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Impediments to African Growth and Development from Cultural Dimensions (Part Two)

--Cutting-Edge Analytics--

By: Franklin Otorofani
 Published October 19th, 2011


Let me begin with a mission statement in regard what I am about in this intellectual endeavor. This series is primarily designed to steer the conversation at the public square progressively away from negativities as indicated in the politically inspired destructive criticisms and blind attacks to, in the words of former US president, Ronald Reagan, one of constructive engagement knowing as we all do that the goal is and remains always about growth and development of our dear nation as opposed to mudslinging and virulent attacks for their own intrinsic values. It appears to me that there are folks out there in the political arena who see politics as an end in itself rather than a means to an end and live and die politicking 24/7, 365 days year in year out. That is totally unhealthy.

That should not and cannot be the motivation of true patriots or in a figure of speech, of the bees, but of termites and locusts that revel only in destruction rather than building. Politics surely has its place and might be inherent in a democracy, but a third world nation cannot afford the luxury of elevating politics over and above development as Washington politicians in the US are currently doing, deliberately, willfully and callously inducing man-made systemic paralysis on the institutions of government while China surges ahead bent on catching up with and overtaking the United States as she has already done to Britain, Germany and Japan all in one decade, to become the pre-eminent global military and economic superpower. While the United States, already a hyper-developed state, can perhaps afford that luxury, if she doesn’t care about China, Nigeria simply can’t, because she is still chronically underdeveloped and playing her own catch up game with her peers. And that, ipso facto, impels her to place development over and above politics. A quick case study can be made here by way of comparison between and amongst nations:

Washington, D.C., nowadays, is not exactly your ideal political role model for budding democracies due to its present highly toxic political atmosphere. But it shares parallels with Nigeria. When, for instance, a nation is under terrorist attacks as has been happening lately in Nigeria and all opposition politicians can do is to launch scurrilous, opportunistic attacks on the government rather than those who seek to kill us in our places of work without provocation, one begins to wonder if politics has no boundaries in Nigeria. If that was how American opposition politicians reacted to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., the war on terror would have taken a different shape altogether. On the contrary, Americans banded together and rallied behind their government and went to war as one. Criticisms of Bush came only after alleged WMDs, which was the official excuse for the war could not be found after more than a year of thorough searches with huge resources wasted in the efforts.  

Of course there were glaring serious security lapses for which people ought to have been held accountable as it’s often the case in ordinary times. However, at a time of national calamity politics must take the back burner and did in fact take the back burner, replaced as it must with statesmanship and overflowing patriotism. And so with one voice the US Congress swiftly passed the War Resolution authorizing President GW Bush to levy war on Afghanistan rather than pointing fingers at his failure to prevent the attacks and getting caught up in destructive self-recrimination as Nigerian politicians have allowed themselves to indulge in.

Such self-restraint for the love of country in the face of national calamities is the hallmark of a democrat and statesman as opposed to opportunistic and destructive criticisms. Given the chance the critics would not have done any better when they, themselves cannot be counted on to secure their own little backyards in their states. Bottom line: Politics has no place in any nation at times of national emergencies when our collective security is at stake. I, therefore, personally hold in very low esteem those whose only motivations to come to the public square to ventilate their positions is to pull down for the sake of it, targeted particular individuals in positions of authority at the drop of a hat without contributing in any way, shape or form to the advancement of society either by proffering solutions or being the very solutions themselves. And these include persons who have held positions of authority and responsibility in the nation in the past with no appreciate legacies to their names. There are times for election campaigns and there are times for leadership and governance.  It cannot be politics around the clock. This is not to defend any individual in government but to lay down clear markers and rules of engagement in the public square without which nothing but anarchy and misguided outbursts reign.

Fortunately, we have history to guide us. The late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo for instance, was a noted critic of what he considered, rightly or wrongly, to be bad government’s policies from his own perspective, and perspectives may differ from one individual to another because there is no one-single highway to development. Chief Awolowo was, at one time officially the Leader of Opposition in the Nigerian Parliament in the First Republic and the leading opposition politician in the land for decades, right up to his death. But never for once did he criticize without proffering alternative policy options or solutions to those to which he had objected.

