When Nigerians gather, a likely topic for conversation is: the trouble with Nigeria, and what to do about it. Invariably, they identify corruption and lack of political leadership as among the problems with Nigeria and Africa. In this essay, I will explore how to train for leadership and management in Nigeria and Africa.
Leadership is the art or science of identifying what a group of human beings need to do, to more effectively adapt to the exigencies of their environment, and doing it. The world is such that it does not provide human beings with what they need for survival. We have to work for what we need to survive. There are no free lunches on earth. The Bible said that while fleeing from Egypt, and on their road to the Promised Land, that Israelis were given free food, manna. It also said that none of those Jews who ate that free food reached the land “flowing with milk and honey”.
Those who reached the Promised Land were those who did not partake in eating free food. Moreover, when the Jews got to the Promised Land, they first had to fight those already occupying it, Canaanites, defeat them in pitched battles, and took over the land. Thereafter, they worked hard to transform the semi desert land of Israel into a productive land that met their supplies.
The point is that human beings, whether they like it or not, have to work for the means of their survival. In Genesis, Bible, it is written that by the sweat of their labor will human beings survive. Apparently, it is the wish of God that we human beings must work for our daily bread? Those who engage in corruption and steal to get their daily bread are cursed, and despite appearances of superficial wealth, tend to die miserable deaths. Examples are Sani Abacha and Joseph Mobutu.
As far as one knows, there is nowhere in the world where people obtain their food without working for it. If such a place exists, one would like to be told about it. In the meantime, one operates under the assumption that we live in an impersonal universe where our survival depends on our efforts. Whether we survive or not is our choice. If we choose to survive, then, we have to do those things that enable us to more effectively adapt to the challenges of our tough physical and social environment.
The individual must do what he has to do, to address the difficult tasks his environment demands be performed for him to survive. A group of individuals must do what they have to do, at the collective level, to adapt to their environment.
Leadership is a group variable. Whereas the efforts by the individual to cope with his world is leadership, but as far as leadership studies is concerned, leadership has to do with what a group of human beings do, to adapt to the demands of their environment.
Leadership entails the ability to foresee what the environment requires for a group to survive. The leader is a person who has vision as to what his group ought to be doing, if they are to effectively adapt to the demands of their world. The leader has ideas, dreams, and visions of what needs to be done to cope with the physical and social demands of our world.
Every person probably has dreams of what needs to be done, but not every person is a leader. A leader is a person who is passionate about his dreams of what needs to be done. He is totally enthusiastic about doing what needs to be done for his group’s survival that if you are around him, he infects you with his enthusiasm, and you could not help but want to help him accomplish his vision for the group.
A leader is totally committed to his vision of what needs to be done to enable his group to do what makes them survive. He is a living embodiment of devotion to a task(s). The goals he is devoted to means the difference between life and death for the leader. He is willing, if necessary, to fight and die for what he believes needs to be done for his group’s survival. This is called total commitment to goals that one believes are necessary for the group’s survival. One’s whole existence is wrapped up in the attainment of such goals.
What does life mean to you? A leader answers that question by juxtaposing his goals for his group. The attainment of his goals is what life means for him. He lives to attain the goals he deems necessary for his people’s survival. Surviving as an individual does not make any sense to the leader, unless he does what enables his whole group to survive as a group.
A leader mobilizes the people around him in pursuit of the goals he has identified as necessary for their group’s survival.
Goal attainment requires effort. It takes people to attain goals. Leaders, therefore, generally have good interpersonal skills, and know how to gather people together, and employ their labor to attain the goals they have identified for their group. Without good social skills, one can dream all one wants about goal attainment, one would not attain them. It takes ability to work well with people, for the individual to get them to work together in pursuit of goal attainment.
To work well with people, one must know something about human psychology. For example, human beings are prideful, vain and narcissistic. They need to be praised if you want to get them to do what they have to do. If you criticize them, you make them defensive, and when they are defensive they may work to obstruct the attainment of your goals. Leaders, therefore, know how to use positive reinforcement of good behavior to motivate people. You reward people when they do a good job by praising them or giving them pay raises, if you want them to work harder. (In the context of Nigeria, people like titles like chief. Apparently, that title gratifies their narcissistic nature, so give it to them as a motivator. Give it to them only when they do something above average for the group’s well being. Britain motivates its citizens to work harder, inter alia, by giving them honors, such as being called sir this or that.)
