By Jerome-Mario Utomi
During an address by Harvard Political Professor, Samuel Huntington, on August 1995, at Taipei, he was among other things asked of his impression about Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s effort to develop Singapore, and he scantly summed it up this way; the honesty and efficiency Senior Minister Lee has brought to Singapore are likely to follow him to his grave.
However, like faith, which is a belief in things not seen, coupled with the fact that ordinary calculation can be upturned by extra-ordinary personalities, not only did Lee’s efficiency survived him, but history has since assisted in providing answers to the correctness or otherwise of Professor Huntington declaration.
Accordingly, it’s now in public domain those two years after the observation, Singapore- a country with a GDP of $3 billion in 1965 grew to $46 billion in 1997, making it the 8th highest per capita GNP in the world, according to the World Bank ranking.
Clearly, a bracing account and unprecedented result! What is, however, left for those who are living is to learn the lessons from such history and gain wisdom, or ignore it, and wonder in dilemma.
Essentially, the crux of this piece is to use Prime Minister Lee Quen Yew account to analyse and understand the essential ingredients of foresight in leadership and draw a lesson on how the leadership decision-making process involves judgment about uncertain elements and differs from the pure mathematical probability process.
From accounts, aside from the fact that the story of Singapore’s progress is a reflection of the advances of the industrial countries-their inventions, technology, enterprise, and drive, a united and a determined group of leaders, backed by practical and hard-working people who trust them made it possible, It is part of the story of a leader’s search for new fields to increase the wealth and well-being of his people.
From this new awareness, flows the major difference.
When one juxtaposes the above account with the current situation in Nigeria, it, without minding what others may say, points in one direction; Nigeria’s current posturing is more man-made than natural, more of leadership gaps than the lack of resources.
The challenge is further compounded by a misguided view of amalgamation by some segments of Nigerians as more of a historicized occurrence without any barefaced or hidden advantage to the nation; a mindset that further promoted deliberate demonstration of impunity, as well as superiority by one group or region against the other.
But in dramatizing this superiority, the point the people did forget is that never should one ‘be so foolish to believe that you are stirring admiration by flaunting the qualities that raised you above others.
By making them aware of their inferior positions, you are only stirring unhappy admiration or envy that will gnaw at them until they undermine you in ways that you may not foresee’. It is only the fools that dare the god of envy by flaunting his victory’.
The sad news, however, is that this avoidable situation was allowed to complete its gestation and finally gave birth to what is now known and addressed in our political domain as a ‘call for restructuring’ or agitation for resources control.
But at a more significant level, it is the leadership performance deficit which has plundered the socio-economic affairs of the nation to a sorry state; an occurrence that stems from an unknown leadership style described by analysts as neither ‘system nor method based’; without anything exemplary or impressive.
While this appalling situation daily unfolds in our political space, the global leadership stage is littered with telling evidence about leaders that have demonstrated leadership sagacity and professional ingenuity that our leaders have refused to replicate their resourcefulness on our shores.
For instance, in 1932, Franklin D Roosevelt, the Democratic Party candidate, United State of America was elected president in the midst of the great depression. At the time of inauguration in 1933, one-quarter of the labour force was out of a job, with many thrown into poverty. Industrial production had fallen and investments had collapsed.
But within two years of his administration, he revived the economy and moved to the next stage of his agenda. He signed the social security act which introduced the modern welfare state into the United States pension at retirement, unemployment benefits, and some public health care and disability benefits. When asked how? he responded thus; “extraordinary conditions call for extraordinary remedies” This to my mind is leadership accomplishment worthy of emulation.
Regrettably, here in the country, the leadership challenge is given a boost by the ground propensity and penchant for corrupt, nepotistic practices of our ‘leaders’ since independence, a development that is gradually becoming a norm; a state of affairs vast majority of Nigerians claims was responsible for the inability of the nation’s successive leaders to alleviate the real condition of the poor, the deprived, the lonely, the oppressed or get into their lives and participate in their struggle.
Looking at commentaries, one can discern that the above fact is largely responsible for the youth’s restiveness and tribal aggressions as the masses continue to fight in order to register their grievance against state-sponsored socioeconomic deprivations.
It is also of considerable significance to this discourse to note that this leadership challenge has visited Nigerians with not just poverty but what analysts described as ‘island poverty’ or poverty in the midst of plenty; which has, in turn, promoted both hopelessness and powerlessness among innocent Nigerians.
