The Leader and The Led - Niyi Osundare Summary & Analysis
African Poetry: The Leader and The Led by Niyi Osundare Summary, Setting, Author's Background, Themes, Language and Style / Poetic Devices for JAMB, WAEC and NECO Literature Students 2021 - 2025 Syllabus.

It is no longer news that the above selected poetry is among the selected texts for literature students in the WAEC, NECO and JAMB Syllabus for 2021 - 2025.

Well we have decided to help students by providing some insights such as background, poetic devices, themes, structure and about the poet summary to aid them understand and prepare ahead of their examination.


Niyi Osundare is a Nigerian poet, dramatist, linguist, and literary critic. Born on March 12, 1947 in lkere—Ekiti (in present—day Ekiti state), his poetry is influenced by the oral traditions of his YorUba culture. Osundare is a champion of free speech and his creative and critical writings are closely associated with political activism, decolonization, black internationalism, and the environment. He is the recipient of numerous prizes, including the Noma Award (Africa's most prestigious book award), the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Poetry Prize, the Commonwealth Poetry Prize,and the Fonlon/Nichols Award, which he received in 1998 for "excellence in literary creativity combined with
significant contributions to Human Rights in Africa." In 2014, Osundare was admitted to the National Order of Merit, his country's highest honor for intellectual distinction. Until recently, he was Distinguished Professor of English at the University of New Orleans.


Niyi Osundare is a renowned champion of freedom of speech and one whose - commitment to socially relevant art and artistic activism writes "The leader and the led" to focus on the leadership and fellowship in Africa.

True that the battle for leadership in African is akin to the struggle for leadership in the animal kingdom as metaphorically presented in "The Leader and the Led".

Osundare has always believed in the power and the efficacy of the word, saying," to utter is to alter". This he believes there is no choice for an African poet but to be political.

In the poem," The leader and The Led" Osundare suggests that there is a need for a good leader as well as a good fellowship.


Osundare treats the subject matter of the poem as what can be termed "a cooperative venture". This he shed light on by using the animal metaphors to present the various behavioral traits that are relevant in the attainment of power.

Also, the poem brings to mind, "the animal farm" by George Orwell. The poem aims to satirize the political struggles in Nigeria and by extension other countries in Africa.


The Leader and the Led' is composed in form of a fable. It tells the story of an animal kingdom lacking leadership based on rivalry and imperfection. The poem metaphorically presents a heterogeneous society like Nigeria with the danger that will arise between the leader and the led.

In the poem, the most powerful animals in the kingdom saw the reason and right to become the ruler yet their power seemed to be their flaws. The trouble prolonged and the pack tussled like a snake without a head until the "Forest Sage" (in line18 stanza 9) proffered a solution.

According to the forest sage, strength alone isn't the yardstick for becoming a ruler but the balance of strength and weaknesses is a needed quality for any animal that will rule the pack well. Line 17 - 20:

Our need calls for a hybrid of habits//Proclaims the Forest Sage, //A little little bit of a lion//A large bit of a Iamb/Tough like a tiger, compassionate like a doe/Transparent like a river, mysterious like a lake'".

The forest sage in the poem represents the sense of reasoning that calls the animal to reason on the fact that the throne should go to any animal with a hybrid of habit. An animal with little quality of a lion; and little quality of a lamb. Such animals must be tough, compassionate, transparent, and mysterious.

It ends on the stance that the pack will experience peace if it appoints a leader who knows how to be a followed and followers who are mindful of their leadership rights.


The Theme of Leadership.

The theme of leadership is a dominant theme in Osundare's "The Leader and the Led". From its title to the subject matter, and the context of the poem, it is preoccupied with the importance of leadership. when we take a close analysis of the poem, from stanza one up to stanza seven, all most powerful animal wants to lead and no one wants to follow. However, the poem takes a turn at the intervention of the forest sage says: whoever wants to lead must first be a follower. (Line 17-20)

The Theme of Followership.

The theme of Followership works hand in hand with leadership. According to the poet proposition of whom is worthy to lead is only the person who has been a good follower.

But most importantly, the theme emphasizes the importance of having a good follower to succeed as a leader.

The Theme of lmperfection.

Another theme in the poem is the theme of imperfection. The poem sends the message that perfection is not the recipe for leadership. The animals that felt they are worthy because of their strengths and powerful qualities are disqualified like those who possess weaknesses. In lines 11 - 12 (The elephant trudges into the power tussle/ But his colleagues dread his trampling feet), the elephant strength disqualified him while the ugliness of warthog was a reason for his disqualification, as seen in line 13 (the warthog is too ugly).

The Theme of Balance

The theme of balance as seen in Lines 19- 22 : " 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'" shows that half strength and half weakness is the guaranteed trait of leadership. Niyi Osundare revealed the solution via the forest sage because it takes wisdom to arrive at any solution to a problem.


Osundare's "The Leader and the led" is written in 12 stanzas, each stanza has two lines, I.e in Couplet without an end rhymes. The first part of the poemjuxtaposed varying animals' choices to lead and those of followers against their leadership and the final four stanzas of the poem are solutions to the hovering choice of leadership problem in the animal kingdom.

In terms of diction, Osundare's choice of words was straight, easy to read and understand by all works of life.

Finally, the poet employs the use of third-person narrative techniques with a climactic tone, starting with the problem of who-fits-the-throne to the solution proffered by the forest sage. The tone of the mood can be described as unrest, rivalry, and disagreement.


Many poetic devices deployed into Osundare's The Leader and The Led" are the use of:


A simile is a poetic device that compares two unlikely with the use of "as " or "like". We see the usage in the poem in line16: "like a snake without ahead", the poet states that the pack has no leader and. it thrashes around like a snake without ahead This comparison helps to solidify the understanding we get of a society without a leader. other uses of simile are seen in lines 21 and 22.

Use of Alliteration

Alliteration; successive use of consonant sounds within a line or two in a poem. "hybrid of habits" in line 17, "far from the ground" in line 8, "pounce of his paws" in line 4, "The pack points to" in line 10.

Use of Imagery

Imagery; using words or expressions to create a mental picture in a poem so the readers can see, smell, feel the event clearer. Few in the poem are "But the impalas shudder at his lethal appetite" in line 6, "And the pack trashes around" in line 16, "The pack points to the duplicity of his stripes" in line 10.

Use of Metaphor

The use of metaphor in the poem The leader and the led' is dominant. Metaphor is an indirect comparison in a work of art. The poem is built on a metaphorical ground, that is, It is a metaphor of things that happen in a human democratic setting whenever it comes to the issue of electing a new leader was creatively presented as an animal kingdom.

Use of Symbolism

Symbolism; using words or expressions to represent status, event, or idea. In the poem The Leader and the Led, the term "Forest Sage" symbolized a wise person which is a normal human democratic setting that presents the poet.

Use of Antithesis

Apart from the dominant use of metaphor in the poem, another prevalent poetic device is the use of Antithesis.

This is creating an opposing or contrasting opinion or character in a work of art. It is a dominating poetic device because the most line of the couplets shares opposite characters. Hyena versus impalas in stanza 3 "The hyena says the crown is made for him/ But the impalas' shudder at his lethal appetite" and the elephant versus the colleagues in stanza 6.

Another instance of antithesis is in the stanza.