Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How Obasanjo and the Nigerian Health System conspired to kill my friend

I published this article in the Guardian and other news blogs exactly five years ago , and sadly as events in Nigeria's health sector have not fared much better since then, I have decided to republish it again today!

How does one begin a sordid tale like this? How does one begin to recount the atrocities of a nation that derives joy from murdering its best people in their primes? How do I relate how the striking doctors colluded with the Nigerian government to kill my bossom friend?
How do I narrate the events that led to the death of Hameed Olasupo Agberemi on March 5, 2007 at the tender age of 32.

Make no mistake about it; I am not attempting to blame God. Neither do I term Hameed’s death as untimely, for every man has his destined time, and when it is up, he will go. I am a Muslim, and I believe that to Allah we belong and to Him is our final destination. However, I also realize that something will be the cause of one’s eventual death, and in this case, the causes are inexcusable, as they depict a failure of the Nigerian system.

For those of us who knew Hameed very well, or Supo as his secondary school friends from FGC Ilorin called him, it was a privilege knowing him. He was a gift to our generation. Right from his undergraduate days at Obafemi Awolowo University , where he studied Food Science and Technology, all who came into contact with him were amazed at the depth of his intelligence and the width of his thinking. When he put pen to paper, we could only marvel at the strength of his convictions, and his mastery of the written word.

In the words of another friend, “He was simply a masterpiece in his choice of words, use of vocabulary and grammatical correctness. For me, he remains unequalled in the knowledge and usage of the language amongst any OAU Alumni that I have ever come in contact with. I remember how he would smile so innocently each time I told him he had made a very wrong choice by studying FST.”
It was no surprise that he never practiced as a Food Technologist for he was destined for greater things.

Right out of school, he formed an NGO, that championed women and children’s rights, a feat for which he was acknowledged both at home and abroad, culminating in a Research Fellowship at the prestigious Emory University Law School , Atlanta .
AbdHameed made several trips to the Hague in Netherlands and to various conferences around the world presenting the products of his scholarship, which some of us were privileged to read and still abounds on the web.

However, despite our entreaties for Hameed to join us abroad, he always chose to return home after his trips, saying Nigeria was the place for him, and he had bright hopes for the future in Nigeria .
Based on this, Hameed finished his Masters program in Peace and Conflict at the University of Ibadan , facilitated several workshops on conflict resolution, and enrolled for a PhD at the same school but it was not to be.

He started losing faith in the country in October last year when he had a close encounter with armed robbers in Lagos, which he described thus in his words “Robbers made away with my laptop (containing thousands of documents being my intellectual effort since September 2003, last backup on CDs was in July 2006); my phone and so many contact numbers; flash disk; my international passport with so many visas since 2001; other documents on me at the time, and of course, cash.”It was a tough loss, but one which he prayed and planned to overcome.

However, his final journey began late December without any warning. He lived in Eleyele, Ibadan with his wife, a practicing lawyer and their daughter. He left the house on the fateful day and made to cross the road to enter a commercial bus. Having checked to ensure there was no oncoming vehicle, he started to cross, when from nowhere, a commercial bus driver at top speed driving on the wrong side of the one-way road crashed into him, inflicting serious head injuries and sending him into an unconscious state.

He was rushed to UCH, Ibadan where he spent two weeks in coma before regaining consciousness. Since then he had been undergoing several surgeries and was getting better. I had even called several times and spoken to him on phone, and apart from some slight slur in his voice, he sounded almost like the Hameed we had grown to admire and respect.

Some weeks later, some complications arose which blocked his trachea and affected his breathing, prompting a surgery which was carried out to fit a breathing tube into his trachea to aid his breathing. The doctors planned another surgery to remove the breathing tube and fix the trachea complications, but this was complicated by the fact that UCH, one of the topmost health institutions in Nigeria did not have a laser knife which was required for the surgery. Hence, they had to reschedule another surgery for last Friday, while Hameed continued to breathe with the aid of a tube.

It was in the midst of all these that Nigerian doctors decided to go on strike. I will not waste time debating the rightness or otherwise of the strike action as it is of no use to me or the bereaved family. I only know that it was one strike too many.

Hameed was compulsorily discharged from UCH last week despite his critical situation and before the scheduled surgery, and the family had to make arrangements to take him to a private clinic in Ibadan , while praying that the strike action would be called off soon.

However, this was not to be as on Sunday night, the 4th of March, 2007, complications arose with the breathing tube. The private doctors tried their best, but not being specialists in that field or being familiar with his case, it was to no avail. For several grueling hours, they labored, while my friend gasped and struggled to breath, but at the end he returned to his Creator.

