Friday, May 30, 2014

Nigerian Children and Democracy: Such a Time as This

Three days ago, Nigeria celebrated Children’s Day. Yesterday was Democracy Day, another national holiday. In a matter of a few days, we will have focused on the future of Nigeria (her children) and the past, when Nigeria emerged from military rule to a democratic state in 1999. The two celebrations go hand in hand. 

The Abducted Girls
This year, the festivities are subdued, and rightly so, in the light of the horrific plight of the more than 200 Nigerian girls who were abducted by Boko Haram over a month ago.

Worldwide media woke up to give attention to the girls’ abduction, if not for a temporary period of time. From my first full day in Lagos on May 13, I have been hearing Nigerians talk about this situation with passion, concern, and anguish. From church services (with much prayer for the girls), to commentaries on television, to comments in the thoroughfare, people are animated, motivated, and captivated by this tragedy.

The girls are Nigerian children. The acts of Boko Haram are in opposition to democracy.

What to do
But what to do? If there were an easy solution to the immediate problem of the captivity of the girls, I would like to think that it would have been utilized by now. If there were simple answers to the bigger questions regarding the terrorist attacks in the northeastern part of the country (mitigating the free flow of democracy), we would have probably seen progress by now. Instead, it seems to be getting worse.

The problems Nigeria faces are not simple; nor are they technical in nature. Rather, they are what Ronald Heifetz (1994) calls “adaptive challenges.” They require a transformative approach to leading, one that eschews technical fixes and easy answers (“somebody should just do something”). Leading in the midst of these types of tragedies requires a different way of being than the more quickly grasped linear way of identifying the problem, deciding on a plan of action, and executing the plan.

Good and effective leadership development is just this, helping students learn different approaches to complex problems in a troubled world. Effective leaders in the 21st Century embrace the fact that answers will not come easily. They believe that rather than following a straight line from problem to solution, leading today must be more like an artful dance. Impactful leaders maneuver back and forth between digging deep into root causes and systemic shortcomings and deliberating and collaborating in an effort to "secure action around shared interests," (Gaines, 2007) all the while relying upon wisdom from God.

West  Africa Theological Seminary
I may be a bit quixotic, but I truly believe that West Africa Theological Seminary (WATS) exists today for “such a time as this.” WATS is uniquely poised to make a significant contribution to Nigeria to protect and nurture her children and to promote and preserve her democracy. Students come to WATS from all over Nigeria, including the northern parts. We are preparing them to go back and to take up strategic and important roles of leading where it is most needed and in the ways that will be most effective.

As a Christian organization, we care about social justice. We believe in the power of prayer, the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives today, and in victory over evil through the word of our testimony and the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Equipped with spiritual armor, shining with the light of Christ (Philippians says we shine as stars in a darkened world), and led by the Holy Spirit, WATS is contributing to the welfare of Nigeria’s children and the oversight of its democracy in ways that will matter.

In the same way that William Wilberforce fought to end slavery, WATS graduates are being empowered to lead transformation for individuals and communities.

What a privilege to be here now!

Please join me in prayer for the abducted girls, for all the children in Nigeria, and for the students at WATS who are passionately preparing for leadership roles that are urgently needed throughout this country and across West Africa. 

  • Gaines, K. (2007). A Communicative Theory of Leadership Practice. (Electronic Thesis or Dissertation). Retrieved from
  • Heifetz, R. A. (1994). Leadership without easy answers. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.