Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Vacancy! 21st Century Leaders required.

All over the world everything Obama is now celebrated and interesting. I vaguely remember being laughed off many dinner parties and drinking arguments amongst Nigerians in at least two continents or four different countries on account of my belief that the then Senator Obama will become President. I remember the derision that met with my pronouncements starting with a post here as far back as 2004/2005. The cynicism with which the possibility of an Obama Presidency was viewed in the sitting rooms of the Lagos Cognisenti was quite painful and dismissive. If however you have been a Nigerian idealistic Nationalist as I have been all my life you live with derision and disdain as a matter of course. Now they shamelessly shout hosanna Obama.

The point of that little tirade is to bring this back to some core set of issues for us in Nigeria about what the President Elect actually represent. Many locate victory and possibility in his ethnicity, his Charisma, his vision and organisation and all of this is part of the truth but very few recognise that he is the first of his generation to rise to this exalted office. A President unburden from the cultural battles of the 1960s, fashioned in the pragmatic 70s, evolved to majority in the Reaganomics of the 80s, inspired by the dotcom of the 90s and now in full service to shape the 21st century. A timely fruition of a Pragmatic radical whose commitment is unwavering but not hobbled by any ideology, a true commitment to by any means necessary.

In Nigeria where I live we have had many leaders who are in the mainstream of the Neo-colonial awakening that has had us in thrall since independence. At the core is are the following assumption that:

- formal education is the only credible problem solving tool and passing exams certifies true learning.
- westernisation is modernization
- development especially through infrastructure as well as industrialization is the main indicator of progress
- to achieve all of the above leaders through government can and if effective will orchestrate transformation leading to all of the above.
-all these will happen with the right leader who will ensure that this is all done within a few months of being elected.

These assumptions are what has led to or have been excuses for coup detat in the country. The orthodoxy of these assumptions is only tempered by the fact that there are two camps; the afromarxists who believe in all of the above but want it done through a centrally managed process and ; the arrangees who use the pursuit of the above to maintain the tradition of patronage and rent seeking. To my mind neither is better but a read of Adegoke Adelabu's Afica in Ebullition is quite insightful and still accurate on these people

We truly lack 21st century thinking not even the 22nd century one that we will truly need for transformation. The job description for what we lack are the following :

We need leaders with the following characteristics:

Curiosity: A true interest in our history and anthropology especially pre-colonial history as we seem to have the pattern of repeating them.

An Idealist sorrounded by competent managers

Complexity and Systems thinking: A basic understanding that we are and reside in a place where things are emerging and interlinked often requires the humility to see clearly what is emerging rather than confuse activity with progress.

Identifying the key questions: The humility to recognise that the challenge is not to find answers but to discover the real questions that we need to collectively answer as a nation.

Help us to discover our priorities

Free the people to do work that matters for the next generation

Execute at moments of clarity like a ruthless warrior

Recognise that we need to jump the stages to a new Africanness that is totally unprecendented

Build the links for the people so that they can interact and cooperate of their own volition

Inspire Nigerians to be Nationalistic not necessarily Patriotic

Elevate our women from the oppression of pre-set roles

Put the pursuit of ideas at the core of National discourse

Define excellence in terms of productivity

Recognise there is no Justice , there is Just us.

At the core of all of this is a core and respect for who we are , who we are from and who we can become.

If you are out there somewhere then it is time to set forth. We cannot afford not to take steps even baby ones. I remember that in 2004 while jogging to Barack Obama's DNC speech my heart told me that this was the future President of the United States how I wish I have the same view of any Nigerian in Public life. To be fair Governor Fashola represents a bridge to this role but I suspect we will not know fully till his second term. He has been bold and resolute, disciplined and focussed which is a rarity amongst our public office holders. He deserves quite a lot of support but we need more than one person and we need a movement. The median age of Nigerians is 17 we need a generation of leaders imbued by the spirit and competencies of this time. They need not be saints but must be obsessed by the need to transform our society in a sustainable way. Nothing less will do.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Here is a truly interesting Nigerian

Leonard Karshima Shilgba, PhD
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Yola, Nigeria


* Do you want a Nigeria that works for you?
* Do you know the leader in you?
* Do you wish you knew what you could do?
Well then, come to the NIGERIA RALLY.
DATE: Friday, December 26th, 2008.
VENUE: Bays Garden Hotel, Gboko, Benue State, Nigeria. 
TIME: 10.00 am-4.00 pm [Plenary session]; 4.00 -6.00 pm [Planning session]
For a Nigeria that works for us all