But in all, one thing seems to stand out, our leadership challenge or bad governance was implanted by the leaders, encouraged by our unquestioning obedience to the authorities and can only be reduced or erased by Nigerians.
Having discovered the challenge threatening the continued existence of our country, it becomes imperative that whatever measure the nation may want to use in tackling this challenge can only succeed if it probably puts in place steps that will guarantee leadership restructuring.
Catalysing the process of building the Nigeria of our dreams that is laced with good leadership will among other demands require a sincere and selfless leadership, a politically and economically restructured polity brought by the national consciousness that can unleash the social, economic and political transformation of the country while rejecting the present socio-economic system that has bred corruption, inefficiency, the primitive capital accumulation that socially excluded the vast majority of our people.
Above all, to completely put things right, the federal government must recognize, and position Nigeria to be a society of equal citizens where opportunities are equal and personal contribution is recognised and rewarded on merit regardless of language, culture, religion, or political affiliations.
If we are able to achieve this, it will once again, announce the arrival of a brand new great nation where peace and love shall reign supreme as no nation enjoys durable peace without justice and stability, without fairness and equity!
Part of that effort will entail recognizing that the solution to our leadership challenge may afterward not be based on argument or debate but by the quality of the people in charge.
This will be followed by frantic effort to create a ‘civil society that will help sort out the irresponsible from the response in leadership. Another inoculation that will cure this leadership challenge will demand the development of a mindset for details and history necessary for today’s leadership.
Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via email@example.com/08032725374.
Saving Alapere/Ketu, Lagos Residents from Acute Potable Water Scarcity
By Jerome-Mario Utomi
As noted by Peter Drucker in his book, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Harper Business 1985), the greatest business breakthroughs take place as the result of “either the unexpected success or the unexpected failure.”
He explained that when something unusual or unexpected happens in any field, the average person dismisses it as a random event or as an accident.
The superior person, however, studies each unexpected result as if it were a sign of an underlying trend or an indication of a fundamental change in the nature of things.
Likewise, Lagosians with critical minds are taking mental notes of the creative provision of people-focused leadership by the Babajide Sanwoolu administration. More pronounced of such efforts are in the areas of infrastructural deployment, security among others.
They are studying each of these unexpected but positive results that have dotted the present administration in the state.
One such example is the recent inauguration of a 1.4 km dual carriageway Flyover Bridge in Pen Cinema Junction, Agege.
Lagosians are in agreement that the presence of the flyover will reduce travel time and save man-hour that would have been otherwise lost to traffic on the road; provide better riding surface, leading to reduced maintenance cost; boost interconnectivity and generally make life more meaningful to commuters in the state.
There is progress in the state and Sanwoolu’s scorecard looks healthy.
However, despite this achievement and related virtues and attributes that characterise the present administration in the state, there exists a dangerous oversight that is laced with the capacity to make non-sense of the current effort to better the life chances of Lagosians, if not given the urgency of attention that it deserves,
This concern has to do with and focuses on months of prostrated inability by the Lagos State Water Corporation to provide portable water for the resident of the Alapere/Ketu areas of the state.
For the sake of clarity, Alapere Ketu is a densely populated Lagos suburb, Abgoyi Ketu Local Council Development Area. It falls with the federally approved/recognized Kosofe Local Government Area with an area of about 81 km². The Local Council houses the largest food/fruit Market in the state called Mile 12 Market. And its population is arguably well above a million residents.
Making the situation a reality to worry about is that the water scarcity which started one morning has suddenly strolled into months. And have exposed residents to daily search for Water in sources that their level of hygiene could neither be ascertained nor guaranteed.
This is not the only apprehension.
Qualifying the situation as a predicament is an awareness that residents of the area with private boreholes who would have helped ameliorate this suffering are daily frustrated by the poor electricity supply in the area needed to operate the borehole. No thanks to the electricity distribution company operating in the location.
Admittedly, Lagosians know that government can’t solve all their problems and they don’t want. But they (Lagosians) know that there are things they cannot do on their own but must require government support. A very good example of such responsibilities includes but not limited to the supply of clean water to the citizenry, electricity and the provision of schools in an environment that works.