In addition to people, it takes capital to accomplish group goals. In this world, it takes money to get anything done. That money has to come from somewhere. Leaders, therefore, are persons who understand the financial costs of goals, and seek ways to make financing available for the accomplishment of their goals.
In the modern polity, governments raise money for their projects through several ways including taxation, individual and corporate; property taxes, sales taxes, licenses, royalties etc. Sometimes, governments do not have the money that projects require, and have to borrow it. Usually, governments borrow money from the public through selling bonds. Let us say that the city of Abuja wants to build a technical college, and does not have money in hand to defray the project’s initial capital outlay. Let us say that cost accounting studies have shown that it would cost $200 million dollars to build the proposed school. The city could sell bonds to the tune of $200 million.
What selling bonds means, in effect, is that the government has borrowed money from those who have it, with a promise to repay them in the future? Usually, the government promises to repay the principal in about thirty years, while paying annual interest rates of about five percent on the principal.
To be able to repay the principal sum of $200 million, plus the accruing annual interests, there must be a regular source of revenue stream coming to the government.
National governments, these days, take advantage of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, financial institutions set up by the United States of America at the Breton woods, Rhode Island, conference, shortly after the second-world war, and borrows from them. The United States had learned well from John Maynard Keynes’ studies that showed that capitalist economies tend to go through periods of boom and bust, and, therefore, require governments to overrule Adam Smith’s insistence that the market is the best means for allocating resources efficiently. Keynes had advocated governments intervening in the economy to fight inflation and depression. When inflation rises, governments withdraw money from the economy, perhaps through raising taxes, and or raising the interest rates the Central Banks charge the commercial banks that borrow from them, and the later, in turn, charge their individual and business customers higher interests, hence discourage borrowing, and in the process reduce the quantity of money in circulation, and reduce inflation. Conversely, if the economy is moving towards recession/depression, as exhibited by rising unemployment, slow downs in businesses’ productivity and general slow down in the demands of goods and services, governments fight it by reducing taxes and or engaging in more spending so as to pump money into the economy, and in the process fight recession/depression. The American Federal Reserve Bank, under the capable hands of Alan Greenspan, lately, fought creeping recession/depression by lowering the prime rate.
The World Bank and IMF were set up to help governments, or if you like, those governments controlled by America, to have access to funds to engage in staving off inflation and recession/depression. The idea was to prevent a collapse of the economy, as happened in 1929.
The World Bank offers long-term loans, usually money that enables governments to defray the cost of expensive capital projects. The IMF offers short-term loans.
African governments, although America did not have them in mind when it structured the international economy to benefit it, learned to borrow from America’s funded and controlled international financial institutions. Today, African governments are saddled with enormous debts from these foreign lenders. Indeed, debt financing alone is so eating up most of their annual revenues that they are left with little or no funds to engage in developing their economies. In fact, some of them are not even able to pay for their recurrent budgets, let alone engage in capital expenditures. And, we are talking about paying the interests on the loans they had, and not repaying the actual principal yet. Many of these governments are not ever likely going to be able to repay the loans that they obtained from foreign lenders, money they squandered in corruption, and have nothing to show for it.
(Some African countries, Nigeria included, are now asking their foreign lenders to forgive their loans. This is not a good idea, for it encourages embezzlers in Nigeria to go to Washington DC, borrow money from the IMF, money that Congress gave to the IMF, hence American tax papers money, and squander it. Our local thieves have no business being subsidized by the hard working, and tax paying American workers. We must repay what we borrowed, that is adult behavior.)
For our present purposes, the point is that leaders identify the cost of proposed projects, the money needed to finance their goals, visions, and dreams, and seek ways to come up with that money.
Individuals who want to start businesses generally do so through their own savings, or obtain their seed money from relatives and friends. Commercial banks seldom lend money to new entrepreneurs to start their business. New businesses are risky affairs: over 90% of them fail during the first two years. Those of them that weathered the first few years, are incorporated, and are deemed successful can be authorized by relevant civil authorities to sell stocks as a means of generating revenue for their business, especially for their business expansion.
