Imagining a new template of development for Nigeria

MY idea of and take on the assignment I have here today is to have a dialogue – an interactive session – with you graduands and students and Faculty of the University, and, of course, others who are here as Guests for the First Convocation of the University, on my thoughts concerning the future of ourselves and our country on the basis of the deepening state of privation and fitful life and existence being experienced by many, if not most, Nigerians today. It is, of course, possible for me – since they say and must have stated that I am a teacher and a Professor at that – to come here to give a lecture and expect you all to be here to listen and take copious notes and then depart, perhaps astonished that one man came here and he was so much eloquent about all the big, big and esoteric things he was saying and that he must really be a brilliant teacher of some sort. Only that, to burst your bubble, I am not entirely sure that I see myself in the extremely generous description people have sometimes made of me. Rather I see myself as an ordinary teacher who has been around in the university system and in the world maybe longer than some here and therefore able to allow myself to be invested with the cognomen of Professor – whatever that has come to mean and signify in the deplorable and deteriorating condition of our country, Nigeria, today.

So, I could perhaps get away with having a few people in a class where I could in a way lord myself and whatever I want to say on them under the rubric of being a teacher even as that would not excuse my coming to a large gathering like this and want to pretend that I could impose myself as a teacher on this kind of distinguished audience. More than that, however, is the realization that we are here talking about addressing new graduands who are set for a new adult life outside of the constrictions of formal institution of learning perhaps for the first time and who are poignantly and studiously ready to unleash their energies and inspirations on the world at this point and going forward. It would rather be much more honourable and dignifying for me – and a ready recognition of the limitations I carry and suffer as part and member of the generation of parents/grandparents of these young ones who have regrettably badly managed our commonwealth as to leave it in its present sorry state for those coming behind – to want to have a dialogue and a productive exchange and interchange with them on the possible course(s) of action that could help provide a leeway out of the current morass in which Nigeria finds itself instead of pretending to have some sort of insights to some enabling platform for the young ones to use to positively transform the country, which insights I and my generation have not provided all these past years. Dear graduands and distinguished ladies and gentlemen, let me be very clear here – I do not have any great insights to share with you even as I do not intend to bore you with wailing and lamentation about the failure of my generation to do good by the management of the country while we took over and had control. Trust me when I tell you that we have made such a mess and bad job of running the country to leave the youth today with a prostrate country that is a shadow of all the exciting promises it used to hold for Nigerians and even all blacks in the world.

Some 37 years ago, on Friday, January 30, 1987, when my University, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, had its first Convocation Ceremonies, I was just like you graduates here, also at the threshold of adult life – except that the country we had then gave all of us at that time and point the basis to look forward with optimism. There was no attempt to cook things up while we were undergoing our studies and at the end, we all knew our worth based on our true performances. Those who would be sought after to return to the University as teachers knew themselves and others also acknowledged them based on their performances. Nobody knew my parents in the University for me to attain whatever record and level I had. Things were done strictly on the basis of merit. I am aware that you would have had something like I had because your University, I am told, has been trying to forge a different name and perspective for itself away from the current general rot in the society. For you ought to know that the privilege you have here of having results consistent with your true performance is not the reality we have in most other universities in the country today because of the prevalence and pervasiveness of corruption and cutting corners.

And the rot is not limited to the universities, as the whole country, it could be said, now functions without rules and regulations and there is almost no yardstick for anything to be done than corruption and the ability and capacity to cut corners. Coming to terms with the current debilitating situation for a new set of graduands would be perplexing, raising multiple questions about what these graduands are expected to do to confront and make a success of life dealing with the negatives of the Nigerian environment. In some other climes with a different university tradition, what we are doing here now is seen as part of Commencement Activities/Ceremonies – providing the opportunity to offer advice and admonition as those who are leaving the university after their studies commence a new, adult life. So what do we expect from these graduands as they set out on a new journey in life – becoming part of the cherished, informed skills available to the country – for the purpose of contributing to their own personal/individual lives and the wellbeing of the communities making up Nigeria? And what could we tell them as they step out into this new life?

We have made allusion to the sorry state of the society and country into which the graduands are stepping at this point. Nigeria, our country, is almost at the rock-bottom of every developmental index and indices, what with the fact that it is spectacularly the new poverty capital of the world – in terms of having the largest number of people who are living below the poverty line, currently denoted by the United Nations (UN) as USD2.15 per day in the world, with 71 million Nigerians officially denoted as living in such defined extreme poverty at the beginning of 2023. (By the way, the World Bank has indicated additional 24 million Nigerians joining the extreme poverty group in the last six months). The significance of the high number of extremely poor Nigerians comes to the fore when it is realised and recognised that Nigeria’s estimated population of 223 million people only makes it the sixth largest country in the world, meaning that five other countries have larger population including India and China with a population of over 1.4 billion each. And to believe that even countries with such huge population still do not have as many people in extreme poverty as Nigeria, telling about the utter despicable way and manner the country must have been governed and administered over time to signpost 71 million (and now 95 million) of its 223 million population into extreme poverty.

Evidently, there must be something wrong with the country or that the country must be doing some things wrongly for it to allow such a huge number of its people under the poverty line.

And the frustration with the country would be more when it is realised that even Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) confirms that a total of 133 million Nigerians have been found to be multidimensionally poor – that is to suggest that in addition to having 71 or 95 million of its population in extreme poverty, more than 57 percent of the population as a whole is also multidimensionally poor. It is not unlikely that Nigeria’s ranking as worst case in open defecation in the world is related to that poverty existence of most of its population, just as it is intriguing that Nigeria is not able to transmit more that 4000 megawatts of electricity for the use of its 223 million population even where the UN prescribes 1000 megawatts for I million people to have reasonable and enough energy for modern undertakings. The UN prescription on electricity remarked here would mean that the country needs a total of 223,000 megawatts and counting for its increasing population, while the reality is that of a country still struggling with 4000 megawatts! This translates to a measly 1.8% of the quantum of electricity we should have given Nigeria’s population. And to believe that the country has been pushing for more electricity generation, transmission and distribution since 1999 under President Olusegun Obasanjo, committing billions of US dollars, even as it is still stuck with the 4000 megawatts transmission 24 years later! We know that Nigeria continues to rank as the largest economy in Africa with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) put at 477.38 billion US dollar at the end of 2022, but it is the case that we have Egypt and South Africa closely following it with GDP of 475.23 billion and 405.71billion US dollar respectively. But when it is recognized that Egypt has a population of 111 million (less than half of Nigeria’s population and South Africa is only 60 million strong in population (only about a quarter of Nigeria’s population) would it be clear that Nigeria is not very productive compared to those other two countries. Yet, we know that human existence in the world has to be organised around production for it to be worthwhile and meaningful given that the only way to overcome problems and provide for and satisfy needs is through production. A country or society that is not able to organize production well would be characterized with and be bedeviled by unsolved problems and unmet needs for its people even as it would not be valued or respected by other countries and societies. Witness the fact that South Africa is a foundation member of the group called BRICS, the latest formidable platform for international engagement and pressure in decision-making at that level, while Egypt is one of the six new members proposed for the group even as the application of Nigeria for membership did not sail through. One way of gauging seriousness is the ability to organise production in order to satisfy needs and solve problems such that nobody takes those with low production seriously, with production also being a reflection of and signposting the capacity to make things happen and get problems solved. Imagine the fact that South Africa is able to generate almost the same level of production with only a quarter of the population of Nigeria – reflecting and speaking to a higher level of organization and functionality and production of and in South Africa.

