Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Apala of Oga Tunji

So the Nigeria or the Nigerian project will be officially or formally 45 years old this week wow! Many did not give it 5 years without the hands of its colonial parents. Here we are 45 years after still acting like a teenager all noise but no tremors, all trousers no rhythm. Nevertheless this piece is a significant love letter using pieces of my essence. First my brother the real Oga Tunji ' Okunrin meta ' we have a standing joke which cannot fully translate but he is the original vagabwoys. In this little exploration of our direction he is the strawman, even though for me he represents the dignity of the divine and the ultimate cool. Then there is the Apala, the kind of blues that wakes up my soul in the ultimate memory of my Nigerianess, played on early Sunday morning on my fathers 78s the mournful and soulful voice of Yusuf Olatunji, the late Baba Legba crooning to the goje vibe. My father in his 'Gbariye' floating to the soft groove, it has the same effect as 'abula' in the morning, the picture of earthy energy grounded in the poetry of human travails. So two 'Tunjis' but like the proverbial tripod that keeps the stew from keeling over there is a third one. The final Tunji is the renaissance of reawakening because the name or the word is literarily reawakening like the Hamlet of Oyotunji in the United States. Now before lunching into my Apala lets define Oga for those who have never engaged the Nigerian power holder in the fullness of their indignation or on the other hand who have experienced it but assumed it to be personal arrogance in pursuit of fifteen minutes of fame. Oga is Nigerian authority personified, it is a child of the illicit affair of the racial superiority of the Colonial administrator with the traditional reverence of the native nobility. Simply it is a bastard child come to rule with all the attendant insecurity of a chip on the shoulder accompanied by ravaging effect of an unbridled male libido my view it is now a luxury that Nigeria at the age of 45 can ill afford.

Apala Stanza 1 ' The Insight'

Nigerian recorded history and contemporary dialogue has been strictly speaking the story of the Ogas, their many distractions and conflicts. The British in understanding the symbolic power that Ogas represented took out a cadre of true patriots like Jaja of Opobo, Esugbayi Eleko, Ovaranmin of Benin amongst many who could challenge their hegemony. As a starter for ten these guys (they were and in most part continue to be exclusively male) were not simply romantic heroes but largely benevolent dictators. The British followed them with their own form of unaccountable domination because the noble rule that proceeded had checks and balance, whilst colonial rule was an occupation rule. Anyways there is no place in the world where you can get a better training as an authoritarian than amongst the middle and ruling classes of Nigeria. The addition of the military to this stew was an inspirational choice of casting. The final results discernible in Nigerian successful males is a triumph of Ego over reason, harnessed by qualifications, spiced up by titles and baked in testosterone. Believe me as I am one of them a Nigerian male authority figure has only one rival for his throne that is a Silver back Gorilla in full duty. This is not necessarily bad but in a country of 140 million est with about 20 million aspirant Ogas the delays in progress are often underestimated. In this context and with this lens observe the current dispute between the President and his Vice or the strutting comments of Governor Kalu vis the president or the rantings of Dokubo Asari. The not so obvious thing is that this same authoritarian exercise of power is fully embedded in the private sector. In fact a Nigerian entrepreneur was quoted as saying that there only two types of Nigerian employees, thieves or animals. What!?! In my president I find the benign use of Oga with a paternalistic streak, a true Nigerian committed to the project and blinded by his own instincts. We have been so lucky that in general these impulses have been relevant and benign however we are back to 1979 where there will be others who rule with the same model but which more ambivalent impulses. Here is the problem of the Oga that at best he deskills those around him at worst he destroys their drive and reduces them to servile ineptitude. The consequence is profound for productivity but more importantly leads the very Ogas to an early Grave.

Apala Stanza 2 The Times

We now live in a time where the complex, self organising and interdependent context that we all live in demands a ore sophisticated response. Like the old Yoruba proverb when you plan madness for a hundred years, how many years will it take to execute it? It is extremely depressing to countenance a Nigerian census that for legitimate fears of conflict refuses to collect data about ethnicity or religion. It means that even if we know the number of people we have little qualitative data about their identity or cultural disposition consequently we are blinded to some of the key determinants of motivation, values and social capital. In a world where socio-cultural identity is being used for economic excellence as in the case of International Chinese and for destabilising nation state as in Kosovo or the Delta it seems extremely blind. We live in a world where the industrial model of problem solving which depends on expertise, planning, centralising and roll out of implementation is largely ineffective. The classic is the current Iraq war but also reflected in the increased failure of other planned interventions like the remodernisation of the NHS here in the UK. This is a time for developing the flexibility to adapt and evolve solutions that correspond to the regular and qualitatively connected feedback. It requires decision making at regular and critical interval rather than the big set piece strategic plans. With that in mind the NEEDS plan of the Nigerian government is doomed to failure in its outcomes but will be successful is some outputs. This has nothing to do with the content which is quite good but it has a lot to do with the phenomenal rate of change and complexity of the context. The sae applies to the idea of a super company Transcorp. They are both too high a scale and to broad a church to be nimble enough to respond effectively to the dynamics of their context. The altenative is to recognise the limitation of engineered solutions to complex social dynamics. To follow this up with limited but grand oversight agenda for core values and issues at the centre. To facilitate direct ownership of that agenda at local level demanding a resulting agendaof action. They then maintain flexibility, diversity and ccountability from the centre. This should within the context of a culture of continuous improvement and underpinned by exceptional socio-economic intelligence.

Stanza 3 Penkelemese

2007 election will be a Penkelemese (peculiar mess) affair if we do not embrace the insight and contextual understanding that will enable us to think outside the box. As Nigerians we delight in complaining about what is wrong but ask us to do something aside from conventional wisdom then we tell you why that is not the way things are done here. To paraphrase Einstein we cannot resolve the problems of today with the same level of thinking or mindset with which it was created. One example is the debate whether the President is going for a third term or not. The Yoruba saying that pours scorn on people who ignore leprosy sores and focus on ringworms comes to mind. Surely one mans choices cannot be what determines the future of 120 illion people. There is no doubt that the choice of who is President is important but perharps ore critical is that over 40% of Nigerians are under the age of 20 moats of who are not gainfully employed. The economy has to create 10 of millions of jobs immediately for those people and at best government can help but these will only come from a competitive, organised and socially responsive private sector. We most urgently need a meritrocratic labour market where talent not certificate is celebrated. We need a vocational skills revolution that creates parity of esteem between skilled and graduate employment. We need to harness the entrepreneurial passion that nigerians have in oodles by creating supplier link with National and ultinational cooperation that leads to growth in the SME sector. We need new business model that encourages staff productivity through shared ownership schemes. Yes we need a good government but far more importantly we need a productive populace committed to their prosperity in spite of government.

So lets reawaken the Oga so hubris does not become his destiny. Lets awaken Nigeria so its evolving solutions for posterity. Lets awaken our steps so that the Apala of these times carries the ripple of the Gbariye as it twirls around to baba legba in celebration. Lets awaken to true demands and obligation of our existence.

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