The Leader and the Led by Niyi Osundare: A Content Analysis

The Leader and the Led by Niyi Osundare: A Content Analysis

 – The Leader and the Led by Niyi Osundare –

In “The Leader and the Led”, Osundare foregrounds the prerequisites for holding a leadership position. In this article, you will get a full analysis of the entire poem, and the available poetic devices.

the leader and the led by niyi osundare

Niyi Osundare is a well-known Nigerian poet known for his poems’ simplicity, apt imagery, and powerful use of symbolism.

Through using symbolism, this poem examines the pressing issue of leadership.


Subject Matter of the Leader and the Led

As can be seen in the attitudes of many African leaders, the Leader and the Led are based on power tussle and supremacy for power.

This issue causes a great deal of confusion and breakdown in society.

The poem employs appropriate metaphors to describe the unnatural relationship between leader and follower.



Synopsis of the Plot

This poem criticizes the political class’ power struggle and claims of superiority. The poem has both a metaphorical and literal meaning.

At the metaphorical level, it focuses on African leaders.

However, the literal meaning is based on the fable because it uses animals.

The poet investigates the type of totalitarian leadership in which the leader has everything and the masses have nothing.

This is visible in the power struggle among the animals, where each animal claims to have it all while the masses and oppositions retreat into their shells for fear of being dealt with harshly.

This can be found in animals such as lions, antelopes, hyenas, Ginette, zebras, and elephants, but each of these animals is never competent enough because they have flaws.

Finally, the sage reveals that a leader must have both the virtue of bravery and humility in his leadership, be mysterious like a lake, and know how to follow because a good leader must also be a good follower.


Analysis of the Leader and the Led

Osundare explores the world’s leadership challenges and the individual inadequacies and differences as causes, using the forest as a metaphor for human society.

Animals, both herbivores and carnivores, seek a leader to oversee their affairs.

Those interested in the position of leader express their interests ahead of the pack, as is typical of humans.

The gathering of animals, on the other hand, is quick to point out flaws in each aspirant.

When it seems that no animal is fit to lead the others, “the forest sage” informs them of the type of leader they require: a “hybrid of habits.”

The sage goes on to discuss the characteristics of a good leader. This poem subtly reveals qualities that a wise and compassionate leader should have, as well as general characteristics to look for in a leader.

It also suggests that a leader cultivates a strong relationship with those he leads and that to lead, he must be willing to serve his followers.


The Structure of the Poem

The Leader and the Led is a poem of twenty-four lines divided into twelve stanzas of two lines each, for a total of twelve couplets.

Aside from its form, the poem theorizes the required embodiments of a leader.

The poem begins with a depiction of an animal gathering in its search for a leader. Some animals “stake their claim to leadership”; the lion, hyena, giraffe, zebra, elephant, warthog, and rhino all stated that “it is their right to lead.”

However, their colleagues (whom they wish to rule over) have only highlighted their flaws and flaws.

When they are unable to find a flawless and perfect leader to choose from, the Forest Sage directs their attention to what they require in a leader.

Themes of the Leader and the Led by Niyi Osundare

Themes are the underlying meanings of a literary work. It is the central message or points that the poet communicates. In the Leader and the Led, the following thematic concern:

Theme of Leadership

Niyi Osundare’s novel The Leader and the Led delves into the concept of good leadership. The poem depicts an ideal leader and the qualities that such a leader should carry.

Nigeria, the poet’s birthplace, is no stranger to the devastation caused by poor leadership and mismanagement.

Other themes in the poem are power tussle, leadership failure, political disillusionment, etc.

Poetic Devices in the Poem

There are a plethora of figures of speech in the poem; however, we have explained just a few here:


There is a simile in line 16, “like a snake without a head”, used to convey the directionless of the pack.

It is also in lines 21 and 22, “tough like a tiger, compassionate like a doe/transparent like a river, mysterious like a lake” to suggest that a leader should be flexible and know when to yield and when not to yield to his people yearnings.

He should be a blend of qualities.


There is a logical use of metaphor in the poem; mostly in lines 19 and 20: “a little bit of a lion/a little bit of a lamb”.

This bestows the fierceness/courage of a lion and the meekness of a lamb on the ideal leader. Implied comparison! Is that not what metaphor is all about, after all?


“Paws” (line 4) represent the lion’s predatory violence. “Eyes” (line 8) represent the accessibility of the giraffe to his subjects and the masses.

“Stripes” (line 10) stands for the probable dishonesty of the zebra.


“Pounce … paws” (line 4), “hyena … him” (line 5), “far from” (line 8),” pack points” (line 10), “rhino … riotous” (line 14), “hybrid … habits” (line 17), “little … lion” (line 19), “little … lamb” (line 20), and “tough … tiger” (line 21) are manifestations of alliteration in the poem.


There is parallelism in lines 19 to 20: “A little of a Lion/A little of a lamb”; and lines 21 to 22: “tough like a tiger, compassionate like a doe/transparent like a river, mysterious like a lake”.


The entire tale (its actors and the quest for a leader) represents human experiences in the contemporary world; the electioneering process – campaigns and elections.

The lion and hyena represent oppressive forces; the antelopes and the impalas; the oppressed, etc. Zebra stands for crooked leaders, while giraffe leaders have distanced themselves from the masses.


In lines 21 and 22, there is an interplay of two opposing ideas: “tough like a tiger, compassionate like a doe” and “transparent like a river, mysterious like a lake.”

Although these lines contain contradictory ideas, the goal is for a leader to be a combination of these qualities; somewhere in the middle of these ideas.


The Leader and the Led by Niyi Osundare can be summarized as a poetic commentary on the menace of leadership failure in Nigeria.

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Nsikak Ekikor. 

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