And finally, Nigerians have gone to the polls and the presidential election has been concluded. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has declared Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the President-elect of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Of course, the months ahead are going to be filled with all sorts of legal disputations at the election tribunals over the conduct of the elections and what happened or what should have happened. However, the impending transformation of the Nigerian state through strategic refocusing of policy and strategy on the well-being of longsuffering Nigerians cannot wait for the resolution of the legal disputes before the more urgent task of good governance commences.
The conclusion of the presidential election brings a huge relief for me at a personal level, as would have been obvious from my many op-ed pieces in the last couple of weeks, that signaled my apprehension about what the election implies for the political and socioeconomic fortune of Nigeria and Nigerians beyond 2023. This is my apprehension: Nigeria cannot afford to elect a leader(ship) that will keep up the framework of bad politics which will keep pushing Nigeria beyond the precipice and the backwater of history. And it would seem that Nigerians, given the immense statistics of readiness to enter the electoral space, were also aware of this danger. And this is especially so for the Nigerian youths who have borne the brutal brunt of mal-governance for many years.
And so, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu won the election in a very tight race that threw up so many surprises. The outcries that have greeted the result of the election is characteristic of the many deep fissures and administrative dysfunctions that have characterized the postcolonial Nigerian state. And they are also the result of the persona and personality of the president-elect himself. Apart from the many controversies and deliberate lies that surrounded his political character and status prior to the election, many have wondered about the outcome of the election and this expensive second golden opportunity given to the All-People’s Congress (APC) despite the dismal governance performance of the incumbent administration.
And yet, the final outcome is clear testimony that Tinubu has finally realized his aspiration of becoming the president of Nigeria. And this is where aspiration becomes the foundation of a mandatory responsibility that goes beyond just fulfilling a lifelong desire. At this critical standpoint, we have transcended the level of warning a presidential aspirant of being careful what he wishes for. One could almost feel pity for the one who wears the mantle of being the president of Nigeria in 2023, going forward. Uneasy lies the head! And this is all the more so because President Tinubu inherits an immensely insecure and divided state. He inherits the burden of an administrative and governance frameworks that runs on dysfunctional wheels. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu inherits a Nigerian state in deep crisis of multiple dimensions.
In “The American Crisis,” penned in December 23, 1776, the American statesman Thomas Paine commented, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” He was referring to the revolutionary fervor that signaled the height of the American Revolution. This was a period when the fate of the nascent American state, and the future of Americans, hung delicately in the balance. The American crisis was generated because Britain taxed the Americans without affording them the freedom of being represented in the British parliament. The American rebelled and the revolutionary war started. In Nigeria, the crisis derives from the uncritical and irresponsible lust for power by the political elite, over the years, and in ways that has brought calamities of different sorts—infrastructural deficit, de-industrialization and a growingly deepening phenomenon Dutch and Double Dutch disease in the oil sector; public service abysmally low capability readiness, anti-intellectualism in the policy space, an institutionalized culture of recycling of ignorance in policy management and an affirmation of the thesis that the fish gets rotten from the head; non-abating culture of planning without statistics; poverty, insecurity, unemployment, heightened Japa syndrome, collapsed national integrity system, fractured federation, degraded reckoning amongst the comity of nations, etc. In other words, for sixty-three years, Nigeria has been cursed with a leadership deficit that longs for power but lacks the governance vision that determines how that political power should be deployed to transform the quality of lives of Nigerians. This is the enormity of the task before the president-elect.
But Bola Ahmed Tinubu also inherits the potentials to make Nigeria great. By becoming president, he is situated into a space—like every other person in history who had had that position and had succeeded or failed—where he is positioned to make the most of the political power he is entrusted with for good or evil. And he asserts this awareness in his acceptance speech, appropriately titled “The Era of Renewed Hope.” According to him, despite all that characterized the election, and the current state of the Nigerian state, “Let the better aspects of our humanity step forward at this fateful moment.” Contrary to what others might think, I strongly believe Nigeria stands at the threshold of a revolutionary moment, the same place the nascent United States stood in 1776. And I further believe that Asiwaju is historically poised to achieve more than anyone gives him the chance to achieve as president.
