October 25, 2020

The Subject Matter of “The Leader and the Led”

Reading Time: 4 minutes

This post will give you a summary of the subject matter of Niyi Osundare’s poem, “The Leader and the Led”.

It is all about the meaning of The Leader and the Led.

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“The Leader and the Led” is just one of the many poems written by the renowned Nigerian poet, Niyi Osundare.

Without further ado, let’s have the gist of the subject matter of The Leader and the Led.

“The Leader and the Led” – A Narrative Poem

The Leader and the Led is a short narrative poem that tells what transpired in an imaginary animal community.

Since all the characters in this narrative are animals, it is appropriate to call the poem a fable.

It is clear that this animal community portrayed in The Leader and the Led has been without a leader. And now, the animals have come together to appoint one.

Each one of those animals who consider themselves as being leadership material will have to announce their interest in the top leadership position. They are the ones who believe they stand eligible to be chosen to lead the rest.

Finally, here comes the opportunity for them to come forward and make their individual cases in the form of a leadership manifesto.

So the subject matter of The Leader and the Led is all about this august event somewhere in animal land.

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Before we continue with the summary of the subject matter of The Leader and the Led, I want us to know the lines or the full text of the poem.

So, here we go.

Full text of “The Leader and the Led”

The Lion stakes his claim

To the leadership of the pack

But the antelopes remember

The ferocious power of his paws

The Hyena says the crown is meant for him

But the Impalas shudder at his lethal appetite

The Giraffe claims a place in the front

But the eyes are too far from the ground

When the Zebra says it’s his right to lead

The pack points to the duplicity of his stripes

The Elephant trudges into the power tussle

But its colleagues dread his trampling feet

The Warthog is too ugly

The rhino too riotous

And the pack trashes around

Like a snake without a head

“Our need calls for a hybrid of habits”

Proclaims the forest sage

“A little bit of a Lion

A little bit of a Lamb

Tough like a tiger, compassionate like a doe,

Transparent like a river, mysterious like a lake

A leader who knows how to follow

Followers mindful of their right to lead”.

Subject Matter

The first line of the poem, the Leader and the Led points to a focus on only the advanced stage in this important political leadership conference of animals.

The preparations for the event to appoint a fitting leader for the pack would have already taken place. So also are any introductory remarks and other initial activities of the event.

Therefore, what matters to the poet in the event is what we see. It is all about the political leadership contest and the debate among the competing contestants.

The contestants

Here is the full list of the contestants.








The animals vying for the leadership position are seven in number.

Another significant point in this narrative poem is that these are some of the most powerful animals in the forest.

They derive their power from either their “lethal appetite” for the flesh of those who would potentially become their followers or their sheer size or both.

To each one of these animals, its ferociousness and/or huge size qualifies him to become a leader.

But the weaker and smaller animals they hope to lead are not convinced.

They fear the repercussions of choosing candidates with a huge appetite for the flesh of their fellow animals to lead them.

This particularly applies to the Lion and the Hyena – the first two to make their claim to the leadership position.

Again, they are not going to choose a leader who openly displays qualities of lack of trustworthiness. This is why they scoff at the Zebra’s attempt to lead them.

As for the Giraffe, his abnormal height and shape appear to have made him ineligible. The animals will have none of a leader whose “eyes are too far from the ground”.

The Elephant’s massive size is what disqualifies him too. The way he easily destroys anything he steps his feet on instills mortal fear in everybody around.

So the animals don’t think it will be wise for them to entrust their security into his hands.

The last two contestants, the Rhino and the Warthog, are not any luckier.

What eliminates the Rhino is simply that he is too noisy and disorderly in his behaviour.

Interestingly, because of his repulsive or “ugly” looks, the Warthog does not stand a chance to become the leader of the animal world.

The forest sage’s intervention

Apparently, this is a state without a leader. It is at the brink of descending into a state of anarchy or lawlessness.

There is, therefore, the need for an intervention of some sort.

Thus, when all the seven contestants have finished making their case (without success), it is now the turn of the “forest sage” (the wisest among them) – not identified in the poem, to make an important intervention.

He advises strongly that the only solution to their problem is to find someone whose character is a blend of many of the qualities found in the individual claimants to the throne.

In other words, he does not think that animals that can only boast of a single dominant character trait are good enough to lead the pack.

Not only that.

The sage goes further to make it clear that such a leader must not only know how to lead. He must also be humble enough to be a follower.

And, ultimately, he must never lose sight of the fact that his mandate to lead comes from his followers to whom he must forever remain accountable.

“A little bit of a Lion

A little bit of a Lamb

Tough like a tiger, compassionate like a doe,

Transparent like a river, mysterious like a lake

A leader who knows how to follow

Followers mindful of their right to lead”.

Last word

This is your summary of the subject matter of Niyi Osundare’s poem, “The Leader and the Led”.

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Ralph Nyadzi

Ralph has a passion for the teaching and learning of Language and Literature mainly because these two help him to understand and appreciate why people act the way they do. Over the past two decades, he has coached over 5000 students and adult learners to achieve their educational goals. Ralph is the founder and CEO of Cegast Academy.

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