Nigeria Managing Chaos As Development – By Nuhu Ribadu

Let me start with a statement of gratitude to the Chief (Dr.) Michael Olawale-Cole,FNIM President and Chairman of Council of this august institution, and other able team of officials who are creditably running the fortunes of the Nigeria Institute of Management.

Upon receiving your invitation, I reasoned that someone had finally found the answer to my arrest. Here, after all, are seasoned, and the very best of our management gurus luring a retired public officer into a deadly trap of talking to professional and contemporary managers.

To be sure, if I have to plead my case here today, there is no way I can win over the egg heads of the institute, and the deeply credentialed members who are fully mobilized here today. Let me do what every wise fighter ought to do when they are cornered, they hand in their weapons. Ladies and Gentlemen, the hunt is over, I surrender!

While it is true that my professional background is not the traditional career path that most of you here will describe as management, I nevertheless accepted the invitation to speak to this distinguished audience today because starting from my time at since the Nigeria police, through my days as chairman of the EFCC, and my development work in some far-flung countries around the world, to my stint in politics and national service, one vital lesson I took home was the centrality of management in the evolution of a livable community, in the organization of states, and in the architecture of national development. These lessons of life opportunities became my own school of practical lessons in management.

The reality of our situation

Why is our national development effort since independence unable, till date, to support a decent life and a promising future? Why are all the symbols of promised economic growth suddenly stunted and even in reverse gear? Have we truly given thought and sufficient reflection to the meaning and scope of development and management?

The truth must be told here. Development is certainly much more than crunching GDP figures, drilling oil, erecting skyscrapers or even blindly accepting the western economic theories of privatization, stabilization and liberalization.

Ladies and gentlemen, development is strictly about the transformation of society. And when we talk about the transformation of society, it is not just about slogans, they have to be coded in the values of direction. Transformation must be about what kind of society we seek to build, and for what goals and purposes. This is the only way that transformation acquires its true meaning, and that is why development experts insist that transformation is also a process mechanism that affects not only what we do, but how we do it.

At the end of the day therefore, an accurate conception about Nigerian development is essentially about quality of life issues; issues such as poverty eradication; peace and security, true and broad health care, and education beyond basic literacy. Yet it is also about economic security, the creation of safety nets, a democratic, equitable, and sustainable development.

I understand the frustrations that many Nigerians feel about the failure of development on our shores. What many have failed to ask however is how they understand the concept and the values that give development its meaning. The Indian economist and philosopher, Professor Amatya Sen makes the important point that democratic value, as much as economic values are critical in an accurate conception of development. These keys in with the vision of the American Nobel Prize winner, Joseph Stieglitz who definitively affirms that words like openness, partnership, and participation, women empowerment, and environmental health carry in their innards, a theory of development, as well as evidence that can lead to more successful development efforts.

Where are the managers?

The question then is a fair one if we look down the passage of time and ask why half a century after independence we remain a near destitute nation. In any way we decide to view it, management has received a bloody nose in our country, and those who insist that our tribe of managers cannot escape the humiliation of failing to provide leadership appears, in my own opinion, to be right.

This is not a topic for hot debate. Fellow compatriots, just look around yourselves, recall your last visit to a true factory, take a broad view of many of our national monuments, even colleges, health centres, car assembly plants, steel mills, agricultural projects, and the endless lists of failed national institutions. Undoubtedly there is a major management deficit in the land, and the result is that our country is far away from where it ought to be.

I am not one of those who believe that Nigeria’s problem is with its laws. We talk of amendment to the Constitution and our other laws as if that alone would take us to our destination. I differ. My take is that our problem is largely that of management. Bad managers cannot operate the best of laws, the best of businesses and the best of countries.

Yet, our country’s management problem did not begin today. As most of you know, management is the act of getting people together to accomplish desired goals and objectives using available resources efficiently and effectively. Flowing from this definition, I now pose the questions. How efficiently and effectively have we used our God-given natural resources to uplift our great country? How well have we harness the talents and endowments of our human resources to put our country on the path of sustainable development? How well have we managed ourselves as a giant in Africa and an important entity in the comity of nations?