The unsavoury state of affairs in Nigeria is clear and beyond contention and should present a serious concern to all Nigerians, especially the young ones like our graduands, who have to live life under the context of a non-performing and sub-optimal entity the country has turned into. The troubling situation ought to be a disincentive to the young ones in terms of how to negotiate life within the confounding morass of the Nigerian situation; it must be a challenge to want to go into life and be confronted by a society that is almost completely defined and characterized today by negatives and negativities. Yet, we also know that challenge often comes with opportunities embedded into it. As it is often said, necessity is the mother and harbinger of invention and innovation. It is precisely because the situation is dire and negative that our graduands would be required to confront it with their sense of ingenuity in order to overcome the negativities all around and chart a new, positive way forward. Sometimes it is the challenge we face that would spur in us the creative juice needed to transcend the problems thrown up. Perhaps in this manner my generation had everything smooth and working well to lull us into the complacency that must have bred and led into the negativities we are all bemoaning today. Conversely, the young ones of today are being called upon and challenged by the extant unsavoury situation to come and work for a turnaround. And fortunately Kailash Satyarthi has said that ‘the power of youth is the common wealth for the entire world. The faces of young people are the faces of our past, our present and our future. No segment in the society can match with the power, idealism, enthusiasm and courage of the young people’, to underline the important contribution the youth could make to positively remaking the future of any society and country. And V. Mani adds:

Youth have historically been at the forefront of social change, driving progress, and challenging the status quo. Their passion, energy, and willingness to question the existing norms make them powerful catalysts for positive transformation in society. …  youth bring fresh perspectives to the table. They often question societal norms and push for change in areas such as social justice, environmental protection, and human rights. Their idealism and willingness to challenge entrenched systems are critical for addressing pressing issues.

The country is therefore in a situation in which it could rely on and benefit from the idealism and strength of its youth to confront and seek to change the present for the better, by tapping into the unique opportunity that Nigerian youth have to contribute to helping chart a new, positive course for the country against the background of the pervasive negativity in which the country finds itself today. My brother, Sina Kawonise, in surveying the current trajectory of the country has contended that Nigeria is lucky to have the ‘crowd of the … young turks that are currently leading … (it) in the right direction … (and through them – the youth) Nigeria will rise again … prepared (and preparing) to … (move) to her glorious destiny.’ It would seem like the case for a positive renewal of the debilitating present in Nigeria through the agency and striving and struggle and commitment of the youth is not difficult to make and advance on the strength of their progressive capacities and innate predilection toward change.

One other positive element that could come in handy in the argument we are making for the youth to take the lead in and be at the bedrock of engaging with the present in order to help forge a new positive future is the power of dream and imagination. We, the youth especially, do not have to be overwhelmed by the depth of the negativities defining and surrounding the present environment, but have to see all of it as presaging a better reality that they could work to bring into fruition and reality by working on and from the present. And conceiving of that better future really has to be in terms of dreaming about and imagining it. Says Gloria Steinem, ‘without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning’, telling us that to dream or to imagine is one of the best way to plan for a better reality and future. And Akira Kurosawa adds that ‘man (and, of course, woman) is a genius when he is dreaming’, to indicate the exceeding power and endowment in dreaming up a better future in order to overcome the obstacles of the present. Indeed, according to Carl Sandburg, ‘nothing happens, unless first we dream’, while Carl Sagan says ‘imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.’ What then is this imagination that we are asking our youth to prioritize and make important? Imagination has been said to be ‘the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images, or concepts of external objects not present to the senses … (or) the ability of the the mind to be creative and resourceful.’ It is about that human capacity to be able to envision a future, an alternative, that is not yet present, that could be brought into being. J.K.Rowling says ‘imagination is … the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore, the foundation of all invention and innovation … its arguably most transformative and revelatory …’ and J.G.Ballard enthuses: ‘I believe in the power of the imagination to remake the world, to release the truth within us, to hold back the night, to transcend …’ while Lloyd Alexander adds: ‘I think imagination is at the heart of everything we do … discoveries couldn’t have happened without imagination ..: Art, music, and … (all) couldn’t exist without imagination.’ Indeed, that preeminent scholar and intellectual, Albert Einstein, is on record as having said that ‘imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.’ Instructively, Einstein did not just leave us with extolling the importance and virtue of imagination, as he also dwelled on the kind of education that could produce and generate that admirable quality in students and learners. For Einstein,

in teaching … there should be extensive discussion of personalities who benefited mankind through independence of character and judgment … (Furthermore) … critical comments by students should be taken in a friendly spirit … accumulation of material should not stifle the student’s independence. … A society’s competitive advantage will come not from how well its schools teach the multiplication and periodic tables, but from how well they stimulate imagination and creativity.

In this kind of education, according to Einstein, ‘more emphasis … (would be) placed on independent thought than on punditry, and young people … (would see) the teacher not as a figure of authority, but, alongside the student, a man of distinct personality.’ Such critical and informed essence of education, Einstein submits, ‘made me clearly realize how much superior an education based on free action and personal responsibility is to one relying on outward authority.’ How critical and important it is for the country to ensure that its system of education is such that could help the students and youth to have not just a creative and resourceful mind, but such that would stimulate their imagination if we are to rely on them to help work out a new and beneficial future for the country! Mercifully and fortunately, I am aware that our graduands here have benefited from such critical and informed education at this University as I remember reading about the extent that the University management and faculty would go to ensure that their students are exposed to and are not deprived of intellectual interaction and engagement with the best in the world in the quest to constantly excite their imagination. In this regard, it is this University that is showing the way to other universities in Nigeria by being the first to have an institutionalized Diaspora Intellectual Remittances Office through which students are helped to benefit from the direct contributions of Nigerian intellectuals scattered all over the world – for Hallmark University, space and location should not be a hindrance to their students having access to teaching by Nigerian intellectuals in other and any parts of the world. Imagine the spectacle ignited in the students in Ijebu-Itele here in rural Nigeria having the experience of direct teaching and intellectual interaction with Nigerian intellectuals in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and such others! We should therefore have no problem tasking our graduands with imagining a new template of development for Nigeria as part of their engaging with the development challenges in Nigeria which they have to confront alongside their other youthful colleagues with a view to contributing to the emergence of a better country. Evidently, to succeed at the task of realizing a better future for themselves, they have to envision and imagine a new, beneficial, functional Nigeria and be prepared to work to bring the envisioned and imagined reality into fruition. It is now to what kind of new template they could imagine for real and workable development in Nigeria that we would turn. Though, first, some clarification on the concepts of production and development.

Of Production and Development

We have already stated that production is at the heart of human existence, both as individuals and as collectives, to the extent that human has needs to satisfy as part of ensuring life and living and there has to be production to make the elements/things (goods and services) to be deployed to satisfy the needs. Production would cover and refer to the processes of goods being made or manufactured, the creation of utility for use in satisfying needs; production takes inputs and uses them to create an output which is fit for consumption – a good or product which has value to an end-user or customer.  As John Maynard Keynes puts it, ‘all production is for the purpose of satisfying a consumer’ or need. Yet, it has to be stated that production is not just about getting to work or expending energy on an activity without the end of coming out with something that would satisfy need. Work and expenditure of energy have to be directed at the goal of creating utility and value of use to give production. The first condition of and for production therefore is the essence of creating value and utility to satisfy need. The next condition would be that the expenditure of energy for the purpose of creating value to satisfy need has to be deliberate; production does not exist as freak or by accident, but through a purposeful and purposive process. Production comes from deliberate work to achieve the end of creating value and this makes the need and requirement for intentionality and conscious willfulness very important. To follow Thomas A. Edison, to have production, ‘there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.’ It takes a lot of deliberateness and hard work and the infusion of intelligence to have production and the creation of value and utility. And the importance of value and utility resonates in that not all creation would necessarily satisfy value and utility as meeting need is the overriding concern here. If something that is created, even through the deployment of work and expenditure of energy, does not help to satisfy a need, we would not necessarily be in the province of production. Production, as we have earlier stated, happens and operates at both individual and collective level and is at the basis of the healthy functioning of both the individual and the collective. It is at the heart of the capacity of the individual and the collective to satisfy needs. Says Henry George, ‘as it is with an individual, so it is with a nation. One must produce to have, or one will become a have-not’, a poignant argument that helps to explain the root and logical dimension of the crisis of poverty bedevilling Nigeria that we have remarked – the reality that the country is not producing enough to satisfy the needs of its citizens which results in its having so many ‘have nots’ or those in poverty and unable to satisfy basic human and existential needs. It could, therefore, be said that one of the components, if not the real component, of the crises and problems facing Nigeria is that of lack of adequate production even as we know that since production entails deliberateness and infusion of intelligence and planning, there must be more to the lack of adequate production that we are calling attention to here.

