Education and leadership recruitment for a plural society: A case for Nigeria (2)
Text of a lecture delivered by Bishop Matthew Hassan KUKAH, at the Third Convocation Ceremony of the Afe
Babalola University, Ado Ekiti on October 20, 2015
Today, to aspire to the Presidency of the United States of America has to be firmly anchored on the assurance that one will uphold the Constitution, that one holds the founding fathers in reverence and awe, that one has a military background or some record of public service and that one has a record of having attended an Ivy League institution. So, clearly, no matter how rich one may be, it is almost impossible to gate crash into the White House without possessing any of the above indicators in your backpack. Those aspiring for public office know where to start making the connections.
After his swearing in as President of the United States on January 20th, 1997, the world was shocked by the release of a photograph showing a teenager, Bill Clinton, shaking hands with President John Kennedy on July 24th, 1963. The world took notice and everyone wondered, how had this kid nursed this ambition? Other teenagers who had been with him on that fateful day recalled that the young Bill had told his friends that one day he would like to take up President Kennedy’s job. How could anyone have dreamt that 34 years later, Bill Clinton would raise his hand on January 20th, 1997 and be sworn in as the President of the United States? This is no ordinary story, but its importance lay in the stability of a ship of state which could allow a young boy to dream well beyond the limits of his little vision.
When Barack Obama went to Harvard Law School and pushed on until he had become Editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review, he knew he was adding something special to the backpack of his future life. When he worked tirelessly with homeless people in Chicago and collaborated with the Churches to push the boundaries of opportunity for the poor, he knew where he was putting his investment. When he chose a disciplined lifestyle and lived a life of deferred gratification, quickly turning away from drugs, alcohol and irresponsible youthful exuberance, he knew what he was investing in. These young men merely trusted their brains and knew they lived in a country where there was no limit to one’s imagination and that raw brainpower and determination were the issues, not social status. So, for the youth in Nigeria, night vigils, hope for miracles are not substitute for hard work and determination.
Next, let us look at Singapore and Costa Rica, two countries that have outstanding records in having used Education to advance their countries. The mythical story of Lew Kwan Yew, the country’s founding Prime Minister looms larger than life and does not require repetition here. Nigerians have been hopelessly carried away by Lee Kwan Yew’s epic achievements, with so many of our public officers making endless references to him and his country. That is the easy part. The difficult part is whether any of these public officers are ever ready to subject themselves to the kind of mental discipline and sacrifice that Lee subjected himself to.
Dr. Lee Kwan Yew first visited Harvard in 1967, shortly after he became Prime Minister. He would return to that institution, send his son there and continue to use it as a touchstone for sharpening the required leadership skills and knowledge needed to sustain his vision. Little wonder, his son, the current Prime Minister is an alumnus of the Mid Career programme at the Kennedy School of Government. Lee surrounded himself with intellectuals, focused on developing human beings and used education to lift up his people above the shallow and murky waters of ethnic, racial and religious conflicts. He avoided sterile and empty ideological rhetoric. Indeed, he went on to set up a Lee Kwan Yew School of Government modeled after the Kennedy School of Government!
When he died, his friend of almost fifty years, Henry Kissinger, in his tribute to him stated that Lee was so respected that his visit to Washington was a national event. According to Kissinger, Lee never lobbied in Washington; rather, people flocked to him to learn because he taught American officials how Asians think, their values and how they saw development. What was more, a conversation with him was always a vote of confidence, Kissinger said. Compare this with what African leaders spend just to see Senators and Under Secretaries in the United States today.
