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Monthly Archives: June 2011

Transformational Leadership and the “Nigeria” factor:Tapping into the Power of Suggestion

I must confess that my reading of the Nigerian situation is mechanistic,as i believe that Nigeria’s problem is mainly down to poor mechanics.Although Nigeria claims to be a federal state,the reality is that it is in fact,as befitting a trust-fund state,long on the unitary form of government,and short on federalism.In my own view, “Nigerianess” would largely be  predicted by any state subject to Nigeria’s mechanical limitations.An arbitrary colonial joinery of many and various,mutually distrustful tribes,Nigeria proved early on that it was sheer folly to take it’s cohesiveness as a country for granted,by fighting a brutal 30-month civil war to end the secession of the Eastern part of the country.The formal end of the war did not however,bring an end to the distrusts,suspicions and doubts with which the average Nigerian viewed Nigeria.You only have to look at Nigeria’s politics,where choices are driven by the short-termism of immediate gratification,to see that.Like rats on a sinking ship,people are focused on securing their “own” before the “inevitable” happens.

It is my well-considered opinion that until Nigeria is a federalism-compliant state,one that is founded on resource-control and subsidiarity,it would struggle to achieve it’s full potential.Having said that,within the limits of our current arrangements,Nigeria could be much better,if our people were driven by the dynamics of patriotism and self-esteem.Make no mistake about it,a people who suffered colonization by another race,could not have avoided developing a sense of inferiority.In Nigeria’s case,this sense of inferiority has been deepened by the decades of corruption and mis-governance that followed independence.A people who have been told by successive governments over the decades,that access to regular power,good jobs,decent health-care,standard education and social security is beyond them,have come to accept as “normal”,a life of misery and privation.This second-rate existence,has conditioned Nigerians to see themselves as second-class citizens.And second-class people must necessarily subscribe to second-class standards.

Thus,our attachment to mediocrity.Mediocrity does not only now seem normal,it has become normative; it is now our defining standard.Decades of contemptuous governance have left Nigerians bereft of any self-esteem.We have come to accept a state of ineptitude,incompetence and quackery as normal.This deeply ingrained inferiority complex has given rise to an even deeper cynicism.The average Nigerian is so cynical that he does not believe in virtue,he does not believe in it’s attainability.To him,the pursuit of excellence is something that happens in other worlds,not in Nigeria.Instead of excellence or virtue,Nigerians are in  full flight,in the pursuit of vice.We pervert and corrupt every process.This aptitude for perversion,this talent for travesty or bastardization has come to be known as the “Nigeria” factor.Everywhere you look this factor is at work,no Nigerian process is safe from it’s grubby reach.No area of national life is sacred: in government,the institutionalization of impunity; in politics you see the bastardization of the electoral process; in academics,the wholesale merchandising of grades; in sports,the over-celebration of “youth” trophies,usually “won” by over-aged cheats.The list goes on.

Given our structural constraints,a transactional leadership would struggle to make a meaningful impact on Nigeria’s development.A transactional leadership is one in which the leader has a give-and-take relationship with the people.In other words,the people wait for the leader to do things for them.In contrast,transformational leadership motivates the citizenry to take greater responsibility for it’s fate.Through his vision,the transformational leader brings about positive change in the people,eventually turning them into leaders,too.President Jonathan best bet,if he really wants to succeed,would be to turn a lethargic Nigerian citizenry into one that is engaged and motivated.If he can turn the majority of about 150 million people into leaders,half his job is done.For as individuals,we can do so much more,if only we would take responsibility.Every Nigerian can make a positive independent contribution to Nigeria,every one has something positive to offer,given the necessary inspiration.