Stocks are different from bonds in the sense that bonds are, strictly speaking, borrowing and must be paid back in full, whereas stocks are money invested in business, and do not have to be paid back. If the business makes profits, those holding its stocks get paid dividends, if not, they loose their money. Of course folks holding securities can trade them in the Stock market. As companies’ fortunes improve, their stocks improve in value, and those holding them can sell them and make handsome profits. Let us say that the initial product offering (IPO) was twenty dollars per stock, and a chap bought 1000 stocks, and now the stocks are selling at forty dollars, the chap has doubled his original investment. Without business firms paying stock holders dividends, as long as they are improving their business fortunes, their stocks may be rising in value, so that those holders of them can trade them at the various stock exchanges, and make profits (capital gains) on their original investment.
Leaders identify where money to finance their dreams are going to come from: the group’s past savings, borrowings, as in bonds, stocks (if the business is run as a private corporation, rather than as a government owned one) etc. In the context of Nigeria, it is clear that folks rely on revenue from oil to fund most projects. We sell oil, and share the money we receive among the federal government and the thirty-six states. The states, in turn, share the money they received from Abuja between the various local governments, who, in turn, share it between corrupt officials. Generally, our oil-derived money is seldom devoted to capital projects.
As an aside, assuming that there are rational persons in Nigeria, they would understand that oil revenue is an exhaustible one. Sooner or later, Nigeria’s oil will run out. And, if it does not run out, the West will eventually discover other sources of energy, such as hydrogen and or solar, and would not have to buy our oil. At that point, one supposes that we would become a basket case, and like other mismanaged African countries starve, and beg the world to feed us with handouts called aids. Financial Aid that would promptly be wasted.
If there were leaders in Nigeria that have foresight, they would be thinking of ways to diverse the economy, to prepare for the necessary rainy day. That would mean finding alternative sources of revenue. Putting all of one’s eggs in one basket is not exactly an intelligent behavior, is it?
We have coal and could develop it. We have all sorts of minerals that could be developed. We have the ability to farm and can sell our produce (cocoa, palm oil etc.). More importantly, the so-called state governments, that go hat in hand begging the federal government for money, can learn that a government ought to be generating its owns money, and start collecting income taxes, individual and corporate, property taxes, licenses and generally engaging in the other known ways governments generate funds for their programs.
One hopes that Nigerians do not have a special corner on stupidity, and would do the right thing for once, by seeking ways to generate revenue for the governments that are mushrooming everywhere in the country.
Leaders are persons who understand that their societies have needs, and seek ways to meet those needs, and dedicate their lives to meeting those needs. In this light, how many Nigerians can be considered leaders? How many folks, in our bribe taking National Assembly, dedicate themselves to identifying the needs of Nigeria, and doing what needs done to meet them?
When the Russians beat America into space, President John F. Kennedy felt shamed, and made his famous speech that by the end of the decade, 1960s, that America would place someone on the moon. He gathered around him men and material to make his vision come true. He motivated Americans to work like they were driven, and by 1969, America had landed Neil Armstrong on the moon. America beat Russia in the race to the moon. This is called leadership in action.
Please tell me one current Nigerian leader who has set a goal for the nation, mobilized resources, human and material, and dedicated his life to realizing it, and doing so? Our so-called leaders are a disgrace to humanity.
Leaders are persons who are keenly aware of what their group needs to do to survive in the world they find themselves, and resolve to do them. Let us, then, ask ourselves what needs to be done for Nigeria to survive?
One could write a whole book on this subject (and one has done so), but one will delimit one’s self to delineating a few needs of the Nigerian polity.
It is clear that Nigerians need education. Despite all the noise made about how educated we are, it is the case that our universities graduate only a handful of scientists and engineers, annually. Compare our situation to South Korea. In South Korea, over thirty-three percent of all secondary school graduates go to universities. Less than ten percent of our secondary school graduates go to universities. In South Korea, most of the university students major in the physical and applied sciences. South Korea, a small country graduates more engineers a year than all of Africa combined. That is correct, a country the size of Eastern Nigeria, produces more engineers than all of Africa. Please tell me how we are going to be able to compete with South Korea?
In South Korea, all children go to elementary and secondary schools. What is the percent of Nigerian students that go to elementary and secondary schools? Less than forty percent of Nigeria’s secondary school age children go to secondary school.
