Plato’s Idea Of ‘Philosopher King’ And Nigerian Leadership Crisis

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

Chapter One

General Introduction

1.1 Statement Of The Problem

Today in Nigeria, leadership in all facets of our life – government, industry, education, church and what have you – has come to be the hub of the country’s problem. Chinua Achebe summarized it thus in his book “The Trouble with Nigeria” that, “the problem with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.”[1]

In a global level, Oyebola minced no words when he said in his, “Blackman’s Dilemma” that, “very poor leadership appears to be the Blackman’s greatest problem.”[2]

Achebe, articulated it further as the inability of the leaders to rise to their responsibility:

There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenges of personal example, which are the hallmarks of true leadership. [3]

Lack of genuine leadership has been chorusly condemned and generally blamed for poverty and the travails of the Nigeria society. There is no doubt that Nigeria’s or Africa’s problem is due to lack of leadership. Rev. C. Kingston Ekeke, Nigerian-Atlanta based pastor observed that there are at least three main areas of failure in Nigeria’s leadership. For him they include: “lack of bold and courageous leadership, lack of moral ingredients of leadership and premature exposure to leadership.”[4]

Our country is doing little to develop the younger generation on the act of leadership. No one wants to take the risk for the survival of our country. The few who want to demand for their right are being pursued about. Think of Alhaji Mujaheeden Dokubo Asari, the fearless and outspoken leader of the militant Ijaw youth who has persistently and passionately called for an independent state of Ijaw people and peaceful separation of Ijaw people from Nigeria.

Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, the leader of the revived movement for the actualisation of the sovereign state of Biafra (MASSOB) is not left out. There is nothing like press freedom in the dictionary of Nigerian leaders. The military dictator of Abacha was able to silence the people of Ogoni after the brutal killing of Ken Saro Wiwa, a man of intellectual ability, and his Ogoni compatriots.

Most of those who were at the helm of affairs both at the federal and state levels were retired military men who were trained …to defend the nation from external and internal aggressions. Their war-war style of administration instead of the jaw- jaw method practiced by civilized human beings took this country many years back.[5]

Many of our leaders, weighed down by avalanche of criticisms, always fall out with the Press. Think of several imprisonments of human rights defenders like Gani Fawhinmi, Femi Falana, and Baba Omojola. Nations must certainly grow out of challenges and criticisms.

Many Nigerians are yet to enjoy much of the dividends of democracy such as good roads, pipe borne water, rural electrification, healthcare services due to the poor performance of our leaders. For our leaders, all these matter not. Today millions of Nigerians would not be starving to death if our leaders had known that there primary duty is to care for the masses and not to enrich their foreign accounts and western mentors. Regrettably, all they are interested in is having masters degree in travelling outside the state, competing on who becomes the widest traveller, and making every possible plan to handover a state bereft of infrastructure.

Now that we have seen that our problem is that of leadership, we have to implore the idea of one of the prominent political theorist, Plato -philosopher king.

1.2 Aim Of Study

The most urgent issue in Nigeria currently seems to be the issue on how to address the problem of leadership. Having done away with military leadership, Nigerians thought that embracing democratic rule would bring to us a responsive and responsible political institution that would promote a government that is accountable, government that would prevent corruption, respect human and civil rights, and ensure popular sovereignty, but the reverse is the case. In view of this, the aim of this work is to see how the issues of corruption, incompetent leadership, tribalism and nepotism, since they remained the most difficult problems in Nigeria leadership system, could be addressed.

For most Nigerians however, the pressing problems of everyday survival remain the highest immediate priority. And how could such immediate priority get to us without effective leadership and management? Nigeria is undoubtedly endowed with abundant human and natural resources to address its problems. The solution for addressing its problems and so consolidate democratic governance in the federal republic lies in having a government that works on the principles of good governance and is most especially, accountable to the Nigerian people.

Leadership crisis has done more harm than good in this nation of ours. The paupers are marginalized, men are shouting, women are screaming, children are crying- it is chaotic. The most baffling and awful of all is that Nigeria has all that it requires to be great, but who can bell the cat? Who can lead the people of Nigeria out of this dungeon? Our leaders have lost the quintessence of true leadership in pursuit of shadows. We have not truly had any significant input into the design and structure of our polity. Consequently, Nigeria is gradually but inevitably dwindling into mediocrity and ineffectiveness. Our leaders are no longer servants but masters. There is utter disregard for Ojukwu’s advice that

Those who aspire to lead must bear in mind the fact that they are servants and as such cannot ever be greater than the people, their masters.[6]

In his political philosophy, Plato thinks that the most qualified in the state should be the person to rule. So, this work is aimed at bringing to lime light the need for someone who can pilot the affairs effectively and should be entrusted to take up the task.

