Speaking in one of his many public lectures at the Harvard Business School, the late great management guru, Dr. Peter Drucker, once said, “There is no success without a successor,” emphasising that succession planning and transition is one of the major responsibilities of transcendent leaders. In other words, sustaining the achievement of a leader can only be guaranteed if such leader makes a conscious effort to raise worthy and capable successor who will consolidate on his or her legacies. Leaders who prepare and mentor their successors safeguard the future of their organizations and country, and helps it avoid the turbulence associated with succession.
Although Dr. Drucker was addressing the global corporate community, his message applies even more to leaders of nations and how they manage their succession planning and transition especially in such nations that have embraced democratic principles that support four-year electoral cycles. It becomes even more of a challenge to leaders in emerging democracies where personal interests of political actors struggle to undermine national interest. Generally, nations are going concerns, which means they have a continued existence and therefore should be treated as if they will continue to operate indefinitely. Far sighted successful leaders understand that they will eventually leave their current jobs but are mindful of how and in who they hand over to. For leaders of nations, the power of state gives them the uncommon ability not only to choose their successors, but to also support them through the electoral process.
It is imperative to note that in choosing a successor, the best option is to choose someone who is prepared, equipped and ready for the job. However, the fundamental mistake most organizations and nations make in succession planning is trying to clone its leaders or trying to copy the existing leader. This does not only stifle innovation and creativity but creates a culture that has no space for innovation. Such cloned successors are blocked from thinking out of the box, which undermines socio-economic progress. On the contrary, leadership—succession is like a relay race and successful leaders understand that the process of passing the baton can be complicated, irrespective of the skill and experiences of the runners.
The process of passing the baton is a crucial success factor in the result of a relay race and it can be tricky and risky. What this means is that runners need to practice baton passing over and over again and learn about the best practice and approach in order to avoid potential errors. Again, since every second counts, runners are taught the best techniques when it comes to hand coordination. They do not just switch hands when carrying the baton, if the first runner holds the baton in the right hand, the second runner will receive the baton and will run with it in the left hand, the third will receive and carry the baton in the right hand and the final runner will handle it in the left hand. It is instructive to note that all these preparations are done before the day of competition, so that the runner runs well from the start.
The above narrative, perhaps, helps us understand the relationship between President Muhammadu Buhari and his deputy, Prof. Oluyemi Oluleke Osinbajo, SAN. While Mr President has been quiet on this subject matter for obvious reasons, a careful observer will note that it seems that President Buhari has been subtly preparing his Vice as part of his succession plan. The Vice President has even given a clue which helps explain this point. Speaking during his presidential declaration speech on the 11th of April, the VP stated “In the past seven years, I have served as Vice President under a true Nigerian patriot, a servant of the nation in war and peace, and a man of integrity, President Muhammadu Buhari. We have, together, worked through some of the most difficult times in the history of our Nation, but we have remained focused on securing the country, providing infrastructure, and growing our economy.”
This statement is not only a pointer to the fact that Mr President has been consciously raising him as part of his succession plan, it also brought to the fore, one of his most distinguishing credentials, which gives him a clear edge amongst the list of other presidential aspirants who have shown interest, especially those under the leading party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Osinbajo’s experience as the Vice President under Buhari’s administration gives him a leading edge, especially as it relates to consolidating on the gains of Buhari’s administration. When one further considers his unwavering sense of loyalty to Mr. President, his rigorous erudition and professionalism, his stern discipline and proven integrity in the discharge of his constitutionally assigned duties, one would better understand why he fits rightly into Buhari’s succession plan.
Considering the unfolding dramatic political events in recent times, — from the number of persons who have declared their interests to run for the office of the President, to the characters of those aspirants, — one would better appreciate why President Buhari has kept his succession strategy close to his chest. It becomes even more worrisome when reliable sources confirm that most of these aspirants within the APC are sponsored by one aspirant who is a money-bag with the intention of getting them to stepdown for him, creating a false landslide effect during the primaries. As we watch these dramas unfold, one thing that is clear, especially to social scientists, is that they reflect the state of our social evolution as a nation. It therefore behoves on President Buhari to rise above the temptation, maintain his known principles of discipline and patriotism and give Nigeria a good man who would consolidate on the gains of his administration and open up new frontiers for our national development. That would be his greatest Legacy.
In the final analysis, the ultimate measure of his presidency would be the character of the man he chooses to support as the next president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In my view, providence has already made it easy for him, because he has an able deputy, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, a good man who represents the best amongst us and who is equally well prepared for the job.
Obele, a sociologist, wrote from Abuja.