The typical Korean secondary school graduate mastered physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics. In international competitions, Korean students invariably out perform other countries. Nigerian secondary school graduates can hardly be said to have attended secondary school. What is the percent of Nigerian secondary school graduates that took calculus and advanced physics, organic, inorganic and physical chemistry? Please tell me. If we graduate scientific illiterates from our secondary schools, how are we going to compete with the Asians whose secondary school graduates, in fact, do better than White America’s university graduates?
(Black Americans are a special case; many of them can hardly be said to be educated. Generally, the only way they can enter into America’s top universities is through special arrangements, Affirmative Action programs, that admit them despite their possessing high school lower grade point averages, and lower scores on the various scholastic aptitude tests. Many reasons have been advanced for their poor performance on these tests. These reasons are interesting. I am a realist and do not make excuses for any one. If you want to go to a particular university, you ought to study hard and get in through the right door. I do not support entering into schools through the back door. Like Saint Francis of Assisi, I do not want other people to understand why I do not do the right thing; I want to be the one understanding other people. I am sick and tired of black people always wanting other people to understand why they cannot do the right things. Asian students study very hard. If you go to libraries and laboratories they are invariably there. When libraries close up at night, you literally have to shove Asian students out. That is why they do well at American schools. They are a disciplined and studious bunch. They are every professor’s joy. I feel happy when they are in my classes, for they would do the tough work you demand of them. They do not need to be understood and helped to make C and D grades, like their black counterparts. They aim at, and make, A grades.)
India and China have more or less cornered the market on information technology. India is graduating so many information scientists that Microsoft has decided to build one of its businesses campuses in India. Please tell me what Nigeria is doing in the information technology sector? Are we not a part of the information technology world? Are we condemned to be mere consumers of other people’s inventions, and not be inventors ourselves?
If you are not aware of what is going on in higher education, let me open your eyes. Asians dominate American universities. It is mostly Asians that obtain doctorate degrees in the physical and technological sciences from American universities. Asians out compete all other students in the real sciences. We now practically have affirmative action programs aimed at admitting less qualified white students to America’s top universities. Based on merit alone, Asians would be the ones that go to the top schools. My Alma mater, University of California, is, in fact, finding creative ways to admit white students, and not the Asians who out score them in most entrance examinations. As for the black students, very few of them qualify for entrance, there.
Do all these facts seem trivial to you? If you were a leader, you would appreciate the implications of these developments in education. They mean that other countries have left us far behind. We are not part of the equation when education is talked about. These days, very few American universities recognize Nigerian university graduation as qualification for admission to do graduate work in their schools. As a matter of fact, many of our university graduates are not able to write in correct English grammar. This is an amazing turn of events. When the British were running our schools, our graduates were as good as graduates in English schools.
How did all these come about? Is it because of our so-called leaders lack of attention to education? It really does not matter how what is came to be. Whereas scholars need to do contextual analysis to understand the cause of the collapse of Nigeria’s education, what is germane is how to fix it. We must fix our schools, now, not tomorrow.
How do we fix it? Let us revisit South Korea, again. What are they doing right that we could emulate?
Nigerian leaders must immediately make it mandatory and compulsory for all Nigerian children to go to elementary and secondary schools. Please do not ask me where the resources to accomplish this goal would come from. The amount of money Mr. Obasanjo spends jetting all over the world can fund many of those schools. The South Korean President travels rarely, and one sees no reason why Obasanjo should be a perpetual tourist.
That is correct. Obasanjo is merely a tourist to the countries he visits. Why? People listen to leaders whose shops are well run, and since Nigeria’s shop could hardly be said to be well run, who would listen to Obasanjo? If the Prime Minister of Japan, a man running an efficient economy, talks, people will listen to him, but not to a man whose economy is a mess. The man is merely using our money to satisfy his obsessive-compulsive craving to see the rest of the world. So let us cut down on his perpetual tours, and cut down on corruption, and use the money saved to provide elementary and secondary education for all Nigerian children, boys and girls. Remember the function of leaders, to come up with resources to accomplish group goals? Therefore, let Nigerian leaders come up with the resources to provide all Nigerians with elementary and secondary education.
And such education must emphasize science. There is no reason why we cannot invest in physics, chemistry and biology labs, and provide first-rate education in those very needed areas.
