OOTC: The high standards to which we must hold our leaders – By Chude Jideonwo

I have heard this bit of nonsense constantly – seen it sometimes on social media, in comment boxes or random commentary: that because I actively, enthusiastically and unrepentantly threw personal and professional weight behind the election of a political office holder, I have somehow lost the moral right to speak out against him.




As long as a president or a governor or a senator, or a representative is a public servant, paid for and employed by the Nigerian people (tax paying or not), no one loses the right to question him, to declaim him, to demand from him.


Wherever we learnt this nonsense from, as a matter of national urgency, we need to go back to that particular spot, and unlearn it, and while we are at it, get our basic self-worth back.


This is cognitive dissonance. And it is one that we have to begin to address, if we are to have a nation worth having, and if we are to stop getting the types of governments that we currently richly deserve.


Let’s use the current and immediate past presidents of Nigeria to understand this trend.


When you look critically at much of the online conversation, one thing quickly strikes you about the young elite supporters (and by elite I mean university educated, technology enabled, conversation starters) of Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari – the latter is quick to admit the failings of the man they voted, while the former insists incongruously, ridiculously that their man was not just good, but one of Nigeria’s best leaders.


The argument isn’t that he was a good man. But that he was a good leader.


Wait a minute, am I living in an alternative reality?


Even a series of governors and ministers who supported Jonathan actively for their own narrow reasons, businessmen who contributed to his incumbency, and random people who worked in the villa, when you sit down with them outside of the cameras, they routinely confess without hesitation: “Jonathan was a weak leader”, “He wasn’t prepared to be president”, and “He always listened to the last person in the room who spoke to him, and had no mind of his own.”


What are we even talking about? While he was president and many people worked with him, I routinely met his own appointees, his own employees, people benefiting from his government, who would not hesitate to confess that the man was a disappointment and an ongoing letdown as a democratic leader.


This was a man without a political philosophy, without a governing ideal, without an economic blueprint, without the basic apparent capacity for formulating ideas, principles and directions, without the presence of mind to engage complex problems in the public domain, without the integrity of consistent positions, without the pretense to an operating ideology, without the benefit of vision or hindsight and apparently no capacity for self-reflection.


Under him, we lost last swaths of Nigerian territory, lost lives and families to domestic terrorists, lost the respect of the international community, lost the ability to cooperate with nations in and outside Africa, were held hostage by corrupt politicians in cahoots with devil-may-care businessmen, and experienced widening income inequality while he celebrated the personal expansion of wealth of one citizen, and the obscene accumulation of questionable private jets. Under him, militants walked around with the swagger of validation, and soldiers lost morale, and foreign reserves took a beating. Our foreign reserves were depleted, and our oil politics polluted.


Yes, he had admirable qualities. Of course, he had admirable qualities. Yes, he took young people seriously. He loved the creative industries and respected civil society (even though some would tell you that, it was in fact his cerebral aides who loved both the creative industries and civil society and simply nudged him to follow their lead), he allowed his ministers a free hand (more out of cluelessness than deliberate strategy, but let’s even allow it), and he made giant strides in infrastructure (that in turn made available abundant sums for misdirection, but again, let’s allow it).


But what are we even talking about? Every leader has the capacity to do some good. Was it not Sani Abacha that delivered the Petroleum Trust Fund? Was it not Ibrahim Babangida that supervised our freest and fairest election? Was it not Umaru Yar’Adua that re-established federal respect for the rule of law?


The question for leaders is not: Was he a good man? It is not: Did he have good intentions? It is certainly not, did he do some good things? It is a more detailed question: Considering the resources that he had, and the opportunities that existed, did he achieve a basic minimum that we should be entitled to as citizens?


This is even more urgent in a democracy, because in a democracy, mentally competent people voluntarily decide to run for an office based on the promise that they know what they are doing, and they can do the job.


Getting into office and complaining that ‘you didn’t know how bad it was’, ‘the forces in the country are frustrating you’, ‘the country is very complex’ is beneath contempt.


What are you even talking about? You didn’t know the country was bad when you started running for elections? You didn’t know that principalities exist around our politics and governance? You did not know that running a country or a state, or even a N100 million business is hard? You didn’t know that you must expect the worst and be prepared only for the best?


No one votes a governor or a president, or a local chairman to ‘do their best’. Or, at least, no one should. You are not voted to do ‘your best’. You are not supposed to limit us to the extent of your capacity. You are supposed to rise to the occasion. You are supposed to meet the moment. You are supposed to get the job done, period.


That is the standard to which we must hold our governments. That is the standard to which we must past governments. And that is a standard to which we must hold Muhammadu Buhari.


You should not reduce those standards to make yourself feel better. You should not reduce the standard because you don’t want to accept that your choice did not meet the occasion. You should not reduce the standards so you can win an argument on social media. You should not reduce the standard because the other person’s candidate was worse. This is not a video game. This is not a social experiment. This is the business of making people’s lives better.


If Olusegun Obasanjo failed, then he failed. If Yar’adua failed, then he did. If Jonathan failed, then he failed. Assess his failure on its merits, irrespective of whether you think his successor is doing worse. If Buhari is disappointing, then he is disappointing, irrespective of whether Jonathan was a worse disappointment.


All of them were hired by all of us to do a job, and each is to be judged on its own merit. They are not to be defended and protected simply because you like the one and you dislike the other; they are to assessed independently based on the job they were given to do, and how they did that job.


That is what we deserve. No less.


You are a citizen. You deserve a government that works. And you deserve a government that works optimally.


Whether you like these guys or not, whether you supported these guys or not, whether you feel cheated by one part of the country or not, whether you violently disagree on an issue or not, there should be a basic, common sense agreement on this: we deserve, as a people, the very best that any government has to offer. We deserve leaders worthy of the positions that they are given.


When they fall below that basic minimum; regardless of party affiliation, economic interest, ethnic positioning, or simply to win an argument on Twitter, we should be able to say no, hell no, and demand better, and keep demanding better, until we get better.


If you can’t speak up, at least shut up, and let those who are able to find their voices use it for the benefit of all of us.


Enough of this tomfoolery, please.


*This series takes a break in the month of April. It will be concluded in the May, the month of Nigeria’s annual Democracy Day.

OOTC: How do we recover – urgently – our dignity as Nigerians? – By Chude Jideonwo

Let me tell you about my driver of seven years.


The first sign of trouble when he was recommended was the fact that he didn’t have a job at the time. But he came highly recommended and so I asked to meet him.


First question I asked him: Why wasn’t he presently employed?


He had been fired from his last position, he told me without hesitation. They had been owed for three months. They had demanded for their pay. He had rallies his colleagues and led a protest against his employers. They came for the ringleader; and so he had been out of work for the one month since.


Fair enough. I liked his spirit. I was in the process of organizing my first national protest with the EnoughisEnough rallies. This appeared to be the hand of God.


So I negotiated with him: N40,000. That’s what many people who were earning a lot more than me in 2010 were paying their drivers, in addition to corporate organisations. But this man – with no job, no income, no degree, a wife and daughter – rejected it. He said no. To make a good living, he explained to me in Pidgin English, and to do his job effectively, he called an amount higher than that that he considered a basic minimum. He wouldn’t go lower than that.


I didn’t hide my shock. How could he reject a paying job, especially one that was industry standard, when he had nothing else at this time?


He insisted, still. I referred him to the finance manager, who was a good negotiator. He held firm. I assumed he was bluffing, and called it. He politely thanked me for my time, excused himself and left the office. I assumed he would call back in a few days to accept the officer. We all assumed he would.


But one week after, I never heard from him. He never called back. He didn’t settle for less. He had maintained his stand – the amount he called was the minimum he thought a driver deserved to be paid in an economy such as ours.


I was impressed. I called him back. I offered him the job.


He has been my personal driver to this day. I have never suspected him of theft or duplicity or caught him in a lie. He has been straight and committed and, for the most, part professional, ever since.


That decision paid off.


But it was what drove that decision that concerns us today. It is simple, really. I saw something I have hardly seen, even in managers at top multinationals, or hustling businessmen and women who will do something, anything, just to make any buck available: I saw dignity.


What he makes is not a lot of money by any standards, but to him it doesn’t really matter. He has a healthy dose of respect for himself, respect for his own person, the willingness to draw boundaries at what he considers unacceptable, and the dignity of his labour. He is, therefore he deserves to be respected.


You can see that story in either of two ways: It can be an ego-boost telling you how good I am as a person, or it can tell you how personal this theme is for me, how important I take it that I would put my money where my mouth is.


I recalled this story this morning as I drove into my street.


A truck-pusher was in front of me as I sought to turn in. He was most likely illiterate, he was covered in dirt, and he couldn’t speak English. I sounded my horn gently.


He turned back and looked at me, with no anger, and none of the typical Lagos under-the-sun frustration: ‘Oga wait, make the person wey dey my front go’, and he calmly returned to his business.


The person in front of him, whom I hadn’t previously noticed was blocking him, finally moved, this truck-pusher moved efficiently to the right of the world, turned to look at me, and held my gaze. I nodded, reflexively, in respect. He went on with his business. Me, with mine.


This is possibly an insignificant social transaction to many. But in a country suffused with oppression, it contains significant themes. This is not the typical reflex of truck pushers in Lagos. They often react with apprehension, with apologies, or, on the other hand, they mask their embarrassment with disproportionate anger, or try to match the disdain with which they are regarded.


They don’t react as equals, speaking to a person who just has more than they do. This man was different. This man reacted to me with the equanimity of dignity.


Unfortunately, this spirit is deeply rare in our country. And there is good reason for this: our country doesn’t create the framework for people to respect the pother person as human beings.


In the dog-eat-dog world that has been created by action and inaction, everyone believes that the regard with which you should be treated depends on the tangibles that you have – money, power,networks.


There is a reason “Do you know who I am?” is the refrain that defines the powerful and mighty in our society. It is supposed to distinguish those who deserve to be treated as human from those who are not.


The wealthy oppress those who have nothing. Those who have a little look with disdain at those who have less. Mistakenly flag a car on the road as if it were a taxi and see the violence of anger with which the driver will respond to you: “Do I look like a driver to you?!” Pray, how does a driver look? And if indeed you look like a driver, why is being mistaken for another human being such a thing that should make you take offence?


Because we judge our humanity, and the dignity that should attend our humanity based on a base bottom-line – how far away from poverty we have escaped.


This madness is brought to us courtesy of our government. Leadership always role models the behaviours that filters down to citizens. People behave like they see their representatives behave. People react based on how they are treated from the top of the power chain.


Successive governments have robbed us blind, disregarded the service of civil servants, belittled the contributions of professionals, corrupted the idea of value, belittled the essence of hard work, elevated the craft of theft, and replaced the human penchant for respectability and contentment with the crass obscenity of acquisition and waste.


They slowly, steadily inverted our national priorities.


Who can forget the humiliation of the university lecturer in Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘Americanah’, the one who lost his job because he wouldn’t call the governor’s wife ‘mummy’? That was Nigeria in one disheartening, depressing, distressful snapshot.


That’s why the average Nigerian is beaten, surrendered, and obsequious – constantly in a position of ‘abeg’, ‘I hail’, ‘anything for the boys’, and for those that run business, ‘hustling’. We have become a nation of hustlers. We don’t build anymore, we snatch and grab. We don’t grow, we slash and burn.


The Nigerian citizen is beaten down and hollowed out.


When they have no money, they expect no regard. When they know nobody, they demand no respect.


You don’t see that in countries where the dignity of the human person is primary. You don’t see it in Europe or the United Arab Emirates or in America, where taxi drivers walk with the swagger of ‘I pay your wages’ when they speak to their congressmen, where policemen are not fazed by businessmen wielding wads of cash. It doesn’t mean that the art of the suck-up doesn’t exist; wherever they are humans, there are power dynamics. What I am saying is, humiliation isn’t part of the essential national character.


There is a reason the Average American Joe is often depicted as tough-taking, able to stand up for self, able to give as good as she gets, able to find the words to attack or to attend herself, because she lives in a country of laws, where whatever happens, there is at least the pretense for respect for you just because you, too, are human.


Nigerians certainly used to have that sense of respect. We see it reflected in the ‘Are you the one feeding me?’ sentiment, but these days that sentiment is scarce to find, and the spirit almost non-existent.


We treat those who have less as if they are not human, because our governments treat us as if we are not human. They intimidate musicians trying to protest, they demean journalists asking them questions, they disregard teachers whose salaries are owed, and they ignore doctors stuck in a system they despise.


And we in turn do it to the next person. We cover our disdain for the existence of ‘okada-men’ by claiming we are offended by the lack of caution, but in fact if you see the way drivers treat bike riders on the roads, you know that it is disdain for these pests that litter streets that belong to the car owner.



While treating them as vermin, we self-righteously preach down to beggars, asking why they cannot get a job, as if we are unaware that jobs are scarce, a national safety net does not exist, and the vast, vast majority of our people, in their entire cycle of their lifetimes, will live below the poverty line.