As I allow you to ponder over these questions and make your own deductions, I like to enumerate the immense damage and huge cost that poor leadership and management have led our nation to socio, political and economic failures. I am talking about those giant setbacks like more than three decades of military dictatorship in our polity, the brutal civil war, the phenomenal misuse of huge oil resources, the incessant ethnic and religious intolerance, the monumental corruption, the massive brain drain, and now the bitter experience of terrorism on our own homeland.

Need for new management paradigm

Are our management assumptions really right? Is it not said that once the assumptions of social science is wrong then the analysis is destined to a fatal failure? The father of modern management science, Peter Drucker said, “the basic assumptions underlying much of what is taught and practiced in the name of management are hopelessly out of date.” Is this the problem we are also dealing with here? In challenge to us all in this hall, I want to say that we cannot afford not to think up an ideal management model for ourselves that is in tune with our country’s political, economic, social and cultural realities. NIM needs to lead us in this task.

Martin Meredith, author of the classic work, The State of Africa, noted aptly that mismanagement and corruption in our country is as old as our independence, if not older. Permit me to bring the authority of Meredith to bear here, and I intend to quote a fairly long passage to illustrate my argument.

“In Nigeria, the first years of independence became an orgy of power being turned into profit. The advantages of political office were used at every opportunity by Nigerian leaders to accumulate empires of wealth and patronage with which to improve both their personal and their party’s fortunes. Using public resources, party and government bosses were able to reward their supporters and friends with jobs, contracts, loans, scholarships, public amenities; indeed any favour that came within their purview.

“Power itself in effect came to rest on the ability to bribe. Parties, once in power, moved quickly to amass a fortune from public funds large enough for them to be able to win the next election; a network of banks, businesses and financial structures were set up to support this objective. Parties that did not command state resources simply stood no chance of winning elections.

“Between 1958 and 1962, for example, the Action Group government in Nigeria’s Western Region invested about 6.5million GBP in the National Investment and Properties Company, a business which had four party leaders as its directors. In the period between April 1959 and November 1961, one of the directors gave 3.7million pounds to the Action Group in the form of special donations. Northern politicians ran a similar spoils system. A study of thirty-nine investment and loan projects of the Northern Nigeria Development Corporation undertaken in 1966 showed that the biggest borrowers had been the big men of the Northern government.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, you can see in horror that our leaders began to mismanage our country right from day one. The commanding vision of development was not even part of the bargain. I want to now compare that profile with a sister nation in East Africa. Let’s attempt a little comparison of Nigeria and Tanzania at independence to underline what good and bad management can do to a country. Tanzania is younger than Nigeria, becoming independent a year after us in 1961. Zanzibar, its semi-autonomous region, got independence in 1963. But because of the quality of their managers, they foresaw strength in unity and worked extremely hard, in spite of their religious and cultural differences, to become one country – the United Republic of Tanzania – in 1964. The country grew stronger, more prosperous and ended up avoiding military coups, civil war and disintegration. It became the bastion of peace and stability in a very restive region, even turning out to be saviours of its tumultuous neighbours.

Tanzania had the same kind of challenges we had at independence. But its leaders had better managerial knowhows. We were not that lucky with our managers. And the rest is history. We took the first wrong steps and we are paying dearly for it ever since.

What bad mismanagement has done to us

I have made the point earlier about how of years of mismanagement and inept leadership has led to the social and political dislocation in the country. If we were to subject this result to the standards of strict business judgments, there ought to be consequences for this type of result. Every manager knows that his or her longevity at the head of a corporate organization is as certain as the continued satisfaction of the shareholder to executive performance.