What is not fully appreciated is that Nigeria is the aggregation of our homes,offices and playgrounds.Make a positive difference in any of those,you make a difference to Nigeria.If Nigerians “decide” to dispose refuse responsibly,our streets,roads and environment would be cleaner and healthier,to our benefit; At work,people can “decide” to be more responsible by being more punctual and committed,thereby raising productivity and with it an increase in wealth for all.Even at play we can make a difference. If the president of a country club  “decides” to behave more responsibly,he would not only hire coaches,but would also ensure decent pay for them,thus creating jobs.Replicate these efforts across Nigeria,and we would see a massive difference.But to “decide” to act more responsibly,Nigerians would need the inspiration of a transformational leader.A leader who will rise to the challenge of leadership by personal example.A true role model-leader,one who would always aspire,by word and deed,to the high-moral ground; one who would always  strive for excellence,and would consequently challenge the people to reach that moral-zenith.

Nigeria needs a leader that would free the Nigerian psyche from the bondage of mediocrity,by “suggesting” to the Nigerian mind,by word and deed,that excellence is attainable,that mediocrity is not inevitable.It is a choice.We discount the power of suggestion at our own peril.

Nigeria-The North and the “Almajiri-Armageddon”:Ending Feudalism through Education

“Almajiri” is a word borrowed from Arabic for someone who leaves his home in search of knowledge in the Islamic religion. In Northern Nigeria today,the only “education” that seems to be on offer to the children in this position,to the “untutored” eye,is indoctrination into a life of poverty and violence.Without any formal system to take care of them,these kids end up on the streets as beggars.As a result,the word “Almajiri” has come to stand for street-children.As street-children,without any form of parental care,they easily fall under the sway of any one who is willing to “provide” for them.This is how the Almajiris came to be instruments of sectarian violence,biddable pawns in the hands of mischief makers.The impression has taken hold that this army of mendicant urchins,was being tolerated,if not remote-controlled,by Northern elites,as a useful addition to it’s arsenal,in it’s adversarial rivalry with the South.

In numerous,episodic and seemingly unprovoked,attacks in the North,these Almajiris have been freely unleashed against Southerners,and their interests.Whether freelancing or under the direct orders of extremist groups such as the “Boko Haram“,these agents of violence know only to kill,burn,maim or destroy,talents that have been turned frequently against Southerners.Until now.Following the announcement of Goodluck Jonathan as winner of the 2011 presidential elections,certain parts of the North erupted in violence,during which many Southerners lost lives,limbs and properties.So far,so predictable.But for the first time,certain elements of the Northern elite-class also became targets,as the homes of prominent Northerners,including highly-placed traditional rulers,were torched by the mob.It is this twist in the tale,that is concentrating minds,now.

For the first time,questions are now being raised about the “Almajiri” problem,within the Northern elite-circles.Disappointingly,however,the focus seems to be on security measures.I recall that,following the out-break of electoral violence,the internal affairs minister,Mr Iheanacho,was suspended.We are fixated on security; every body is talking about improving security,about bringing perpetrators to justice as a way of sending a clear signal to would-be rioters,of government’s determination to interdict mob-violence.And,improving security is good,very good.But police measures alone will not solve the problem.To be effective,police-measures must go hand-in-hand with social-dynamics,that set of socio-economic tools, with which a society can be nudged in a given direction.In particular,education should be emphasized.And i mean “functional” education,which some “impolitically” or “ignorantly” call “Western” education.

Whatever it is called,it must play it’s role as a predictor of future success,to enable the root-and-branch overhaul of the Northern socio-economy,and to secure the approval of the Northern masses.The reason the average Northerner regards education with such contempt,is because he sees it as a foreign past-time of little value.He does not see it as a predictor of future success.And no wonder.For,most  successful Northerners,including professors,engineers and doctors,are children of privilege.Most of them are sons and nephews of  Sultans,Emirs and other traditional rulers.As a result,their success is seen by the average Northerner,as deriving from privilege,rather than education.It is not unthinkable,that the average Northerner sees education as an accomplice of privilege,designed to perpetuate the gap between the nobility and the peasantry.And indeed,that gap is so huge,so feudal.