And that attitude goes through the line, on each rung of the social and economic ladder. We are grateful that we move from one rung to the other – testimonies in church loudly declaring how God moved us from Oshodi to Lekki, as if those who live in Oshodi are not human – and then proceed to oppress and delegitimize those who are not as lucky as we are.


We treat each other very badly.


The other day, my cousin, a Second Class Upper graduate from Nigeria’s most respected private university informed me that his boss, who runs one of Nigeria’s biggest online platforms, showed up in the office and informed them that, apropos of nothing, he would not pay their full salary for the month. He paid half.


Why? He told them, “I have been too nice to all of you, you need to sit up.” Nice? With their salary? The money have earned? Just like that. And three weeks after he unilaterally, and illegally, withheld their pay, he still has not paid them, or apologized. Because “he is too nice”, and he can get away with it. Because he has more money than they do – therefore he can play fancy free and footloose with his obligations and with their entitlements.


And there are many employers of course who do this. Who treat the paying of monthly salaries like a favour, who find any excuse to shortchange those that work for them.


We pay mechanics and plumbers so little, ruthlessly beating down cost to satisfy ourselves, then wonder why they steal and cut corners with our work. We refuse to get standard rates from informal workers, lie to taxi-drivers about our distance on trips and are quick to call them ‘ole’ when they point to the unfairness of it, and the turns and twists of the route that they were unprepared for, and demand that you pay your due. We treat support workers in companies as if they are not part of the company because they did not go to school or their collar isn’t blue, as if education is the standard for humanity.


“I have more – money, education, power, networks – than you, therefore I am more human than you.”


Our governments role model this to us. We in turn do it to ourselves everyday. And thus we elect more of ourselves to go into government and perpetuate this vicious cycle.


This is the reason, for instance behind the repeated disdain with which the elitist governors of Lagos have treated the weakest of its citizens since democracy’s return. It is why Akinwunmi Ambode can, in flagrant disrespect of court orders, dislocate the lives of the people of Otobo Gbame, demolishing houses and business, just because they can.


Because these are mere ‘fishermen’, a nuisance to the big vision of a cosmopolitan Lagos to which they do not belong. The government is impatient with their demands to be treated like people, like human beings with lives and stories. They were evicted on the 17th of this month, ruthlessly and violently, one of them caught muttering ”We don’t care about court orders. Take it to the governor.”


The all-powerful governor. The one who was voted to secure their humanity, but who will not even pause to regard it. 5,000 people rendered homeless in one fell swoop, and the country continues to move on.


How do we proceed from here?


I don’t have the answers to this particular one. I don’t have answers for how we can begin to rebuild the fabric of our basic dignity.


But perhaps we can start with the questions – each to ourselves, when we sit alone in our rooms, and when we splash water on passersby without remorse, and without stopping our cars to apologise.


We can ask ourselves daily, one to another, citizen to citizen: ”am I treating this one simply as a human being, whatever their disadvantage or their circumstance?”


Do we treat ourselves as Nigerians with the simple self-possession that existence alone demands?


We have to recover our basic dignity. And with it our humanity. One to each other, then systems that make it so. Structures and laws, and rules, and processes and court judgements and simple symbolisms that make it clear that we know what matters.


Life is not worth living without dignity. Nations are not worth having if they cannot ensure it.


*Jideonwo is co-founder and managing partner of RED (www.redafrica.xyz), which brands including Y!/YNaija.com and governance consulting firm, StateCraftInc (www.statecraftinc.com). Office of the Citizen (OOTC) is his latest essay series.

OOTC: How it came to be that Jonathan is an option in 2019 – By Chude Jideonwo

I got a lot of panicked responses after my last piece; the panic focused on one small nugget of information buried within it: the fact that, as things stand today, former president Goodluck Jonathan is the strongest candidate that the People’s Democratic Party can present in 2019.


So I decided to run slight interference, and do a follow up.


What I apparently have taken for granted – not just as a result of insight into Nigeria’s political space cleaned from years of first, activism, then consulting; but also as a result of any number of PESTLE analyses that I have been involved in over the past 10 months – was a surprise to many.


It stood out especially for some respondents because my assessment of Jonathan’s presidency has been consistently, unshakably – and remains to this moment – harsh: he was, in my opinion, an ineffectual leader; one whose feckless cost the country greatly in corruption and insecurity at the minimum.


But personal desires are one thing, and honest political calculation is another. If anything, the latter is needed if the former will be fulfilled in any meaningful, practical way.


So let’s take some time to talk about how people get elected in a country like ours.


Actually, no, that’s a matter for another day’s piece. What this actually will do is try to explain the three broad categories that lead people to emerge as candidates in the primaries of the major Nigerian political parties, at least the gubernatorial and presidential elections.


There are three basic requirements:

  1. Name recall
  2. Access to finance
  3. Establishment consensus


Name recall

I call this the test of ‘If we should your name in the market place, will people know who it is’?


It’s amazing how many sophisticated, intelligent people searching for complicated answers to simple questions often overlook this crucial factor in the way candidates are selected.


And it’s not just about countries like ours with primitive electoral environments. The singular reason Donald Trump was a viable candidate for the American president elections without previously holding any political office, or belonging to any political structure, was simply because Americans knew his name.


And the reason Sarkozy, the former French president, returned as party leader and then made another run for the presidency last year, despite what was a les than glorious first term, both locally and internationally, is because he possesses an electoral asset that it is immensely difficult for new players to quickly gather: the voting public knows his name.


This is why America’s politics can seem like a dynasty: political operatives impatient with experiments routinely look for tried-and-tested surnames like Bush or Clinton or Obama (if Michelle runs, which – for everything we know about American politics – is a distinct possibility) is because everyone knows their name.


And that applies even more significantly in a largely illiterate country like ours, where citizens do not have access to the body of information that is usually necessary for making informed choices. They typically have to employ shorthand to make decisions i.e. Does this person lay claim to Awo’s legacy? Does this person have an Igbo mother? And usually the most important question can be this – Do we know who this person is?


This is the fundamental driver behind the massive, and unshakeable electoral margins that President Muhammadu Buhari continued to rack in the North of Nigeria. They knew his name, they ‘knew’ what that name stood for; they were familiar with it. It was easier for them to vote for it.


It is the same reason Odimegwu Ojukwu continued to rack up wins for the All Progressives Grand Alliance through election cycles, despite having no realistic chance of winning anything beyond a gubernatorial election – you could call his name in any part of the South-East, at any day at any time, in any market; and they knew exactly who you were talking about.


It is the reason the PDP confidently presented the now-quickly-forgotten Hilda Williams as gubernatorial candidate for Lagos after her husband died. We knew the name Williams. It was easy to connect with.


No strategist worth his salt plays with the power of name recall.


Access to finance

If you think this only applies to startups and businesses looking to expand, you haven’t been paying enough attention to the politics of your country, at least over the past 17 years.


Access to finance is distinct of course from personal wealth. You can, like Olusegun Obasanjo, emerge from prison dirt-poor and yet find the critical mass of people and institutions ready to pool the resources you need for you to win electoral contests.


But, whether it is you money or it is other people’s money, there is no chance in heaven or hell that you are able to win elections in any part of this country without significant financial resources.


Now, while naivety or self-deception can lead people into viewing this as essentially negative, there is nothing at all wrong – ab initio – in the idea that it takes money to win an election.


By the very nature of democracy, it is inevitable that it will be expensive. And this can be said without even referring to the $1.2 billion Hillary Clinton spent last year or the $1.12 billion Barack Obama spent in 2012.


You just need to be a reasonable person looking at the reasonable steps that any reasonable person would have to take in winning a typical election.


To be governor in Lagos state for instance, you need a few things in order to communicate your personality and your ideas to the 1,678,754 who voted in the last elections.


You need to print banners, and you need to print fliers. You need to print posters, and you need to print your manifesto. And in doing this, you are thinking about reaching the about 2 million people, or at least the 1milloon half of it that you will need to thumbprint for you in order for you to win the election. And that is just basic printing cost. Without talking about the ‘excitement tools’ e.g. t-shirts, face-caps, and other livery.


We have not factored in the planning and hosting of the events you will have to do, repeatedly, across the Local Government Areas where people will vote. A typical event has sound, canopies, decoration, food and drinks, and others. Multiply this by the number of local governments and by the number of the times you need to make the visit to consolidate gains.


On and on and on – campaign buses, campaign offices, campaign staff, road shows, and all of this minus the modern imperative for TV and radio adverts, as well as online exposures. This is without the personnel costs that attend to running any mid-size enterprise.


There is a reason politics is called the art of ‘selling’ yourself and your ideas.


So if there are people that think financial resources in elections only come down to buying party forms, bribing whoever they think is usually bribed and distributing rice to random voters, they are talking about incidental costs rather than actual cost of sale.


Without the financial resources, or the ability to get those who have those resources to part with said resources, you are a non-starter.


Establishment consensus

To be honest, I have sat in any number of establishment meetings; by this I mean, meetings by the ‘movers’ and ‘shakers’ of Nigerian politics, from across the two major parties and some of the fringes, and here is the truth of discovery – there is not a lot of sophistication that goes on in those spaces.


That is one of the shocking revelations I have had from seven years of engagement from multiple angles in this space.


Most of the decisions come from gut, and perception – perception mostly coloured by location, experiences, interests and relationships. In essence, many of these decisions are narrow and parochial. They are not well thought out, and don’t exist based on verifiable facts.


That, of course, is why our country is the way it is. Think about it: if the minds that have been manipulating our affairs for 50 years have been engaged in the art of sophistication and depth, is this the kind of country that would result from that process?


Unfortunately, whether these are the brightest or not, they are the ones who determine our political affairs, and they are the ones who largely make decisions as to candidates, candidacies and political reflexes.


Many times their decisions come down to – ‘it is the turn of this part of the country’, ‘this is the guy that won’t upset the apple cart’, ‘a woman cannot win in that part of the country’, or ‘we just don’t like that guy’. That’s the kind of thinking that leads to political decisions in this country.


I remember being shocked at the beginning of my professional life about 15 years ago years ago, to be seated (they ignored me because I was 17 and they knew I was harmless) in a discussion, from whence one of the ‘powers that be’ in a South-Western state simply decided he wanted a woman to run for one of the offices under his influence. And that’s she was elevated for life into a force to reckon with.


That’s the consensus that gave us Goodluck Jonathan as president, ultimately, in 2010. Those principalities in the PDP decided that Peter Odili could not be Vice President to Umaru Yar’Adua and Donald Duke could not be Vice President, and any number of people couldn’t be – not for reasons of capacity, competence or character, but simply because they were too ambitious. The least ambitious person was selected, and the least ambitious person, by default, became the president of this country for 5 years and ended it by losing large swaths of Nigerian territory to terrorists and 276 girls from Chibok.


So how will Jonathan again become a potential presidential candidate in 2019? Well, because these powers that be will come together and finalise a year before those elections that he is the best bet to unify that party, without alienating any of those groups.


They will conclude that having him as candidate will help complete the second term that the South-South is ‘entitled’ to and he will have the experience to run the office and run the country simply by the fact of having been there before.


They will look around and they will most likely find nobody else who can fill that position. Nobody else whose name you can shout on the main-road of Onitsha market and random people will know his or her name. Nobody who is so ‘formidable’ that he or she will immediately attract cross-regional resources to wage an electoral war, and nobody else whom the powers that can be can establish an unsophisticated consensus around.


The calculation will fall on: Who can face Buhari in 2019 and neutralize his huge advantages in the North?


And that is how; if Buhari decides to run for president again in 2019, the old fault lines will re-emerge, and we will probably end up with Buhari versus Jonathan again for the presidency of the federal republic of Nigeria.


When that happens, we will have no choice but to play the hand that we are dealt.


Unless something gives now. Unless someone else builds the momentum to cross at least two of these three imperatives. Unless someone else has the kind of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Marine Le Pen (yes), Olusegun Mimiko, Peter Obi-guts to stare the dragon in the face, and to decide that this thing is not further mathematics, and this kind of history can, should, and must be made.


There is no such person on the scene as we speak.


And, as you and I know, two years before the next general elections as we are today, time is already running out.


*Jideonwo is co-founder and managing partner of RED (www.redafrica.xyz), which brands including Y!/YNaija.com and governance communication firm, StateCraft Inc. Office of the Citizen (OOTC) is his latest essay series.

OOTC: Will the third party candidates please stand up? – Chude Jideonwo

Nigerians talk a good game about third party candidacies, especially Nigerians on social media.


They speak often about this utopia where Nigerians have had more than two options for president of Nigeria, and we could have chosen any of these options instead of what they consider less-than-ideal alternatives in our last two national election cycles.


So let’s talk about third party options in Nigeria.


Or no, let’s talk first about the idea of third party options globally.


For a third party candidate or party to be taken seriously in an election by the generality of the voting mass, there has to be a basic standard of viability. Viability, in essence, lies in the question: is this candidate an effective vehicle with a reasonable chance of winning an election?


Let’s switch this as a question voters must ask themselves: am I wasting this vote or not?