The point must also be made that the mismanagement of our country has led to the extinction of institutions of national significance and pride such as Nigerian Airways, National Shipping Lines, Steel Rolling Mills, NITELS, car assembly plants and even the national soccer team, the Super Eagles, which used to be the symbol of the nation’s collective unity and pride, that some Nigerians now refer to as Super Chickens. Poor managers that we are, we have mismanaged our natural resources, particularly the oil that is the cash cow of the national economy today, to the extent that most observers and commentators of the industry now believe oil is a curse on Nigeria.

The managers Nigeria desire

This is however not a commentary in tragic narratives. That certainly is not my desire. I have not come to regal you with tales of doom, true as they might be. The central challenge of this lecture is to identify how we all can effectively respond to our daunting challenge of management and development. All we have discussed so far is that development will continue to elude us if we cannot deploy a new generation of managers that will interpret the challenge of our failure as the failure of current management practices.

Here then is the deal. People like us, as indeed most citizens, have an idea of the kind of community we want to live in. We know that the community must support the ennoblement of man and its resources, that it must be an empowering community of equality and justice, where values of collective and individual progress are an abiding faith. What we may not know however is how to confront this challenge. I dare say that this is the responsibility of those who elect to be managers among us. We can even take the initial bite by placing the qualifications of the managers we desire before the nation. We can say the manager we desire must be one with a national ethos, not a sectional jingoist, he must be a competent, modern, honest, God-fearing, compassionate, benevolent, courageous and firm, confident, articulate, great team builder. Having gone this far, I think the point must be made that the Nigeria Institute of Management has an unusual ball in its court. This call and this expression of responsibility is totally for the leadership of the institute.

A managerial model for Nigeria

I want to share with you something from some of my random readings that truly intrigued me. Researchers at the Harvard Business School, concerned at the failure quotient of corporate organizations in the United States, came up with new markers of management vision for the new age. They proposed that the businesses of the future that will endure and last must be guided by the following principles: “Eliminate formal hierarchies. Reduce fear and increase trust. Exploit diversity. Expand employee autonomy. Unleash human imagination. Encourage passion among employees. Use lofty goals such as truth, love and justice to inspire employees instead of mundane ones such as differentiation or focus.”

I find this remarkable but extraordinarily moving. I think the NIM must challenge us in the face of the current climate of failure in many of our institutions with new values for the future for if we have lost the past decades, but hope to refocus, it is imperative that new values of leadership and management now guide our next steps. I personally reject the notion that our geography, or our race or culture, has anything to do our current situation. The examples of our neighbours and sister nations sufficiently suggest that we can and should try harder. We need to learn some management lessons from some countries on our continent and then formulate an ideal management system for our country. A bit of Tanzania (how to build a nation out of a country), a bit of Botswana (the sharing of resources – accountability and transparency), and a bit of Rwanda (how quality leadership pulls a country back from the brink and puts it on the path of sustainable development with the highest development indices in Africa. Certainly not to forget Ghana, our cousin in the region, that is showing us on a daily basis that size and wealth have nothing to do with development and progress.

How NIM can be in the mix

A management revolution is urgent if we are to gain the decade ahead. Today we are at best managing chaos and that is not a viable development model but in truth it can also be an opportunity to turn failure to success. I am persuaded that if we put in the will and the determination we shall and can make it. The history of our nation and of the components of the larger nation has shown that we have the capacity to pull back from the brinks and make impressive wins. The most salutary example is how we managed to rebuild after a nasty civil war and still kept the faith of a united nation aglow. That is the gem that the NIM can pick from, it is an important example and should inspire us all to know that there is a way out of our current failings and the alternative in the new century is that failure cannot be an option. Nations and societies that cannot put the challenge of development, of leadership, and of management at the front burner, will atrophy and vegetate.

The easy way out for us, I am convinced, is to find a way out of the endemic corruption that has choked the breath out of our purpose to progress and the best people to lead us on in this march are the professional managers.

I thank you once more for the priceless opportunity to be here, I treasure the gesture and wish the NIM Godspeed in its march towards a future of greatness and further achievement.

God Bless our nation. Thank you all. Good morning.

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