If it was in more advanced countries, I would have dared to sue the government and the striking doctors for complicity in his death, but knowing Nigeria , it will be a wasted effort. I know Supo is not the only casualty of this strike, and that saddens me about the country called Nigeria , that cares not whether its citizens live or die.

It is eight years since we have had a ‘democracy’, and while the president and his vice fight themselves over sordid allegations, the citizens are left to die away. The common people can die all they want as long as the PDP has its way in the do-or-die affair it calls an election. If only a fraction of the money spent on flying presidential candidates and other government officials abroad for medical attention were to be spent on our health system, perhaps more lives will be saved. But who cares?

Doctors are trained to save lives, but when their actions or inactions lead to loss of lives, doesn’t this speak volumes?
I hope the doctors enjoy their allowances when and if they get, it but I will always remember their role in Hameed’s death.

May God Almighty forgive Hameed and grant his parents and family the fortitude to bear the loss.
Idris Bello
Houston, Texas

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Saving minds, ideas, and people from 'untimely' graves!

Nigerian Tribune, Friday, July 15, 2011

Idris Ayodeji Bello is the Information Management Champion with Chevron Corporation. But outside his official engagement, he is involved in a number of projects targetted at improving the lot of Africans; such as Library Across Africa, Wennovation Hub and AfyaZima Africa. In this interaction with Sulaimon Olanrewaju, the multiple award winner speaks about his life and preoccupation.

IDRIS Bello is passionate about Africa’s development. He wants to do all in his power to ensure that Nigeria and the rest of Africa utilise their potentialities so that the continent will no longer be a wilderness of hunger, diseases, war and ignorance but a well developed continent that provides the best for her citizens.

Bello is of the opinion that a way of reversing the trend of underdevelopment in Africa is through enterprise. He avers, “A new wave of young women and men, armed with a burning resolve, enabled by global networks, and not governments or large multinationals, hold the key to solving Africa's social and economic problems, these are the people I refer to as Afropreneurs. While it is true that these individuals will need the support of government and big organisations, getting Nigeria and Africa out of the ‘recipient’ mentality will depend largely on the success of its Afropreneurs or Naijapreneurs. We need to focus on empowerment and providing an enabling environment, rather than just spoon-feeding people.”

He, however, laments that lack of access to capital is crippling enterprises in the country. He says, “According to a recent survey on VC4Africa, access to finance is one of the biggest challenges faced by young African entrepreneurs. Other challenges include the lack of a conducive and enabling environment to support startups. Getting a business registered in a country like Nigeria can be a very tedious process, and the added problems of navigating bureaucratic bottlenecks, getting legal advice and finding good mentors has precipitated an economic environment which has sent many good ideas from their ‘embryonic stages’ to their untimely ‘economic graves’”.

As his contribution to solving these problems, he teamed up with some people to establish the Wennovation Hub.
Bello says, “The Wennovation Hub is a true hub for start-up business development located in Ikeja, Lagos Nigeria with a focus on synthesizing high impact start-up growth, facilitation and development in West Africa. The hub provides office space, ongoing support, network and contacts, funding and affordable project support for innovative early stage companies in Nigeria and the ECOWAS region. The Wennovation Hub is an initiative of LoftyInc Allied Partner founded by Michael Oluwagbemi and Africa Leadership Forum (ALF). I am the Programme Director for the hub, while Dr Oluwole Odetayo manages the hub on a daily basis.

“Our hope is that the Wennovation Hub (and eventually the Wennovation Village) will provide this enabling environment to help young entrepreneurs overcome these challenges. Through the Wennovation Hub, we recently kick started the LoftyInc Angels Network, which is arguably Nigeria’s first Angel Network to fund the viable business ideas which pass through the Wennovation Hub.”

His concerns about the inadequacy of libraries on the continent resulted in the establishment of Libraries Across Africa with a view to bridging the noticeable gaps.

Speaking on Libraries Across Africa, he says, “Libraries Across Africa (LAA) is a non-profit social venture whose mission is to empower individuals through access to information. Each LAA library uses broadband Internet connectivity to provide relevant content and information resources to underserved communities in Africa.

“An LAA library is a combination of an innovative building system; community tailored books and electronic content, collaborative workspaces, and trained library staff. While the original idea was not mine, it was the outcome of an MSc thesis work by two Architecture students at Rice University, I joined the team to help transform the idea from concept to reality, leveraging my business knowledge in the African environment, and my understanding of the social need we were tackling having spent the first 20 years of my life in Nigeria. We are currently close to implementing our first pilot in Accra, Ghana.”

