Until we re-orientate the mind of Nigerians to embrace excellence, stubbornly insisting on things being done to perfection and making precision our watchword, this country will remain in the deepest bowels of the Third World. Truth is, to arrive at a place of excellence requires discipline, intent, deliberacy, patience, faithfulness to an ideal and a mind which utterly rejects any suggestion to comprise one’s standard. In a nutshell, it’s a mindset.
I found myself engaged in a discussion with a teacher at Nigeria Tulip International College, Lagos,(formerly known as Nigerian Turkish International College, NTIC) not too long ago, as there was something I wanted him to do for me the very next day. He quickly informed me that he wouldn’t be able to do it until a couple of days later because he would be taking an exam the next day. I was a little confused because schools had already vacated for the Easter holidays, so why would the children go back to take another set of exams? As if he knew what I was thinking, he then proceeded to apprise me of the fact that all their teachers sit for two exams every term. One, I’m guessing may be set by one of the schools within the NTIC group and the other is a professional Cambridge exam. Wow! NTIC’s academic predominance especially in Maths and the Sciences is anything but a fluke. Once the children’s end of term exams are over, it’s the turn of the teachers. They do this every term. And they must pass! This pursuit of academic excellent is wisely supported by their strict moral teachings. What most may not know is that excellence is an ideal conterminous with character, so why should one be surprised that God continues to bless their efforts? Excellence doesn’t come by chance.
Does it still surprise you that as we’ve managed to lose any sense of perfection in almost all strata of daily life, we’ve become a nation of anything goes? If you’ve been “privileged” to have dealings with a typical Naija artisan, you will know exactly what I mean. A brick layer will construct a doorway where someone even as far away as Timbuktu will see very clearly that one side is nothing less than half a foot higher than the other side but when you point it out to him with as much respect as you can muster, while trying desperately hard to disguise your annoyance, “Baba Muri, it looks like this right side is a bit higher than the left one”, you’re very likely to hear the typical response that’s ever ready to roll of their tongue, “O de wa okay” (And it’s okay as it is). And truly, in his eyes, it really is good enough. Perfection is an alien concept to him and by pushing him to strive for it, you’re made to feel like a wicked person who just can’t be satisfied no matter what he does. “Wahala man yen ti poju jare” is the common attitude. Not “how can I do it better?” In a society where even something as simple as enquiring about the time is likely to elicit a vague response like “it’s to 2” rather than the more helpful “it’s 25 minutes to 2” or “10 minutes to 2”, why would we see the need to be precise about anything else? This speaks to the mindset as perfection is never vague. It’s an intentional, unambiguous and explicit benchmark.
The sad thing is, this same attitude of elevating mediocrity as the standard bestraddles our whole society. Political appointments are made, not based on the appointees’ reputation for excellence but based on political or more primordial sentiments. Nepotism, which will forever remain a stranger to excellence is the norm and make no mistake, this is by no means peculiar to politics. A Bank MD who places his personal interest of accumulating wealth above the success of the institution he leads is as devoid of the spirit of excellence as he’s morally bankrupt. An election candidate who’s corrupt background is known to all cannot be expected to perform with excellence should he win the election because he has already developed a propensity to comprise. The point I’m trying to make is that a man who attaches no value to remaining faithful to integrity is far less likely to hold excellence as sacrosanct. Jim Collins, the author and Professor ushered us into his masterpiece, Good to Great, with this highly instructive quote, “the enemy of great is good”. Anyone satisfied with good can never become great.
A man, certainly counted amongst the greatest political leaders of our time, Lee Kuan Yew, said something in his book, “Third World to First”, which continues to offer me a glimmer of hope for my country Nigeria, despite the fact that he had, without mincing words, completely written us off. In appraising what needed to be done to successfully transform his country, Singapore, he said:
“This meant we had to train our people and equip them to provide First World standards of service. I believed this was possible, that we could reeducate and re-orientate our people with the help of schools, trade unions, community centres and social organizations. If the communists in China could eradicate all flies and sparrows, surely we could get our people to change their Third World habits.”
Lee Kuan Yew observed, consulted, pondered and came to the understanding that excellence was indeed attainable. Just as importantly too, he believed. Once he’s able transform the people’s mindset, then their habits will also change; dropping unhelpful habits to pick up helpful ones, dropping habits which perpetuate backwardness to pick up habits which guarantee progress and development. Reform your mindset and material transformation will undoubtedly follow. Without a shadow of doubt, he was right. The saying tells us the taste of the pudding is in the eating. Well, the pudding this gentleman baked, tastes excellent.
Like I always say, social rejuvenation doesn’t require a population of geniuses; only a steely resolve by individuals like you and I, to always do the right thing, beginning from own little corner.
Changing the nation…one mind at a time.