Thursday, 5 March 2015

FOR THE RECORDS: Is There A ‘Nigerian Dream’? (LONG READ)

Leadership has great spiritual value
This is an old post which in light of the "tasteless" and puerile political campaigns we observe from the Nigerian political class in the run-up to the 2015 General Elections becomes relevant, thus we decided to re-post it for wider readership. We decided that we would reflect on the broader Nigerian political discourse and the quality of leadership in the Nigerian political space in the next few posts.

By Kenneth Nwabudike Okafor

Today, we are going to consider one of those topical issues which affect CREATIVITY and INNOVATION which I had promised at the onset of our journey — LEADERSHIP and NATIONAL DREAMS.

Let me ask this question - is there such a dream as a ‘Nigerian Dream’? I am curious. I want to know what people think, and believe.

I had been researching for this article when I came across a programme on a Chinese 24 hour news channel. The programme put a spotlight on the story of Peter Scott of Burn Design Lab in Seattle, Washington in collaboration with a US University and partners in Kenya, working on a fuel efficient natural draught cooking stove for millions across Africa. The cooking stove was reported to be designed to reduce consumption of cooking fuel (firewood, charcoal, etc) and the noxious fumes which accompanies the combustion of these materials.
I googled Peter Scott and Burn Design Lab, and I came up with a heart-warming story of one man’s dedication to solving problems other people, indeed strangers to himself, are accosted by Mr. Scott is the Chief Executive Officer / Founder of BURN Manufacturing Co / BURN Design Lab is a 501(c)(3) non profit corporation that creates customized biomass stove solutions to meet the cooking needs of the developing world. Working with implementing organizations, we develop sustainable stove dissemination systems that will appeal to cooks and have a profound impact on deforestation, women’s health and global warming. I wish them every success with the venture.

And please, let me quickly state that having worked in the field and in rural communities for almost two decades, I do know there also numerous Africans, at home and in the Diaspora, Nigerians included, trying to make a difference, working toward a better life for their own and other people. I know many astute and dedicated men and women, and I have worked with some of these same people in social development. Over the course of this journey I would be highlighting their endeavours and accomplishments as the need arise.

The point I want to enunciate here is the sort of rare large heartedness and foresight that men like Peter Scott and others before him, who have been moved out of their own personal comfort zones and comparative wealth, to strive for a better life for other peoples in other lands. Experience shows that this kind of drive is usually underpinned by innovation and technological advances, the type that the recipient lands do not possess nor can afford. If Mr Scott did not have the benefit of technology, research funding and enabling environment, he would never dream about and delve whole sale into the risky enterprise of solving other people’s challenges.

Someone could argue that Mr Scott comes from a ‘rich’ country so he can afford to dream. Is this true? Do only the ‘rich’ dream? And why not the ‘poor’, too? Since a dream is the yearning for a better and more prosperous future? Do the ‘poor’ not have a better reason therefore to dream?

In the years I have worked in social development, working with communities to achieve better quality of life through a plethora of development interventions, I have learned one overarching lesson about the general population: citizen participation is stuck between a low ebb and non-existent in Nigeria, with people near hopeless and apathetic, for a rash variety of reasons. The chief reason is poverty – grinding, rampant and crippling poverty.

As Dambisa Moyo, the Zambian Economist and author of Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There is Another Way for Africa, stated in her speech at the TEDGlobal 2013, "…Ninety percent of the world’s population lives in emerging markets, and to them, the obsession with political rights is beside the point, taking a backseat to food, shelter, education and healthcare. When you’re earning less than US$1 a day, you’re far too busy trying to feed your family to worry about defending democracy… What would you choose if you had to choose between the right to a roof over your head and the right to vote? "

Many people would shout — THE RIGHT TO A ROOF OVER MY HEAD FIRST — in many communities I have worked in.

So is there such a dream as a ‘Nigerian Dream’? Or are we too ‘poor’ to dream? Does poverty stop people from dreaming? Who can candidly answer this question, with wisdom and insight?

There are two countries that have held an abiding fascination for me: United States of America and China. One is too visible that its neighbours, friends and enemies cannot ignore it, and the other has been daubed ‘the workshop of the world’. What is it about these two countries?

I discovered there are several reasons ­— including the results of robust levels of national and individual CREATIVITY and INNOVATIONS.

I can imagine that even the respected Economist and social activist, Dambisa Moyo I referred to above must mentally thank America every once in a while for the platform that country has provided for her to reach out to the world, with a powerful and resonant message against poverty in African countries. What would have happened to her dream if she had been stuck in Africa? In particular Zambia? Or even Nigeria, the faint hearted giant?