And so, we stand at the threshold of history in Nigeria. And this is where Asiwaju Tinubu needs to borrow that fundamental statement that heralded his predecessor’s first coming: “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.” This critical statement contains the gem of a governance framework that is key to diversity management in statecraft. Contrary to the acrimonious ethnic and religious rivalries that ruffled the electoral contest that brought him in, and even the scornful and derisive dismissal that attend “Tinubu’s many sins and weaknesses,” the president-elect now has the fundamental opportunity to prove all detractors wrong, all advocates right, and make all Nigerians a believer in the possibility of good things coming out of Nazareth.
The most fundamental question for me, therefore, is: how does Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu transform himself into the transformational leader Nigeria urgently needs at this crucial moment in history? The challenges of transformation in this context translates into mining the many opportunities for a game-changing performance that will leverage change management frameworks and dynamics towards not only rolling back the deficits of the past eight years, but also jumpstarting the economic machineries to achieve inclusive growth that will harness the social, generational and youth capital and talents in Nigeria towards transforming Nigeria’s productivity profile.
First, vision and visioneering is key. Or, in precise terms, what is needed is a critical conceptualization of the socioeconomic problematics that have kept Nigeria locked into a cocoon outside all possibilities of achieving greatness in the comity of nations. This requires that the president gets the calibration of three levels of strategic base fundamentals right. The first requires, as a matter of necessity, a baseline policy and economic assessment of Nigeria’s present situation that constitute a clear and present danger to her potential greatness in a global world. And this enables me recall clearly the sterling performance of President-elect Tinubu at the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) presidential engagement forum meeting in January 2023. At that meeting, Asiwaju clearly and without any hesitation outlined an understanding of Nigeria’s current state and realities within certain macroeconomic assumptions that have kept Nigeria’s growth rather stunted despite all the best efforts of successive leaders.
This takes me to the second strategic base fundamental: the determination of an architecture of the change space within which the visioneering and strategic articulation of policy dynamics would be managed. If anyone would hear me out, I am strongly convinced that this is the strongest forte of Asiwaju Tinubu. Lagos State and the trajectory of its continuing governance successes over different governors prove this. At the NESG dialogue, Tinubu articulated the vision of a private sector-led economic growth for Nigeria, powered by a reformed public sector. And such a vision automatically puts the burden of performance on the capacity to harness a professional and intellectual capital of a crop of committed experts, technocrats and teams who can be trusted with the patriotic task of performing the vision that can make Nigeria better. The change space is a space of leadership, team building and policy intelligence. It is within this space that the IQ of the administration’s first eleven team—at the tactical, strategic and operational levels—is determined. It is also within this space that leadership forthrightness in policymaking and diversity management play out. No matter how charismatic and visionary a leader is, he or she needs those around him or her who can understand the vision, articulate the framework for realizing it and the mechanism for translating it into tangibles for the welfare of the people.
The third base fundamental that the president-elect must get right in order to game-change the Nigerian predicament is the articulation of a competent change management strategy that speaks to the “how” of a culture change that re-engineers and re-professionalizes the public service into a capability readiness to backstop Nigeria as a capable and democratic developmental state. It is through a coherent and politically supported public service reform that Asiwaju can achieve his aspiration for a innovative, producing and productive Nigeria that he so beloved. I will further outline the fundamental dimension of this change management in my next piece.
Against all odds, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu has been elected the next president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Even though he is not a stranger to impactful governance, becoming the president at this time in the history of Nigeria is clearly a providential act. His divine mandate is therefore very clear: to reverse the misfortunes that have been visited on hapless Nigerians by unscrupulous politicians, and to give the citizens their first taste of true leadership backed by clear infrastructural development, a diversified and strong productive economy, and a globally competitive Nigeria thinks local but act global. These are the times that try Nigerians’ souls and patience, but then the president-elect is also not a stranger to hewing honey out of the rock.
Prof. Tunji Olaopa
Retired Federal Permanent Secretary
& Professor of Public Administration
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