Black Rhino’s Chairman on the Importance of Service in Leadership

Africa Advisory Group spoke with the new Chairman of Black Rhino, His Highness Emir Muhammad Sanusi II. He discusses how leaders must have a sense of service, what he learned as head of Nigeria’s Central Bank and what he hopes to bring to his new role as Chairman of Black Rhino. A full transcript of the interview is below.

In June 2009, Mr. Sanusi was appointed Governor of the Nigerian Central Bank. Mr. Sanusi was named “Central Bank Governor of the Year” and “Central Bank Governor of the Year for Africa” by The Banker Magazine, and was one of TIME magazine’s 2011 “100 Most Influential People.” He was suspended from the Central Bank in 2014 after he raised concerns that the national oil company was either losing or stealing billions in oil revenue that should have gone to the state. Mr. Sanusi was subsequently appointed Emir of the northern Nigerian region Kano. Last month he became Chairman of Black Rhino, an investment group formed in January 2012 to develop infrastructure projects in Sub-Saharan Africa’s power generation and fuel transportation sectors.

I think what’s been missing most before is the sense of service, people understanding that when they get into leadership positions that it’s about others.His Highness Emir Muhammad Sanusi II, Chairman of Black Rhino

Q: What does leadership mean to you?

First thing you need to do is decide that you’re a servant and it’s defining for yourself who you are serving and what service you want to offer. Ultimately, that’s what leadership is about. It’s about people and it’s about their interests. And you’ve got to decide at a political level, at a social level, at a group level and at an economic level precisely which group you would like to serve and how you would like to offer that service. And once you’ve answered that question for yourself, you’re on the way to leadership.

Q: Are there any unique leadership characteristics a leader must have?

I think what’s been missing most before is the sense of service, people understanding that when they get into leadership positions that it’s about others. Once people get to understand that, if you’re head of state, or a governor, you know it’s about the healthcare of your people, their education, their progress, their opportunities. Then you begin to change your attitude, it changes everything. How you manage your economy, how you choose your people, how you lead your life, how you manage the resources of your country and how you conduct yourself. It’s that sense that leadership is about others and not about you that needs to change.

Q: What leadership lessons did you learn as Central Bank Governor in Nigeria?

I think the most important thing for me as central bank governor, or the most important learning point, was that it would be a disastrous mistake for people to go into roles with presuppositions of what they can do and what they cannot do. People need to be able to bring their own presence to their role, to be able to do what they think is in the best interest of the country. Now it put me into lots of trouble. For example, people thought I went over and above and beyond the briefs of a central bank governor talking about the management of resources of the country, talking about fiscal issues, talking about social welfare. But it was also for me a platform in which what I said had value, it had currency, and contributed to far reaching changes ultimately in the political system in Nigeria. There was no reason for a central bank governor to be talking so much about corruption for example. It’s not the kind of thing central bank governors do. But the fact the central bank governor was talking about it made it a very big issue and it helped bring some of the changes we wanted. So for me, the idea that you are in public service and that you should be constrained by certain rules, if those rules are such as to stop you from making positive contributions to the system you’ve got to break those rules.

Q: What do you hope to bring to your new position as chairman at Black Rhino?

What I like about Black Rhino and what they’re doing now is that they fous on an area that ive always considered a critical area as far as the transformation of Africa is concerned. Energy and power, these are things that need to be fixed. Africa is literally the dark continent. There is no light. If you look at my Emirate, Kano, it used to be a major industrial center in the north. It’s been deindustrialized, we’ve got unemployed people, we’ve got security problems, largely because of the lack of infrastructure and electricity. So being able to be part of a group that invests in areas where it can make change, produce electricity, create opportunities, bring up industries, excites me. It’s something that is part of the service, it’s not really a business issue for me. It’s a business that, it’s looking at businessmen who could make money in different places. I think what they’re focusing on is what we need at this moment.

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