Dr Usman Bugaje, an intellectual, served as Political Adviser in the Presidency under the Obasanjo administration. In this piece, Bugaje, also a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), diagnoses Nigeria at 57 and points the way forward.

Admittedly, at a popular level, where the media operates, the trend is to oversimplify, gloss over and sometimes sweep uncomfortable truth under the carpet; all in the vain hope of changing the weather by simply changing the forecast. And our governments have been in the business of this racket of making false forecast, raising hopes that keep crushing at the end of every budget circle. I would have, therefore, preferred to reframe the issue and approach it from the perspective of ‘how Nigeria can survive and thrive in the 21st century’! This approach underscores the significance and primacy of knowledge, not only science and technology but also, and some would say, even more importantly, advancement in social thinking. For, while science and technology can tell you what you can do and what you can’t do, it is social thinking (philosophy, ethics and strategy), which tells you what you should do and what you shouldn’t do.

Furthermore, this approach has the advantage of recognising an inescapable reality, which is that, in the 21st century, knowledge is the greatest capital. Just some 40 years ago, oil was the symbol of wealth, and the oil sheikh was the face of global wealth. Today, the richest man, Bill Gates, has nothing to do with oil, his source of wealth is knowledge driven by creativity. Knowledge, today, is the face of wealth and the only thing that gives a country, or indeed any corporate entity an edge over others in an increasingly competitive environment, is knowledge. From Greek antiquity to our contemporary times, knowledge has always been inextricably linked to human development. The competitive environment of the 20th century has accentuated this reality and made it an absolute imperative. Once you fail to prioritise knowledge you are out, no two ways about it.

Usman Bugaje


Having clarified my point of departure let us start with some kind of baseline. In the last two decades or so, our country has been defined by weak and failing institutions, pervasive and abject poverty, stinking corruption, deplorable social services, ever-deepening and widening social conflicts, erosion of social and moral values, stagnating economy and absence of jobs, poor appreciation of the future, lack of the prioritisation of knowledge and the consequent pursuit of parochial and ethnic agendas, all fuelled by a mercantile (cash and carry) politics. Citizens’ lack of trust in some of the most critical institutions like the police, the judiciary and the National Assembly summarises the state of our nation.

Recent reports have consistently perceived some of these institutions to be overwhelmingly corrupt and failing to deliver to the expectations of citizens. The word Nigeria is becoming synonymous with corruption and it is not too far off the mark when one recalls the fact that  within eight years  (1999-2007), the nation spent over $16billion on the power sector without a single increase in megawatt of electricity and no one has gone to jail.

That within the same period and in spite of unprecedented revenue from oil poverty doubled from 35% – 70% says so much about the etiology of our poverty and fiasco that has come to be our governance. That we are still obsessed with oil, a dwindling resource of receding value, shows our poor appreciation of the future. That our religiosity has not helped us much during this period exposes our hypocrisy and the level of the decomposition of our society. That our political leadership doesn’t find anything wrong with all these, much less make any visible efforts to change, speaks volumes about the quality or lack of it as it were of this leadership.

Post –oil economy

So, given where we are, how do we survive and thrive in the 21st century? The first step is to decide where we want to be in the next 25 or 50 years. As the old line goes, “no winds are favorable until one knows to which port they are sailing.” At our current rate of population growth of over 3% per annum, we are expected to be well over 250million by 2030, just a dozen years away. The children out of school may come to about 20 million; jobless graduates may come to about 25 million, etc. So how do we find schools for this teeming population? How do we create jobs for the youth bulge? Where do we find the resources to do all this, given a post-oil economy? What kind of institutions do we need to ensure our competitiveness? How do we plan for this future in a century where knowledge is the greatest capital? Where do we find the leadership to conceive all these and drive the implementation of the plan?

Governance in the 21st century, as we can see, is a corporate scientific business. It is neither the business of the poorly educated, frivolous, prodigal politicians that cannot think beyond the next election, nor of crooks whose greatest incentive is the looting of the treasury. Governance in the 21st century requires a leadership that is soundly educated, with the ability to think of and plan for the next generation, rather than just the next election. Governance today needs a good understanding of global economics, international relations and strategic thinking, precisely the ability to see the various options and the courage to make hard choices. Governance in the 21stcentury is a team-work and needs leaders with the ability to prioritise competence and to fish out competent people and the confidence to work with them without this childish idea of loyalty which makes leaders to fill the corridors of power with people from their household and villages. The key to our survival and thriving, back to glory, if you wish, is nothing but leadership! Whatever ideas you may have can only work when there is the leadership to understand the ideas and the capacity and staying power to implement them to fruition.

Right calibration

The tragedy is that our current political institutions are not calibrated to produce this kind of leaders. The kind of leaders we are producing is demonstrated by a recent APC primary election, a mercantile political culture that is clearly cash and carry. It clearly sends the signal that politics is the only vocation that requires neither qualification nor preparation, nor character. With this kind of political parties, only crooks can emerge and all they do is steal the public treasury blind, leaving the wider society high and dry. So, the first step in making Nigeria survive and thrive in the 21st century is to install a political party whose leadership recruitment mechanism is calibrated to xxx, the kind of leadership which understands the 21st century and its challenges and has the courage to make the hard choices to take this country out of the abyss to the path of growth. Can this be done? Yes it can be done. It has been done by others and we certainly can. Those who think we can’t should take a back seat and allow those who can to do it. How do we do it?: A good question for another article.

In short we can’t fix this country until we fix its politics. We can’t fix its politics until we reinvent our political parties and recalibrate its leadership recruitment mechanism. We can’t fix the political parties until those who understand the leadership required to face the challenges of the 21st century get into the party administration and redesign the way parties are run. We have to stop the money-bags, the crooks and diffident politicians from sending their cronies to run or ruin, as it were, the parties on their behalf. A tall order some would say. Perhaps. All we need is a critical mass of good and conscientious men and women to move into the party that matters and work it out. As Edmund Burke would say, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing”.


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