1. that over N6.5 trillion was spent to pay salaries and allowances of Nigeria's 18,000 [s]elected and public officials between 1999 and 2008 while Nigerian workers receive peanuts as salaries?
2. that about half of Nigeria's annual revenue is spent to maintain the lifestyle of Nigeria's 18,000 [s]elected and public officials while national minimum wage remains at N7, 500?
3. that the 150 million Nigerians, of whom you are an important family member, are expected by the fortunate 18,000 officials to do nothing about this?
4. that our public schools will continue to deteriorate if you do nothing?
5. that the children of the 18,000 officials don't attend the public schools you or your children attend?
6. that the children of the 18,000 officials shall come back to rule over your less and under educated children if you do nothing?
7. that graduates of public schools stand little chance of getting good jobs in Nigeria compared to those of better funded private schools both within and outside Nigeria which neither you nor your children can afford except family members of the 18,000 officials?
8. that Nigeria's bad roads, poor electricity, collapsed health system, neglected agriculture and industrial sectors like her public education will not improve if you do nothing?
9. that "vision 2020" shall go the way of "vision 2000" and "vision 2010" if you do nothing?
10. that those [s]elected and public officials who may have employed you as a thug send their children to expensive private schools both within and outside Nigeria, and your children shall become thugs to their children in the future should you do nothing?
11. that the option of doing nothing is too costly and not a good option for you to even consider?

The desired change we seek can only happen through organized revolutionary action. But for long, Nigeria's rulers have urged them to "pray" while they prey on the hapless masses. Yes, we believe in divine intervention; but faith without works is dead. God has always worked with and through men and women who match their faith with necessary action. God will pull down our walls of Jericho, but He MUST have us walk round it 13 times. Are we ready for the WALK-LONG WALK TO FREEDOM?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Corruption 'The Nigerian excuse for failure'

Give any so called Nigerian thinker a few minutes they will complain to you about corruption in their country as if they have a monopoly over this human condition. At the same time they will locate this problem in others almost ignoring the fact that sometime in the past few days they have got an advantage over others through relationship, gifts or sheer bribery. As I watch the Governor of Illinois being arrested for amongst other conducts trying to sell the US Senate seat vacated by President elect Obama I am amazed even further. What are Nigerians try to get away with? This arrest is not unusual in the politics of the United States, Rep Jefferson of money in the freezer, Senator Stevens of Alaska amongst many others in the past year. In fact all the above are neither repentant nor did they go quietly out of public life. My point is that these things happen in a society that plainly delivers to its citizens and produces economic as well as social excellence in which many institutions work for the greater good. Across the world there are examples of how deep corruption operates as symbiotic within the national fabric of most countries. In Japan pretty much across the board, in Great Britain watch what happened with Al Yammamah, in South Africa well the whole Zuma saga is yet to play itself out, in India, Thailand you can name it this is a human condition. This is not a carte blanche for corruption but neither should it be an excuse for failure. It is a symptom that has to be managed, parasite that lives in the body politic that can only destroy the host if it is not managed because it can only survive if its host survives as well.

In Nigeria, yes there is a matter of scale but that has a lot to do with a failure of having any organising principle that truly balance the host / parasite basis for the symbiosis that seems to lead to a more productive results in other jurisdictions. For example the perpetual probe and hysteria that has paralysed the House f Representatives in Abuja from doing any of the peoples business. It will be certainly interesting to know how many laws are on the statute book in this current session of the House. I venture that there are no serious policy or statutory improvement on the other hand we have had one speaker after the other under microscope and the absolute obsession with acts of the Obasanjo regime. The same is true of the Executive branch caught in its own paralysis by constant policy reversal of its predecessor without any real strategic progress. All the excuses to destroy Nuhu Ribadu another anti-corruption fundamentalist who even though got the host / parasite balance thing out of kilter still worked in a Government with momentum and purpose that at least gave context to his role.

We must stop this Nigerian exceptionalism and stop finding excuses for failure especially when we blame all others than ourselves. Corruption will not go away what we need is a process that can deliver the dynamic equilibrium necessary for the growth and evolution of our society. In my own view we can achieve this by taking the following steps:

- Establish the key indicators for excellence for Nigerian society call it 2020 vision or anything else so long that it captures the imagination of the multitudes of Nigerians rather than the 'jones' of a few eggheads.
- Evolve operating principles and standards that are based on context as well as understanding of the different cultures that make up Nigeria into the foundation of how we will organise our society into the future. Once again this cannot be top down process.
- Start a national campaign of productivity and meritocracy to put equality of opportunity at the core of the Nigerian experience.
- Prioritise transparency with banks and other institutions rather than just criminal punishment especially using the tax code as the mechanism for reward and sanction.
- Criminalise unexplained and unproductive wealth.