Not exactly a disciple of the late sage myself, but only an admirer, this author takes pride in standing in the Awoist tradition of constructive criticisms, i.e., not to levy criticisms in bad faith but rather always keeping an eye on the ball—i.e., the growth and development of our people, locally, nationally, continentally, and racially. If politics is about politics it has lost its bearing and therefore relevance to our lives. It is about development, no more, no less—politics of development, that is. And to that I must now quickly train my guns. I invite the reader to come on board the train and ride with me in this rather fascinating intellectual journey.       

Development! Development! Development! It is an 11-letter magic word that is on the lips of every politician and leader—the high and the mighty and even the faceless “ordinary man in the street,” who too, perhaps more than anyone else, wants to feel the real impacts of development in his life. We all love to be associated with it in one form or another. We are enthralled by its beauty and overawed by its size, grandeur and complexity. We desire it in our lives, in our community, in our nation, in our continent and in the world at large. And the absence of it brings sorrow and miseries to us all. Countless books, articles, journals, theories and even institutions are devoted to it and its study. Yet it remains elusive to millions of people, communities and nations all over the world. It is everywhere yet it is nowhere in our lives. It is about improvements in the human conditions and improvements, real improvements do not come cheap, which explains its relative elusiveness and scarcity.

There is perhaps no other word in the English lexicon that has graced the lips of men and women more than the word “development.” The concept has had such a grip on the consciousness of humanity that it has become the very essence of our beings—the core mission of our earthly sojourn and, therefore of our daily strivings, individually and collectively. The truth, however,  is that man is made to develop and grow not just physically in a biological sense, but also materially, socially, spiritually and emotionally, and not the other way around, and that’s why we are instinctually drawn to the faces of development.

When, for instance, a project is completed and commissioned in our community, we feel good and want to be associated with it in some way, but when that same project is taken down we all except the arsonist feel sad and want to be dissociated from the act of its destruction. We desire for the culprit to be brought to justice, unless of course, it is by an act of nature not man. We have the innate desire to build and grow and not to destroy, and that is the spirit of development that is caged in our soul. It is thus a thing of the soul that mirrors and parallels our physiological, biological growth. 

But it has not always been this way since the beginning of man’s earthly sojourn. That spirit had been caged for eons. And that caged spirit had been fighting to get out of its entrapment for millions of years before it finally found its freedom. It lay virtually dormant in the souls of our human progenitors for millions of years. Amazing! Isn’t it? Think about this to get the perspective right: Development was not a notion associated with our pastoral progenitors or even of primitive societies that tended to be static and remained pretty much static for eons.  As the science of archeology has taught us, human development did not get off to a good start until man was able to fashion hunting weaponry from stone in what is known as the “Stone Age.” That singular achievement marked the beginning of development.  And since then man’s quest for growth and development has known no bounds, so much so that it has now acquired the character of competition not only for individuals but for social units such as commercial institutions as well as nations.

It is, therefore, puzzling given this innate desire in man to grow and develop that there are still some leaders who seemingly and inexplicably do not want to develop and grow their communities and nations but to destroy them by plundering their resources, and refusing to repair and upgrade broken infrastructures especially in third world countries like Nigeria. It goes against the grain of nature. Such persons seem to personify our ancestors in whose souls lay dormant the encaged spirit of development. In other words, they are primitive species of homo-sapiens, who managed to pass through the cracks of evolution and found their way into our age of rapid growth and development but unable to bring themselves in tandem with it. These are the human oddities of evolution.

However, this has produced an admixture of human drags and human propellants of development living side by side within the same geo-political environment—producing counter forces, with some pushing up and others pulling down. Make no mistakes about it, there I are those in every human societies that are opposed to development and those who want it so bad. The precise ratio of these two opposing forces determines the rate of development, or for that matter, of stagnation that any nation is able to generate at any given time.