Singapore developed an educational system that focused on how to recruit an educated elite and turn them into an army for national development. From the day a child enters primary School till he or she completes what is known as Junior College, there are basic levels of knowledge that all Singaporean children must acquire. From Primary school, every child must know how to distinguish between right and wrong, learn the art of sharing and putting others first, building friendships, work as a member of a team, develop a sense of creativity, and master self-expression. A child must strive for excellence, develop a sense of aesthetics, love Singapore, believe in Singapore and by the time they complete the equivalent of Secondary school, they would have learnt what it takes to govern Singapore! You can see clearly that gradually, education helps to suck a child away from the clutches of ethnicity, class, religion and transfers their loyalty to the nation. For them, it is the nation first and every other form of identity is merely a building block to the higher goals of nationhood.
So, those of you who wonder why Singapore is so clean or why it is that you can lose your telephone in a taxi and be told where to pick it up in the city must understand that they did not get there by organizing endless night vigils, shouting, holy ghost fire, back to sender or going to pilgrimages! The products of this system will not consider collecting estacode as the most important and primary goal of the civil service. Compare with our own civil service where, as a senior Permanent Secretary said to me, estacode is the civil servant’s energiser!
Take another look at my favourite country in regards to Education, that is, Costa Rica, the little country of less than five million people. They have no standing army in Costa Rica. Their former President, Oscar Arias, told me that they had since come to the conclusion that their nation’s security did not depend on the military but in Education. Education was the best form of security, he argued. In a sense, in a country with a well-educated people, everyone is a soldier by way of being educated.
To be a President or to seek high office in Singapore, money, class, or status are not so important determinants. The most important of all requirements is a legacy of public service especially in the area of coming from a family of teachers. To have grandparents and/or parents who were teachers means more to them than to have an oil well or to be a political god father! Clearly, a country has to choose what values it places premium on. As we have seen, service to others and country seems to take first place before self. What lessons can we learn from all this?
Leadership Recruitment: Leaders, Institutions and Strategy
For any institution or nation, longevity and stability are very important attributes. To stay successful and avoid crisis or collapse, a country or an institution has to anchor its future on a vision. Today, businesses have continued to rebrand to stay on top but also to keep other competitors at bay. Developing even the best brand is not good enough. Staying power is almost everything. Today, Coca Cola, Dangote, Apple, Microsoft, HP, Airlines, are in constant competition. You do not develop a brand just to sell your products. You also need to attract the right men and women to sustain the brand. This is where recruitment and head hunting comes in.
It is not enough, for example, that Steve Jobs wowed us all at Microsoft; there had to be someone to take over from Steve Jobs. It is not enough that Barcelona is Messi and ten other players; there has to be a plan for both his successor and someone to pair with him. It is not enough that Arsenal walloped Manchester United; they have to plan to also beat Chelsea well. On a serious note, the challenge therefore is not so much that a country has a leader with a vision, what is most important is how it plans for others to share this vision. Without a national policy, all the efforts made by individuals in the area of education are likely to be too insignificant to make a major impact on society.
The nation has been aglow with President Buhari, and we are all poised to see an end to corruption and the enthronement of a new dawn. However, despite being misunderstood, I will continue to insist that we need to pose more questions than answers. What is the vision that we are pursuing? How has it been crafted and what is the narrative or the plot? Who are the key actors or drivers? What is the post-Buhari succession plan beyond his term? Beyond the rather undefined rhetoric about fighting corruption, what assurance will young Nigerians have about opportunities to realize their dreams?
The absence of a clear pathway or road map for the development of a culture of leadership recruitment, has meant that the purveyors of violence, the rich, famously known as godfathers, and the criminal have continued to provide the syllabus for access to power written in the dark recesses of their dark habitats. The real challenge now is not so much the promises that President Buhari has made or his good intention or his new team of Ministers. From what we can see, there is a long way for us to go. The challenge is how to avoid the predicament of Sisyphus, how to ensure that this rock does not roll back to the bottom of the hill only for us to start all over again.