Korea sends 33% of its secondary school graduates to universities. We must do the same. If we have leaders in Nigeria, arrangements must be made for at least 33% of our secondary school graduates go to universities and, moreover, ascertain that the majority of them major in the physical and applied sciences…. subjects a modernizing economy requires. Seventy five percent of all university graduates ought to be in science and technology.
A poor developing country does not need to waste its meager resources producing social scientists and humanists who are destined to be unemployed, and worse do not really contribute that much to economic growth. Of course we need a few social scientists and humanists. Twenty-five percent of students graduating in these unproductive areas are probably acceptable risk management policy. Businessmen and technologists who produce jobs probably can afford to support a small population of idle social scientists, humanists and lawyers, but not too many of them.
Russia used to pay money to students studying physics, mathematics and engineering, as a motivation for more students to go into those fields. I say, let us pay monetary stipends to Nigerian students who go into the sciences. Those who go into the social sciences should not be paid; in fact, they ought to be paying for their higher education. Society has no obligation to help folks satisfy their hobbies.
Thirty-three percent of secondary school graduates, that is, one out of three students, is able to do university level work. The rest are not. Let us not waste our time debating the obvious. Intelligence is spread along a bell curve. About two percent of the population has superior IQ (over 132, on the WAIS), about five percent have above average intelligence (120-130) and about two percent are mentally retarded (under 70) and the rest of the population is average (85-115). These are universal facts. Not all people are Galileo, Isaac Newton, Copernicus, Kaplan, Harvey, Dalton, Boyle, Albert Einstein, Shrodinger, Hersenberg, Bohr, Pauli, Max Plank, Maxwell Taylor, Born and Bolm, the geniuses of mankind.
Most people in every country are average, and can only do average work. Therefore, a realistic polity makes allowances for the gifted and above average persons in it to go to universities, and for average persons to go to technical schools.
In practical terms, this means building no less then three hundred universities, and seven hundred technical schools in Nigeria. This must be done, now, not tomorrow.
A leader in Nigeria ought to initiate the equivalent of what Americans called land grant universities. In the late nineteenth century, the American federal government gave money and land to state governments to start state universities. Prior to that time, America had mostly private universities, schools that catered to the rich landed gentry that ruled America. When America decided to industrialize and realized that it needed to produce large middle class educated persons, it gave states the help to provide mass college education for the people. With the help of the federal government, America, a country of about 300 million persons, has 3000 universities, technological colleges and community colleges.
Nigeria, with its reported 100 million persons (can we ever have an accurate census?), ought to have one third of the number of America’s universities and colleges.
Please do not ask me where the money would come from to satisfy this seeming grandiose goal. I have already told you that it is the function of leaders to finagle resources for organizations to accomplish their goals. If you cannot find a way to come up with the labor and capital to operate the expected 1000 universities and technical colleges in Nigeria, please leave the leadership arena, and do not call your self a leader.
One performed needs assessment, and identified education, as one of the crucial needs to address, if Nigeria is to catch up with other countries. Nigerian leaders must resolve to build the elementary, secondary, technical colleges and universities necessary to educate Nigerians.
As in America, states are probably best placed to provide university and technical level education, whereas local governments are best suited to provide elementary and secondary education.
Of course, we must allow private schools. We do not need to pretend that all people are equal in wealth. As Jesus himself said, the poor will always be with us. It is the function of the public to provide education for the masses. If the rich want to have their own private schools, so be it. In fact, we must encourage private schools, if only to provide competition for public schools.
We know, from studies of public organizations that they tend to be less productive compared to private ones. America’s publicly run K through 12 Grade schools is a mess. Those Americans who can afford it send their children to well run private schools, where less unionized teachers are held accountable for teaching. We must, therefore, encourage private elementary, secondary, technical and university educational institutions. Their numbers is not a concern to us, here. The 1000 technical schools and universities identified as necessary for providing Nigeria with adequate education is what concerns us.
(Germany’s technical education system is universally acclaimed as the best in the world. Here, post secondary school students study technical subjects on campus, for two years, and then do two years on the job training in the area they studied. They then take a rigorous national examination to qualify to practice their trades. German technicians are demonstrably the best in the world. They fix and maintain things. We do not know how to fix and maintain the factories and buildings that we constructed. We ought to copy Germany’s technical schooling system. Our current British modeled Poly technical schools have mission confusion: they are confused regarding their objective, to produce academics or builders/repairers of things?)