Make no mistake about it,any society that boasts of such social and economic polarization is feudal,as feudalism thrives on the rigid hierarchization that enshrines privilege,by enriching the patrician at the expense of the peasant.Through out feudal Europe,penury was the natural condition of the peasant.One of the reasons for this,was because economic-skills could only be transmitted from parent or guardian to child or ward.In other words,one could only take after one’s father or guardian.This was the case for both patrician and peasant;while the noble learned the ways of nobility,the peasant learned the trade of his peasant-father.This ensured that children of farmers,gardeners,butlers and cooks could only end up as farmers,gardeners,butlers and cooks,from one generation to the next.They could not aspire to become doctors,engineers,lawyers or professors,because their parents could not transmit skills that they did not posses.This system kept both classes apart for centuries.Until the invention of schools.

As a means of transmitting ideas,knowledge and values from one generation to the next,the parent-to-child or guardian-to-ward “education” system was beset by two major drawbacks.First,given that parents or guardians could only give what they had,their children or wards were condemned to re-live their fates.Second,some children either had only irresponsible parents or guardians or none at all.Schools were invented to address these short-comings.The school system was designed to pool the knowledge-resources of the society together,for meritocratic allocation to students,such that the impact of circumstances of birth would be significantly reduced or eliminated.In other words,schools were founded to create a level-playing field for all children,by ensuring equality of opportunity,if not of out-come,for them all.As you can imagine,the idea of creating a level-playing field for all children,irrespective of class,was a death-blow aimed at the heart of feudalism.

In time,the wall between peasant and patrician crumbled,as children of peasants could now aspire to become economically successful,by training to become doctors,engineers,lawyers,teachers and scientists.All they had to do was go school to acquire the necessary education; whatever career took their fancy,they could now “buy” at school.Properly defined,therefore,a school is a market-place for the buying and selling of knowledge,with the teachers doing the selling while the students do the buying.But,to ensure equality of opportunity for all children,the currency of purchase must be denominated in diligence and intelligence,not Naira and Kobo.That is to say,that moral and intellectual mettle,rather than wealth,should be the decisive factor in determining educational and career out-comes.Otherwise,the purpose of education as a leveler,would be defeated,as the wealthy would continue to prosper while the poor continue to be denied.

If the Northern nobility must avoid the fate of the Russian aristocracy,in this case an “Almajiri-armageddon”,especially now that adherents of “Boko Haram” have,allegedly,added bomb-making skills to their arsenal,it must plump for a more meritocratic society.Such a society can only emerge when the masses have been lifted up through education; education that empowers the poor and brings hope to the oppressed; education that turns the “Almajiri” masses into a population of stake-holding doctors,engineers,economists and teachers,rather than malcontent-terrorists and -human-bombers.An education system that is capable of doing this,no matter that it is called “Western”,would win the approval and support of the Northern masses.Let us not forget that “Western” education owes much to early Arab-scholarship.It is not “Christian” education.Muslims in such places as Malaysia and Indonesia have proved that Islam and “Western” education can co-exist,as have Yoruba Muslims of South-Western Nigeria.Resistance to “Western” education is not about religion;it is about the manipulation of an ignorant population by feudalists.Has always been.The “Almajiri” problem is a ticking time-bomb.Tick,tock.

Nigeria-Made in Nigeria: “E no easy,dem try”,the Mediocrity-Apologia

The average Nigerian is an apologist for mediocrity.And knows it,too.Very rarely will you hear,”that is very good”,with regard to any Nigerian process or product.Apparently Nigerian products or processes fall into two categories only: “nonsense” or “e no easy ,dem try”(ENEDT).”ENEDT” has become a euphemism,for that grey zone between very-bad and not-so-bad.Phrases like “ENEDT” are used to describe things that Nigerians consider better than bad,but not good enough to be termed “good”.Nigerians can identify mediocrity when they see it,but because they are unwilling to face it squarely,and deal with it,they prefer not to call it by it’s rightful name.Instead,as a sort of denial,phrases such as “ENEDT” are employed to make it seem better than it is.Thus morally sedated,people can do things that they would not normally be able to justify.This explains how well-educated sophisticates can do things that their education,exposure and background do not predict.

