One of the things I didn’t plan for when I set out to start CoLab — Kaduna’s first Innovation Hub and Co-working space, was how much time I will have to spend outside the office doing stuff in the name of CoLab, but not necessarily for the benefit of CoLab, if that makes any sense.
Almost from the moment we opened, the demand on my personal time has become astronomical, I’ve gone from the guy that was almost always at inbox zero to the guy who half-way through returning calls and replying emails on most nights, puts his phone on silent and goes to bed, fully aware that there are emails and messages that need attending to, but also knowing that as my people say “bodi no be firewood.” Almost daily, someone somewhere wants me to give a talk here, or be on a panel there, or attend this launch here or a workshop there…and so on.
Considering that I am a regular chap, by no means famous or important, it makes me wonder what the demands are like for the leaders in government and what time they are left with to actually get on with the business of governance. For the few that do get anything at all done, it’s a wonder how they are able to, seeing as they most likely spend the whole day being whisked from place to place, meeting to meeting, launch to launch, with very little time to actually think, and/or work.
Even with the very best intentions, it’s next to impossible to get anything done in this sort of environment, and that’s just the first problem with the government here as we have it setup today.
As much as I try to avoid as many unnecessary invitations as possible, I do get to attend a few, sometimes out of share curiosity (e.g the quarterly presidential business forum, which held inside Aso Rock, couldn’t skip the chance to meet with the (acting) president), sometimes because I’m trying to build relationships that will come in handy for everyone at CoLab and other times, because there is a hypothetical gun to my head and I can’t say no to the host.
Whatever the case is, these invitations and my attendance to these things have more than ever before, brought me in close proximity to the government at a lot of levels, and with such proximity comes new perspective; at least in my case.
In the past few weeks, I have come to the conclusion that the government isn’t necessarily the biggest problem (they are part of the problem, no doubt) with this country, the biggest problem is us, the people.
I have sat in on a couple of engagement forums between the government (in this instance, “the government” means every individual or body that is related to governance in one way or the other, not necessarily elected officials), and 98–99% of the time whenever input is required from the general public, it always boils down to the following words:
Patronage. Bailout. Intervention. Subsidy. Assistance.
So you will hear stuff like, “The government assisted us with X million USD a couple of years ago, but since then has refused to patronize us” (How does it makes sense, that you expect the funder of your business to also be the major customer of the product they are funding?) or “Our Industry is in trouble, we need government assistance/intervention/bailout”, or “Government needs to subsidize our product, so we can stay in business.” If you have read the paragraph above, you now know at least 98% of the discourse at these government interactions. The odd 1–2% of the time, someone (usually not Nigerian), says something sensible, like telling the government that they are spreading themselves too thin, and maybe need to focus on infrastructure and policy and allow private individuals invest in the many other things they have their fingers in or ask how best to get into a new sector they would like to invest in.
For the most part the general discourse is about getting money from the government, in the name of assistance/subsidy/patronage/bailout/intervention or whatever name they decide to call it. Not money that will be invested sensibly to develop anything by the way, just money to be squandered.
It’s a constant cycle — ask for money, spend it, and ask for money again.
This usually is the theme, across board, whether the interaction is with the government directly, or whether it’s with foreign governance related bodies, such as the EU delegation to Nigeria, the World Bank or some other body concerned with governance.
One could argue that maybe this sort of behavior is because no one trusts the government so everyone wants to grab as much as they can from it, whenever the opportunity arises, but the next example disagrees with that argument.
I was talking with a friend the other day who works at a power distribution company and he mentioned how, just after his company had taken ownership of their company from the government (after the privatization of Power Distribution Companies aka DISCOS), he led a team to meet with the industries in an industrial park which they supplied to get a feel of what their needs were and how they could meet them. According to the companies’ claims, they spent somewhere around 4 billion Naira generating their own power, and this was a major constraint and impacted their ability to stay in business. Pretty much the same kind of story we see in the papers daily.
The interesting bit, happened when the DISCO agreed to provide them with round the clock power for around 20–25% of their current spend. As soon as these companies realized that it was actual power that they were going to get, not some “assistance” or “subsidy” of monetary value, they all backed out of the deal and retreated back to their sponsored newspaper columns about how lack of power was “crippling” their manufacturing!
If you take all the above into consideration, it is not difficult to arrive at the conclusion that assuming the government found time to be productive in the first place, and chose to actually do something about the current sorry state of affairs, it will not be able to do so, with the input of the public, (or for the sake of argument, the public they are able to access) because the public isn’t interested in progress. It’s more interested in “assistance” that ends up in personal accounts or as some will say, its share of the “national cake.”
I’m not even blaming the public for this sort of behavior. Between the broken way we learn and the fact that most of the population have never experienced what good governance is like, one can argue that they simply do not know better — and that brings me to this: If the public does not know better than to try and line their pockets — at every opportunity — at the expense of collective progress as a society, how does a government that is supposed to defer to public opinion and be inclusive achieve any sort of progress?
I believe this question is why the country seems like it has been running in the same spot forever.
After all, governments come and go, but the people remain the same.