Talking about AfyaZima, he says, “AfyaZima is an organisation focused on the sustainable delivery of low cost health technologies to the developing world, while also integrating local insight and strategic consulting with a deep understanding of the key drivers that develop and enhance successful health care and bioscience enterprises in Africa. I co-founded this in 2010 with Muntaqa Umar-Sadiq, a medical doctor. Our initial efforts are focused on the provision of aggregated point-of-care (POC) diagnostic tools for the early detection and rapid diagnosis of the major infectious diseases affecting the developing world; HIV, TB and Malaria. We are currently working on our flagship product, the “Elpida Diagnostic Toolbox” (EDT) which will equip mobile doctors who visit rural communities to provide care, with an innovative toolbox that combines POC diagnostic tools with pictorial guides that cross language and cultural barriers and empower patients to take ownership of their management plans.”

Bello, explaining his interest in the programmes meant to improve the lot of Africans, says, “In these efforts I am spurred by my strong belief in the superiority of market-based solutions to Africa's problems. I also recognise that the problems of lack of access to education, health and support for enterprise are intertwined, and hence require the development of locally grown, holistic solutions.

On his dress sense, he says, “I like to dress well, and I am usually okay with anything that looks good on me. I am not obsessed about keeping up with fashion though, so you won’t have me longing for the latest designer shoes!”

His most valuable physical possession is his iphone because, “It serves as my phone, diary, social media tool, camera/video, note taker and a whole list of other things. It keeps me on top of all the things I am involved with. But overall, my faith and family are the most important things to me.”

On what he considers the ingredients of success, he says, “I will refer to a quote from famous inventor, R. Buckminster Fuller, while advising one of his students who was seeking what to do with his life. ‘Look around you. Take a fresh, hard, and uncompromising look at life as you see it. Ask this question, What needs to be done? When you have an answer, and it may take some time to get it, then go and do what needs to be done. Do it better than anyone else does it and the world will beat down your door for your help. Then you will not need a good job; and you will have more than a career. You will have a mission.’ Hence, I view the ingredients of success as; vision, tenacity/courage, flexibility/adaptability and faith.

Then he defines success as “using your finest gifts and deepest desires to help you make a profound difference in the world while also retaining a balance in your responsibilities to your family, and building a strong relationship with your Creator.”

Talking about his legacy, Bello says,“ I would like to be remembered for my contribution towards encouraging entrepreneurship and creativity in the developing world as a tool to lessen the dependence of the citizenry on the state, which affects their willingness to criticise government leaders, thereby perpetuating poor governance.”

Other Related Stories

HuffingtonPost Greatest Person of the Day

The Promise of “Libraries Across Africa”

Winner, 2011 Dell Best Innovation Leveraging Technology Award

Winner, 2011 Sallyport Award for extraordinary contributions to Rice University

Friday, April 22, 2011

Four Steps To Avoid a Failed Jonathan Presidency

By Kamar Bakrin

Truth be told, a failed Jonathan presidency will simply be a continuation of a long tradition in Nigerian governance. Despite all the noise about how “this time, it is different”, the brutal truth is that it is not. The elements which supposedly make it different have been present in equal or higher doses in previous administrations: a clear mandate, a president from a minority ethnic group, huge amount of public goodwill, a majority in the national assembly etc.

As for the qualities that make Jonathan unique: a good heart, calm disposition, listening ear and love for Nigeria; well, I hate to break it to you but we have had all of that before and it didn’t take us very far, at least not in the right direction.

Along with the fact that we have never lacked for blue-prints, development plans, several-point agendas, etc., you quickly realise that the prognosis isn’t looking so great.

But it doesn’t have to be like that; especially because the world is moving on with or without a Nigeria that gets its act together. However, if you study Nigeria’s leadership history, you will find that the times we have shown a semblance of progress have been when the incumbent administration has addressed one or more of certain elements. Jonathan can vastly improve his chances of success by working this handful of levers at the same time. So, following are things he can do to truly buck the dismal trend:

(1)Pick a stellar team
The problems of Nigeria do not require further articulation. Even an average product of our lousy educational system can do a decent job of identifying the problems and proffering solutions. Rather, we need the most competent people to take charge of the ministries, departments and agencies, both the ‘juicy’ and ‘sahara’ types and actually execute at world-class levels. Spend the time between now and May 29 to search for the most capable Nigerians at home and abroad. Go through a rigorous process of matching them to the positions especially keeping in mind the priorities in each sector.

Do not make the fatal mistake of distributing executive MDA appointments as ‘settlement’. If you must reward people, then perhaps, use some of the Board positions at the various agencies, but please do even these sparingly.

(2) Focus on the most important things
It is critical to concentrate on infrastructure, food, human capital development, security and improving public service efficiency. Yes, I know it is in the manifesto, but we know how manifestos work in Nigeria. So, please, actually focus on them. The word Focus does not even begin to address the importance. Make it an obsession: dedicate the best of our best resources to them, beg for more resources from richer nations, spend the bulk of your time supervising initiatives in these areas!

