Moving Nigeria away from failing and failure
As boy in the 1960’s and very early 1970’s, I used to sit and watch the Super tankers at Anglesey in Wales, filled with crude-oil, going to discharge their cargos at Milford Haven oil terminal in the UK. I was of the belief that some might have been arriving from Nigeria, our country, and thus used to spend time wondering how things were at “home.” Did you know that if a Crude Oil Super tanker, which is several soccer football fields long. They were so large that the crew used bicycles and phones at specific points to move around and communicate; this was after all before mobile phones. If the Captain of Crude Oil Super tanker wishes to stop at a specified point, he or she must start reversing its engines seven (7) miles before that point, i.e. take decisive action long before the challenge is even seen, due to the momentum of this mammoth vessel. A country like Nigeria is like a massively complex and much bigger version of a Crude Oil Super tanker.
The recent ranking of Nigeria as number 14 of the worlds failed states by the Fund For Peace’s (FFP) annual Failed States Index (FSI) http://www.fundforpeace.org/global/?q=fsi-grid2012 has engendered some interesting discussions. However, few have articulated what we can and should do. In this article, I will endeavour to suggest one of several possible solution paths.
The President of any nation, like the Captain of the Super Tanker, must anticipate and take action long before issues become manifest else the ship of state will fail. He, or she, must build an empowered, functional and disciplined team as well as leverage the efficiencies of appropriate technology. Arguably the challenges and seeds of failure as measured by the FSI can be seen as manifestations of the apparent disruptive and unplanned changes in course, decapitation of our leadership/ captains and subsequent drift, of the Nigerian ship of state through the truncation of the first “democratically” elected post-independence civilian government. This has been compounded by the penchant of Government, at all levels, for sudden policy reversals, summersaults and unpredictable changes of helmsmen which leads to the same type of malaise. Changing a discredited policy, or person, needs to be done promptly and without malice. However, it is the frequency, lack of transparency of the process and the lack of stakeholder input that often fosters instability.
The FSI is based on an analysis of 12 publically available social, economic and political indicators which are in-turn each split into an average of 14 sub-indicators. The indicators have a rating scale of 1 (low) being the most stable and 10 (high) being the most at-risk of collapse and violence. The results are cross-referenced with quantitative analysis and qualitative inputs based on major events in the countries examined to arrive at overall scores for each country. These computed results are checked against a comprehensive set of vital statistics as well as human analysis. For example an indicator would be how well does a government provide public services for its citizens? Thus, Somalia that is not providing such services scores 10. At the other end of the spectrum, because Sweden extensively provides health, education and other public services, it scores a 1 or 2. An example of a social indicator is “Demographic Pressure” and examples of two of its sub-indicators are Mortality and Pollution.
I live in Nigeria and I assure you that the reality of our situation is that Nigeria has already failed woefully as a state. Each of us is a government unto themselves because we provide our own security (Maigardi), power (generator), water (borehole), education (lesson teachers), health (self-medication and local herbalists), waste/ trash disposal (incinerator at the back of the house) and on and on. The nation state, as it currently exists, provides little if any value to the shrinking so called productive middle class of Nigeria, talk less of Nigerians at the lower socio-economic levels. Even the insulated rich are not immune. The FSI numbers buttress what all Nigerians perceive and experience.
Nigeria’s failure as a state occurred many years and probably decades ago. What we have been experiencing is like an accident in slow motion. It has already happened; all we are witnessing today are the effects and aftermath. There is a Greek proverb that says “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.” How many of our elders and seniors simply took care, and continue to take care, of only themselves and their immediate family instead of making the requisite investments for generations after them to reap. It seems that only a few did so. Before you pass judgement however we need to consider how many of us today are investing for generations after us to reap? I think we should not concern ourselves much with if the state will fail, but appreciate that the Nigerian state has failed and we must now make some stark choices which are rebuild, start again or give up and go our separate ways. Muddling along, as we seem to do, is tantamount to giving up because that will be the logical result.
