‘Solutions that are polycentric,people-oriented with education, Culture are what Nigeria needs now’
In developed climes, studies and researches incubated, especially at the ivory towers, are targeted at providing pragmatic solutions to myriad of problems confronting human society in whatever angle: socio-politics, economy, environmental, physical and metaphysical. In Nigeria however, in spite of its abundant resources, over 58 years of independence, close to 200 million population, and about 170 universities, all manners of socio-political and economic disorder have continued to stunt the country’s attainment of greatness in all ramifications. As a result, SAMSON AKINOLA, Professor of Urban and Regional Planning who is also Provost, College of Science, Engineering and Technology, Osun State University, Osogbo, Osun State, in the last 26 years, has dedicated his academic career to innovating polycentric planning procedures aimed at tackling Nigeria’s socio-economic, techno-political and environmental problems. He applies the approach to community development for ordering the use of physical, human, environmental and institutional resources as well as engaging the citizens in contractual relations with the public authority on community development matters to alleviating poverty.
He is concerned with knowledge generation and application to the challenges that are confronting the country, especially how to initiate and implement comprehensive development planning that cuts across various sectors of Nigerian, nay African economy. With strong belief in drawing pragmatic lessons from community institutions to reconstitute order from the bottom-up for the emergence of adaptive self-reliant arrangements in Nigeria and Africa, he has designed and published strategies and institutional mechanisms for the application of more than 41 African development models. These models, in addition to earning him the epithet – Polycentric planner and problem-solving entrepreneur, they have also motivated an advocacy initiative tagged: Saving the Soul of Nigeria Project (SSNP) with eight areas of engagements. These are elections, democratization and dividend of democracy; restructuring, democracy domestication and nation building; food security programme; teeming youth and employment generation; adaptive education and development; corruption annihilation, probity and accountability; Niger Delta post-amnesty reconstruction; and herdsmen-farmers conflict and peace building. In this interview, Prof. Akinola provides further details.
What is the motivation for the Saving the Soul of Nigeria Project?
There is no doubt that Nigeria is at several crossroads. The way forward on how to save the soul of Nigeria is the main preoccupation of Saving the Soul of Nigeria Project (SSNP). It is a programme organized for all well-meaning Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora, especially students and youth (the leaders of tomorrow). Sincerely and accurately, there have been a lot of good talks and speeches on what to do about Nigeria – patriotism, change mantras, good governance, good leadership, resources utilisation, adaptive education, poverty reduction, women empowerment, youth inclusion, food security, employment generation, selflessness, and so on. Unfortunately, these good talks and speeches lack methodologies and strategies on how to address specific challenges and problems to birth a new Nigeria.
For example, ‘photocopy’ of ideas from abroad are rive among politicians. The repeated ‘ideologies’ found among political parties offer little hope to the electorate: ‘I/We will set up a government that will be people-oriented, inclusive, sensitive to the people’s plight’; government will embark on reforms in X sector’; ‘government will provide transformation agenda and enact responsive policy to address X, Y problems’; ‘government will provide the enabling environment’; ‘leadership will provide change agenda that will ensure transparency and accountability to the citizenry’. Expressions like these are too generic and non-specific, while the outcomes of such political endeavours have proved calamitous over the years.
The situation is not different within the academia. While they do justice in analysing problems, they enter an intellectual ‘cul-de-sac’ (dead-end) when it gets to finding solutions. The repeated suggestions found in the prized ‘publications’ offer little guidance: ‘government should embark on reforms in X sector’; ‘government should ensure that its policies have a human face’, etc. The ABC’s on how concretely to address Nigerian problems are lacking. These scholars generate new and innovative ideas, publish the ideas and used them for promotion. After that they relaxed. The concern of how to take the ideas from the shelves to the streets where the ideas could benefit the people is not prioritised.
Consequently, from 1960 till date, the country is more or less a non-starter. The background questions are these: When are we going to get it right? For how long are we going to cite examples of Singapore, Hong Kong, Asian miracles while we engage in rhetorics and blame game? For how long are we going to wait for four years of elections rituals, while Nigeria produces 2 million graduates per annum with 50 per cent having no jobs; 2.1 million Nigerians became jobless in 2016 (NBS, 2017), the number increased to 4.07 million in 2017 (NBS, 2017); World Poverty Clock is ticking six Nigerians into poverty every minute and the country becomes the capital of world poverty by 2030 and beyond.