A nation saddled with a large pool of anti-development population i.e., one without a culture of growth and development will of course remain underdeveloped while the opposite is true for one with a large pool of pro-growth and pro-development population, i.e., one with a culture of growth and development. The urgent task before the nation’s policy makers, therefore, is to reduce the anti-growth and anti-development population to size and increase the pro-growth and pro-development population. In practical terms that means systematic and deliberate development of a culture of growth and development in the citizenry. This series takes its title from this cultural phenomenon for that reason.  

Culture is everything. Intangible, yes, but it is the key that opens the door to all human growth and development. It is the driving force behind all human progress. There is simply no growth and development without its animating culture with its currents flowing underneath just below the surface. It is the forces behind the steady flow of electronic gadgetry from Japan and the US and behind the cultural domination of the world by the United States in music, social networking, movies and technological innovations. Flowing beneath these accomplishments that have taken the world by storm is the river of culture.   

Precisely how and when this can be done in the case of Nigeria is reserved for the third part of this series coming after this. This second part is about the elements of development and how they should be carried out and organized to form a cohesive synergistic whole in order to derive maximum benefits from them rather than dolling them out from on high as tokens of development. 

It is appropriate to state, therefore, that on the whole, humanity’s fascination with the concepts of growth and development springs from an innate desire to grow and expand as opposed to inertia and it is as true of the individual as it is of groups and nations alike. As earlier indicated, it would appear that the desire to develop and grow is innate in us rather than acquired, and it is embedded both in our genes and in or souls. Due to our natural affinity to growth and development, therefore, smart politicians seeking to exploit it to their advantage have been quick to associate themselves with this twin concept, appropriating it both in their manifestoes and campaign stumps. However, while our political leaders glibly talk about “growth and development” only a negligible a few know what it truly means and fewer still know how to bring it about.


Development Defined

What then is development? What are its features? It is simply the taming of nature and the mastery of our environment through scientific, artistic, managerial, sociological and technological instrumentation and processes for the benefit of man. In other words, it is the progression of man from primitive state of simplicity to modern state of sophistication in life. While technology has undoubtedly simplified our lives in several ways, it has at the same time introduced a level of sophistication, and frankly speaking, complexity in its operational profile, that only the relatively educated individual can benefit from it. In a nutshell, development is the continual improvement of our material, environmental, social, mental and spiritual conditions.

The terms “primitive” and “modern” must, however, not be taken as absolutes. They are relative, for what is “modern” today may become “primitive” tomorrow. Modernity and primitiveness are therefore time specific.

In identifying the elements of development, however, we must resist the temptation to include only tangible things and processes that we can see and feel. Development is not only about tangible, material things or systems, but also about intangibles and processes.  It, therefore, goes way beyond the physical landscape spanned by roads and highway networks, railways, bridges, skyscrapers, mosques and cathedrals, universities and hospitals, air and seaports, automobiles, ships, airplanes, computers, televisions, ATMs, elevators, escalators, factories, military weaponry, plants, labs, telephones, equipment, libraries, ex-cetera, ex-cetera, and all the other incidents of technology that constitute parts of the ecosystem of development.

