A visionary walk: Referencing Peter Obi’s conversation with Prof. Don Jacobs.
The former governor of Anambra state, south east Nigeria and vice presidential candidate of Nigeria’s main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party in the 2019 general elections, Peter Obi gave this thought provoking testimony recalling his stint in a 6 weeks course in Kellogg Graduate School, Chicago, US. The resource person was Prof. Don Jacobs, dean at the time and the topic was ‘Global Economy’. On the eve of ending the course which congregated top business people all over the world, Obi sought to know why Africa was not mentioned in the near 6 weeks duration of the programme. The don responded ‘ there is nothing like Africa economy. No body plans for Africa because the continent has no plan’. Can you give me a plan of your country or continent for the next 10, 20 years?, he quipped. Jacobs said one can only plan for countries that have short, medium and long term plans. Car manufacturers, he affirmed, have specifications for America, Europe, Asia, Gulf because of their plans. The next day after launch, both individuals had a side walk along the lake Michigan near the Graduate School. He asked for a Nigeria currency and Obi thrust out a N100 note. Jacobs brought out a $100 and asked which does he prefer. Dollar Obi replied. Why he pushed. N100 Obi explained is equivalent to $1 whereas $100 is N10,000. (the conversation was in 2001). After a brief purse still strolling, Jacobs repeated the question and after the manner of sighting the notes. Obi affirmed his earlier response. And having sat, Jacobs said it cost more to print the naira than dollar which is just two colours. Do you know why you believe in dollar, not naira? he asked. Nil response. He said it is because you don’t have faith in your country. It is not about rate, but about faith. Other countries he said plan based on faith. No one he continued, knows what is going to happen in ten years but countries give their people hope. Japan keep their money in yen, India in rupee, Germany in deutschmark and even Italy at the time when the value of the currency plunged badly, they still had faith in the lira. Africa don’t because of lack of faith in their currencies which is why they give it to the dollar and make it stronger. He charged Obi, ” go back to your country and create public wealth. Africans want to make individual money and wealth. Public wealth enriches everybody; individual wealth impoverishes everybody”.
This engrossing dialogue between the two men represents the true reality in our country and would be a good starting point towards rebuilding Nigeria in earnest.
I cannot place my thumb on the stage of development plan Nigeria is following at the moment but what I do know is that even where a document exist, is it being followed?
The government especially at federal and states, should drive this crusade given the enormous powers they wield because of the political system in place.
The disproportionate distribution of wealth in the country can indeed be fixed by creating public wealth. But to realise this, government should be open to the feasible means of creating public wealth which Jacobs proposed as antidote to enriching everybody. There are a number of begging opportunities Nigeria can draw additional funds while checkmating wastage, to rejig development of public infrastructure. The country can leverage for instance on the proceeds from the momentary gains in global crude sells to consolidate on fixing critical public infrastructure.
Nurturing of faith of the people in any nation or geopolitical entity starts with a deliberate action plan by government centered on the people. Public sentiment is critical and should be treated as sacred to gain trust of the people. Our rudimentary understanding of democracy as defined by Abraham Lincoln is a suitable rhyme in this conversation.
The rippling effect of citizens faith in country is huge and too important for any responsible government in 21st century to ignore. Patriots are products of faith who willingly give unreserved allegiance to the country. This explains why Americans for instance, irrespective of their countries of nativity are passionate about America and her greatness.
But for this to happen, the government must earn it by actioning the people centered plan they have deliberately hewed for the benefit of the people. Anecdotal relationship, not transactional is the fruit of this union. This way, commitment is effortlessly nurtured among stakeholders in the polity. The rescue in 2020 of the two Americans held hostage by Boko Haram in Borono state, north east Nigeria is a ready example
Politicians especially public office holders should scale up quality of governance to earn trust of the people. And talking about trust, I’ll reference a portion in my earlier published article in Lens online titled- Locked Horns: Nigeria should fix her broken system to impact quality of governance 1&2, “What needs to happen for the country to voyage on a positive trajectory is buying back the trust of Nigerians. The government should show leadership by administering our common wealth equitably to proportionately impact the physical, psychological, social and economic well being of the people”.
This upgrading will put government in good stead to increase public comfort and prosperity thereby improving living standard of the people. Government should be genuinely concerned about the impact of policies it generates on the people.