This also requires that they be well managed, with clear deliverables and timelines for hitting relevant milestones. Avoid blandishments about improving the quality of life of the people, delivering the dividends of democracy or crowing about how many billions have been spent on projects. Think, talk and act in terms of specific, measurable outcomes that impact the people on a sustainable basis.

There are so many non-priority areas that take up time and resources. Please minimise the distraction from these areas. Anyway, just fill your to-do list with the most important things and these others will find their rightful place at the back of the queue.

(3) Fight corruption
You will not succeed at anything else if you fail to tackle this. To bring it home, even if we judiciously deploy 100% of our resources, it will not be sufficient to make us one of the 20 leading economies in the time frame we have been bandying about. Now consider that a hefty chunk of these resources is frittered away on unnecessary recurrent expenditure or stolen outright. The paradox is that a lot of the stolen money goes towards 2 things: to rig elections, which will not be necessary if governance is good; and to provide private infrastructure at a higher unit cost than would have been incurred on spending it on what it was intended for in the first place.

Therefore, strengthen the existing organs to plug the leakages and making it extremely unattractive to steal. How? The same way you delivered on your promise of free and fair elections: appoint the right persons, fund them adequately and stay out of their way.

The common refrain, though I wonder why people feel compelled to state it, is that ‘I voted for Goodluck not PDP’. Well, it is payback time sir! If we are to believe the election results, it was you people overwhelmingly voted for: not Buhari, not PDP, not MEND, not OBJ, certainly not Madam Patience but YOU!

So, step forward and take charge. This means many things. First, you must be take responsibility: for the future direction of Nigeria, for resolving crises whenever, wherever and in whatever form they occur, for the misdeeds of your officials, for the safety and security of your citizens. In short sir, you are responsible for Nigeria.

Also, you must actively manage the country’s affairs: develop the roadmap, organise the resources required to deliver and manage the daily task of delivering it. Oh, I almost forgot, it would be nice to occasionally let us know how things are going.

All the best, or should I say Good luck?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Afropreneurship, Wennovation, and Bandstorming

Three concepts—Afropreneurship, Wennovation, and Bandstorming—explain the driving force for what I do and where I get the energy that keeps me going.

As I broadened my understanding of commerce and investing through my MBA program, I realized that a new wave of young women and men, armed with a burning resolve, enabled by global networks, and not governments or large multinationals, hold the key to solving Africa's social and economic problems. I embarked on a journey to redefine entrepreneurship with a focus on Africa – hence afropreneurship.

As afropreneurs, what we do is bandstorm. Bandstorming is the collective pooling of philosophically-linked ideas focused on solving social and economic problems. Like a band of brothers, Afropreneurs bandstorm (rather than brainstorm) solutions through a common philosophy. From education to community health, or the macro-economic issues of job creation and the development of stable capital markets, Africa's problems are big and require bold, daring ideas.

This is not a vision I have held in isolation. Discovering a band of similarly-visioned young Africans, with whom I could bandstorm, I joined LoftyInc Allied Partners Ltd, an organization dedicated to the enhancement of African lives by developing and deploying attractive platforms for innovation-driven investments across West Africa.

Wennovation has evolved from bandstorming. It is the belief that when like minds develop new ideas or solutions through purely collaborative work, such result is not innovation—which recognizes the primacy of the individual,—but wennovation, replacing "i" with "we" to emphasize the collaborative feature of afrocentric entrepreneurship.

Today, we promote wennovation through the Wennovation Hub, a business incubation program and facility currently located in Lagos, Nigeria, but soon to be replicated across West Africa through an alliance with the Africa Leadership Forum.

In these efforts I am spurred by my strong belief in the superiority of market-based solutions to Africa's problems, and I invite you all to partner with us in furtherance of this philosophy.

Idris Ayodeji Bello (Social Afropreneur, Bandstormer & Lead Wennovator)
February 2011

Monday, October 4, 2010

Moving from the Brink to the BRI(N)C (Part 4-End)

On the third day which was also to be the last day, we opened up with the theme of “The Role for the Future Leaders”. Starting with a December 2009 speech by another former US Ambassador to Nigeria and South Africa, Ambassador Princeton Lyman, titled, “The Nigeria State and U.S. Strategic Interests”, Lyman suggests that rather than continually emphasize Nigeria’s strategic importance, it would behoove us to consider elements that might eventually lead to Nigeria’s irrelevance on the international stage.