There is a logical link between production and development even as they are not the same and one does not necessarily equal the other. Development is often made to refer to and represent the growing capacity of the individual or the collective to satisfy needs, meet challenges and be able to effect a meaningful and worthwhile life and living. At the heart of this conception of development is the capacity – which is said to necessarily be growing if it is to be able to accommodate increasing demands and challenges – to satisfy needs. The capacity referred to could entail many things – thinking, technology, the human factor and such others – necessary to meeting needs. In this regard, it has to be conceded that meeting needs often revolves around providing or producing the items to be used, suggesting production and the capacity for it as the starting point for development. This explains why most iterations of development in the world refer to countries in terms of production as evidenced in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) output, depicting those with high GDP in positive terms. It specifically explains the notion of Nigeria as lacking in development or being in a development conundrum given its low production and GDP vis-a-vis its population and the reality of its inability to provide basic necessities for many of its citizens because of the lack of adequate production. This context justifies the rating of Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world as its inadequate production and capacity could be denoted in terms of the absence of sufficient production with which to provide for the needs and necessities of its people, resulting in Nigeria having more than 71 million citizens, the highest in the world, without the income – USD2.15 – regarded as minimum to help provide basic daily necessities. Development, therefore, entails having the growing production capacity to guarantee enough income for citizens to be able to meet needs, or what Dudley Seers calls having the ‘conditions that lead to a realization of the (minimum) potentials of human personality.’ But we also know that growing production and production capacity, while key and important to any discussion of meeting needs in terms of development in and within a collective, does not necessarily translate into not having citizens without the income to afford them minimum and basic needs given that production outputs have to be distributed at the level of the collective and there is nothing guaranteeing that the distribution of available production proceeds would ensure that none is without income to afford basic needs. This means that, while acknowledging the importance and critical nature of production, it is not enough to guarantee development and the associated and accompanying satisfaction of needs. In this wise, Carter Goodrich has suggested that to ensure satisfaction of needs in a collective and maintain and even increase and raise the standards of such satisfaction, there is the need to ensure that outputs of production and gains from increased production are applied fairly to meet social stability and advance. In which case, the management of the processes of production and the distribution of the proceeds have to be such that helps to effect the satisfaction of needs for the people since the availability of production alone does not guarantee satisfaction of needs. Amartya Sen, the Nobel-winning economist, advances this argument further by showing that the presence and availability of production and accompanying income for people does not necessarily ensure that they would satisfy basic needs as the issue of poverty around non-satisfaction of needs could arise in terms of deprivations in health, education and living standards not captured by income alone. Sen thus introduced the ‘capabilities approach’ through which development is not just about a level of production and income that helps in satisfying basic needs, but includes and entails the capacity and capabilities inherent in maintaining reasonable standards of living for the people. This capabilities’ approach to development finds concretization in the Human Development Index (HDI) through which stock is taken of how individuals fare with regard to provisions for and benefit from health, education, and such other factors as to produce the Multidimensional Poverty Index. Here, rather than concentrating on the income available for each individual to cater to and meet basic human needs under which Nigeria has 71 million of its population below the extreme poverty index, multidimensional poverty index relates to the capacity for reasonable standard of living across, health, education, social standing and such other factors for individuals through which 133 million Nigerians are also found to be below the index of multidimensional existence and development. The reading here means that whereas Nigeria has the problem of low and inadequate production in having a GDP in the same range as 60 million-strong South Africa, its rating at the level of extreme poverty and multidimensional poverty points to problems even with the distribution and allocation of the proceeds of available (low) production, with the stark contradiction of Nigeria having both the richest African and the highest number of poorest Africans! The underlining reality here in Nigeria is that of poverty of production and poverty of distribution and allocation, signifying broad poverty of capability. Incidentally, Amartya Sen has further extended and deepened the conception of development beyond income and capabilities to incorporate freedoms, arguing that the ability of individuals to live a life of freedom, in addition to liveable income and capabilities, ought to be part of consideration in determining the ends of development. Under this deepening extension, Sen submitted that development must be assessed and ‘judged by its impact on people, not only by changes in their income but more generally in terms of their choices, (growing) capabilities and freedoms;’ even as ‘we should be concerned about the distribution of these improvements, not just the simple average for a society.’ Further extension of this conception comes from Owen Barder who posits that the idea of the total wellbeing of people as a fair measure of development is not enough without the provision for such improvements in wellbeing to be sustained. Argues Barder:

to define development as an improvement in people’s well-being does not do justice to what the term means …  Development also carries a connotation of lasting change. Providing a person with a bednet or a water pump can often be an excellent, cost-effective way to improve her well-being, but if the improvement goes away when we stop providing the bednet or pump, we would not normally describe that as development. This suggests that development consists of more than improvements in the well-being of citizens (at a single point), even broadly defined: it also conveys something about the capacity of economic, political and social systems to provide the circumstances for that well-being on a sustainable, long-term basis.

In which case, we must look beyond the provision for the wellbeing of people at a specific point and be more concerned with the capacity of the system to provide the circumstances for continued and sustained and sustainable well-being.  Development becomes a characteristic of the system in terms of how it works to provide reasonable and sustainable wellbeing for the people, with ‘sustained improvements in individual well-being … (as) a yardstick by which it is judged.’

Development, therefore, comes out as based on and issuing out of production, but still covering the distribution and allocation of the proceeds of production to help satisfy needs of the members of the society in such a way that would assure every member of reasonable standard of life and living including the sense of freedom and humanity for them in a sustained and sustainable manner. The sustained and sustainable provision and assurance of the general and comprehensive wellbeing of citizens and members of the society becomes the defining essence of development in this regard. The outgrowth of this position is that where there is not enough production to meet basic needs of the people and where some live below reasonable standard of living and are not able to afford and guarantee a sense of worthy existence and life for some inhabitants, such a society or societies would be termed as lacking in development and enmeshed in a development conundrum, which is the unfortunate position and situation of Nigeria today. Our concern therefore should be since we know what development connotes and also understand its absence in Nigeria at the moment, what could be done to engineer and work for real development in the country and how do we go about doing this in terms of the template and framework to follow.

A New Framework of Development for Nigeria

We talk about a new framework of development for Nigeria here because it ought to be clear that whatever framework Nigeria has been using for development, at least since the return to civilian rule in 1999, could not be working or be effective as the country has been growing more in terms of poverty rather than in development. This suggests the need for a change in course and framework and perspective if only to try a new and hopefully more workable and performing one.  And the conversation we want to have is to ask us to imagine a new kind of framework for development for the country that we could expect to deliver real transformation and positively turn around the continuing negative digging that has only landed us in a morass. We could aid this imagining process by tapping into the irreducible conception of development we have sketched out here and a check on the history of Nigeria’s developmental achievements and attainments in the past in terms of what insights could be gleaned from them. We have talked about development as being about necessary and adequate production and distribution to meet the needs of the people in a comprehensive sense including their freedom needs which would ensure that people are generally provided sustainable, reasonable wellbeing without any being made to live below the acceptable wellbeing level. We have also touched on the fact that this process necessarily has to be deliberate and not left to chance, suggesting that development has to be organized and brought about in a conscious and systematic and planned manner. Which means that we could talk about isolating some factors that would be crucial and needed for this process to be meaningful, which factors could then be imagined as platform and benchmark for a new development odyssey in Nigeria. Ordinarily, scholars talk of development as being dependent on institutions, policies and the environment, making the case for these as determinants of the processes and tenor and possibilities of the development agenda. While it is conceded that all these variables have impact on the development processes, there seems to be some growing agreement that the impact of institutions rates higher in the scheme. In a far reaching research, Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson, and James A. Robinson were able to demonstrate that institutions trumped other factors in explaining and accounting for why some countries and societies are rich while some remain poor, and this they said was not a new intuition or discovery given Adam Smith’s linkage of the importance of a justice system, private property rights, and the rule of law to the wealth of nations. To be sure, institutions

‘are the rules of the game in a society, […] the humanly devised constraints that shape human interaction. […] They structure incentives in human exchange, whether political, social or economic.’ They are the formal and informal rules around which social, political and economic relations are organized; giving the society ‘systems of established and prevalent social rules that structure social interactions.’