This is because essentially, democracy is a game of choices, not a game of wishes. It comes down at the base of it to, for most voters: who is the candidate most likely out of all the options that I have, most of whom I did not willingly choose as the options from the parties, to best represent my interest?


I would wager that this is indeed the foundation upon which democracies that function are based – the fact of choice between available alternatives.


There is a certain petulance in any set of citizens claiming that ‘I did not go to vote because none of the candidates fired up my passions’. In a country like Nigeria, for instance, there were approximately 29 million who voted in the last presidential elections. Think about the chaos that would ensue if all of them decided to vote only if they found the candidates that fit their exact or proximate specifications.


For most ordinary citizens of the world, that luxury of desire doesn’t exist. For Americans, it can be a binary choice: which candidate will give me free healthcare and which one will not? For Nigerians it can come down to the same: which one will be less corrupt and so will free up monies for poverty alleviation programmes?


I would dare say, for responsible citizens, even if they are not the mass, that luxury does not exist as well: the choice will come to, in a field of undesirables, who is the candidate that will do the least damage, at the very least?


In making this choice, voting for third party candidate simply because you can, regardless of passing the test of viability, is both petulant and indulgent.


It is particularly indulgent because it sets the bar very low for third party candidates where the pitch then becomes: if we have undesirable options, then just because you are a third party candidate, whether you are qualified or not, whether you do the heavy lifting or not, we will vote for you as a protest option.


Think about the American elections in 2016, where both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had the worst favourabiity ratings of any modern candidate since Richard Nixon. A third party option became mainstream conversation.


But who were the options? Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party), one of only two third party candidates polling above 5 percent, was not only was deeply unaware of the world as it exists typified by his ignorance of Syria’s war dynamics, but even his deputy turned out not only to be uninspired by him, but actively rooting for the Democratic Party candidate.


To that extent, the question to those who would vote him in as a protest candidate: do you think this is a joke?


But Americans had actual third party options in 2015, in fact. By the test of viability above, that would be serious candidates with serious, practical ideas who were also ready to do the heavy lifting of organization, mobilization and persuasion. These candidates existed; they just didn’t run on the platform of actual third parties.


There was Bernie Sanders, a life-long Independent Senator from Vermont. Even though he ran under the Democratic party, Sanders was to all intents and purposes an independent candidate, no less validated by the fact that independents rushed into the primaries to vote him.


Donald Trump – Republican-today, Democrat-today – was also in effect a third party candidate. He was not beholden to Republican party orthodoxy, did not run on any of the existing political structures that deliver Republican victories, and – most remarkably – ran against BOTH the Democratic and the Republican establishments.


But to be viable, both candidates decided to get serious, and concluded that a hostile takeover of the present mainstream political options was more sensible than mounting quixotic bids from the fringes of political life.


Both candidates were also highly serious-minded candidates, with massive track records, either in business or government, who had – each in their different ways – been pusing a particular, stubborn agenda in the full glare of public attention; Bernie Sanders with his multi-decade message of socialism, and Trump with a 30-year war against ‘America losing’.


By the time they mounted bids, preparation, profile and purpose had met opportunity. And yet, even they had to mount this takeover bid through existing mainstream political structures.


This thing is hard, serious work.


So when Nigerians say: We had third party candidates in 2015. We should ask ourselves: did we really?


Was KOWA, for instance, a serious third party option? Did it have a popular agenda, did it possess a truly inspiring candidate with a clear track record and a concrete alternative reality beyond ‘I exist, I am not one of them, I am different, so vote for me?’ Did it have, as a party, a serious presence in 12 states of the country at a minimum, able if not to win elections at least to mobilise people with the idea of another option?


The answer is clearly no.


Beyond the (without prejudice to her character) triteness of the candidate it presented for national election, it just couldn’t marshal a central argument that could galvanise a political base.


You see, candidates and parties are not voted simple because they exist. Candidates and parties are voted because they prove that they can and should be taken seriously by voters serious about affecting electoral outcomes.


And, for that matter, if KOWA or other third party candidates were serious, Nigeria has indeed had third party candidates that are worth their weight in gold, they just haven’t stood for national political office.


Peter Obi launched his bid to be governor of Anambra, even before he was a registered member of any political party, driven – as legend would have it – simply by a desire to shake things up for the citizens of the state.


After he had decaled his ambition and circulated posters across Anambra, having deployed extensive financial resources to make the seriousness of his intention known, only then did he begin the search for a political party.


His search began with the All Nigerian People’s Party, going round a number of political parties before he arrived at the perfect host body of the All Progressives Grand Alliance. He finally led that party into a rare gubernatorial victory that has maintained its hold over that state in the past 12 years.


Olusegun Mimiko did the same thing in Ondo, defying the threats of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and daring the giants of all the All Progressives Congress (APC) to launch his own effective third party bid with the otherwise-powerless Labour Party.


Effectively, it wasn’t the party machinery – such as didn’t exist – that powered his electoral victory; it was the seriousness of his candidacy and the substance of his message that only at that point needed a legal vehicle to establish its efficacy.


There was even Lagos’s Jimi Agbaje, who parlayed a third party candidacy into national acclaim.


He did not win an election, but only because the Tinubu machinery in Lagos was (and is) finely honed and well oiled. It was the seriousness of the Democratic Party Alliance-candidacy of Agbaje (complete with the viral ‘JK is OK’ message) that finally made him such an irresistible candidate for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), enough to incur the wrath of the formidable Musiliu Obanikoro in 2014.


If KOWA and others want to be taken seriously, then they must pay attention to these models.


These are solid Nigerian models that have worked or that have captured the popular imagination. They are worth talking about, and worthy of the victories that they have won. Only issue is that none of these models have been transformed into a national arena. And that is a tragedy as we move into the 2019 elections.


It is noteworthy, and tragic, that two years before our next federal elections, there is – yet again – no serious-minded presidential candidacy on the scene beyond the usual suspects.


The reason for this is simple: many Nigerian politicians are making the bet that the only two viable options in 2019 have to come either from the APC or from the PDP. And rather than mounting mainstream messaging that can capture the hearts and minds of the voting public, many of them are insisting on internal horse-trading; trying to win the affection of the power brokers in those parties first, and using that as the only foundation for deciding whether to run for office or not.


For many of them, if you won’t win the support of the owners of the political structures within these parties (many of them former political office holders or military power players), then there is no point mounting any political challenge, because you just will not win.


This is a shame.


It is a shame because it speaks to the fundamental lack of grit on the part of the players on the national political space. And it is a shame because if there will be any opportunity for a third political force to emerge and to enhance the competitiveness of the center stage, the time is now.


Having dislodged the ruling party in 2015, the field has been thrown wide open now for other players to further weaken the political center, and widen the options for the composition of a new political establishment.


Without the appearance of a third party candidate, it appears that the two options for 2019 – at least, as today stands – will yet again be Muhammadu Buhari and (wait for it) Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.




In the absence of any alternatives with name recall, or establishment consensus, these are most likely to be the default candidates by the time competition kicks off at the end of this year.


Now, whether you are a die-hard supporter of any of these two or not, this is not an optimal state of affairs in a country where both parties, have been less than impressive in federal office (and that, being perhaps the understatement of the year).


At this point, after the foundational two-party disruption of 2015, Nigeria’s democracy is ripe for a new level of disruption; one that, at the minimum, scares the establishment out of a dangerous binary reality, into one that refocuses, not on internal political calculation, but on the citizen.


At the very least, it will shake off the complacency now that seems destined to re-present a repeat of 2015.


The need for this is even more acute because both of these parties do not possess an ideological difference that presents real options beyond personalities.


In a situation like this, a sign of health will certainly be the multiplicity of options that engenders healthy competition. That healthy competition will in turn force parties to compete no longer on the level of personality, but then on the level of ideology, a coherent architecture of consistent ideas.


I am aware that there are many solid candidates that are considering seriously a presidential run. Many of them are younger political stars who have an impressive track record in government.


Even better, in a country with unavoidable ethnic fault-lines, I am aware that many of these are candidates from the South East and South South – which means the coincidence of opportunity and minority agitation presents fertile ground to run real interference.


They need to find the courage to take the plunge.


Either the way of the Obis and Mimikos, or perhaps the way of Adams Oshiomhole, a viable third party candidate who only needed a serious minded party and machinery to make the possible finally inevitable.


There is a place for third party candidates in Nigeria. But the space only exists for serious minded third party candidates. They call for the serious minded, with serious minded capacity, and an actual game plan for capturing electoral victory.


That’s the least the Nigerian electorate deserves.


*Jideonwo is co-founder and managing partner of RED (www.redafrica.xyz), which brands including Y!/YNaija.com and governance communication firm, StateCraft Inc. Office of the Citizen (OOTC) is his latest essay series.

OOTC: Yemi Osinbajo’s performance is beside the point – Chude Jideonwo

You could feel the sense of panic when some of the enablers and voters (of which I am one, having personally and professionally supported him) of President Muhammadu Buhari heard that the president was returning to Nigeria last week. The question – uncomfortable, perhaps unseemly – hung in the air: why was he returning oh?


The joke in the city these days, the one you no doubt have heard if you have friends and family, is that the president should take all the time he needs to have the rest he requires, so that the vice president can continue to do the work and earn the respect he inspires.


Unsaid is the real calculation: Buhari retains credibility with the populace, the respect (due more to aesthetic than performance) of the local elite, the goodwill of the international elite and the political capital that comes from the sheer number of voters from the North. To this extent, it is useful for him to retain that political capital as cover for his deputy Yemi Osinbajo to continue the good work that we have seen since the latter became Acting President.


So his voters, now happy to beat their chest about Osinbajo, are suddenly worried that the president’s return would lead the country back to a narrative of mediocrity, and leave them vulnerable again to charges that they bear responsibility for the state of the nation.


It is understandable, of course. President Buhari’s performance has been, to put it kindly, so sub-par that it is incredibly difficult for any thinking person to say that she is “proud” of this presidency.


Why is this even more disappointing? There were many of the president’s supporters who were realistic enough not to hold out any hopes of magic – he after all was a vestige of a not-golden era of Nigerian leadership, at least by participation. But they expected that at the very least he would keep the ship steady, validating the transfer of power from one party to another as we continued the journey towards a more perfect union.


Instead, he has unnecessarily squandered considerable local goodwill and, even worse, rolled back some of the (economic) progress made under his unimpressive predecessor.


It is inexcusable that (using 2016 numbers) Gross Domestic Product has dropped to -0.4 from 2.35% when he took office, inflation grown to 13.9% from 8.7%, crude oil output dropped from 2.05 million barrels per day to 1.4 million, and external reserves declined from $29.1 billion to $27.6 billion.


There is the Federal Accounts Allocation Committee revenue, which has come down from N409 billion to N299 billion, market capitalization dropping from N11.42 trillion to N8.7, and unemployment numbers climbing from 24.1% to 29.2%.


Indeed you can call any local economic growth index and it is the same story: Business Confidence, Industrial Capacity Utilisation, Industrial Sector Growth, Aviation Passenger Traffic, Ease of Doing Business, Agricultural Sector Growth, Real Estate Vacancies, even bank bad loans!


Fitch Ratings this year revised the outlook on Nigeria from stable, putting it at ‘B+’, noting that growth at 1.5% is well below the 2011-15 annual growth average of 4.8%, and predicted “limited economic recovery” in 2017.


Then there is of course the abcradabra with the foreign exchange rate, the ultimate symbol of the government’s witlessness re global markets and steadily its equivalent of the oil subsidy scam.


In addition to that are the abominable communication failures in underscoring major security gains, improvements in road infrastructure and a coherent anti-corruption narrative. Even the mismanagement of his illness storytelling has been a master-class in ineffectiveness.


There is very little that one can point to with pride.


So, to reclaim their narrative and justify their decision, some of these supporters have insisted that Osinbajo’s performance is testament to their smart decision to vote for the All Progressives Congress, and to trust in the combined political machineries of Buhari, Bola Tinubu, Rotimi Amaechi and Atiku Abubakar.


That is a credible argument. You don’t just vote a man or woman after all; you vote a system of people and promises, built, in this case, on the structure of a viable political party. It is one ticket and one presidency, and obviously I share the sense of relief as to the government finally redeeming the huge promises that it made to the Nigerian people.


But it is important that we do not miss the real point Nigerians made with their votes in 2015.


Whether Osinbajo is doing well or not, whether Buhari eventually goes down in history for supervising an excellent presidency or not (and we still have over two years to go), that is beside the real point – and that point is that Nigerians made the right choice in 2015.


Let that point be repeated: Nigerians made the right choice in 2015.


You see, it is possible to hold two different thoughts in your head in the same breath, and on this decision, these are the two thoughts: 1. President Buhari has disappointed many of his supporters. 2. But voting him – and what he represented – was still the right thing to do in 2015.


It is easy to cop-out under Osinbajo’s goodwill and claim that this was the genius of the decision all along, but the intellectually honest point is a more nuanced one.


