I am most grateful to the Department of Management and the authority of this great university for their kindness to invite me to deliver this lecture, even when I am not privileged to be “a Lion”. Returning to the university campus to rub minds with fellow students is always a gratifying experience for me; more so, as learning is a continuous process. I would like to say that I am at the early stages of my own adult learning experience, learning from the multiverse of the larger society. The regulatory Agency, NIMASA, I currently serve is a special learning experience that could qualify for a University degree.
It is my hope therefore that at the end of today’s interaction, I would have increased what I know and reduced what I do not know. In many ways, this is going to be a transactional interaction in the sense that I place greater value in what I hope to learn from you than in what I am about to say.
I would like to relate to the topic of this lecture through a series of questions. I have chosen this path because we are all students questing after greater knowledge. And the right knowledge can only come about if we ask questions- the right ones.
A Time for National Self-Interrogation
Another reason is that there is an implicit interrogation element in the topic. We live in a country that is currently undergoing and doing a great deal of self-examination in nearly all spheres of our national life. We are force by the prevailing economic and political challenges to undertake this rigorous exercise in self-examination and interrogation. As it were, it is question time in Nigeria, in which both Leaders and the led are asking how did we get here and how did things got so bad?
As students and citizens we are today busy interrogating our destiny as a nation. We are asking many questions about our history, orientation, institutions and corporate organisations. We wonder why true greatness has remained elusive to our nation. We are at a loss why the common things that citizens of other nations take for granted continue to elude us. In this knowledge community, I am sure the questions acquire greater urgency and stridency as the period of youth and studentship is that of great expectations. It is a period of great dreams and bubbling energy.
Further, being citizens of Africa’s biggest economy and the country with the highest population of black people, and abudant natural resources, we have a right to expect a good life after schooling. But this has developed into entitlement culture that people have got used to expecting certain privileges as rights. Since things do not work that way, they seem to be in quandary as to why the basic things expected from the society are not gotten and why the ones they are used to are fast disappearing.
For those of us present here the objects of collective national self interrogation will include: why are job opportunities diminishing in a country where there are so much work to be done? Why have the elements of national greatness- economic growth, quality education, progress in science and technology, reliable infrastructure to support economic growth, basic security of life and property, religious harmony and an efficient system of government- seemed to elude us as a nation after more than half a century of formal independence. In trying to reflect this, many of our thinkers have argued that we only got political independence and never worked for economic independence.
As a player in the political space and corporate world, I am very troubled by the fact that many of our institutions and corporate organisations hardly survive beyond a few dispensations. If you recall, a number of our government owned companies were so badly run that the option of privatization and government divestment became inevitable. Even our private sector organisations are not insulated from the culture of instability and lack of sustainability. This is understandable given the nexus between the public and private sectors. Government through its organs and policies provide the environment in which the corporate organisations thrive or perishe. When policy instability prevails in the political public space, it will be extremely hard for corporate organisations to survive let alone thrive.
It is pertinent to state at this juncture that this process of self-interrogation did not start today. It has always been a feature of our national life to question the basic vision and orientation of our nation. In my view, this urge for a better or “alternative” Nigeria is a healthy sign. When people are dissatisfied with their current reality, it is a healthy indicator that people are willing to search for a better reality. In recent times, however, the self-interrogation may have assumed a new urgency because of our desperate economic circumstances.
It is true that Nigeria is in recession, in the first quarter of this year (2016) our GDP as given by NBS is minus 0.36%, that of the second quarter was given as minus 2.06%, with our country ranked 169 out of 189 in the 2016 World Bank ease of doing business ranking index. Nigeria is placed 136 out of 165 ranked in Transparency International Corruption perception index 2015 (transparency.org). Nothwistanding the negative statistics, the fact remains that the search for a greater Nigeria has always been a feature of our public discourse: from the inception of military rule in 1966, at the end of the Nigerian Civil War in 1970, through the military rule that terminated in 1999 to mention few. Why has the search not yielded the desired result?
To answer the question as well as profer practicable solution to this seemingly complex problem, first I would like to establish the nexus between sound visioning and sustainability in both political and corporate domains. At the political and historical level, my task is to indicate, in the words of Chinua Achebe ‘where the rain began to beat us’ or where our original national vision became defected. I will then proceed to indicate the basic general elements in the founding and sustenance of great nations in world history.
