Ripeness: The Case for ‘Go-Slow’ and Its Possibilities -By Adewale Ajadi

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Adewale Ajadi

Adewale Ajadi

 

The framing of the current administration as a ‘Go Slow’ administration underestimates what it takes to effectively change anything we face in this country. The accusation that the Government has had a long period, including the campaign, to plan for governance is part of the reason why administrations keep doing the same things without consequential change.

Leadership is art, expressed in craft. At the heart of the craft is the quality of decision-making. At the risk of stating this in every article, Nigeria is a complex but not a complicated place. The issues we face cannot be resolved by independent and isolated initiatives executed in parts, but by an interdependent and linked body of solutions that can only be described as systemic. The framing of the current administration as a ‘Go Slow’ administration underestimates what it takes to effectively change anything we face in this country. The accusation that the Government has had a long period, including the campaign, to plan for governance is part of the reason why administrations keep doing the same things without consequential change. The complaint also contained in the international media is a manifestation of the national habit to confuse activity with progress and seek instant gratification. In fact, if one ever takes time to watch the dysfunction that occurs in many of our daily interactions, especially on the roads and motorways, you will see how damaging this is to the National ability to organise and collaborate. Take a few minutes to watch the toll gate on the Lekki/Epe expressway, see how a simple queue that would take a few minutes is turned into a chaotic battle of survival as buses, officialdom and individuals, in haste, double up (sometimes triple) to get ahead. The toll unit then becomes clogged up as individual needs for haste undermines collective mission for timely access as well as progress.

Whilst Mr. President is not in the same caliber, it is quite certain that the mixture of his military background, his introverted nature, the complexity of the country and the fundamental nature of the challenges facing us requires the wisdom of ripeness.

President Buhari is a conviction politician and a principled leader. It means his motivation and priorities are tied to his values and his decision-making is founded on what he feels and thinks is right. I speculate that like many with high levels of introspection, he will be far less likely to depend on external validation in his choices. I think, and far more importantly, he is likely to make decisions when they are ripe. Ripeness (my own name for it) has a long tradition in the practice of wisdom but not in opinion polls or theoretical intellectual frameworks. In the Islamic tradition, it is often referenced that the Prophet of Islam rarely gave answers reactively but often took his time to get to a place of insight and spiritual clarity. Whilst Mr. President is not in the same caliber, it is quite certain that the mixture of his military background, his introverted nature, the complexity of the country and the fundamental nature of the challenges facing us requires the wisdom of ripeness. In his administration what looks like Go Slow is in fact a reflection of the craft and practice of having the holistic sight of a problem, the curiosity to find credible solutions and the discipline to intervene in a timely manner.

A president that makes his move when it is ripe is not slow: he is experienced and wise enough to determine when to intervene on his judgement, reading, briefing and intuition for an effective intervention.

What determines the value of decisions is not speed but effectiveness. Even though no one in the President’s team has made this case, what seems clear to any student of leadership is that there is a pattern of intervention that suggests something beyond reaction and concern for external validation by the President. Ministers have not been chosen but Permanent Secretaries are being regularly engaged, performances of the Service Chiefs have been evaluated and commentary on the replacements chosen is such that its integrity and capacity speaks for them. I certainly can see the choice of Rtd. Brigadier General P.T Boroh as a strategic departure on the Niger Delta Amnesty programme. The choice of a specialised, trained and experience peacekeeper brings a structured and objective capacity to the Amnesty programme, moving it from an emotive and sentimental leadership into a objective and disciplined culture. A president that makes his move when it is ripe is not slow: he is experienced and wise enough to determine when to intervene on his judgement, reading, briefing and intuition for an effective intervention.

The death throes of the oil industry (as we plunge not only in price but in market share and production as well) is the second opportunity for this President to build a legacy that will define the lives of generations of Nigerians to come. The first one was prematurely stopped but the prospect did not seem great. He now has a better opportunity at redoing things.

Ripeness, wisdom and seasoned decision making is essential to the path of our Nation at this critical time. Mr President is at the head of Nigeria for the second time and both times after a profligate administration and in the middle of an oil glut that deeply affects government revenues. The current oil price drop is the steepest – in fact it is the largest drop in oil prices in at least 45 years, possibly the deepest in Nigerian history. With the role that we have allowed oil to play in our economic system, this should alert everyone that there is no ‘business as usual’. On a basic level, we are ripe for a profound change in the relevance, dependence and use of oil in our economy. However, that would be the ultimate understatement. Nigeria has no future of any serious development if we do not engage in the process of changing the Nigerian ecosystem. The death throes of the oil industry (as we plunge not only in price but in market share and production as well) is the second opportunity for this President to build a legacy that will define the lives of generations of Nigerians to come. The first one was prematurely stopped but the prospect did not seem great. He now has a better opportunity at redoing things.

Our economic psychology is to get material benefit from the barest or minimum value added…It is impossible to say with a straight face that if a young person works hard or intelligently they will be rewarded or progress or achieve success. It is survival at all cost, prosperity by chance or luck or just grace. This current system rewards those who are positioned in proximity to power, as gatekeepers and middlemen, leaving the third tribe to be hustlers. The economy does not reward productivity, value or delayed gratification.