Again, I ask is there such a dream as a ‘Nigerian Dream’?

Before I tell you about the positive parts of the insights I gained in my history lessons, let me assure you that I don’t think either United States of America or People’s Republic of China perfect. Far from it. United States of America has parts of its history so dark and shameful that some Americans shudder at the thought not to mention the past and ongoing social injustices against native Americans first, then latterly African-Americans and other people of colour; the widening gaps between the rich and the poor; and the continuing national hobby of living beyond one’s means. Then, there is the exasperating but deadly obsession, driven mostly by the NRA and fear mongers, with firearms which baffle non-Americans and other foreigners endlessly.

On its own part, China is so uptight about appearances and nuances that sometimes it does not call a spade by that name. For instance the leadership of the Communist Party of China would not like a presenter on State television to use the word corruption; they would rather prefer the word ills instead. China is so anxious to be seen and thought as nice and willing partners that they down play the fact that they have black sheep like every other country. Yet Chinese nationals are involved in illegal mining in Ghana, dumping substandard products in sub-Saharan countries and fishing illegally in other people’s territorial waters.  On the mainland at the moment, China is wrestling with overcapacity in its industries and some companies are even closing down. One of the side effects of the overcapacity is harmful pollution and smog in several cities including Beijing as well as the rise of blighted ‘cancer villages’. Urban air pollution is a severe health issue in the country; the World Bank estimates that 16 of the world's most-polluted cities are located in China. China is the world's largest carbon dioxide emitter. The 2009 Chinese lead poisoning scandal occurred in the Shaanxi province of China when pollution from a lead plant poisoned children in the surrounding area and villagers have accused the local and central governments of covering up the scandal.

No, I certainly don’t consider America and China bereft of blemish and lapses. Now you and I know I am not talking about perfect people and ‘utopia’ countries. Nevertheless, Nigeria has a lot to learn from these and other countries.

America has been dreaming from the beginning. And China now is dreaming, dreaming while in pursuit of ideals that would make it match and overtake America in certain terms. But America dreamed first and showed how to dream.

In the article Keeping the Dream Alive - The American Dream: A Biography in TIME magazine of June 21, 2012, Jon Meacham wrote "On Friday, May 1, 1931, James Truslow Adams, a popular historian, was putting the final touches on the preface to his latest book. It was a curious time in the life of the nation. Though the Crash of 1929 had signaled the beginning of the Great Depression that was to endure for years to come, there was also a spirit of progress, of possibility. On the day Adams was finishing his manuscript, President Herbert Hoover pressed a button in Washington to turn on the lights of the newly opened Empire State Building at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue, which, at 1,250 ft., was to be the tallest building in Manhattan until the construction of the World Trade Centre four decades later."

Meacham was referring to Pulitzer winning historian and writer, James Truslow Adams who coined what would become of the most famous phrases in the world. In his work The Epic of America, J.T. Adams (1878-1949) wrote, “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."

The American Dream phrase came to resonate with a desperate people marching against economic adversity amidst a national calamity.

Truth be told, James Truslow Adams was actually following in the footsteps of men like John Winthrop and the Puritan search for an earthly "city upon a hill" in the New World to Benjamin Franklin's "The Way to Wealth" aphorisms to Horatio Alger and the drama of the upwardly mobile, Adams' phrase had — and has — the deepest of roots in the American experience.

It was men (and women, please) of the class and mould of John Winthrop and their pedigree that led me to delving into a closer study of American history, to glean the ways in which the American experience differs from Nigerian history. If you do same, you would discover why America cannot be ignored in world affairs.

John Winthrop was a wealthy English Puritan lawyer and one of the leading figures in the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the first major settlement in New England after Plymouth Colony. Winthrop led the first large wave of migrants from England in 1630, and served as governor for 12 of the colony's first 20 years of existence. His writings and vision of the colony as a Puritan "city upon a hill" dominated New England colonial development, influencing the government and religion of neighbouring colonies.

In October 1629 he was elected governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and in April 1630 he led a group of colonists to the New World, founding a number of communities on the shores of Massachusetts Bay and the Charles River. Between 1629 and his death in 1649, he served 12 annual terms as governor, and was a force of comparative moderation in the religiously conservative colony, clashing with the more conservative Thomas Dudley and the more liberal Roger Williams and Henry Vane. Although Winthrop was a respected political figure, his attitude toward governance was somewhat authoritarian: he resisted attempts to widen voting and other civil rights beyond a narrow class of religiously approved individuals, opposed attempts to codify a body of laws that the colonial magistrates would be bound by, and also opposed unconstrained democracy, calling it "the meanest and worst of all forms of government". The authoritarian and religiously conservative nature of Massachusetts rule was influential in the formation of neighbouring colonies, which were in some instances formed by individuals and groups opposed to the rule of the Massachusetts elders.

