EHIME ALEX, in this piece, discusses SPPG’s strategy to change Africa’s political narrative

There is no greater truism than the fact that Africa, especially Nigeria, needs exemplary leaders and followers to build its polity and make the citizenry enjoy the dividends of democracy. Put succinctly, Nigeria needs good governance! Regrettably, failure at providing good governance has been the lot of almost every Nigerian government, whether military or civilian.

Lack of good governance has not only eroded public trust, but also impeded Nigeria’s political, economic, social and human development. Our political leaders and their cronies mostly engage in various schemes of corruption, incompetence and ineffectual governance at the expense of the masses, some of who become vote-sellers and praise-singers to eke out a living.

Oby Ezekwesili

Several scholars posit that Nigerians collectively lack a clearly defined vision championed by their leaders, and that this has remained the country’s political albatross since it became independent more than 60 years ago. Nigeria’s multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious society would arguably do better if anchored on a well-defined national vision, with the leadership leading the diverse people to define and own. But that had not been the case. The cost is evident in the serial failure of the country to evolve into a nation and realise its enormous potential.

However, hope still beckons.

Established a year ago, the SPPG, as it is popularly known, is an unconventional School of Politics, Policy and Governance. It is deliberate in design to use its unique and customised curriculum in building a new genre of political leadership in Nigeria and across Africa. The school is set for its maiden convocation for the first set of students, some of who will vie for political offices in Nigeria’s next general elections in 2023. The graduating set, known as #SPPGPioneerClass2021, were trained on an eight-month world-class multidisciplinary curriculum.

“SPPG is focused on building ethical, competent and capable leaders and producing at scale a new genre of public leadership that serves the people and delivers on governance. Leadership for results and positive impact is a mission that SPPG has determined to make the most important conversation on the public space of Nigeria and the rest of Africa,” said the founder of SPPG, Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili.

The 2019 Presidential candidate in Nigeria and former World Bank Vice President added that the lack of quality leadership “has cost Africa so much as a continent, and the only answer to it is the SPPG vision of continuously producing the right kind of leaders for public governance.”

What is politics, if not “the organising of society for the benefit of citizens in all aspects of good governance and achieving progressive improvement in their standard of living?”

Fruit of #FixPolitics Initiative

Unveiled by the #FixPolitics Initiative, which was the output of Dr Ezekwesili’s fellowship at the Robert Bosch Academy in Germany in 2020, SPPG was founded in January 2021 as one pillar of the tripod of democracy canvassed in her research. The vision and desire to set up the school had started in 2019, when leading Nigerian intellectuals were invited by Ezekwesili to Berlin to discuss her research findings and collectively shape how Nigeria and Africa, more broadly, could establish an entirely new political order.

The #FixPolitics Initiative emerged from a quest to tackle the dismal performance of public leadership in Africa. The idea is to embark on a mission that changes the troubling history that despite Africa’s wealth of natural and human resources, the continent has continued to lag behind others in the most objective and measurable indicators of human and economic development.

“The school is a game-changer. This is what we have been waiting for – an opportunity to build a new class of political leaders known for their character, competence and strong capacity to deliver on their promise of good governance and excellent leadership,” said the Chief Executive Officer of SPPG, Alero Ayida-Otobo.

So, in 2020, the reality that is SPPG began through the three work study group of #FixPolitics community, which is anchored by ethical and mission-driven Nigerians interested in the founding of a world-class learning centre, as well as the development of new ideas around strengthening the country’s value systems, to help empower the electorate and reform the constitutional, political and electoral ecosystem.

SPPG has a distinguished local, African and international 94-member faculty made up academics, experts and other professionals, many of whom are world renowned political thinkers, economic experts, industry leaders, scientists, philosophers and tech gurus with rich profile and undiluted knowledge and expertise in diverse fields. These men and women include Dr Ezekwesili, Prof Pat Utomi, Prof Mark Hallerberg, Prof Celestin Monga, Rosa Whitaker, Prof Andrea Roemmele, Prof Bayo Olukoshi, Dr Jibrin Ibrahim, Dr Okey Ikechukwu, Frank Nweke (Jr), Dr Sam Adeyemi and Dr Clare Lockhart.

Alero Ayida-Otobo

A few others include Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Dr Usman Bugaje, Dr Sam Amadi, Dr Doyin Salami, Chido Onumah, Kah Walia, Abubakar Suleiman, Richard Duke, Dr Amina Salihu, Dr Yetunde Anibaba, Ayida-Otobo and many such distinguished personalities.

The past one year was especially challenging, but we survived, the Pioneer Dean of SPPG, Dr Amina Salihu, said. “We learnt that leadership lies in inspiring oneself, to inspire others, as we heard from our incredibly gifted global faculty in telling their stories and living their moment in class and beyond.

“We learnt there could be no substitute for character, competence and capacity. And even in a world where infrastructural deficiencies occasion tensions, we will not lower our standards. Our philosophy of doing what is right, even where it is an aberration and not the norm, reigns supreme. We must continue to seek and ensure justice and inclusion for all,” she added.