While these physical elements are important, they do not tell the whole story of development. At best they only present a partial view of development. Development includes perhaps more importantly the arts, which furnishes the inspiration for scientific and technological advancement and breakthroughs. Think of Sci-fi, which stands for “Science Fiction,” for example. Science and technology owes a lot to it. What was once science fiction has become our modern day technological marvels, including airplanes, computers, telephone, even the space programs, just to mention but a few areas. The creative imagination of science fiction writers brought forth these technological breakthroughs by pointing man in the direction of those possibilities and thus redirecting his efforts towards attaining them. Besides, technology is empty, in fact, dead without contents and management. For example, the movie equipment is useless without the ability to use it to produce content. Computers and the internet are useless without putting contents in them. Televisions are useless without putting contents in them. Those who do the programming and news reporting and the rest of the contents we find in television are not technologists and scientists, but artistes, reporters, editors, programmers, program directors and the likes without whom there would be no television and all the cable networks including the movie industry itself. Technology cannot manage itself and has to be managed by professionals who did not necessarily create the technology in question the same way economists manage our economy without creating the economy itself. And that is why cameras are useless without photographers who manipulate them to record memorable events and automobiles are useless without drivers who had no hand in building them. And when we appreciate good photographs, for example, we are not thinking of the camera that recorded them even for a fleeting moment. The camera itself that produced them falls into our subconscious as if non-existent. The same is true of movies and the internet. The inventor is totally forgotten. How many people who use the World Wide Web know anything about Berners Lee who invented it? And how many people care to know anyway? How many people who troop to the movie theaters know or care to know about the inventor of the movie camera? Not many. But they care about the movie stars and movie directors who gave contents to the movie camera invention and become celebrities.  And that’s why the creators of contents for technology are as important if not more so than the creators of the technology itself, and both are part and parcel of the development process with neither subordinated to others. We must not forget that humans are the interfaces and operators of technology.

To put it metaphorically, Silicon Valley is useless without Hollywood and the one cannot exist without the other. That is why the development of the arts and management capabilities in a nation must go hand in hand with the development of sciences and technology, because it is the arts that breathe life into the inert, lifeless body of technology and it is management that commercializes, creates an industry out it and makes it a going concern. As such, artistic and management education are just as good as science and technology education.

Besides that the products of technology themselves benefit tremendously from consumer market research by marketing companies. Product design and features are dictated in part by consumer preferences, demographics, governmental regulatory requirements, and intellectual property constraints that must be taken into account and complied with. That IPAD in your hands, for instance, is not entirely a product of science and technology alone, but of marketers and legal practitioners whose inputs informed the final design of the product. The graveyards of technology are filled with products that could not make it to the markets and stay there because they did not jell with consumers and even Apple itself has quite a bit of them too. 

It is, therefore, a huge mistake to promote technology at the expense of the arts and management disciplines and vice versa. There are parents and even governments who seek to promote one above the other, thinking in their ignorance that the one could exist without the other or that the one is more important than the other. It is not the business of government and parents to dictate what disciplines should be accorded priorities and what should be pulled back. The market place will determine that and allocate resources accordingly. However, it is the duty of government to build a culture of development around these broad themes while not directly partaking of the development processes itself.

Program not Project

Development must not take place in an unplanned and haphazard and uncontrolled manner, and this is not just about physical structures like roads and buildings but about industries and their interrelationships as well as their relevancy and synergies. Provisioning of  infrastructural facilities, for instance, is no doubt part of development, but tossing a borehole and a bridge here, a block of classrooms there, and ten-kilometer road over there, and bringing the whole world to commission them with fanfare before they’re washed away by the next rains and winds (forces of nature), is no development, but mere “projects” commissioning.

Nor is development indicated by simply throwing universities all over the place like mushrooms that produce nothing by way of new knowledge that is of benefit to humanity or even to their immediate environments.  A borehole standing alone is no development but a single project completed. It may produce water but so what? Of what use is a borehole to a hungry or jobless man? What does it mean to a sick man with no access to healthcare facility? Of what use is it to the villager with no means of transportation outside his village to the town or city? Does it mean a thing to a man who has no roof over his head when the night falls? Does a borehole provide education and improve the minds of men? All of these are more must form the basis of development not just throwing one project or the other at rural dwellers and call that development. For a borehole to have any relevance to development, it must not stand alone but become part of a development program having other components to it that meet the basic needs of a community, which may or may not include other boreholes in several locales. In other words, an integrated development plan is what is required not isolated projects. Politicians who run around promising rural dwellers boreholes are, therefore, not talking about “development” but about projects and development is not about projects but programs.

Any leader who knows what development is talks about programs not about projects and the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo (of blessed memory) was one such leader. For example, Awo launched free education and free healthcare as well as rural integrated development programs under bigger program styled “Five Cardinal Programs,” which in themselves contain hundreds if not thousands of “projects” in healthcare and education as well as integrated rural development mini programs.