That point is that, irrespective of what the good we see today, no matter how the decision we made in 2015 had turned out in the short term, the majority of Nigerian voters had no choice but to make the decision they made between Goodluck Jonathan representing the People’s Democratic Party at the federal level and Muhammadu Buhari representing the APC.


Now here is the deal, and revisionist history cannot invalidate this point: Buhari was elected crucially and principally as a rejection of Jonathan. He was received and celebrated as the best and most viable option to unseat a decrepit ruling party and a feckless leadership, and our best chance to make a statement that power belongs to the people, especially the power to punish failure.


The choice for many citizens was clear: one between the certainty of failure and the possibility of success (which also came with the possibility of failure). One between a man who had led for five years and failed conclusively on the big issues of corruption and security, and the other who had led for one year and whose verdict was, by the fact of truncation, inconclusive.


The choice was between rewarding ineptitude and having to live with that choice for another four years, or choosing different and holding out for hope (and, please, the less said about third party options that had neither the depth of ideas nor political capacity to win even one local council, the better). Buhari represented that hope, and his victory was the best chance to at unseating the hegemony that represented the exact opposite of hope.


His victory reset the balance of power on the side of the people, and put fear into the hearts of elected leaders everywhere in our nation.


The Nigerian citizenry instinctively knows this, despite how unhappy it is at the moment. As a poll at the end of last year by the Governance Advancement Initiative for Nigeria (GAIN) showed, yes, Nigerians believe Jonathan handled the economy much better than Buhari, but they insist he is deeply responsible for this ultimate state of affairs.


“While 60% of Nigerians held the Buhari government partially or completely responsible for the recession, 74% believe that the Jonathan government is to blame,” the report said. “While nearly similar numbers (28% for PMB vs 25% for GEJ) believed both governments were partially to blame, more respondents (49% for GEJ vs 32% for PMB) believed that the Jonathan government was completely to blame for the recession. Those who argue that the profligacy of the Jonathan government led directly to Nigeria’s budgetary and economic crisis will take these results as vindication that Nigerians agree with their point of view.”


Common sense is as common sense does. Actions have consequences, sowing leads to reaping, nation building is a continuum and we, as a people, know the points at which the rain began to beat us.


So in justifying their decision to vote for Buhari in 2015, Nigerians who made that difficult – or for some, excited – choice, have no need to turn to Osinbajo as a crutch.


Yes, we should be thankful that the ticket that won the election is finally justifying the mandate it was given. It is possible as some people say that this is because democracy is not a sprint and it would take any government a bit of time to find its footing. It is possible that it is finally the dominance of the efficient Tinubu machinery doing the magic; it might be that the president’s light-touch, command-and-control approach to governance has finally been justified, or it might just be a coincidence of fate, luck and a little opportunity.


Whatever it is that brought us here, we should be thankful, but we must not forget the larger idea: As a nation we did the right thing in 2015.


We made a long-term decision to re-order the balance of power, create an equilibrium between the opposing forces holding our nation’s fate in their immediate palms, and made clear the barest minimum beyond which we will not allow our leaders to go, else they are punished.


In the long term, and if we consolidate on those gains in 2019, we will be fine.


We will be just fine.


*Jideonwo is co-founder and managing partner of RED (www.redafrica.xyz), which brands including Y!/YNaija.com and governance communication firm, StateCraft Inc. Office of the Citizen (OOTC) is his latest essay series.

OOTC: Why I am an entrepreneur in the business of nation building (2) – Chude Jideonwo

Then there is the long-term advantage – and this is the more important one for the future of our nation: what roles can business thinking and the entrepreneurial spirit play in reshaping the Nigerian society?

To answer, you may first ask the more fundamental questions: what is the role of business, and how can business deploy its unique capacities to transform Nigeria in a way that civil society and public office has yet failed to do up until now?

The tragedy of capitalism has been that, business, a beautiful thing that – like other organs of society – is supposed to contribute to the building of the nation, has been narrowed to a vehicle solely for profit.

This is an aberration. Profit is the engine of business, but this engine has purpose: the purpose is to surrender to the discipline of the market, so that that it is forced to innovate, to iterate, to adapt; to respond to the world as it is, and make it into what it can be.

Nigeria’s problem, caused by its poor leadership is, at the base of it, a collapse of order, of the systems and the architecture that provides sustained value. It is a complete failure of systems thinking.

This is where entrepreneurs thrive. In the absence of systems, they create them. Where people look and see darkness, they see opportunity. From the stones of failure, they map out value. They bring order to chaos, and replace waste with profit.

Others see red tape, and the entrepreneur sees a virgin market; they see pioneer status, and they see first mover advantages.

Unfortunately, in response to this abundance of opportunity our country’s challenges throw up, what have a new breed of businessmen and women been focused on?

More e-commerce companies. As if we live in a different reality from the rest of our nation.

Is Nigeria’s problem the lack of yet another online mall, or is it a collapse of basic infrastructure, the social fabric and the demonstrable power of good governance?

Why are we so dedicated to solving the problems we do not have, when the problems that we have demand urgent solutions? Why are we dead-set on replicating solutions designed for other climes with different sets of challenges, when we have enough of our own?

It is to this voice that entrepreneurs must turn their gifts.

So the question is: how can we apply the fundamentals of business strategy, and the underlying demands of creating a national competitive advantage to regenerating our country?

The challenge is stark. We need investors and creators in health care, human resources, agriculture, technology, manufacturing, in entertainment and across sectors who can get right to the task of building solutions that will actually make governance work, and work for the people.

We have tried to work around governance as entrepreneurs – and all it has done is enriched our pockets while leaving us in an unsafe country with decrepit hospitals.

We have successful businesses all around us now, but what has their narrow focus on making profits done for us as a people – how has the massive shareholder value they have created helped move Nigeria to where it can be? Desperate times call for innovation.

This is where companies like StateCraft are proud to step in – its key product line being people-power; and, when this product line works at optimum, electoral victory.

Thankfully, it is not alone. Andela is solving the problem of our national human resource gap, BudgIT is solving the problem of corruption via access to government data, and my favourite company LifeBank is tackling head on the urgent life-and-death issue of providing blood for the many who need it in emergency situations.

Some of the companies above have not yet, like us, found a business model that drives their economic engine (i.e. who will pay for this product/service continuously), but it is a shame that many of them remain afloat today not by the urgency of Nigerian investment, but by the charity of foreign visionaries like the Zuckerberg-Chan Foundation, and the Omidyar Network.

Nigeria has a blood bank problem. Unlike South Africa that meets its donor needs on a volunteer basis, we only survive based on paying people for blood, and yet we are functioning at below 10 percent capacity, according to Temie Giwa, who founded LifeBank.

To solve this problem, she has decided to run a business, to ensure sustainability. That business functions as an enterprise marketplace for hospitals and blood banks, helping clients source for the best blood and blood products that patients need and delivering the product to patients on time, via an inventory of all the blood available in the country at any time.

She needs the financial runway to keep thinking until she arrives at a business model. But where are the helpers? Where are the investors?

Giwa’s business is literally – literally – saving lives. But she cannot scale yet because local investors are still stuck in an old, warped paradigm where saving lives is something separate from the demands of successful business.

This has to end. Old models must be overturned, old paradigms discarded, and traditional boundaries pushed forward – those lines that separate corporate social responsibility from the core of a business or that isolate advocacy from the core idea of what business should stand for.

Those are false lines, they are lines drawn by the selfish and the insular who have inverted the beauty of capitalism and distorted the pure idea of corporate value.

Business, like any other organ cannot, and in a new world should no longer, be separated from the public good.

Business, like other pillars of society – clergy, civil society – can and should stand in the gap where government has failed, driving social good, and expanding social value. The imperative is not to focus on profits as end for itself, but for profits to be incentive for innovation and creating the future.

It is possible.

Now, of course I understand the reluctance that business people traditionally have had for getting involved in the morass of Nigerian governance and its gaps.

Of course, you will face criticism, sometimes rabid, for problems you did not create and for solutions you are providing with purity of intention. Indeed, there is the great risk to be misunderstood in a deeply corrupt system, where profit is viewed as a dirty word, and self-interest is hardly enlightened.

And there will be those, caught in a cognitive dissonance, themselves disconnected from the imperatives of intervention, who will tell you that because you are in business, you have no business with building your nation.

But that is nonsense.

It is nonsense because whether activist or entrepreneur, painter or pastor, you are first and foremost a citizen – and it is immoral to focus only on protecting your business and winning contracts, feigning disinterest and blindness in nation desperate with need.

I was excited to convince one of the leading lights of the new entrepreneurial movement in Nigeria last year upon speaking at the Oxford Africa Business Conference.

“The first time I had the opportunity to speak to Chude of RED at length was at the Oxford Africa Business conference in May. It was a very pleasant conversation. At least, so I thought,” wrote the founder of iROKO TV, Jason Njoku, wrote after that talk. “Literally 20 mins later, he called me and mine cowards in front of 100+ people. That’s hyperbole. He didn’t call me personally a coward per se.

“He railed against all those men (and women) of means in Lagos who live in their gilded cages. Flaunting their prosperity, who speed past the problems of the masses. In a country where someone’s monthly salary is the same as an expensive meal on the Island. That those of means had a moral responsibility to do something about it.”

So yes, it is nonsense for anyone to tell you to mind your business. It is your moral responsibility to mind your country, too.

It is also nonsense because you have a unique talent, gift and proposition – the entrepreneurial, outcome-focused thinking that is crucial for a country of many problems.

And, most importantly, it is nonsense because the nation badly, desperately needs you.

At times of luxury, we can all afford the luxury of being part time citizens. But in a country so damaged, we surely cannot afford the luxury of disconnect, and we cannot rely on tradition and convention.

We need activist judges, activist academics, activist celebrities, activist lawyers, activist media, activist government officials (see former United States Attorney General, Sally Yates standing up to Trump or former Nigerian minister, Obiageli Ezekwesili being called ‘NADECO’ in the Obasanjo government), and we need activist businessmen and women.

At times like these, when governments have proven themselves incapable of doing the jobs they have been asked to do, it is time for a different type of thinking from other organs of functioning society.

Last week, Mark Zuckerberg unleashed what I call his magnum opus on how he sees the world and the role of business in that world.

Facebook, according to him, is not just a technology tool to upload photos and publish videos. It is an instrument to remake society.

Facebook, as Vox.com put it in a review of Zuckerberg’s essay, is poised to be a platform on which to build a global civil society, crating a service that encourages communities and cooperation and political participation on a translational scale.

In short, Facebook is not just in business to make money, even though money is crucially important. Facebook is, cliché or not, in the business of changing the world; providing alternatives that address the limitations of governments and civil society.

“The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present,” Abraham Lincoln sagely reminds us. “The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, act anew.”

This is the kind of challenge that a new world poses to the inventiveness and innovation of businessmen and women.

And, for Nigeria and much of Africa, it is a desperately urgent call.

We can choose to answer it.

Or we can wait until this whole thing comes crashing down, on all of us, destroying the illusions of safety that we have, and the broken-down society that we have chosen to ignore.

I wonder what will happen to all those shareholder profits if that day and time comes.

*Jideonwo is co-founder and managing partner of RED (www.redafrica.xyz), which brands including Y!/YNaija.com and governance consulting firm, StateCraft Inc (www.statecraftinc.com). Office of the Citizen (OOTC) is his latest essay series.

OOTC: Why I Am An Entrepreneur In the Business of Nation-building (1) – By Chude Jideonwo

Business gives you the independence to walk away; the independence of thought, and the independence of position to say ‘no’, or to say ‘yes’ to what truly matters. It gives you the freedom to take risk and made decisions that may not make sense in the interim, but serve a long-term strategic purpose.

A few days ago, I received this message in my email from a highly respected colleague with the Punch, which inspired this article:

“Thank you for staying true to the cause. I have seen too many people transform into villains in recent years; but you have been steadfast and I couldn’t be more proud.

“I remember being in your office in 2012 when you returned from a meeting with the NLC concerning the Occupy Nigeria protest at a time many thought you would do anything to protect the Goodluck Jonathan administration.

“This year, I saw you standing in the sun on February 6, once again risking more than people know, to draw attention to Nigeria’s heartbreaking situation. All I saw was a man who has chosen to put his country first.”

Beyond the obvious warming of my heart, this message did something much more important: it led me into thinking about why I have been able to do the things that I have done above.

Why have I, a typically fear-filled follower-type person, been able to conquer the fear and my default mode to undertake the risks, as the writer seems to think, to “put my country first”?

The answer I discovered shocked me as much as it may shock you: I realised it is because I am, first and foremost, an entrepreneur.

This is weird because, on the face of it, business is not the thing you think about when it comes to nation-building.

You think about activists, you think about public officials, maybe you even think about journalists. But not ever do you find yourself thinking ‘I could change government in my country’ by being a businessman.

How did all of this come about?

In 2009, I think, we had hosted four editions of our popular brand The Future Awards Africa (TFAA), when – at a review meeting in Terra Kulture, Lagos – the filmmaker, Chris Ihidero corrected an error.