In view of apathetic response of both past and present administrations to new ideas and the high probability of future administration to continue in colonial intellectual syndrome, Nigerian masses must be ready to continue in increasing hiked prices of food items, heightened poverty, increased youth joblessness, deepened insecurity, wanton destruction of lives and property, forlorn hope, etc.
With the current trends of events within the Nigeria political system, no political party has concrete idea/strategy on how to fix the country. The whole ideas being peddling around resonate around empty promises and winner-takes-it-all where citizens have no grip on leadership checks and balances. For instance, since Nigerians are wallowing in the pool of intellectual blindness on the way forward, it is the intention of SSNP to apply intellectual eye salve for political and developmental enlightenment on what works as opposed to what does not work. Nigerians must have a good understanding of, be enlightened on democratisation and restructuring, and be able to distinguish between the roles of elected officials and the electorate.
In specific terms, how will SSNP approach challenges of development in the country?
The desire is to change the narratives from theoretical formulations, empirical analysis, knowledge generation and policy formulation syndrome to problem solving entrepreneurship where pragmatism and practical application of new ideas are imperative to deal with the challenges of modern-day Nigeria. Knowledge economy should be prioritized now. Using self-governance, a new system of government that is rooted in polycentric planning and problem-solving entrepreneurship, operationalizable at Self-governing Community Assembly (SGCA), citizens will be able to effectively check their leaders within multi-layered and multi-centred institutional environments and jointly decide how resources are to be effectively utilized to generate economic growth (GDP) and the outcome of the GDP will be equitably shared among citizens through polycentric privatization planning strategy (PPPS).
From where did you draw this inspiration? Is there any clime now or in the past where this kind of idea had been successfully practiced?
What SSNP is embarking upon is similar to American experience of the United States when the country had serious problems in the 18th century. At that time, scholars and intellectuals got involved in deliberation. For example, and relevant to the Nigeria’s context was an approach taken by the authors of The Federalist (Hamilton, Jay and Madison  1961), the participants in the Philadelphia Convention where they resolved on turning ideas to deeds – theory/knowledge to actions/realities and in the Mayflower Compact, the Americans made commitment among citizens to solve their common problems together respectively. The purpose of SSNP is to draw veritable inspirations from Nigerian cultural heritage, adaptive education, polycentric planning and problem-solving entrepreneurship in charting courses of actions to addressing myriads of challenges and problems that are bedeviling the nation.
The programme believes strongly that problem-solving entrepreneurship requires questions to be generated, while possible answers to the questions will be transposed into designing the working arrangements, institutional mechanisms, models and strategies at resolving the challenges and problems that are confronting the country. Answers to these questions will, invariably, provide a new way of thinking on problem-solving strategies that are encapsulated in my 42 African problem-solving models and strategies. SSNP is designed for Nigerian workers, youth, students as well as concerned and patriotic Nigerians in all works of lives. The time has come for us to explore new alternative narratives that draw veritable inspirations from Nigerian cultural heritage, polycentric planning and problem-solving entrepreneurship following the ABC of problem-solving strategies that cut across several sectors of Nigerian economy.
Don’t you think adopting a particular culture will be counterproductive since Nigeria is so heterogeneous in terms of culture, ethnicity, understanding and way of life? How do we manage that to ensure that we come up with identifiable culture in the midst of this diversity?
It is because of lack of critical study of our identity as a people. Nigeria has over 300 different tribes but there is something that is unique that I have discovered. For example, look at Yoruba as a people, our ancestors practiced some concepts of collective actions such as Aro, Owe and Esusu. These are what they used to navigate around obstacles during their times. Esusu is regarded as a financial rotational system to assist one another. This is what developed into modern day cooperatives. Among the Igbo, it is called Isusu; among the Fulani, it is called Adachi Asusu. So, there is a common denominator of Esusuism among us as a people. So, when we now look at Esusuism, its meaning is cooperation. And before there can be cooperation, there must be trust and unity of purpose in whatever you want to do.
What is in the concept of ‘elections, democratization and dividend of democracy’ under SSNP for Nigerians?
