•Understanding the many components that can make us great again
By OLU ‘GBOYE
One could write volumes about the problems and failings that abound in the Nigerian State. From television interviews to roadside conversations, political roundtables to beer parlour discussions, there is no lack of commentary on the myriad of issues bedeviling the sleeping giant of Africa.
They are often debated amidst a spectrum of emotions spanning quiet calm to steaming vituperation. In every case, everyone seems to have a knack for bemoaning this country of great potential. In my last article, The Scarcity of Abundance, I contrasted reality against potential by portraying the fact that most of what we appear to lack is actually vastly abundant. I wrapped up by saying it was not enough to merely identify problems; proffering solutions to them is a higher virtue and more difficult task.
So, in this sequel, I would attempt to advance a few ideas fabricated from my adapted personal observations of what has worked elsewhere married with those pulled from the minds of others, and plain old common sense (not the political flavor). I do not claim to have all the answers or expertise, but what I do have are honest views and objective opinions. So let’s think together.
First, it is important to state that there is no silver bullet to solving Nigeria’s problems, neither are there any quick fixes. It would take a well thought out comprehensive strategy/plan and a coordinated execution of such plan to deliver a turnaround to Nigeria. The execution of the strategy will require actions free of complacency and untainted by sentiments. We would have to make hard and disruptive decisions with difficult short-term consequences in order to reap the overwhelming long-term benefits of those decisions. We will have to find a way to fabricate a constitution that works for all.
The first statement of what we currently call our constitution is a lie! “We the people” never met and agreed to that document in 1999. Great legal minds have called it a fraud and a document that contradicts itself. I wholesomely agree, but will leave the matter of the constitution to a fully dedicated write-up.
Our leaders shy away from taking aggressive actions either out of an underestimation of our complexities, sheer mischief, or fear of losing political capital. This has placed progressive development on the slaughter slab. A man in denial of what truly ails him is likely to take the wrong medication. Nigeria has been on the treatment table for decades and has suffered many things at the hands of many physicians.
Nigeria is akin to a powerful machine that has been stuttering and running below its installed capacity. To fix it, we will have to tweak some of its working parts and replace some altogether. There are many components in the making of a great nation and I could write volumes on each of the sections contained herein, however I will condense my thoughts into sectional summaries. LEVER I – LEADERSHIP
Nigeria has had many colorations of leadership – accidental, reviled, clueless and somewhat revered. Leaders shy away from taking aggressive actions either out of an underestimation of our complexities, sheer mischief, or fear of losing political capital. This has placed progressive development on the slaughter slab. Like a man in denial of what truly ails him, they misdiagnose Nigeria and develop solutions that are at best incompatible. My intention is not to appraise those who have led us in the past, but rather to present a profile of the kind of leader we desperately need.
It would take a new level of thinking to catapult Nigeria from where it currently is to a position of reckoning on the global stage. Only visionary leaders with futuristic instincts can produce this type of thinking. These individuals can marshal our natural endowments to create competitive advantages that will put us in pole position among other nations. For instance, as technology continues to advance at a rapid pace and as the world continues to advance towards clean and renewable energy, some oil producing countries are already planning for the post-oil era.
We are in the digital age and only ‘digital leadership’ can take us out of the woods. We should be thinking of how we can leapfrog other countries by leveraging technology. India attained high economic growth indices on account of this alone. We cannot afford to keep playing catch-up and merely consuming technologies produced elsewhere. We need to develop abilities for producing for a world that consumes Artificial Intelligence (AI). We need people will productive mindsets, not those who merely allocate and appropriate proceeds of oil revenue or what’s left of the proceeds after their pockets are filled.
We need strategic governance that can put our existing resources to the most valuable use, so that they not only sustain the present but also produce returns for the future generation of Nigerians. As a country, we must painstakingly evaluate the return on every naira spent. As things stand, we are not only squandering our assets, we are eating into the future and an economic time bomb looms. It was new thinking riding on the back of strategic governance that transformed countries once considered ragtag into technological and industrial behemoths. I am talking about China, India and the UAE (the one my country people know by one of its cities – Dubai).
Nigeria not only needs new leaders, the structure of governance must also change. As things stand, we run a system of government that is way too elaborate and much too expensive. A bi-cameral legislature with all the appurtenances is a huge burden on the national purse. Add that to an overelaborate executive arm that has hordes of aides and assistants strung to countless Political Office Holders (POHs). A huge percentage of these POHs contribute little or nothing to the overall scheme of things; they are merely appointed as ‘settlement’ for their political contributions to their principals.
Another step we must take is to make public office less lucrative. The biggest ‘industry’ in Nigeria is politics. For instance, It is widely acclaimed that federal legislators in Nigeria earn more than their counterparts in developed climes. A foray into politics in Nigeria is a stroll into the pathways of overnight financial breakthrough. No sooner are people elected or appointed into offices than they begin to amass a string of mansions and a fleet of luxury cars.