TFAA – a brand focused on nation building – was founded on the passionate assumption, we repeated regularly, that young people could change Nigeria “in spite of the government.” This, Ihidero sadly informed me, was a historical fallacy. No modern nation that he knew had been remade or transformed in spite of its government. Government, he said, had to change first.

This fundamentally altered the way that I saw my self and my role in nation building. It was a shift in paradigm that practically changed the course of my life.

In 2010, I had the first opportunity to test out this new understanding. Soon after Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as keynote speaker at TFAA that year, had revealed that the youth were the majority of the nation’s population and challenged them to get actively involved, our president, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua went missing.

It was a time as any for the youth to take advantage of those numbers.

Many people know the history now: I sent an email to friends, we hosted the EnoughisEnough (EiE) rallies in Abuja and Lagos, trended globally on Twitter, were on front-pages of national dailies and across international media, and more importantly, before our ultimatum expired, our demand was met and Goodluck Jonathan was declared acting president of Nigeria.

What many don’t know is exactly what happened after.

The co-founders of EiE came together – the emergency executive committee we had gathered – after the Lagos protests, and discussed how would EiE transmute. It had been established primarily as a conduit for protests, but now that it had become successful, it couldn’t possibly disband. Young people were looking to it for eldership, and it couldn’t disappoint.

Now, up until that moment I had thought of EiE as a media brand, and since then it has become the core of our experience at RED. With its scant resources, we had approached it as a pop-culture brand – co-creating a mainstream product that captured the popular imagination.

But it had evolved into something else from there. It had gained a life of its own.

“Chude,” my friend, Segun Demuren asked at the meeting. “Would you lead it?”

“No,” I said, after pretending to mull over the thought. “My hands are too full at the moment. But I have been looking at ‘Yemi (Adamolekun, who had joined us at the Lagos protests) and I believe she has the exact mission mindset and temperament to make this work.”

Adamolekun, who was then supporting the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy was shocked. “Me? Temperament? I will chase all the funders away. I am not a patient person.”

But I had paid close attention to her in the days since we had met, from the afternoon we had ridden in the same car after the Lagos protests. There was something about her. From pure instinct, it had become abundantly clear that if this mission was to survive, she was just the exact person it needed to make it happen.

Pretended to mull over the thought, I had noted earlier, because I already anticipated that as convener, that request would be made, and I had already thought seriously about it. I had agonised over the decision, because in EiE I saw the beginnings of something truly powerful and deeply useful for Nigeria (evident through this February’s #IStandWithNigeria protests). I really wanted to lead it. I almost said ‘yes’.

Painfully though, I realised it had to be ‘no’.

I couldn’t do it. Because my calling was different. My calling in this phase of my life, as far as the world’s present labels go, is business.

For EiE to succeed, even if it began as a media brand, I could see that its purest, deepest expression (and the only way that it could sustain its coalition, which was its strongest brand asset) was for it to evolve as a not-for-profit civil society organisation.

And that was not a fit for my personal mission, and for my talents.

Indeed, this has always been the prevailing arc of my career. My passion from my teens has always been nation building. As I grew older, I realised that my immediate desire was to do this through enterprise. It is the reason we refused to launch TFAA as a not-for-profit – so that, as we told the media at our first press conference, it could generate the income to be sustainable and be independent, for the 20-year goal that we had set for ourselves.

EiE was not the vehicle for that, and so I let go of that assignment to someone who has now done it even better than any of us could have imagined.

In letting go of it, my co-founder, our management board and I now set ourselves to the task – how would we achieve this passion for nation-building within the ambits of our talents?

We had no models to look to. But that is in fact the idea and beauty of business: to create where a thing previously didn’t existing. We realised we had ample space to build out that value proposition… a, as it were, blue ocean.

Of course, the one reason I could say ‘no’ to the glistening opportunity to lead this historic organisation (also the one reason I have been able to say ‘no’ to two offers to join separate administrations) in the first place is because I had a clear personal mission for the first phase of my life.

That mission is our business; with a potential so vast, and opportunities so endless that it would be frankly stupid to ignore the benefits of what venture capitalist, Peter Thiel calls “delayed value” for temporal gratification.

At about that time, I was also blessed to become a disciple of Jim Collins. His seminal book Good to Great made the thinking clear that an entrepreneur should apply to such a land of vast opportunities, three circles: What sets fire to your passion? What can you do better than anybody else? What drives your economic engine i.e. what will people pay for?

Energised by this formidable framework, we set ourselves to the task of building a viable business proposition that could solve the problems that lit our passions – nation building.

That is how we came to build the beautiful company now called StateCraft Inc.

The seeds for the company were sown in the elections of 2011, and it grew into full operations in 2015 – a governance consulting company that we, in its first phase, have now deployed as a sharply effective (media) tool to hack into establishments, overturn incumbencies and return power to the hands of the people.

The victories of StateCraft Inc and its utility to nations are, as favour would have it, now immediately clear: with historic anti-establishment presidential wins in Nigeria in 2015 and in Ghana in 2016.

These are wins that, in spite of the short-term challenges that these nations may face after change, have set them on the part to people-driven transformational growth by re-balancing the axis of power in favour of the every day voter, and citizen.

We couldn’t be prouder.

The success of the company proves the theory of the case for business – as a mechanism that forces you to think, in that long term way that truly builds institutions, creates systems and transforms paradigms.

It also re-established the true purpose of business in the world, and its potential to remake society.

There are two crucial roles in this light: one in the short term and the other in the long term.

In the short term, there is the market-driven financial independence to look nonsense in the face and say ‘no’ to it.

Functional financial value creates independence that facilitates action. You don’t rely on grants, you don’t rely on patronage, you rely, primarily, on the market; and that feeds your confidence.

You can see this in America today, as Apple, Uber, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and others have come together to say ‘no’ in capital terms to the anti-immigrant posture and rolling back of transgender rights from the towers of Donald Trump.

Business gives you the guts and gumption to do this.

Is it possible in Nigeria? Of course it is. I should know. I have lived it.

In 2011, one of our companies worked for the Goodluck Jonathan presidential campaign, and another landed an exclusive cover interview with the incoming president.

In 2012, my co-founder and I put that relationship at risk, when the fuel subsidy protests launched in January and we chose the side of an angry public against the reasonable pull of our business interests.

This was more dangerous than the public knew.

At the time, not only did we have expanded relationships with key members of the government, but another of our clients was a central player on the side of that government in the fuel subsidy removal.

Before the protests began, I sent a text to a key person who was my contact on the account. The crux of the message: “I don’t think we can continue working as we will be joining the protests.”

His reaction was irritation: “Why are you preaching to me?”

My strong personal – even emotional – commitment to that client made it even more difficult to tamper with the relationship. But by the time the dust of #OccupyNigeria had cleared, we had inevitably left the account.

It also put paid to an offer to enable us extend our business operations to Abuja fully. But we told ourselves that if our long-term strategy was valid, and our proposition strong, then we could let go of temporary detours.

Only business could allow me do that.

In 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan hosted TFAA in the presidential villa.

It was deeply gracious of him and a gift to our mission – he was a man whose heart was large, and his people truly believed in what we were doing. It underlined the leadership of the awards by the institutional seal of the Nigerian presidency, and officially launched our African expansion. I remain grateful for that goodwill.

But in April 2014, three months after that, the Chibok girls were kidnapped under his watch. For me, his reaction to that failure became the final straw for a government that had made too many mistakes. My values compelled me to speak out against it.

So I was soon on the streets again. I was writing and speaking to local and international media against it. I made my stand clear.

Only business could allow me take that risk.

In 2015, StateCraft Inc worked massively and publicly for the elections of Muhammadu Buhari. This time around, he was not just a client who fit the values of our business; he was also my personal choice.

I was silent, in fact, for the entirety of my professional duties, deliberately, because I needed full concentration. But a day to the polls, I made the decision to speak out, just in case I could also convince anyone by the power of my personal voice. I wanted, deliberately, to put my voice on the line.

But in February this year, two years after that decision, I decided that the government needed a wake up call. And I was back on the streets, demanding better, holding the government accountable, supporting EiE behind the scenes to make the #IStandWithNigeria protests come alive.

I could only do that because I run a business.

Because I understand that, whatever the temporary backlash and loss of potential revenue that comes, we are blessed with the systems thinking in my organisation, beyond my person in processes and people, to generate wealth in the long term.

Of course, over the years, there has been backlash to these decisions.

In 2014, after our #BringBackOurGirls stand, we lost all our work for any federal government organ. I watched with some amusement, and empathy, as friends on that side of town were too afraid even to even attend my book launch.

But, as always, we accepted these with equanimity; didn’t even think, until now, to speak of it publicly. This was the reasonable consequence for the actions we had chosen to take and the way we had chosen to run our business with heart; to always stand, as we say, on the right side of history.

We have always had faith in the concept of “delayed revenue” – in the durability of the market. That faith is not even at all in today’s revenues, which are tiny by the standards of the future we see, it is a faith in the long-term value that a truly solid business proposition can guarantee. Today is never tomorrow.

And in this same way, I know that there are very many businessmen in Nigeria can stand to lose a few millions. They can, if they tried. They just haven’t started to think like that yet. We have to encourage them.

Business gives you the independence to walk away; the independence of thought, and the independence of position to say ‘no’, or to say ‘yes’ to what truly matters. It gives you the freedom to take risk and made decisions that may not make sense in the interim, but serve a long-term strategic purpose.

That is the short-term advantage.

Then there is the long-term advantage, which we will address in the concluding part of this piece.


Chude Jideonwo is co-founder and managing partner of RED.

Office of the Citizen (OOTC) is Jideonwo’s latest essay series.

OOTC with Chude Jideonwo: Don’t be annoyed o, but please, who spoilt Nigeria?

There is something curious that you might have noticed. Something as strange as it is weird. And it should worry you.

We don’t appear to know who ‘spoilt’ Nigeria.

‘Spoilt’ of course is the colloquial shorthand for all that ails our nation – corruption, poor leadership, stillbirth policy, diving quality of life, and gaping income inequality.

We complain about these things everyday. We moan and point fingers, bitter over the legacy handed to generations that are yet unable to bear them. We are frustrated because the smattering of best efforts don’t appear to lead us anywhere. The foundation is destroyed.

So we know that Nigeria is ‘spoilt’.

But who exactly ‘spoilt’ the country?

It turns out; no one ever takes responsibility for the state of our nation.

Let’s start from the beginning.

The quartet of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo and Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa, not alone, who altogether led the team that secured Nigeria’s political independence and ensuring economic decline already escaped responsibility for our state of affairs.

These days it is impolitic to state certain ‘imperfections’ about these legends, as it were. That in 1943, the Saduana of Sokoto was accused by his cousin Alhaji Abubakar Saddique of misappropriating tax revenue as District Head of Gussau. That Dr. Azikiwe was accused of corruption in 1962 and a panel was set up by the chief whip of his party to investigate the misapplication of 2 million pounds under his watch as premier, a cloud under which he never emerged.

And of course, famously, that the great Obafemi Awolowo was, also in 1962, accused of diverting the funds of the Western Region’s government to his political party, conduct apparently confirmed by the Justice George Coker panel of inquiry.

“Before independence, there have been cases of official misuse of resources for personal enrichment (Storey, 1953),” notes a paper by University of Lagos professor of history, Michael Ogbeidi. “Over the years, Nigeria has seen its wealth withered with little to show in living conditions of the citizens. The First Republic under the leadership of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Prime Minister, and Nnamdi Azikwe, the President, was marked by widespread corruption. Government officials looted public funds with impunity. Federal Representative and Ministers flaunted their wealth with reckless abandon. In fact, it appeared there were no men of good character in the political leadership of the First Republic. Politically, the thinking of the First Republic Nigerian leadership class was based on politics for material gain; making money and living well.”

He is talking about Nigeria’s “founding fathers”.

Instead of being held responsible for the parts that they have played, that they must have played, (since 1 plus 1 is equal to two) just after independence, in laying the foundations of a squandered promise, in addition to the Civil War that their actions precipitated, they are dealt with as benevolent fathers that bestowed the beauty of this nation unto us – a legacy one must assume the country is proud of since it celebrates them so urgently.

And Yakubu Gowon? The one who took after them? This is the president from under whom Nigeria’s oil boon began, where many historians can track the beginnings of our institutional waste and who oversaw a civil war the country has yet to recover from. He does not take responsibility for the state of the nation.

Shehu Shagari was 5-time minister from independence in 1960 – 1970 before he became president in 1979. His government was defined by corruption, and it is to him that we owe the pleasure of the Ajaokuta Steel Black Hole which he spent hundreds of millions in dollars on – with the raw material of rumoured kickbacks.

His programme to encourage mechanical machines in farming was hijacked by friends of the government who were retired military officers, and by the time oil prices began to fall in 1981, , the center could no longer hold.

