Michelle Obama, official White House portrait.

Michelle Obama, official White House portrait. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Michelle Obama – An African American’s Glorious Homecoming to Door of No Return

Impossible is nothing!

It is usually thought that one “must be a fox in order to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten off wolves”, but the reigning First Lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama, is neither a fox nor a lion, yet she had conquered the whole wide world with good deeds and the grace of a pivotal place in the history of America.

Coming to the “door of no return” in Africa, she suddenly woke up Africans, nay the whole world, to the fact that “impossible is nothing”!

Without much ado as the spouse of the President, or as an appendage to the office of the President, but rather in her own right as the first African-American first lady in history, and probably the most highly placed African-American with proven lineage to enslaved African ancestors, Michelle Obama returned, in grace and glamour, to Senegal’s Goree Slave Island’s ‘door of no return’.

Opportunities can be found in the most unlikely situations as well as in mundane circumstances. The Lord uses adversity and difficult obstacles to strengthen us. He does not always cause the situation, but He will take every hard thing in our lives and use it for our good.

When Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, little did the brothers realize that the young lad will one day turn out to be a Governor in Egypt?

When a great number of Africans were sold into slavery between the 17th and 19th centuries, they were made to pass through the “door of no return” in Goree slave Island, Senegal, to emphasize the impossibility of coming back to the continent, as they had been sold out as slaves, properties and assets of the white men buyers; with an imprint on their minds never to come back to motherland Africa again.

Michelle Obama, against all odds, returned recently to Africa, the homeland of her ancestors, not in captivity as her progenitors were made to leave, but as one of the most powerful and influential women in the world. “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.  Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.” (Gen 50: 20, 21).

Coming out of almost four centuries of unyielding struggle, slavery, segregation, protests and civil rights agitations, African-Americans have made substantial gains and moved quite considerably up the ladder socially, politically and economically that they are nowadays a major force to reckon with in the scheme of things in America. Jesus saith unto them, “Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?”  (Mat 21: 42).

When next you are cornered by very difficult obstacle which brings losses, lacks, and limitations into your life, then read this: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom 8: 28).

Obstacles Are Opportunities in Disguise

The ugly history of slavery in the United States continues to loom over this country as an unfortunate reminder that African Americans were once seen as being no more valuable than farm animals. For almost four hundred years African-Americans never gave up their unshakable hope that they would be free one day, that one day America will “rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed:- ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Daring in yards, gaining by foot, and winning in inches, African-Americans continue to fight through thick and thin for emancipation and equal rights. Their cause and dedication are bold testimonies of the willingness and resolution of men in making giant strides to open big doors once the mind is firmed up. It was first through gaining a say in the councils, later a shot at the office of the Mayor, then having “one of us” in the state congress, and gradually a representative at the federal Capitol, and later an African-American senator legislating among towering statesmen in Washington or a Federal Cabinet executive. Today, the President of the most powerful nation on Earth, Barack Obama, is an African-American, and so is the first lady. Impossible is nothing!

The foundation stones for a balanced success are honesty, character, integrity, faith, love, and loyalty. (Zig Ziglar)

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Michelle Obama would later become a lawyer, Chicago city administrator, community outreach worker and—as the wife of U.S. President Barack Obama—the United States’ first lady. Raised in a one-bedroom apartment by a city pump operator father, Fraser Robinson, and a Democratic precinct captain, Michelle and her brother were raised to love to study and seek after knowledge. Her mother, Marian, was a Spiegel’s secretary who later stayed home to raise Michelle and her older brother, Craig. “You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win”. (Zig Ziglar).

Why you must live your dream

Every right thinking person wants to live out his dreams and achieve the pressing desires of his heart. But it often takes dedication and struggle to most of our goals. Once you accept the fact that you are the chief architect of whatever befalls you in life, you become a winner; because you will always strive to design the best life pattern for the real you.

Though sold into slavery at the shores of their homeland by their own people, and ferried by human merchants and slave traders as unfit beings and inadequate humans into the plantations, industries and homes of their white equals, the plight of the African-American has been legion and counting since 1619. While a lot of activists and goodly spirited people had tried to ameliorate the sufferings and improve their slavish lives and general condition, the trend of change and the tempo of agitation increased since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. caught his mountaintop vision.

Michelle Obama might not have dreamt of being a first lady of the United States of America, but she definitely has goals for great expectations in life, and prepares herself adequately for it. That is why she became an instant good match for the big events. For choosing to come to Goree Island’s “door of no return”, Mrs. Obama has sent a great challenge to all Africans not to give up the dream that Africa can be great again, if only we keep our focus and the dream alive, just like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. kept the mountain top vision and dream ever alive. Impossible is nothing.

