By BENJAMIN IFEZULUMBA
THESE days, the news from the states and even the Federal Government is often gloomy. It is about declining national revenue, non-payment of salaries, increasing poverty, collapse of businesses, strikes by labour unions and professional associations, growing security challenges, etc. There is hardly any good news telling us of strategic steps taken to get the nation out of the woods. We are not even told something as simple as how the government plans to utilise the funds so far recovered from politicians and other public officers during the administration of Goodluck Jonathan.
It is the responsibility of the leadership to communicate optimism to the people. Once the opposite obtains, the society pays a heavy price. This is true of political leadership as it is of organisational leadership. Leadership everywhere is meant to inspire hope and confidence, and not to dispirit the people. In communicating optimism, it is most effective when it is done with commitment. Jay Elliot, a former senior vice president at Apple Corporation, who was reportedly close to Apple founder, Steve Jobs, in a new book, told the story of how infectious Jobs could be with his optimism, citing the example of a new computer product named the Lisa which was introduced shortly after he (Elliot) joined the firm.
“Steve told me the Lisa would be such a breakthrough that it would make a dent in the universe”, writes Elliot. “You couldn’t help but be in awe of talk like that; the line has been an inspiration for me ever since, a reminder that you won’t get people working for you fired up with enthusiasm unless you are fired up yourself…and you let everyone know about it”.
Maynard Gordon, the American automobile and management writer, has shown that pessimism can ruin an organisation or society. In the book, The Iacocca Management Technique, Gordon gives the example of the Chrysler Corporation which was going into liquidation in the late 1970s, noting that chief executive, John Ricardo, was so negative-minded that he “could always see troubles on the horizon”. But, when Lee Iacocca took over the company’s leadership and sent out positive vibes in spite of great odds, Chrysler won the hearts of not just the media but also Congress and the White House. It received a great lifeline which enabled it to come back to life. Chrysler’s revival remains one of the greatest comeback stories in global corporate history. And Iacocca became one of the most storied Americans ever.
It is by no means fortuitous that Anambra State has in the last two years impressed management and leadership practitioners and scholars. At the 2015 annual Zik Leadership Awards where Governor Willie Obiano was honoured with an award for good governance in Lagos on July 10, organised by the Public Policy Research and Analysis Centre. Professor Pat Utomi of the Lagos Business School, who is also founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership, spoke glowingly of the current state leadership. He said he was pleased to see, among other landmark achievements, that Awka, the Anambra State capital, now has three bridges which compete with the famous Ikoyi-Lekki Bridge in Lagos in engineering design and finishing aesthetics. Senator Ben Murray- Bruce from Bayelsa State has been wondering how a state which receives a relatively paltry amount from the federation account monthly has continued to excell in different facets at a time when about 28 out of 36 states in Nigeria cannot pay salaries without financial assistance from the Federal Government.
The kernel of this article is not to show that the current administration in Anambra State is so impressive. After all, personages like Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the former Secretary General of the Commonwealth who is from the state, and Most Rev Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, Primate of the Anglican Church in Nigeria, have been saying so in public. States like Kogi now understudy how Anambra manages its finances efficiently and effectively. This article is rather keen to point out that the Anambra State government displays the key leadership element of optimism in a season of national anomie. And, this attribute has implications for national leadership. For instance, when the fortunes of our economy began to decline heavily last year because of the huge decline in oil revenues, most state governments threw their hands up in the air in despair. But not Anambra. Obiano announced a new policy thrust which he called doing more with less. And, it has been working. Exactly a year ago, a 16% increase in salary for civil servants was announced with immediate effect. The governor is reportedly considering another salary ncrease if the internally generated revenue (IGR) improves significantly to N2.2bn monthly from the current N1.2bn level.
Optimism must be grounded in reality, otherwise it will be naiveté or even a swindle. A few weeks ago, the governor announced a new programme to fill all potholes in the state. It followed up the announcement quickly and mobilised road maintenance plants and equipment in the three senatorial zones to get cracking at once. Some 150 young men and women were employed to work in the three senatorial zones simultaneously. They have been working under the supervision of experienced engineers. The government has also recruited scores of young men and trained them as traffic wardens. Even if these young men and women are paid the minimum wage, it will go a long way to deepen their confidence in not just the state government but in the country as a whole.
Of course, it will enable the new employees to provide succour to their families. A person need not be a Keynesian economist to appreciate that in times of economic recession as we are having in Nigeria right now, the economy can be stimulated by massive investments in social infrastructure, including hiring of people to engage in public works. This is what President Frank. D. Roosevelt did with his New Deal which got the United States out of the depression of 1929 and turned him into one of America’s great presidents.
In other words, optimism can be communicated only when the government is delivering the goods. When Bill Clinton told Americans while campaigning for re-election that “this is a good time for the economy”, they believed him. Unemployment was at an all-time low of 3%. When Obiano says Anambra is the safest state in Nigeria today, the people chorus yes!
.Ifezulumba is of School of Postgraduate Studies, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State.