“It was claimed that over $16 billion in oil revenues were lost between 1979 and 1983 during the reign of President Shehu Shagari. It became quite common, for federal buildings to mysteriously go up in flames, most especially just before the onset of ordered audits of government accounts, making it impossible to discover written evidence of embezzlement and fraud. No politician symbolised the graft and avarice under Shagari’s government more than his combative Transport Minister, Alhaji Umaru Dikko, who was alleged to have mismanaged about N4 billion of public fund meant for the importation of rice.”

Failure heavy enough that when General Muhammadu Buhari took over in a coup on December 31, 1983, the nation breathed a sigh of relief. Shagari was released from detention for personal corruption in 1986, and banned from politics for life.

Has he ever taken responsibility for anything, yet?

Then, of course, there was the legendary Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, under whose government Nigeria’s made leaps and bounds in corruption, ruining our reputation in narcotics trade and advanced economic fraud and whose government oversaw the disappearance of the $12.4b (or less, but certainly billions of dollars, based on the thorough Pius Okigbo Commission Report) from what we now call the Gulf War Windfall of 1991.

“If anything, corruption reached an alarming rate and became institutionalized during Babangida’s regime,” Ogbeidi reports. “Leaders found guilty by tribunals under the Murtala Mohammed and Mohammadu Buhari regimes found their way back to public life and recovered their seized properties.

“According to Maduagwu: Not only did the regime encourage corruption by pardoning corrupt officials convicted by his predecessors and returning their seized properties, the regime officially sanctioned corruption in the country and made it difficult to apply the only potent measures, long prison terms and seizure of ill-gotten wealth, for fighting corruption in Nigeria in the future.”

Asked, in 2015, how he built his mansion in Minna, Babangida told the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (so that the irony can be complete), that it was generous, benevolent people who will remain unnamed that built it, of course.

“I know what my friends spent. No, my friends contributed,” he said, because we are all fools and reason is dead. “They were friends before we came into government and friends while I was in government. I started building it in 1991, took two to three years so that by the time I finished, I would have a house to sleep in.”

More than once you must have heard Babangida bemoan the state of the nation, complain about the collapse of morals and enjoin Nigerians to work hard and believe in the country,

We have really suffered.

“If what I read in the newspapers is currently what is happening then I think we were angels (in my government),” he said, without falling off his chair and hitting his head on the floor from shame. “My government was able to identify corruption-prone areas and checked them. If you remember in this country, there were things they call essential commodities. These are also sources of corruption. You go and buy ‘omo’ or food or whatever it is and we got government to take its hands off such activities. Let people use their own brains, hands and labour, nobody has to do it for them. I am proud to say that was much more effective. I give you an example; in a year I was making less than $7billion in oil revenue. In the same period, there are governments that are making $200billion to $300billion.”

Not even a dollar of responsibility taken, despite holding leadership of this country for the longest, his irresponsibility costing us the results of a free and fair election and plunging us into half a decade of pure Abacha-rian madness.

Babangida too does not know who spoilt Nigeria.

Olusegun Obasanjo, who oversaw the democratic transition that led Nigeria into Shagari, apart from playing his own questionable part in the carnage against the citizens of Biafra, and whose grand gestures as temporary president in the 70s did not translate into positivity for nation, would also say he is not part of those that spoilt Nigeria.

Then he returned to leadership and (though I consider him the most impressive Nigerian leader in my lifetime) left the country at the end, deliberately, in chaos – first by the damaging desire for an unconstitutional third term in office and then by arrogantly inflicting on all of us a sick man who transferred his illness to the nation’s soul and rolled back the small inches of progress we had made.

He too, who has led Nigeria twice – for almost a decade in total – would claim that he bears no responsibility for the state of our nation.

Not to speak of Muhammadu Buhari. He could previously claim, and indeed that claim held currency for 20 years, that he (much like the canonized Murtala Mohammed) spent too little time in office to be assessed responsible.

But on his second coming, we have had two years to interrogate his capacity and his legacy, two years during which we have seen fortunes decline, and citizens lose hope, without the cushion of leadership that inspires.
Even as he sits in the office and holds the ultimate responsibility for the state of affairs as I write, even he is not taking responsibility.

Buhari (whose candidacy I vigorously supported as, vastly, the better of our two options in 2015) points to everyone but himself. He points to all of those who held the office before him, he points to the government of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, he points to the opposition that won’t give him breathing space, he points to civil servants working hard to sabotage him, and he points to that most significant of Nigerian bad guys: ‘the system’.

It is not just our ex-presidents that have this affliction.

You see your friends whose fathers and mothers led this country at the highest levels, even those whose names have been demonstrably involved in corruption or at least negligence, and even they complain about the state of Nigeria.

They insist on presenting themselves as decent, reasonable people who had no part, magically, in the Nigeria that we have today.

Ask them who we should blame, and they point at others: ‘them’, ‘they’

Who are these ‘they’?

The faceless ‘they’ who always stand against change. You’ve heard every government speak about them, this unnamed powerful, omnipresent people who frustrate every good intention of the government but are never held accountable; these indeterminate group of people who sit like gremlins in Aso Rock and take over the brains and hearts of those who lead. Every president has pointed to them as the problem with the country.

Those indeterminate ‘they’ are so resolute that they were even there fighting against Diezani Alison-Madueke, despite her consolidation of oil administration power, the distribution of the wealth across questionable characters, and the ostentatious display that allegedly powered the obscene spend of the 2015 elections.

But despite all of the circumstantial dodginess, even our former oil minister says she was also victim of this indeterminate set of people who keep spoiling Nigeria – people who she, like those many innocents before her, did not name, did not shame, and did not hold accountable.

Of course, there is Jonathan, whose presidency accelerated an atmosphere of permissiveness and corruption, ceded large swaths of Nigeria to terrorists and lost 276 girls under his watch for which he yet has shown no remorse, at all. The less about him to be honest, the better for us all.

Ask the good doctor for who spoilt Nigeria – and he and his triumphal supporters who insist on crying over the spilt milk of a man who deserved to be voted out, will take no ounce of responsibility. No hoots give. If you don’t like it, they appear to say to us, go and die.

The truth is that Nigeria has been an unfortunate  (‘oloriburuku’ as the Yoruba excellently would put it) country.

We have been a desperately unfortunate country for so many years, the unfortunateness springing from our classless, clueless successive set of leaders.

And lest the point is lost in subtlety and euphemism: they are the people that spoilt Nigeria.

The question really is simple: if our succession of leaders were so sterling, so high achieving, and so distinguished – then how exactly did our country collapse?

The so-called founding fathers, the super permanent secretaries, every single person who has been president of this country, a vast majority of ministers and commissioners, governors and local government chairmen, and the dirty pack of colluding traditional rulers. Heads of parastatals, and members of boards, business leaders who have benefited from ungodly monopolies and the oppression of an unprotected competition, those who helped politicians funnel and launder illegal monies that they then deployed to set up banks, insurance companies and a hodge-podge of now ‘respectable businesses’, defense chiefs who allowed our arsenal to be depleted and outdated, putting all our lives at risk, each and every one of the inspector generals of police as far as we cannot find anyone whose legacy stands apart or possesses a highlight, who ruined the country if not them?

It’s time for us to have the clarity of intent and purpose to say to them, especially now – you did this; you caused this, take some responsibility for heaven’s sake.

On the first of January this year, I was invited alongside a respected academic and a former defense chief to the Nigerian Television Authority to speak about ‘Making Nigeria Great Again’.

This tragedy – of our unfortunateness – was again on display.

Every word this military chief (one of our points men in the fight against Boko Haram) uttered was grounded in vapidity. His responses to questions were devoid of reflection, strategy, or philosophy. He simply didn’t have anything useful to say.

And I panicked: This is the man who has been making decisions for our country? This is the man we trusted to keep us safe? This is the mind that informed the president?

“The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership,” Chinua Achebe already informed us.  “There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”

Think about it: if all the leaders of our journalism from the past were credible and competent, then who holds responsibility for the decay in our journalism? Who ruined the Nigerian Television Authority and made it a carcass of the greatness we are told that it once had? If all the people who ran businesses in Nigeria in the past were heroes and visionaries with the capacity for transformative ideas, then, please, sorry, where are their businesses? If all the leaders in our health sector had been such healthy, sterling examples of wisdom and brilliance, then please who is responsible for the state of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital or that of the University College Hospital?

These guys have a lot of experience, but as political economist, Pat Utomi has said, it is bad experience. It is the experience that comes from simply existing and being rather than from achieving, excelling and improving.

They are the ones who mouth the inanity about Nigeria’s “strength in diversity” and that its “unity is non-negotiable” as if all of us have not been living in this same country since 1960 and seeing that if there is one thing that we have always had, it is certainly not strength.

The people who have led us have not been the best of us. Veterans only of bureaucracy and form, their experience is useless, their relevance is overstated, and their capacity is, at best, questionable.

To be sure, we have seen evidence of brilliance in Nigeria. We have witnessed citizens build the creative industries into a system to be admired. We have seen young people recreate the music industry and push its significance across a global market. We have seen technology innovators recreate an entire system from scratch.

We have seen brilliance in politics too; Anambra’s Peter Obi and Lagos’s Babatunde Fashola being two contemporary examples, as well as the sterling system of succession that Lagos has modelled.

Unfortunately – as will be the same if my generation doesn’t significantly reboot Nigeria and set it on the path to truly transformative growth (and we still have an abundance of time to make this right) – it will be fine for the next generation to look at them; to look at us, and to say that for the most part, we were failures, and we bear responsibility for the state of our p nation.

It will be fine for them to look back at the long past of Nigeria’s desolate history and for them to curse the darkness, thoroughly.

Yes I know that come 2019, because of the terrible fault lines of democracy, we may yet be so unfortunate that one of these will yet be the only option for president of Nigeria – because, where are the alternatives on the scene today? And it will sadly fall to us, agan, to perform a civic duty and support the least of the bad options.

But at least let us be clear that we are drinking gutter water, and not coconut juice.

What is the reason it is so important to correctly locate the provenance of Nigeria’s problems?

  1. a) So that the responsible party approaches its duties to make amends with sobriety and perspective.
  2. b) So that a new generation leaders understands the urgent need to unlearn from the past and to be discriminatory on the conventions and traditions it chooses to perpetuate.

“Permanent secretaries, diplomats, vice chancellors have been here over the past two days telling us about how government can work for the people,” I said in a speech February 2016 at the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy, to an audience of these ex-leaders. “We have spent the past days hearing these leaders tell us what to do, when they had ample opportunity to show us what to do – an did not do so.

“One wonders as a generation if we have a lot to learn from these people, or if indeed we have so much to un-learn.

“Do you guys really have anything to teach us?  Who were the permanent secretaries who stole billions in the 70s, the soldiers who ruined Nigerian in the 90s, the ministers who stole us blind after 2000? Are they the same ones still talking to us today? If things were so great in those days, then how did Nigeria get to this sorry stage where corruption was once only a cankerworm, but now has gone viral?

“There are too many billionaires whom we don’t know how they made their billions and too many politicians who used to win with landslides that disappeared when card readers emerged.

“We must be honest in noting where you people have failed and where you presented insurmountable obstacles for our generation: gerontocracy that didn’t exist in 1956, a collapsed education system, institutions that were interrupted and then declined, a lack of authentic moral fibre and no workable models of businesses that succeed or governance that works for the people.”

Of course these vestiges of the past can still be part of building the future – that, after all, is a model we have seen work in many places across the world. But, first, they have to repent.

Based on what we have seen over the past 16 years, and what we are looking at today, first they must have the humility to take responsibility for the part that they have played in bringing us to this sorry state – and then to commit to making amends.

Either that or, as my people used to say in Ijeshatedo where I grew up: abeg make them comot, make we for see road pass.


*Jideonwo is co-founder and managing partner of RED (www.redafrica.xyz), which brands including Y!/YNaija.com and governance communication firm, StateCraft Inc. Office of the Citizen (OOTC) is his latest essay series.

Remember that thing Governor Ajimobi said? – By Chude Jideonwo

Last month, the Oyo governor, Abiola Ajimobi shocked the nation.

Footage of the governor speaking to students of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) who had been grounded at home (for eight months from 13 June, 2016 due to a shutdown announced by the Rector), showed a white-hot rage: “If this how you want to talk to me,” he blasted the students for their effrontery in protesting the closure of their school. “Then do your worst. Eight months. Eight months? Is that something we have not seen before?”

Even now retelling the statements, I am shaken.

Let’s stop there and unpack the statement and its many ugly layers: you will find arrogance, you will find insensitivity, and you will find a distinct lack of compassion (if we wanted to get right to the point, we would call it wickedness).

Let’s ask a common sense question: How does a public servant defend a failure of duty based on how he or she is spoken to?

And then let us recall what exactly the issue is here.

LAUTECH is owned by the Oyo and Osun state governments. The two state governments are to each give the schools N295 million as subventions monthly. Oyo owes the institution N2.3 billion and Osun owes N5.3 billion. With this dereliction of responsibility, naturally, teachers in the school have been owed for 13 months. So five months ago, workers went on strike, and the school was shut down.

I know our country has degenerated so badly that the unacceptable has found its place into mainstream tolerance. But it is important to understand this: having students of a university sit at home for eight months is certainly, to put it mildly, not normal.

