Strategising the Nigerian project
The difficulty in recruiting this new generation of leaders is consequently due mainly to the percolation of an inimical dynamics of negative values trickling down from the current set of leaders into the impressionable consciousness of the emerging community of possible leaders.
In summary, what we have in Nigeria is a problem of lack of firm direction regarding the envisioned great Nigeria of the future that we are building. There is as yet a nationally shared vision regarding the Nigerian of our dream to which the leadership is committed in spirit and in truth. Rather, Nigeria is being piloted metaphorically by three pilots in the cockpit. While one is looking to Saudi Arabia for vision, the other is looking to Israel in a manner of speaking. The third pilot however wishes that the plane should crash after he has escaped using the parachute, so that whatever is left could be his as the ‘biggest contributor’ to the commonwealth. The consequent sociology from these confused ideological underpinnings of the envisioned Nigeria is contrived in the dubious behavior of a political leadership class that repeats the same old game of playing chess with the destiny of the Nigerian nation.
It is this leadership failure to come up with a shared vision of the direction that they are leading the nation that makes it difficult for them to promote, through such policies as the quota system, Federal Character, NYSC, the rebranding Nigeria project, Change Begins with You, and any such initiatives, an active citizenship in Nigeria. That would be the kind of citizenship that encourages individuals to work beyond their personal interests in deliberation and action, and to take their civic responsibility seriously – as common national aspiration that the political leadership is trusted in all its actions to achieve.
And the first condition a state must facilitate before it achieves social cohesion is to achieve the principle of social justice. This principle demands that all forms of social inequalities—gender, income, class, political and material—are minimised as much as possible. In any society, like Nigeria, where the wealth gap between the rich and the poor is excruciatingly wide in ways that are even facilitated by the government through its tax regime, the social strain of such an inequality undermines social cohesion. In any state, again like Nigeria, where the ethnic diversity is so virulent as to constantly undermine the government’s civic efforts, social cohesion also becomes near impossible. And lastly, in any country where there is a disproportionate sharing of the scarce resources in ways that enable one group to have more than the other, we already have a recipe for social disorder.
Social cohesion is about stability, and this is a function of the level of trust that can be generated within any society. Unfortunately, Nigeria is a low-trust society. Nigeria’s plural diversity facilitates a level ethnic and religious distrusts that operates at both the individual and group levels. Again, this can be explained as one consequence of the primordial loyalty that Nigerians hold on to. Being a Hausa, for instance, is almost a sure sign that one will find relating with an Igbo a distasteful possibility. Low-trust societies generate stereotypes that undermine social cohesion.
Essentially, social cohesion demands a strategy of governance. And this is in the full recognition that good governance is the framework within which the transformation of ethnic diversity into nationhood can begin to unravel. There are two dimensions of the strategy of governance that are needed to ground social cohesion. The first is the urgent need to leverage education and value reorientation as the dynamics which engages with the citizens’ mental sets and worldviews.
The way people perceive the world and their relationship with others has a lot to do with what they have learnt or refused to learn as they go through life. Such citizens might have learnt but there is a sense in which learning undermines the basis of relationship when it is founded on crass individualism and selfish understanding. A state that desires social cohesion must therefore invest in an educational policy that encourages the growth of reflective, respectful and ethically-minded citizens who are willing to learn to trust others and live with them in tolerance. Ultimately, this kind of value reorientation helps the citizens to learn skills, competencies and values to live with others.
The second dimension of the strategy of governance required for social cohesion is a reform blueprint that leads to a capacitating social policy. This refers to policy initiatives, social relations and institutional arrangements which energize human well-being. It constitutes a deliberate attempt, on the part of government, to intervene in the redistribution of resources among its citizens as a means of achieving welfare objectives that empowers the citizens. This involves investing in healthcare, employment, housing, and so on as well as opening up the society in ways that undermine inequalities, protect the vulnerable and facilitate democratic relations.
The thesis behind this second strategy which is the global paradigm underpinning the UNDP Human Development Index (HDI), the SDGs, a perspective that benefitted from the works of the likes of Nobel laureates Amartya Sen and which is a dominant emphasis even in current global conversation, a wave that inspired the 2019 Nobel laureates in economics, Michael Kremer, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo awarded for their novel approach to research in tackling global poverty. Achieving these in a sustainable manner also requires institutional creativity to get such innovations as NYSC, the Federal Character policy, free and compulsory education, social security system, etc. to keep evolving, deepened and consolidated in manner that do not supplant equally noble principles as competitiveness, meritocracy, etc.
Within this framework of imperatives demanded by the need for social cohesion, little reflection is required to understand precisely what the role of professional strategists, the types that coalesce under a preeminent body like the Institute for Strategic Management of Nigeria (ISMN). This is an association of strategists specialising in “strategic leadership and governance” through research, education, training, certification, education and regulation of students. The strategic management that the ISMN is concerned with is a significant component of what the strategic engagement with the Nigerian national project demands. Strategic management implies a fundamental understanding of how strategy formulation, implementation and evaluation become essential to Nigeria’s development and progress. The challenge, therefore, for the professional strategists under the ISMN, is to find a broader platform through which to articulate the strategic imperatives that ought to go into Nigeria’s quest for national integration and social cohesion for development and democratic governance.
The Nigerian project at present lacks coherent strategic dynamics that would ensure that the leadership deploys the significant elements of social cohesion, as outlined above, towards ameliorating the Nigerian plural condition and its negative effects that have undermined the positive dimensions of diversity which countries like the United States have converted to social capital for national development.
Prof. Olaopa, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary & Executive Vice-Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP), Bodija, Ibadan, delivered this keynote lecture at the Institute of Strategic Management, Nigeria ( ISMN) Annual Strategist Dinner in Lagos on November 22, 2019.
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