In view of the above realities, it becomes sophistry the argument by some that there is nothing ‘criminal’ about the government’s inability to service an area with public water sources.
Now let’s cast a glance at the consequences of such failures.
First, apart from the fact that Lagos state with its megacity status ought to have outgrown a city where the resident will in this 21st century, rely on private water vendors for their daily water needs while those that have no resources to engage these vendors are forced to the derogatory level of scooping water from gutters.
And, as we know, contaminated water and poor sanitation are linked to the transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio. Absent, inadequate, or inappropriately managed water and sanitation services expose individuals to preventable health risks.
Away from health considerations to other consequences that are international/global in outlook.
Going by the Resolution A/RES/64/292, United Nations General Assembly, July 2010 and General Comment No. 15, UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, November 2002, the Human Right to Water and Sanitation is a principle that acknowledges that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to every person’s life. It was recognized as a human right by the United Nations General Assembly on 28 July 2010.
To further add a background, the Resolution calls upon States and international organizations to provide financial resources to help capacity-building and technology transfer to help countries, in particular developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.
Again, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted General Comment; Article I.1 states that “The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights”. Comment No. 15 also defined the right to water as the right of everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable and physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses.
Beginning with sufficiency, the water supply for each person must be sufficient and continuous for personal and domestic uses. These uses ordinarily include drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes, food preparation, personal and household hygiene. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 50 and 100 litres of water per person per day are needed to ensure that most basic needs are met and few health concerns arise.
On safety, the water required for each personal or domestic use must be safe, therefore free from micro-organisms, chemical substances and radiological hazards that constitute a threat to a person’s health. Measures of drinking-water safety are usually defined by national and/or local standards for drinking-water quality. The World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines for drinking-water quality provide a basis for the development of national standards that, if properly implemented, will ensure the safety of drinking water.
Talking about acceptability, Water should be of acceptable colour, odour and taste for each personal or domestic use. [All water facilities and services must be culturally appropriate and sensitive to gender, lifecycle and privacy requirements.
Everyone has the right to a water and sanitation service that is physically accessible within, or in the immediate vicinity of the household, educational institution, workplace or health institution. According to WHO, the water source has to be within 1,000 metres of the home and collection time should not exceed 30 minutes.
Most importantly, Water, and water facilities and services, must be affordable for all. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) suggests that water costs should not exceed 3 per cent of household income
Finally, while the present water scarcity in the areas remains a sin that the Lagos State Water Corporation, must share from its guilt; it will be necessary as a genius, for Mr Sanwoolu to among other things ask the people in charge; ‘Why does this situation exist? How did it happen? What caused it? When did it first occur? What holds them back from achieving such a solution? What are the different ways that we could solve this problem? Of all the different ways, which solution seems to be the most acceptable, all things considered?’
Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org/08032725374.
Christianity: Death, Denial, Life, Existence, Prince and Longevity
By Nneka Okumazie
Death is the ultimate denial. All go away regarding life. This for some, suddenly, or gradually, rips off everything.
Death is denial complete. Nothing matters to the body, all are denied. One contrast of life with death is the level of denial. It is impossible to have complete self-denial while alive because life goes on with air, water, food, ventilation, etc.
However, the immutability of death is the knowledge that more self-denial begins the process of death, earlier than a disease.
There are musts in life that would involve measured deprivation, and in some cases, extended denial of certain coveted choices.
To align with self-denial that plays away from the reward system – becomes a measure to possibly achieve life’s meaningfulness.
Yes, some people self-deny towards negative causes, or some do, as show or in pretence but in positive purposefulness is self-denial a powerful instrument.
Self-denial is not addiction to coping mechanisms or bringing death upon self, but to go through life’s mud, persevering towards one’s positive purpose.
Dust is coming – denial is the preparation. In the story of the future about the present, denial for good change would be markers of inspiration to cause others to live for more.
There are situations some die, and some escape and the latter may feel so fortunate, true, but an assessment at that stage is if all had been preparing for death.
The afterlife debate consumes many – forgetting that a world pursing comfort and quick, keeps denial away, a necessity for real progress.
The people of the past who had it all and did it all, are hardly an example – except maybe to show how they wasted or were lost, but those who gave it all – by work, war on the right side, courage that brought progress, etc. lifts minds and spirits, extending their existence as they remain a positive force.