It should never be acceptable for students to have disruptions to their academic schedule. It sends to them, a clear message – that their country does not care about them. It fundamentally alters any pretentions to structure and order, and the reality of governance.

It costs the nation significantly because we spend more per student in multiple ways when sessions are interrupted – depreciation costs, inflationary consequences, loss of manpower hours as employees are paid for periods of low value (and still have to retire at age limit), double costs with each resumption, cost of maintaining the school at gap periods (including electricity and water bills). Remember that none of these costs are value-driven because they are incurred when the primary reason for the institution’s existence is absent.

Then there is the unbearable cost to the students, and then to the guardians of the students – all of the above doing their part to sustain a vicious cycle of national waste.

It bears repeating, however, that its most important damage is that it else sends a message to young people finding their way in the world that this is a fundamentally messed up country, where hard work isn’t rewarded, patriotism isn’t logical and the system eats its young alive.

It is important to restate this, even if tertiary school shutdowns have become a tradition since the Academic Staff Union of Universities organized its first national strike in 1988 and military dictators, who ruled Nigeria for a better part of the 80s and 90s, decided that wanton school closures are the solution to student dissent.

It is important to restate this for the sake of my own sanity even if I have been a victim of the most ridiculous shutdowns as a student of the University of Lagos in 2005.

Because things have now deteriorated so badly, that an elected governor can stand at a podium – after eight months of institutional silence as these students have begged and pleaded for audience – unafraid of consequence, to tell them, essentially, to go to hell.

This is not normal.

In response, rather than apologise, or pretend to contrition, his team decided that a more effective strategy was to share its own edits of the exchange, claiming that the governor ‘apologised’ to the students.

First, in the apology video, he did no such thing. “I am not angry,” was the best he said, and from a place of entitled smugness.

The fact that this public servant even thought the full video of his patronizing statements would make any part of the exchange acceptable is proof further than the events in themselves that the man’s style of governance is also… not normal.

“Students need to learn to engage,” he lectured them after failing them for 13 months. Makes one wonder, isn’t it the job of the leader who is also servant to first engage, to explain, to establish a frame of understanding, and to empathise?

How do you expect calm and restraint from young people whose progress has been cut short for eight months? Is it possible that this man would be restrained and orderly if his children were stuck so?

It bears asking if there is an understanding of the basic nature of service.

Because beyond the evident failure of governance that his action shows, there is an absence in understanding the massive failure in the value chain. He doesn’t know that he has failed, and so he doesn’t know that he should be ashamed, be sorry about it, and be apologetic.

That should shock us. Not because we didn’t know how these guys have always viewed the rest of us; not because we didn’t know the primitiveness that undergirds the thinking of our leadership set, but because, now, they have killed shame.

There is that.

But perhaps we should ask ourselves – how did the governor come about this misguided confidence?

He explained it in the video: constituted authority.

According to him, the fact that he is “constituted authority” means the students should have kept shut, listened to him, and accepted his justifications uncritically.

He fully expected that his sheer presence of his superfluous ‘agbada’ was such a gift to the students that they should have been stunned into ecstatic silence.

And so “His Excellency” was shocked – shocked – that the young, educated people of his state, who were agitated after eight months of abandonment, could still find their voice.

Now, that, right there, is where we should get frightened.

That an elected leader – and there are many like him – still believe, even in a flourishing, adversarial two-party democracy, that they are constituted authority against which questions are disrespect, and questioners risk punishment.

Right there, stands the root of our particular brand of problem.

The respect, and, yes, the fear that leaders should have for citizens is mostly absent in the version of a social contract that Nigeria has.

Unfortunately, the fault for this anomaly doesn’t come only from those who lead.

Today, we have citizens who have ceded their right to be treated with respect. You only need to pay attention to conversation online to see a citizenry that has not only ceded that right, but actively denigrates those who would exercise theirs. People who believe that political affiliation means blind loyalty. Those who believe that relationships with government mean silence whatever happens. Those who believe that those who make high demands of government are being ‘troublesome’ or ‘unreasonable.

But if citizens want respect from their leaders, they have to demand it – and they have to demand it without reservation.

The defense of “constituted authority” is jabber. There should be no respect for leaders who have defaulted in duty.

There should particularly be no regard for Nigeria’s distinguished set of consistently, and aggressively, failing leaders.

Many of our leaders lack empathy. The steady erosion of incentives for demonstrable empathy and consequences for its lack has ultimately led to this death, of common sense. And so they have become, in essence, abnormal.

In that case, it becomes imperative to turn up the heat.

People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.

Governments should be worried about how the public receives their decisions and interprets their actions. Government activity would thence be made only against the background of what citizens thinks, what the voters’ reaction will be, of the consequences of each step.

Even if it leads to pandering – that is only a small price to pay for the bigger gain that comes.

But it has to matter that the decision of those we have chosen to lead us must reflect our desires, our wishes, our imperatives and our preferences – and that their reactions must reflect an understanding of who truly calls the shots.

That is how a functioning democracy works. Unfortunately, Nigeria is a long way from this balance of power.

These guys in public office, and their band that lose perceptive when they get a job in government, don’t get it.

They don’t get it, at all.

Our urgent, continuous task is to make sure that they do.

PS: Upon going to press with this piece, it is important to remember that while LAUTECH has technically re-opened, students have yet to continue academic activity because lecturers have not yet resumed. So, indeed, the value chain remains broken.


Jideonwo is co-founder and managing partner of RED (www.redafrica.xyz), which brands including Y!/YNaija.com and governance communication firm, StateCraft Inc. Office of the Citizen (OOTC) is his latest essay series.

Nigerian youths as ‘selfenemies’ – By Bolaji Abdullahi

In the last couple of days, I read two articles by two of Nigeria’s most talented youths, Chude Jideonwo and Ohimai Amaize. The two articles were asking essentially the same question: why are African youths voting for old men? This is a very important question indeed.

“It’s odd to see so many engaged, empowered and angry youth turn to symbols of the same old order to make change happen in countries desperate for a turnaround,” Chude wrote, and then gave reasons why it may not be so odd after all.

He said when young people are confronted with a choice between a bad candidate and an old candidate, a sense of “responsibility” makes them to overlook age as a factor. “Pragmatism”, “cynicism” and a “ferocious mix of anger and hope” he said, are other reasons young Africans are helping to bring old men to power.

For Ohimai, everything boils down to a “conspiracy of the elite class”, who has continued to disempower young people, using the potent tools of illiteracy and poverty.  In other words, youth participation in politics has been limited largely to playing in the supporters’ club of the same older politicians who have denied them the means and the opportunity to take to the field themselves.

Both writers have offered us valid interpretations. However, I tend to disagree with Chude where he appears to suggest that the political fortune of young people on the continent are changing. Young people, he said, have “only now begun to build the street savvy that can win elections or hijack political systems.” In particular reference to Nigeria, this would appear a little like an overstatement. I have not seen the evidence anywhere that young people are developing the essential capability that could win elections or “hijack political systems.” Worse still, I can’t see even a theoretical movement in that direction.

On his own part, Ohimai has tried to frame the youth as hapless victims of some elite conspiracy. This may not be completely correct. Young people are victimised by many things and at different levels, but in recent times, they are no longer as passive as Ohimai would want us to believe. And as Chude rightly noted, 2011 was the age of “real” participation in politics for the youths. That was also arguably the golden era of youth enlightenment and participation in social enterprise and entrepreneurship. Interestingly, Ohimai himself is a prime example of this coming-of-age, when he became the youngest Nigerian to manage a presidential candidate at the age of 26! It was the era of “Futures Award”, pioneered by Chude and his irrepressible companion, Debola Williams, which recognises and celebrates exceptional young people. It was the era of “Enough-Is-Enough” and “Occupy Nigeria”.

I was Minister of Youth Development at the time. And I experienced quite intimately, the sheer energy and ingenuity of the Nigerian youth at the time. While so many factors combined to make Goodluck Jonathan president in 2011, his “Breath of Fresh Air” arrival was surely a creation of Nigerian youth. It is also clear that the decline of the Jonathan presidency started when he lost the youth population with the fuel subsidy removal of January 2012. If ever there was a time that the youth were going to truly come to their own in this country, it was 2011 and 2012.

However, if 2011 was the golden age of youth political participation in Nigeria, 2015 would go down as the age of decline. Shortly after the election, I asked my friend, Chetta Nwanze, another incredibly talented young man of that era, what went wrong. Ever perceptive, he pointed out that ‘youth’ is a finite identity.  Many of the youths of that era have grown to become men and women with their own families. I think there are bigger issues as well.

The Nigerian youth was a powerful force in 2011 because they were able to build a consensus and mobilise around a common political agenda. Even though a 2011 report indicated that being Nigerian was a fourth-level identity to most young people at the time, Nigerian youth were able to subordinate those other primordial identities of tribe, religion and region that mattered to them to an overarching considerations for good governance, rule of law and social equity. This was not the case in 2015. Things, literally, fell apart.

Looking back at the 2015 election, one should ordinarily be delighted that youth participation in politics was even more intimate and more clearly defined along political party lines than on the previous occasion. Unfortunately, this has turned out to be a destructive force, at a level we have not witnessed before.

Two years after, the youths are still carrying on as if the election was not over. Those on the losing side are still smarting from defeat and have allowed their pains to determine their reaction to everything. They have proudly adopted the banner of the “wailing wailers” that was thrown at them and appear to constantly be in need to justify the political choice they made two years ago. When they should be sober, they have been gleeful. When they should be reflective, they have been vengeful. Their political affiliation appeared to be more important to them than the Nigerian nation itself.

On the other hand, those on the winning side have indulged in suicidal triumphalism. They are intolerant of even the slighted criticism and have gone round with annoying sense of entitlement and exaggerated patronship. Meanwhile, the people that really mattered, the political elite class that Ohimai blames for the disempowerment of young people,  have responded to new realities; they are now busy working on new relationships and building new alliances. They have forgotten about 2015. The Nigerian youth is however, still there, locked in a fight-to-finish, abusing, cursing, caricaturing, falsifying, and doing everything to win a battle that had long been over. The actual players are busy seeking new opportunities, the Nigerian youth is locked in a mortal combat over who could blow the loudest vuvuzela.

It speaks to the weakness of our political parties that a single electoral defeat would lead to the collapse of one of the strongest political parties in Nigerian history, the PDP. However, despite its factionalisation, we could see efforts being made to rebuild the party. One would expect that this presents a good opportunity for the youths be truly involved and ensure that whatever comes out in the end reflects their aspirations. But you don’t see them do this. Rather, it is the same “elite class” that Ohimai said is the problem that is now left alone to be the solution. The “PDP youths” appear content to just play their politics on social media.

A couple of weeks ago, the APC inaugurated its constitutional review committee. Given the frustrations and grievances that the so many “APC youths” have shared with me in private conversations, one would expect that they would see this as a great opportunity to push for a real youth agenda by actively engaging the committee members. Regrettably, you don’t get a sense that this engagement is happening. Our youths are rather busy returning “fire-for-fire” and tearing at one another on twitter and Facebook.

If we are to see the kind of savviness that Chude mentioned in his article, which would bring the youths to the centre of political power, Nigerian youths will have to be guided more by what they can think, rather than what they can feel. They have to rise above sheer egotism and cultivate the social skill that would enable them to understand that a political opponent is not necessarily a personal enemy. Nigeria is in desperate need of a successor generation. This can only emerge incredibly talented youth population. However, as long as the youths remain trapped in a culture of hate, cynicism, talkativeness and self-destructive egotism, young people will continue to see themselves running back to the past to find a solution to the future that belongs to them.


Abdullahi is a former minister of youth development and sports, and the National Publicity Secretary of APC. This article is a personal opinion and does not represent in any way the opinion of the APC.

Chude Jideonwo: If we want to change our country, we have 15 lessons to learn from BBOG (II)

This continues Monday’s piece on the 15 disciplines behind the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) campaign.


The discipline of leadership


On 18 January 2016, the journalist Kadaria Ahmed tried out a few tweets about the BBOG movement.


The sum of her thesis? Its leaders needed to change. According to her, the ‘activists’ have become the story rather than the girls.


“Campaigns should not be static,” she said. “To succeed, they should be alive and evolve based on prevailing circumstances.”


This was on the face of it, a non sequitur.


The criticisms that the movement was facing were the exact same they have always faced, only this time Buhari’s supporters had taken the place of Jonathan’s supporters. The girls were still missing. Their mothers were still weeping. As @anwana_ime asked her that morning: “What is the prevailing circumstance. And how has it changed from the previous circumstance?”


But of course, ultimately, this criticism was a hammer by by the irritated to shut down BBOG by targeting its leaders. It had become apparent that the movement itself could not be delegitimized successfully, and this was the next best thing.


Now, it is true that BBOG protesters can be combative on occasion, but it is as true as it is inevitable. History doesn’t have records of strong, passionate campaigners on major potentially divisive issues that haven’t, in that moment, at those times been seen as belligerent.