In clear and precise terms, institutions in society comprise of contracts and contract enforcement, protection of property rights, the rule of law, government bureaucracies, financial markets, including habits and beliefs, norms, social cleavages and traditions in education. The features associated with institutions, following Carole Pateman, and also Luca Ferrini, include the fact that they are reproduced through routine actions-living through enactment; they provide relative certainty and predictability for everyday social, economic and political interactions; they tend to persist over time but can change incrementally and in rare instances, suddenly; they are often internalised and unconscious, in that social actors may not even recognize that they are following institutionalized ways of interacting; the formal strands sometimes tend to be the crystallization of informal ones as social norms in the realms of gender, class and caste, supplying and determining rules of political participation and representation, methods of economic exchange, and inclusion of different groups in society, thus shaping behaviour and affecting developmental outcomes. With institutions representing a core platform and determinant of development for scholars as remarked here, they should find a place in the imagined framework of development for Nigeria that we are proposing.

Our interest has been an exploration of the developmental processes to isolate for emphasis such key factors that could serve as components of a new template and framework of development for Nigeria. And now that we have some sort of agreement on institution as trumping other factors, it is important to further explore the contours of institution to see what ingredients are there that could and would constitute the core of our imagined framework of development for Nigeria. Perhaps as a recap, we know that institutions are said to provide the rules of the game in society for production and other activities across all aspects of society and human life, spanning governmental activities, rule of law, traditions of education and such other composite elements. And it could be useful to start our further exploration by addressing some of the components of institutions to hone our argument. One recurring element for us has been production which we say is at the heart of development and has also popped up as a key sign and component of institution. The truth is that there is no development without production such that the institutions of society have to be geared and deliberately made to be promotive of and work for production to be meaningful and in the positive interest of the society. Whatever institutions Nigeria currently has that could not deliver production beyond what South Africa, with a quarter of the population of Nigeria, has should indicate the utter weakness of such institutions. When William S. Knudsen posits that ‘the genius of America is production,’ he is not just making allusion to the centrality of production to meaningful life, but also underlining the fact that the dominance of America in the world is borne out of production such that any country interested in such American prestige has to focus on production. A real interest in development in Nigeria would therefore have to necessarily start with production as the lynchpin of its framework or template. And with that kind of framework, it would not be difficult to recognize that Nigeria is currently far from the path of real development as little in the current management of the country prioritizes production. A serious interest in production ought to see deliberate efforts in mounting institutional and behavioural signposts toward increases in major aspects of the GDP and the plans to actualise and sustain such increases. Regrettably, Nigeria continues to be known and reputed as a rentier society where its strategic elites are more concerned about how to make money through rent rather than production. The idea in our theoretical position on the Hanging State in Nigeria is based on the productive chasm and schism between the state and the society/people resulting in mutual antipathy and antagonism. This setting could only produce a government of what Richard Joseph calls prebends where state offices are treated as avenue for corruption that is often tolerated and excused under the ‘two publics’ notion of public life, depicting a glaringly negative setting of and devoted to consumption and not production. And where Tom Forrest and Teresa Turner speak of the limits of even commercial capitalism in the absence of focus on real production, a setting where no production is seriously contemplated would be a non-starter in the development scheme! We therefore have our work cut out for us in listing interest in and clear preparation for and commitment to production as an inescapable component of our focus on institutions in our imagined framework of development for Nigeria going forward.

Other components and elements of institutions that could come up for reckoning would be rule of law, education and values. The World Bank, incidentally, carried out a research to try to understand and explain differences in riches and wealth among countries and came to very interesting conclusions. One of the important findings of the research is this: ‘once one takes into account all of the world’s natural resources and produced capital, 80 percent of the wealth of rich countries and 60 percent of the wealth of poor countries is of … (the) intangible type,’ which means that the basis of the wealth and riches of countries is to be found in the intangible factor. According to the World Bank:

the …”intangible” factors — (are) such as the trust among people in a society, an efficient judicial system, clear property rights and effective government. All this intangible capital also boosts the productivity of labor and results in higher total wealth. … (in fact) human capital and the value of institutions (as measured by rule of law) constitute the largest share of wealth in virtually all countries. … (with)the bottom line (that) rich countries are largely rich because of the skills of their populations and the quality of the institutions supporting economic activity.

The implication is that the World Bank is here confirming the proposition of many economists about the importance of institutions to development even as the Bank sees the institutions as part of what it calls ‘intangible factors’ of development. Advancing this thesis further, through regression analyses, the Bank was able to quantify the value of rule of law and education as part of the intangible social institutions in the development processes positing that the rule of law could explain 57 percent of countries’ intangible capital, with education accounting for 36 percent. The importance and critical nature of the rule of law is here stressed and it poignantly informs us that in the absence of the rule of law or where we pretend that it is not important, then we can shamefacedly wave goodbye to development. We know now that no serious investor would want to come to Nigeria because there are no rules here and judgments are essentially for sale. We are told that most business contracts involving Nigerians, including those concerning the Nigerian government, have clauses stipulating foreign arbitration because nobody wants to be subjected to the farce that passes for the court system in Nigeria. Without the confidence that everybody would be equal before the law and that courts would follow the law in adjudication, which is what is meant by the operation of the rule of law, there is no basis for real development. Witness the recent comment of Atedo Peterside on the growing serial departure of foreign companies from Nigeria to the effect that multiple investors who cherish the rule of law, policy consistency, macroeconomic stability, a level playing field and such qualities are running away from Nigeria to be replaced only partially by investors who know how to “partner” with politicians and/or game the system through waivers and exemptions. And that is a recipe for failure and lack of development given that it is myopic to hope to benefit from lack of rule of law when rule of law is the cornerstone of anything positive and sustainable. As canvassed by the World Bank, the criticality of rule of law is such that virtually nothing would work outside of it – and so even those who perhaps believe that they are being smart in gaming the system to get into government or business would find that after destroying the rule of law, there would be no foundation for any concrete development thereafter for them and the rest of the society. Another important factor that is an irreducible minimum in any new framework of development for Nigeria has to be the essence of rule of law, knowing that without it, there would not be any real notion of development.

