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Monthly Archives: July 2010

Nigeria-Leadership;Free and Fair elections;And Knowledge-aristocrats

Nigerian National Assembly

Everybody seems to agree that Nigeria’s greatest challenge is leadership.The consensus is that able and enlightened leadership is needed to complement it’s abundant resources,human as well as material,if Nigeria is to actualize the promise of it’s undoubted potential.This leadership does not refer to just the ability to mobilize and focus it’s disparate gifts and talents,in pursuit of common goals and objectives,but also the capacity to set agenda and initiate meaningful,if incipiently painful,change.To provide this leadership capacity,we need to build a capable and focused political class,dedicated to the cause of improving Nigeria.

The reality today,is that the political process is desperately vulnerable,if not hostage,to a thuggish element.The result is the exclusion of it’s most educated,refined,urbane and qualified people:in other words,it’s first eleven.These people constitute Nigeria’s knowledge based aristocracy.This should not be confused with the feudal aristocracy,whose membership is prescriptive(status is inherited from father).Instead,knowledge-aristocrats are  indebted to their personal achievements for their status rather than the circumstances of their birth.These are people whose education and work experiences span the best schools and companies around the world.To bring about the desired change in Nigeria,we need a critical mass of these people,not a sprinkling.

The main reason for the absence of Nigeria’s best minds from it’s political process,is the “weaponization” of the electoral process.Elections were conceived as a tool to share and rotate political power among different political parties.When opposition parties trust that elections will be free and fair,they will be willing to wait for their turn.This promotes the embrace of peaceful politics by all,thereby  fostering peace in the realm.When however,elections are weapons to be used for monopolizing power to the exclusion of all outside the incumbent party,politics becomes brutish:a game for only those who believe in  violence,in and out of the now one-party state.Enlightened and polished people,who spurn violence,are going to be squeezed out of the system.

Free and fair elections must be the focus of the electoral process,if we are to attract these people in sufficiently large numbers to make a difference.Free and fair elections would be a signal to all that,no longer,will the electoral process reward thuggish or criminal behaviour in whatever shape or form.Only when this message has sunk in,will the level of political and electoral violence critically fall.We have to remember that these aristocrats,being economically and financially comfortable,do not need to be politicians in order to live well.We have to give them every motivation to leave their comfort zone.That motivation is the opportunity to serve their country and to remake her in their polished,urbane, civil and enlightened image.

Africans And “Culture”.

New-Yam Igbo Festival-Dublin

Despite decades of westernization,scratch the average African and you get a traditionalist.Any thing that is not in line with historic practice is vilified as being alien to African culture.Then follow sanctimonious protests about the sanctity of African culture.Such indiscriminate and unqualified attachment to tradition is unhelpful,backward and counter-cultural.Culture is not just the set of shared values,attitudes,practices and goals of a community,it also constitutes the ability to classify and represent imaginatively,creatively and symbolically these values and experiences.These symbolic representations,through the process of inter-generational transmission,advance the goal of refinement and cultivation of the individual,by being relevant through their ability to change by the day.

The point here,is that we need to make a distinction between the referent values and the symbolic practices.The traditions we see are mere symbols.While the underpinning values are immutable,the representative symbols are not.And symbols should be allowed to evolve in tune with the demands of the time.Having conflated the symbols with the values,the traditionalist may imagine that by defending these practices,he is,somehow,defending the integrity and humanity of the African.We would be showcasing and promoting the integrity of our culture and the humanity of our people, by being courageous and willing to discard these symbols when they have out-lived their usefulness.A relevant culture is one that is receptive to relevant trends and influences.

As an example of the discordance that can exist between values and symbols,let us take a look at the practice found in some parts of Africa,whereby a man inherits his deceased brother’s widow along with the children and property.

First,when it  was conceived,it was intended to protect the widow and her children and not as a reward for the man who inherited her.The idea would have been that the widow,her children and their patrimony would be best protected by one who was the closest blood relative of the deceased.In an age lacking formal and legal institutions like the judiciary and the police,this was probably the best way to protect the widow and her young children,until the children were old enough to assert themselves.

Second,while at an individual level,it could not have been without some unpleasantness for the widow to move from one brother to another,we need to remember that in an age where arranged marriages were the norm,love did not play as prominent a part for the women as it does today.In addition,given the lack of western education,there was very little room for individuation.There would not have been as much differentiation between brothers materially or  intellectually,unlike today,where one brother could be a professor at Harvard while the other works a shift as a casual labourer.

The gap between the brothers not just materially,but in education,enlightenment and urbanity is such as to  make it an act of extreme cruelty to sanction the continuation of this practice.And with the existence of a formal legal and judicial system,society does not need this particular device to protect widows .The point here,is that culture is about protecting society by protecting the weak.Society needed the inheritance system to protect widows and their children.But not anymore.This is an example of what was a boon in another age becoming a boondoggle in this one.We should have the courage and wisdom to bin  traditions  that are no longer useful.Like this one.

Nigeria-Patriotism And Prebendalism.

Super Eagles Fans

This is the season of patriotism.The  out-pouring of support by Nigerians for the various national soccer teams during recent international competitions is proof that Nigerians love their country.Whether this love is absolute love of country or the relative love of supporting your country,when it is engaged in an adversarial contest with another nation,perhaps so as to emerge on the winning side and secure bragging rights is unimportant here.The fact is that Nigerians seem to love their country.This conflicts with the widely held view that Nigerians are not patriotic.