The concept will provoke questions such as, is the present political system generating appreciable impact on the welfare of Nigerian masses? In view of the failure of imported democratic ideology to generate citizens’ welfare in Nigeria, are there alternative narratives of people-centred arrangement that can enable Nigerians to organize a system of government that will guarantee freedom, peace and prosperity? Is there a common denominator to Nigerian cultural diversity in establishing a new system of government that will guarantee freedom, peace and prosperity? If answers to last two questions above are in the affirmative, what is the origin, nature and structure of that system of government and how can we operationalize it to suit Nigerian realities? Under what conditions can Nigerians organize a system of government that will guarantee freedom, peace and prosperity from reflection and choice? Since election is one of the 21 elements of democratisation (about 5 per cent), the question is: what should be done to the other 95 per cent of democratisation that citizens are not (properly) engaged? If it is true that election is at the heart of the conception of democratisation, how can we redesign electoral system in relation to democratisation that will involve citizens whose welfare is to be determined by democracy before, during and after election? Why is it that democracy is still working for the Americans and is not working for Nigerians in spite of the adoption of the system several years ago? Do Nigerians really understand the features, rudiments and elements of democratisation? What is democratisation within the contexts of American and African/Nigerian realities? What have been the impact of money-bagged politics and political god-fatherism on the performance of Nigerian politicians? How can Nigerian political system be demonetised?
Answers to these questions will enable Nigerians to collectively commence the task of re-writing the history of this country in a positive way. If all our political engagements, as a people of about 180 million, resonate around 5 per cent of democratisation leaving behind 95 per cent, can we say that we are democratizing? If we are not, then we must start by doing what the Americans did about 300 years ago when they realized that the Articles of Confederation could not fulfil their dream and aspirations, reviewed the Articles for the emergence of the Federal Constitution in the Philadelphia Convention.
In the case of Nigeria, the way it works is to agree that election is an infinite decimal part of democratization and federalism. Once we agree, we now ask the question where the other elements are? When we now mention them. We now understand how to engage the citizens. It means we have to restructure. Restructuring is a very loud issue in our political spheres. I have been working on restructuring since 2008 and publishing since 2010 on restructuring especially on Niger-Delta and Africa as a whole. The restructuring is what will help us to actually turn things around in the sense that we have been living in disparage situation, everybody in his/her own tent. To now come together as a people by sharing our problem and having a common thought whereby we can be able to discuss as the electorate and the elected regularly and share opinions and let people know what government has in mind and let government also know what people are thinking. The combination of this is what we can call a Restructured System- in economic system, political system, environmental system among others.
How is your proposition different from restructuring some Nigerians have been clamouring for?
What is essential is for Nigerians to begin to think on the possibility of setting up national restructuring school for political leaders at all levels. This becomes expedient in view of the realization that the current trends of intra-party and inter-parties’ crisis should caution Nigerians that greed and avarice predominate among the politicians and as a result, nothing tangible should be expected from them (politicians) by the masses.
Any leader that desires to effectively govern this country should be able to convince Nigerians on the ABC of restructuring Nigeria’s political economy and how restructuring will address food crisis, unemployment, conflicts, insecurity, retirees’ dilemma, marginalisation, minority exclusion, disconnect, poverty, corruption, Mediterranean deadly migration, infrastructural deficits, underdevelopment, housing deficits, bad roads, etc. Restructuring, as a concept, has a definition that emanated from cutting-edge research. Unfortunately, analysts and commentators have not been able to define the concept in the light of Nigerian realities.
In this new proposition, Federal/State/Local Restructuring School is designed for laying the foundation for a united and prosperous nation – those who win elections will be told that they won on the basis of 5 per cent democratisation. However, they will be assessed on the platform of 100 per cent democratisation after three months regularly after assuming office. All politicians that win elections will be mentored/tutored and guided on the act of governance of community affairs in the various schools. Politicians will submit their manifestoes/agenda to the Heads of Schools in their respective levels (federal/state/local). Such submissions will be compared with the ideals of restructuring within the context of exogenous variables in their communities and constituencies.
No political party, so far, has the required requisite capability for restructuring the Nigerian state without subjecting the system to smorgasbord and regarding it as aiye-nyism. The whole ideas being peddling around by those using restructuring to campaign is gimmick as they lack the understanding of the nitty-gritty of the process. The onus lies on the Nigerian masses to understand the required ingredients of restructuring and then demand the necessary thing to be done by the elected leadership.