A beautiful aspect of humanity is his ability to turn around his challenges into opportunities, and his prospects into success.  The drive for success makes most right-thinking people seek to obtain his best. Self-actualization, as popularized by Abraham Maslow, is a vital route to happiness and success through commitment and dedication to an important job, a worthwhile task, a noble calling, or a meaningful service. Mostly, people are happy when they work well at something they consider important. Nigerians are disenfranchised mostly because the basic needs of life such as regular power supply, pipe-borne water, stable employment, conducive business environment, good road networks and other infrastructures are not available to the masses.  People being the most important resources to organizations and nations, their happiness determines the peace and tranquility of the nation or organization, and this is the main essence of H.R. (Human Resources).

Major characteristics of management are planning, organizing, motivating, and controlling.  Managers are often expected to be a lot of things to various sets of people and circumstances at one point or the other. However, for any type of business to thrive,  effective human resources management is very essential, and guarantees adequate employment, optimum output, and congenial environment for business operations. HR specialists and personnel determines the number and type of employees required in any organization, recruits new staff and workers, replace those who have left or leaving, organizes the training of staff and employees,  encourages workers’ productivity, efficiency, and satisfaction to promote the overall success of the business.  Compensation and benefits while in employment and at the time of retirement or severance of engagement are structured and determined by the HR.

We the People

People are the most important resource of a nation or any organization. The cardinal vocation of the Human Resources (HR) professional, organization, and department is to make sure that the human capital are recruited and engaged to the greatest benefit of the government department and organization according to the greatest abilities of the people, for the purpose of gainful returns to the nation and its people in material and intrinsic benefits.

Organizational trends and international trade and relations have grown at a fast pace since the dawn of Industrial Revolution. The growth rate improved with the computer age, and became more fierce and faster as the internet explosion transformed the world into a global village. This current situation has moved the HR practitioner from the historical role of a personnel manager to hire and fire, under the whims and caprice of an overrated administration manager, into a highly competent and efficient human capital and resource controller. The 21st century is a fast changing world in which nations and organizations become more entrepreneurial in spirit, more focused in learning, and more competitive in their approaches to handling human capital, material wealth and general resources.  A combative HR practice and practitioners that would rise up to the challenges of the moment has become highly imperative.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) administers a nationwide merit system for general employment of federal personnel, their recruitment, examination, and training in various arms of government at home and abroad. The department is well-known for performing its functions without bias, with equal opportunity, without regard to race, color, religion, sex, or age. How much one wishes it is so in Nigeria!

For decades the world stood aside and watched as the population of China continues to rise. Today China has transformed the challenge in her population of 1.3 billion people into her advantages and influences. For an unusually long stretch of years, China has enjoyed the world’s most rapid economic growth.  Not by accident or luck, but because Chinese policies conformed to the basic laws of economic development and national growth. Under good leadership, China undertook economic reforms of combined socialism and favorable aspects of market economy that has worked wonders in the tiger economies. By reversing self-reliance economic policies and opening up to the global market, the Chinese came to realize that “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice”, and that “Poverty is not socialism. To be rich is glorious.”

Current Challenges

According to The World Bank, Nigeria’s unemployment rate now stands at 56 per cent. This is grossly unacceptable. Even the European countries that are currently undergoing economic crisis record unemployment rates averaging between 25 and 27 per cent. While government agencies and departments cannot manufacture jobs, adequate management of human resources could go a long way to expose anomalies and proffer effective ways out of the logjam. There is need for good governance to put in place sound micro economic and macroeconomic frameworks that will remove the irregularity.

As the sixth largest oil-producing country in the world, it is sad that Nigeria could not refine her crude oil, but rather import petroleum products from foreign countries. During our elementary school days, the pencil, eraser, and sharpener used in school came from China. The story is still the same today. Our roads and highways, bridges and dams are constructed by foreign companies.  School uniforms were sown from materials imported from China. The denim pants, skirts, blouses and shoes of the teachers and pupils were made in India, China or Korea.  Asian pasta, rice and noodles have taken over from local dishes and delicacies. Hospitals, pharmacies and drug stores have suddenly been overtaken by the Ginseng regimes and cheap medicaments from India, China and Pakistan. The trendy cars on the roads are the Suzukis and the Tatas. When the Orientals, Europeans and Americans dominate the key sectors of the economy, how could one expect full employment for the nationals? It is a leadership problem that needed to be fixed by personnel managers and character change.