Entertainment – of all forms, from all media of current trends, are amnesic tools of denial that is necessary for the existence of meaning.
Christianity talks more about self-denial, as well as about heaven and hell. Everyone has a choice.
[Ecclesiastes 6:12, For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?]
Why Development in Sub-Saharan Africa is Lagging
By Tolu Oyekan
I was born in Nigeria in the early 1980s. Based on forecasts at the time, I should be starting the final decade of my life now.
But my odds have improved quite a bit. Indeed, it is a testament to the advances over these past 40 years in healthcare and standards of living – in the overall quality of life for at least some people – that the average life expectancy for a person born today in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has increased by 10 years.
In some countries, like Rwanda, which was beset by a devastating civil war in the 1990s, the life expectancy gains are even more dramatic.
Part of the reasons for the rise in average life expectancy is the fall in early childhood mortality. Death rates among SSA children under five have declined to fewer than 80 per 1000 live births in 2018 from more than double that figure in 1990. This progress is laudable.
But despite these gains, there is much further to go. Even with the advances in life expectancy, sub-Saharan Africa lags behind most of the rest of the world in this regard.
In fact, the life expectancy in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, is only 55 years. And perhaps more disconcerting is the region’s alarming poverty rate.
About 40% of sub-Saharan Africa, or over 400 million people, live on less than $1.90 a day, defined as the extreme poverty line. That is more than double the poverty rate in South Asia, another region struggling with widespread destitution.
Moreover, the COVID-19 disease may set the region back even more. Recent separate reports from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Bank estimate that globally, the number of preventable child deaths and poverty rates will regress to previous high levels before the pandemic is over, particularly in countries already struggling the most. We already had a long journey ahead of us and now the distance has been stretched.
Clearly, the emergence of sub-Saharan Africa as an economic success offering a decent quality of life and a better future for its population is at best in its very infantile stages.
In virtually every category of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – covering healthcare, hunger, education, jobs, fair wages, economic growth and the environment, among other critical dimensions – sub-Saharan Africa trails well behind the rest of the world.
Perhaps the most problematic issue is that while we have a long distance to travel, we have to get there at a record pace. The UN has set a target of 2030 to reach the SDG’s goals and in effect, eliminate the developmental obstacles to growth and minimum livelihoods that hold back SSA and other countries around the world. For SSA, that is an ambitious deadline.
To just take one example, the ratio of people living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa dropped from around 50% a decade ago to today’s 40%.
Going from 40 per cent to zero in the next nine years would require a development campaign far exceeding anything tried before in these countries.
Yet, as difficult as that sounds, we can at least make significant progress if we avoid wasted efforts and inefficiencies. We must optimize our development efforts for faster impact. We must optimize for speed.
Over a series of articles, I will explore the critical facets of development activities in the region that must be emphasized and improved upon to achieve quicker and more permanent progress.
Initially, I will focus on three areas that can be addressed immediately and produce results in a relatively short time: We must gather more and better data and utilize it more effectively; we must increasingly adjust the developmental techniques we employ to ensure they sufficiently address local concerns and issues while taking advantage of existing best practices, even from other disciplines; and we must enlarge the tent to bring a wider and more diverse group of people into the design and implementation process.
Looking at these three areas more closely, there are significant gaps between how we view them today and how we should both enhance our understanding of them and improve how we use them to make real developmental gains:
Data: Good data about the SSA region is essential. It would allow us to fully understand current conditions and livelihood challenges, compare ourselves against other regions that are attempting to be innovative in solving the same problems, and measure our progress in granular intervals against goals – including the UN SDGs – so that we can take corrective action quickly was needed to keep ourselves on track. Unfortunately, sub-Saharan Africa is data challenged and has been so for a while. But if we try to build our data aggregation capabilities slowly, following the path that regions with inherently more data have taken, we will not be able to move as fast as we must. Therefore, we must identify and implement pragmatic approaches to dramatically improve our data gathering procedures and methods.
Techniques: In attempting to solve specific development challenges, we often make the mistake of adopting tried and tested technical approaches that perhaps have worked in other places but are insufficiently tailored to the specific needs of the sub-Saharan region. As a result, we forfeit the opportunity to consider methods and strategies that are aligned with unique regional needs. For instance, behavioural techniques can encourage desirable actions by sub-Saharan individuals and groups, which in turn can help in local development. Or digital solutions can leverage software to make a development programme more cost-effective. For instance, advancing the use of telemedicine so physicians from outside SSA can efficiently and inexpensively supplement local medical services. These are just two possibilities and the more we think about innovative techniques well suited to the region, the better we will get at designing and implementing them.