Oil is symptomatic of our current economic system where instant monetary return is the only value. Nothing has any significant value chain. Cassava, for example (as far from oil as possible), for which we are the largest producer in the world, is processed into less than five value products in Nigeria, compared to more than 20 in Brazil. Farmers often leave their cassava unharvested because they simply do not get returns for their investment otherwise. Our economic psychology is to get material benefit from the barest or minimum value added. Even the basic purpose of most sectors are just mirages: banks which seem to become profitable while not offering facilities to the broader economy and while over 60 percent of Nigerians do not have bank accounts; telecoms companies with tens of millions of subscribers without basic service standards, profiting from dropped calls and network problems. Under our current economic system, giving or receiving value is rarely expected nor is it realised, yet businesses, institutions and individuals still get rewarded. Wealth is accumulated without much beneficial activity. The sources of dramatic wealth are opaque at best and unconnected with any economic production. It is impossible to say with a straight face that if a young person works hard or intelligently they will be rewarded or progress or achieve success. It is survival at all cost, prosperity by chance or luck or just grace. This current system rewards those who are positioned in proximity to power, as gatekeepers and middlemen, leaving the third tribe to be hustlers. The economy does not reward productivity, value or delayed gratification. Oil has exemplified these dynamics the most critical sector for decades without any serious or meaningful value chain – just simply extract crude and get paid. Oil is just a little over 10 percent of the GDP of Nigeria but about 75 percent of government revenues and even higher as a provider of foreign exchange.

Time is ripe for the foundation of new economic system, an ecosystem of value. This is the defining challenge for President Buhari.

Those who speak glibly of diversification of the economic base ignore that it is more than just the economy that is affected. It bears repeating that this is a dynamic that drives pervasive corruption, that affects the operation of our politics and in fact has had the most staggering effect on our security and communal existence. From the kleptomania in governance, as oil became the slush fund for politicians, to the destruction of the environment, and the facilitation of the economics of violence and kidnapping, there is a pattern of government instability linked to both the extraction of that commodity and the international price patterns and volatility of our national development. Time is ripe for the foundation of new economic system, an ecosystem of value. This is the defining challenge for President Buhari.

Nigeria, will be home to the third largest population in the world in less than fifty years cannot depend on a parasitic economic system.

Mr. President surely knows that we have a burning platform and if he does not think big and design the blue print for an economy where our prosperity is based on productivity, the descent into fundamental entropy is going to speed up. Nigeria, will be home to the third largest population in the world in less than fifty years cannot depend on a parasitic economic system. If this happens then his legacy would be that he presided over the demise of Nigeria. I however think otherwise. His legacy will be a new economic psychology, philosophy and practice of value creation, elongation, productivity and innovation that generations to come will know as the Buhari Ecosystem. It will be building a commonwealth where we replace extraction with hard work, conspicuous consumption with doubling productivity per person and hustling with equal opportunity based on meritocracy. This will be a new economic system in which generations can see a pathway from micro-business all the way to the stock exchange.

The most important corruption to be addressed is one where hard work, innovation and productivity does not lead anywhere, but scheming, manipulation and instant gratification leads to the top of society.

We are fortunate that we are on the edge of three potential economic transformations: agricultural, industrial and digital. We have the potential to leapfrog stages of economic evolution. We can double productivity per person in record time like China did. In practice, it will mean that we will be transforming our plethora of natural resource into many finished products for the local and international markets. What you incentivise you perpetuate. The most important corruption to be addressed is one where hard work, innovation and productivity does not lead anywhere, but scheming, manipulation and instant gratification leads to the top of society.

Mr. President has gotten the second opportunity to define, design and build the foundation of a new Nigerian economic system.

To arrive at a economic transformation or better still an ecosystem where values and value dominates, we need leadership from Mr President. It is unlikely this effort will be fully realised before 2019 but it will affect everything. It should mean that:

– Government sets goals to be funded from value generated in the economy not from opaque extraction of natural resources. This will lead to states evolving beyond being just political units to economically cohesive and performing entities that have a prospect of competitive approaches to revenue generation;
– The people of Nigeria are mobilised into recognising that there is no ‘business as usual’. Government has lost its major source of income and will take some time to find sources of revenue, so we must expect far less expenditure/development, greater taxation and much delayed gratification. In its a new social contract where taxes are paid, economic activities are formalised and corruption is effectively managed. Everyone is also expected to validate the sources of their wealth and prosperity in ways that are verifiable;
– A new national orientation and education in which certification is secondary to production. Vocational expertise and craft will be complimented with a labour market and a needs-based education system;
– A complete overhaul of the role and process for monetising creativity and innovation, especially patents and copyrights linked to the digital economy;
– Government simply should not compete in business but invest in our people, their capacity, craft and contribution, creating the environment in which there are standards for quality. Government will value contributions that it will regulate into world-class products and services.

As oil dies, the pathway to a Nigeria of hard work, productivity and innovation is ripe for creation. It is for such a time as this that this President was elected.

Mr President has gotten the second opportunity to define, design and build the foundation of a new Nigerian economic system. Where War Against Indiscipline (WAI) was defined by sanctions, this new value ecosystem should be shaped by incentives. As oil dies, the pathway to a Nigeria of hard work, productivity and innovation is ripe for creation. It is for such a time as this that this President was elected.

Adewale Ajadi, a lawyer, creative consultant and leadership expert, is author of Omoluwabi 2.0: A Code of Transformation in 21st Century Nigeria.

 

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