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Leadership, Security and National Development

(Being a Public Lecture delivered by Dr Bukar Usman at the Abdullahi Smith Lecture Theatre, Faculty of Arts, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, on January 20, 2015)



This lecture focuses on leadership, security and national development from African and global perspectives. Security and what it constitutes can take many forms. However, it is all about the survival of an individual, a group or an entity such as a state. It should be noted that there is a duality in every country's security challenges, and these manifest as the internal and external factors that shape its state of security. Due to socio-political and geo-political peculiarities, every nation's security challenges and imperatives are, to a large extent, unique. This is why the security situation of one country, with its attendant implication for peace and national development, can be very different from another's even when their external security challenges are similar.

    Although national security problems arise out of conflicts or threats within or outside a given nation, how these conflicts are resolved, managed or contained is critically dependent on the effectiveness of existing governmental institutions for conflict prevention and resolution. This also entails the disposition and orientation of leadership at local and international levels. Social chaos is, therefore, often a manifestation of a failure of government machinery or governmental systems as may be revealed by a thorough and dispassionate examination of past conflicts. Indeed, government never became necessary until humankind saw the need to invent systemic machinery for managing social crisis and maintaining public order. This is why we need to begin this discussion by looking at the evolution of formal or governed society as we know it today.  


From State of Nature to State of Society

Overwhelmed by hazards in the unorganised natural environment and by the antagonistic effects of his own primitive self-centredness, man, generically speaking, needed a "neutral" authority to protect his life, family and property.  Formal society developed out of this basic need to preserve oneself and one's possessions. Organised society evolved over a long period before the dawn of civilization as we know it today. Political thinkers, notably the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), argued that individuals, persuaded by enlightened self interest, traded off the insecure "state of nature,"1 where only freedoms existed, for a state of society governed by a central authority that enforced the rights of everyone. The state of nature, according to Hobbes, was not only "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" but also in its entirety "anarchic."2 The emergence of centralized government, responsible for common security, is therefore meant to curb the excesses of selfish and unscrupulously competitive individuals.3     

       Although the modern nation state is commonly the most developed form of the state of society, monarchy, a crude form of centralized social order in medieval times, had preceded it. Under the monarchical dispensation, the people were ruled by supposedly divinely appointed kings who reigned indefinitely, often for life, before yet another king took over to, literally, lord it over the populace.  With time, it became clear that what the people needed was governing machinery, not a ruling institution.

     Defining the nature of the relationship which should ideally exist between the state's governing authority and the governed, John Locke (1632-1704) stated that such relationship should be in the form of a social contract that is subject to periodic public renewal of confidence.4 According to Locke, the authority of government should be based on "just powers from the consent [i.e. delegation] of the governed."5 This gave rise to variants of the social contract theory, particularly in the 18th and 19th century, that became the bases of the evolution of systems of government powered by periodic elections. Thus, in the event of the elected authority losing the confidence of the public, the people, under the Lockean social contract system of governance, reserve the right to change it through the ballot box or, if necessary, by violent means. By this stance, revolution becomes justifiable in the last resort.  

        We must bear in mind that for one to talk of security and national development presupposes that there is a country or state and that there is a governing authority. A state or country is recognisable under international law only if there is a defined territory that is reasonably populated and has a de jure or a de facto government. A de facto government obtains in the event of a usually popularly-accepted government existing in actuality, say in exile, though it might not have been established by law.


Socio-Economic and Political Modalities

A democratic state, particularly one where the people directly elect the leaders, is usually founded on the basis of a constitution or some other governing set of rules. Such rules set out the modalities by which human rights and the state's commitment to the provision of the basic needs of the people are guaranteed on a sustainable basis. For such a high level of expectation to be met, it would entail the formulation of policies and programmes for national development. The constitution would, of course, establish a structure of government and provide for security machinery to create an atmosphere conducive for individual pursuits and for government to prosecute its national development programmes.  