People: Although there appears to be a push to increasingly widen the participation of African people in the campaigns to solve Africa’s problems, I believe that we are still ignoring many potential beneficiaries. In other words, even in our attempts to enlarge the tent, we still fail to address the needs of key stakeholders that are pivotal for the success of SSA development efforts; among them, women, young people, the bottom of the economic pyramid, the private sector and small businesses. Perhaps a more provocative perspective on this is that we must expand the tent of people taking part in designing developmental solutions and overcome our challenges with the help of beneficiaries – rather than trying to provide answers to or for the beneficiaries.
So, how should we approach development in sub-Saharan Africa during this decade? Africans favour the expression, ‘If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ I would add that we must actually go further than we had thought pre-COVID, and we must also go fast.
Over the coming weeks, I will share my thoughts about some of the things we can do to address the three areas I mentioned that must be immediately analysed, improved upon and tailored for a sub-Saharan solution. I hope we can debate these issues and that collectively, we can produce an exhaustive and workable series of steps to begin a viable developmental journey for SSA.
So, what do you think? Do you agree that we have a long way to go despite the progress? Is there a case for maintaining the status quo and continuing to attempt development across the region as we have before? In addition to Data, Techniques, and People, are there other aspects of development designs that we should be considering and fixing?
In my view, the gap between where we are today and where we must get to by 2030 is far. I look forward to exploring together how we achieve these bold goals quickly.
Tolu Oyekan is a Partner at Boston Consulting Group (BCG)
COVID-19, Technology and the New Face of Small Businesses
By Akeem Lawal
The outbreak of coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has had a devastating impact that the world is still dealing with.
Apart from the negative health implications, the COVID-19 pandemic has also crippled economies and businesses across the globe.
Suffice to say that, the resultant effect of the pandemic has led to job losses, pay cuts, travel restrictions and consequently fall in foreign trade and general business activities. The businesses most hit are the Micro Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).
A recent survey by the International Trade Centre (ITC) revealed that the pandemic has strongly affected nearly two-thirds of micro and small businesses – compared to about 40% of large companies – with 20% of MSMEs feared to shut down permanently at some points soon.
Interestingly, the survey revealed that 40% of the companies that came out strong from the pandemic were mainly technology-driven businesses. In the financial services industry, fintech companies including Interswitch, Flutterwave, Paystack have fared very well.
For instance, the National Bureau of Statistics report shows that digital payment transaction grew from N10.3 trillion in January 2020 to N20 trillion in December 2020.
The SME sector remains a potential game-changer for economic growth globally, including Nigeria. This is why it is important for stakeholders in the economy to provide simple solutions that will enhance their ability to generate economic activities that will boost the community and national economy.
Knowing the importance of small businesses to national economies, many governments implemented support programmes to assist MSMEs following the pandemic. In Nigeria, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) earmarked $136.6 million as credit relief for MSMEs businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the frailties of many SMEs in terms of little or no digital infusion. However, the pandemic has not been all gloom as it has opened up vistas of opportunities inherent in technology and its application.
Today, we have seen an upsurge in the adoption of technology across several sectors. Businesses have digitized their operations, adopted remote work models and moved their services online as physical interactions have reduced.
The adoption of technology is not only sustaining businesses; it is opening up new opportunities and even markets. Basically, what technology has done is to throw up insight into possible solutions as well as provide the roadmap to navigate these possibilities.
For businesses to bounce back from the pandemic, it is important that they define their community (market) as it relates to the business – and how and where to meet them. This is where technology comes to play as many of its solutions will help boost lead generation, seamless payment, effective management, visibility and increased revenue. So, a business must transit onto the digital divide.
In order to assist more businesses, especially the MSMEs achieve this transition seamlessly, Interswitch has reformed its Webpay platform to Quickteller Business. The new platform enables businesses of all sizes; small, medium, large to take their businesses online without owning a website or having prior technology.
