Visionary leaders will always put their “customers” first. In the case of the government, these are the citizens. But first, the visionary leader must set about training the mind of government workers such as civil servants – whether this be in the health care sector or in the educational sector – to understand that their customer is not their Director, Permanent Secretary or the Minister in charge but the students and their parents in the case of the educational sector and the patients in the health sector. And according to David Osborne and Ted Gaebler in their book, Reinventing Government, one of the surest ways to ensure that the needs of the customer is met, is by getting honest feedback from the customer – by making the government agency and its workers who are the service providers accountable to their customers. This is a customer-driven system espoused by James Coleman the renowned psychologist and respected authority on education. This can be done by ensuring there is competition which provides the customer with choices. Parents are therefore free to choose the school that they want to enrol their child at and are equally free to remove their child from that school if they feel their needs are not being met and enroll him or her elsewhere. This is the bottom-up approach to monitor the quality of their service rather than the more bureaucratic top-down approach of making an assessment. As the customers decide with their feet, as it were, you will soon know if you have been able to satisfy them or not.
When it comes to the issue of visionary leadership, Sheikh Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai who is both the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, undoubtedly stands out as a cynosure of such amongst the current crop of world leaders. His Highness, Sheik Mohammed Rashid bin Al Maktoum celebrated 17 years of being at the helm of affairs in Dubai on January 4, 2023. In the 1970s Dubai, almost solely dependent on the exportation of oil for its revenue was said to have taken a look into the future to imagine how it would fare economically as its oil reserves continued to dwindle. Realizing the hardship this foretold for the country, Paul Keijzer in his article titled, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum – A Grounded Visionary and Implementer, revealed that, “Dubai started an extensive economic diversity strategy, focused on tourism, trade, construction and financial services.” He further noted that, “It transformed the emirate to the top business gateway for the Middle East and Africa.”
When Sheik Mohammed Al Maktoum ascended the throne in 2006 he decided to personally lead in the urgent crusade to carve out a new source of revenue that would not only be more sustainable but would also totally transform the country in its reckoning amongst nations. Leading from the front, the Sheikh personally initiated the establishment of the now ubiquitous Emirates Airline by advancing 10 USD from his personal fortune in 1985 as seed capital. The airline which began with just two aeroplanes and is owned by a nation that can barely boast of 3 million people in population now flies by far, the highest number of international passengers in the world. 50% more passengers than its closest rival, United Airlines. The Sheikh sold a vision of the emirate becoming the top business gateway for the Middle East and Africa and he did not relent until he achieved it.
For some years now, it has been a given that whenever organizers of international events look to add a new venue to their circuit, as we find in the case of Formula One racing, tennis tournaments and so many more, Dubai will be one of them. Dubai has become a favourite destination for the world’s rich and famous to holiday and purchase holiday homes. It became the first Arab nation to win the bid to host the world famous EXPO (2020); constructed the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa; built into the ocean, the world’s only seven star hotel; sent the Arab world’s first mission into space and launched its own Artificial Intelligence strategy. This is a nation that has moved far beyond celebrating mundane tasks of governance such as building roads and sinking boreholes to demonstrating what it means to strive for excellence in all its endeavours. None of these however, came by chance. These are the result of very intentional strategic planning and meticulous implementation to transform the country from a forgotten desert nation into a paradise of sorts. A man of the people, the Sheikh moves freely amongst his subjects, as would a leader who knows that he is carrying out the wishes of his people. Keeping up with the times, the Sheikh actively engages the populace through Twitter. In addition to this providing him a platform to sell his vision directly to his subjects and to keep his finger on the pulse of the nation, he uses this platform to nurture the very important resonant relationship which make leaders like himself effective. It is therefore no wonder to learn that his subjects will gladly go to the end of the earth for him, only for his asking. Thanks to a forward looking and sincere leader who does not just speak but is renowned for always doing, Dubai’s earnings from oil which accounted for 50% of its gross domestic product (GDP) in the 1970s now amounts to a mere 1.4% of its GDP. In stark contrast, oil still accounts for 95% of Nigeria’s export earnings and 70% of its total revenue in 2019 according to a BusinessDay report by Oladehinde Oladipo in August 2019. And sadly, this as the world rapidly looks to distance itself from fossil fuel and increasingly utilize cleaner forms of energy.
Sheikh Al Maktoum was quick to understand that the primary role of government in the area of economic development is to provide the enabling environment through good security, adequate infrastructure, friendly policies and clear direction. Visionary leadership in governance according to David Osborne and Ted Gaebler should, “concentrate more on catalyzing and facilitating change than on delivering services – while they provide less government, but more governance.” Like E.S Savas rightly said, “the word government is from a Greek word, which means to steer. The job of government is to steer, not to row the boat. Delivering services is rowing and the government is not very good at rowing.”
The Federal Government of Nigeria certainly deserves kudos for the rail network that it is currently building. The trains and even the train stations are beautiful to behold but because the government should limit itself to steering rather than rowing, it would have been ideal to plan from the onset to privatise the whole railway network a few years after the commencement of operations. Aside from modern governance demanding that governments have no business in business, a body which is torn between steering and rowing can never do either very well. This is because instead of its best talent being allowed to focus squarely on how best to steer, it would often be called away from its primary role and asked to row as well. In addition, Nigerian governments, whether national or subnational have a terrible record of maintaining facilities as the maintenance culture remains largely lacking. Left in the hands of the private sector, the quality of service delivery will determine whether the business will sink or swim and this will ultimately ensure that the facilities are well maintained.
Changing the nation…one mind at a time.