     It is lack of consensus on the best formula or set of modalities for the achievement of such objectives that engenders continuing debate, nationally and internationally, among politicians, opinion leaders, and the intelligentsia. The issues under discussion have always been choice of system of governance, leadership disposition and orientation, performance of the institutions of government and management of resources. Around all this is the spate of continuing debate on the need for strong leadership or strong institutions or both.   

      The lack of consensus at the international level leads some countries or a bloc of them to resort to ideological warfare or armed intervention to persuade or cajole other countries to adopt certain socio-political and economic systems. This behaviour, which ensued for several decades, characterised the Cold War and still appears to be the pursuit of some powerful countries which act outside the dictates of the United Nations. With the ascendancy of the capitalist market economy system, following the apparent defeat of communism and the collapse of the communist bloc in the late 1990s, the intensity of the Cold War has greatly reduced. However, a strong undercurrent is still evident in some turbulent spots of the world.


Leadership and Global Security

International security covers a variety of interconnected issues within states that have impact on the peace, stability and survival of individuals and groups across states. The issues range from "traditional or conventional modes of military power, the causes and consequences of war among states, economic strength, to ethnic, religious and ideological conflicts, trade and economic conflicts, energy supplies, science and technology, food, as well as threats to human security and the stability of states from environmental degradation, infectious diseases, climate change and activities of non-state actors."6

         The leadership role of the United Nations, particularly the role of its Security Council, has been rather ambivalent. Events of the World War I (1914-1918) and the failure of the League of Nations, formed to prevent such wars in the future, led to the occurrence of the World War II (1939-1945) and the formation of the United Nations. The UN kicked off with the five leading victorious powers becoming the permanent members of the core group, the UN Security Council, and arrogating to themselves veto power. Those powers enjoying such a unique privilege have so far resisted moves to reform the Council and admit new members with veto power. This situation has prevailed in spite of agitation and significant contributions to the maintenance of world peace by UN member countries outside this club.


UN Leadership Style, Globalization and Sovereignty

The leadership style of the United Nations, particularly its growing tendency to over-scrutinize the affairs of members of so-called developing countries while glossing over the malfeasance of some world powers, has reduced its credibility among the developing countries. This ambivalent leadership style has also led to a situation where globalisation has been allowed to undermine seriously the exercise of state sovereignty. There is now a thin line between what should be regarded as internal affairs of a country and what should be matters of international concern.

     These days, foreign countries and organisations take more than casual interest in the conduct of elections and national census.  While this may be excusable because of lack of openness and fairness in the manner these exercises are carried out in some polities, what about unsolicited foreign interventions in the policy-making process of sovereign nations? In many developing countries, the formulation and execution of national development plans are undertaken in collaboration with foreign countries and international organisations. Such collaborations, though helpful in many ways, can be suspect. Indeed, some foreign aids can be classified as the proverbial Greek gift while others arrive with conditionality that worsens the security and developmental challenges of recipient countries.

     The motives and actions of some countries and international organisations may pose great dangers to a country's survival. For instance, over the last few decades some foreign organisations and countries loaded some countries with ill-tailored loans, ostensibly meant for development, but which left those nations poorer, more debt-ridden and insecure. Social upheavals that compromise a country's sovereignty and even jeopardise its very existence as a viable entity usually arise when the debt burden becomes unbearable. Some loans are so suspect that the supposedly friendly donors appear to have set out to deliberately mislead and undermine the development efforts of a target country just to subjugate or even destroy it altogether.

     What could make a country to be so adversely targeted? A country's commitment to an independent path of development could make it a target, particularly if it is a country of great potential. All kinds of accusations are usually contrived to intimidate such a country and make it toe the line dictated by some powerful nations threatened by its independent strides. Such tactics employed to undermine certain countries have been elaborately reported. One of such notable reports is that of John Perkins who revealed how targeted countries were ensnared, leading to high ranking individuals falling victims of "tragic story of debt, deception, enslavement, exploitation and the most blatant grab in history for hearts, minds, souls, and resources of people around the world."7 According to Perkin's account, the victims, mainly heads of state and OPEC member countries, were under constant threats and surveillance.