Agenda and mission

As part of the values pillar of the #FixPolitics Initiative, SPPG has the goal of transforming politics in Nigeria and the rest of Africa. It is set to build a massive base of a new value-based and disruptive thinking political class with the requisite knowledge and skill to lead effectively.

Built on the mission of #FixPolitics, SPPG is integral to the fulfilment of the group’s mission to elevate the “Office of the Citizen” to its rightful place in the society and develop a political class of servant-leaders. The school is designed to attract, develop and produce a new generation of political leaders, who will listen and serve the new class of citizens that know their rights as well as produce 21st Century politicians who will be known for their “values-driven character, unquestionable competence and undeniable capacity,” said SPPG.

The foundational programme of SPPG comes with a careful blend of global, continental and Nigeria-based learning. This involves an eight-month curriculum of carefully selected courses that are analytically and empirically relevant to solving Africa’s complex development problems, and to introduce students to the theory and practice of politics, policy and leadership for the common good.

Its enriched curriculum offer 140 topics of courses within seven thematic areas of Politics, Ethics and Leadership; Political Economy and Engagement in a Democracy; Economic and Sector Policies for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity; Good Governance, Institutions Building and Citizens’ Engagement; Trends in Public Leadership and Innovations; Running for Political Office; and Capstone Community Projects. It was Ezekwesili’s #FixPolitics research that identified these thematic clusters as key to the development of a peaceful, prosperous and progressive country in the 21st Century.

Amina Salihu

“Poverty mentality is not just about not having money; it is also about paucity of ideas. We are training a cadre of leaders on our continent that are going to have dignity in themselves and a sense of value, where they are not subordinating the public good for self-interest. We are addressing the mindset shift. That is the kind of curriculum we are delivering,” Ezekwesili said.

Commitment to new Africa

SPPG has set the goal of raising and preparing 10,000 disruptive thinking, values-based political leaders over the next 10 years, said Ayida-Otobo.

Her words, “I am proud to celebrate the first 156 ‘Unconventionals’ that will serve Nigeria by living the tenets of our five Cs: Character, Competence, Capacity, Courage and Compassion.

“You are the designers, curators and builders of the Nigeria of our dreams. Your journey on the road less-travelled, the journey to nation building, has begun. When I think of great men and women like Nelson Mandela and Indira Gandhi that stood firm, refusing to waver till they shifted the trajectory of their nations, I cannot but wonder how many of you are ready to do likewise.”

According to Ayida-Otobo, to navigate the future and think like patriotic leaders requires taking up the qualities of “unquenchable quest” to raise standards, kick down limiting doors and have a mindset transformation.

“All great nations began their journey to development by raising the standards of governance, rule of law, ethics and the standard of public education and health,” she said. “We have a mission – you and I – to raise an army strong and mighty with individuals that refuse to do things in the same old way. They are courageous and not easily frightened or deterred.”

SPPG graduating students speak

Fatihah Ayinde

“With value-based learnings at the heart of our unconventional education, it would come to be that I became part of a critical mass with the capacity for disruptive thinking and transformative leadership.”

Ayobami Olunloyo

“The school built and validated my competence and capacity to lead, while heightening my passions to deliver a consequential impact in Nigeria. More than ever, I am convinced that Nigeria’s greatness will only be unlocked when we solve our leadership problem, and my experience at the SPPG equipped me for that mission.”

Omoaholo Omoakhalen

“SPPG stirred in me an unquenchable patriotic drive. That drive inspired my moderating three unforgettable classes on Good Governance, Conflicts of Interest and the Rentier State taught by the founder, Ezekwesili.”

Halimah Tauheed

“Being an academic, I always assumed it would be in the form of some ground-breaking research. Little did I know that the plan would not quite go that way? I had never paid particular attention to politics or governance or policy-making. Then God led me to apply to the SPPG and thus demanded that I go on a journey of self-discovery to ascertain if I was ready to be a member of an ‘elite class’ who are ready to pay the price to fix Nigeria.”

Abdulrahman Zubairu

“SPPG did a great job building our capacity – teaching us good governance and public stewardship. We understand that it will take visionary leaders with a selfless attitude towards the promotion of our national interest to move Nigeria forward.”

Mrs Adeola Azeez

“The classes revealed to us the ‘fierce urgency of the now’ – need for fire-in-the-belly activism! As a political aspirant, participating in the SPPG programme was one of the best decisions I ever made to equip me for my next career phase. The vision, mission and focus at SPPG align with my political goals and plans. The programme has opened my mind to diverse ways of thinking and looking at issues from an evidence-based perspective.”

Anita Ambi-Abraham

“Through it all, though, this unconventional school birthed hope in me, made me an aware citizen, who is not cruising through life anymore, but deliberate about organising a community of students, who will reach and change other students.”

Opeyemi Babajide

“Nation-building is indeed a co-creating effort. There are several other creative minds and leaders in different sectors of society to learn and glean from. There is no one-size-fits-all in ideas, where the building is concerned and everyone who brought their A-game added to every significant learning I had.”

Ifeoma Okeke

“I am currently looking forward to deploying my skills into reshaping Nigeria to a better place for the next generation. A single twig breaks, but the bundle of twigs is strong. We are better together!”

In Africa’s politics and governance, the time of the unconventional has come!

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