The Quickteller Business platform is intuitive and robust. It provides seamless payment solutions for businesses and their customers. Business owners are able to manage their processes more efficiently like generating invoices to track sales and payments, customized storefront to display products and brand image, backend access to manage inventory, dispute management options to settle chargebacks and refunds.
Beyond the obvious solution, the Quickteller Business portends, the platform also exposes the users to a ready market of over five million potential customers. The Quickteller platform boast over 5 million subscribers from Nigeria and East Africa and all Quickteller Business users are automatically exposed to this community.
With all of these issues taken care of by a single platform, business owners on the platform can focus on other aspects of their businesses such as production, capacity building etc. Surviving the challenging business environment is enough task for business owners these days. Providing simple solutions that make their processes more effective, allow them time to increase productivity and provide the possibility to scale are the objectives of the Quickteller Business.
In summary, business owners can take full control of their businesses by digitizing their operations now. With the pandemic changing the dynamics of business operations, it is imperative for SMEs to embrace technology in every form – and the Quickteller Business platform is a good place to start!
Akeem Lawal is the deputy CEO of Payment Processing at Interswitch
What is Good for the Goose May Not be Good for the Gander
By Christie Obiaruko Ndukwe
Governor Nyesom Wike sacked his Commissioner for Environment, Mr Tamuno Igbiks, in the middle of a summit on the hazardous soot in Rivers State.
It’s not a problem since he has the power to hire and fire. But the reason he gave for the sack is what I find amusing.
Dr Tamuno Igbiks had allegedly written a letter asking Julius Berger to stop work all over their construction sites in the state.
According to Governor Wike, the young man exhibited undue power not available to him as a Commissioner, and worse still, he failed to inform his Works counterpart.
That to me is a raw exhibition of executive recklessness, arrogance and an inordinate quest for power to subdue, without considerations that Julius Berger had already been paid ahead of the completion of the said contracts.
On the surface, the Governor was right to punish the erring aide in order to serve as a deterrent to others who may also be ignorant of the limits of the power and privileges they enjoy while serving as aides to a Governor.
But a little peep into Mr Wike’s six years of governance would reveal that he has also severally halted work by Federal Government through its agencies, in the state and sometimes, threatened lawsuits or outright blockage of access to buildings occupied by some of these agencies.
The Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, NPA and others are not left out.
Just recently, the Governor threatened to shut down access roads leading to the newly commissioned headquarters of the NDDC on the pretence that the state government was about to commenced earthworks for the road. This is without recourse to the fate of those who live within the said axis and would be blocked from having vehicular access to their homes.
Need I bore readers with more examples of this same act of executive misapplication of power which the Commissioner in question may have unconsciously imbibed from the Governor.
It is pertinent to ask who then can punish Governor Wike for similar acts of gross misconduct and acts of the bully pulpit? Does a Governor’s immunity confer on him an unlimited display of impunity, simply because we are under a faulty democracy with a chequered and controversial Constitution?
If the Commissioner erred this once, is it enough to sack him without a query on why he embarked on such a rudderless voyage of power?
Let me stop with this popular Eastern Nigerian proverb, which says when the mother goat is chewing its cud, the baby goat is closely watching and learning the ropes.
Nigeria and the Burden of Deformed Politics and Power
By Jerome-Mario Utomi
At independence in October 1960, through the mid-60s, Nigeria and Nigerians witnessed an amazing period of wealth creation.
But the sudden decision by the then military administration/government to shift focus from regional to unitary system slowed down the pace of economic development in the country.
The situation has since been exacerbated in the past two decades of democratic experience and governmental-type described by analysts as a pseudo or quasi-federal system which further shifted the distribution of income/resources strongly in favour of the government at the centre and against the real owners of wealth-states and local governments
Aside from the understanding by many that such a state of affairs is attributable to the wrong application of power by politicians (the real enemies of the open society), for a better understanding of this piece, there is a greater need to take a cursory look at power from two standpoints.
First, from the Marxists perspectives; that is, those that understand politics as grasping the moment and revolves it ‘solely and squarely’ around personal interest-the ebb and flow of influence among adversaries.
The second perspective focuses on development professionals’ understanding of power.
To add context to the discourse, Grant Cardone, a human development professional, while commenting on deformed politics asserts that politicians and the media perpetuate the shortage concept by suggesting that there is not enough of certain things to go around-that if you have something, I cannot.