He questioned the importance of the oft-repeated assertion that one in five Africans is Nigerian. To quote Lyman, “What does it mean that one in five Africans is a Nigerian? It does not mean anything to a Namibian or a South African. It is a kind of conceit. What makes it important is what is happening to the people of Nigeria. Are their talents being tapped? Are they becoming an economic force? Is all that potential being used? And the answer is “Not really.”

Debate around Lyman’s speech was animated, with most acknowledging his assertions, while some though agreeing that Lyman touched on several truths that we Nigerians ourselves continually rehash, saw his definition of a country's "relevance" as largely being limited to such country's relevance to the US (and the West), which is naturally to be expected from someone who has spent most of his productive life promoting US interests.

A 2008 article by Dele Olojede on a trip he took across Nigeria on his return from the US after spending 21 years away from Nigeria epitomizes the decay in infrastructure that Nigeria suffers from, as evident in the bad roads, and an abandoned railway infrastructure.

The Seminar ended with participants pledging to undertake a group project that will have a meaningful impact on Nigeria's future. Some of the projects that resulted from the 3-day seminar include Standup Naija; a grassroots election education campaign using impactful videos to highlight the expectations of average Nigerians in each state of the federation.

I elected to join the SGB Network which is a programme where NLI Associates partner with Government’s entrepreneurship scheme (and other credible partners) to provide a network of skilled business professionals who offer technical services to entrepreneurs. This aligned with my oft-repeated belief that Africa's problems are not going to be solved by governments or large multinationals, rather the solutions are going to come from the new wave of young men and women, armed with a burning resolve, and enabled by global networks developed through ICT; these are the people I refer to as Afropreneurs.

I left Lagos, eager to leave the power blackouts behind, with more questions than answers, but I left with a renewed sense of hope, a new network of young and passionate Nigerians, with whom I had developed a strong bond over those long hours of discussions and debates.
Though most of the participants were products of Ivy-League colleges and mostly from the USA and the UK, we all shared the common traits of having made great impacts in our various fields, we had all touched lives in our different locales, and we all had a burning desire to do right by Nigeria; we had all become part of the NLI family, united by shared ideals of values-based leadership.

As I fought my way through Customs at the Muritala Airport , explaining why I would not dole out some naira notes to avoid them screening the food I was carrying back to Houston, and why I had more than five pieces of the local attire, I felt a renewed sense of commitment to continue the process of envisioning a positive future for Nigeria and to wonder if rather than moving towards the brink ,like Ambassador Campbell had predicted, we had laid the foundation that would move Nigeria to join the BRI(N)C countries (Brazil, Russia, India, Nigeria?, China).

As I finish writing this, it is almost midnight, October 1 in Nigeria, and my country of birth would be turning 50. I have decided to follow the advice of my friend, Tolu Ogunlesi, 2009 CNN Africa Journalist of the Year, and also a graduate of the Future Leaders class in commemorating the 50th anniversary. I will offer one minute of silence in memory of the great things that Nigeria could have become, followed by one minute of applause for what she has overcome.

Idris Ayodeji Bello, a Social ‘Afropreneur’ (social entrepreneur with an African focus) with extensive experience in agriculture, technology, project management, consumer goods marketing (Procter & Gamble), and energy (Chevron USA) resides in Houston, Texas, where he is a 2011 MBA Candidate at the Jones Business School, Rice University.

Moving from the Brink to the BRI(N)C (Part 3)

Session Two started the next day with an attempt at, "Defining the Good Society" through a discussion of Aristotle's 'Nicomathean Ethics and Rhetoric' and Dele Olojede’s “Ask Nothing of God”. Aristotle had listed several criteria for determining what makes a good society, and had focused on happiness as an end in itself. We then struggled to relate Nigerians being adjudged as being the “happiest people in the world” by a 2003 BBC study to the reality of a society where nothing worked.
Some of us also found it difficult to reconcile Aristotle’s conclusion of a life of intelligence being the happiest, and hence leading to a good society, with the Nigerian situation. With so many educated citizens with advanced degrees, there seemed to be a negative correlation between the amount of intelligence and the good of society.

No reading could have done better justice to the Nigerian story like Dele’s keynote address at the 2005 NLNG Awards in Lagos titled “Ask nothing of God”. With another dubious report also finding Nigerians as the most religious people in the world, it is no surprise that the blame for every action or inaction is put at the feet of God.

Ask a Nigerian leader if he will be contesting an election, and he will mention God’s name. Ask him if he truly looted the treasury as accused, and he will mention God’s name. Ask the Nigerian citizen why he does not pay taxes, and he will thank God. Ask him why the government has not performed as promised, and he will blame God.

