Leadership And The “kabiyesi Culture”

Leadership And The kabiyesi Cultur

I was reflecting on the recently concluded quest for Leadership positions in Nigeria and decided to share some thoughts with those in Leadership, as well as those aspiring to be Leaders. The electoral process and the whole concept and definition of an election is a topic for another day, and I won’t trouble you with that now.

I once had occasion to complain to a wise Leader, who happened to be my father and my boss at the time, that a Financial Institution, which was a member of a consortium of professionals handling a Project initiated by our own firm, was attempting to seize leadership of the exercise. Their premise for doing so, was that they were a larger and, in their eyes, a more ‘visible’ organisation. Trite as it may sound or be, my father’s advice was simple yet profound. “The way to be a Leader, is to Lead” “Take the initiative, demonstrate that you have a sense of direction and head out towards your goal…people will follow you!” It worked. Evidently, leadership is not about boastful positioning and the acquisition of power and positions for their own sake, or for personal interests. Leadership is more about having a destination, goal, or objective, arising from a collective interest or good and setting out along with others you lead, to do what is necessary to attain or achieve it.

Be that as it may, I have observed a disturbing aspect of Leadership in our dear country, that I describe as the ‘Kabiyesi Culture’. The word Kabiyesi, as I am sure you may know, is a Yoruba term of address for Royalty and Kings, equating to the English expression “Your Majesty”. However, the literal translation of the word Kabiyesi, is the one “that we ask nothing of” or the “unquestionable one”.

Now, in the context of a Monarchy where a King or Queen ‘Rules’ or ‘Reigns’, the idea of being beyond or above question, is not so difficult to understand or accept. Monarchies tend to subsist on the mystique that their Hereditary nature is divinely inspired by God. As a result, the Monarch who by extension is representing the divine, must like God, be unquestionable. However, where democratic institutions, electoral positions, offices in the public and organised private sector are concerned, power and positions occupied by Leaders are derived from other people (mere mortals like the Leaders themselves). These ‘other people’ are variously described as the electorate, constituents, shareholders etc. depending on the context. The crucial difference is that these Leaders are not to Rule or to Reign, they are to Serve and to Answer to the people whom they represent and from whom they derive their power and position.

The anomaly that we sometimes witness, is for a leader to adopt the posture and tendencies of a monarch. This public or private sector King or Queen becomes Kabiyesi! The unquestionable one. That immediately sets the stage for all rules of Corporate Governance, Laws, Regulations and Guidelines to be jettisoned and replaced by the whims and caprices of Kabiyesi. Our deluded ‘Kings’ and ‘Queens’ and all those that encourage them for the personal benefit of all concerned, are thereby emboldened in this erroneous practice. It is a culture that is easy to understand and imbibe, especially by many who know the ‘benefits’ of sycophancy. Staff, subordinates, friends, and associates will waste no time in letting the leader know that his position is ‘well deserved’ and even ‘ordained by God’. It is a ‘Feather in your Cap’ and ‘Your Time’. The culture is so entrenched that we frequently see reports in the mainstream media, referring to the time of the ‘Reign’ or ‘Rule’ of State Governors and other officials.

Clearly there is much work ahead and a massive reorientation programme covering a wide range of issues, is required. To my colleagues in the organised private sector aspiring to leadership positions, I have this advice. Do not be deceived, becoming the Chief Executive Officer of an organisation does not confer any form of immunity on you, rather it is to become the very person of whom ALL questions must be asked and answered.


About the Author

Mr. R.G Asabia is a graduate of the London School of Economics (University of London) and a graduate of the University of Wales, Cardiff, the United Kingdom.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in law and a master’s degree in business administration. He is a qualified Barrister and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers.
He served at various times as a Director on the Boards of First interstate Bank Plc, Banque Internationale Du Benin, Future Unity Glanvills Ltd and Unity Bank Plc

NARP50PLUS is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that empowers people to choose how they live as they age.

©2023 – Nigerian Association of Retired People. All Rights Reserved.