     Nowadays, under any pretext, a country, particularly one without the backing of a permanent member of the Security Council, could be invaded for "reasons" ranging from human rights concerns to humanitarian considerations. Such UN-sanctioned interventions, these days, are hardly primarily based on the criterion of threat to international peace and security, which is the clear provision under the UN Charter.

     The perpetual contest for power in international relations portrays a picture of predator relationship between the bigger and smaller nations. The bigger powers jealously protect their privileged positions, hegemony and spheres of influence against states perceived to have the potential to challenge their supremacy. Size of territory and population may matter in the assessment of power relationship but more relevant is the level of technological skill and general mobilisation of human and material resources. It has also become clear that the weapons of warfare employed in the power contest at the UN are no longer primarily traditional military hardware, more sophisticated though they have become. The media has become an important battle field, and would be more so in the future. An observer succinctly put it thus:

Global media, social media, ICT and powerful nations or regional groups working in concert are the tools of warfare, no longer merely tanks, missiles and battalions.8

     A bit of such media propaganda and campaign was employed during the Cold War with positive results. Since then, there has been a general improvement in ICT and the medium is being perfected to a higher degree. Media warfare is real; hence, the increasing cry of cyber attacks and other acts of illegalities among world powers.

     In spite of its shortcomings, the UN remains the organisation the world most direly needs for the maintenance of world peace. Its formation in 1945 became necessary when mankind and the powers that be realised that maintenance of international peace and security was beyond the capacity of a single nation. Supplementary to that was the felt need to establish international organisations as UN specialised agencies dealing with cross-border socio-economic issues that may endanger mankind. Hence, UN organs and agencies, such as the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), World Health Organisation (WHO), the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), United Nations Economic Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP),9 came into being.

     The importance of such organisations is underlined by the realisation that peace and security cannot be guaranteed by application of military hardware alone. The activities of the UN agencies are therefore intended to forestall or mitigate occurrences that threaten the international system without the involvement of military means. Imperfect though the current arrangement, supported by regional defence groups, may seem, it remains about the only central machinery on which the maintenance of international peace and security is anchored. Success of this arrangement is supposed to allow member states to conserve their resources and focus their developmental efforts on meeting the needs of their people. Unfortunately, such conserved resources are being drained in many countries by the challenges of dealing with the problem of insecurity.


Insecurity as Hindrance to Development

Insecurity slows down development on all fronts. Undoubtedly, national development requires the devotion of considerable resources to manpower development and execution of capital projects. Requisite manpower training requires a lot of money just as the maintenance of security forces adequately equipped with the necessary capability to meet anticipated and untoward challenges. It is in anticipation of security challenges that as part of the security machinery standing forces are maintained by countries at great cost. Higher amount of resources is often required in the event of a serious crisis. Resources which would otherwise be required for national development under such circumstances are often diverted from other areas thereby retarding national developmental efforts. Where necessary, the citizens are mobilised and their resources commandeered to support the government.

      A serious relationship is thus established between security and national development. Aside from the amount of resources required towards the restoration of peace, no serious production or activity could be undertaken by individuals or groups in any serious security situation, more so if such a situation is prolonged and widespread. Such protracted insecurity is an unhealthy and undesirable situation for a nation to find itself in, notwithstanding collateral positive inventions which may be harnessed after the restoration of peace to support the promotion of national development.


From State Security to Human Security

The traditional approach to security focused mainly or exclusively on the defence and survival of the state under the presumption that it also takes care of the security of the citizens within the state. Following the ascendancy of human rights campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s, this traditional presumption came under heavy attack as human rights activists began to distinguish between the interest of the state and that of the individuals within it. Many states were accused of repressing their people to protect the interest of the ruling class. Non-democratic regimes or self-asserting countries whose governmental systems ran contrary to Western democratic models bore the brunt of such allegations.