HR Africa must help African nations to manage its human assets to the best, and more strategically to the extent that the people at home could meet higher level of performance with greater profitability, while Africans seeking greener pastures overseas could happily return home to the honorable service to fatherland. Mostly, HR Africa must help African nations build and put in place credible and competent leadership – men that could not be bought or sold, men that would fear God and respect people, men that would lead for the singular purpose of public service for public good, and not to amass personal wealth from the coffers of the public.

Peter Drucker transformed corporate management with Management by Objectives, (MBO), a process by which corporate goals are set with the agreement and understanding of both management and employees. Management goals are set and made clear to both staff and employees so that they know their specific roles, and aspire to do it for successful goal attainment. As a result, corporate performances improved through participative goal setting, open avenues to make choices in respective courses of action, and the deliberate empowerment of each cadre to make judgment and decisions in line with set goals and focus.

As meaningful management results are obtainable in public institutions and civil service just as experienced in the corporate sector, Managing for Results  is the practice to get desired results within the economy, especially in government, through the development of management practices, products and services that:

  1. Gives prime attention to the customer,
  2. Encourage entrepreneurial based market strategy geared towards a profound and prominent presence in the market,
  3. Timely innovations directed at taking full benefits of the advantages and opportunities of the moment.

When civil service is transformed to be market and service oriented, and not waiting for patronage from the public, desired results and expected transformation will take place, public revenues will improve to build infrastructures, and everybody will be happy.

The transformation needed within the Nigerian economy is the provision of effective leadership. The top cadres of government function and operations must show effective and profound leadership attributes and qualities. How could they do this when their appointments were not by merit, but through political party affiliations and nepotism? The Nigerian people should be guided to take part in elections and the voting process. Full participation in elections through credible voting process will put people’s candidates of choice in position of authority to effect people oriented programs and ethos.

The challenge before HR Africa is to guide Nigeria and Nigerians to make sure Nigeria has “the very best people to carry your vision out. Hire those most capable of turning visions into reality – ask questions about how they might go about attacking a particular thorny problem. Promote those people who have the best record of making things happen.” These kinds of people are the Champions.

Nigerians are desirous of the champion that will be her king and judge her people in truth and in faith. To carry out such great task goes beyond the common aspects of learning and training, but through the application of talents and gifts to do what initially seemed impossible. It requires planning and dedicated pursuit. That is why it takes rigorous and painstaking primaries to choose an American President, which could be replicated in Nigeria.

For Reformation to come to The Church and the world, with its attendant fundamental changes, a Martin Luther must by force of will and ideas stand up against the Papal Bulls.

For  Americans to have an African-American President, a Martin Luther King, Jr., must have a vision and lay his life for The Dream.

For India to be free from the clout and excesses of the British, a Mahatma Gandhi had to go from South Africa to let his people go in India.

For Nigeria to have the desired non-violent revolution that would bring about credible leadership, national transformation and development, the agents of change and human resources development, the architects of strategic leadership and transformation, HR Leaders in Africa, must take up the gauntlet to penetrate into the affairs and reins of power to elicit change.

After the mandatory National Youth Corps Service, many of us applied to work at the NEXIM Bank through the Central Bank of Nigeria. We went through grueling examinations and interviews and came out in flying colors. But on the day of recruitment, other candidates out of the blues were employed. As the scourges of nepotism can never break a tough guy, most of us moved on, and did better afterwards, praying “for the peace of Nigeria: because, they shall prosper that love Nigeria.”

Cement was too expensive in Nigeria, and the government effected its backward integration programme to the favor of the mighty against the little. Our heavy investments in the sector were crushed, business was lost, income ceased, and losses mounted. Many workers, employees, indirect jobbers and their families were thrown out of stable employment into the job market with losses and grinding limitations. Cement is still very expensive in Nigeria today. Nevertheless, “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose”.

A young Ugandan girl was living in the city ghettos with her parent and siblings. Chess training and competition was organized near the slum by a concerned coach with the attraction of a cup of corn pap per day. This poor girl, who had been without food for some time, jumped at the offer, and attended the coaching solely because of the cup of corn-pap. She trained well and became the champion; she later became the best player in her country, in Africa, and one of the best players in the world. What an unconventional approach to talent hunt you might say, but God still rules in affairs of man to perfect His wonders.