Winthrop's son, John, was one of the founders of the Connecticut Colony, and Winthrop himself wrote one of the leading historical accounts of the early colonial period. His long list of descendants includes famous Americans, and his writings continue to be an influence on politicians today.

Whatever you think of America, the country was founded firmly on dreams. The first settlers in the New World hoped for freedom of religion; in their home countries they had been persecuted because of their religious and political views. Bad living conditions in Europe and the hope for better living standards in America attracted more and more settlers to migrate to the new world. The booming US industry during the first half of the 20th century caused the myth "from rags to riches".

In the same TIME magazine article referenced above, Jon Meacham goes on to write, "Dreams of God and of gold (not necessarily in that order) made America possible. The First Charter of Virginia — the 1606 document that authorized the founding of Jamestown — was 3,805 words long. Ninety-eight of them are about carrying religion to "such people as yet live in darkness and miserable ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God"; 97% of the charter concerns the taking of "all the Lands, Woods, Soil, Grounds, Havens, Ports, Rivers, Mines, Minerals, Marshes, Waters, Fishing, Commodities," as well as orders to "dig, mine, and search for all Manner of Mines of Gold, Silver, and Copper." Explorers in the 16th and 17th centuries sought riches; religious dissenters came seeking freedom of worship. In 1630 layman John Winthrop wrote a sermon alluding to America as "a city upon a hill," explicitly linking the New World to the Sermon on the Mount. (Always shrewd about visuals, Ronald Reagan would add the adjective shining to the image several centuries later.)"

Yes, critics have described the American Dream as an ambiguous concept, but at least it is an inspiration to a nation, and some espouse its ideals. In depicting the American Dream, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a novel, The Great Gatsby while Arthur Miller wrote the play, Death of a Salesman. They, by their art, promote a social and cultural understanding of the American Dream.

Then there is China. China is a regional power within Asia and has been characterized as a potential superpower by a number of academics, military analysts, and public policy and economics analysts.

For much of its very old history China remained closed and arcane. The ancient Chinese civilization one of the world's earliest flourished in the fertile basin of the Yellow River in the North China Plain. For millennia, China's political system was based on hereditary monarchies, known as dynasties, beginning with the semi-mythological Xia of the Yellow River basin (c. 2000 BCE). Since 221 BCE, when the Qin Dynasty first conquered several states to form a Chinese empire, the country has expanded, fractured and been reformed numerous times. The Republic of China overthrew the last dynasty in 1911, and ruled the Chinese mainland until 1949. After the defeat of the Empire of Japan in World War II, the Communist Party defeated the nationalist Kuomintang in mainland China and established the People's Republic of China in Beijing on 1 October 1949. Now the ancient China is a very different country from modern China.

The People's Republic of China is one of the world's few remaining socialist states espousing communism. The Chinese government has been variously described as communist and socialist, but also as authoritarian and corporatist, with heavy restrictions remaining in many areas, most notably on the Internet, the press, freedom of assembly, reproductive rights, social organizations and freedom of religion. Its current political/economic system has been termed by its leaders as "socialism with Chinese characteristics". Since the introduction of economic reforms in 1978, China has become the world's fastest-growing major economy. As of 2013, it is the world's second-largest economy by both nominal total GDP and purchasing power parity (PPP), and is also the world's largest exporter and importer of goods. China is a recognized nuclear weapons state and has the world's largest standing army, with the second-largest defense budget. The PRC has been a United Nations member since 1971, when it replaced the ROC as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. China is also a member of numerous formal and informal multilateral organizations, including the World Trade Organization (WTO), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the BCIM and the G-20.