So while some participants disagreed with taking God completely out of the picture in Nigeria (I told you we are a very religious people), we could all nod our heads to Dele’s assertion that “That the citizen in Nigeria today lives in relative freedom does not mean he knows what to do with it. In fact, one often gets the impression that many Nigerians would rather not be free, scared as they are of freedom’s responsibilities. They grumble and complain about the flagrant inequities and outright robbery that unfold daily in full view, and they shrug and hope for some divine intervention, and fail to act to shape their own destiny. I have been looking out of the window in hopes of catching sight of this divine intervention, but perhaps my sight is poor. There is no cavalry out there riding to our rescue, ladies and gentlemen. We must face the cold hard fact that the world owes us nothing, and those who are not prepared to function in it will fall farther behind and become slaves to other races of men. It is neither fair nor unfair; it is just the way it is. As the line goes in the Merchant of Venice, “I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano…”….The Americans have this wonderful preamble to their constitution, a statement of their ambitions as a nation. Its phrasing is elegant and soaring. It rallies the citizens around a common purpose. “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…” That’s right, a more perfect union, a recognition that the task of improvement is never concluded, that a society must constantly strive towards the goal of insuring the common good….….So as we speak of the challenge of leadership as a catalyst for transformation, so must we examine the nature of today’s Nigerian, whose deep and self-destructive cynicism, as we have seen, is perhaps the greatest obstacle to change. ….We may consider a slight alteration to the famous passage in John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech, and say, my fellow countrymen and women: Ask not what God can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Community and Efficiency was the theme for the third session and we had as text, 'The Man and His Ideas', an expose on Lee Kuan Yew, founder of modern Singapore with the poser ‘Can Singapore's Experience Be Relevant to Africa? ’ We also had two papers by Peter Drucker which were: 'A Century of Social Transformation-Emergence of Knowledge Society' and 'The Coming of Entrepreneurial Society'.

This session was indeed full of debates as we marveled at Singapore where one man made all the difference and wondered where our own Lee Kuan Yew would emerge from. While being cautioned by the small size and monolithic nature of Singapore as compared to Nigeria, we were still able to relate to his challenge to Africans which he made in 1993 thus “From Africa must come a new generation of leaders, committed to reform, and tapping the same spirit that brought freedom 30 years ago. Angered by the failures of corrupt and autocratic leaders, frustrated by economic policies that did not deliver, impatient to recover their lost civil rights, and worn out by wars, Africa’s people are striving for a fresh start.” Needless to say, 13 years later, Nigeria does not seem to have heard his call.

As we read Peter Drucker’s words that there will be no “poor countries”, there will only be “ignorant countries”, we proffered ideas on what it would take to move Nigeria from the agrarian society in which it seemed stuck, to the knowledge society in which “practically every task is being performed in and through an organization”. Drucker advocated innovation and not revolution as a means of societal transformation, and pushed for the adoption of continuous learning and relearning as the key to an entrepreneurial society.

From Drucker, the discourse moved to the issue of Liberty while reading ‘Leviathan’ by Thomas Hobbes. According to Hobbes, in the interaction of men and the consequent competition for power, three major causes of quarrel exist: competition, diffidence and glory. The first make men to invade for gain, the second for safety and the third for reputation. We attempted to explore the Nigerian situation from the political class to the workers in a bid to understand the motivations for our various inactions, and unearth the reasons why ours was a country that was at standstill in terms of development.

Hobbes described the Nigerian situation aptly while talking about a society without the rule of law: “In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”. No that wasn’t the Hobbesian jungle, more like the Nigerian jungle!

We quickly moved on to Karl Popper’s 'The Paradoxes of Sovereignty', a critique of Plato‘s idea of trusting leadership unto the wisest. For Popper, as we could also observe in the Nigerian situation, you always have to assume the worst, and hope for the best when it comes to choosing leaders. Hence the focus should be on building the appropriate institutions and not solely on finding the ‘wisest people”.
Hence as Nigerians, rather than asking who should rule, more appropriately, we ought to be asking “how can we organize political institutions such that bad and incompetent rulers could be prevented from doing too much damage?”

Milton Friedman's “Capitalism and Freedom” provided the opportunity for us to discuss the role of government in Nigeria. How much government was too much government? Was government doing enough? Or was it doing too much in the wrong places? It was a paradox that while government seemed to be involved in everything in Nigeria, at the same time, there seemed to be an absence of government in every sphere of human life in the country.

It reminded me of a quote I had seen on Mark Hammond’s motorcycling blog, “It wasn’t just the highways and cities of Nigeria that didn’t make sense. The whole country was a knot of contradictions -- upside down and inside out, like the black and white negative of an old Kodak filmstrip. Nigeria is crisscrossed by more power lines than a Godzilla movie, yet electric service is sporadic across the nation. It is Africa’s largest oil-producing nation, yet fuel stations were often empty of gasoline and diesel and kerosene, or jammed with long queues of waiting vehicles.” Such was the paradox of the Nigerian situation.