     The conceptual consequence of this was the widening of perspectives on the subject of national security with a fundamental emphasis being placed on human rights. The primacy of the human rights of the citizens over that of the state shifted attention from the security of the state to the security of its inhabitants, and many believe that only in relation to citizens' security is national security deemed defensible. Human security, as distinct from the security of the state, now underlines all security considerations and the UNDP, as far back as 1994, reflected this emphasis in its Human Development Report (HDR), a portion of which is reproduced below:


Type of security



Economic security

An assured basic income

Poverty, unemployment, indebtedness, lack of income

Food security

Physical and economic access to basic food

Hunger, famines and the lack of physical and economic access to basic food

Health security

Protection from diseases and unhealthy lifestyles

Inadequate health care, new and recurrent diseases including epidemics and pandemics, poor nutrition and unsafe environment, unsafe lifestyles

Environmental security

Healthy physical environment

Environmental degradation, natural disasters, pollution and resource depletion

Personal security

Security from physical violence

From the state (torture), other states (war), groups of people (ethnic tension), individuals or gangs (crime), industrial, workplace or traffic accidents

Community security

Safe membership in a group

From the group (oppressive practices), between groups (ethnic violence), from dominant groups (e.g. indigenous people vulnerability)

Political security

Living in a society that honors basic human rights

Political or state repression, including torture, disappearance, human rights violations, detention and imprisonment


     Depending on the vulnerability of a country, inadequate management of any of the above threats can lead to insecurity. And wherever there occurs a breakdown of law and order on a large scale and for a prolonged period of time hardly would there be any serious national development. "National," here refers to a country or state as commonly known in the international system where global leadership exerts enormous influence on the way security issues are managed across the world.


Leadership and National Security

The state is responsible for providing security and for making policies that drive the sustainable development of any country. It takes leadership, not governance per se, to achieve this. Invariably, countries which are properly led have fewer national security problems than those beset by political instability and endemic corruption. Leaders of the poorest countries of the world, found among the developing countries, are often glaringly those who have failed in discharging the responsibility of securing and developing their countries. Africa's record is about the worst in this regard. Of all regions of the world, Africa has the largest number of countries - 26 of them as at December 2014 -  currently embroiled in major wars.10 Of these the following seven countries are considered the "hot spots" 11:





Security Challenge*



Republic of Congo

War against rebel groups



Uprising against government



War against Islamic militants



War against Islamic militants



War against Boko Haram



War against Islamic militants



War against rebel groups


*Table based on data from http://www.warsintheworld.com


     Many Nigerians would tell you insecurity is currently the country's No. 1 social problem. According to an international statistical data, the picture is really gloomy:

According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset (ACLED, 2013), Nigeria is the fourth most violent country measured by the number of violent events and the seventh most fatal over the course of the datasets coverage (1997-March 2013). This violence has different spread pattern; between 1997 and 2009, the levels of both violence and reported fatalities were relatively stable. But since 2010, both have climbed sharply, with increases holding in both absolute and proportional terms. The Nigerian state is plagued by many crises of marked volatility and extreme violence leading to high level of insecurity.12

     Security and welfare is the universal responsibility of any good government. Governments of many developing countries, especially those of African nations, are yet to fulfil this primary responsibility enshrined in many national constitutions. The fact is that government exists to protect the interest of the people and the two most vital interests are those of security and welfare. On those two other interests can bud and flourish; and where they are absent, other aspirations, corporate or individual, are likely to be denied a foothold. This probably underlines the fact that Africa, being the continent with the record of the largest numbers of armed conflicts, is the least successful in initiating and sustaining national development.    


Dysfunctional Leadership, Insecurity & Under-development

Africa's problems are usually traced to the slave trade or colonialism. Since most African countries emerged from colonialism in the 1960s, the choice of economic and political systems has continued to be a nightmare. Ensuing squabbles and social upheavals arising mainly from lack of consensus and mass support have thrown them into constant state of instability. Consequently, they are unable to develop strong institutions and institute a culture of transparency in governance; and unable to formulate and execute credible national development policies, programmes and projects of mass appeal. Abject poverty and non availability of amenities continue to fuel discontent and social unrest in many African countries.

