Six concerns will constitute the focus of my discussion today. First, I will like to place May 29 within the context of Nigeria’s political history, and why it is crucial at this juncture. Second, I will be situating this 2023 transition within the context of the critical crises the new administration will be inheriting. Third, I will be highlighting the leadership deficit confronting Nigeria, and locating it within a broader and global search for a good, humane, strategic and managerial leader for the Nigerian state. Fourth, and as a corollary, I will attempt to benchmark Nigeria’s capacity for transformation with the transformational potential exhibited by global comparators like the Asian Tigers. Fifth, I will then contextualize this benchmark within the African continent by examining the Mo Ibrahim African Governance Index which will help bring into sharp relief the issues limiting leadership performance in Nigeria especially. And sixth, I will then draw on significant lessons that the Tinubu administration could benchmark to commence and make a success of its governance objectives, strategies and methodologies.
Many Nigerians have varying expectation about today, May 29. For the cynics ad the pessimists, it is a transition that leads nowhere, except the manifestation of a fresh spectacle of musical chairs—a familiar but tragic drama involving politicians with a high leadership deficit whose lack of governance vision and low level of development performance spell ultimately another possible four years of intense frustration for Nigerians. For chronic optimists like me, this might just be a May 29 transition with a difference; a day that might as well signal the threshold of a revolutionary moment in governance transformation. Reform optimists, like me, look out for elected political class that display evidence of leadership competence and development performance. This simply implies that leadership goes beyond a mere title; rather, it references the capacity of a leader or a group of dedicated crops of leaders to redirect a state like Nigeria away from the precipice and towards an envisioned future. Inevitably, such leadership action will necessarily involve making sound and sometimes difficult decisions, creating and articulating clear visions, and establishing achievable goals. And the decisional dynamics will often entail playing high politics, which is bound to be rough and tough, but which will eventually conduce to increasing the quality of life of Nigerians.
Introduction: Why is May 29 Critical to Nigeria’s Current Crisis?
The uniqueness of May 29 in Nigeria’s political history is essentially constituted by the metaphor of transition that it signifies. The day represents the culmination of all electoral process that had earlier produced political leaders at the federal and state levels. More fundamentally, transition represents an optimistic movement away from the old to the new. Roy Cooper, the current governor of North Carolina in the US captures my sense of the weightiness of the idea of transition: “Transitions are a time for reflection, and a time for looking forward.” So, this moment in history affords us, as Nigerians, the opportunity of weighing our present circumstances and predicaments side by side the possibilities we again have the privilege of unraveling in order to be able to undermine the stranglehold of history. Remember the maxim about those who have failed to learn from history.
What is the starting point for our reflection today? It is straightforward: Nigeria is in a tragic crisis situation. And we arrived this point as a result of an almost inexorable political and historical trajectory of the inauguration of the Nigerian state through the amalgamation in 1914 till her independence in 1960. Current sociopolitical and economic realities—debt crisis, insecurity, underdevelopment, bureaucratic pathologies, etc.—are simply the morbid symptoms of deeply entrenched dysfunctions that successive Nigerian government, since independence, have been grappling with. And the outgoing administration seems to have mediated the sliding of the Nigerian state to its low ebb in years. In terms of human development, Nigeria’s status is quite dismal and discouraging. In terms of human poverty, Nigeria’s own poverty index shows that 63% (approximately 133 million) of Nigerians are multidimensionally poor. In the Ease of Doing Business Index, Nigeria is ranked 131 out of 191 countries. And finally, in the Chandler Good Government Index for 2022, Nigeria ranks 102 out of 104, only better than Zimbabwe and Venezuela.
This brief articulation of Nigeria’s current predicament provides a summary of the daunting implication of this May 29 transition from the old administration to the new one, and the enormous burden of history that is already placed on the shoulder of the new government. I am however suitably situated to believe that from our present position, the Nigerian state can only achieve an upward trend away from its crippling circumstances to a better condition. And my optimism is not recumbent on the usual hope that attends transitions such as this. My status as a scholar-practitioner and an institutional reformer provides me with more pedestal from which to categorically enunciate my firm belief in Nigeria’s capacity to climb out of her development and governance abyss.