As we moved on to 'Equality and Efficiency: The Big Trade-Off' by Arthur Okun, we started discussing on the appropriate type of leadership desirable for Nigeria. Did we want a benevolent dictator or an uncaring democrat? Each participant had to mount the podium and explain what he thought was the most fitting trade off for the Nigerian society between equality, efficiency, and liberty. There were some funny comments that the average Nigerian needed efficiency and not liberty, because he wouldn’t know what to do with it.

While each of us came to different conclusions, we were able to vigorously debate the kind of leakages in government in Nigeria, and whether we could truly achieve market place efficiency without rule of law.

Our discussion of leadership would not have been complete without a review of Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’, and in no time the discussion had shifted to the styles of leadership by two of Nigerian’s past leaders; late General Sani Abacha , and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. While we all started off condemning Machiavellian tactics, the discussion finally got round to some people agreeing that sometimes, you need a little of Machiavelli to rule people in a place like Nigeria.

What do you do when your personal principles contradict with public expectations of you as a leader? George Orwell's story: ‘Shooting an Elephant’ was the opportunity to launch into a passionate discussion about this.

As a colonial officer in Burma, Orwell recalled a day when an elephant ran wild, entered the village and was wrecking havoc. Villagers had reported and Orwell, who was disliked as was any colonial officer, was called upon to intervene. Picking up his gun, he went to the scene and he was followed by a large crowd which kept increasing, awestruck by his gun which they expected him to use in killing the elephant that was actually tame.By the time he got to the animal, however, he realized there was no point in killing the elephant that had survived its attack of 'must', the temporary madness that made it to misbehave initially. But the crowd was restless and he could see their expectation: they wanted him to fire the animal and even when he really had no desire to do so, he eventually ended up shooting and killing the elephant to. This led us into a discussion of some actions we had taken, not out of personal conviction, but due to the expectations of our spouses, friends, communities, followers and ‘crowds’. Interestingly, some of the participants denied having ever had to shoot elephants, while some moralized that the elephants they shot had actually deserved to die anyway.

The lesson from Nelson Mandela's 'Long Walk to Freedom' which we moved through more quickly than I would have loved, was that while leaders like Mandela arrive on the scene (after years of sacrifice and risking their lives), we really did not need a Mandela in Nigeria for things to be right again.

In ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’, we are quickly introduced to Omelas, a small city where everyone is happy and prosperous; and you wonder, what could be more perfect? But for the community to exist in this lala land, its members must accept the abominable suffering of a single child locked up in a basement. Most people succeed in averting their gaze from the suffering child, because they feel they are having a lot of fun living, and moralize away the child’s suffering. Very few are those who walk away, and even for those, one is not sure if it is due to a sense of moral integrity, a troublesome conscience, or simply an acceptance of cowardice.

We quickly drew similarities between Omelas and the suffering in the Niger Delta, where most of Nigeria’s oil is found, and the attendant under-development of the area. We discussed about the Nigerian super-elite, who live luxuriously in the midst of poverty. There are stories about local government officials who meet monthly under a tree to ‘share’ the allocations meant for the local government while the town goes to waste. We quickly realize that while predictions like those of former Ambassador John Campbell sound too ominous and ill-willed, we might truly be dancing to the brink, unless we are able to quickly recognize that the task before us is to fix a failed state where the government does not work for a vast majority of the people.

If I could pick just one reading that truly resonated with me throughout the seminar, it would be Leo Tolstoy’s 'How Much Land Does Man Need?', the story of a poor but apparently contented farmer who due to a lack of core values was led into abandoning his peaceful existence and seeking lustfully after wealth through the acquisition of acres and acres of land beyond his wildest imagination.

Naturally, at the end of the story, the farmer’s obsession for wealth and lack of self discipline led him literally “six feet down”, and by the time he realized that he only really needed six feet of land, it was too late. While it was easier to relate the story to the unbridled quest for embezzling Nigeria’s wealth by both current and past leaders, it was even more rewarding for each one of us to inwardly ruminate over this story and realize that we would all at the end of our lives only need six feet of land, but then below the ground.

Day Two was rounded off with some poem readings by Dele Olojede which centered on the themes of leadership, man’s struggles on earth, and what type of legacies we all planned to leave behind.

Moving from the Brink to the BRI(N)C (Part 2)

I checked in at the Protea Oakwood Hotel in Lekki, the next morning, as our accommodation had been wholly sponsored by the First Bank of Nigeria. It was two people to a room, and I met Chude Jideonwo, an editor at Nigeria’s NEXT newspapers, and one of the organizers of the recent Enough-is-Enough rally in Lagos and Abuja, which had been organized to demand for more responsible leadership in the country.