Following the trend of Plato, those who have the greatest of the great qualities should have the first place unless they fail in some other respect, and for the scripture, when the good man is in power the people will rejoice.

1.2 Scope Of The Research

One could recall that the major problems witnessed in the world; first and second world wars were all as a result of leadership tussles. As a matter of fact, these had made great thinkers to examine and propound various leadership theories that seem to be the best and are widely accepted form of leaderships. It is on this regard that I wish to dwell basically on Plato’s political theory with regard to leadership.

The range of this work embraces both the pre-colonial and the post-colonial era in Nigeria political history. Plato’s political theory is brought in to juxtapose it with Nigerian circumstance. So, within the limit of this work, attention will be given not only to Plato’s political theory but also to Nigerian political situation.

I will be indebted to justice if I fail to mention some of our political leaders who have not done well both in the past and the present administrations. We shall try to present also the possible causes of leadership failure etc.

1.4 Methodology

Because this research delves into the political theory of Plato, we shall try to employ expository method. Moreover, it has to be critically evaluative, historically discursive and philosophically interpretative. Some analysis will also be carried out.

1.5 Division Of Work

This work surveys critically and carefully Plato’s idea of “philosopher-king” and “Nigerian leadership crisis”. And in order to ensure that no stone is left unturned, the work is divided into five chapters.

Like many other political philosophers, Plato recognizes the need for a civil society – to – be. But unlike many, and especially in this particular polity, Plato maintained that if a civil society must arise, it must be an ideal and must be perfect. Its leaders must be worthy of emulation and well trained. In view of this, chapter one of this research work takes a look at how actually the whole work will look like-the aim of the research, the methodology and scope.

In the second phase of this work, comes Plato’s political theory. There we shall see the composition of any given political society.

Chapter three is devoted to Nigerian leaders and their style of leadership, beginning from the pre-colonial, post-colonial to present era.

The fourth chapter is where I tried to tinker Plato’s political theory on Nigerian circumstances. In this chapter, we see how possible it is, and the relevance Plato’s idea to Nigerian leaders.

The final chapter deals with systematic criticism and evaluation of Plato’s piece. Here also, I offered my own contributions.

1.6 Analysis Of Concepts

It is often presumed that we know, whereas we do not know. In view of this, there is the need to give some explanation to some basic concepts used in this work.

Again, terms or words sometimes assume different connotation and meaning depending on the context they are used. This makes it sometimes difficult to know exactly what a particular word stands for.

It is on this ground that I wish to explain briefly, some of the words used, or even, some of the words that would be of help to us in understanding the work. Prominent among them are:


The term philosophy is an amalgamation of two Greek words “philein” and “Sophia”, meaning “to love” and “wisdom” respectively. Etymologically, it means “love of wisdom” when combined together. It is a word Plato attributed to his master Socrates, who called his students lovers of wisdom.

In a more technical sense, it could be the ultimate or essential nature of all reality by the use of natural reason.[7] The concern of philosophy distinguishes it from other sciences. In a wider use of the term, one can say that the habitual activity of human being flows directly from his philosophy of life. Each person thinks about life, and the sum total of this thinking constitutes an attitude towards life, which in general shapes and guides his deliberate actions.

Nevertheless, that a man sometimes does the wise or right thing is no evidence that he possesses philosophical wisdom; rather what justifies him is his ability to give grounds for his action that will stand up to cross examination. In addition, philosophy proceeds by criticizing received opinions, clarification and critical evaluation of belief and concepts. For John Dewey, it is a “criticism of criticism”.

Apart from the above, B.C. Okolo defines philosophy as,

…that department of knowledge that deals with ultimate reality, or with the most general laws, causes and principles of things. In its general tasks, philosophy tries to give a coherent and systematic account of human experience and what grounds it.[8]

Political Philosophy

Political philosophy is the rational application of philosophical thinking to ideas about the state. It is a rational enquiry into all that concern man and his life in relation with his fellow man in a state. Unlike political science or sociology, it goes beyond the mere collection and descriptive explanation of political phenomena. It belongs to the higher level of scientific enquiry, an enquiry into the ideals.

