Nigeria should not be a poor country, but one of the richest countries. It is the sixth-largest producer of crude oil, with huge reserves of mineral and agricultural riches beside manpower. It should be boasting very high global living standards but for the leadership perversion it has unfortunately experienced. This country, where abundant varieties of crops grow irrespective of farming care, and limitless opportunities exists to provide services by honest means, is characterized by poor living standards. All these, has subjected the nation to ridicule.
Over the years, poverty has risen to unacceptable and frightening level with capacity to threaten the corporate existence of the nation. Evidently, there has been a failure of development for the most part, but the problem is not so much that development was not really on the agenda in the first place. I’m of the opinion that the agenda which will promote the greater good of the greatest number has never been on the leadership initiative. The point about perverse politics and departure from the development ideal is proved so poignantly by the rising poverty far above levels of ten years and significantly by the unceasing trend of seemingly unbridgeable gap between the rich and the poor.
Those opportune to watch Television commercials (TVC) of most African countries portraying their nation’s images to the world on satellite TV would notice one common thread, the emphasis is now on promotion of tourism and investment drive, but unfortunately, anytime you see something on Nigeria you are taken back to images of ethnic colouration. Our penchant of allowing charlatans to dictate our commonwealth is beyond imagination at a time intelligent people are studying and aligning with global trends and seeking the best for their people.
In my years of leadership and governance study, I’ve taken the pains to research on political and economic systems; why some fail and others succeed. During my university years, it was the norm to belong to ideological camps. If you find five students, there is the probability of four of them leaning to the left. From that period – the 1990s – till date I’ve been fascinated with China probing why Socialism/Communism failed in the erstwhile Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, but it is still in place, with modifications, in China.
It is instructive to note that China – during the global economic crisis of 2008-2010 – proposed to bail out Europe from its years of depressing economy, but the complex challenge in accepting such an offer was more ideological than economic. Should European nations who cherish the “freedom” that capitalism and free enterprise brings take bail out money from a socialist regime? That was the dilemma.
So how did the Chinese get it right on leadership? From the inception of communist rule in 1949 led by late Chairman Mao Zedong, China has in place a deliberate process of leadership grooming and selection. The grooming of its next generation of leaders started as far back as 2007. The new set of leaders – which is the fifth generation – is already in power. The next generation that would take over in the next ten years is already work in progress.
Under the Chinese model, the process of grooming of leaders has two dimensions: First is the active participation of young persons in existing governance structures, particularly on matters which directly affect them. This takes place through appropriate representation of youth bodies and young persons in agencies of government and public enterprises. Secondly is a deliberate grooming through the political and administrative systems, for youth participation in politics and administration now and for the future.
The crux of my argument is this: Leadership selection and grooming is planned and serious nations embark on it to ensure continuity of socio-economic and political progress that serves the common good. China, even though some will say runs a political system that is not “democratic” in western sense, still has lessons to teach Nigeria on leadership. Why is this huge country courted by the west though it runs an “oppressive” socialist system? What is China doing right that we can learn from? With a large rural population, what are some of the lessons in poverty reduction we can imbibe from China?
Nigeria has a lot to learn from the Chinese experience and one of these lessons is never to miss a chance to excel when opportunity knocks, China did not. Why did I say this? Following the 9/11 attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001, the United States of America went on a vengeance mission to destroy the base and launching pad of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Because of its unparalleled military might, it believed that this would be quick and decisive, but it turned out to be a long and protracted war lasting over eleven years with billions of dollars down the drain.
During this period, it neglected domestic affairs, especially the state of its industries and economy. This was the opportunity China cashed in on hence the Chinese manufacturing resurgence; China suddenly became the new hub of manufacturing activities with most countries – including American companies – trooping there to manufacture goods at cheaper rates because of the abundance of cheap labour. Today the Chinese economy is the second largest in the world, next only to that of the US. We should not forget that they were able to do this because of purposeful and disciplined leadership structure.
To get a further handle on this, I’d like to quote from an interview granted Time magazine by late Lee Kuan Yew, former Singapore leader who transformed an underdeveloped colonial outpost with no natural resources into a “First World’ Asian Tiger.
The Singapore elder statesman said; “Chinese leaders followed American lead in putting people in space and shooting down satellites with missiles. Their culture is 4,000 years old with 1.3 billion people, a huge and very talented pool to draw from. They have raised their expectations and aspirations, every Chinese wants a rich China, a nation as prosperous, advanced and technologically competent as the USA, Europe and Japan. This reawakened sense of destiny is an overpowering force.” This overpowering force is what is propelling this huge nation forward.
Would anyone say we don’t have such overpowering force in Nigeria? We do, it’s just that our leaders always fail to make good use of opportunities just like they failed to positively exploit the opportunity presented by the high global oil price of 2011-2014.
A rising power on the international stage in the post-global economic crisis, China, manages its power transition well to carefully match its philosophy of life. The west will see this as “undemocratic” and a stifling of citizen’s rights, but the flipside of the coin points to the fact that anything in life taken to the extreme oftentimes turn out problematic. Excessive and unbridled freedom also has its own drawbacks that is why leadership grooming and selection is needed; a leadership that will be in tandem with a nation’s uniqueness. If Singapore and Malaysia had followed the laid down “economic blueprint” of the Bretton Woods institutions they wouldn’t have been the success story they are today.
Another lesson for us is power continuity. It doesn’t depend on who’s in power as laid down policies continues because they are for the national interest. The rise of Xi Jinping – the current president – and his compatriots was built on a combination of political acumen, and ideological dexterity. They are graduates of the best universities in the country with specialties in Political Science, Political Economy, History, Law and Economics. What’s the lesson? The university plays a fundamental role in leadership grooming.
I will end with this: a friend recounted a story to me which speaks volume of the leadership lacuna in Nigeria. A group of volunteers from the US paid an unscheduled visit to a Local Government Chairman in one of the South West states where they wanted to site a project. To their dismay and consternation, they found the chairman and his councilors drinking beer in his office at 11 am! The volunteers did not leave with a good impression about Nigeria.
Are these the type of “leaders” we have “groomed”?