• Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Is there hope for Nigeria’s transformation anytime soon?

Is there hope for Nigeria’s transformation anytime soon?

Another year, 2021, has disappeared into oblivion, never to return again. But Nigeria’s problems remain as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar, seemingly insurmountable. This year, 2022, will be no different from 2021. If anything, things would be worse on the political, economic, and security fronts. Which raises the question whether Nigeria will ever overcome its challenges, whether it will ever escape the fragility trap, and, if so, when?

Truth is, Nigeria is a fragile state; it exhibits all the symptoms of fragility: prevalence and dominance of organised non-state violence; weak capacity for essential functions; poor or unattractive environment for private investments; an economy exposed to shocks with little resilience; lack of trust between the government and the governed; and deep divisions in the society. These are what a seminal study by Oxford University and the London School of Economics identified as symptoms of state fragility!

Of course, all countries were once fragile, including today’s superpowers. But, with intentionality, most countries took concrete steps out of fragility. However, Nigeria remains trapped in utter fragility with little hope of escaping the trap. Why?

As a columnist for several years now, I have immersed myself in studying and analysing Nigeria, and my inexorable conclusion is that Nigeria is both structurally and culturally defective. Its political and governance structures, its values and policy choices, lend themselves to a state of utter fragility. That’s what I have been saying in this column and elsewhere for many years.

Nigeria needs a transformational leader; a leader who can use the tools of narratives, actions and institutions to transform the country

The issue came again recently following encounters with certain readers of my columns, and it is those encounters that trigger this first piece of the new year, because they reflect the despondency and hopelessness of most Nigerians at home and abroad about the appalling state of this country and the prospect of a transformative change anytime soon.

Recently, a young Nigerian student in the UK (name withheld for confidentiality) contacted me regarding her research project. She’s studying for a master’s degree in social research and global journalism, at the University of Sheffield. She had read a column I wrote on Nigeria’s net-zero carbon pledge at the recent 26th United Nations Climate Conference of the Parties, known as COP26, and wanted to interview me for her research project on the media framing of the COP26 commitment in Nigeria.

For nearly one hour, over Zoom, we discussed the issue: Did President Buhari engage and sensitise Nigerians before making the net-zero pledge at COP26? Did Nigeria and Nigerians really know what net zero means and the actions required? How about the media? How did they frame the pledge, and did they fill the lacuna between the government and the governed on the issue?

As I fielded her questions and exchanged views with her, she remarked that Nigeria was being poorly run. Policy development and choices are too state-centred, hardly shaped by societal influences; evidence, informed opinions of experts and experiential knowledge of societal groups counting for little in the policy process.

Of course, the student’s reaction wasn’t surprising. After all, she would have known, from her academic and empirical studies in social research and global journalism, that policy networks and epistemic communities play key roles in defining problems and shaping policy options in developed countries. She would also have known, as many scholars argue, that effective governance requires the existence of policy networks that can unite government with actors outside the formal process of government in order to address public problems.

She later told me she would do a PhD after her master’s course. I told her that Nigeria would need her expertise in policy development. She smiled. Of course, Nigeria would need her expertise, but, in truth, would Nigeria value her expertise? Would she be able to help move Nigeria forward after her studies? Well, that brings me to my second encounter.

A few weeks earlier, another Nigerian in the UK, Dr Salmon Omokanye, a retired medical practitioner, sent me an email, saying: “I doff my hat to your article published yesterday in Vanguard.” Dr Omokanye relocated to England from the University College Hospital (UCH) Ibadan in 1989, and just recently retired after long service as a medical consultant with the National Health Service (NHS), having held clinical leadership roles in several hospitals.

Dr Omokanye, who agreed to being cited in this piece, is undoubtedly a patriotic Nigerian. But he’s also very pessimistic about the immediate prospect of progress for Nigeria. Cautioning against “unrealistic” expectations, he said: “Complete transformation to an industrialised, developed and orderly country may take 100 years and not in our lifetime.” He believes Nigeria is a country that frustrates its brightest and best, its great reformers.

I agreed that Nigeria frustrates its reformers, but if it has to take 100 years for this country to emerge from the doldrums, where’s the hope for our bright Sheffield University student, who I told had a lot to contribute to Nigeria’s development after her studies? Why would she return to Nigeria after a PhD in social research if Nigeria would frustrate her and if there’s no hope of Nigeria’s transformation for the next 100 years?

Read also: A revisit to building collapse in Nigeria

Well, I told Dr Omokanye, and he later agreed, that it doesn’t have to take the next 100 years for Nigeria to escape fragility and become a successful country. After all, it didn’t take Singapore or any of the so-called Asian Tigers 100 years to become the successful economies and societies that they are today.

So, then, what are the stepping-stones out of fragility? Well, first and foremost, Nigeria needs a transformational leader; a leader who can use the tools of narratives, actions and institutions to transform the country. “Narratives” means a leader who has the right vision for Nigeria and can articulate the vision and mobilise the people around it. “Actions” means a leader who is honest and does what he says, backing his words with signalling actions.

And “institutions” means a leader who knows what political and governance structures best suit this country and who can lead the process of building such institutions. As the authors of the Oxford-LSE report on state fragility put it: “Good leaders change policies, but great leaders build institutions.”

Unfortunately, Nigeria lacks visionary leaders with the above transformative attributes. Think about it. As a multi-ethnic country, where powerful groups tend to dominate weaker groups, where power is over centralised, Nigeria needs a devolved and inclusive governance structure without which there will be no shared purpose and thus no progress. Yet, Nigeria’s ruling elite rejects the need to restructure the country and transform its governance system.

Well, another problem is the lack of effective checks and balances. Take the provision on direct primaries in the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill. Direct primaries would create open and competitive access to public office without impositions by godfathers. Such reform is necessary to strengthen Nigeria’s electoral democracy. But once President Buhari vetoed the bill, the legislators shamelessly caved in! There are no checks and balances to promote good governance!

Then there’s the absence of a critical mass of societal pressure, including from the media? In a recent piece titled “Effective Journalists”, the veteran journalist and Vanguard columnist Donu Kogbara wrote that “the average Nigerian journalist relates to Very Important Personages too chummily or differentially.” Yet, as the Economist magazine once said: “A sceptical lack of deference towards leaders is the first step to reform.” British journalists accord no undue deference to their politicians and, even, members of the Royal Family.

When a country lacks visionary leaders and competent and honest public officials, lacks effective checks and balances, and lacks a critical mass of enlightened and demanding citizens and media, it would inevitably be trapped in fragility. Truth is: Nigeria’s transformation rests squarely on doing the needful.

Happy New Year everyone!