This will enable us to assess our progress against the essential factors and elements that have fashioned and distinguished great nations. In the process, it will be inevitable to cast side glances at how well or badly Nigeria has fared among its “age grade of nations,” nations indeed have age grades. No nation can avoid comparing itself against the achievements of those it considers its age mates and even rivals. The implications of these national development factors for corporate survival and sustainability in individual nations will become self-evident then.
Defect in the Original Vision
It has since been established that an overriding vision is key to the success of nations and corporations. Vision determines progress. Rightly regarded, a vision is by its very nature larger than the dreams and aspirations of any one player or even the aggregate vision of a set of players in a nation or corporation. It ought to define the big picture, the guiding principle of the nation or organization in the long stretch of its history. Vision is not physical sight, for many who have sight do not have vision and some who have vision do not have sight.
For instance, quadranially the Americans go to the polls to choose a new president. In the run up to the elections, the campaign of each contestant is weighed constantly and balanced informally by the degree to which it approximates the broad principles and ideals of freedom, justice, equality and opportunity enunciated earlier by the founding fathers. Therefore, to many Nigerians, the recent triumph of Mr Donald Trump was shocking as “voting” in Nigeria was for their interest, whereas the Americans voted for what they think best serves their over ridding interests especially expansion of opportunity for, and security of the American people.
In the case of Nigeria, the original defect in our founding vision is historical. As you are all aware, Nigeria came about as an amalgamation of different protectorates by the British in 1914. That process was for the administrative convenience of a colonial project that was first and foremost a trading concern. Subsequently, a political veneer was spread over it through a series of negotiations among factions of the emergent educated national eliteclamouring for independence. What the British ceded in 1960 was therefore a complex outcome of negotiated settlements among Nigerian elite representing first and foremost their respective regional and ethnic interests. There was no “pan Nigerian interest” or “pan Nigerian Agenda”. There was no “CONNECTED VISION”
The founding vision of Nigeria at independence was essentially one of a multi-ethnic nation first and foremost. But this founding vision was devoid of far reaching integrative economic, political, social and moral elements for the future of such a diverse polity. There seemed to be a belief then that independence from colonial rule was the urgent paramount issue. The refinement of a national ideal and vision would follow along the way. This never happened as the aggressive pursuit of regional interests quickly followed after independence. At best, each of the original three (and later four) regions pursued its fairly independent ideals, targets, goals and aspirations. This accounts for the different levels of development that were witnessed among the regions before the military interventions and the civil war of 1966-70.
This original haziness in what constitute the overriding national vision has constantly plagued our national development in nearly every sphere.
My key observation here and operating thesis therefore is that a nation can only endure if it is founded on an integrated and comprehensive vision(connected vision). Nigeria unfortunately missed that opportunity at inception. This original ‘sin’ has multiplied and contributed to the ever so frequent quest for a new nation founded on a new vision.
Nations unfortunately are not like buildings. No matter how beautiful and magnificent a building is, it is possible and easy to evacuate, demolish and replace it with a completely new and more magnificent one, to serve a totally different purpose. But, it is not so with nations. The critical difference is nations contain people who cannot be emptied out to make way for a new nation. The closest of demolition of national foundations to build something new is with peaceful or violent revolutions. After the collapse of the old Soviet Union and the demolition of the Berlin Wall, we are all witnesses to what has become of nations re-invented under ideological revolutions. We do not want to go in that direction if we are to find viable answers to the questions that are today nagging most Nigerians.
Therefore, nations can ill afford the luxury of self-demolition and re-invention. Instead, nations renew themselves through a process of systematic reform and periodic renewal through appropriate democratic transformations.
On the matter of corrective vision, corporations are luckier than nations. A corporation can change its board and management, re-brand itself, redefine its vision and map for itself a new mission. It can even be acquired or acquire other corporations for healthier growth. There is the probability of success that with better management, from the ashes of the old corporation, something new and more profitable will emerge. This is the spirit and guiding principle behind the reform and repositioning we are championing in NIMASA. Close to ten years of the existence of NIMASA in its current structure, we are in the process of refreshing our vision and mission, we have a new Board and a visionary management, it offers the rare opportunity to re- invent that regulatory agency and reposition it as the most efficient, effective and responsive regulatory agency in Africa, advancing Nigeria’s maritime goals.
