Vision and National Recovery

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In his address at the Distinguished Personality Lecture series of the Faculty of Management, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Dakuku Peterside attempts answers to some of the questions on why genuine development appears to have eluded the country

Our country is currently doing a great deal of self-examination in nearly all spheres. We have been forced by current economic and political challenges to undertake a rather painful exercise in collective self-interrogation. As it were, it is question time in Nigeria.

As citizens, we are today busy interrogating our destiny as a nation, asking many questions about our history, orientation, about our institutions and organisations. We are wondering why true greatness has remained elusive to our nation and why the common things that citizens of our reference nations take for granted continue to elude us. In the university community, the questions would acquire greater urgency and stridency because youth and studentship is a period of great expectations.

As citizens of Africa’s biggest economy and the largest population of black people in the world, our youths have a right to expect a good life after school. Over the years, we have built up an entitlement culture in which citizens and workers in organisations expect certain privileges as of right. In times of economic difficulty, we get into a quandary as to why the things we are used to are fast disappearing.

The objects of our ongoing self-interrogation are many: why are job opportunities diminishing in a country, where there remains so much work to be done? Why have the elements of national greatness- economic growth, 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?
It is troubling, for instance, that many of our institutions and organisations even in the private sector hardly survive beyond a few dispensations. We can recall that in the recent past, a number of our government-owned companies were so badly run that the option of privatization and government divestment became inevitable.

This is understandable given the nexus between the public and private sectors. Government and its policies provide the environment in which the corporate world thrives or perishes. When policy instability prevails in the political public space, it will be extremely hard for corporate organisations to survive let alone thrive.

Let me be clear. This process of national self-interrogation did not start today; it has always been a feature of our national life to question the basic foundation, vision and orientation of our nation. Underlying this tendency is a healthy hunger for a better or even alternative Nigeria. Dissatisfaction with current reality is a healthy indicator of the desirability of change.

The perennial search for a new Nigeria usually occurs at critical junctures in our history: at the inception of military rule in 1966; at the end of the Nigerian Civil War in 1970; at the end of prolonged military rule in 1999. Even the inception of every democratic dispensation is greeted as an opportunity to begin the ‘Nigeria project’ anew. Why is this so?
At the political and historical level, the task is to indicate, in the words of Chinua Achebe, ‘where the rain began to beat us’ or where our original national founding vision acquired its fundamental defect. We may then alleviate the burden of self-interrogation by indicating the basic general elements in the founding and sustenance of great nations in the contemporary world. This will enable us to assess our progress against the essential factors and elements that have fashioned great nations. No nation can make progress if it avoids reviewing its progress against its peers.

Every nation or corporate organisation needs a guiding vision. 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 the nation of corporation. It defines the big picture, the guiding principle of the nation or organisation in the long stretch of its history.

In the Nigerian instance, the original defect in our founding vision is historical. Nigeria came about as the outcome of the amalgamation of different colonial 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 an emergent educated national elite, clamouring 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.

The founding vision of Nigeria at independence was therefore essentially one of a multi-ethnic nation state 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. It was the belief that the refinement of a national ideal and vision would follow along the way.

Regrettably, 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 original haziness in the overriding national vision has constantly plagued our national development in nearly every sphere.

Tentatively, then, I can hazard the proposition that a nation can only endure if it is founded on an integrated and comprehensive vision. Nigeria, unfortunately, missed that opportunity at inception. This original ‘sin’ has multiplied and subsequently come to haunt the nation, contributing to the ever so frequent quests for a new nation founded on a new vision.

But nations are not like buildings. No matter how beautiful and magnificent a building may be, it is possible and easy to evacuate and demolish a great edifice and replace it with a totally new and more magnificent one to serve a totally different purpose. Not so with nations. The critical difference is because nations contain people, who cannot be emptied out to make way for a new nation.
The closest history has come to ‘demolition’ of national foundations to be replaced with something new has only occurred with the great socialist revolutions of the world. 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 these ideological revolutions. That is no longer a credible direction to follow.

Therefore, nations can ill-afford the luxury of self-demolition and re-invention. Instead, they renew themselves through a process of systemic reform and or periodic renewal through the democratic process.

On the matter of corrective vision, corporations are luckier than nations. A corporation can change its board and management, re-brand, redefine its vision and map and follow a new mission. It can even be acquired or acquire other corporations for healthier growth. With better management, the chances are bright that from the ashes of the old corporation something new and more profitable will emerge.

Factors in National Greatness
The success of nations in the race for development is not solely accounted for by the profundity of their founding vision. On the contrary, an inter-play of critical factors interacts to separate successful nations from those that have continued to sweat and struggle on the development ladder. Similarly, in the race for the top of the development index, age and longevity do not necessarily confer superior development on nations. While, for instance, some older nations like Greece and Egypt have continued to struggle with the key indices of development, relatively younger nation states like South Korea, Singapore and Botswana have emerged as highly competitive and successful economic and political statements on the world stage.

Quality of Governance
Some form of participatory government 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 nations of forms of participatory governance that is appropriate to their circumstance.
In order to serve the needs of development, an appropriate democracy can be either liberal as in most of Western Europe or illiberal as in China and Russia.

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 the 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.

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 realisation that in most African countries, the institutions of state remain relatively weak while strong leaders often violate them and rule according to their whims. Yet, it is common knowledge that the 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 army does not have inbuilt service integrity, we will continue to have political generals while avoidable insurgency rages and diminishes our national sovereignty. The same goes for other strategic institutions.

When leaders tamper with the integrity of the institutions of state, they render those institutions weak and subject to constant manipulation by successive administrations.

Sound Economic Policy
A credible national economic policy framework, in order to guarantee sustainable development, must be sufficiently flexible to survive the periodic shocks and bumps in an ever-changing global economic environment. Ordinarily, for instance, 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. This did not happen, hence the current sad picture.

Education
Every nation’s greatest wealth and resource pool remains its people. But people remain statistics for as long as they remain undeveloped through education and training. The development of the capacities and capabilities of its citizens is easily the greatest investment any nation can make. 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 his or her rights in an orderly society governed by the rule of law.

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 Western economies depend more on the power of the human mind to produce goods and services that the rest of the world needs. Japan and Germany have demonstrated this reality to the world since the end of World War II.

Natural Resources
I have deliberately placed the importance of natural resources last. 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.

In most cases, developing 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 is the cause of rampant corruption, lazy and unproductive work force, import dependence mostly for consumption, huge spending on luxuries by the elite etc. Creativity and manufacturing suffer and competitive advantage withers.

Africa has very few exceptions to this rule. Botswana is easily the best example of a country that has carefully defied the natural ‘resource curse’. The country’s founding fathers saw diamonds first as a natural source of capital for national development.

After 50 years of independence only, Botswana is today a rich nation by African standards and is globally regarded as a leading 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. With a literacy rate of over 87%, Botswana ranks number 2 among countries in Africa that provide most for the social needs of its citizens and is at the top of countries with the lowest corruption scores in Africa.

In contrast, nearby Angola, with the same diamonds and even oil and gas has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world and an extreme poverty rate of over 50%.

In conclusion, let us admit that Nigeria’s public discourse has always recognised the factors behind our unimpressive performance. What has been missing is the leadership courage and political will to pilot a new beginning. President Muhammadu Buhari would seem to be approaching our current challenges from the angle of executive courage and political will.

-This is an abridged version of an address by the Director General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dakuku, delivered at the Faculty of Management, University of Nigeria, Nsukka