It is in the interest of the corporate world to have a strong, vibrant and united country, writes Anthony A. Kila
As Nigeria moves towards her first ever 20 years of uninterrupted democracy, it is time for Nigerian businesses and those that pay (or at least should be paying) more than one form of tax or rent to rethink their place in the country’s affairs and start to take clear, organic and consequential positions.
To achieve and better understand an organic position here, we need to go beyond Émile Durkheim by first creating a collective ethos. Businesses in Nigeria and those individuals or professionals that pay more than one form of tax or rent need to perform an ontological exercise: They need to look at themselves, reconsider their essence, uniqueness and convince themselves that they, as assets holders, creators of employment, wealth and productive ideas actually own an unequal share of Nigeria. Yes, every Nigerian citizen is a stakeholder in Nigeria, but the shares owned by corporate Nigeria are not just by birth or residence, they are shares paid for with investments, commitment, and their bet on Nigeria.
With the consciousness of this unique position, the corporate part of the country can then go on to theorise and demand a voice and place as the “fifth estate of the realm”. The request for such recognition is not just a right, a legitimate request or a self-serving position. It is in reality a duty for the benefit of the whole country as no nation can truly develop or progress until those that own assets, create employment, wealth and produce ideas have a truly influential say in the affairs of the nation.
To politicians vying for office, the corporate world must have the legitimate and transparent ambition of influencing the political process and agenda by making known what they as an organic body consider important and feasible. The corporate world must be ready to ask questions, argue and expose what will not be feasible or beneficial to the country from their own standpoint. To be truly efficient, the engagement with aspiring politicians and political parties need to go beyond the tokenism of dinner speeches and the individual search for relevance with politicians or placement of friendly candidates and parties.
As businesses and individuals, corporate Nigeria has the power to raise and donate more money to politicians and groups than most private citizens. Corporate Nigeria must exercise such power. To make the best of such earned position, these donations must however not be automatic or based on some vague sympathies. Their donations must be conditional. An aspiring politician or party must know that the corporate world will not hesitate to withdraw support from a hostile or non-discerning candidate or group and that she will indeed support a friendly and understanding competing politician, group or party.
With those in power, the corporate world must always be vigilant, generally proactive and articulately vociferous when need be. To be able to do so, Corporate Nigeria has to be of course independent, and conscious of her identity. Just as the government is careful not irritate labour unions, Corporate Nigeria needs to place herself and her positions in a way that will make government seriously consider her whilst making decisions.
In a country wherein politics, religion and ethnicity unproductively influence and dominate so much, too much, of people’s lives, Corporate Nigeria needs to create, propagate and defends her own space, standards and values. She needs to inspire people to aspire to the corporate world, seen as a space where merit and talent above all truly matter than any other affiliation.
Rather than complain about the state of education, Corporate Nigeria needs to work with institutions of learning to produce the kind of graduates that can increase productivity and bring about innovation. Where the bureaucracy of the state is proving to be an impediment to achievement rather than a guarantee of standards and commitment, Corporate Nigeria needs to turn to private institutions that are more dynamic and by nature more business friendly with the caveat that the latter provides world-class standards in their teaching, learning and research.
Some businesses and individuals have done well for themselves in the mist of existing chaos and uncertainty that characterises Nigeria, like most underdeveloped countries, all will however do better in a system that is organised and wherein certainty and transparency is the norm. It is not enough to go solo anymore. Corporate Nigeria needs to identify and work all its constituencies from the small trader that sells on a counter to the professional that pays house rent and office rent to the Ltd and Plc. organisations scattered across the and country, they need to find a way to work together. There is general distrust and fear of partnership in country but this fear needs to be overcome through clear laws and shared values absorbed and practiced by a new generation of modern producers.
Contrary to what they all claim, it is never really in the interest of government or other social structures to see a strong, independent and united corporate world but contrary to what they think, it is in the interest of the corporate world to have a strong, vibrant and united country.
Corporate Nigeria needs to find herself, her voices, unite to save herself and her country or both will never reach their true potential.
–– Kila is a Jean Monnet professor of Strategy and Development. He is currently Centre Director at CIAPS