Political philosophy inquires into the universal nature of the political phenomena. This is done with the aim to clarify concepts and critically evaluate beliefs thereby justify either acceptance of a belief or its rejection in relation to the state. It is, therefore, both normative and prescriptive. It seeks to mould the totality of political phenomena to accord with some vision of political systems, principals and ideologies.

Political philosophy deals with ideal forms of governments and social organization. It treats, for instance, the essential features of various types of governments such as democracy, socialism, monarch, fascism, communism, etc. It investigates such questions as, what is the state? What is the common good? Why should men live in society? What are natural rights? Etc.


Flora Shaw, Sir Fredrick Lugard’s wife suggested the name Nigeria, which was a farrago of two words “Niger” and “area”.

Nigeria is located in the Western Coast of Africa on the shores of the Gulf of Guinea. The Sahara desert bound it on the north and on the south by the Atlantic Ocean. Its total area is approximately 356,000 square miles, slightly more than the combined areas of France and Germany – both west and East Germany. Its name is derived from its main inland waterway, the river Niger, which flows some 2,600miles from the hills of Sierra Leone into the enormous fluvial complex of the Niger delta.

The republic of Nigeria has the second largest economy on the continent and the most populous sub-Saharan country in West Africa. Nigeria has a federal structure with thirty-six (36) states, with the federal government located at Abuja. A multi-religious society, it has 250 ethnic groups speaking over 350 languages and dialects.[9] It is important to note that it was these groups that were, on the imposition of the colonial rule, merged to produce a modern Nigerian state. The major languages are English, Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa.


Should our society be without leaders? If such were to be possible, then chaos and anarchy would ensue, resulting into nothing less than the Hobbesian state of nature. In view of this, ‘a scrupulous leader’ must man our society with a proven moral integrity for the full self-actualisation of man in the same society. Now the question is, who is a leader?

From the point of view of etymology, the term ‘leader’ stems from the Greek word “proagw” (proagoo) meaning ‘ I lead forth’ or ‘ I go before’, and the Latin common noun “dux” –leader.

Various authors have attempted a definition of this word in different ways. According to Julius Gould William,

Leadership denotes the occupying of a statue and the active performance of a role that mobilizes more or less organized, collective and voluntary effort towards the attainment of a shared goal and objective.[10]

This implies that the activity of a leader should be directed towards attainment of something greater. To buttress this, Sumbye Kapena in his book “How To Be A Wise Leader”, asserts:

Leadership is the process of directing the behaviour of another person or persons towards the accomplishment of some objective. This leadership is exercised whenever a person influences the behaviour of another person or a group of people towards achieving an objective. [11]

Generally, leadership could be seen as directing, mobilizing and controlling the activities of a group of people with a common interest. It is the pathfinder of the people or society.

Leadership could be associated with any organized group, ranging from family, peer group, social and religious organization, state and country. And the crux of its problem centres substantially upon the soundness of the leader’s goal, purpose and aim.

In human society, leadership is a polyglot process involving ‘knowing the way, showing the way, and going the way’. [12] We can see that it involves one in toto. Such is the case because, “one essential demand of leadership is to be like a waste-paper basket, a dustbin where all dirt and rubbish are heaped.”[13]

Leadership does not mean wealth, great education or position, says J. Keller. Rather, it means initiative, willingness to serve, and an idealism rooted in divine Truth.[14]

Chapter Five

Evaluation And Conclusion

5.1 Critical Evaluation

Plato, no doubt, deserves a pat on the back for being able to enter into his intellectual laboratory and come out with this idea of leadership by the most competent. Plato’s political theory has attracted the staunchest support from friends, and aroused the bitterest attacks from foes. Some have considered Plato as having an idealist and utopian concept of the state whereas others have acknowledged him for his natural origin of the state. Nonetheless, criticism is part and parcel of the philosophical enterprise. As for P. Bodurin, “the greatest compliment you can pay to a philosopher and any scholar for that matter is to criticize his work.”

In order to protect the Nigerian nation from harsh economic, political and leadership problems, Plato suggests for us, in his political theory, to choose for ourselves a learned leader, a dynamic person, a philosopher king, in short, an Aristocrat.

