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Reinventing Nigeria In A Disruptive Age

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It seems everybody is currently occupied with both fond thoughts and melancholy about the abducted Chibok girls to the point nobody seems to care much about other incidents that have set the world on the edge. As we think about the Chibok girls our hearts as well go out to the families of those who lost loved ones in the multiple explosions in Jos, which has assumed a place of notoriety in recent times, with no day passing without one sad incident or another coming out of it. It is in the light of this reality that I have decided to ‘disrupt’ attention (even if it means for this week) to focus on a crucial issue that has accounted for the seeming lull in Nigeria’s socio-economic advancement: How we do business in a ‘disruptive age’.

Let me quickly point out that the title of this piece came to my mind when I remembered the bestseller, Re-Imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age, by the irrepressible Tom Peters. It is one book every business-leadership conscious person should read.

One basic fact we have to appreciate is doing business in Nigeria is a huge task. The reasons are multifarious. One of them is that Nigeria cannot be counted among the most successful as far as Information Technology is concerned. Though we may give ourselves a part in the back for where we have managed to be, it does not obliterate the fact that we are far behind where we would have been or where others had expected us to be. In truth, the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Age had been the central focus of the developmental initiatives of many countries of the world, including some in Africa, ever before Nigeria woke up from its long slumber to join the fraternity. It was the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo that took the bulls by the horns to introduce the GSM technology in Nigeria – almost 5 years after smaller countries such as Togo and Benin Republic had adopted the technology.

The enormous advantages of the GSM technology started manifesting almost the same day it was introduced in Nigeria. It brought multi-dimensional benefits to the way Nigerians used to do business. Apart from the quantifiable benefits to businesses it also ignited a new impetus in the youth-population of Nigeria about skill development and maximization. Overall, GSM has had immeasurable impact on every facet of our national life.

Nevertheless, despite the multiple benefits the GSM technology has brought to Nigeria, it seems nobody is exploring the emerging opportunities in the ICT world to complement or surpass the impact the GSM tech has made. Indeed this placidity has had far-reaching negative impact on the rate at which Nigeria advances. The truth is that we operate in a very awkward, crazy and disruptive age, which brings pressure to bear on the old ways of doing things.

It is regrettable that our national economic planners have not realized the disservice we have done to our nation and ourselves by the inability to move at the pace in which the rest of the world is moving. The utmost challenge facing the present generation globally, especially Nigeria, is how to re-imagine our private and public institutions to make them become what we want them to be. The re-imagining covers a large variety of areas ranging from new info tech (IT), new brands, new markets, new people, new mandate, and new value system.

The innovations in IT came about as a result of the frustrations of some guys over what they were involved in. We all knew that Facebook, Google, Whatapps and other social media platforms were all invented by some ‘frustrated’ guys. The inventor of Whatapps, for instance, had once gone to seek employment with Google only to be turned down. Out of frustration he went researching, and today his effort has born a huge and enduring result. It is this kind of enterprising spirits that the Nigerian youth need to excel and change world views about them.

There is no way we can advance beyond our present quivering stage without doing something new and crazy. It is the absence of this never-say-die spirit in our youth that is responsible for the high rate of crimes (particularly cyber) among them. No doubt, the Nigerian youth are among the most vibrant and creative globally, but their energies need to be rechanneled to productive enterprises by incorporating new methodologies in their value chain.

In any case, it is not the youth alone who are to blame in this connection. The government, which is legally and constitutionally mandated to lead the way in planning and administering the economy, has consciously or unconsciously abdicated this responsibility. What we are faced with is a highly volatile and pressured population that is often at loggerheads with itself.

The preponderance of crimes and other negative tendencies is linked to the lack of innovations and the eagerness to take risks. How then do we expect Nigeria to fulfill its dreams? This position is reinforced by Bob Waterman, the co-author of the bestseller, In search of Excellence, who has always believed that the madder one becomes the more eager he is to experiment and achieve something new. The thinking and belief of people of Bob’s ilk are that there are barriers in the way of some people trying to realize their visions. These barriers could come in diverse forms, not excluding bureaucratic bottlenecks, egos of petty tyrants and undue meddlesomeness from corporate middle managers.

In any case, the frightening reality is that the organizations we formed or founded have created internal barriers and obviated our thinking faculty and rationality, thereby obstructing us from exploring new frontiers. We have unconsciously got ourselves entangled by our dreams and desires, which have created walls between us and the compelling need to experiment, innovate, or die.

By failing to innovate, we have consciously boxed ourselves into a small corner, making it difficult for us to see beyond our noses. Stereotyping and other analogous tendencies stand as barriers in the way we do things. This is why many organizations cannot withstand competition and pressure created within them, often leading to stagnation or outright implosion.

Globalization and security challenges have further exacerbated the situation. Terrorism, in particular, has grown into such a monster that the whole world now lives in fear of itself. The same goes for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) which make the world sit on the precipice.

Do not be confused by the occasional noise government makes about IT, we are still very far away from being where we should be. Pension scams and related crimes are all the outcomes of a heavily traumatized system. Nobody in government has told us, in clear and unambiguous terms, yet where we are exactly in comparison to where the rest of the world is. What we are told that the GDP is growing at a robust rate with inflation at one-digit is deeper than many think. Modern economics demands much more: the figures you reel out must correspond to the realities at the global economic theatre.