A borehole standing alone in a village is no evidence of development of the village but of the existence of a water facility albeit a primitive one at that. Nations are not called “developed” because they have one facility or the other standing alone, however huge it might be. To be called “developed” a nation must not only have a variety and multiplicity of such facilities serviceable to different social and economic needs of a people but more importantly such facility must form a seamless and  integrated whole. Thus when a I get off a plane in a developed country, I expect to be driven off the airport in a decent cab on a standard, well maintained highway, not one filled with potholes with the sidewalks littered with trash or overgrown with weeds, to standard hotel of my choice. I expect also to be driven by a decent and friendly driver who values my patronage and shows it too, and be received at the end of my journey by a courteous, welcoming front desk at the hotel.

On my way from the airport to the hotel, I don’t expect to be harassed by hordes of beggars or assailed by an unsightly environment with open drains filled with filth and raw sewage. In the same vein, I don’t expect to be confronted with mountains of decaying garbage left un-cleared on roadsides, oozing out offensive stench.

And after checking in, I expect the lights to be on not out, even momentarily, and the cold and hot water running uninterrupted throughout my stay. I don’t expect to have dead phones in my room or armed robbers prowling in the corridors and vicinity of the hotel. If I have to get some cash to take care of business I could simply swipe a card and pronto! Raw cash is spat out into my waiting hands from a mechanical contraption called Automated Teller Machine (ATM). A God forbid that I develop a cold or headache I would not be flown abroad for treatment, because I expect that there would be standard medical facilities to take care of such health conditions or emergencies including ambulance if needed. 

My short journey from the airport to the hotel would reveal to me whether I am in a developed or undeveloped country. However, that short experience is packed with the indices of development, which can be found in a standard airport and transportation network, constant electricity and running water, good telecommunication network, hospitality industry, beautiful landscapes devoid of shanties, sound financial system and good healthcare facilities. The important thing, however, is that my hypothetical journey from the airport to the hotel and maybe to the clinic or hospital too, was a seamless experience in which I encountered all the incidents of developments mentioned above and many more not included in this scenario in an integrated whole—seamlessly transiting from one to another with each meeting my particular needs at different time points when the occasion arises.

That is the meaning of development—provisioning of infrastructural and other facilities in a seamless integrated whole with updated technologies that are not far apart in time. A nation cannot claim to be developed when it has a first class airport in the midst of dilapidated cabs, rickety roads, shanties towns, sub-standard and ill-maintained buildings all around its towns and cities. Standards have to be maintained across the board in relative uniformity, not some super high, others super low.

What this boils down to is that development entails a culture of standardization of goods, services and infrastructures, which is wholly absent in Nigeria. It has no place for “anything goes,” or tokenistic gestures of development. When we build roads the roads must answer to a national standard both of construction and maintenance. When we build hospitals, schools, and hotels, they must answer to national standards both in construction and maintenance. When we build houses, residential or commercial they must answer to national or regional standards, including of course zoning, which should in no way be inferior to national standards. The same goes for other areas development and across the board, otherwise the nation will not have the attributes of a developed country however much we may be hankering after that status. It takes deliberate, sustained and programmatic efforts, not wishful thinking.  

Are we there yet in Nigeria? Why is it that large sections of federal highways are failing only a few years after their construction in Nigeria when highways outlive their builders in other countries? It’s because of cutting corners and lack of standards even in our transportation infrastructure, which is the lifeblood of any economy. Why are substandard drugs and products proliferating in Nigeria? It is because there are no standards even in our healthcare infrastructure that is responsible for a healthy and productive citizenry. Why are our higher educational institutions on strike every quarter of the year without university teachers caring about the quality of their graduates? It’s due to the absence of national standards.