Chinese Prime Minister Xi Jinping confessed that one question he is often asked by other world leaders is how difficult it is to manage a huge country like China: 9.6 million square kilometers of land, 56 ethnic groups and 1.3 billion people. He said he often responds by saying: It is as delicate as managing frying a small fish. He further said that the Chinese believe that Prime Ministers must have served as local officials, and Generals (in the military) must have risen from the ranks: Recruitment to public office in China requires evidence of service at local levels. He said that he himself served the country at a Municipal, Provincial and central level before getting to the top. He concluded: Extensive experience gained from working at local levels can help officials develop a sound attitude towards the people, know what their country is like and what the people really need, be better versed in various jobs and professions.3
Thus, when we hear that China lifted about 400 million people out of poverty, we can understand what this has come from. This did not happen because of theories manufactured in city centres and Universities. Rather, the experiences gained by senior officials and their familiarity with the periphery of life are what prepared them and made them sensitive to the conditions of their people.
This means that the first requirement of any leader who is managing a plural society is to understand the length and breadth of their country and its diverse peoples, their cultures, fears, hopes and dreams. Lee Kwan Yew, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Awolowo, Sardauna, Azikiwe, Nyerere, Kaunda, Senghor, all had an affinity with their people. They knew the immediate needs of their people. It showed in the choices they made and the kind of language and idioms that they used.
Chief Awolowo’s clarity of vision remains largely unsurpassed and by placing education before everything else, he put his people at an unassailable advantage. The Sardauna was saddled with a bigger burden of how to manage the feudal hegemonic hold of the Hausa-Fulani founded on the ideology of Islam and the motley group of ethnic groups that had conflicting expectations with the Hausa Fulani. Azikiwe’s pan Nigerian vision saw him develop a view well beyond the confines of his local Igbo nationalism. Looking back, it is a pity that we have not covered much ground in the area of national cohesion.
Summary and Conclusion: Who are the Turning Point Generation?
Diversity is a gift of God and managing it requires more than good will. Effective management of diversity requires that we understand its polar opposite and what it can generate. Selfishness causes us to feel threatened by what we cannot control and leads to uncertainty and induces fear. Cain killed his brother Abel because of jealousy. Selfishness is the elder brother of jealousy. To manage diversity properly, we have to overcome fear and insecurity.
Business Schools teach the management of Diversity as a subject but their focus is on how to harmonise various skills so as to ensure higher profits for their Corporations. In our own case, diversity should similarly be channeled towards achieving the maximum profit for the larger society. The challenge is, how and why is it that Africans have failed to be able to manage diversity? Why has ethnic and religious intolerance proved to be an obstacle to development? Again, a simple answer is to state that we have had leaders who have known very little about their own people, their cultures, fears, hopes and anxieties.
Mr. Chude Jideonwo, one of the galaxy of brilliant young men and women published an excellent book with a provocative title: Are we the Turning Point Generation? What is most important in my view is that Nigeria is changing so dramatically but we do not have the right attitude to catch the wave. We are confused as to how to tell our own stories ourselves and for ourselves. The country has been almost at a standstill, on a four-month prayer vigil, waiting for the heavens to open so that President Buhari’s angel will tumble out. Characteristically, we seem sad, unable and unwilling to even give those on the list a chance.
The release of the List of Ministers has largely elicited wide yawns from across the nation. But, the brilliant columnist, Azu Ishiekwene has argued, we actually should be paying more attention on what he calls, the Other List. The Other List is a story of young Nigerians who are doing great things, not as a result of borrowing someone else’s laboratory or driving on someone else’s thoroughfare in Diaspora. It is about those young Nigerians who are sweating it out here in this great country called, Nigeria. It is about brave young Nigerians swimming in shark-infested waters against the tide of a corrupt bureaucracy, armed robbers, crooked politicians, bandit economists, false prophets and the clouds of suffocating helplessness. In spite of it all, they are dreaming big and doing great things with so little. They are the future.