Factors in National Greatness
However, it is pertinent at this juncture to point out an obvious fact. The success of nations in the race for development is not solely accounted for by the soundness of their founding vision, just like the success of corporations are not determined by its vision and mission statement alone. There is an interplay of critical factors that separates successful nations from those that continued to struggle on the development ladder. In the race for the top of the development index, age and longevity do not necessarily confer superior development. While some old nations like Greece and Egypt have continued to struggle with the key indices of development, relatively new nation states like South Korea, Singapore and Botswana have emerged as highly successful economically and even politically. Let us now identify some of the key factors that enable nations transform their founding vision into roaring success.
Quality of Governance
Some form of participatory government and inclusive political institutions is the commonest requirement for national development. At the bottom of this assertion is the understanding that a nation cannot leave out any segment of its populace in the decisions that govern their very lives. Divergent cultures and histories have made it expedient to accept ‘appropriate’ democracy as a term to denote the adoption by individual nationsforms of participatory governance that is appropriate to their circumstance in order to carry their people along the path of national development.
While western countries have insisted on liberal multi party democracy as the best form of government, other major economies like China and Russia have adopted quasi-authocratic form of democracy to enlist popular participation in national affairs and development. There are also countries where great developmental strides have been made within the context of monarchical governments with traditional ways of engineering legitimacy and popular participation.
Whatever the form of government, there is no disagreement as to what constitutes good governance. The principles of accountability, transparency, observance of the rule of law and basic freedoms remain fundamental to any definition of good governance. But the ultimate determinant of good governance is the extent to which such government meets the basic needs of the greatest majority of its people.
In recent years, a new overriding challenge has taken the center stage in the assessment of governments all over the world. It is the challenge of global inequality. With the triumph of the West and the open market economic format, countries have woken up to find themselves overwhelmed by glaring inequality among their citizens. In the US, the gap between the top 2% of the population who own literally everything and the rest of the population has become glaring and very embarrassing. Addressing inequality has emerged as one of the top challenges of governments all over the world. Governments are now challenged to adopt smarter policies to reduce inequality through adjustments in the structure of opportunities and the provision of wider access to the basic necessities of life.
The quest for more accountable governance all over the world has led the international community to recognize illicit financial flows through corruption as a major obstacle to the attainment of good governance. It is also one factor that has increased inequality within individual national societies. Corruption is extractive and exploitative by nature. Corruption does not create the incentives needed for people to give their best, innovate and be resourceful.
The more successful countries have instituted very tough anti-corruption measures to detect and punish corrupt practices through appropriate legislation and the judiciary. In this regard, it is not surprising that some of the fastest growing countries like Singapore, Rwanda and Botswana also happen to have the toughest anti-corruption regimes in the world.
This is one area where there is a growing national consensus in Nigeria that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has displayed unusual courage. There are divergent views as to the effectiveness of current measures but many agree that it required a lot of courage to make a start. It is hoped that the Nigerian public will appreciate the significance of this effort in the overall improvement of the quality of governance in the country.
Institutions with Integrity
Outgoing US President Barack Obama once declared in Ghana that Africa does not need more strong men but strong institutions. At the back of that assertion is the realization that in most African countries, the institutions of state remain relatively weak while leaders often violate them and rule according to their whims. This is true in some African countries such as Zimbabwe as it is true in South American countires like Colombia and Asian countries like North Korea amongst others. Yet it is common knowledge that advanced democracies of the world rely on the integrity of their institutions to preserve order and ensure the survival of the state and society.
If our judiciary does not have integrity, then all we can expect from the courts would be judgments retailed for cash instead of justice dispensed according to law. If our military institutions do not have inbuilt service integrity, we will continue to have political generals while avoidable insurgency rages and diminishes our national sovereignty. The same argument can be made in respect of our major national institutions to highlight their current shortcomings as a way of extrapolating on our negative development indices.
In general when leaders tamper with the integrity of the institutions of state, they render those institutions weak and subject to constant manipulation by successive administrations. This complicates the problem of governance and policy instability.