Many politicians believe that they need to spread these needs in order to energize their followers to take a stand for or against another or party. They make statements like; ‘I will take better care of you than the other guy’ ‘ I will make life easier for you ‘ ‘I will reduce taxes for you’ I promise better education for your kids’ or ‘I will make it more possible for you to be successful.
The underlined implication of these claims, he added, is that only I can do this-not the other guy. These politicians first emphasize the topics and initiatives that they know what followers consider important-then they create the sense that citizens are not capable of doing things for themselves. They highlight’ scarcity that exists and do their best to make people feel that their only chance of getting what they want and need is to support them. Otherwise, they imply, your chances of getting your share become even more remote.
On the other hand, power properly understood in the words of Martin Luther King Jar, is nothing but the ability to achieve a purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, economic, political, cultural and religious changes. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anaemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demand of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.
From these words, it may not be a wrong assertion to conclude that; there is nothing wrong with power; that power could be used both constructively and destructively; that for man to function well in any given position of authority, he/she must identify that power is not a complete end but looks up to something further; it cannot itself be the ultimate goal; that power is valuable according to the use to which it may be put.
With this fact highlighted, let’s move from meaning to examples of wrong use of power.
Chief among such examples of the destructive exercise of power include Pol Pot of Cambodia. It was in the news that while in power in Cambodia between 1975 and 1978, he used his position to cause the death of more than two million people in Cambodia – a small country in Southeast Asia bordered by Vietnam and Thailand. This is a verifiable fact.
The story is not different here in Africa as it is factually backed that late Robert Mugabe in his quest to hold on to power, massacred over 20,000 of his people and not animals, destroyed the nation’s economy and watched with disinterest while his wife looted millions of dollars. Fresh in our memories are the Liberia episode in the early 1990s, Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire. Specifically in Africa, there are even more accounts of gradual and silent encroachment/abuse of power by those in positions of authority, than by violent and sudden usurpations.
Conversely, talking about constructive use of power back in Nigeria, the thought of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, then Premier of the Western region, comes to mind. He constructively used his position to better the lives of his people. Through quality and affordable education, he set the region on a hyper-modern pathway.
This feat or a combination of other people-purposed achievements, without doubt, explains why about four decades after his reign, he is daily remembered and used in virtually all the primary schools (both public and private), as an example of a great leader
Indeed, he defined power in the image of his actions.
But today, that narrative has changed. National development is not only in trouble; rather education, power, health and infrastructure are the worst victims of present leadership ineptitudes.
And when one looks precisely at what went wrong, one thing seems to stand out. It is the shocking reality that the same qualities that created success in the past are the same qualities that undermine success today.
In many ways, the present administration may have a sincere desire to move the nation forward, but there are three major militating factors.
First, there is no clear definition of our problem as a nation, the goals to be achieved or the means chosen to address the problems and to achieve the goals.
Secondly, the system has virtually no consideration for connecting the poor with good means of livelihood-food, job and security.
Thirdly, though they constitutionally possess the political powers to improve the life chances of the governed, government at all levels daily manifest non-possession of political will to perform their constitutional responsibilities.
This is the only possible explanation.
Out of many other areas of concern, take the education sector as an example. Globally; it is a well-considered belief that; education is an extremely valuable strategy for solving many of society’s ills. In an age where information has more economic value than ever before, it’s obvious that education should have a higher national priority. It is also clear that democracies are more likely to succeed when there is widespread access to high-quality education.
But despite these virtues, attributes about education, here in Nigeria, the sector remains in the ‘valleys of the shadow of death’ occasioned by perennial underfunding and neglect. This failure points at FG’s unwillingness to engineer national development and signposts an administration that is not interested in using its power properly.
Among other demands, reversing this trend calls for leaders’ development of political will for using power both creatively and profitably.
The nation must come up with programmes to sustain the youths, as the future strength of the nation depends on its young people as their generation will provide the next set of leaders.
Taking this step is most important as they (youths) have recently lost all fears of punishment and yielded obedience to the power of violence. The Alamajiris in the north must be reintegrated back to school, so should the challenges of the youths in the south-south whose farmlands and other means of livelihood have been destroyed through oil prospecting and explorations.
Nigerians and of course the world is in agreement that we can achieve this goal. The nation is not as poor as politicians trumpet it.
Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via; email@example.com or 08032725374.
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