Nehemiah was a Jewish cup-bearer of the Persian king Artaxerxes around 446 BC. Though living in wellness, prosperity and peace, he became troubled when he learnt that news came to him that the wall of Jerusalem had been broken down and the gates of the city of God had been burned with fire. Nehemiah realized, as an Israelite, that his brethren were in distress and needed his support. He resolved to take up their burden and do all he could to relief their situation. Under Nehemiah’s devout life and prayerful mien with energetic administration, the walls of Jerusalem were repaired within two months, the city was once again secured, economic and social reforms were put in place, and the glory of the land and the people were restored. What a case study for HR Leaders in Africa to ponder upon.

Could you be a Nehemiah for Nigeria in times like this, and what manner of African it would be?

Mo Ibrahim, Founder, The Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

It is the dedication, the principle to improve the lot of the masses, with a genuine spirit for public service, that bring people into leadership roles.
But in Africa, leaders often fail to carry out the precise issues that brought them into leadership positions. What leadership role has the King of Swaziland, who lives in affluence like an American Governor, when unemployment and poverty are extremely high in his kingdom, when young women in his land take to prostitution in droves despite an exceptionally high rate of HIV/AIDS, and most men and women must seek job in neighboring countries to survive?
How do we describe the leadership style in South Sudan, where state funds went missing in billions of US Dollars barely two years of independence after a protracted 30 year war, with the majority of the populace in abject poverty, and the new rulers openly showing off elements of the nouveau riche?
Should Africa have outstanding leadership, there should never by now be poor and unemployed Nigerians, malnourished South Africans, or deprived and hopeless Congolese.

However, when leadership failed, poverty, illness, the life in the ghetto, becomes the order of the day for the masses in most African nations, while the elites cruise about town in expensive limousines, living in posh apartments with the good life.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation was set up to encourage ethical governance and democracy in Africa, with an attractive annual award of US$5m (five million US Dollars) for exceptional African national rulers who must have led his nation with a proven record of improved living standard for the majority of his nationals, and respectable constitutional departure from office.
Why pay someone a tremendously fat extra to induce him performs the job for which he had been generously remunerated, you hasten to ask. Many people are equally bothered. That is the irony of leadership style in Africa. Yet, for the third year running, the award could not find a worthy recipient. Could the Mo Ibrahim Foundation have been wrong?

What leadership is!

“The meaning of a message is the change which it produces in the image”. (Kenneth Boulding).

Leadership is a process by which a person, the leader, influences other people and members of a group to carry out an objective, a purpose, a goal or dream of the group; with the leader guiding and directing other members cohesively and coherently towards the attainment of those dreams and goals.
To emerge as the leader, a person should prove the essential qualities, traits and attributes in terms of character, values, ethics, beliefs, among others. These will give him an edge within the group, and qualify him as the lead personae. These are the attributes that the Presidential campaigns, interviews, town-hall meetings and debates are geared towards, to find out the good qualities, the strong points and their weaknesses, out of each candidate in the United States elections before they eventually have their names on the ballot papers.
What he knows by education, and what he is able to do well in terms of ability, are crucial to his emergence as a leader. His character and ethics would stand him out, over and above his contemporaries, to qualify him for the office of the leader. (Surprisingly, it is whom you know that matters in most African situations). Wonder how many credible candidates fell in the primaries of the American Presidential and general elections because of shortcomings in their ethics and personal affairs!

Four Factors of Leadership.

The Leader: The leader needs to have a clear-cut knowledge of his role and his preparedness for the task.
Who truly am I?
What can I honestly do in this role?
How can I not be a boss but a servant leader, gaining the trust, confidence and true respect of the followers?

The Followers: A significant factor is to realize that the group is made of various people or interest groups who should be addressed differently while holding the group together. Each vital element within the group should be given a different approach of leadership style by the leader without disrupting the cohesiveness within the body.

Communication: Effective leadership is maintained through a two-way communication process in the exemplary lifestyle and role-model attitude of the leader. This will enhance his reputation and urge members to understand, trust and get along with him. Otherwise, there would be distrust and disaffection.

Situation: It is pertinent for a leader to understand that each situation requires its peculiar way of treatment. The leader needs expert judgment to chart the right course out of each logjam.

Africa’s Peculiar Mess:.

One would wonder why the leading lights of Africa were put out in their prime.

The killing of Patrice Lumumba in the Democratic Republic of Congo has led to the raging war that has refused to die till this day in that country breeding poverty and crime waves in its aftermath.
Thanks to Jerry Rawlings, Ghana went way down the drain in corruption, economic mismanagement, and poverty after the assassination of Kwame Nkrumah, until the recent awakenings that began with the leadership of Mr. Rawlings.
Whether you like him or hate him, the best leader Nigeria ever had was Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He ruled Western Nigeria with openness and probity, and would have transformed that part of the country into an African Switzerland, but was prevented by his own people and put away in prison. Despite her abundant oil wealth, majority of Nigerians are poor and unemployed.