Planners of our national economy are heavily opinionated, while many of them are pissed off and bereft of new ideas about doing things. The collapse of some corporations in Nigeria was not due to the scarcity of modern business ideas on the part of their CEOs rather it was because of their malfeasance. Corruption and other sharp practices have rendered our social system systemically and endemically comatose.

Is it not unthinkable that some of our corporate organizations, including government agencies, still do things the way their grandfathers did it? They have refused to innovate to survive or increase output. In a competitive global environment, such as which we operate, it is very simple to discern it that you die if you refused to innovate. Go to some government ministries and you still see some persons cranking on Olympia typewriters – office equipment their forerunners used some forty years ago. What kind of productivity would one expect from such a ramshackle and obsolete office machine? These machines should be scrapped, while those still using them and who have refused to be retrained in the new technology thrown out.

Even the idea of people working for donkey years in a particular organization is no longer sensibly operable. By taking charge of your own life you have succeeded in entrenching workplace revolution which we need at this time to catalyze our organizations and make them alive to their corporate responsibilities.

The harsh truth is this: there will continue to be system change in line with evolving global realities. Recall that the Stone Age gave way to the Industrial Age, which brought about changes in the way we lived and did things. The Industrial Revolution drew people out of the farms to the corporate world to do white collar jobs. Happily, all that is changing, thereby giving way to the subtle revolution, which is steadily enveloping the organizations where we work. Time will soon come in our nation when individuals will be expected to take their destinies in their own hands.

My worry, however, is that Nigeria seems not to be doing much to join the fray. As usual, we will be left behind by even lesser buoyant nations in West Africa. What effort have we made, as a nation, to embrace the changes that are taking place in the global arena? Are we still bogged down by red-tape and undue officialdom? These, no doubt, are hindrances to growth and investment.

What of our womenfolk? Do we still see them as mere housewives, not fit to lead? The current trend globally is for the prodigious talents of women to be explored, streamlined and channeled more productively. The days are gone when the woman’s place was in the kitchen. They have such spectacular talents that could transform the world if judiciously deployed.

In driving innovations three key words come to play: egocentricity, audacity and absurdity. You must incorporate the three words into your corporate goals in order to be able to realize your full potentialities in the new world. President Barrack Obama of the United States took the world by storm when he opted to contest for the White House. Initially, nobody gave him a chance. Some pessimists had spurned his chances of winning, tying their opinion to fazing stereotypes on the gap between the blacks and the whites. He built his campaign around a platform many did not initially understand until it caught up like a Californian wildfire. The magic was that Obama was audacious, egocentric and absurd. And Americans bought into it, because it was new, creative, and ignited hope.

Americans for all they cared wanted change. From which racial divide the change would come did not bother them. They repeated the feat in 2012 – proving skeptics wrong. That exactly is what we need in Nigeria. Pandering to security challenges and showing signs of fatigue and pessimism are not what we need at this time. We need to stand up to the challenges facing us with stoic faith and unremitting pragmatism. These challenges are products of some of us who were bent on making life ungovernable for the rest of us. We can as well apply our own wisdom and courage to deal with them in such a way they do not torpedo the ship of state.

Book Haram and all other such human creations are surmountable challenges, which can be addressed humanly too. We do not need anybody elsewhere to resolve them for us. We need to localize our approach and show more sincerity and pragmatism in handling them. We treat the Boko Haram impasse as if we had not had greater challenges before it. We fought a thirty-month civil war and survived it. We will also survive Boko Haram and its ilk that have threatened to pull our nation down.

Contrary to the belief in some quarters, Nigeria is not headed for any destruction. However, we may walk into the enemy’s trap if we failed to reinvent and reposition Nigeria for the challenges of the new world order. This in my thinking is more dangerous than Boko Haram. Anti-social activities will die a natural death the moment the citizenry are reoriented and reinvented. This will sharpen their intellect and make them more productive and imaginative, thereby eliminating those attitudes that make them antisocial and anti-nation.

Patriotism, though abstract, has a soul. It lives and breathes just like a normal human being. If it is fired positively, it produces positive results.

The negative aspect of patriotism emerges from the admixture of bad governance and poor leadership, and the result is the criminal neglect of the rights and privileges of the citizenry.

The crux of my positing is that we must change the way we reason, think and do things. Things are no longer what they used to be. ICT has upturned the old ways and introduced new ways and new challenges. Making Nigeria great should go beyond mere rhetoric.

Our leadership should not falter in the face of adversity, because it is going to be well someday. It does not matter the direction the tides are flowing at the moment, what matters is what lies ahead. Nigeria of the 21st Century is crawling, because our leaders did not prepare (or prepare well) for the challenges that emerged as a result of the disruption of the social system.

What they ought to do now is to reinvent and re-imagine their mental and thinking faculties in order to foster order, normalcy and unbroken flow of ideas. Ideas are what make leaders great. A leader that lacks new and quality ideas is like a seed planted in a perched soil: It will wither and die as soon as it is planted.

There are certainly some people that may disagree with my positing, but the whole aim is to make them pissed off, to the point of wanting to do something. And that something is the change we all strive after.


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