The Problem with Fixing Nigeria: How to if we really try

by Michael Oluwagbemi II

There is this natural tendency to despair in the rot called Nigeria even when one lives in this paradise of misgovernance in fits and bursts. However, despair is exactly what the rulers of Nigeria want us to feel, and we must not give them such pleasures. Despair has succeeded in driving millions, miles away from the shores of our land even as these locusts multiplied their plan of destruction on the helpless souls left behind. But in the midst of despair, is it still possible to see hope? I dare to think so.

Nigeria is a paradise of misgovernance but also a fixers’ workshop. Everything here needs retooling, starting from the very minute you step your toes on this shores. The air tight, sweat inducing tunnel that connects most ordinary travellers from their air-conditioned international aircraft to the derelict and disgusting Murtala Mohammed Airport (MMA) will be a great start.

Okay, once you get past that the dimly lit welcome halls, the begging immigration/customs officers and the lack of basic airport orderliness and management will be next. Need we talk about how the luggage is handled? Can someone stop the madness already!

The madness about this rot that still confound otherwise sane commentators are the fact that only the most inept rise to the very top in this society. A society that requires men with a game plan, men with grit to deliver complicated projects and reforms, men with commonsense touch for what is wrong and what needs to be done to right them seem to be obsessed with empty big-men, noisemakers and men of easy virtue surrounded by sycophants! Leadership in our society is upside down.

Those that are leading were naturally made to be forgotten and unseen. Both their emotional IQ and organization IQ hover slightly above zero, except for a few who had to sacrifice whatever they had in IQ just to descend to the bottom of the barrel and rise to the top of Nigeria’s leadership. This is the story of why Nigeria has not been fixed and why it will take a while to do so.

Now beyond these, we have to recognize two other reasons why fixing Nigeria remains a mirage. First is that fixing requires undoing entrenched interests that will fight one tooth and nail to preserve the status quo. Take the example of the MM Airport. Care to know why Lagos with a population of 17 million is stuck with one tiny terminal, while Houston with four million has two major airports with one having about five terminals to boot? Well, it is call “entrenched interest”.

I understand the cleaning contract that never happens does kick back to the very top of the aviation ministry! Go figure. The parking, the collection – all of that stuff that annoys you about the Lagos airport pays into a kitty that will fear losing that jackpot over the unknown of a well operated airport or a new one for that matter! It is not that complicated.

Another reason why this mirage of fixing Nigeria may persist is that fact that good people even when they approach governance in our country assume somehow they can do it alone. Wrong! In a nation with entrenched interest, a bottom-up clean up requires a team of patriots. If you dare walk over the establishment alone, then you will have yourself to blame. I’m using the airport as a very simple and probably the most basic fix that can happen in Nigeria. But try even the oil & gas, power, transportation and construction sector for reforms; and real giants will pursue you in your dreams without a very strong team to withstand the barrage of counter attacks by the owners of Nigeria.

Always remember Rome was not destroyed in a day, and it will take far longer to rebuild it! With decades of misgovernance under her belt, and as an increasing proportion of the population surrenders to the rot of public service and corruption, Nigeria requires a top-down scrub not just a rinse. In this society, it will take more than a good heart to fix it.

It will take serious heart & liver, some degree of strategy and good measure of patriotism mixed with common sense. You will need to pick your battles and sequence reforms so that the entire system does not collapse on itself; one must also recognize that far more important than fixing Nigeria now is sustaining those reforms. Good people in good places, remains the only answer. How many good Nigerians are left? I reckon only those that try will find out but don’t be too hopeful.

Would-be mini-reformers in the past and present have always had to build a parallel civil service to achieve the bare minimum. I understand the Lagos state Governor Fashola pretty much does the same thing in Lagos; moving from the round house to a building where his key private sector driven executive arm implements the tiny magic that have stopped the slide into rot in Lagos but has not completely driven out the madness. Of course he keeps commissioners at the relevant ministries, but they’re there to keep an eye on those trouble makers and do occasional cherry picking not do real work.

To this end we must recognize the importance of having a team of reformers elected or selected to have any hope of fixing Nigeria the way it is. There is a very practical aspect to this suggestion, first is the reality that the organ for executing life changing programs in Nigeria cannot be the existing system. Doing this practically requires a sponsor; I mean money. Let us hope the true capitalists that have been doing those talk shops i.e. the Dangotes, Elumelus, Bello Osagies and Kola Karims, will put their money where their mouth is. Need we challenge them?

In the next few weeks, we’ll examine in this series what it will take to fix Nigeria bit by bit; assuming you or I were privilege to plan this fix – as a team of course; what and how should we do it? We cannot forget the importance of these insights that for every reform planned there is an entrenched interest, that we must pick our battles, that good people are more important than good policies and that in this society; reform is another name for war. Once we have this understanding, let us get to fixing!

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