As the global community knocks at the entrance doors of the year 2024, there is an urgent imperative for Nigerian leaders to commence consideration of development in its totality-going beyond cement and concrete (roads, buildings and other things).
Those are important but in the year 2024, we should be talking as a nation about development in the context of encompassing improvement, a process that builds on itself and involves both individual and social changes, brings about growth and structural change, with some measures of distributive equity, modernization in social and cultural attitudes, a degree of political transformation and stability, an improvement in health and education so that population growth stabilizes, and an increase in urban living and employment.
To achieve this objective, our leaders need some knowledge of history to assist in the reconstruction of our past. Particularly, as history is a tool of all discipline and the key to wisdom, and people who ignore the lessons of history wonder in dilemma.
More than anything else, history will primarily reveal that the present economic predicament in the country was predicated on inadequacies of and failures by public office holders to generate breakthrough ideas and exacerbated by comprehensive incompetence to learn what the job of leadership is all about. We must equally not fail to remember on the part of our national leaders, the near total absence of creative/innovative thinking and poor leadership communication.
To explain this fact, evidence abounds that Nigerians in the days of the oil boom in the 1970s witnessed the peak of economic successes. But when it seemed that the country would end up controlling the whole world, something suddenly prevented it, the problem is that we failed to apply what we have learned from this successes to inform national policies. This brought a marked economic decline and paved the way for other countries to overtake us both socially and economically.
This decline in Nigeria’s socio-economic growth and accelerated development of other nations are traceable to the existence of smart and banal leadership styles respectively.
The smart leaders that held sway of now developed countries spelt out every detail of their nation’s growth strategies into the future. They planned everything; they knew the job of leadership. On the other hand, Nigerian leaders never contemplate the big socioeconomic picture but only concentrate on the boring little details. They were good at analyzing the nation’s political and socio-economic challenges with clarity but could not see the solution.
It is therefore, important that as a nation, if we are to move forward in the following areas; economy, infrastructure, job creation, electoral practices and fight against corruption, our leaders must through history draw a lesson from the likes of Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the pioneer Prime Minister of Singapore, a man that understood clearly that; public order, personal and national security, economic and social programmes, and prosperity are not the natural order of things but depends on the ceaseless efforts and attentions from an honest and effective government that the people elect.
Separate from the fact that Singapore as a country had in the past met with challenges Nigeria currently battles with, of which learning how they tackled and succeeded would be an important lesson for the nation at this critical moment, there exists yet another reason why leadership lesson is important and it stems from the fact that Lee during his days recognized that it takes a prolonged effort to administer a country well and change the backward habits of the people.
Beginning with effective resource management, Singapore, under Lee’s administration was a country with a GDP of $3billion in 1965 which grew to $46billion in 1997, making it the 8th highest per capita GNP in the world according to the World Bank. In fact, it’s progress, was a reflection of the advances of the industrial countries-their inventions, technology, enterprise and drive, a united and a determined group of leaders, backed by practical and hard-working people who trust them made it possible, It is part of the story of a leader’s search for new fields to increase the wealth and wellbeing of his people.
In the words of the Prime Minister Lee (as he then was), the country had no natural resources for MNCs to exploit. All it had were hard-working people, good basic infrastructure, and a government that was determined to be honest and competent. Our duty was to create livelihood for 2 million Singaporeans. The second part was to create a First World oasis in a Third World region. This was something Israel could not do because it was at war with its neighbours.
If Singapore could establish first world standards in public and personal security, health, education, telecommunications, transportation and services, it would become a base camp for entrepreneurs, engineers, managers and other professionals who had business to do in the region. This meant we had to train our people and equip them to provide First World standards of service. I believed this was possible, that we could reeducate and orientate our people with the help of schools, trade unions, community centres and social organisations. If the communists in China could eradicate all flies and sparrows, surely we could get our people to change their Third World habits.
‘We had one simple guiding principle for survival that Singapore had to be more rugged, better organised, and more efficient than others in the region. If we were only as good as our neighbours, there was no reason for businesses to be based here. We had to make it possible for investors to operate successfully and profitably in Singapore despite our lack of a domestic market and natural resources’.
Essentially, the crux of this piece is to use Singapore’s experience under Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew to analyze and understand the essential ingredients of foresight in leadership and draw a lesson on how leadership decision making process involves judgement about uncertain elements, and differs from the pure mathematical probability process.
Another profound lesson that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu led Federal Government must learn as we step into 2024 is Lee’s explanation that; after grappling with the problems of unemployment in the country, he came to the recognition that the only way to survive was to industrialize. And just immediately, he concentrated on getting factories started. ‘Despite their small domestic market of 2 million, he protected locally assembled cars, refrigerators, air conditioners, radios, television sets, and tape-recorder, in the hope that they would later be partly manufactured locally.
There is certainly an ingrained lesson for the nation Nigeria to draw from this second position.
Considering the slow growing economy but scary unemployment levels in the country, the current administration in my opinion will continue to find itself faced with difficulty accelerating the economic life cycle of the nation until they contemplate industrialization, or productive collaboration with private organizations that have surplus capital to create employment.
On the fight against corruption, Lee has this to say; we made sure from the day we took office that every dollar in revenue would be properly accounted for and would reach the beneficiaries at the grass root as one dollar, without being siphoned off along the way. So from the very beginning we gave special attention to the areas where discretionary powers had been exploited for personal gains and sharpened the instruments that could prevent, detect or deter such practices’.
We decided to concentrate on the big takers in the higher echelons and directed the CPIB on our priorities. But for the small fish, we set out to simplify procedures and remove discretion by having clear published guidelines, even doing away with the needs for permits and approvals in less important areas. As we ran into problems in securing convictions in prosecutions, we tightened the laws in stages. Brief and Simple!
To win, he advised that nations must recognize that ‘a precondition for an honest government is that a candidate must not need large sums to get elected, or it must trigger off the circle of corruption. Having spent a lot of money to get elected, winners must recover their costs and possibly accumulate funds for the next election as the system is self-perpetuating.
For me, as we celebrate the new year, one point Mr. President and all the state governors in the country must not fail to remember is that any personality who wants to grow in leadership must always scale and be open to learning. They must be molded by new experiences and to improve their leadership selves, they must internalize the time honoured admonition that leaders who scale do so regardless of background, skill and talent. They scale because they take deliberate steps to confront their shortcomings and become the leaders their nation needs them to be.
Nigerians on their part must shun every form of lackadaisical attitude and give all the necessary support to their leaders. The best way to perform this responsibility is by asking solution oriented questions.
Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy) at Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via email@example.com/08032725374. .