Welcoming the Goodluck generation

by Tolu Ogunlesi

In my article, ‘Waiting for the Goodluck generation’, (April 27), I wrote: “I await, therefore, with bated breath, the emergence of the Goodluck Generation – that crop of hitherto-unknown men and women whose talent, passion and courage will set them apart, and who will establish new standards of excellence in Nigeria’s public sector.”

Now, we have the names and faces of those men and women who made the final cut. A number of them stand out. There’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who’s making a comeback to the finance ministry, a position she occupied during the Obasanjo era. It was for a reason that she was nicknamed “Okonjo-Wahala” (‘Trouble-Woman’). Nigeria will be needing that value-adding ‘trouble’ as it seeks to bring discipline and transparency into public sector spending.

There’s the new communication technology minister (there still seems to be some confusion as to the actual name of the ministry, several names have been bandied around), Omobola Johnson. A former managing director of Accenture’s Nigeria office, Johnson knows a thing or two about using technology and cutting-edge ideas to solve complex problems.

Her role will be developing and overseeing Nigeria’s strategy for exploiting the limitless economic possibilities of ICT. Social entrepreneur and ICT activist, Gbenga Sesan, has written a public letter to her (“Madam Minister, It’s Time To Connect The Dots”), available online, which one hopes she gets a chance to read.

Clearly, the Nigerian government’s ICT strategy thus far has been uncoordinated and incoherent. This is unacceptable in an age in which a good number of the world’s largest and most influential companies have acquired that influence and wealth trading in “information”. It will be Johnson’s duty to “connect the dots”, create a meaningful picture, and provide the platform for Nigeria’s abundant ICT talent to blossom.

The bureaucratic reform that accompanied this latest ‘cabinet-production’ process has produced a new ministry: Trade & Investment, headed by the former finance minister, Olusegun Aganga. One of the major tasks before him as minister, it seems, will be management of the Sovereign Wealth Fund, whose creation he oversaw as minister of finance. A well-managed fund will be one of the finest gifts anyone can contribute to Nigeria’s future.

Then there’s Akinwumi Adesina, the new Minister for Agriculture. His resume is impressive. He shared the 2007 Yara Prize (which “recognises significant contributions to the reduction of hunger and poverty in Africa”) with Uganda’s Josephine Okot, “for his efforts to develop agro-dealer networks in Africa.” His profile on the Yara Prize website says: “Adesina helped to organise the landmark Africa Fertilizer Summit for African Heads of States at which major decisions to solve Africa’s fertilizer crisis were reached by over 40 governments. In 2005, he received the ‘Outstanding Black Agricultural Economist Award’ from the American Agricultural Economics Association.”

In the Power Ministry is Barth Nnaji, who, at a conference I attended in London last November, said: “The power sector in Nigeria is the headquarters of confusion. There are people benefiting from the status quo.” It will be his duty to upend that pitch-dark status-quo.

And then there’s Reuben Abati, journalist, columnist and public intellectual, who’s taking up a responsibility as the president’s spokesperson. I think his role affords him a closeness to the president which he should exploit to offer wisdom and guidance. It’s not what he’s being paid to do (let’s be honest, the “Special Adviser on Media & Publicity” tag is a misnomer of sorts, occupiers of that role are paid not to talk TO the President but FOR him), but it’s what I think he should be doing, in addition, of course, to being a coherent spokesperson.

I don’t imagine that Abati, having built an impressive career talking about the failings and excesses of government, will get into Aso Rock and then lapse into silence and/or sycophancy.
The above list is certainly not meant to be an exhaustive one. I’ve only decided to highlight some of the persons I consider to be the inspiring selections on the Jonathan cabinet. I’m sure there are more inspiring names on that list.

Let’s share these stories, and raise the bar for them. Let’s make it clear to them we’re counting on them to make a positive difference, and will not expect anything less than their best and most honest performance.
But some caution is needed. Even as they seek to provide transformational leadership, they would all do well to avoid the “God-complex”.

I recently listened to British Economist, Tim Harford’s TED 2011 lecture (available online), ‘Trial, Error and the God Complex’. In it, Harford describes the “symptom” of the God Complex as this: “No matter how complicated the problem, you have an absolutely overwhelming belief that you are infallibly right in your solution.”

Most susceptible to the ‘God-complex’ are “reformists”, those people in a hurry to make a difference. And yes, it’s true, Nigeria’s problems require a radical urgency, but a sense of urgency unleavened by humility is always disastrous, alienating people and hurting real progress. The world will do better without self-appointed Messiahs.

Two, the new ministers would have to keep an eye on what’s happening in the social networking world. I know there are those Nigerians who get a kick out of dismissing social networking as mostly a bunch of middle class youth talking to themselves in a massive, hermetically-sealed echo chamber. Good for them.
What they’ve failed to realise is that the Internet is providing, in an unprecedented manner, a platform for the generation and conduction of debates and ideas that have the potential to make a difference in the way Nigeria is run.

I’m suggesting that the new ministers make it a priority to recruit social media-savvy young people onto their teams, to enable them tap into the impressive (if sometimes chaotic and noisy) collective wisdom of online Nigeria.

Third piece of advice is this: there’s a lesson to be learnt from Okonjo-Wahala, who resigned as foreign affairs minister in 2006, when Obasanjo started playing politics with his commitment to her vision.
Part of why Nigeria remains where it is today is because of a scarcity of conviction-driven resignations. In one sense, the threat of a conviction-driven resignation is the only power that the employee (minister) has over the all-powerful employer (president).

Let’s see if any minister/aide in the class of 2011 will be willing to deploy it. So help them God.

This article first appeared on www.234next.com on July 20, 2011

Picture Credit: This Day Newspaper

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