I wish that we collectively figure out how to restart, reset and rebuild. I believe that we are all better off together as Nigerians, in a just and democratic Nigeria. It is in our strategic, economic, cultural and social enlightened self-interest to be an efficiently functioning “big fish” nation with scalable opportunities instead of several insignificant “minnow” nations. I believe that our best opportunity for long-term development and advancement is within the context of an environment with strong and just democratic institutions. However, we must ALL actively participate in our democracy, for as the Greek philosopher Plato observed, around 400 BC,”One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” When the time comes for us to decide for whom we cast our precious vote, we must each ourselves as the same question that late Ronald Reagan of the USA asked during the presidential campaign of 1980 which was “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”
The FSI report statistically confirms my anecdotal experience on the apparent dwindling importance of government to me as a Nigerian in the late 80 and early 90s. At that time, I lived in Kaduna as a budding entrepreneur, and the Public servants went on strike. Life continued as normal, the only challenge I had was that I was temporarily “UNABLE” to pay my taxes because the tax office was closed. This meant that I could not secure a tax clearance certificate to get government business. However, there was no government business as such, because the Public servants were on strike. Thought the textiles and other industries in Kaduna were in terminal decline, they still provided sufficient alternative business and cushion for life to continue. I believe that, I, and those I knew, did not miss the government. So if I and my contemporaries in the city did not miss government, I believe that our contemporaries in the villages were for all intents and purposes oblivious. The FSI statistics support the official narrative, as well as the general perception, that Nigerian has been experiencing growth without commensurate development. Development fosters productivity and many of us acknowledge that our productivity in Nigeria has significantly declined overtime. As Bryan Acheampong in his article titled “Development and Growth are Not the Same.” http://www.modernghana.com/news/133972/1/development-and-growth-are-not-the-same.html noted “Growth is an increase in size or number. Development is the increase in ability and desire to satisfy one’s own needs and legitimate desire and those of others. A rubbish heap grows but does not develop, and a person can develop without physically getting larger. Growth does not necessarily imply an increase in value; development does.”
I smile weakly when people speak of the “good old days.”The good old days are a myth. There were many problems and challenges also in days gone by, the challenges may seem modest by today’s standards, which they may actually be. However, such challenges, given the standards of the time, were no less significant and disheartening to the people. The first and subsequent coups did not arise out of thin air; and the Civil War also did not just happen; and certainly the era of debilitating military-autocracy was not put in place by magic. They were the result of, arguably, still unresolved challenges, that sooner or later we must properly identify, dispassionately assess and discuss them and then firmly resolve so as to lay them to rest once and for all. As we do so however, we must take to heart the wise words of the US statesman General Colin Powell who noted that “Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.” This maybe the only method, the contending interest groups can use, to move our nation, and its diverse people, onwards and upwards. The real concern is that we have not yet decided, as a people, to embark on a path of recovery, rebuilding and transformation despite the current hype, much less work towards it. So like a hiker on a trek, we have an array hills and possible routes before us. Sadly however many of us, especially those in positions of power or leadership, cannot even see the obstacles before us, due in part because they are not leaders in the real sense, nor have developed the capacity to do, often through no fault of theirs. As we know, nature abhors vacuums and thus fills leadership positions with whatever is available. Some also speak of the challenges of the followership, which are real.
However, it is the duty of leadership to guide the followership with a vision, and by example, like Moses, to the “promised land.” Anyway, as hikers, we are yet to decide to climb any hill and certainly we have not chosen which one is best for us to collectively climb. Arguably it is the duty of the leadership to assess which hills we need to climb, and route to follow, and then galvanise the followership to do so.
I love our country Nigeria, and it saddens me greatly to see us continue to waste lives, capacities and potentials, not just from crude extrajudicial, and other illegal, killings but from wasted opportunities, underutilised human resource and the lack of basic leadership capacity to identify and do what is right while credibly forbidding or discouraging what is wrong. This manifests itself in all spheres of our life, and has seeped into all our pores to the extent that many Nigerians suffer from “poverty of the soul” regardless of our bank balances. Arguably, the endemic and disproportionate corruption is a manifestation of our desire “oppress our fellow Nigerian” due to the poverty of our own souls, as we as a manifestation of the breakdown of the various mechanisms society uses to impose limits and sanctions for crossing such limits.
“What can we do?” I believe that we must start with ourselves as responsible individuals. Each of us needs to create an island of sanity internally, and endeavour to influence ourselves, and then our immediate family thus making our homes, and those in it, islands of sanity. We need to seek out like minds and endeavour to link up these disparate islands of sanity with the intent of forming a sane nation. Is it and overnight solution? No, it will take time. I am afraid that quick solutions do not work with Super tankers either. Furthermore, if it were easy, it would likely have already been done. An island of sanity as a metaphor encompasses doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong as best you can, while adjusting, minimising and optimising where such notions impinge on life, liberty and basic economic and biological survival. For some of us, our offices can become islands of sanity, especially if your foot print of interaction with Government is as minimal as practically possible, given each person’s specific circumstances. For those in government, it is not easy, but it is possible to create islands, which by definition are small. If you don’t then who will?