     These are reasons that used to draw sympathies in the 1960s (when most of these countries had their independence) and 1970s (when they were still grappling with the novel realities of self-governance). But now, fifty or more years after, with Africa more insecure and underdeveloped than any other continent, what excuses can obliterate the fact that among the bane of Africa's insecurity and under-development are issues of leadership and corruption.

     Prior to the launch of HDI metrics, developed for the UNDP in 1990 by two third-world economists13, national income parameters, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), were mainly used in measuring development. But as emphasis shifted from state security to human security, the HDI emerged "to shift the focus of development economics from national income accounting to people-centered policies."14 According to UNDP, the HDI is "a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and income indices used to rank countries into four tiers of human development."15 It was created in 1990 and was published by the United Nations Development Programme.16

     Although the HDI has been criticised on ideological and statistical grounds,17 it remains a credible human development pointer, particularly when synchronised with the updated IHDI version.18 In any case, the evidence of good leadership lies in the dividends it delivers to the people. In that regard, leaders of some developed nations appear to have faired better in respecting and protecting the democratic wishes of their people, providing social amenities, maximizing human capital, industrializing and growing their economies, and improving the living standards of their people on a sustainable basis. Africa has offered enough excuses. It is time for Africa to accept that in spite of its sordid past, in spite of slavery, and in spite of the effects of colonialism, it could come out of the woods on the strength of good leadership and institutions.


Measures for Enhancing Security and Development in Africa

Having charged African leaders, in this presentation, to take up the responsibility of good governance and usher in an era of peace and development for their people, we would need to offer some suggestions in this regard. The following are proffered as workable measures which could be taken to promote good leadership, security and national development at all levels:

1.     Only very few countries in the African continent have gotten their electoral systems right. Therefore, to stabilize democracy as a primary condition for security and national development in a society of great diversity such as the case in most African countries, decision makers in positions of leadership at all levels should always strive for a workable formula, known by whatever name, that ensures an inclusive system of governance. It is imperative that such arrangements which require great individual and group sacrifice remain firmly planted in their minds whether or not it is constitutionally provided. The overall aim should be to foster strong institutions to check the excesses of everyone under the law.

2.     Many countries have set up oversight organs to ensure financial probity and social justice. However, performances of some of such organs and institutions have fallen short of public expectations in transparency and dispensation of justice. Individuals the world over who have made a mark in dispensation of justice and crime fighting often earn high reputations by daringly taking extra-ordinary measures in upholding the spirit and the letter of the statutory provisions. It is said that when politics enter the palace of justice, justice leaves by the back door.         

3.     What must be admitted in the case of Nigeria is that whatever measures governments have so far taken to generate employment in the country requires redoubling efforts to quicken the realisation of the objectives. Improving the critical infrastructure such as power supply for public consumption and industrial production, better means of transportation, increased agricultural activities and mass education are all gaping for attention. In spite of government's efforts, the country remains in serious deficits in these areas.

4.      Inbuilt in the security system of most countries is machinery for early warning to forestall breakdown of law and order. Government effort is often complemented by civil society groups engaged in peace promotion and conflict resolution. The occurrence of crisis of any significant dimension therefore raises a lot of questions and legitimately so. Lapses may be attributable to a failure of the security machinery to apprehend and respond to the situation. Where the security intelligence machinery has satisfactorily carried out its functions in that regard any other failing should be attributable to the political decision process. But this can only be revealed by a dispassionate post-mortem that should follow any major crisis. However, security situations must not be allowed to deteriorate to a stage of despair and helplessness whereby people would resign their fate to divine intervention for their salvation. Therefore, first and foremost, the priority always should be to muster every available means to quickly restore normalcy and reassure the public.          



