May 29 and onward: Towards Nigeria’s rebirth and transformation – Part 2
But we need to be careful not to benchmark our leaders against standards that would keep crippling them and their performance, especially in contexts that would be incompatible with the standards they are benchmarked against. Nigeria, the Asian Tigers and African Comparators. The closest governance context to the African experience is Asia, and so we can start by benchmarking the new administration to the experience of the Asian Tigers, like Singapore. How did Singapore, through Lee Kuan Yew, make that fundamental jump from third to first world?
Six critical readjustments are key to that transformation we can learn from. First, there was a rejection of import substitution for a pursuit of a bold and aggressive export-oriented development strategy. The second, and corollary, development framework is the discipline that export strategy imposes on the cultivation of local consumption and local industries in a way that enables steady growth.
Third, this cultivation of local consumption is geared towards the improvement of national productivity. This therefore makes it necessary to invest aggressively in education and training that inevitably leads to increase in per capita productivity in the national economy. Fourth, a corollary of this investment in training and education has to do with investments in research and development (R&D). Developmental states are states that immediately see 5 the significance of industrialization as the marker of progress. And this requires a dynamical relationship, for instance, between industries and higher education that enables action research to fuel industrial breakthroughs which in turn become research projects.
Fifth, developmental states cannot afford to become profligate with national finance. This automatically calls attention to transparency and accountability in the management of the national account. A by-product of this is the setting up of solid anti-corruption strategies and structures that can bark and bite! Lastly, and most significantly, developmental states take their public service institutions seriously in terms of reforming them into becoming world class performance structures operating on meritocracy and competency-based human resource management.
The Mo Ibrahim African Governance (IIAG) brings home even more crucially the continent specific standards and achievements parameters that are not captured in universalised global benchmarks. It not only tells us that leadership and leadership performance is context-bound, but also stands as an intermediate standard by which African economies and leadership can be assessed within a context of African political economy with its own unique challenges and successes.
The IIAG benchmarks African governance dynamics around critical issues of infrastructure, macroeconomic stability, health and primary education, higher education training, good market efficiency, labour market efficiency, financial market sophistication, technological readiness, market size, business sophistication, and innovation. And this is where the existing continental monitoring institutions like NEPAD and APRM become significant partners in Africa’s economic recovery and competitiveness. And given the failure to find a distinguished leader worthy of the Leadership Prize, this becomes an even more daunting leadership challenge for someone like Tinubu. From Benchmarking Lessons to Governance Performance This benchmarking points us in several directions that the Tinubu administration can pick up its legacy of good democratic governance.
Transformational leadership and the change of space. The first and critical realisation is what Nigerians require from the new administration. The short and profound answer is national transformation. If this is so, then transforming Nigeria and the quality of lives of Nigerians must start with a critical question: how does leadership become transformational? This question hinges on the difference between a leader willing to achieve performance in terms of governance changes, and one who wants to carry on, business as usual.
In answering this question, the conventional sense of a transformational leader is captured by the strong man theory—a leader that is decisive, intelligent, charismatic and therefore heroic, who has the capacity to translate vision and strategy to outcomes based on compelling best practices and scientific and evidence-based data. However, while this conceptualisation of a transformational leader is an irreducible requirement in governance successes, it is also essentially idealistic. The point is that every leader is context-bound; situated within a context of sociocultural and political practices.
Within the context of governing, there are so many variables that make the success of a single person—even with the best of capacities, charisma and wisdom, a most daunting feat, especially in a democracy. The idea of a government comes with various shades of limitations too significant for even a good and capable leader to overcome. The complex terrain of governance presented by the Nigerian state cannot therefore be located around an individual or in terms of a solo or personalised heroic effort alone. On the contrary, what is required is a leader that has the capacity to put together a change space graduated into multi-level leadership levels based on the paradigm that “multiple functions are required to effect change through multiple stages, requiring multiple parties to provide multiple leadership.”
This translates into the urgent assembling of a coalition of change, a team that possesses sufficient patriotic commitment, professional expertise and political wisdom to initiate, implement and deliver the change needed to move Nigeria beyond her present predicaments. And this must be done under the necessary dynamics of performance contract, audits and accountability to achieve peak and optimal performance. This suggest that the leader is technically-enabled to a) manage attention – create compelling vision of the new Nigeria that he is leading others to build b) manage meaning – is able to communicate the vision with clarity not only to the change team but to Nigerians c) manage trust – in being able to set achievable goals with sufficiently enabled structure of accountability for results achieved and honesty in explaining shortfalls d) manage self – match his words with his heart as measure of purposefulness Governance principles and methodology.
This is where vision, purpose and strategies are key. The President needs to commence the administration with a governance methodology embedded in Buhari’s statement of “‘I am for everybody and I am for no one,” which provides a detached platform for leadership and governance praxis. For instance, it will be the wrong foot forward if Tinubu starts by favouring only those who voted for him or aided him during the last elections, or—for that matter—filling his cabinet with political jobbers. This is because the complex problems Nigeria faces require radical and innovative approaches. We cannot, as Albert Einstein admonishes, “solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them …”
Indeed, we cannot continue seeing development agenda only in terms of the hardware components of infrastructural development that has locked Nigeria into a 19th century perspective on what development is all about. There is therefore the imperative to foreground the value of policy work reinforced with policy engaged research and strategic thinking. This is more so, because the world is now firmly in the knowledge age where hardware development requires the software to make sense.
Nigeria must rediscover the place and role of research in the generation of the requisite policy intelligence and action required to jumpstart critical progress. Action and policy research will indeed be the backbone of leadership sophistication and boldness to craft national development agenda that speak to context-specificities in spite of the preferences of donor conditionalities and western neo-liberal orthodoxy And even more significant is the fact that the idea of government itself has been superseded by that of governance which opens up the processes of government for a wider array of nongovernmental and non-state actors to participate in government, and giving the acts and policies of government more chances of succeeding in empowering the citizens through infrastructural development.
And so, governance provides the government of the day a wide range of political and technocratic expertise to choose from—subject specialists, think tanks, policy networks, and 8 research-enabled interest groups which also have a strategic role to play within the governance space. This is where the idea of putting together a government of national competence demands the creation of a change space, circumscribed by a competency model, that generates a national change management programme that orient those who would work within the change space for the transformation of Nigeria. The changing space and competency model mean that the new administration is ready to jettison the business-as-usual attitude that is ready to play another four years of bad politics with the lives of Nigerians and the destiny of the Nigerian state.
To be continued tomorrow.
Prof. Olaopa retired Federal Permanent Secretary, Professor of Public Administration & Executive Vice-Chairman, ISGPP, Bodija, Ibadan. Oyo State. (Being Distinguished Virtual Public Lecture of the Abuja Leadership Centre of the University of Abuja to herald the inauguration of a new President and Governments in Nigeria Delivered on Monday, 29th of May, 2023).