we Analysis of the Leader and the Led by Niyi Osundare ~ Naija Poets

TITLE: The Leader and the Led
POET: Niyi Osundare
OTHER POEMS: They Too Are the Earth
GENRE: Poetry
DENOTATION: Quest for leadership in the animal kingdom.
POINT OF VIEW: Third person
FLOW: Climactic
THEMES: Leadership, Nature, Imperfection, Balance, etc
STRUCTURE: Twelve (12) Stanzas
POETIC DEVICES: Antithesis, Simile, Alliteration,
FLOW: Climactic
TONE AND MOOD: Rivalry, unrest and disagreement
SIMILAR POEM: Ambush by Gbemisola Adeoti


The Leader and the Led is a poem crafted by Niyi Osundare in form of a fable. It tells a story of an animal kingdom lacking leadership based on rivalry and imperfection.

Most powerful animal in the kingdom saw the reason and right to become the ruler yet their power seemed to be their flaws (the reasons for them not to be voted). The trouble prolonged until the “Forest Sage” (in line18 stanza 9) proffered solution.

According to the forest sage, strength alone isn’t the yardstick for becoming a ruler. The balance of strength and weakness is the 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 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’” 


The poet Niyi Osundare was born 1947 in Ikere Ekiti, Ekiti state, Nigeria. Professor Niyi Osundare is a teacher of language, a mild activist and a member of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). 

Other poems written by the poet are They Too Are The Earth, Not My Business, Earth's Eye View, Ours To Plough Not To Plunder, and many more. 


Let’s write the context of the poem in prose form.

The antelopes aren’t in support of the lion becoming the leader of the jungle because of the ferocious pounce of his paws on them. Likewise the impalas are scared of the hyena’s lethal appetite.

The whole forest stood on the fact that giraffe eyes is too far from the ground; therefore, he’s not fit for the crown. They saw the fact that zebra possesses too many stripes; therefore he’s not fit for the crown. They saw the fact that strides of the elephant is too deadly; therefore, he’s not fit for the crown.

The forest doesn’t want an ugly king, which is why warthog is not an option and they do not want a riotous king, which is why rhino is not an option as well.

The pack continued to live without a king until the Forest Sage proffered a solution.

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 animal must be tough, compassionate, transparent and mysterious.

The pack will remain peaceful, once there is a leader who knows how to be a follower and followers who are mindful of their leadership rights.


The Leader and the Led by Niyi Osundare is a fable.
A fable is a style in literature where animals are the characters and mostly crafted for the purpose of teaching a moral lesson. Instances are Animal Farm by George Orwell, Fable by Ralph Waldo Emerson

The poem (The Leader and the Led) is a 12 stanza couplet void of planned end-rhymes and rhythms. The first part of the poem juxtaposed varying animals’ choice to lead and those of followers against their leadership. The final four stanzas of the poem are solution to the hovering choice of leadership problem.

The diction employed by Professor Osundare was as straight as arrow; no employment of grammar too hard for an English language beginner.

The poem was narrated through a third person view and the flow of event was climactic; starting with problem of who-fits-the-throne to the solution proffered by the forest sage. The tone and the mood can be described as of unrest, rivalry and disagreement.


There are many themes in the poem, such as (a) the theme of leadership (b) the theme of nature (c) the theme of imperfection (d) the theme of balance.

In the theme of leadership, the title and the context of the poem are fully about leadership. The title of the poem “the Leader and the Led” creates juxtaposition between two subjects (leading and following). The whole poem is about who wants to lead and who doesn’t want to be a follower of a certain leader.

The characters and the setting in the poem, reveal the theme of nature. Such characters and environment send a feeling of freshness and greenness to the readers of the poem.

Memory of the zoo or that of the jungle book is revived. The forest where every event happens, the giraffe, the zebra, the lion, the impala, the antelope, are words portraying living natures.

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 line 11 – 12 (The elephant trudges into the power tussle/ But his colleagues dread his trampling feet), the elephant strength disqualified him while the weakness of warthog was his certificate of disqualification, as seen in line 13 (the warthog is too ugly).

The theme of balance shows that half strength and half weakness is the guaranteed trait to leadership. Professor Osundare revealed the solution via the forest sage because it takes wisdom to arrive at any solution to a problem.

Line 17 – 20:
“’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’”


The obvious and simple to remember  among the poetic devices embedded in the poem are (a) simile (b) antithesis (c) symbolism (d) imagery (e) alliteration (f) repetition (g) metaphor

Simile; creating comparison with the use of like or as. In the poem, there's "like a snake without a head" in line 10, " Tough like a tiger, compassionate like a doe" in line 19, “Transparent like a river, mysterious like a lake" in line 20.

Metaphor; is an indirect comparison in a work of art. The poem The Leader and the Led was built on a metaphorical ground. It is a metaphor of things that happen in a human democratic setting whenever it comes to the issue of electing a new leader.

Repetition; is a poetic device where certain words, phrases, lines, or verses are repeated twice or more to create a sing-song rhythm or emphasis in a poem. Just for mentioning sake, few words repeated in the poem are “pack” in line 2, 10, 15. “lead” in line 9 and 24. Repetition of phrase such as “A little bit of a” in stanza 12.

 Imagery; using words or expressions to created 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.

Symbolism; using word or expression to represent a status, event, or idea. In the poem The Leader and the Led, the term “Forest Sage” symbolised a wise person which in a normal human democratic setting represents the poet.

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.

Antithesis; creating an opposing or contrasting opinion or character in a work of art. This is the dominating poetic device because most line of the couplets share 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 stanza 11.


Ambush by Gbemisola Adeoti is a poem similar to “The Leader and the Led”. Both poets are Nigerians belonging to the Yoruba ethnic.

In a metaphorical manner, Ambush by Gbemisola Adeoti buttressed the prevailing hardship and insecurity in a given community as a result of bad governance; dwellers were left with nothing but helplessness and hopelessness.

The characters in the poem “Ambush” are animals such as giant whale, sabre tooth tiger, etc.


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