Our politicians have celebrity status and the glitz is evident for all to see. They rub it in our faces and fence off the people they claim to serve with their dark SUVs escorted by stern-faced, gun-wielding operatives of the Police, DSS or Civil Defense Corps. We need to separate the gold diggers and power thirsty from those who truly want to serve, and the best way to go about it is to significantly trim the perquisites of office.
We also have to take a look at the tiering of government – do we need a microcosm of the federal structure at the local level? We have something most other nations do not have – traditional rulers. What is their real role in delivering governance to the people? We need to go beyond preservation of our cultural values (which uncontrolled cultural imports from the West has irretrievably eroded), to the deployment of our traditional institutions as conduits of governance.
This may sound revolutionary or even controversial, but it is workable. We can borrow a leaf from the Emirati System of government. The UAE is a federation of seven emirates, each with its own ruler who oversees and conducts the affairs of government in his own realm. A council of ministers serves as cabinet to the ruler and a local legislature also exists. Space constrains me to fully elaborate on this, but it I worth looking into and I think it will go a long way in ensuring that the people get deserved attention at the so-called grassroots.
LEVER II – THE WHEELS OF GOVERNMENT
The civil service is the vehicle by which government executes its policies and programs. Development is inversely proportional to the efficiency of the public service. We have one too many federal agencies and way too many public servants. I use the term guardedly considering that they are called public servants but many serve their private interests mainly. This does not however discountenance the few of them who put in a good shift and make considerable sacrifices in service to their fatherland. Past attempts (and there have been several spanning decades) to reform the civil service have still not precipitated the intended effects.
This is largely attributable to the absence of the political will to take far-reaching decisions, and of course, the Labour Unions are there to contend with. For things to work, we must bring the efficiency of the private sector to public service. This is one of the mechanisms by which Singapore hurled itself from third world to first. Lean, nimble government is the way to go. N2.1 Trillion of the 2018 budget is earmarked for personnel cost (this does not include those of the National Assembly, Judiciary, INEC etc.). That is over 32% of the non-deficit portion of the proposed budget being spent on 8% of the population.
There is no plausible justification for this and is just not sustainable. We must merge a lot of Ministries, Departments, and Agencies. For example, roll the Police, Civil Defense, Road Safety, Peace Corps into one well trained and properly equipped Police Force. These figures are even more frightening across most of the 36 states. In many cases all the resources available to government are used to pay civil servants with nothing left over for any meaningful developmental projects.
The era of multiple agencies and parastatals with duplicated functions must become history. There must be very clear deliverables for every government establishment and worker. The run down poultry-like look of many government offices do not help matters. The office environment must be decent and respectable for the occupants, civil servants should be paid a living wage that is a disincentive to corruption occasioned by personal financial pressures and an absence adequate social safety nets (I do not make any justification for corrupt practices).
LEVER III – NIGERIANISM
Today, true Nigerianism is more a myth than a reality. What does it mean to be Nigerian besides having been born in Nigeria or to Nigerian parents or via naturalisation? Great nations have an overriding national ideal that everyone subscribes to or aspires towards – in the USA, there is the American Dream; the Japanese have their honour and believe they are the land of the rising sun expressed as Shokunin – valuing and mastering work; the Germans are known for their industry; the Swiss for financial acumen etc. Every true nation must have a sense of purpose that subsumes all sub-national interests.
We are yet to identify or define what our national raison d’être really is. Until it is more beneficial to be Nigerian than it is to be Idoma, Efik, Angas or Fulani, we will continue to suffer the scourges of nepotism, ethno-religious conflicts and misallocation of national resources e.g. situating infrastructure to where I come from rather than where it makes the most strategic sense. Nigeria is known for its oil, but great nations are known more for the positive values they portray than for the resources nature bequeathed to them.
What is that ‘noble cause’ that our National Anthem alludes to? Who are we, and how do we want the world to know us? We could choose to be the new frontier of African Industralisation, or the most energetic, hardest working people on the face of the earth, or simply ‘feeders of the world’ by growing the best organic food products. Whatever we choose to be must flow into every facet of our existence – from government policies and budgets, to school curricula and teaching methods. We need to clearly define ‘who we are.’ The fundamental restructuring Nigeria needs is restructuring the mind of Nigerians.
At this point I must take the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to task. They seem to have been first hijacked as a political propaganda machinery, then they went comatose. Today, we know they exist but we barely hear them. These are the crop of people who should ensure that our National DNA is so heralded that we are not blinded by primordial clannish proclivities. Every single one of us should be injected with our national values and virtues; they should be translated into every language, crafted it into songs and folklore until we bleed in green and our character is emblazoned with white.
Nigeria has remarkably honest and enterprising men and women just waiting for someone, or something, to gravitate around. Our Nigerianess must become unmistakably recognisable and respectable. We can and we must reverse all the negativity this country has become synonymous with over the years. This brings me to the next point…. To be continued
I had originally titled this article “Creating Abundance from Scarcity” as a sequel to my last article, but because of its centering on a futuristic portrait which we need to embrace and bring into reality it remains but a dream. A very achievable one!
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‘Gboye is a financial services and business engineering professional