The same way we could talk about education which the World Bank puts as accounting for 36 percent of the intangible capital required for development. Contrary to the popular folk notion of “education is a scam” vaunted in the Nigerian context where those without verifiable education are in charge of the country and ostensibly “making it” while those who have gone to school and have taken in and imbibed quality knowledge and education are wallowing in lack, the truth is that such a setting as we have in and have described about Nigeria does not provide development or benefit anybody in the end. The foundation of any serious system is knowledge which could only be imparted through a solid tradition of education, such that every serious society desirous of real development has to prioritize it. A look back at the quantum leap made by old Western Region before independence in Nigeria would show that it was largely set in motion by the free education policy of the Awolowo-led government in the region. All the other infrastructural development of the building of Cocoa House, Liberty Stadium, the first Television Station in Africa and such others came after the foundation of education. And this was an education system and tradition that even the leadership and the leaders believed in as their own children had to go through the same public school system. When you have public education system for others while the children of the rulers attend other schools, it should be clear that such a society and system is not yet ready for development. The same way that having less than 10 percent of budget on education while the personal emoluments of those in government consume more than 50 or 60 percent of the budget would give the real intention of government here. Contrast this with the position of Obafemi Awolowo, the leader of the Western Region government that introduced free education that ‘as far as possible, expenditure on services which tend to the welfare and health and education of the people should be increased at the expense of any expenditure that does not answer to the same test’ in the government budget, such that ‘in the 1958-59 financial year, for instance, 41.2 percent of the total recurrent budget was devoted to education alone.’ The budgetary allocation to Education in the Western Region to start the processes of real development for the region could be contrasted with the allocation for education in the 2024 Nigeria budget which stands at 7.9 percent. We do not have to look elsewhere to know what other factor would be indispensable in the quest for real development in Nigeria in our imagined new framework with the gratifying example of the  Awolowo-led government on education that is prioritized and fully and massively funded for all, including children of the rulers to lean on and draw upon.

The World Bank puts trust among people in a society as another element in its composite notion of intangible capital. And this speaks to the values that run and are kept in the society given that people have to believe in set standards and values for them to have trust among themselves. Values help to make behaviour predictable and consistent, and the idea here is that if there is no underlying trust, based on values, it would be difficult to expect the people to know what to do at any time and what is expected of them. Life would be difficult without values as they help to underscore what the society holds dear. Values reflect what is important to the way we live and work and without them, there would be confusion as to what is and what is to be expected. A developed values system serves like a compass, a guide for the society and lack of values or not following them undermines trust and ability to know or have an idea of what to expect. Values undergird rational living and absence of values leaves the society with irrationality and lack of trust. Imagine the fact that we all want to assume and believe that when you have an examination, performance would reflect and be based on getting correct answers to questions and not because teachers are suborned to cook up marks outside of correct answers, which is substantially the defining ethos of education in Nigeria today. When we do this – allowing teachers to cook up figures outside of real performances of students – we end up undermining trust and confidence in the value of the results and placements based on the examinations and this should explain to us why certificates from Nigeria are sometimes rejected outside because they doubt whether what is written or conveyed in the certificates is really true. In the same vein, we are often told by the Nigerian Police that bail is free, but nobody believes this because it is not true in practice. Lack of trust destroys the society’s core and even those who think they want to benefit by going against values end up realising that destruction and absence of values affect all in the end. A person that rigs his/her way into power and office – which is essentially a way of destroying values and undermining trust – would get in and want to be believed whenever he/she says something, not realizing that the same ensuing lack of trust would apply to him/her and whatever he/she says. The negative implications of lack of trust for development make it imperative for us to have values and trust as added key factors in our imagined new framework of development for Nigeria.

Yet, the focus on institutions and composite elements of production, rule of law, education and values here as major factors in the imagined new framework of development for Nigeria raises one other fundamental issue about the nature and essence of institutions. For we know that institutions are made, and not given, in that they are put and emplaced by humans. This means that talking about institutions would and should really be about how to get them in place by humans. The elements of institutions such as production, the right kind of education, durable rule of law and trust in the society through shared values cannot emerge and come into place on their own or by chance. They have to be put in place by humans, by the society through conscious efforts. Institutions thus reflect the nature of what the society and those who live in it want them to be and how they are meant to be. In which case our concern has to be what the society must do to have the required institutions and elements we have remarked here as necessary for an imagined new, workable framework of development for Nigeria. This concern is necessarily extended to the fact that while it is often said that a society birthes the leadership it gets – even to the extent of saying that a society deserves whatever kind of leadership it has – it is also the case that leadership is said to provide direction, vision and guidance to the society. In which case, what should interest us more about changes we want and anticipate in the society is the kind of leadership that would help to bring about the changes. This would be consistent with the notion that success/failure is determined and is a function of leadership, reflected in Erskine Bowles’ contention that ‘leadership is the key to 99 percent of all successful efforts.’ Along the same line, Chinua Achebe is said to have argued that ‘the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.’ So, whatever new framework of development and accompanying institutions and elements we want for Nigeria would have to be configured around the leadership that would be needed to midwife, work for and ensure the realization. This would be in line with the position of Henry Kissinger that it is the ‘task of the leader … to get his people from where they are to where they have not been’, to help transform and transition them from a given state to a more desirable one. We often hear of and about Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore; Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru in India; Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping in China – these are all leaders credited with helping to developmentally transform their respective countries and societies. Any serious attempt at fashioning a new and workable framework or development for Nigeria would therefore necessarily incorporate how to have a Nigerian Kuan Yew or Gandhi or Nehru or Mao or Deng. That would be a Nigerian leader with the required vision, integrity, depth, passion and commitment to help work for the realization of a new order of real development in the country. The task before us then is how to source for and get the leader and leadership necessary to help drive the imagined new developmental framework sketched out here.