A society that is unwilling to make to a distinction between good and bad is in deep trouble.A people that can find comfort in such fudge,obfuscation and outright denial are morally bankrupt.A culture from whose lexicon,the word “good” has been expunged,cannot be exercised by considerations of excellence.Such a people,strangers to the word “good”,would be wedded to mediocrity.And no wonder.The other day,i saw a broadcast on cable television,where Amaka Igwe,one of the heavy-hitters of the movie and television industry in Nigeria,was been interviewed.In response to the interviewers question about the movie industry’s “progress”,she aggressively defended Nollywood,the Nigerian movie industry,by trotting out the usual excuses about lack of finance and poor infrastructure.But what really caught my attention,was her attempt to justify Nollywood’s mediocrity by pointing out that the industry ,”is just 16 years old”.And that is so typical.

Every time you criticize some Nigerian  practice,no matter how objectively,there is sure to be someone to remind you that,”Nigeria is only 50 years old as an independent state,America has been independent since 1776.In time we will get there.” This argument is so infuriating.Yes,it is true that it took the West a long time to get to their present position.But that is because they had no role-models,no one from whom to learn.They had to discover or invent everything themselves,and of course they made a lot of missteps and took many wrong-turns as a result.But we are not in the same position.We have the benefit of their experience,we are heirs to some 30o years of written history.It is not necessary to exactly re-enact the trajectory of their development,by repeating all the mistakes they made,including some they did not even make.The irony is that Nigerians are early-adopters,of consumer goods.Where the acquisition of the latest cars,phones and fashion accessories is concerned,Nigerians are at par with Europeans and Americans.

But when you insist that the Nigerian process be subject to world-class measures,Nigerians complain.Please do not mis-understand me.I make a distinction between product and process.No one pretends that the Nigerian “product” should be of the same absolute quality as the West’s.What we can insist on,however,is that the Nigerian process be compliant with acceptable international norms,that every effort be made to do things properly.It is gratuitous self-violence,to leave undone that which we could easily do,just because Nigeria is not a million years old.I do not expect Nigerian movies to be of the same absolute quality,as Hollywood’s.However,i expect that the Nigerian film-market would be intelligently enough regulated,as to make it quality-sensitive.It should be able to differentiate between bad and good movies;any one who supports Nollywood,by buying or renting it’s movies,knows how frustrating this lack of differentiation is.Such a “simple” thing can make a big difference.And,throughout the Nigerian reality.

Certainly,we do not expect our infrastructure to be of the same quality as that of the West,but is that any justification for the state of our roads and power-supply? What about our schools and hospitals? Given our natural resources,human and material,should we not be able to match the standards in the West-African sub-region,if not the Middle-east? If we cannot match the level of probity,accountability and transparency of Western governments today,is that a good reason for the institutionalization of impunity ,by our various governments? Can we not justifiably hold our leaders to higher standards? The 2011 elections were not up to the standards of the West,but they were much better than what we were used to.And all because the president “chose” to give the electoral commission boss a free hand.We can do much better,today,but only if we liberate our minds from the bondage of mediocrity,increasingly fostered by our language.Phrases like “ENEDT” constitute the language of mediocrity,of moral-timidity and under-development.Mind your language!!!

Colonialism and Corruption:”Paper-ification” of Value,Deification of “Paper” and Bifurcation of Morality

Nigeria is renowned for corruption,and it’s people for a lack of work ethic.Not a day goes by,without some politician or government official being pilloried in the media for one alleged financial misconduct or another.The perception on the street,is that government officials work only to fill their own pockets.But not only public officials,private ones too.The impression has taken hold that every Nigerian sees his office as a prebend: a place to collect his share of the spoils rather than to work.This attitude to work is expressed in the “this is not my father’s work” syndrome,a malaise which afflicts a society with a work-culture that does not esteem commitment or responsibility.How did Nigeria come to this pass,Especially considering, that Nigerians are very hardworking and religious people? Colonialism.Colonialism heralded the bifurcation of morality into personal and public strands,whereby,in their personal dealings with family and friends,people are held to an absolute standard of morality,a standard that is not expected to be matched in their public roles.