The idea of “federal character”, i.e. allotting to various states or regions the number of representative for appointment in federal commissions, ministries and parastatals is against Platonic strategy for getting a leader. For instance, Ebonyi state could be asked to bring seven representatives and Enugu ten. Ebonyi state may not have up to seven competent representatives, while Enugu may have more than ten who are competent. The Nigerian style is that Ebonyi state would go on to bring seven even if all of them are incompetent while the competent ones in Enugu would be idle. Plato would advocate for the competent representative irrespective of where he or she comes.
Plato’s idea of choice of leadership is commendable but we should not accept it hook, line and sinker, without examining it, to know how it suits our nature. We really need to examine how it suits our nature. Plato admonished that the leader must be an adult with experience. For him, some years would be spent in acquiring practical experience. Thus he says,

… the philosopher king will have progressed through many stages of education … fifteen years would be spent gathering practical experience through public service. Finally, at age fifty, the ablest men would reach the highest level of knowledge, the vision of the Good, and would then be ready for the task of governing the state.

Practical experiences seem to betray Plato’s view of making academic excellence parallel to good governance. Neither will his prescription of communism of wives, children and property be sufficient to guarantee excellent human legislation and government. Aristotle reacting to this, stressed that it does not only violate man’s natural right to own property but also that men do better on that which is their own. Plato is indirectly supporting and advocating prostitution and wide spread of sexually transmitted disease, no doubt, abortion and pre-marital sex abuse will be on the increase.

Education is not a sufficient guarantee or condition for good governance. Though, leadership positions require more mental effort and only those with such capacity can meet up with it. But one could know and still choose to do otherwise.

Plato’s defenders will want to defend their master by simply classifying all and whatever criticism as a misrepresentation of what Plato stood for. They would state that the reason why Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, Himmler, Abacha and many of the developing–world leaders led the way they did was because they were perhaps not guided by reason and knowledge.

Plato presents us with five systems of governments in their descending order to choose for our country. They are, Aristocracy, Timocracy, Plutocracy, Democracy and Despotism. From this scale, it is obvious that Plato gave credence to Aristocracy than the rest. Pitiable enough, democracy was relegated so low and perhaps he sees it as a bad system of government. It is a system that comes out of a degenerating Plutocracy, which gives more rooms to mob actions. Plato envisaged a situation whereby states operating it would remain politically dwarfed and economically unproductive.

One would question whether the kind of democracy discussed here is that practised by Nigerians. Izu M. Onyeocha seems to be correct in saying that,

Nigeria is not a city-state such that democracy in the Greek thinking could be custom-tailored to suit it. Nor is it a homogenous entity such that one arrangement suits all. It is an agglomeration of nationalities that must have all its peculiarities carefully considered in order to be able to strike at an arrangement that is meaningful to all interest groups.

Plato’s effort in dividing individuals into classes or well-structured groups according to one’s capacity is a healthy development. He identified differences in natural talent. And that will help individuals to do that which they are best known for. Moreover, such division of labour will not only facilitate but also increase production.

Apart from the above, lack of procedure or method to follow in such grouping makes the whole programme a mere philosophical speculation and impracticable. Not only this, the grouping will bring about class distinction in the state. Surely, the result will be class struggle, superiority and inferiority menace. How sure are we that those whose function it is to do the grouping will not be biased and so favour their wards? His political theory is more theoretical than practical. It’s practical dimension is merely on the utopian level.

5.2 Conclusions

Nigerians seem not to have fundamentally worked their freedom. The reason being that both in theory and in practice, Nigerians are entangled in acute indecision on what kind of ideology to follow. The worst is that we adore money like ‘a god’. With a good chunk of your money, the populace will cast their votes for you at ease.

The need for competence as criterion for leadership cannot be overemphasised as a panacea to the problem of Nigeria. Nigeria needs leaders with vision, and insight as well as the willpower to put forward and maintain healthy economic growth that is truly and totally independent. We need philosopher kings, for according to Plato,
Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and the power of philosophy… cities will never have rest from their evils…

That the political leaders of the world should all become philosophers is, no doubt, a paradigm. C. B. Okolo rightly interprets this to mean that development in all the strata of society will emanate if leaders emulate the philosophical virtues of wisdom, prudence, honesty, temperance, hard-work, etc.

It is time we say no to leadership attained through the barrel of the gun or through tribalism. Leadership in this country should be on merit. “Money politics” must not be the way out.

Plato’s option, the philosopher-king, by and large will remain the only option for Nigeria, if she must have competent and effective leadership, free from crises.

Plato’s Idea Of ‘Philosopher King’ And Nigerian Leadership Crisis

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