As I have narrated in numerous public discourses, I am an unrelenting student of politics and Nigerian governmental processes and procedure. My status as a scholar-practitioner enables me to bring to bear on political and administrative dynamics in Nigeria a practitioner’s angle that leverages deep theoretical and practical knowledge that enable me to interrogate the nexus of leadership, governance and public policy in outlining the imperatives of national transformation and development management.
Africa’s Leadership Deficit and Nigeria’s Challenge
This makes the issue of leadership a key matter in the fashioning of a developmental state around which institutional reform becomes a matter for crafting infrastructural and economic development. And in the Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance for 2021, Nigeria ranks 30 out of 54 African countries. And in a ten-year classification trend, from 2012 to 2021, Nigeria is placed in the category of “increasing deterioration”. And this explains why no Nigerian leader has ever won the prize; or why the Foundation skipped the award for ten years (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2022) because there were no worthy African leaders.
And this is why Anthony “Lee” Iacocca is right to wonder where all the leaders have gone to in his bestselling book of the same title. Africa’s leadership deficit is complicated by two factors—one, the thorny issue of political selection and succession (how political leadership is put into office); and two, the critical issue of how these leaders perform when they eventually get to office and began to deploy political power. The leadership problem in Nigeria is measured against the background of successive governments since independence to inaugurate a developmental state in Nigeria. The developmental state demands the deployment of a competency model to harness talents that will enable the government to build durable institutions to articulate a productivity paradigm that will instigate a democratic service delivery framework for the citizens. But we need to be careful not to benchmark our leaders against standards that would keep crippling them and their performance, especially in contexts that would be incompatible with the standards they are benchmarked against.
Nigeria, the Asian Tigers and African Comparators
The closest governance context to the African experience is Asia, and so we can start by benchmarking the new administration to the experience of the Asian Tigers, like Singapore. How did Singapore, through Lee Kuan Yew, make that fundamental jump from third to first world? Six critical readjustments are key to that transformation we can learn from.
- First, there was a rejection of import substitution for a pursuit of a bold and aggressive export-oriented development strategy.
- The second, and corollary, development framework is the discipline that export strategy imposes on the cultivation of local consumption and local industries in a way that enable steady growth.
- Third, this cultivation of local consumption is geared towards the improvement of national productivity. This therefore makes it necessary to invest aggressively in education and training that inevitably leads to increase in per capita productivity in the national economy.
- Fourth, a corollary of this investment in training and education has to do with investments in research and development (R&D). Developmental states are states that immediately see the significance of industrialization as the marker of progress. And this requires a dynamical relationship, for instance, between industries and higher education that enables action research to fuel industrial breakthroughs which in turn become research projects.
- Fifth, developmental states cannot afford to become profligate with national finance. This automatically calls attention to transparency and accountability in the management of the national account. A by-product of this is the setting up of a solid anti-corruption strategies and structures that can bark and bite!
- Lastly, and most significantly, developmental states take their public service institutions seriously in terms of reforming them into becoming world class performance structures operating on meritocracy and competency-based human resource management.
The Mo Ibrahim African Governance (IIAG) brings home even more crucially the continent-specific standards and achievements parameters that are not captured in universalized global benchmarks. It not only tells us that leadership and leadership performance is context-bound, but also stands as an intermediate standard by which African economies and leadership can be assessed within a context of African political economy with its own unique challenges and successes. The IIAG benchmarks African governance dynamics around critical issues of infrastructure, macroeconomic stability, health and primary education, higher education training, good market efficiency, labour market efficiency, financial market sophistication, technological readiness, market size, business sophistication, and innovation. And this is where the existing continental monitoring institutions like NEPAD and APRM become significant partners in Africa’s economic recovery and competitiveness. And given the failure to find a distinguished leader worthy of the Leadership Prize, this becomes an even more daunting leadership challenge for someone like Tinubu.
From Benchmarking Lessons to Governance Performance
This benchmarking points us in several directions that the Tinubu administration can pick up its legacy of good democratic governance.
Transformational leadership and the change space
The first and critical realization is what Nigerians require from the new administration. The short and profound answer is national transformation. If this is so, then transforming Nigeria and the quality of lives of Nigerians must start with a critical question: how does leadership become transformational? On this question hinges the difference between a leader willing to achieve performance in terms of governance changes, and one who wants to carry on, business as usual.