Fortunately, we could tap from Nigeria’s history to see what kind of evidence we have of such visionary leaders and leadership. As many would confirm, perhaps the highest levels of responsible leadership we could point to in Nigeria’s history would be the Obafemi Awolowo era in the old Western Region and Murtala Mohammed government at the federal, national level. For support, it is contended that the Awolowo-led government succeeded in moving the Western Region to almost the same level of development as France in 1959 which was extraordinary given that the country was still under colonialism then even as this did not stop Awolowo from giving an integrity-conscious leadership with the necessary vision on production, education, rule of law and values as sketched out here and leveraging on all these to deliver development to the Western Region and its people. The same way that General Murtala Mohammed, during his short stay in power, displayed remarkable sense of integrity and vision founded on pursuit of production, education, rule of law and values, a standing finding concretization and epitomization in the ‘Africa has come of age’ speech he delivered at the Organization of African Unity (OAU) Extraordinary Meeting of Heads of State Meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on January 11, 1976. It is instructive that Murtala did not start off in life and as military officer with that visionary sense of leadership, with Femi Olugbile describing him as a ‘man with a lot of baggage and personal demons to exorcise’ prior to becoming military Head of State and yet rising up to rouse himself to that historically relevant and significant standing. The idea here is that visionary leaders are not angels without fault and do not necessarily have to start off that way, but could develop into such with an eye to deliberate and conscious interest in and manifestation of integrity, values and commitment to higher ideals over time. The interest should be how to get leaders in the mould of Awolowo and Mohammed to emerge in Nigeria to take charge and supervise a credible process of new framework of development. The example of Awolowo and Mohammed shows that such visionary leadership and leaders could emerge through elections (as Awolowo did) or without elections (in the case of Mohammed). Yet, it would be important to address and interrogate the growing debate on whether liberal democracy based on periodic elections could work in Nigeria, and even Africa, against the background of perpetual and persisting uninspiring and disastrous, if not calamitous, performance from many of the elected rulers in Africa. When the negative performance is correlated with tales of election rigging, buying of votes and electoral officers, and illegal perpetuation in office and power through manipulations of the court system and processes, the argument has been more about whether the whole liberal democracy framework could ever work in Africa with some even canvassing the argument that electoral democracy is not suited culturally for Africa and Africans with the history of emperors and absolute monarchies brooking no opposition prevalent in the continent’s precolonial history. Yet, the celebration of Obafemi Awolowo in Nigeria’s history however ought to help debunk the idea that electoral democracy is not suited or possible in Nigeria and Africa given that it was yet through democracy and elections that Awolowo became a darling of the people and proved his outstanding leadership qualities and credentials. Indeed, it is yet not possible to think of a way for humans to make decisions in an organized fashion, and in a verifiable manner, outside of election and balloting, making electoral democracy, in spite of all its problems and deficiencies and limitations, one readily available way for people to decide on those that should take rulership positions. In any case, the advantage in democracy is that elections are periodic and thus afford the opportunity for people to change those elected on the basis of perception of performance with this ensuring the possibility of improved performance because of the competition inherent in them. Even the Action Group (AG), the political party of the legendary Awolowo lost the 1954 federal elections to the National Council of Nigerians and Cameroons (NCNC) in the Western Region perhaps when the people of the region did not quite appreciate the tax obligations demanded by the proposed free education policy of the AG while the same electorate returned the AG to winning ways in the 1959 federal elections after experiencing the joy and positive contributions of the implementation of the policy. There cannot be anything intrinsically wrong with elections as platform for making decision on issues among humans as that would be the sensible thing to resort to in the midst of plurality of humans and positions, and which could also explain why almost all religions in the world recognize the need for elections through casting of lots or balloting in decision-making except where there are intimations of higher spiritual call or position. This, of course, would not mean that there could not be variations to the way elections are structured to fit specific objectives across different territories and situations and cultures in order to enhance the practice of democracy and its delivery of development and higher standard of living for the people. There could always be local variations without impugning the need to have elections and balloting to make decisions. It would be in order in that regard to want to assess what tinkering to the broad principle of democracy would be necessary at any point and at any place to make the process produce positive results. But all of this assumes that the idea of democracy of having each individual make a decision with ballot in order to have an aggregate is able to hold in truth and in practice, which idea would be suspect where there are entrenched indications to frustrate the carrying out of that obligation. If the individual is not able to function as a free agent to cast ballot under unimpeded volition, it would not be possible to speak properly of democracy or free elections. Voters in the Western Region of 1951 up to perhaps 1966 were able to exercise their free volition to cast their ballots the way they wanted and to change their choice at any point, and were even able to rise against attempts to corruptly change the outcome of elections, resulting in the supervising government being unable to control and put down their principled opposition to election rigging. Only that 1951 Nigeria is markedly different from Nigeria of 2023. Poverty level was put at 15 percent in the whole of Nigeria at independence in 1960 and this means that Western Region even had a much lower poverty rate since it was said to be the most developed part of the country at that time owing to the accomplishments of the famed ‘ambitious modernizing programme’ of the Awolowo-led government. In contrast, 2023 Nigeria is not just the poverty capital of the world, it is also the case that more than half of its population are multidimensional poor. This is a situation in which it could be said that those in poverty are living a life below the acceptable minimum to be a functional and decent human being. We have often heard that treating equals unequally is injustice, but it should be said also that treating unequals equally is unjust. The idea of democracy is to have decision to be made by equal individuals who are able to exercise the free agency of decision-making in voting. When we have individuals operating below acceptable minimum standard of life and living, – some would call their situation that of trauma or dehumanization since they must be at less than human level (largely sub-human) – there is every reason to believe that traumatized and dehumanized individuals would and should not be assumed to be fully functional free agents capable of exercising the voting franchise with integrity and without susceptibility to manipulation. Unfortunately, evidence shows that elections in Nigeria now are often left entirely to the poor ones as the elite seldom show up to take part in voting. Imagine leaving elections and associated decision making majorly to those who are traumatized and dehumanized and are not able to function as free agents. This unfortunate reality is at bottom of the malaise of vote buying as most of those who show up or are made to show up to vote in elections in Nigeria now are those who are not able to resist the allure of being paid for their votes because of their extreme poverty. This is the new reality that many have called the weaponization of poverty by politicians for them to continue to ride roughshod over majority of the electorate who are in extreme poverty. This is why it could be said that Nigeria’s poverty has become a deliberate and intentional one created and nurtured specifically for the purpose of easy and continuous domination by the politicians and others involved in the rulership of the country; majority of whom must have become themselves dehumanized along the way in the light of the argument of Paulo Freire that ‘as the oppressors dehumanize others and violate their rights, they themselves also become dehumanized.’  When politicians in Nigeria get into office and choose to not work for public good or for the satisfaction of the interests of the people, it is partly because they themselves have also become dehumanized and therefore operate without any worthwhile sense of what is right, and more because they know that elections where majority of the voters are under trauma as multidimensionally poor, are not going to be won by such performance indicators, but by having the biggest scheme to buy the votes of the traumatized and dehumanized voters. And this is a mockery and travesty of democracy, for it is not possible to have the realization of the true ideal of democracy where majority of the voters have been left traumatized and dehumanized by extreme poverty to make them incapable of the minimum standard of dignified living and thus susceptible to various forms of manipulation, including cynical purchase of their votes by the politicians. Evidently, this was not the situation in the Western Region in the 1950s, when the people were not majorly in poverty and were thus able to exercise the electoral franchise without any susceptibility to manipulations, perhaps signaling the need for some poverty threshold to be in place before expecting democracy to work well. It is instructive, therefore, that the emergence of democracy as a form of government denoting the rule of the people started out with guidelines for and on who would constitute ‘the people’, setting out conditions to be part of the people who could vote and constitute the electorate including requirements along gender (male suffrage), taxation and social placement (elite suffrage) and such others until the struggle for universal suffrage helped in proclaiming suffrage of all adults irrespective of sex, gender, race, ethnicity and any other discrimination, sensitizing us to the need for requirements making for the capability and capacity of the voter to make independent decision as being important for the working of democracy. The fact that adult suffrage is generally regarded as the requirement for voting in democracy would still suggest that it assumes the capability and capacity of the adult voter to be able to make independent and reasonable decision which is why suffrage is not extended to children and non-adults admittedly incapable of independent and accountable decisions at that point of development even as we now know that being adult or of age alone would not be enough without the necessary economic placement to make one a useful part of the voting population in a working and workable democracy.  And this argument could well explain the current persisting failure of democracy in most of African countries given that these countries are largely poor with high poverty rate and thus only relying on majority of poor people as electorate to make ballot decisions without the capability of making such independent informed decision. The implication is that there is no real process of quality decision-making in the elections in Africa with the contests attracting scoundrels and dregs and the corrupt ones in the society who are the only ones who could triumph in contest not defined by or based on quality but on the brigandage of manipulating hapless and vulnerable voters because of their extreme poverty. The same poverty vulnerability has been argued made bands of mostly jobless and potentially vulnerable rural youths fall under the spell of George Weah’s star power when he first wanted to contest for the presidency of Liberia before Nigeria’s president at the time, Olusegun Obasanjo, advised the former World Footballer of the Year to suspend his ambition and return to school. It did not and could not matter what quality in administration or governance Weah was bringing as the vulnerably poor voters would fall for anything except real quality. In addition to the pervasiveness of extreme poverty, my brother, Sina Kawonise, has also called attention to another disabling factor of the simultaneous existence of those who have captured the state and have corruptly amassed humongous resources with which they could literally buy off every structure in the society to corruptly be at their service even within this context of extreme poverty. Surely there were no individuals in the 1950s in Nigeria who had the resources to simply put societal structures under themselves given that resources then were mostly from productive engagements and not through massive corruption as we have today. This situation of pervasive extreme poverty for majority of voters and where voters are susceptible to the machinations and manipulation of and by those who have corruptly captured the state to stack resources with which to play rodeo with the destiny of the people is such in which it would be practically impossible for any democracy and elections to help realise the goal of a leader with vision, integrity and other qualities necessary to spearhead real development to the extent that the benighted system is incapable of attracting and would never likely attract or toss up such quality leader and leadership. With this, a vicious cycle ensues: poverty produces bad leadership; bad leadership perpetuates poverty!Could it be instructive that the Awolowo we are even celebrating as emerging as a quality leader through democracy and elections could only do that within the old Western Region where poverty level was lowest in Nigeria then and met with repeated failurethrough contrived elections susceptible to and evidently hinged on massive corruption and manipulation in his attempt to win through the votes in the whole of Nigeria with an obvious higher level of poverty that could make such manipulations and electoral heists possible? And if a political setting grounded on 15 percent poverty rate in 1960 could not produce or deliver a quality leader in the mould of Awolowo through democracy and elections, would it not be wishful thinking and a mirage to be thinking of having such quality leadership still through democracy and elections under a context of 46 percent poverty rate in 2023? Is it the case that such context could only produce quality leadership in the manner of Murtala Mohammed since he did not have to emerge through democracy and elections? Listen to Mohammed describing the context that produced his emergence in power and leadership:

Nigeria has been left to drift. This situation, if not arrested would inevitably … (result) in chaos and even bloodshed in the endeavor to build a strong, united and virile nation … The affairs of state, hitherto a collective responsibility became characterized by lack of consultation, indecision, indiscipline and even neglect. Indeed, the public at large became disillusioned and disappointed by these development…The nation was thus plunged inexorably into chaos. It was obvious that matters could not, and should not, be allowed in this manner, … in order to give the nation a new lease of life, and sense of direction…

Would this description not still be a fair representation of what the situation is today in Nigeria with overwhelming despondency defining life and living in a growing context of povertization? Would this perhaps explain why many Nigerian and African youth are mainly excited by the changes through military coup in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger and not enamored of democracy and elections after being variously disappointed by the farce of elections put up by those who have captured the state with amassed corrupt resources in most of Africa defined by extreme poverty? Is it instructive that Niger is said to have the fastest growing economy in Africa since the ascension of the new military ruler there according to the African Development Bank (AfDB)? If it is practically impossible to replicate the emergence of an Awolowo through democracy and elections in Africa because of the pervasiveness of poverty which enables distortions and persisting capture of the state by corrupt elements, would the context then be the harbinger for the emergence of a Murtala Mohammed? Or would the context produce more of the emergence of a ruler in the mould of Abacha given that such extra-democratic processes are also entirely unpredictable and prone to extremes? The complexities of the current situation leave us with no way of knowing what would or could happen beyond the fact that the context would never likely result in the emergence of an Awolowo. And that should be enough to help us know and come to terms with the limitations of the present situation – which limitations leaves us with perhaps only the choice of the possibility of the emergence of a Murtala Mohammed or an Abacha since no Awolowo is likely possible through the current systemic arrangements. But since we are in the realm of imagining and dreaming, we would expect our graduands and the rest of the youth to dream and imagine and work for the emergence of a Murtala Mohammed in the sense that a visionary leadership in his mould is needed to help take charge of the imagined framework of development sketched out here even while also dreaming and imagining what they have to do to prevent the emergence of an Abacha in the circumstances.

Talking about the dream of a visionary leader in the mould of Awolowo and Mohammed would also raise the issue of their age at the point of their emergence. Awolowo was 42 years old in 1951 when he became the Leader of Government and thereafter Premier in Western Region and General Murtala Mohammed was only 38 years old when he became military Head of State of Nigeria. The relative young age at which these visionary leaders emerged is yet another indication that the search for such leaders is not to be found among the old or departing members of the society. We are aware of the crusade at one point on a ‘not too young to rule’ campaign through which some Nigerian youth wanted to call attention to the situation in which the youth were (being) sidelined in the governance and running of the country, positing that the idea of calling the youth leaders of tomorrow without involving them in the governing processes would only make them to not be leaders at any time. The argument of the campaign was the desire of the youth involved in it to want to be leaders of today, and not leaders of a tomorrow that would never come, by being considered for leadership positions in the present political governance of the country. While there is some merit in the argument of the campaign, the case to be rather made, we think, should not be that on the current position of wanting some consideration for the youth in political appointments, but has to be about the importance of building the entire future project and plans for it around the youth. Awolowo in 1951 and Murtala Mohammed in 1975 did not aspire to be or came out as appendages to some overlords, but emerged as the beacon of power to direct and change things. We have already underlined the sentiments of Jose Rizal that the hope of the future is the youth and this means that everything about the future has to be about them. They are to provide the vision and the work and the striving to realise the vision. They are the ones to be in the future and should be allowed to determine the kind of future they want for themselves; the future cannot and should not be left to those who would not be part of the future to determine as they would not be there to bear in sharing the consequences. Furthermore, and in any case, transformation is necessarily a function of both vision and strength to work for realization of the vision. And that effectively makes that task one fitted and suited for the youth. It is not that the old also do not dream, but it is not unlikely that, in old age and because of old age, they would dream more about the hereafter than the herenow. The hope and transformation needed are all about here and not the other world and those who are going to be part of the future here are uniquely needed to plan for and work to realise that future, and those essentially would be the youth and not the old people. The idea that those who are not going to be part of the future in any significant sense would be the ones to plan for the future and be entrusted with dreaming and leading the path to needed transformation should be discarded as it is a forlorn one. In this regard, the vision and dream for a different future for Nigeria based on an imagined new framework of development would have to be anchored on the imagination and strength and vigor and perception of the youth and should be spearheaded and built around visionary leader(s) among them.

It is clear that there is a case to be made for a new framework of development for Nigeria on account of the growing, persisting poverty defining life and living for most of its people. The Nigerian situation is further marked by apparent lack of adequate production resulting in the inability to provide for the needs of many of the citizens, leaving more than half of the population in multidimensional poverty. Arising from this debilitating reality and background, the ensuing quest for a new framework of development has to grapple with the criticality of enhanced production and productivity, which task, the World Bank and scholars advise, would be more viable in a context in which necessary favourable institutions are available and provided to serve as bedrock for increased production. In particular, the argument is made for the imperative of ‘intangible factors’ of rule of law, good tradition of education, and overarching values and trust in the society, essentials that are sorely lacking and missing in the Nigerian context, to show and underline not just a credible explanation for the sorry state of things in the country, but also a possible way out of the quandary. Only that the case raises the added problem of the need for critical leadership to take charge of the processes of helping to undertake the transformation needed and required to turn things around, which visionary leadership is said to be practically impossible to source or get through the current democratic experiment in the country as it is impossible to have a majority of multidimensionally poor citizens serving as integrity-conscious voters to make voting decisions that are expected to produce good leaders. The search for the visionary leadership needed within this context would thus have to likely transcend the democratic structures and processes as currently constituted and functioning even as the country has the experience of looking beyond them where necessary at crucial points in its history anyway. All this, however, would be outside of the additional requirement of getting such visionary leadership from the basket of the youth who not only constitute more than half of the country’s population, but are also uniquely positioned to be able to dream and imagine a new future for the country and themselves since they would indeed be that future, making them the best group to rely on to imagine a new positive future and template of development for the country given that they also have the capacity and vigor and strength and motivation to work for the realization of the dream and vision.

Concluding Remarks

We have called attention to the sorry state of our dear country, Nigeria, today, highlighting its messy provenance of lack of development and production leading to and leaving it as not just the poverty capital of the world, but a country where the most important growth visible is the increase in the rate of poverty. Our argument has been that this is a country in dire need of a change of course as its present processes have proved spectacularly incapable and unfit to deliver decent living for most of its people. Rather than being geared toward production, Nigeria’s current processes are distinguished more by corruption, absence of rule of law, absence of values, reign of impunity, a glaring non-interest in public good and interest by the rulers who lord themselves over the people and the territory as leaders. In such a demoralizing context, our contention has been that the present negativities should not be allowed to overwhelm and become a stumbling block to positive change. Rather, the situation should be seen as providing and representing an opportunity to be tapped in going forward for and with a positive change. Here we have emphasized the need for a wealth of imagination to dream and envision a new template and framework of development for the country based on the history of failures and successes available, which history tells us about the critical need for massive production hinged on deliberate efforts directed toward that purpose, in an institutionalized environment of ‘intangible capital’ which the World Bank has described as the bedrock of real development, comprising rule of law, overarching values, and pursuit of education, to be spearheaded and organized by a visionary leader high in integrity and commitment to the transformation agenda based on sound ideas and ideals, whom we reckoned should come from the youth segment of the society as they have more stake in the future and possess the capacity for vision and strength to dream dreams and to work for the realization of the dreams. The same history and present circumstances show us also that the kind of leader and leadership required would not likely result from the current structure of democracy and election which are necessarily compromised by susceptibility to manipulation given the effect of extant high poverty level and associated limitations on the majority of hapless and vulnerable voters, even as it is not impossible to have such leaders through other means than democracy and elections.