From cutting-edge research that have passed through the crucible and cauldron of intellectual peer-review mechanisms, restructuring can be defined as the process of crafting inclusive public sphere and political economy for effective socio-economic and political engagements of citizens for decision making through polycentric planning, error correcting potentials and institutional mechanisms for true democratization and equitable distribution of resources via appropriate institutional arrangements that are self-organising and self-governing within rule-ruler-ruled configuration.
From your analysis, democratization process in Nigeria leans heavily on electoral process, which is just 5 per cent according to you, while the remaining 95 per cent is neglected. Has any model been developed to reverse this ugly trend?
Certainly! This is called African Electoral Reform and Democratization Model. In order to analyse political crisis and tyranny of the majority in Africa, the concept of ‘hawkism’ is invoked. A hawk is a bird that operates in the air but its food – chicken, rats, etc. – are located on the ground. The same is true of African politicians; they are suspended in the air like hawks. They only come to the grassroots during elections for votes that would last them a tenure of four to five years. Political ‘hawkism’ can be defined as the process of votes’ collection by politicians from the electorates at the grassroots that results into self-exclusion of politicians after electoral victory at luxurious hotels such as Seven Stars, Sheraton, Nicon, Government House, etc.
But in order to address problem of political ‘hawkism’ and violent politics among politicians in Africa, African Electoral Reform and Democratisation Model (AREDM) is designed. The model erects barriers by reshaping, reconstructing and reconfiguring democratic space to include diverse civil society, community institutions and interest groups at community and local level. It connects government structures with people-oriented institutions such that elected officials (leaders) and the electorate (the led) can engage in open discussions on societal challenges and problems in their mother tongues at Self-governing Community Assembly (SGCA).
Issues to be discussed and agreed upon at the community forum include: the integrity and characters of an ideal councillor, a chairman, and other elected public officials; the attachment of political candidates to their communities in terms of contribution to development and local investment; and how often elected officials should meet with SGCA. This is constitutional level where conditions for rule making and modification are determined. Similarly, strategies for implementation will be fashioned out at the collective choice level. At the collective choice level, decisions are made on the issues raised and agreed upon at the constitutional level. For example, how projects are to be implemented; how to recover money mismanaged, stolen or embezzled by political leaders at the various levels of government should be collectively decided by the people-oriented and self-governing assembly at community, local, state and federal levels. Also, procedures on how to apply sanction on rule infractions will be designed. At the operational level, real actions are carried out. This is the level where responsibilities are assigned to individuals. Who does what?
Post-election activities are operational activities, which occur at operational level. Here all pre-elections’ decisions should be implemented and monitored by monitoring group after elections. This includes regular meeting of SGCA as agreed upon by the assembly. Various committees that are set up by the assembly will have to take action on specific issues. Project monitoring committee should ensure delivery of services, while accountability committee would ensure quality of projects. In case of default, appropriate sanctions as agreed upon at the constitutional level will be applied on rule infractions.
To actualize a short period for elections tribunal, structures for verification and monitoring should be on ground. All parties and monitoring groups are allowed to have both written and video documentaries of what transpired on the day of election. These could be presented in court to confirm or refute any allegation.
In a polycentric system, electoral loss will attract little or no agitation for tribunal because the system is opened from the onset. The application of this model in selected communities in Nigeria would lead to the emergence of people-oriented electoral system that could constitute checks on the excessiveness of politicians. This emerging pattern of political order will invariably enable citizens and community institutions through civil society to play prominent and integral roles before, during and after elections.
What efforts are being made to ensure that these proposals reach appropriate quarters for adoption and implementation?
On several occasions, the proposals have been sent to Nigerian leaders (governments and universities) with proof of delivery but without attempt at adopting the innovative ideas. For example, on the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, not less than 23 proposals had been designed and sent to Nigerian leaders (President, Ministers, Governors, etc.) since May 2015. The common denominator to all the 23 proposals resonates around new and innovative ideas and strategies to resolving Nigeria’s lingering socio-economic, techno-political and environmental crisis. The latest of these proposals is on “African Polycentric Herdsmen-Farmers Conflict Resolution and Peace-building Model (APHFCRPM) (with 46 stages) for detecting, preventing, resolving conflicts and building peace for harmonious relations, co-habitation and shared community of understanding among herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria.” The proposals cautioned Nigerian leaders about the danger of doing nothing in the face of impending crisis due to increasing youth unemployment. Prevention is better than cure.
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