Critics may have their say, but China was doing something that worked for its population. A former US diplomat and interpreter, Chas W. Freeman writing in The Globalist of November 6, 2013 under the caption How China Transformed Itself , in acerbic tones only an American can muster, said ‘China transformed itself by inventing something I call "cadre capitalism".’ He went on to explain "Cadre capitalism links local political boosterism to entrepreneurship — and then links both of these phenomena to the promotion of individuals to reach ever higher levels of the Communist Party hierarchy. In other words, this process creates self-interested, selfish partnerships between local officials and business people. They collude to advance local political, economic and commercial interests over those of other such partnerships elsewhere. This is what drives the so-called state-owned enterprises to ferocious competition with each other and everyone else. Cadre capitalism makes doing business in China quick and easy for those who understand and participate – and hard for those who don’t. It’s a unique artifact of Chinese culture. It can’t be exported as a model or borrowed abroad. "

I have a dossier of many illustrious men and women I can highlight his / her contributions to the emerging Chinese Dream. Let me just refer you to Deng Xiaoping. This is the man of whom the Chinese historian Mobo Gao has argued that "Deng Xiaoping and many like him [in the Chinese Communist Party] were not really Marxists, but basically revolutionary nationalists who wanted to see China standing on equal terms with the great global powers. They were primarily nationalists and they participated in the Communist revolution because that was the only viable route they could find to Chinese nationalism."

As the core of the second generation leaders Deng shared his power with several powerful older politicians commonly known as the Eight Great Eminent Officials (others include Chen Yun, Li Xiannian, Peng Zhen,Yang Shangkun, Bo Yibo, Wang Zhen and Song Renqiong who held substantial power during the 1980s and 1990s). Deng Xiaoping was a politician and reformist leader of the Communist Party of China who, after Chairman Mao's death led his country towards a market economy. While Deng never held office as the head of state, head of government or General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (the highest position in Communist China), he nonetheless served as the "paramount leader" of the People's Republic of China from 1978 to 1992.

Deng was instrumental in China's economic reconstruction following the Great Leap Forward in the early 1960s. His economic policies, however, were at odds with the political ideologies of Chairman Mao Zedong. As a result, he was purged twice during the Cultural Revolution, but regained prominence in 1978 by outmaneuvering Mao's chosen successor, Hua Guofeng.

Inheriting a country fraught with social and institutional woes resulting from the Cultural Revolution and other mass political movements of the Mao era, Deng became the core of the "second generation" of Chinese leadership. He is considered "the architect" of a new brand of socialist thinking, having developed "Socialism with Chinese characteristics" and led Chinese economic reform through a synthesis of theories that became known as the "socialist market economy". Deng opened China to foreign investment, the global market and limited private competition. He is generally credited with developing China into one of the fastest growing economies in the world for over 30 years and raising the standard of living of hundreds of millions of Chinese.

Whose writings do you think is influencing Nigerian politicians? Why are they are they so greedy and misappropriating national wealth?

I am writing this at the tail stream of the scandal involving the Nigerian Aviation Minister over the illegal purchase of overpriced armoured luxury cars. And the allegations and counter allegations were making the rounds, as bare-faced lies were been told to a scandal-weary populace and the truth mercilessly trampled underfoot by avaricious men and woman in the corridors of power.

John Winthrop did not require armoured cars to write and cast his visions of a brighter future for his homeland even when that land was not yet fully formed, but I suspect that the message would lost on our politicians even the ones who pretend they understood what Obafemi Awolowo was talking about. If the beleaguered Aviation Minister had spent more time reflecting on what she and the technocrats under her auspices could / should do to avert ‘acts of God’ inside Nigerian airspace (which could be averted by foresight, technical competence and sincere planning) then she may not have landed herself in such fine mess.

One might ask what a serving minster with a retinue of aides and armed escort would need armoured vehicles for? The motive may just be down to mindless consumption, the sort that Thorstein Veblen condemned in his economic treatise and detailed social critique of conspicuous consumption, as a function of social-class consumerism in the 1899 The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions.

John Winthrop had a dream about the shape and form through which his society even at nascent stages should evolve and he wrote his musings and reflections down. He also made it widely available to others, both like minds and dissenters. Can any Nigerian please hand me a copy of the accessible writings of any of our national dreamers? Any politician who has read the writings of the founding fathers should feel free to raise their hands and say what they learned, and how they are putting it into practice.

America and China are better off because a class of pioneers, dreamers represented by men like John Winthrop and Deng Xiaoping came on the scene, men who were visionary, reformist and astute, providing leadership and influencing others to toe their paths. They did not make excuses, and promote myths / misinformation about their tenures at the helm of affairs. When their course had run in full, they left office, signed off on development plans and a hopeful future for posterity.

The politicians, public office holders and conniving technocrats who are leading Nigeria down the path of infamy cannot dream; they foster a predatory state which is at odds with its own citizens. Dreams for a country are realised through visionary leadership, hard headed economic planning and intentional national development strategy. At the individual level, you would require robust effort and integrity to dream and accomplish your dreams or you would be deceiving yourself building castles in the sky.