This dichotomy  resulted from differences between traditional and western societies,in their perception and definition of work.Traditional Nigerian society subscribed to a value-system which was very different from that of the west,especially with regard to work.Traditional society judged hard work by the  amount of physical exertion involved.A man could not become wealthy,unless he was willing to put in years of hard work,farming or fishing.There simply was no short-cut,to acquiring wealth or riches.Absolutely none.The appearance of the white man and his paper money changed all that.Imagine the quantum leap.All of sudden a man could become wealthy,not by sweating it out on the farm,but by  “loafing” in some square building,called school,in the mission house for a few years.For spurning farm work, in favour of schooling,these lucky few were rewarded with the white man’s money,which enabled an exotic life style: white man’s house,white man’s car,white man’s authority.

Paper- or fiat-money is money that has value only because of Government authority.Unlike paper-money,commodity-money has value because it is made from a valuable commodity.Gold is an example.In the West,Gold was accepted as money because Gold was a valuable substance.Eventually when Gold evolved into paper-money,because people could relate that money to Gold,it was possible to tie the value of money to the economic process.In Africa,there was no such transition.People woke up one day to behold the colonial-master and his pieces of “paper”,with it’s tremendous purchasing power.Given that access to this “paper” was conditional on the possession of other papers,called certificates,which could only be obtained by “loafing” in the white man’s school,it became clear to a community steeped in superstition,that possession of the white man’s “paper” was the height of magic.White man’s magic,government magic.

Paper-money made it’s appearance,in Africa,in a way that did not suggest a direct relationship with the productive process.It was this seeming alienation from the productive process that people saw,and concluded that the possession of the white man’s “paper”,was part of a magical process: possession of this “paper” had nothing to do with hard-work or merit.If it had nothing to do with hard-work or merit,then it had to be completely divorced from traditional concept of morality.The message,to a  farming or fishing community with it’s traditional definition of hard-work, was simply that one did not have to work hard to become rich anymore.In addition,given that the the possession of the white man’s money was divorced from traditional notions of morality,the quest for it could not be subject to same morality.Therefore,it became justifiable to steal,cheat or kill in order to become rich.Thus developed a unique,autonomous “paper” morality,according to which the end justifies the means,which was distinct from,and contrary to,the traditional morality of absolute right and wrong.

The native mind,which denominated value in such tangibles as barns and fishing boats,was turned by the idea of the “print-ability” of value,the “paper-ification”of value;the native mind came to identify work with the generation of “paper”,not honest effort or creation of value. Thus began our obsession with,and deification of ,”paper”,whether as money or certificate.With the pursuit of “paper” based on the autonomous morality of “result only”,the principle of hard-work was duly overthrown.Henceforth,no one would really want to work,whether for money or certificate.This is encapsulated in the “this-is-not-my-father’s-work” syndrome.It is this syndrome that is responsible for our bureaucrats,civil servants and administrators being an army of file-pushers,dedicated to the generation of paper in the shape of office-files and -forms,rather than the creation of value.That paper again!!! It is this love of paper that explains why my village transformer in Atta,Ikeduru,cannot be changed without a paper-trail snaking it’s way all the way to Abuja.We do not work to create value,but to generate mountains of paper.

People love big positions,but are loath to take responsibility.Every body wants to go to school,but not to acquire knowledge.No.Just to grab those certificates,by whatever means necessary.This aversion to real-work,finds it’s fullest expression in the attitude of government workers,especially those in elective offices.Our politicians are the worst culprits with regards to the pretend-work malaise.Reprising the distance between the colonial official and the natives,but not the work-ethic of the white colonial official,our politicians show scant regard for the interest and well-being of the people.The impression given by most of them is that they are in office for the service of self.It is this contempt for the people,that perpetuates the distance between the government and the governed,and cements the impression,in the people’s minds,that our national and state capitals may as well be colonial London,Paris or Lisbon.So far removed are our governments from the legitimate aspirations of the people.And so alienated are the people from government.It is this mutual contempt that drives unaccountability,and with it political corruption.