My underlying philosophy is rooted in the Arabic word “Iqra” which can be loosely interpreted to mean read or seek knowledge. My intuition and experience lead me to believe that, after the fear and worship of the Almighty, Education in the broad sense is the fundamental key to “EVERYTHING.”
As you are no doubt aware, Human experience demonstrates that it is not technology, infrastructure or finance per-se, but attitude predicated on correct knowledge that positively develops mankind, societies and economies. As a nation, we need to create virtuous cycles fostered by the synergies derivable from the TRIPLE HELIX of Government, Industry (private sector) and Academia to spur innovation by empowering our citizens with knowledge, so that they will translate that knowledge into productive goods and services. There is a Chinese Proverb to the effect that “If you are planning for next year grow rice, if you are planning for decades grow trees, if you are planning for centuries grow people.” The prophets of all the major religions “grew” people, be it the “Disciples” of Jesus or “Sahabah” of Mohammed, as the case maybe, and thus there are lessons for current and aspiring leaders. We must ask ourselves what we are individually and collectively planning for. The answer will provide some indication as to how far and how well our ship will sail.
I often say to people, ok, so if Mr. President walks into this room right now, what advice can you give him? What if he asks you what will/can/should Nigeria and he as President Do? My take is that he must provide the leadership to plan to build, and then build according to plan, yet remain tactically flexible. We build by leveraging positive attitudes predicated on correct knowledge. As a nation we must build human capacity, build infrastructure and build services leveraging on education in the broad sense. Furthermore, experience tells me that a “Transformational Leader” will be adjudged successful if he/ she has empowered his/ her people with knowledge to sustainably improve themselves, those around them, the circumstances in which they exist, the future of those yet unborn and their environment.
In Nigeria, we face an interesting paradox, namely that our economy is actually growing and at significant rates, even by global standards. However, like many other economies this “growth” is not creating JOBS, which is known colloquially known as “Jobless Growth.” Furthermore, the growth is from a currently very lucrative, but narrow, volatile and relatively short-term sector called “hydrocarbons.” Obviously our national dependence on a “single” sector, that we have little or no input or control over, does not bode well, unless we can reinvest the proceeds optimally to diversify our national economic base. Clearly we have not done this, nor are we yet to demonstrate the capacity to do so. Some say that “crude Oil” sales account for over 90% of our foreign income. It is this foreign income that, in the main, all Nigerians who have access to any real or imagined amenities, services and many goods rely on to survive. How many people work directly in the Nigerian crude Oil sector? I would surmise that less than 10,000 indigenous and expatriate people work in Nigerian crude Oil sector. Arguably, less than 10,000 (0.00625%) people carry over 160 million of us. Reliance on such a narrow “productive” base that we are all dependent on should be of concern to any right thinking person. Even if it was argued that 1 million people work in the Nigerian crude Oil sector, a ratio of 1/160 (0.62500%) is still a disaster waiting to happen. There are other sectors, but none dominates our foreign earnings in the way crude oil does. This is why we have to diversify our economic base quickly.
To address the important question of “what will/can/should Nigeria and her President do” with regards to Jobs vs. Economic Growth, I suggest the following five (5) To Do’s for government, namely:
Facilitate the creation of some relatively low level Jobs now, the quick-wins:
1. Construction/ Refurbishment: Infrastructure/ Schools/ Roads/ Bridges/ Water/ Houses/ Parks/ Estates/ Sewer’s/ Telecommunications and so on through direct labour where practical. We can take a leaf with appropriate modifications, catering to our own unique circumstances, from the “New Deal” of President Franklin D. Roosevelt who “built” the USA out of the great depression of the 1930’s. It must be understood that:
a. This can quickly take many youth off the streets, channels their energies while giving them a stake in society, by putting some change in their pockets. This will contribute significantly to bringing about some level of peace and security for the next two or three years so as to provide the rest of us breathing space while other initiatives kick in, and enable us to go about our legitimate activities. At its inception, the on-going Niger-Delta amnesty program hand some commonalities with the “New Deal” model. More importantly, it seemed to essentially succeed, with reservations in some instances, in quelling the troubles in the Niger-Delta and enabling Oil “exploitation” to continue. It seems that the end-game of this process may pose challenges which are apparently not yet being fully thought through.
b. All new construction, and/ or refurbishment of existing structures, must conform to 21st Century standards not 1950 or 1960 standards, as seems to be the case in several instances, so as to accommodate subsequent “transformational” and other developmental initiatives.
Quickly start to facilitate job creation over the medium/ long-term:
2. Manufacturing: Agricultural based manufacturing/ primary processing. There are significant technology and innovations that can be adapted to enhance the agricultural value chain as seen in India.
