Dr Anthony A Kila
At fifty-one, Nigeria is definitely old; old enough to deal with some hard facts of life regardless of how unpleasant or mind numbing these might be. If Nigeria were human and a woman, at this age her prospects of finding love and conceiving children will belong to realm of tales and miracles. If Nigeria was a man, at this age, his prospects of achieving his boyhood dreams of playing for the national team will be based on a misconceptions of what happens in the Eagles camp.
Whether man or woman, anyone lucky enough to reach the golden age of fifty and then move to fifty-one must also have had encounters with some of the grey and gruesome aspects of life that force one to view life devoid of myths. Everyone at fifty-one knows children are not made the mythical way we were told at five. By fifty-one, most people must have dealt with bereavement, betrayal and witness the triumph of some form of evil. The consequence of all these experiences is of course a healthy dose of realism, mind you, not cynicism please, that will be unhealthy and even immoral I daresay.
Even though most Nigerians are not fifty-one, every Nigerian citizen has the duty to reason like a mature adult that has seen life in its fullest and must be ready and able to deal with civic realities devoid of myths and unrealistic hopes.
In the last few days, a lot has been said and written about the challenges facing the country and how people’s expectations have not been met. In the face of all the well documented painful and irritating challenges the people of Nigeria are facing I am however bewildered by how even some fine minds continue to perceive and judge our governments and those in power. There is an accepted tendency to blame those leading the country for all the woes of the country and a general expectation for them to do better. Just like their counterparts across the globe, Nigerians expect their public leaders to be patriotic, committed and accountable to their people. You might be tempted to say yes, of course, but any assessment based on real analysis or built on of functions of real variables as mathematicians love to say, will quickly reveal that a lot is missing in such assumptions.
When Nigerians lament that their public leaders are not building and managing good roads and schools or hospitals and efficient power stations or cannot secure their lives and properties like other leaders do elsewhere in the world we tend to forget to ask why. We tend to forget that those leaders elsewhere in the world were shaped and are powered as leaders by their people. In those democratic countries where leaders work tirelessly to tackle unemployment and genuinely worry about economic growth, infrastructures and security, they do so not because they are particularly noble or generous, rather they do so simply because they know that the unemployed and users are of bad roads are those that fund their campaigns and vote for them hence their real masters and makers. They do so because they know that if they don’t please their citizens there will be rebellion. They don’t loot their country’s wealth because they live in fear of an irreverent press ready to disgrace them and an independent judicial body eager to jail them.
Under the military, our public holders used their guns to get into power. In this democratic Nigeria, they self fund their way to power, many of them get there without or even against the consent of their people. Once in power, everyone treats them with undue reverence. It is not rocket science to understand that if those that get to be in charge of everybody’s wallet and the right to use force do not owe allegiance to anybody but themselves and maybe the very few that got them into power then the rest of us should expect very little from them.
At fifty-one, Nigerians should all be able to deal with the fact that we cannot reap where we did not sow. By now, we should be mature enough to understand that given how much each private Nigerian has invested in the Nigerian project those that are milking the system to the detriment of others have actually invested more time, money and energy into the Nigerian project and that they owe it to themselves to deliver profits to themselves and their few backers.
At fifty-one, we should be able to deal with the fact that in a system wherein people don’t write letters of complaint, petitions or demand that public holders do their duty rather the poor take money from politicians and the rich stay at home to complain it is out of their generosity and nobleness that Nigerian public leaders even bother to anything at all for the country. Think about it, if they don’t what will happen?
Unlike other leaders in the world who live in fear of their people and constraints of the law, Nigerian leaders are free to do what they like so for the very few good they do Nigerian leaders are the best in the world.
Let us keep an eye on George Uriesi
Just in case he is not aware or he is tempted to forget, someone needs to remind the newly appointed Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), George Uriesi, that he has more than an important job on his hands. In most airports of the world, where improvements have been continuous i.e. small incremental changes are introduced regularly in order to develop quality and maintain efficiency, a newly appointed MD or CEO should be thinking of how to achieve more incremental goals such as reducing costs, increasing value for shareholders, building and maintaining competitive advantage and giving stakeholders a better deal.
That is far from the case of the newly appointed FAAN MD, his position and required activities are strategic for the country and his tasks, if he wants to be truly successful, cannot be incremental but revolutionary. His position is strategic because he is in charge of the airports of a country that heavily and openly relies on international investments, partnerships and opinion. As an expert of internationalization and joint ventures, I come across a lot of potential international investors and prospective joint venture partners whose way of saying “ok let us look at this project seriously” is by agreeing to visit the country. When groups of observers or potential investors tell me we should visit the country to see how things are going; I think of their first contact with Nigeria, the airports, and my heart sinks. George Uriesi is not managing just journeys; his position can affect the development and image of his country.
His actions and management practices in general cannot be incremental but revolutionary because what he meets is not a staircase of development on which to run or hop, but a pile of rubbish formed over years of neglect being held together by a long twisted skein of incompetence, lack of passion and a void of dignity.. Unlike with most revolutionary changes though, George Uriesi cannot shut down, suspend or just give orders. He and his team need to fully understand what the situation is, they need to go into detail, they need to have a clear idea of where they want to be and how they intend to get there, better still if they can set clear temporal and financial targets. Two advantages of doing all these are that their tasks will become simpler and breakable into slots. Their best source for inspiration will be in history and geography. They need to go back to carefully review what their airports were meant to be and painstakingly study what other airports have become. They also need to realistically look at what their own airports have turned into.
Let us take the Murtala Muhammed International Airport as example. As soon as one gets off an international flight, the first thing that meets you is heat. That heat is not the friendly sun of a tropical country but heat generated in closed areas where heftily paid air-conditioners are not working. While surviving that heat, one then also needs to cope with the stench of something that seems of a mix of human waste, horrible air freshener and baldly diluted all purpose cleaning detergent. For those coming back home, the trick is to focus on the loved ones you are about to see, your first local dish and to quicken your steps. For those in the country for business the reaction is what a hell! Whether you are there for business or for love, the first threat to your life lies on the escalator that leads to immigration desks. I use that airport on average of twenty times a year and rarely have I travelled without seeing someone stumbling or falling.
The immigration queue at the MMA is a carnival of the absurd. Everywhere you go in the world, the queue for nationals is shorter and quicker whilst the one for internationals tends to be longer and slower. In Nigeria it is the other way round. What on earth do those immigration officers want from Nigerians returning home? In most parts of the world immigration will not even stamp your passport when you are returning home. Though not directly part of George Uriesi’s job list, he needs to liaise with immigration office and explain to them that such queues are not good for his airports and help them and Nigeria find a better way to manage things.
Immediately after getting through immigration the next challenge is getting your bags from a slow overcrowded belt. Those who try to get a trolley need to haggle and hustle to get one. All this needs to change; George Uriesi can do a lot if willing and capable. After this piece, I am heading to Amsterdam through the Airport Schiphol, I wish I could take him with me to come and have a closer look at the model after which one of his main airports was built.
So far two good things have happened under George Uriesi’s management : his website has been updated and he has held a town hall meeting with his staff to set a new course. Let us all wish him good luck but keep an eye on him