What role did African rulers and elites play in the trans-Atlantic slave trade?
What kind of leadership did those rulers give during “the scramble for Africa”?
Were some of these rulers not the friends of the oppressive colonial regimes?

Most African rulers and elites collaborated, cooperated and befriended the colonialists under the oppressive regime that they were unable to join the struggle for independence. They suddenly became the de-facto benefactors of the post independence era, claiming the land and the natural resources under the aegis of royalty. They live ostentatiously on public fund while keeping their kits and kins in positions of power, denying the masses of the right to reap from the good fruits of the land.
June 12, 1993 Presidential election in Nigeria was adjudged the most free and fair, but the “leadership” thought otherwise, and the results of that free and fair election were cancelled. The nation has not fully recovered from the ripples and consequences of the unpopular decision.
June 12, 2009 Presidential election in Iran was tilting towards the way of the opposition, the ruling class intervened, and journalists reported that the announced results were doctored, the masses displayed their disaffection through demonstrations and boycott. The government lacked credibility.
June 12, 2012 was a day of serious protest in Moscow and other parts of Russian Republic in protest of the May 7, 2012 swearing into office of President Vladimir Putin as the winner of the disputed Russian Presidential election. The initially unconstitutional third term in office of Mr. Putin reduced the influence of Russia and dented affected her prestige as a leading light in the comity of nations.

Since most of Africa was colonized by the United Kingdom, African rulers and elites always like to rule as a monarchy, passing the baton of leadership from one generation to another either within the family or a select group of elites. Progressives that tried to fight for the right of the masses would be cleared from the way.

The Vote – Effective Weapon of the African Mass Movement.

It is sad that many Africans of voting age are passive and complacent about voting and election matters. This attitude must change if Africa would eventually put credible and competent leadership in place. There must be a clear departure from undue respect for rulers who lack credibility and the authority to lead. Africans should learn not to waste time to transform despotic rulers, but support the masses in the development of an intelligent electorate that will understand the immense power of the vote, and would peacefully vote out corrupt and inept rulers, putting outstanding leadership in their stead.
To have trustworthy and credible leaders in Africa, the eligible African voter should understand his role, the value of his vote, and the need to make sure that each vote count. the Mo Ibrahim Foundation should seek for ways, to educate Africans about the power of the vote, better voting attitude and culture, and non-violent movements into government transition.

Leadership Principles.
Africa needs leaders, not rulers, not Presidents nor Field Marshalls. Africans are tired of wars and incessant fighting among each other, wearied of run-away inflation and incurable diseases. Africans want to enjoy life in peace and harmony like in other lands. There is no place like home, Africans in the Diaspora want to return to a peaceful and happy home in Africa. Therefore, Africa need servant leaders, not rulers anymore. The following principles are some of the essential principles of servant leadership.

  1. Know Thyself: To try to know yourself begins with a desire to know God. The time you begin to know God is the time you begin to discover yourself, your purpose in life, your true dreams and goals, and how to channel all of these to become a strong and effective leader.
  2. Qualification: Tune up yourself for adequate and ideal qualification in chosen career or business to be fit for consideration as a candidate for leadership.
  3. Integrity: Be a man who is above-board. Be honest with yourself, and thus be honest to everybody else.
  4. Responsibility: Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions. Be responsible and take charge, even when things turn out awry, as they sometimes do. Never try to pass the buck, people will respect you for doing so.
  5. Dignity: Be a man of dignity in your private life and public relationships. This principle, if well nurtured will set you apart from the crowd, and earn you true respect of friends and foes.
  6. Decision Maker: Make decisions quickly, knowing that by deciding quickly, you make the best decisions. Know what to do next using adequate planning and problem-solving tools.
  7. Problem Solver: Treat all problems as opportunities to be creative. Apply creativity in every endeavor and thus enjoy a position of growing leadership.
  8. Role Model: Be exemplary, doing what you have to do as examples for others.
  9. Man of the People: Successfully train others to do your work, giving those who help you their due credits. Make the willing support of other people essential to your success.
  10.  Courage: meet all your problems and life challenges with extraordinary bundles of courage and bravery, and see yourself solve those problems quickly, while you overcome the challenges more easily and efficiently.
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