There are of course many other ways in which this can be done however we cannot continue to celebrate consumption especially extravagance and yet wonder why the obsession with personal amassing of wealth at any cost or means. We have put wealthiness as the greatest aspiration in our society, promoted in Churches and Mosques every day and relegated service, innovation as well as productive excellence out of sight. Enough excuses I am sure there is corruption in Calabar but it is a clean city and it is Nigerian so how come my beloved Ibadan is so filthy? In Calabar the Okada's wear helmet for themselves and passengers. Come on guys no more excuses.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

President Elect of US a culmination of the Legacy of Malcolm X ?

There is palpable change in the air as you come into the United States. I swear the immigration officers at Mcmarran Airport in Las Vegas were almost welcoming. The one thing that the Bush Administration and it Fear Factor presidency has achieved is to turn this great nation into an insecure and fearful place. In any case the new President is on nearly all newsstands, the media using every opportunity to exploit his photogenic qualities and his hopeful disposition to fill the gaps in their post election circulation fatigue.

Everyone claims Obama including a Bedioun clan who recognise his smile (yes smile) in their lineage. The one name that is rarely ever mentioned in the Obama connection is that of El Hajj Malik Shabazz or Malcolm X aside from the psychic halitosis by Al Qaeda second in command Al Zhawairi . It is shocking even in that case that none in the media bothered to claim Barack as a culmination of Malcolm even then. As for me I have hesitated because there has always been a gross over-simplification of who Malcolm was or became especially at the time of his death. There is a tendency to caricature him as a darker spirit of the African American fight for Equal Opportunities and Civil rights. To many he was nothing other than a radical militant , to others an angry black man exemplified. The truth is that Malcolm was that and more, President elect Barack Obama has more in common with Malcolm than any other Black leader in the United States past or present. People better deal with it.

It is true that the then Senator Obama's post partisan, post racial message on the face of it is the realisation of the Marin Luther King message. It is also true that the media can embrace his meritocratic electoral success as finally judging by the content of character rather than colour of skin. On the other side of the equation President elect Obama represents things phenomenally in line with Malcolm X including the almost uncanny similarity in characteristics, ideology especially a truly African American world view. Lets examine these things.

The similarity in characteristic starts with a fierce intellect which engages and asserts the primacy of human dignity that emerged from an adventurous youth full of experimentation and self discovery. An almost uncanny physical similarity both being tall and lanky on the edge of being skinny. Their approach to speaking are extremely similar with an appeal to reason whilst Malcolm was a lot more eloquent and far more quick witted , the cadence and accent are quite similar if not identical.

Then there is the worldview which was manifested in different ways even though both are made from the same ingredients, the pragmatic radicalism captured by Malcolm's by 'any means necessary'. This is often reduced by the misunderstanding of others as a call to violent revolution only, in fact it meant any means that effectively delivered transformation. They were both community organizers, Malcolm in the Nation of Islam especially his work in the Mosque and neighbourhood of Harlem, NY and Barack in the South Side of Chicago. Unlike the rest of the civil rights leaders Malcolm was the first literal African american leader whose travels and interaction was not only inclusive but engaged the continent of Africa directly in his evolution quite like Senator Obama and his engagement of his father's continent. Both defined themselves with an authenticity on the issue of Race that is captured by Malcolm's 'I am the man you think you are' and updated in Obama's response to the Pastor Wright controversy. They both exude an authentic warmth and assertiveness that rarely needs to escalate to prove manhood. Both share an exposure too and understanding of Islam to prove a common humanity and engagement. Unlike most American leaders black or white they where both open enough to redefine themselves and their environment in eclectic ways including living and uprooting into new places and communities in which they developed deep and meaningful roots. In short they share an adaptive leadership.

This is a cursory exposition of an aspect of the Obama persona that most are blinded too and the mistake of the Al Qaeda second in command is similar to the blindness of his enemies on the American side the tendency not to see from many perspective or accommodate nuances. Maybe if both sides actually followed the true Jihad which is the internal battle for evolution and growth that both Malcolm and Barack seem to have embraced they would entertain possibilities that exemplify life and abundance rather that death as well as scarcity.