They are making bricks without straw. They are pulling out chestnuts from the fumes of volcanic lava. They deserve our ovation and celebration. The Other List contains such names as Sim Shagaya, founder of Konga, Tunde and Raphael, founders of Jumia, Mosunmola Umoru, Bankole Cardoso, Julius Agwu, Ify Aniebo, Basket Mouth, Klink de Drunk, Femi and Seun Kuti, Asa, Banky W. Mark Nwani One-On-One, Mark Essien, Founder of Hotels.ng, Honeysuckles, Easy Taxi Nigeria, Eseoghene Odiete, Hesey Designs, the trio of Opeyemi, Olalekan and Ayodeji of Jobberman. And, guess what, they all, like Basket Mouth would say still, WANT MORE.
The dam of energy that held us back using corrupt, semi feudal and blue-blooded mafia connections to survive is broken. This generation of young men and women will destroy the foundations of the corrupt empires that were built by the generations of their fathers and uncles. They represent a future of a country that will be based on ideas and knowledge. They will lead the way out of the dark tunnels that have held our nation down.
The other day, on a plane, I saw a very interesting story in the International New York Times. It carried a report from Forbes Magazine, showing how DJs, yes, DJs, were now making as much money as some corporate bodies. It reported, for example, that Calvin Harris, a young Scot was making $66m in a year as a DJ, while 19 year old Martin Garrix, a Dutchman was earning $17m as DJ. One Afrojack, also a Dutchman, was earning $16m per annum and so on. And here I was thinking that DJs were just a bunch of rascals who took to playing records because they could not pass their examinations! Ditto the football and the tennis stars. So everywhere we turn, we see young people who are not looking for government to give them work, but they are looking for government to sanitise and create an environment for them to use their God given talents.
The concept of shared values is the brainchild of one Michael Porter and Mark Kramer. They used the concept to illustrate the fact that businesses and companies can increase profits while doing good for their local communities. In New York, Exxon Mobil decided to commit $125m to training Teachers in Science, Engineering and Technology so they will produce a great work force. The percentage of School graduates in Engineering in New York went up. SOUTHWIRE, a cable and wire company, hired some of the fresh engineers and made a profit of $1.7m in its business4.
This is why, even for the University, the notion of Town and Gown is another word for social corporate responsibility. The idea here is that working together in collaboration, we can create a win-win situation. Increasingly, the vocabulary is expanding as we hear such expressions as: social capital, corporate social responsibility, enlightened self-interests, good business and so on.
Like everything else in our country, the notion of a private sector is somehow fraudulent and the idea needs further interrogation. This country has always been one whole private sector, with its resources held by a tiny few. Today, what is the private sector is simply the left arm of government patronage. There is no business outside government business. So, when we speak of the private sector, we need to be more cautious. Bankers are more interested in cheques from Abuja than the sweat of small people. The Media is glued to government advertisements for survival. And so on. However, even in its weakness, the so called private sector and its father the government must appreciate the simple logic that poverty is bad for business. Hunger is bad for business. Illiteracy is bad for business and violence is bad for business. The Universities must appreciate that illiteracy is bad for business.
In Conclusion, we must remember, that a good leader must be a good manager of diversity, one who focuses on inclusiveness, one who is obsessed with building a big tent to accommodate everyone. Often, the biggest setback for Democracy is when leaders fail to manage pluralism and diversity and focus on limited self-interest. Here, the key word is power sharing.
Our Democracy in Africa has been endangered by the greed of elected officials who soon turn power entrusted to them into personal weapons by which they deny their opponents their rights. It is easy for politicians who win elections to behave as if their responsibility is only to those who voted for them, or, to use the Nigerian expression, those who worked for their victory. These politicians soon erect a wall around themselves to which they retreat and they end up turning their community into a fortified city. The problem with the fortified city is that those inside cannot get out while those outside cannot get in.