A hungry man according to the age long cliché, is an angry man. A sick and one with underlying health condition is a hopeless person. A homeless person is a frustrated being and a soft target of abuse and manipulation. Against these odds which are only a fraction of the problem, the country cannot draw faith from her citizens.
The fact that piece meal measures like Covid 19 palliative, other palliatives under different codes- trader moni, school feeding programme, et cetera aimed at enhancing quality living has not yielded expected results is suggestive of the need to seek alternative path. This is even more compelling now as stop gap handouts that is neither all embracing, nor sustaining, have been deployed in the past by military and elected governments in Nigeria but had achieved little to impact the problem. This obviously is not what Nigerians need now.
What would one make for instance of a high profile academia in the cadre of a professor using his position as returning officer in the 2019 elections to undermine results. The bottom line aside possible extrapolations, even mundane, is lack of faith in Nigeria.
Domestic public opinion on the need for Nigerians to be patriotic has been loudest of recent. The concern is not unconnected though, partly, with the prevailing tensions in the country expressed in #EndSARS protest, banditry, kidnappings, Boko Haram and headsmen crimes et cetera. This is indicative that the gauge of patriotism among Nigerians is abysmally low.
Nigeria is not in war as some put it but dangerous trend of violent crimes are unevenly spotted in the six geopolitical regions of the country. Some high profile kidnappings and killings attest to the severity of this problem. The attempt to torch Aso Rock, Nigeria’s seat of government, the recent kidnapping of Emir of Kajuru, Adamu Kajuru, a high profile traditional monarch in Kaduna and his family members as well as Thursdays killing of a senior Army general, late Major Gen. Huseini Ahmed by unknown gunmen along Lokoja-Abuja road among other similar incidences are extremes communicating the intensity of insecurity and how vulnerable the country is security wise at the moment.
In recognition of this connect between patriotism and nation building, Information and Culture minister, Lai Mohammed has severally tasked Nigerians on patriotism and commitment to nation building. But pro-government narrative is often quick to profile critical commentaries of Nigerians against government lapses as unpatriotic. They seemingly place the burden of patriotism at the door step of Nigerians as reinforced by the ‘change begins with me’ campaign.
The dominance of this narrative by government reflects unease whereas in ideal condition, citizens should be patriotic as a civic duty. The reverse is the case because the government lacks integrity to earn the trust of the people.
Education of the people save putting food on the table, impinges on the human value. Accessibility to employment that guarantees living wages, Security of lives and property, equitable distribution of national wealth to impact individual citizen. Other components are fairness and justice in administration of law, inclusiveness in politics, national discourse, distribution of national wealth et cetera. A citizen that is denied this aspect notwithstanding accessing the tangibles, is alienated from the society. These set of folks are not only deficient in self worth but are largely withdrawn from happenings in society because of the feeling that their voices count nothing.
The Edo Best project, an educational programme offering qualitative and inclusiveness to Edo children in order to scuttle youth flights to Europe and other destinations oversees by the state government is an aspect of generating faith among the people in government. The effort has demonstrated leadership on the part of Edo government by tinkering on the mindset of its citizens thereby restoring their self worth.
Provision of tangible and intangible deliverables by government will sure impact the total well being of the people. And without coercion, subtle or hard , citizens would literarily have faith in the country if they are guaranteed these basics- tangibles and intangibles by government who manages their common wealth.
The age long saying that experience is the best teacher though potent substantially, does not suffice in every situation because not all experiences instructs or offers opportunity to learn. The person involved though living, may be contending with time, hence derailing learning or even death. It is indeed a dangerous road to tarry in the current state of insecurity and discontentment in the country. The 2011 Arab spring episode which started in Tunisia should be avoided. The instruction to learn from the fig tree is apt at this moment.
It is time I suppose that stakeholders in the Nigeria project should deliberately reflect on this somewhat tasking, yet important subject, if we must progress as a people leaving lasting legacies for our children and the unborn.
Nigeria should do the needful quickly to regain the faith of her citizens taking lessons from extremes in countries like Venezuela, Yemen, Syria and moderates like Haiti, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Lebanon et cetera which are fast drifting to becoming a failed state.
Indeed, the existing low bar of governance in the country should be scaled up to reflect the new reality of building faith in people which is the global minimum threshold for governance.
The president of Nigeria should be a reassuring figure of hope for Nigerians in word, action and deed. This is the starting point to growing and sustaining faith among Nigerians in government.