In answering this question, the conventional sense of a transformational leader is captured by the strong man theory—a leader that is decisive, intelligent, charismatic and therefore heroic, who has the capacity to translate vision and strategy to outcomes based on compelling best practices and scientific and evidence-based data. However, while this conceptualization of a transformational leader is an irreducible requirement in governance successes, it is also essentially idealistic. The point is that every leader is context-bound; situated within a context of sociocultural and political practices. Within the context of governing, there are so many variables that make the success of a single person—even with the best of capacities, charisma and wisdom, a most daunting feat, especially in a democracy. The idea of a government comes with various shades of limitations too significant for even a good and capable leader to overcome. The complex terrain of governance presented by the Nigerian state cannot therefore be located around an individual or in terms of a solo or personalized heroic effort alone. On the contrary, what is required is a leader that has the capacity to put together a change space graduated into multi-level leadership levels based on the paradigm that “multiple functions are required to effect change through multiple stages, requiring multiple parties to provide multiple leadership.”
This translates into the urgent assembling of a coalition of change, a team that possesses sufficient patriotic commitment, professional expertise and political wisdom to initiate, implement and deliver the change needed to move Nigeria beyond her present predicaments. And this must be done under the necessary dynamics of performance contract, audits and accountability to achieve peak and optimal performance. This suggest that the leader is technically-enabled to
- manage attention – create compelling vision of the new Nigeria that he is leading others to build
- manage meaning – is able to communicate the vision with clarity not only to the change team but to Nigerians
- manage trust – in being able to set achievable goals with sufficiently enabled structure of accountability for results achieved and honesty in explaining shortfalls
- manage self – match his words with his heart as measure of purposefulness
Governance principles and methodology
This is where vision, purpose and strategies are key. The President needs to commence the administration with a governance methodology embedded in Buhari’s statement of “’I am for everybody and I am for no one” which provides a detached platform for leadership and governance praxis. For instance, it will be the wrong foot forward if Tinubu starts by favoring those only those who voted for him or aided him during the last elections, or—for that matter—filling his cabinet with political jobbers. This is because the complex problems Nigeria faces require radical and innovative approaches. We cannot, as Albert Einstein admonishes, “solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them …” Indeed, we cannot continue seeing development agenda only in terms of the hardware components of infrastructural development that has locked Nigeria into a 19th century perspective on what development is all about.
There is therefore the imperative to foreground the value of policy work reinforced with policy-engaged research and strategic thinking. This is more so, because the world is now firmly in the knowledge age where hardware of development requires the software to make sense. Indeed, Nigeria must rediscover the place and role of research in the generation of the requisite policy intelligence and action required to jumpstart critical progress. Action and policy research will indeed be the backbone of leadership sophistication and boldness to craft national development agenda that speak to context-specificities in spite of the preferences of donor conditionalities and western neo-liberal orthodoxy
And even more significant is the fact that the idea of government itself has been superseded by that of governance which opens up the processes of government for a wider array of non-governmental and non-state actors to participate in government, and giving the acts and policies of government more chances of succeeding in empowering the citizens through infrastructural development. And so, governance provides the government of the day a wide range of political and technocratic expertise to choose from—subject specialists, think tanks, policy networks, and research-enabled interest groups which also have a strategic role to play within the governance space.
This is where the idea of putting together a government of national competence demands the creation of a change space, circumscribed by a competency model, that generate a national change management programme that orient those who would work within the change space for the transformation of Nigeria. The change space and competency model mean that the new administration is ready to jettison the business-as-usual attitude that is ready to play another four years of bad politics with the lives of Nigerians and the destiny of the Nigerian state.
This implies the imperative of troubleshooting deliberately for a managerial team that will energize the change space with ideas, innovation and strategies for institutional renewal and reform. I have once asked the question of whether a weak leader can build strong institutions. Of course, we have to answer in the negative. A leader is weak either because he or she lacks the political will to legislate very strong institution-building policies, or because he lacks the legitimate support of the people. The third source of weakness for a leader is that such a person has allowed personal gains and aggrandizing impulse to overshadow selfless decision making. In any of the cases, there is no foundation laid for the emergence of strong institutions. Building strong institutions with curtailing capacities that will deliver democratic service delivery to Nigerians requires a change space where functional and implemented policies can be made and results demanded.