Sound Economic Policy
The economic policies of any nation, in order to endure, must take into consideration its peculiar realities of geography, natural and human resources. Such policy must be a general framework which is however sufficiently flexible to survive the periodic shocks and bumps in an ever changing global economic environment. Ordinarily, Nigeria’s originating economic policy framework should have from the mid 1960s included the element of diversification from oil by retaining the initial pride of place which agriculture enjoyed in our immediate post-colonial period. Even in the context of the so called oil boom, the process of diversification into other lucrative areas like tourism, solid minerals and human capital development should have begun actively from 1970. These did not happen, hence the consequences we are experiencing today.
On the contrary, countries like the Gulf Arab states saw their oil wealth as a source of capital for the development of alternative economies hence they embarked on aggressive infrastructure development, tourism development and promotion and savings for difficult times. Countries like United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are among the most resilient economies in both the Middle East and the world.
Every nation’s greatest asset base and resource pool remains its people. The development of the capacities and capabilities of people is perhaps the greatest investment any nation can make. Education is the time-tested mechanism for galvanizing the latent power of a nation to transform its environment and development its economy. Every educated citizen is an engine of development because he/she is a creator, an inventor, a thinker, a technician, an engineer or just an enlightened citizen fully aware of their rights in an orderly society governed by the rule of law.
Lee Kwan Yew, the visionary leader of independent Singapore placed human capacity development as his number one priority to grow the new nation. His defining economic policy is arguably uncomprising standards for a universally accessible, top flight public education system- astutely identifying human capital as Singapore’s key competitve advantage, supplemented with rigourous application of meritocracy (www.bbc.com/rishnuvarathan).
Natural resource based economies like ours remain vulnerable because we calculate our national survival in barrels of oil and cubic meters of gas. On the contrary, human resource based economies like those of the advanced economies depend more on the power of the human mind to create an alternative economy that is largely independent of the vagaries in the international prices of natural resources and extractive produce. Japan and Germany for instance do not produce a barrel of oil but they rank among the top five leading economies of the world. They depend instead on the ingenuity of the trained human mind in science and technology to dominate a sizeable portion of the world market in finished products especially, machines and IT products, which every economy needs to thrive.
You will notice that I have deliberately placed the importance of natural resources last among the factors required for national development. The point is that this is one factor that can easily be dispensed with. The greater majority of successful nation states do not have mineral resources. They may have agricultural resources but this requires the application of labour and capital to amount to anything. Singapore which got independence in 1965 was an Island without any natural resources to call its own but today is an economic wonder.
In most cases, countries that rely on extractive industries for their economies to survive have suffered from what has come to be called the resource curse. The over dependence on royalties and rents from extractive industries has been recognized as the cause of rampant corruption, lazy and unproductive bureaucracies, emphasis on imports for consumption, lavish sending on luxuries by the elite of politically exposed persons and slow development of manufacturing and creative industries.
There are few exceptions to this law of negativity. In Africa, Botswana for instance has defied the resource curse through an original vision that saw diamonds first as a natural source of capital for national development. Botswana’s founding fathers were themselves very frugal individuals who never mistook national wealth for their personal empires. That tradition has largely endured, making Botswana a shining example of economic growth and good governance in Africa.
After 50 years of independence, Botswana is today a rich nation by African standards and is globally regarded as middle-income country. For the first 35 years of its national history, it had the fastest GDP growth rate in the entire world (sometimes in excess of 14% per annum). Its per capita income has jumped from $50 to $7,000, putting it at the top of middle class countries. Botswana has literacy rate of over 87%. The country ranks number 2 among countries in Africa that provide for the social needs of its citizens and is at the top of countries with the lowest corruption scores in Africa. The country has never suffered either a recession or hyperinflation since independence.
We can contrast this with the record of nearby Angola, which has the same diamonds and oil. Angola has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world and an extreme poverty rate of over 50%.
As we continue with the national quest for answers to the great the questions of our time, I urge that we do a self- assessment of where we stand as nation. The factors that have been identified are put forward as a guide for this assessment. The solutions we endlessly seek would seem right at our doorsteps. But there is a great amount of political will to do what is necessary. As the present administration in the country battles to correct the ills of the past, it is hope that the political leadership of the country will muster the will to address the deficits in our national development strategy to date.