In 2010, Freidrich Ebert Siftung Foundation published a book-in-progress excerpt on Eritrea, the outcome was Nation Building, State Construction and Development in Africa: The Case of Eritrea report by Andebrhan Welde Giorgis. (Giorgis is an independent consultant on international affairs, preventive diplomacy, governance, peace and security. He is a veteran of Eritrea’s war of liberation and held senior positions in government.)

Writing an overview of Africa Today, Giogis noted, "Half a century after independence, there is a general consensus among Africa watchers, scholars and commentators alike that the prototype postcolonial state in Africa is undergoing deep crisis. It has failed to provide for the needs, promote the wellbeing, cater to the aspirations and safeguard the security of the people. Dismal performance and inability to deliver have led to its irrelevance and alienation. Oblivious of the imperatives of the social compact, certain states are at war with their own people. Unable to govern with the consent of the governed and scornful of their will, they perpetrate their indefinite and despotic rule and seek to achieve submission through repression and intimidation, creating a general sate of fear and insecurity. There is also growing recognition that the postcolonial patrimonial state has proved incapable of performing its fundamental functions, overcoming its crisis of legitimacy, delivery and relevance and engendering revival. Unmindful of their concerns and alienated from the people, the prototype African state today is weak, insecure and unstable. It is repressive, corrupt and dysfunctional. As a result, nation building, state construction and development remain essentially work in progress or projects for the future.

"The typical African state is noted more as a repressive, brutal, corrupt, and inefficient entity than a mechanism for the promotion of the collective well-being of its citizens. Consequently, the modern African state remains largely irrelevant to the needs, interests, and aspirations of the people.

"Despite its considerable resource endowment, Africa continues to barely subsist at the periphery of the global economy and to cling to the margins of general world affairs. A monopoly on political power and economic resources in the hands of small minorities, brutal state repression and lack of rapid, sustained and balanced development have driven the majority of African peoples into the quagmire of widespread misery, worsening deprivation and deepening despair. Afflicted by poverty, succumbing to preventable diseases and vulnerable to premature death, mere survival has become a daily struggle for the majority of Africans on the continent. Bereft of democratic legitimacy, pursuing irresponsible politics of exclusion and presiding over dysfunctional institutions, some states are failing or have already failed. The rectification of this dismal state of affairs calls for deliverance of today’s African state from itself."

Ouch! How depressing!

For all you know Giorgis could have been talking about any other African country rather than Eritrea. Eritrea has been stumbling along through more than 20 years of independence; Nigeria has been at it for over half a century.

Again, I dare ask, is there any such thing as a ‘Nigerian Dream’? With the surfeit of evidence at our disposal, any notion of a ‘Nigerian Dream’ would seem tenuous, at best, and should we continue lumbering in the direction we are headed as a country, the present, prevailing Nigerian Nightmare would become irreversible.

In one of his commentaries The "Goodluck" Called Nigeria in Premium Times of October 22, 2013, Femi Aribisala, Christian cleric and social commentator, observed "Where two or three Nigerians are gathered, you can be sure we are busy running down our country." I am hardly surprised this is case. I consider myself something of an incurable optimist yet right now I feel a strong urge to run down some public institutions and some public office holders down. Not by choice, but for the pain I nurse, and the dream idling in my heart:  the dream of a prosperous and productive country which will never again be referred to as ‘big for nothing’ by any man or woman dead or alive. My deepest pang is that Nigerian leaders as I perceive do not want to dream for me to pursue, and they do not want to provide the enabling environment for me to pursue even the vision I have.

However, I wouldn’t despair; I am an incurable optimist, remember? Surely, our case is not irredeemable.

I like what summation Michael Nnebe, former investment banker and novelist, captures about dreams and nations in his write up Who Are the Dreamers of Nigeria? in Nigeria-world website of October 24, 2013. He wrote "In recent times some of the most successful inventors and great achievers have included many that have a dream about something big, and pursued that dream fervently to the point they even dropped out of the most prestigious universities in this world just to accomplish their dream. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg are just a few names. Dream is only the beginning; good leadership is equally important if such dreams are to be actualized on a higher level. Leadership is the ability of an individual to create a vision and to motivate others to higher level of achievements. Every successful nation has such dreamers in abundance, and it is not only in the private sector that dreamers are needed. A minister, governor, or president with big dreams can change the fortunes of his/her people just by having a lofty dream and motivating the people below to greater accomplishments."
THIS IS THE TIME TO BE BOLD, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. Let us pray, work together and confront ‘dreamless’, uninspiring leadership and get Nigeria / Nigerians dreaming, creating and innovating more. . . 

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