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The problem with linear thinking



Recently, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce posted a message from his Twitter account that said “In the last 3 years, some of us leaders built new houses for ourselves, yet we haven’t built new housing estates for the people. We‘ve bought new private jets yet Nigeria still does not have a national airline. This, in my opinion, is the greatest failure of leadership possible.”

At first glance, it would indeed seem “commonsensical,” the senator being a professed proponent of common sense. Delving a bit deeper however, and in the context of the ribbon-cutting affinity of our political leadership, it reveals the leadership mindset within even the urbane enclaves. And I think it is problematic.

Problematic, in the sense that it is a very linear, basic approach to problem-solving and as the evidence suggests, is not achieving much. Is there a housing shortage? Undoubtedly, with the housing deficit reportedly at about 18 million units. I have also come across reports suggesting that there are at least 100 million people classified as technically homeless in the country. Is the solution then for the government to build 18 million new homes, assuming it could even afford to do so? Yes, some might say. But with an estimated two-thirds of the population living below the poverty line, would the government give them the houses for free? Would it also pay utilities and levies on their behalf?


And what about how much it costs to build homes in Nigeria? My friend and fellow columnist, Feyi Fawehinmi, has done several pieces on how the government’s insistence on propping up its favourite industrialist at the expense of Nigerians who need to build homes, in the middle of an acute housing shortage makes absolutely no sense. But here we are, paying neural service (only pretending to be thinking about problem-solving) to building new estates for the people and making yet another doomed foray into the national airline business.

The same linear thinking was perfectly illustrated in the government’s response to the codeine documentary on an international news channel. I say ‘documentary’ and not ‘crisis’ because the government completely ignored the many local reports that preceded the ‘abroadian’ one on the drug abuse epidemic ravaging different parts of the country. Codeine production was quickly banned and a production line was shut down in one of the pharmaceutical companies identified in the documentary. And of course, the government patted itself on the back for responding quickly.

However, codeine production was not illegal prior to the documentary being aired. Studies from other countries further suggest that codeine has to be mixed with other substances to produce the effects that abusers are chasing. Reports also suggest that neighbouring Benin Republic imports the second highest volumes of codeine in Africa (Nigeria is not in first position, so what does this imply?). Even further, the evidence in Nigeria at least anecdotally, is that there are by far many more over-the-counter substances being combined to fuel these burgeoning addictions. Yet the minister of health declared a new dawn following his announcement of the ban on codeine. Again, this is not to suggest that the ban was inappropriate but surely, to make sense, it had to have been done as the first step in a robust, multi-tiered approach to fixing a complex problem.

It is the same across many aspects of the way we are governed. Many think the solution to a failing educational system is building more schools. Very little is said about improving the pool of teachers and the learning aids they deploy. The daily mess on the roads leading into and out of Apapa are crying for a few more ports to become operational but the focus has been on a trailer park instead. The solution to a failed driver testing system was a replication of the dubious existing system, only with added bottlenecks for size.

Governors wanting to empower the indigent give them wheelbarrows and shoe shine kits, in 2018. In a country where the population is reported to have grown by about 70% over the last 20 years; In a country whose population is predicted to be the third highest in the world by 2050; We are desperate for leaders who realise the urgency and enormity of this challenge and who have the mental capacity and willingness to tackle them.

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