Almost a year ago, I wrote several columns on the challenges of Nigeria as a nation and the possible solutions (See my column of September 5, 2019, “Nigeria: How did we get here?” https://www.sunnewsonline.com/nigeria-how-did-we-get-here-1/) but, as expected, nothing has changed till date. This time around, I am compelled to revisit the subject due to a video clip I watched in the social media where a former dean of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy revealed the secret the growth and development of Singapore into First World from Third World. Remember, Nigeria and Singapore started off together as nations virtually about the same time.
While Singapore today belongs to the First World, by humility, Nigeria cannot be correctly said to be within the Third World. I suspect we should simply say and find solace in Nigeria still being euphemistically described as an underdeveloped nation, which I think, is better described as an “undeveloping nation.” One should not be shocked when President Donald Trump described Nigeria as a “shit hole.”
Ordinarily, one may advance several reasons why the country is still in a state of underdevelopment, most of which we Nigerians can recite readily. However, I am not going to inundate you with those familiar reasons for its underdevelopment, as it certainly will be boring to do so. All I, therefore, intend to achieve in this piece is to solely interrogate the reasons advanced by the said academician as the secrets behind the success of Singapore.
In the short video clip, the erudite scholar said each time foreign students arrived the institution and asked him for the factors responsible for the success of Singapore, he had always said the formula was simply MPH.
The M in the acronym representing ‘Meritocracy’. In elucidating on the point, he said that all positions and patronages were ever based on merit and competence in Singapore. Singapore selects the best to run its nation. While they populate the civil/public service with the best, we largely dump the rejects in the public service in Nigeria. Apologies to the few distinguished ones.
It is instructive to note that Singapore is not a homogenous nation in which all Singaporeans are of the same tribal or ethnic descent. There are about four tribes made up of the Chinese, the Malays, Eurasians and the Indians with four different official languages. As can be seen, the composition is as heterogenous as Nigeria, just largely the same way we have the Hausa, the Igbo, the Efik, the Tangale and the Yoruba.
Notwithstanding this diversity in the population of Singapore, merit still remains sacred in the administration of the country. You can only attain a position by dint of hard work and excellence. Singaporeans compete for positions, thereby foisting on them the sprit of competition and hard work. Beyond rising above ethnic or tribal issues, nepotism has no place in the management of the country. The citizens in that country attain the heights they deserve through competence and industry.
Little wonder that their people do not only excel in whatever positions they found themselves, they deliver. This is said to be the first secret in the rapid development of the country. This is an excellent principle of running public affairs, which the Chinese had developed earlier than 300 BC by which patrimonialism was alienated in public institutions and which till date characterises their approach to national development.
Long before the days of the Meiji Dynasty, the Chinese had been taking exams to enroll into the public service based on meritocracy, which did not find its way into modern system of governance in Europe until the 18th and the 19th centuries. By way of comparison, what obtains in Nigeria is that we place little or no emphasis on merit. You find active policies and programmes of government militating against merit and excellence. As discussed elsewhere (See my column of Thursday, May 7, 2020, “The challenge of patronage in national development” https://www.sunnewsonline.com/the-challenge-of-patronage-in-national-development-1), you find laws that are actively promoting mediocrity.
A good example is the federal character legal framework. The twin is the quota system policy of the nation. As indicated elsewhere (See my column of January 16, 2020, “Am I a Nigerian?” ), these are policies that where they emanated from, had expiry dates, but in Nigeria they are eternal.
These are retrogressive policies militating against meritocracy.
It is only in Nigeria that a better product will be rejected for inferior one just simply due to the part of the nation he came from and the recipients of this favour believe it is a privilege showcasing their princehood over the hidalgos from the other parts of the country. As if this is not enough, quotas are even applicable to individuals and other entities. We, therefore, have Minister’s slot, Permanent Secretary’s slot, this is reserved for the Board, etc. Progression in the nation has suddenly become a function of who you know or how connected you are. The psyche of Nigerians has been so much bastardised that, at a point, a sister of mine returned from America and had to see a surgeon in a private hospital where she was supposed to pay for their services appropriately and for which she was adequately ready to do.