Yet, it would be important, for the sake of clarity and signification, to return to some of the major issues we have raised and emphasized in the course of this conversation:

  1. The reality of lack of development and the pervasiveness of poverty in Nigeria, finding expression in the standing of Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world, featuring the largest concentration of people who are living below the poverty line fixed by the UN at US$2.15 per day, with more Nigerians joining them everyday as a reflection of the growing intensification of poverty in the country.
  2. The (flourishing) poverty in Nigeria has to do with persisting inadequate production with its total production in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) barely surpassing the level of South Africa with only a quarter of its own population.
  3. Production is not a result of chance, but strives in and through a deliberate environment created and sustained for it by the right leadership.
  4. The conducive environment for meaningful production to give development, apart from incorporating fair distribution of proceeds and guaranteed respect for the freedom of the people to assure of sustainable good standard of living, has to be predicated more on structures and institutions of intangible wealth such as rule of law, devotion to education, and the preeminence of values.
  5. Trying to cut corners within the production context by sabotaging rule of law, undermining education processes, and preferring and pursuing acts reflective of absence of values does not pay in the long run and would likely be counterproductive in the end as nobody ultimately benefits from the overall chaos resulting from systemic disorganization represented by such framework of existence as we have in Nigeria.
  6. The implication is that the country needs a new template of development that would prioritize production with fair distribution, human freedom and sustainable good living standards under a context defined by the structures and institutions of rule of law, devotion to education and pursuit of values.
  7. This new template requires and rests on the emergence of a visionary leader/leadership, in the mould of Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore, Mahatma Ghandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru in India, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiapong in China, and the likes of Obafemi Awolowo and Murtala Mohammed going by the political history of Nigeria, that would help to put it in place on the basis of commitment to integrity and real development.
  8. The required visionary leader/leadership would not likely result from democracy and elections in the country now, but could as well come outside of democracy, not due to the fact that Nigeria, nay Africa, is not suited for democracy, but more because the present reality of pervasive poverty in the country and the continent makes it almost impossible to have functional democracy with the vast majority of voters left as traumatized individuals through extreme poverty to not be able to act as free and dignified agents in voting decision, making the processes susceptible to manipulation especially by those who are rich enough through corrupt cornering of collective resources.
  9. The imperative of imagination as one of the most viable vehicles and platforms for a new future of real development for the country, with the capacity of overcoming the present disabilities and deficiencies by turning them into opportunities for positive change through the facility of dreams and visioning which we have identified more with the youth and the young in the society, including our graduands here.
  10. The task and responsibility placed on the youth as a result of the capacity for imagination and visioning and vigor to be the bedrock of the new template for real development by not only being the vanguard for the struggle for the realization of the emergence of the required visionary leadership, but also ensuring that the leadership is from and organized around themselves working through all means available.

To be sure, it has to be stated that the focus on the youth in our imagined template and framework for development here is not arbitrary or fortuitous. Beyond the fact that the youth necessarily own the future and should be more invested in shaping it, is their criticality to the requirement on imagination and dreams in our analysis. Philip Seymour Hoffman tells us that all over the world, young men and women are the ones imbued with the art and capacity to dream dreams while Lenny Wilkens admonishes that we should never discourage young people from that vocation of dreaming dreams. In which case, it is our duty to encourage our youth to take on the responsibility of dreaming and visioning and imagining a new positive future for the country. Let us let the youth know that the country is relying on them and waiting on them to take on the mantle of leadership like Awolowo did in 1951 and Mohammed did in 1975 to provide the way to the transformation direly needed and required, through the right dreams and vision and imagination, to making Nigeria take its rightful place in the comity of nations as a country of more than 200 million capable human beings, ready to follow the emergent visionary leader to the promised future. It could be said that perhaps Nigerian youth have a historical responsibility here to help stem and stop the drift and morass imposed on the country by my generation and those before mine given that they are the only ones imbued with the right kind of dream potentials to intervene positively at this point. And as Frantz Fanon reminds us, ‘each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it,’ in the sense that we are looking up to the Nigerian youth to not betray the mission thrust on them by historical necessity, as some other generations including mine have done, to help salvage the country as part of the demands and responsibilities of their youthfulness. Fortunately, Eleanor Roosevelt let us know that ‘the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams’, such that the Nigerian youth must be challenged to see the beauty in their dream of a new Nigeria in order to be ready to work for the realization of the dream. Incidentally, the fact that the Nigerian situation is one deserving and requiring a fundamental and radical change and transformation raises the question of who should we expect to key in to help bring about such radical change if not the youth considering Winston Churchill’s contention that ‘if a man is not a socialist by the time he is 20, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is 40, he has no brain’? There would not be anything wrong, and indeed there would be everything right and positive, about Nigerian youth becoming ‘socialists’ in order to help counter and overcome the present deterioration in the country, to overturn and overrun it, to birth and bring about a new order of real development through their dreams and visions and imagination. Of course, we know that the future would not come easy and that the task we are asking the Nigerian youth to take up and take on is not and would not be an easy one, not least because those profiting from the current miasma would not want a change and would even resist it. But it would seem to be their historic task and responsibility for the society and for themselves and their future in which they must not be found wanting. Here we recognize that having the dream and vision and imagination would not be enough though they are the necessary and irreducible requirement and platform and starting point to even have a chance of positively changing the decadent present. They must do more and not stop at just dreaming and imagining. As Colin Powell puts it, ‘a dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work,’ and Jesse Owens adds that ‘in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.’ This means that the youth must be ready to add determination and hardwork and dedication to their dreams and imagination to push them toward realization. They have to be persistent and not be deterred by occasional mistakes and failures on the way. They must also be wary of getting disillusioned or not recognizing the power they have and possess as the youth and major segment of the population given that those who are less than 19 years in age constitute more than half of the Nigerian population while the totality of the youth population at less than 45 years would be likely more than three quarters of the population. They must therefore not allow anybody to tell them that they are not the owners of the country or accept unnecessary divisions that would help to lower and reduce the potency of their numerical strength and advantage. The task before the youth is a serious and fundamental one and it is one in which they are assured of success if only they stick together and work together to push their dream and imagination of a new framework of development for the country, for as Yoko Ono says, ‘a dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.’ Margeret Mead adds: ‘Never doubt that a … group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’ We should therefore have no doubt that the dream of Nigerian youth of an imagined new template of development for their country would become reality and achieve its aim of positively affecting and changing the present if only the dream is pursued with unity, togetherness, perseverance, persistence, determination, dedication and a refusal to yield to negativity. The crux of my conversation here today is to challenge our youth – and all of ourselves in supporting our youth – to take on the task of imagining a new and workable template of development for the country as their response to combat and positively change the current debilitating situation for the better and to work assiduously for the realization of the dream. We wish and pray for their success in this historic and, in a way, even divine, assignment and endeavour for their own sake and for the sake of all us now and the generations to come.

I thank you all for your kind attention.

February 2024

Being the text of the Convocation Lecture delivered by Professor Are-Olaitan,

former Vice-Chancellor, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, and

Chair, Editorial Board, Tribune, at Hallmark University, Ijebu-Itele, Nigeria, on February 28.

  • Being the text of the Convocation Lecture delivered by Professor Are-Olaitan, former Vice-Chancellor, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, and Chair, Editorial Board, Nigerian Tribune, at Hallmark University, Ijebu-Itele, Nigeria, on February 28.

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Source:

Tribune Online