Two immediate imperatives will guide the harnessing of managerial competences in the change space. First, the overall objective must be the launch of a national productivity movement that will be circumscribed by such critical pillars like cost of governance reduction, national waste management programme, new national project management praxis, and a new maintenance culture. The success of any state depends on her productivity profile and how the performance of her workforce impacts the delivery of goods and services to the citizens. And this is where the second critical issue surfaces—the need for a performance management system that insists that all those who must participate in the change space must be held accountable to a performance agreement or contract and performance audit. This focuses attention on the significance of creating a capability ready public service, operating on a managerial culture, that is professionalized, technocratic, value-driven, highly incentivized, accountable and technology-enabled sufficiently to backstop the productivity movement of the administration.
The success of the Tinubu administration, without mincing words, hangs on the capability readiness of the public service to deliver on the mandate that President Tinubu sold to Nigerians. This is where it becomes fundamental to call for a reinvention of the public service systems, structures, values and ethics—indeed the totality of work culture—within the necessity of getting the basics of public administration right. Modernizing the public service system thus translates into a deep-seated paradigm shifts in the underlying bureaucratic model.
Restructuring developmental federalism
The other side of my expectation from the Tinubu administration is an issue that President Tinubu shares with the ideological framework that has sustained the southwest in its bid to rehabilitate the Nigerian state. And this is the urgency of attending to Nigeria’s constitutional quandary, manifesting in its lopsided federal arrangement. Not making any meaningful attempt to correct Nigeria’s constitutional dysfunction, part of what constitutes Tinubu’s democratic credentials and ideological profile—would create a huge hole that will drain all good policy intentions. On the one hand, Nigeria’s presidential dynamics drains her budgetary capabilities. This is part of the cost of governance worries that Nigeria has been saddled with since independence. On the other hand, the lopsided unitary federalism has also been grievous in another way that the Tinubu administration cannot afford not to tackle. Nigeria cannot ever hope to make any governance success through a federalism that emasculate its federating units at the expense of a centralized framework that undermines the various units and their capacities to generate strength from their comparative advantages.
The comatose nature of the local government areas has deprived the Nigerian state of a framework of local governance that could harness the values of subsidiarity to crystalize, for instance, a grassroots-propelled poverty reduction programme and a people-centered development process around which the new administration can redefine democratic administration. So many of my public discourse pieces have outlined the significance of the Aboyade-Mabogunje OPTICOM—optimum communication—project that utilize the strength of professionalized strategic communication praxis to engage Nigerians within a framework of social mobilization, popular participation and democratic accountability.
Carol Pearson, in The Transforming Leader (2012), says “…if we want to make significant and long-lasting changes, we must look within before we look without.” This grounds our realization that impactful change commences as a learning process—we need to change the way we think about development by staying centered in the midst of the change with the strength of political will. There cannot be, therefore, a one-size-fits-all solution for Nigeria’s predicaments. Even the transformational leadership model we have outlined cannot do without the underpinning of transactional dynamics. In a deep sense therefore, to reject the business-as-usual mindset will entail cognitive re-definition, purposefulness, integrity and leadership by example.
Let me be bold in closing to say that the leader that would make a difference cannot be a people pleaser. He must wield the stick of the Machiavellian even if seldom used. While it is a journey with co-transformational-traveler partners, the leader does not have to make his leadership a slave to the opinions and the will of the egocentric destiny destroyers. For Nigerians, a lot must fall in several places with this transition to a new government, and I hope, a new beginning in so many ways. Let me end with the poignant words of Kristin Armstrong, the sportswoman: “Times of transition are strenuous, but I love them. They are an opportunity to purge, rethink priorities, and be intentional about new habits. We can make our new normal any way we want.”
(Being Distinguished Virtual Public Lecture of the Abuja Leadership Centre of the University of Abuja to herald the inauguration of a new President and Governments in Nigeria Delivered on Monday, 29th of May, 2023)
Prof. Tunji Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, Professor of Public Administration & Executive and Vice-Chairman, ISGPP, Bodija, Ibadan. Oyo State.