Full Summary and Analysis of Niyi Osundare’s “The Leader and the Led”

This post offers a very good full summary and analysis of Niyi Osundare’s “The Leader and the Led.” From the biography of the poet, to the analysis, to the figurative language used in the poem, you can discover all you need to know about the poem. There is nothing left untouched as every subject matter is explored.

Biography of Niyi Osundare

Niyi Osundare was born in 1947 in Ikere-Ekiti in present-day Ekiti State. He is a prominent Nigerian poet, dramatist, and literary critic. He attended St. Luke’s Primary School, and Amaye Secondary School, both in his home town, Ikere-Ekiti. He finished his secondary school education at Christ School, Ado-Ekiti.

After his secondary school education, he proceeded to the University of Ibadan, where he acquired his Bachelor of Arts degree. He went on to bag his MA at the University of Leeds. Then obtained his PhD from York University, Canada. He returned to Nigeria, and lectured at the University of Ibadan for a long period of time.

Osundare has been a passionate writer against injustice and maladministration in Nigeria. His poems explore the tragedy that befalls the nation. He can be said to be in Achebe’s school of thought, who believes that a literary piece that is not exploring and tackling issues is dog sh*it. Thus, majority of his works tackle societal issues.

Due to his poetic style and his attempt to tackle societal issues, Niyi Osundare has gained a lot of recognition with his poems. He is one of the most popular poets in Nigeria. He has won some awards like the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, Nigeria National Merit award, and the Nigeria Author’s prize.

During Nigeria’s military junta, he wrote lots of popular poem tackling the government in power. As such, he was always under investigation by the military government. In the late 90s, Niyi Osundare left Nigeria to teach in the United States. He is still living and teaching in the United States.

The Background to the Poem

As it has been written earlier, Osundare wrote a lot of poems tackling several Nigerian governments in power. This is more especially the military governments, who committed lots of atrocities against Nigerians. This poem explores the situation of the harsh and uneven relationship between the Nigerian leaders and followers.

He uses a lot of African motif and idioms in his poems, so it is not surprising that he uses animals predominant in Africa to explore the issues in the poem. Each animal used in the poem represent either the leader or the led. He uses them to create a perfect description of the atmosphere in Nigeria.

Full Summary and Analysis of Niyi Osundare’s “The Leader and the Led”

The poem has 12 stanzas, and more than 15 lines. It is written in simple language. There are a lot of symbols in the poem.

The poem begins with a description of a leadership tussle among the animals. The animal considered the king of the jungle, the lion, stakes claim to the leadership of the animals. His leadership desire is opposed because of his ferocity.

Then, the hyena comes up to lead but his strange appetite is questioned. It moves on Giraffe, but his height is questioned. It moves on to the Zebra, and the contrasting colors of his skin is brought up as a great harbinger against his leadership desire.

The are also other animals who desire to lead like the elephant and the warthog. The rest of the animals always have one or two complaints about the animals to lead. The animals are confused on what to do and the right animal to pick.

At the end the Forest Sage comes up to state the mind of the majority of the animals: that there should be diversity in character and action of the leader expected to emerge. The animal should be “a little bit of a lion” and “a little bit of a lamb.” The animal should be fierce as well as gentle; it should be brutal as well as compassionate; it should be very hard working as well as considerate.

In the last part of the poem, the whole point of the poem is put into view: the leader should be someone who follows the ideas of the followers, and considers their plight. Therefore, there should be a cordial relationship between the leader and the led.

You should note that the persona’s use of animals are just mere symbols and motifs. It is called symbolism and imagery. The description and thoughts suits a perfect description of Nigeria’s followers and leaders.

Themes in Niyi Osundare’s “The Leader and the Led”

The are various themes in this poem. You should know that the predominant themes.

Leadership Problem: In the poem, you’ll notice that the followers are finding it hard to get the right leader because all those presenting themselves do not fully fit into their imagination of their leader. It can also be written that the right people are not the ones coming out to be the leaders.

At the end, the Forest Sage, who represents the intellectual class, states the perfect leader for the followers.

Abuse of Leadership: It is the attempt to prevent abuse of leadership that makes the followers find it difficult getting the right leader. They easily find fault in all the animals presented to them. Possibly, they have had a terrible past, and choose to make the right decision this time notwithstanding the time it would take.

The Need of Dutiful Followers: The persona through the story stated in the poem calls for dutiful followers. There is a need for the followers to ask the right questions, and deliberate well enough before making the choice of any leader. As the leaders should lead right so should the followers follow right.

A country with good leaders and bad followers will also be affected.

Literary Devices in Niyi Osundare’s “The Leader and the Led”

Symbolism and Motif: The persona makes use of symbols and motifs a lot in the poem. The use of animals such as lion, hyena, giraffe, and even the Forest sage, embodies symbolism and motif. Each of them represents a class of the leaders and the followers. You can judge who they represent by following what the persona describes as the characters and actions of these animals.

Imagery: The persona through the combination of words creates a perfect picture in the mind of the readers. The persona makes use of storytelling to make you imagine an animal kingdom with a leadership problem. The leadership problem is mainly caused by the lack of making the right decision by the people. Through the narration and description of the followers considering their leaders, you can detect the atmosphere and perfect imagery in the poem.

Figures of Speech in “The Leader and the Led”

Metaphor: There is widespread use of metaphor in the poem. However the most prominent one used is in “A little bit of a lion/A little bit of a Lamb.”

Simile: The area in the poem simile appears is in “Tough like a tiger, compassionate like a doe/Transparent like a river, mysterious like a lake.”

Personification: This is the most used figure of speech in the poem as all the animals are given human-like attributes.


This full summary and analysis of Niyi Osundare’s “The Leader and the Led” will guide you properly as you prepare for your exam. As you read this summary, you should also endeavor to study the poem. Success!

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