The leader then denies himself the energy and vitality of the larger society and the opposition becomes engrossed in a war for all against all. Narrow minded and selfish politicians who encourage or pursue policies of exclusion of others based on grounds of opposition or ethnic and religious hatred only build up resentment and endanger Democracy. They bury the seeds of frustration and hatred only to see them germinate again after the next elections where revenge becomes a philosophy and violence becomes a culture. They tragically try to use Democracy to kill Democracy as the Brotherhood tried to do in Egypt. Democracy opens doors and expands frontiers of tolerance and diversity.
Abraham Lincoln taught all Democrats the benefits of managing diversity. The story has been well told in the book by Doris Kearns Goodwill, titled, A Team of Rivals. It is a great story of how Abraham Lincoln, after winning the elections, assembled to his government those who had bitterly contested against him. He realized that rebuilding a country ravaged by war and making his people great was more important to him than allowing pettiness and jealousy to eat him up. This famous team of rivals was made up of William Henry Seaward whom he named Secretary of State, Edward Bates who became Attorney General, Salmon Chase who became Secretary of the Treasury while Edward Stanton became Secretary of War. Edward Stanton stands out because he was the top-drawer lawyer who thoroughly humiliated Abraham Lincoln in an earlier life at the Bar. Both men were polar opposites with sharply divided dispositions on different issues, including the war. However, Lincoln’s sagacity saw him manage diversity so effectively that he was able to look beyond their weaknesses and draw out their inner strengths. This is the measure of a good leader.
Building networks and friendships is perhaps one of the most important and enduring lessons for any aspiring leader. A good example is the relationship between Dick Cheney, the former Vice President under President George Bush, Jr. and Donald Rumsfeld who served as Secretary of State for Defense. To see both men simply within the frame of the Bush years is to miss the point. They had a rather interesting history and it is worth repeating because in his autobiography, Known and Unknown, Rumsfeld tells part of the story.
He recalled that in 1968, a young man called Dick Cheney who had won an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellowship, had applied to serve in the Office of Economic Opportunity then held by a young Senator by the name of Donald Rumsfeld. Dick was interviewed and the detailed result of the interview has been the subject of controversy between both men. Cheney believed he failed the interview, but Rumsfeld said that he really did not hire Cheney because at that time, he needed a lawyer in the office and not a young budding academic! The relationship did not end there because Rumsfeld was promoted to the position of Chief of Staff to President Ford in 1974.
A year later, when Ford appointed him Secretary of Defense, he decided to recommend Cheney for the position of Chief of Staff to replace him. Rumsfeld would make history as the youngest Secretary of State for Defense (1975-76). However, nearly thirty years later, Dick Cheney repaid the favour when he became Vice President by recommending Rumsfeld as the Secretary of State for Defense to President Bush in 2001. Again, in the process, Rumsfeld would go down in history as the oldest Secretary of State.
Those in public life, those holders of public office must love their people. Addressing the members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012, after his election, Mr. Xi Jinping, the new Secretary General and President of China made an astonishing statement that neither Jesus Christ, Prophet Mohammed, nor Obama or anyone else can disagree with. He said: The people are the creators of history.
They are the real heroes and the source of our strength. We are aware that the capability of the individual is limited, but as long as we unite as one like a fortress, there is no difficulty we cannot overcome. One can only work for a limited period of time, but there is no limit to serving the people with dedication. Our responsibility is weightier than mountains, our task arduous, and the road ahead long, We must bear in mind what the people think…..and we must work together with them diligently for the public good and for the expectations of history and the people.
The measure of our success has to be related not to how many battles we fight whether against corruption or injustice. The success lies in how much dignity it brings to the human person and the extent to which the welfare and wellbeing of the citizen become the epicenter of government policy. In the words of Obi Egbuna in his little novel, Daughter of the Sea, we can look back and say: We need neither empires nor emperors. What we need is society where we measure our success not by the presence of the rich, but by the absence of the poor. Thank you very much for your attention.
• Kukah is the Bishop of Catholic Diocese, Sokoto
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