If Nigeria has had the foresight to enact a Failed Bank Decree, it should do a similar thing in the area of infrastructure projects with a “Failed Project Act” that would ensure minimum standards in project design, execution and maintenance. The culture of “anything goes” must be replaced with the culture of “nothing goes” unless and until it meets with national or regional quality standards. This is a matter of gradually growing that culture to displace the present culture of anything goes in the name of development.

Is that too much to ask of a nation desirous of being a permanent member of the Security Council and aspiring to become the 20th most development country by the year 2020? Is that too much to ask of the largest black nation and democracy on earth? I don’t think so. Nigeria must be cognizant of her place and manifest destiny as the leader of the black race and accordingly do things that will ennoble the black race rather than things that portray the race as second class. She must set the pace for others to follow. The resources are bounteous and the brains to do the work are sitting right there in that country. She has no business languishing at the bottom of the development ladder with her peers miles ahead.

Is it too much to ask of the government to work out minimum standards of living for all Nigerians? Or we don’t care about standards? I don’t think so. If we don’t care about standards we should be rest assured that we are already being judged by the standards designed by others and applied to us whether we like them or not since we ourselves lack standards, and the results are appalling—to say the least, from infant mortality to urban chaos; poorly maintained infrastructures to rickety health facilities. How could a nation with dry taps and with cities and towns bristling with boreholes rather than modern waterworks, purport to launch satellites? There is a huge technology disconnect. How could a nation fed by peasant farmers be talking about nuclear power plants? The technology gap is too great. Nigeria has been doing projects scattered here and there with many of them purely white elephants rather than development.

It makes absolutely no sense at all to be aspiring to master the moon when you have not even mastered the earth. Those nations going to the moon have mastered the earth. Mastering our terrestrial environment is prerequisite for mastering the celestial environment and Nigeria should follow closely in the footsteps of those who have been there, done it, because just like democracy, development is a process, not finished product to be imported in containers, cleared at Apapa and Tin Can Ports and erected in Abuja and state capitals. It is not by dumping factories, schools, hospitals and what have you here and there haphazardly that Nigeria will get to the promise land but by careful painstaking, methodical, systematic planning and execution. And this would appear to be commonsensical enough to warrant further elaboration even if commonsense is not so common even in high places and in the court of princes.   

For example, the nation spent huge sums of money to construct the National Theater, Iganmu, Lagos, which was part of the FESTAC 77 jamboree, complete with a brand new town, named “FESTAC” town. Does anybody still hear about the National Theater, today? Perhaps only rats do so today. The magnificent and imposing edifice was overgrown with weeds just like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe Center in Zungeru. Why? It is because there was no cultural policy linked with the construction of that Bulgarian edifice. And once the FESTAC jamboree was over and the guests had gone home to their countries that building went under as well, together with the FESTAC town that was turned into another urban ghetto, just like Ajegunle or Mushin. Everything quickly went into a state of disrepair and disuse with billions of naira flushed down the drain. The example of the National Theater is replicated throughout the nation at all levels—local, state and federal. Were that institution tied to a sound, comprehensive cultural policy, the nation’s cultural exports would have by now attained dizzying heights since 1977.

The same is true of our National Stadia. What is the nation’s sports policy and objectives? Why is it the business of the federal government to get itself involved in sports development just by building stadia and owning a national team thus injecting itself into a purely private sphere that should have grown sports to greater heights in the country if only government should just get out of the way and allow for steady and business like sports development in the country?  Sports is big business and should and must be treated that way by leaving it in the hands of businessmen and women to develop and grow. It is not just for national prestige by showing up at world cup tournaments and returning home empty handed with no trophies. Is it not clear from the perennial failures of our national teams in international sports fiestas that it is government that is killing sports? It is time for government to get out of the way because it is truly behind Nigeria’s underdevelopment in all ramifications.

Government itself is the biggest cultural impediment to growth and development in Africa because it is standing in the way of entrepreneurship in Africa and the people themselves have blindly put their hopes and aspirations in government that is not in any position to deliver for them now or in the future or come eternity. It is indeed sad.  

Franklin Otorofani is an attorney and public affairs analyst.


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