3. Retraining: Make redundant workers/ graduates employable &/ or entrepreneurs. Such training will often have a distance learning, one-to-one, many-to-many and other synergistic aspects that require robust technologies.
4. Growth industries: Outsourcing for example, can leverage English as our lingua franca, geographic location, 6 hours ahead of USA and 10 hours behind Singapore, our innate entrepreneurial disposition as well creativity and evolving tech savvy.
5. Small Business: Improve eco-system for start-ups. This is sin-qua-non. The 21st Century has shifted emphasis from large monolithic establishments to smaller, versatile entities. This is the case in the Military which is evolving from large scale usually “land based forces” to smaller quickly deployable specialised “mobile” units, as well as increasing reliance on “private” contractors as was seen in Iraq. Many governments have embarked on some level of privatisation, commercialisation, public private partnerships and various means of outsourcing their traditional responsibilities. In the UK the provision of public (tap) water was privatised decades ago, while the USA has several private “Prisons.” It is thus understandable that these trends affect, and are arguably led by the business world. Today, forward looking firms do not employ individuals as support staff such as cleaners and drivers etc., but outsource such activities to firms who employ and better manage such staff. This enables the firm to focus on its core activities in this increasingly competitive globalised environment.
All the above are permeated by extensive human resource capacity building at all levels also provides opportunities to provide indigenous innovative solutions.
It must also be understood that these focal issues cannot survive in isolation. There must be parallel interventions such as the elimination of the core injustices, facilitating the empowerment of people, the provision of a sustainable job creating environment and fundamental delivery of human services by responsive and responsible levels and arms government. The imperative for interventions which must be simultaneously tackled include the following five (5) thematic areas, namely:
1. Challenge of Leadership: Injustice, Poor leadership in the Political, Religious and Intellectual spheres as well as disunity;
2. Education: Lack/ absence of requisite Education, Disregard of Education, Illiteracy, Challenge of Empowerment, Lack of understanding of life by our Youth;
3. Unemployment: Unemployment at all levels, Employability, Underemployment, Idleness, Poverty, Lack of Economic Opportunity, Ever widening gap between rich and poor, no coherent eco-system for legitimate/ legal socio-economic advancement. Focused intervention strategies, programs and projects by strategic partners such as the National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP), Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN), National Directorate of Employment (NDE) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)’s must be coordinated to effect the desired solutions;
4. Social challenges: Attitude, Corruption, Immorality, Drugs, Prostitution, Thuggery, Cyber-Criminality Tribalism/ Nepotism/ Perceptions, mis-prioritisation of values;
5. External factors.
It is not easy to be a President, and to lead a complex nation like Nigerian, and it is not a job for the faint of heart, weak of spirit and discipline, deficient in courage or those wanting in the core virtues of honesty and moral leadership. To lead this country you must love it more than you love yourself, your family, your honour, your possessions, your freedom, your peace of mind and your life as you have known it, for these are what you put at risk should you fail.
You can only succeed by the grace of the Almighty and through the will of the people by investing now in the collective future we desire. You can earn the grace of the Almighty, and support of the people, by being seen to do what is right and abhorring what is wrong, while ensuring that all your dealings are just, and in the best interest of the nation. Like the cool headed Captain of the Super Tanker, the President of any nation must anticipate and take action long before the goal, or challenge, is even visible.
For any Nigerian President to be adjudged as a successful “Transformational Leader” he, or she, must squarely address, and make significant headway in, the above listed to-dos in the context of the aforementioned parallel thematic interventions.
Abdul-Hakeem Ajijola is XXXXXXX.
I live in Nigeria and I assure you that the reality of our situation is that Nigeria has already failed woefully as a state. Each of us is a government unto themselves because we provide our own security (Maigardi), power (generator), water (borehole), education (lesson teachers), health (self-medication and local herbalists), waste/ trash disposal (incinerator at the back of the house) and on and on.
As a nation, we need to create virtuous cycles fostered by the synergies derivable from the TRIPLE HELIX of Government, Industry (private sector) and Academia to spur innovation by empowering our citizens with knowledge, so that they will translate that knowledge into productive goods and services.
It is not easy to be a President, and to lead a complex nation like Nigerian, and it is not a job for the faint of heart, weak of spirit and discipline, deficient in courage or those wanting in the core virtues of honesty and moral leadership.
To lead this country you must love it more than you love yourself, your family, your honour, your possessions, your freedom, your peace of mind and your life as you have known it, for these are what you put at risk should you fail.
The nation state, as it currently exists, provides little if any value to the shrinking so called productive middle class.