Of course, such a hospital would be ready and willing to receive any potential patient at the slightest approach. Shockingly, my sister asked me who I knew there so that she could be attended to. I couldn’t restrain myself from shouting at her before it dawned on me that this is Nigeria and you must always know somebody somewhere to be attended to. The situation is so bad these days that even position, nay employment, is even sold. In the midst of these aberrations, how do you expect a nation to progress? Certainly, it cannot grow, as the various drivers in the system are mostly incompetent.
Most of the occupiers of public offices today are a complete waste of space. No idea, no initiative, much less capacity. Simply put, they are clueless. Thus, finding solutions to the myriad of challenges facing the nation remains daunting. Except we revisit the policies by eliminating them, it will seem the nation will remain what it is.
The next secret code, according to the scholar, is ‘Pragmatism’. In his view, the country operates on practicality and neither theory nor fantasy. Singapore does not absorb policies or programmes of others as if they were sacred. At times, their policies and programmes are products of the condensation of ideas from multiple civilisations in a manner that works for them. This cannot be said of Nigeria, as most occupiers of public office are clueless, as stated above. The annoying aspect is, due to their incapacity, they cannot even copy, much less copying correctly, policies or programmes elsewhere. They only enjoy sightseeing when they go abroad, thank God for COVID-19, a sizeable amount of the nation’s recurrent budget ends in the routing travel for conferences, meetings and inspections. The agonising thing is that there are millions of Nigerians with the capacity to make the country great but are disadvantaged because they lack godfathers in the system.
I remember that, at a point, a company could not easily get a contract except there was a white man in the delegation or in the company. Trust Nigerians, they started importing white cleaners and technicians to populate their delegations, presentations, negotiations and meetings. This is simply symptom of inferiority complex and inadequacy, foisted on us by the federal character principle and quota. By the time we repent and embrace competence, people of acumen that can be pragmatic in their approaches to our challenges will start emerging.
The last element alluded to in the video clip is ‘Honesty’. It is a virtue in Singapore that you must be honest. This is part of their national ethos. In Nigeria, however, it is an extremely scarce commodity. Nigeria is a country where morals and virtues have totally collapsed. There is no sense of right and wrong anymore. The concepts have become relative, depending on the perspective of the speaker. It is a country of anything goes, where we celebrate the worst of us. The concept of omoluabi in Yorubaland, Nwa azu ru razu in Igboland and Mutumin Kirki in Hausaland has disappeared in our nation.
An average Nigerian now looks for shortcuts in everything, cheating has become a culture. Integrity is a strange concept to most Nigerians. There is no system or nation where people are dishonest that will grow. The radius of trust of Nigerians among themselves and abroad is very lean. The government, as I alluded to elsewhere, is often the pacesetter in developing an orientation capable of fostering respectable values among the populace.
The formulae highlighted above are no rocket science, if we mean to develop the nation. How can any Nigerian deprived of his rightful position in the nation ever be patriotic, when he has been discriminated against due to his place of origin, or where he is not allowed to compete but made to suffer in silence due lack of contact?
How do you expect a youth in whose presence criminals and brigands are being rewarded with fat contracts and huge cash for doing nothing but providing violence to enable derelict politicians seize power by all means necessary to respect preaching of decent living? How do you expect a young man to value hard work when his mentors in the criminal world of Internet fraud now populate the legislature and are now the makers of the law that would determine the future of the country? All these, amid many more, continue to impair our progress. How do you expect realistic solutions to the nation’s challenges with the scenario above?
Again, a nation where honesty has been alienated in her affairs cannot but be a doomed nation. If we, therefore, genuinely still desire growth, we need to apply the recommended simple MPH formula above, among others, in our private and public life.