The Leader and the Led by Niyi Osundare explores the idea of good leadership. The poem paints a picture of what an ideal leader should be, and the qualities such leader should have. It is no news that Nigeria, the poet’s country of origin, suffers from havocs wrecked by bad leadership and mismanagement.
Hence, much blames have been put on the country’s leaders for much of its woes. At every quarter of the country, there is a hue and cry for good leadership. However, every four years when there is a transition of government, there’s only a change in faces but the same leadership deficiency remains.
Everyone keeps calling for a good leader; yet, it seems there is none, or perhaps, the people do not have an idea of what a good leader is. That brings us to the question of who an ideal leader is.
According to Niyi Osundare, a good leader is a “little of a lamb, a little of a lion”; “tough like a tiger, compassionate like a doe”; and “transparent like a river, mysterious like a lake”. For Osundare, a leader should be a blend of many things; flexible and fluid enough to exhibit different traits at different times.
Obviously, Osundare had Nigeria in mind while writing The Leader and the Led. The animal gathering is an allegory of the Nigerian citizens in a thorough selection process of their leader.
As suggested in the first eight stanzas of the poem, the people do not have a complete portrait of whom or what their leader should be like, and the qualities he/she should possess.
But one thing they are certain about is that their leader should not be oppressive like the lion; should not feed on their sweat and blood like the hyena; should not be out of their reach like the long-necked gorilla; should not be as double-dealing like the duplicity of a zebra’s stripes; should not be intimidating like the trampling elephant. When such things like ugliness and riotousness are mentioned, it becomes obvious that they seek perfection in their leader which is almost unattainable.
The Forest Sage, a wise man of sort, wades in and it is his recommendation that actually defines an ideal leader. His definitive words on an ideal leader set the people on the right track of the search. In short, this poem basically focuses on the concept of leadership.