Difficult takes a day, Impossible takes a week
– Jay Z (Diamonds are Forever)
We are a 153rd in literacy, 182nd in life expectancy, 134th in infrastructure, 108th in quality of life, 143rd in GDP per capita, 187th in quality of healthcare, 207th in nfant mortality and 173 in maternal mortality. Forget being the happiest people on earth. That was old news. Today, we really only lead the world in one category. Nothing.
Given our immense challenges, I don’t imagine that snagging a few medals from other countries in a much better position in the olympics that matter should be our priority
But then the question here is what can we do to win the olympics that matter.
If my twitter feed was any indication, everyone I knew was largely tuned into the olympics. Personally, but for the historic 100M race, I largely tuned out, living vicarious at the very most through my twitter feed. Now, even I am not crazy hopeful about this, but perhaps if every Nigerian watched our performance in the Olympics that matter with as much attention as they did the London Games, we might make some progress. I imagine if national dailies had a running ticker of kilowatts generated today alongside the ever declining stock ticker, Barth would be under so much more pressure to deliver.
Even more importantly, although we are literally powerless iwith respect to our performance at the Olympics, we can all coach Nigeria to succeed in the games that matter by influencing public policy. Now, it won’t be as easy as insulting the government of the day on twitter. Any idiot can do that. It will require the kind of focus and dedication that it took Coach Ayo Bakare to get Nigeria’s men’s basketball team to the games in the first place.
So I’m going to start us off by proposing a few important steps to get us started in the right direction.
First we all need to pick a game that we care about. It doesn’t have to be incredibly highstakes. A gold medal in badmington is afterall worth the same weight in gold as the 100m men’s. Some of the public advocates I respect like fellow columnist Temie Giwa’s One Percent and Seun Onigbinde’s BudgIT actually deal with very specific issues with aren’t necessarily in the public consciousness and they are gaining mainstream adoption pretty fast. Just make sure whatever you pick is in your knowledge comfort zone. Discus throwers attempting to sprint is not a pretty site.
Second, obsess about it. “Government” has become a blanket for so many problems that it doesn’t mean anything anymore. Olympic athletes don’t win their events by doing generic exercises. They have a deep knowledge of how their body best works to optimize their performance. In the same way, if you want to coach Nigeria to victory in the games that matter, you need to understand the issues beyond “government should fix it” mentality that dominates policy discourse too often.
Third, try at least at first, to optimize for one outcome. In athletics, it is pretty obvious what to optimize for; the fastest time, the farthest throw, the highest jump. Policy is tricky because it is a little less obvious. Do you optimize for broader access as opposed to quality of care? Locally produced and slightly expensive or cheap and imported? At one point you need to make the call, but more importantly you need to have a good reason for making that call. People will definitely disagree with you but that’s the point. Few people will take you seriously if you seem unsure about what exactly it is you want to achieve.
Fourth, understand your competition. I couldn’t recognize many of the names at this year’s Olympics but I imagine each contestant knew quite well who they would be competing against, their record time and what their archilles heel probably is. Your policy recommendation is competing with a current process that is very resistant to change. You need to understand that process very well if you want to challenge it.
Find a champion. Like the Olympics, influencing policy is a resource intensive endeavor. It isn’t the kind of thing you do on a whim. Few of the athletes in London could be there without the support of brand sponsors with the kind of reach and resources to push them forward. I am sure there are a few National Assembly members who are willing to bring well thought out policy to the floor of the house. Those are good people to approach. Finding a well aligned and prominent champion for your cause gives you an elevated voice for bringing about change in your policy “sport”.
Lastly, never ever give up. Changing decades old policy that keeps us at the bottom of the tables in the Olympics that matter is probably as hard as breaking the World Record. But it is the patience to persevere through what many consider an impossible task that makes the success worthwhile.
I hope to see and congratulate you at the top of the medal table but until then aluta continua.