Last week I wrote about the “Stay-outers” versus “Engagers” conundrum: the questions that many well-meaning (emphasis on that) young Nigerians will increasingly have to face and deal with in the near future.
I observed that “all too often we have seen ‘good’ men and women go into government and come out unrecognisable. Intelligent persons climb over to the other side and start spouting such virulent strains of bulls**t that one is forced to wonder if a brain-and-heart transplant is one of the conditions for public service in Nigeria.”
And I promised to share some thoughts on “what steps I think we, as young people can take, to better prepare us for the minefield that is public service inNigeria.”
Here are two key things to note:
Since passion and brilliance are not enough…
Activism or scholarship by themselves do not qualify people for inspiring leadership. That a man or woman is a brilliant technocrat, a high-achieving academic does not mean that he has the capacity or capability to work within the harsh operating system of politics to bring about change. In a ‘Lunch with the FT’ profile of Zimbabwean Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, Journalist Alec Russell makes a reference to “Lech Walesa, the Polish union leader whose finest days were in opposition and who proved rather better at rousing rallies than the subtleties of government.”
There are many like that around us. They are, in spite of their stellar credentials pre-public service, doomed to enter government and fail. When that happens, fuel is added to the blazing argument of the ‘stay-outers’: ‘See, we told you so. Government is not for the brilliant!’
Success in the corporate world also does not, sadly, guarantee success in the public sector, because both areas in my opinion operate according to different rules (whether they should, is another argument entirely). Businesses exist to satisfy shareholders, and regulators, primarily. Governments exist to satisfy E-V-E-R-Y-B-O-D-Y. Things don’t get more complicated than “everybody”, do they?
Again, ask yourself this question: what am I doing to ensure that I raise my chances of succeeding in public office?
Now is the time to start studying, critically, Nigerian public service careers of the last decade. Start identifying the common pitfalls and stumbling blocks, and the most efficient ways of dealing with public opinion and opposition.
The Power of Connecting
My friend Akintunde Oyebode (and no, this is not name-dropping) likes to talk of a “critical mass” of change-agents. Young people going into public service should as a matter of urgency ensure that they are tightly connected (and you’d be amazed at how useful social networking is in this regard) to similar-minded, similar-visioned people. The engine-room of the Obasanjo reforms was a ‘cabal’ consisting of a handful of persons – Nasir el-Rufai, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Nuhu Ribadu and Oby Ezekwesili (and, from what I hear, Charles Soludo, until he dropped out for reasons best known to him) who regularly met informally to share ideas and support one another as they took on powerful vested interests across Nigeria. I was amongst a band of young Nigerians who met a serving Minister sometime last year, and one question we asked was: “What are you doing to connect with other cabinet members who you think share your vision of change?”
Whether we like it or not, the criminals amidst us are organising and connecting; identifying themselves and forming ‘cartels’ and ‘cabals’ to advance their causes.
I think the first step for going astray in public service is to disconnect from the people who can influence you to stay on the narrow path of good sense. All change-agents in government need friends who (1) will not disturb them for “contracts” and (2) will resist the strong temptation to turn into sycophants / yes-persons / and bootlickers
Interestingly, these matters I’ve been discussing over the last two weeks will join others to take center-stage in Lagos today. This morning hundreds of young Nigerians will gather at MUSON center for the debut edition of the Nigeria Symposium for Young & Emerging Leaders, organized by The Future Project, to discuss “The Challenge of Responsible Governance: How Can The Turning Point Generation Do Better?” (One of the sessions will be titled: “The Perspective from Inside: Is it Possible to Stand Out in Government? (Civil Servants, Politicians & Technocrats)”)
I will be moderating the symposium, alongside journalist Adaure Achumba. The keynote speech will be delivered by World Bank Vice President forAfrica, Oby Ezekwesili. I look forward to sharing the “matters arising” from today’s deliberations.
Tolu Ogunlesi has worked in management consulting, corporate communications and journalism. He was awarded a 2009 CNN Multichoice African Journalism prize, and recently served as Features Editor and Editorial Board member for a national newspaper. He regularly contributes to local and foreign media on Nigerian affairs, and tweets at @toluogunlesi | www.toluogunlesi.com