According to one definition,patriotism is not only love of country,but also the willingness to sacrifice one’s interest in the service of country.And selfless service to country is where Nigerians are falling down on the job.Nigerians love their country but are unwilling to sacrifice for Nigeria.The reason for this is that in a mere geographic expression like Nigeria,we are at heart,not citizens,but mere indigenes subscribing to a hierarchy of loyalty at the top which are our families and kin,with the country at the absolute bottom.Put simply,this means me,my family,my tribe first and Nigeria last.

This split loyalty has grievous consequences for Nigeria.Frequently,one needs the support and promotion of one’s ethnic group for advancement in society,further reinforcing one’s loyalty to the group rather than the country,and this loyalty is to be shown in material terms.This means using your office to accumulate wealth for the benefit of not only yourself ,but also members of your ethnic group. This fuels corruption.Especially in government,where every office is seen as a prebend,whose resources are to be captured,not only to  reward members of one’s ethnic group with wealth and favours,but even worse,to promote narrow ethnic interests and agendas.

A country in the grip of prebendalism l like Nigeria will struggle to produce nationals who are willing to give their all for the country,simply because people have not begun to see themslves as citizens.And when these people get into political office,given their indigene mentality,they are going to behave like mere patriarchs at best.Nigeria’s challenge is to find a real national leader,in every sense of that expression,who can inspire the people to the ideal of citizenship,with all it’s responsibilities as well as rights.

Rebranding Nigeria.

TheNigerian Flag

Nigeria is  regarded as one of the most corrupt countries in the world today.It’s record of Governmental misfeasance and malfeasance is viewed as difficult,if not impossible,to match any where else in the world.Put simply Nigeria,in the minds  of  many people,both Nigerian and foreign alike,has a negative connotation.The fact that the Government has seen fit to launch a re-branding campaign,in a self-confessed effort to give  Nigeria a positive image,lends credence to this view of Nigeria as a byword for infamy.To re-brand effectively however,Government must resist the temptation to limit it’s efforts to mere propaganda.Headmaster-like exhortations in the print and electronic media will not change people’s view of  the country.

A brand is a sign,image,trade mark,symbol that is used to identify a product or service.Brands have  psychological as well as  experiential aspects.The experiential  aspect covers the totality of experience  at every level of contact with the product.On the other hand,the emotions,feelings,thoughts,perceptions that people associate with a certain product constitute the psychological aspect and is known as the brand image.In time the brand,in the minds of people,comes to represent all their expectations and information with regard to the product or service.The key to branding is to align the expectations and the  product experience by basing the expectations or the brand image on the brand experience with the result that the product comes to be seen as possessing certain unique qualities that distinguish it from other products.

When it comes to branding,what works for products and services will work for countries as well.The key to a  successful re-branding of Nigeria is simply drastically improved governance.The image of a great and serious country which we all crave,must be aligned behind the reality of a country that actually works.We must improve the Nigerian experience first.The primary target audience of the re-branding campaign has to be the Nigerian public.If we can improve the quality of life of our people by providing functinal public infrastructure,improving security,fighting corruption,improving regulatory oversight of all service providers such that they actually provide the services for which they are charging so much,holding free and fair election,e.t.c.,not only Nigerians but also the rest of the world will attest to the dawning of a new day indeed.The foreigners will take their cue from Nigerians.

Nigerian Sports-In Need Of Professionalism.

Sport Icons

The basic problem with Nigerian sports is that it is conceived and run on an amateur footing.Under this dispensation,the government views the sports community as a talent pool that exists only to produce athletes that would represent the country in international sports competitions.Since not much private sector financial involvement is possible under these conditions,the Government ends up carrying the financial burden of running sports alone . This is wrong.What is required is root and branch professionalization of sports.This means both athletes and administrators should be professional.

The professional model would underpin a view of sports as an industry where the talented and gifted can have a fulfilling and rewarding career,one that is as valid as holding down a job in any other industry whether it is Banking,It,Oil and Gas,e.t.c.Unlike the current amateur system,which seems to attract only those with no real options in life(mostly people with low-class background),a richly rewarding and gratifying sports industry based on the professional model would attract far more people,including members of the middle class who would bring not only their athletic ability,but also their education and administrative nous.

While Government funding will be needed in it’s early years,a sports industry that is big and attractive enough to bring about the involvement of the middle-class(as athletes and administrators),will surely get the attention of the private sector and will quickly begin to pay it’s way.The larger the industry,the more quickly it will reach critical mass:at this point it is generating enough money to obviate the necessity for continued Government financing .Also because of middle-class involvement,it will  have enough innate administrative talent to make Government interference with the running of sports unnecessary.

Professionalization of sports would not only mean less Government distractions,as Government would not need to delegate it’s scarce resources(money or men) to the running of sports,but it would also lead to the  creation of a huge industry, one that would create a great number of good jobs at so many levels:think not only of the athletes but also of the coaches,administrators,sports goods makers and marketers,sports journalists,e.t.c.Furthermore  because so many people would be gainfully involved,the talent pool would be that much larger and deeper than is the case today.The deeper and larger the talent pool,the greater the chances of producing the sort of high-quality athletes that would productively represent Nigeria at international competitions.