticated and deadly weapons, ability to defend the frontiers of a nation and being in possession of all kinds of material good which are calculated to make man’s life happy and guarantee material security by force of arms (Nnadi, 2004:106). However development can be said to be a Herculean task in that it covers both the material and spiritual aspects of man.

Development must aim at creating the appropriate environment for individuals to live a happy, contented, spiritually satisfying and meaningful life (Agalamanyi 2004:228).



Religious Lessons from the Old Testament

The leadership style of ancient Israelite leaders was largely characterized by the fear of and obedience to God, commitment to the people’s well-being as well as prophetic guidance and rebuke. Some illustrations of these facts would drive home the point.

(1)        Fear of and obedience to God – The term “fear” here refers to the reverential trust in God such that one tries to avoid what separates one from God. The Israelite saying that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom is particularly true of their leaders who were said to be punished by God for disobedience. For instance great Israelite leaders like Moses and Aaron were punished by God when they disobeyed God and mistreated the people (Numb. 20:12). The first Israelite king Saul was punished by God for not carrying out to the letter God’s command as regards the revenge mission that he was sent to do, which had to do with the well-being of the people (I Sam. 15).

When King David of Israel behaved like a Nigerian leader by killing one of his subjects and taking the wife thereof, he was not spared God’s punishment (2 Sam. 11:12). When even the wisest Man, King Solomon of Israel disobeyed God by keeping a harem of foreign women, God’s wrath descended on him (I Kgs. 11). That God required absolute reverence from the ancient Israelites including their leaders is clearly enshrined in the torah thus:

“And now Israel what does Yahweh your God ask of you, only this: to fear Yahweh your God, to follow all his ways, to love him, to serve Yahweh your God with all your heart and all your soul; to keep the commandments and laws of Yahweh that for your good I lay down for you today (Dt. 10:12-13)”.           The underlying lesson to Nigerian leaders from the above is that God would not tolerate disobedience and impropriety from those he puts in charge of his people.

(2)        Commitment to the people’s well-being

When one talks about the welfare of ancient Israelites, Moses’ name as a leader who championed this course stands out clearly. He chose to suffer with his people, instead of enjoying the princely treatment of the Egyptians who oppressed his people. He fought against Egyptian oppression that resulted in their liberation. On several occasions he begged God to kill him rather than destroy the Israelites besides interceding for them at other times. (cf Ex. 32:30-35). Joshua and the judges followed the good example of Moses as regards the people’s welfare. A judge like Jephthah would not mind sacrificing his only daughter in gratitude to God for granting him victory over the Amorites who oppressed Israel for many years (Jud. 11:29-40). King David fought gallantly to ensure that peace reigned in Israel (2 Sam. 5, 6, 8, 10, 12). When Solomon had to make a choice before God, he did not selfishly ask for the life of his enemies or things to enrich himself, he humbly requested for God’s wisdom to lead the people in faithfulness, justice and integrity of heart (I Kgs. 3:4-15).

It is interesting to note that Solomon’s problem came when he started initiating anti-people’s programme. For instance when he kept 1000 women, spending the state’s money on worthless projects and oppressing the people through forced labour (I Kgs. 11:1-13). His son Rehoboam, not learning from his father’s mistakes became high handed with the people and the kingdom was shattered (I Kgs. 12:1-25). The inherent lesson here is that any ancient Israelite leader who was not committed to the well-being of the people or abused his authority and position was rejected by the people and by God. This is a timely lesson for Nigerian leaders.

(3)        Prophetic Guidance and Rebuke – Normally prophets are God’s agents through whom he communicates his will to his people in all aspects of life. This explains why Old Testament prophets played prominent roles in leadership affairs. They were God’s spokesmen (Hos. 1:4, Am. 1:1, Is. 1:1, Mich. 1:1, Jer. 1:2, Ezk. 1:3) declaring God’s choice as to who will lead the people at any given period.

It seems the prophetic office was an important item in the covenantal package, for they had the responsibility of reminding everyone of God’s commands. They constantly warned all and sundry that God’s laws must be kept without which the people and the leaders would attract God’s chastisement, rebuke and punishment. It is from this premise that prophets had to constantly work with kings to advise, direct, rebuke, pronounce punishment and pardon where necessary. This explains why prophets Nathan and Gad offered to David divine guidance and condemnation in matters of royal policy. Moses boldly confronted the King of Egypt. The first Israelite King, Saul was confronted by prophet Samuel for disobeying God’s law (2 Sm. 25:15-30). King Hezekiah of Judah was rebuked by prophet Isaiah for displaying the nation’s treasures (2 Kgs. 20:16-19).

From the above discussion, there are innumerable lessons for Nigerians to learn from. To begin with the leadership position should be seen as a sacred trust. If God could punish outstanding Israelite leaders like Moses and Aaron and the first King Saul, just for disobedience, then it is clear that no one can be spared.

Nigerian leaders should emulate the example of Moses as regards people’s welfare. As leaders, who truly love the people, no sacrifice should be considered too great for the people’s welfare. Nigerian leaders should not only use religion while they campaign for political post only to turn against it when the same religious tenets demand that they deal justly with the people. The church and their leaders should take the place of ancient Israelite prophets as God’s mouthpiece. If the church would frown at and discriminate against corrupt leaders who deny the people infrastructure by embezzling public funds, life in Nigeria may change for the better (Abioje 2004:72).


The import of leadership in any organization or among any group of people cannot be overemphasized as, the leader is said to have extra ordinary powers to challenge, inspire, encourage and influence people. It has been noted that leadership can make the difference between success and failure in anything you do for yourself or any group you belong to (Ogunkunle, 2004:16). The summary of the leadership style in the present day Nigeria is well expressed in the idea of Seriki and Lawal as they comment, it is evident that the Nigerian political leaders since independence in 1960 are stagnant and sluggish in discharging their civic leadership roles to the nation. This could be due to the absence of the expected leadership qualities in their respective acts and deeds.           The most unfortunate scenario about these people is their chameleonic nature in parading themselves as the most righteous leaders, using their sonorous voices to deceive the masses through the verbal presentation of the unfulfilled promises (Seriki and Lawal, 2004: 176). The study reveals that poor leadership has resulted in the underdevelopment of the nation. As a way out from this problem the paper suggests drawing lessons from the African traditional pattern of leadership and adapting lessons from Old Testament leadership style.

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