In conclusion, it should be observed that in spite of the centrality of man in security and development considerations, conduct and performance of states, groups of states and non-state actors would continue to dictate events. As man in a state of nature is said to be selfish so are the states presently in their conduct, including the insensitive positions many powerful nations have taken on environmental matters. But there is a glimmer of hope in the determination of the global community to tackle the heating up of the environment which portents great danger to humanity.

     The year 2014 was said to be the hottest in recorded history. After the Lima Conference of December 1-14, 2014, attended by 195 member countries, all hopes are now placed on the Paris Conference to be held this year (2015). At the Paris Conference, countries would be expected to specify their individual contributions towards checking climatic activities in their countries that contribute to carbon emission and global warming.          

     Unfortunately, many countries are only out to promote their national interests at the expense of others. Unwarranted violence inflicted against others and even beneficial collaborative efforts among them, such as the determination by certain countries to review the world economic order and create more global financial institutions to remove the prevailing bottleneck in access to money required for investment, infrastructural and social development, must be seen in that light. The United Nations as a supra-national body is not a government. It has no standing army. A few privileged members acting individually or in concert with other nations sometimes arbitrarily invade other nations hiding under a manipulated resolution.

     An international court of justice is in place but a look at those who have so far been arraigned before it shows that it is selective. Some leaders commit similar or worse crimes against others and get away with it simply because they are powerful. Powerful nations act as predators against weaker nations who may be unjustly punished for trying to develop potentials that could rival their entrenched positions. Thus, the world, in spite of the existence of a supra national body, is still operating in a state of nature governed by the law of the survival of the powerful, a law that replicates or typifies the conduct of man in a state of nature.

     Under the leadership of the United Nations, mankind may not have entirely escaped the savagery of the state of nature. However, some sections of mankind, like many nations of the Western world, have made commendable strides in leadership, security and national development. African leadership can galvanize positive changes in their various nations instead of looking up to the prejudicial leadership of the UN to bail the continent out of its current security and developmental challenges.




1.     The state of nature, as a political term, was invented by Thomas Hobbes in his 1651 book, Leviathan, even though Thomas Aquinas (born ca. 1225) had earlier used it in his work, Quaestiones disputatae de veritate, Question 19, Article 1, Answer 13, but from a purely religious point of view. 

2.     Hobbes, Thomas, Leviathan, 1651

3.     http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/leviathan/summary.html. Retrieved on December 11, 2014

4.     Locke, John, Two Treatises of Government; Summary,  http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/locke/section2.rhtml, Retrieved on December 11, 2014

5.     Ibid

6.     Wikipaedia: International Security, Retrieved on December 10, 2014

7.     Perkins, John: Confessions of An Economic Hit Man (Ebury Press 2006:215)

8.     Usman, Bukar Globalisation and the World after Mubarak and Gaddafi, Klamidas 2011:18

9.     UN Charter:  Retrieved on December 18, 2014

10.  "Major wars" are defined by the United Nations as military conflicts

 inflicting 1,000 battlefield deaths per year.

11.     See http://www.warsintheworld.com/?page=static1258254223 for details

12.     "The Cost of Insecurity on Emerging Economies: The Nigerian Experience," American Academic & Scholarly Research Journal , Vol. 6, No. 2 , March 2014

13.     The two leading figures behind the HDI are Mahbub ul Haq (a Pakistani) and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen (an Indian).

14.     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Development_Index

15.     ibid

16.     "United Nations Development Programme". Undp.org. 2013-05-26.

17.     See Wolff, Hendrik; Chong, Howard; Auffhammer, Maximilian (2011). "Classification, Detection and Consequences of Data Error: Evidence from the Human Development Index". Economic Journal 121 (553): 843-870, for the most notable cririque of the HDI.      

18.   18. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Development_Index: ‘The 2010 Human Development Report introduced an Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI). While the simple HDI remains useful, it stated that "the IHDI is the actual level of human development (accounting for inequality)" and "the HDI can be viewed as an index of 'potential' human development (or the maximum IHDI that could be achieved if there were no inequality)"’.     


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