Over lunch, we got introduced to the other participants and facilitators. We had for facilitator, Dele Olojede, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former foreign editor for Newsday. The only African-born Pulitzer Prize winner, Dele had won the award for his coverage of the Rwandan genocide. Dele was assisted by Reuben Abati, chairman of the editorial board of Guardian Newspapers and winner of the Fletcher Challenge Commonwealth Prize for Opinion Writing in 2000.

The reception and welcome speeches over Thursday evening, the seminar kicked off with a viewing of the film, Ghandi, a 1982 biographical film based on the life of Mahatma Gandhi, who led the nonviolent resistance movement against British colonial rule in India during the first half of the 20th century. The film begins with Gandhi's assassination, and then the story flashes back 55 years to a life-changing event: in 1893, Gandhi is thrown off a South African train for being an Indian sitting in a first-class compartment despite having a ticket. Realizing the laws are biased against Indians, he then decides to start a non-violent protest campaign for the rights of all Indians in South Africa. After numerous arrests and unwelcome international attention, the government finally relents by recognizing rights for Indians, though not for the native blacks of South Africa.

What followed was an attempt to identify the pivotal points of Gandhi’s life and an attempt to focus on the qualities of leadership that were essential to his mission. As the participants rattled off quality after quality, Dele attempted to bring us closer home to Nigeria, and see if we could identify any parallel in the journey of Nigeria up to this point.

One of the most eye-opening points for me was when participants were asked to mention one person, dead or alive that they admired as a leader, and the quality that they admired in that person. Responses ranged from Mandela, to Malcolm X, to Obama, and Hilary Clinton. Out of the 33 participants, only two individuals mentioned a Nigerian name, and even at that, none of the names mentioned were those of our past or current rulers. Dele was quick to point this out and wonder why we were a nation that never seemed to put its best food forward. This was followed by contentious discussions about the similarities and differences between the India of Ghandi and the Nigeria that was ours.

After a short break, Session One, "Nigerian History and Status" commenced with popular constitution lawyer, Asue Ighodalo leading a discussion of Nigeria’s history prior to its conception, through its infancy, and up to the current moment. He attempted to identify the various points of inflexion in our journey where we could have made the right decision but often ended up on the wrong side of history. He then posed the question of whether the elections of 2011 would be another inflexion point and whether we were going to take the right turn at that point in time.

Another defining moment came when we were introduced to the October 1, 1960 independence speech delivered by Nigeria’s then Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. As a naturalized American citizen, I knew almost every word of the American ‘Declaration of Independence’, and yet this was the first time in my 30 years of existence that I had ever come across the text of the Nigerian ‘Declaration of Independence’, it seemed I was beginning to understand some of the roots of the Nigerian problem. I even wondered how many of our leaders, past and present, had ever seen this text.

Permit me to quote some memorable parts of that Independence speech delivered about fifty years to this day.

“This is a wonderful day, and it is all the more wonderful because we have awaited it with increasing impatience compelled to watch one country after another overtaking us on the road when we had so nearly reached our goal. But now we have acquired our rightful status and I feel sure that history will show that the building of our nation proceeded at the wisest pace: It has been thorough, and Nigeria now stands well built upon firm foundations.”

A couple of thoughts struck me at this point, as I wondered at the happiness with which it seemed our people had embraced independence, I wondered how firm the foundations had really been, such that only half a century later, it seemed as if the house was about to fall upon itself. But then I continued to read.

“Each step of our constitutional advance has been purposefully and peacefully planned with full and open consultation between representatives of all the various interests in Nigeria but in harmonious co-operation with the administering power which has today relinquished its authority.”

The above part went against the grain of the struggles in the Niger Delta and other parts of the country since independence for open consultation about the future of the nation, that I was beginning to wonder if the Prime Minister was talking about a different country. But then he continued.

“We are called upon immediately to show that our claims to responsible government are well-founded, and having been accepted as an independent state we must at once play an active part in maintaining the peace of the world and in preserving civilization. I promise you, we shall not fail for want of determination.”

Now in all my years of living in Nigeria, I had never witnessed a government that could lay claim to being responsible, or one that seemed to show any sign of determination (except to plunder).

Permit me to mention here also, that the speech in my view failed to properly establish a clear vision for the new nation that was being built and the terms upon which it was to exist.

Maryam Uwais, foremost constitution lawyer and female activist also led us through a brief review of the Nigeria Electoral Reform and Constitution, which like most noble initiatives had been mired in such controversy that it died in the legislative chambers as it sought to make the electoral playing field more level, a situation that most of the representatives obviously had no incentive to encourage.