Friday, December 10, 2010

The Nation Builder

The world is watching somewhat befuddled as the inspirational Obama mantra ‘Yes we can ‘ has become reduced to ‘Damn he couldn’t’. What was supposed to be a call for national commitment to a collective aspiration towards to ‘audacity of hope’ has been reduced to ‘we expected him to walk on water and he didn’t so take him to the stockade’. I suppose that is the choice in the US but only that it gives lie to this constantly refrain here in Nigeria, if only we had that leader.

As 2010 draws to a close and we get ready for the ‘race tracks’ of 2011 it is worthwhile to step back and reconsider what it would actually take to truly transform Nigeria. Lets start with the nature of our challenge. I think many commentators totally underestimate what it would take to truly transform the lives of over 100 million people. In fact in my estimation only two countries have done it with legitimacy and genuine development i.e. China and India . The others such as US, Russia have used degrees of exploitation and abuse of others and used the resources of ‘colonies‘ that they are models that cannot truly be replicated. Indonesia which is closest to Nigeria in key characteristics has in spite of its progress loads yet to do, similarly Brazil to name just two. Pakistan is in arguably a worse state than Nigeria. So very few countries have fully been able to truly meet the challenge of that size population effectively. However those who have show certain qualities; a culture of enterprise; a commitment to excellence; an obsession for transformation and yes desire for experimentation and innovation (especially in the economic space). In the case of both China and India there is corruption as well as tyranny of different sort in the public space. Their leaders are no paragons of virtue and their governments are not simply as open and as accountable as the Western standards that we parrot daily.

Nigeria is also different to most others with the exception of Indonesia in that it is extremely complex in its composition and in the mix of organisational elements that it tries to wield into a cohesive system of operation. Worse than most of these other countries the language it tries to use to inspire, communicate and organise the transformation is borrowed and alien to her people. Simply the work of transforming Nigeria is a phenomenal task that must have at its foundation a lot of original thinking. It is therefore unfortunate that two orientations most prevalent in the way everyone and especially the elite of all stripes and ideology thinks and behave are the complete opposite of what is required. Nigerians are transactional in everything even when talking revolution as well as cut and paste in approach. You can blame transactional orientation on the fact that we come from mostly trading traditions and most of our ancient city states evolved from primarily trade. However this has worsened through the extractive and distributive system that funds our government and underpins our formal economy. It is unproductive and ineffective for the unique and enormous challenge of a nation in pursuit of excellence and prosperity in the 21st century. Yes , we cut and paste all the time. We borrow as consumers ideas fashioned out of hunger and experimentation in the West and import them wholesale into our context without any genuine adaptation or cultural fit. We assume westernisation is the only modernisation but both China, India and even Indonesia disprove this.

We have pursued letters behind our names and passed many exams to achieve this but the effect has not been education or curiosity or even embracing innovation. It has been a people so regimented and conservative in thought that in spite of evidence of failure they cling to infallability of borrowed ideas. Nigerians have no business in the extolling of traditions or being in the girdle doctrines . Experiment or be dammed , innovate at all cost should be our mantra.

To truly transform as we must we all need a new mindset. We need to move beyond this dance of criticism and commentary to the orientation of nation builders. Looking for so called leaders in government is a failure to understand the 21st century. A time where hierarchies fall daily , a period where it is not about the intelligence of the few but the wisdom of multitudes. We must be the ones who set the agenda clearly so that we are agreed and understand the standards on which we will elect governments who deliver our will. To get to that clarity we need our churches, mosques, associations, unions, clubs and community groups refocus on ideas and their importance in shaping new paths. This starts with us taking responsibility for finding solutions, the more original the better. It starts in the family giving voice and platform to the curiosity of our children rather than smothering it with oppressive ageism. We need a communal space that is active , engaged and oriented towards finding sustainable solution. It is the individual, family and community that are the building blocks of a nation . It is time to take responsibility and build our nation and transform our lives, that cannot be the job of government and even it is they are uniquely incompetent for it. To transform, a good government will help but we need a generation or two of committed nation builders. Now that is the revolution that will not be televised.