We remember Martin Luther King Jr now with the afterglow of hindsight, now that the world completely agrees with him, but at his time, the prevailing peacefulness of his protests were seen by ‘polite people’ as offensive – and his leadership, corrosive.


Reviewing Gallup polling from King’s time in a 1995 piece, political scientist Sheldon Appleton made this clear. “The overwhelming approval with which king is remembered today stands in ironic contrast to how he was perceived … while he was alive and active,” he reports. “A number of survey items asked about King in the mid-sixties show him more reviled than revered – in fact, as one of the most disliked American political figures in that age of public opinion polling.”


The first time King was assessed on a scalometer in 1964 – the year just before he was awarded the Nobel Prize – the only person the majority of citizens i.e. white Americans disliked more than King was the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev.


You can’t evoke strong passions in people and retain your likeability numbers. Criticism of movement leaders – whether they are national icons like Gani Fawehinmi or global legends like Nelson Mandela – for being strong and attracting the disdain of those who disagree is therefore both unoriginal but, as in examples past, disingenuous.


Of course, where this attack works, it can be very effective:  once you are able to cut off the head, the rest of the body dissembles. No movement is truly without a leader, formal or informal. The way the human being organizes is around passions, directed by a leader.


Beyond Ezekwesili, the attacks have also found another easy target – Aisha Yesufu, a strong voice who has put her neck on the line.


She is too loud, some have said, too strident. She has been accused her of focusing too narrowly on this one issue (rather than broadly, one would have to assume, on all the issues that concern Nigerians), and in one case someone actually asked why her husband wouldn’t keep her in check.


It is the kind of vitriol that can fell lesser (wo)men. But BBOG has disciplined itself to avoid this trap.


It has stuck with its natural leaders mostly because they have led by example. Those leaders have also been disciplined in lifting up those within the movement – elegantly ceding authority, credit, voice and authority in turn over the course of almost three-years.


Even corporate institutions with clear hierarchies and formal appointments, not to talk of robust remuneration, do not often achieve this feat.


The discipline of amplification

If BBOG has understood anything intuitively, it has been the strategic importance of media and messaging.


In addition to a consistent message, it has maintained opened lines with the media, been transparent with its affairs, opened its hands to scrutiny and maximized social connections and conversation.


To be sure, all of this is not of its deliberate making. The media has been drawn by the righteousness of the cause, willing itself as its champion, the Guardian placing a daily countdown on its homepage cover page, YNaija.com tracking each milestone, Channels TV leaving an open door.


But, there is also the fact of the leaders’ huge moral authority, the movement’s towering integrity, and its ability to handle itself both with dignity and with common sense.


There is also its practical skill in commanding attention by its strategic protests (speaking to 2000 young Nigerians protesting the corruption at the Nigerian Immigration Service memorably advised them that to be effective, they had to suspend their Saturday protest and resume on Monday when the president would be at work), its crystallising of the issues, the marking of crucial milestones, and its partnership with organisations like EnoughisEnough Nigeria and arm-linking with strategic voices like Chidi Odinkalu, former chairman of the Nigerian Human Rights Commission.


The discipline of integrity

I spoke about this above, and it bears speaking about again: BBOG’s integrity.


There is the fact that it is very quick – and smart – to loudly disavow those who seek to deploy its name or its goodwill for dodgy gains including the ambiguous October 2016 fundraiser by the president’s daughter, Hadiza Buhari-Bello.


But that is simply icing on the cake for an organization that holds itself to the highest standards of demonstrable integrity.


There is nothing that it has done or said that has been a lie – and it has severely curtailed exaggeration. Even at the times when it has been misconstrued and deliberately mis-interpreted, it has been aggressive in ensuring that the truth, or at least a balanced narrative, prevails.


It insisted on the fact of the girls’ kidnap, on correct numbering of the girls, on a consistent message, ceding the stage where necessary to the parents, refusing to be drawn into an artificial conflict with Malala Yousafzai courtesy of the Jonathan government, altogether earning immense credibility for its integrity.


That integrity continues to serve it well.


The discipline of financial responsibility

Linked to the above is the matter of financial probity.


BBOG made the wisest decision from the start of the campaign not to raise any money, not to open any account, not to accept funding from any outside forces.


It is impossible to overstate the significance of this step.


Every organization needs money. Especially one like BBOG that has been sustained optimally for over two years. And if BBOG had chosen to raise money, its immense network and credibility would have been enough to pull in millions of dollars.


The uses of the funds are easy to identify: the education of the rescued girls, the sustenance of their poor parents, the administration of a group with several networks.


However, BBOG understood that the easiest way cynics bring down a movement is to accuse it either of financial impropriety or pecuniary interest.


An accusation with legs can run. One without legs often dies on arrival.


So at great pain to the pockets of the members and its leaders, it has stuck with contributing monies within itself and spending those small amounts on the barest of minimums – water for those who gather, printing of documents, transportation for protests, the very basics.


Of course, many organisations will find it incredibly difficult to be effective without financial resources, and neither should they. Impact, after all is more important than naysayers.


But what BBOG teaches is that it is important to identify what activities or projects need resources and what activities do not.


It is useful to know what kind of monies are useful, and what kinds of monies are destructive.


The disciple of consistency

Then there is consistently, already alluded to above, but necessary to isolate in its particular case.


For those who insisted that BBOG was a tool of the All Progressives Congress to delegitimize and remove President Jonathan, immense confusion emerged when the movement continued the exact same agitation, with the exact same aggression, upon the change of guard at the Presidential Villa.


Even the new government cannot believe it. After all, it hosted that lavish photo shoot where it bestowed hugs on the mothers of the girls and blew kisses at the conveners of the protests.


But as it was with Jonathan, it has been with Buhari. And history has repeated itself.


Just like the former, the latter has attacked BBOG with everything – the army, the police, spokespersons and recently, with the information minister tarring them as an opposition party.


This has been a gift to BBOG.


The attacks have had the unintended effect of making it clear that it is a non-partisan movement that would approach and confront anyone that stands against its mission.


That consistency has enabled it to weather the storm of cynics who cannot identify selflessness, and the status quo, that would fight accountability.


The discipline of essence

Whoever has left the movement; BBOG has remained unstoppable.


Hadiza Bala Usman left to join the APC government, Maryam Uwais left to join the government (assuredly, this transition into governments would have happened whatever party won the presidency) and the movement continued, stronger.


The politicians who joined in for their own selfish interest inevitably left, those who took on jobs that required separation also left, and yet the movement continued stronger, better leading ultimately to the release of many girls.


The essence of it remains; through thick and thin, beyond agenda and personality.


Ask yourself, where the #ChildNotBride, #OccupyNigeria, and other popular protests and campaigns have ended up despite the endurance of the problems, and appreciate the beauty of a movement that will not die.


The discipline of courage

They have continued on this mission without care for their lives, without care for their pockets, without care for the friends they lose and the enemies they gain.


They have, many of them, travelled to Chibok to see things for themselves (they inspired me to also visit Chibok for myself) and to connect with the communities, and they have spread across the dangerous cities and villages of North-East to draw the nation’s attention to the twin carnage of terrorist violence and government abandonment.


Then the Nigerian government decided to test their resolve by inviting them, inelegantly and with transparent bad faith, to come to the Sambisa Forest for themselves to search for the girls. They considered it, ignored the double speak, and decided: it was worth the sacrifice.


Their critics, especially those aligned with the government, had already begun to snicker, confident in the belief that these women would not undertake a journey very many would not dare undertake.


With that singular act of courage, entering into enemy territory (not only of the terrorists but of a hostile government) Yesufu and Ezekwesili forever established the credibility of their mission and the courage that gives it authority.


But in addition to the public sacrifice, there is the more instructive matter of personal sacrifice, refusing to trade the focused demand of the movement for the ability to be liked by people who just want them to ‘tone it down’.


In a remarkable (to me, shocking) instance, in January of 2016, the writer Molara Wood switched on an attack on the mothers of the missing girls for faking their tears.


“2 years on, Chibok parents, once there’s a camera about, grab their heads almost in sequence, wail and weep and shed tears demonstratively,” she complained, lecturing a movement. “There is no nuance to their grief, sometimes no dignity. A tear doesn’t trickle out in silence. They shed tears that demand: see me, see me. Nobody wails two years without variance/exhaustion. Chibok parents seem able to cry and thrash on cue. They’re beginning to look rehearsed.”


Around these worrisome tweets, she took the time to highly praise the personal integrity of Ezekwesili, as if to inoculate herself from deserved criticism.


In return, Ezekwesili impressively ignored the praise, and focused on the issue.


“This is the UNKINDEST THING to say to those parents, Molara. I heard those deep agonizing cries as we marched with them. SAD,” she tweeted. “Yes. Another’s pain can look like Drama. Who are we to JUDGE another’s EXPRESSION of their grief?”


In that reaction, she proved that the adoration of an influential culture critic was less important than the underscoring of a national tragedy. The pain of the Chibok parents of higher priority that those who would not give them help, or allow them dignity.


The discipline of hope

“Hope is inexhaustible,” Ezekwesili preached to the audience at The Future Awards Africa 2014, leading the hall to tears. “When all else fails, hope yet remains, and it springs eternal. It is that hope that keeps us looking for the girls, no matter how dim the chances are.”


And BBOG has continued to hope.


Indeed hope is all that it has armed itself with. Hope that, I must confess, even I grew weary of, because it appeared to me in 2015, after a year of no results, that these girls were never going to be found.


But all real change movements need to have real hope. They need to have real hope that the problem will be solved, that their campaign is not just about the motions.


It must come down to the conviction that the work matters, that the outcome is possible, and that collective action is powerful.


The discipline of action

And at the end of the day, action.


BBOG is not just about words, BBOG is decidedly about action.


It does its research, it keeps fidelity with its weekly sit outs, it calculates its numbers, it responds when called to Sambisa, it undertakes those long walks under the sun to the Presidential Villa.


It keeps track, it stretches itself, it shows up, it walks the talk.


At the end of the day really, that’s what it comes down to: do what you say you will do, act how you say you will act; stick with the issue until it is resolved.


Never stop, never let go.


Whatever happens, keep moving. Because change is always possible.


Jideonwo is co-founder and managing partner of RED (www.redafrica.xyz), which brands including Y!/YNaija.com and governance communication firm, StateCraft Inc. Office of the Citizen (OOTC) is his syndicated essay series.

Chude Jideonwo: If we want to change our country, we have 15 lessons to learn from BBOG (I)

You know the tragedy already. The world does. And it’s one we have yet to recover from: 276 Chibok girls kidnapped from their schools under the watch of a functioning Nigerian government, and just under 200 of them yet to be recovered as we speak.

Now, this is the point at which many of us replay our shock, as to how 1036 days after, in a state that is not failed, we still have these girls missing.

Then we remind ourselves that the Chibok girls are not the only victims of this state of affairs. Hundreds of boys and girls, men and women, have been kidnapped by the terrorists of Boko Haram since its 2009 resurgence; many of them remain un-named, untracked, and un-accounted for.

But the Chibok girls are top of mind. We have been unable to forget them, and because of them we are been unable to, as usual, dismiss the uncomfortable fact that fellow Nigerians are living in a war zone from which lives have been disrupted, families have been dislocated, and futures have been dislodged.

The singular reason for this, is the #BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) group.

Because of BBOG, we have been unable to forget the Chibok girls. We have been unable to move on from that point in our national conversation. We have been unable to get to a place of comfortable ignorance.

This has happened because BBOG proved to be a completely different kind of group, wholly unlike anything Nigerian had ever seen before this, and even after it.  And because ultimately, BBOG has been that most rare of Nigerian occurrences: effective.

It has been effective in focusing global spotlight on the missing girls. It has been effective in wooing and winning public and media support. It has been effective in commanding and sustaining stakeholder attention especially government.

And most importantly, it has been successful in actually bringing back our girls.

In a society lacking in and disdainful of institutional memory, I am aware of the heartening amount of scholarly research undertaken, at least in the last one year, on the phenomenon that BBOG has become. Generations of change makers interested in understanding the context, culture and imperatives of affecting outcomes in this particular civic space will do well to pay close, and grateful, attention when that body of work hits the body politic.

In the space between now and then however, it is useful to establish a framework within which to understand the success of BBOG as a movement, and its imperative as a model.

I will outline them as the 15 disciplines of the #BringBackOurGirls movement.

The discipline of standards

There has been a clear marker from the beginning of the movement, from the first protests in Abuja, as Obiageli Ezekwesili, Habiba Balogun, Bukonla Shonibare and others stepped on the streets to demand an institutional response to the matter of the missing girls: they demanded that all the girls be rescued, alive.

It looked like only a slogan then. Not so much today.

That demand made clear a marker on the sanctity of human life, and that nothing lower than the restoration of the girls the way their parents deserve to find them, would be accepted. That standard has neither been discarded nor lowered since the first demand, no matter how hard it appeared the request was, no matter how wide the Sambisa Forest is, no matter how much time had passed since the girls were taken. The sanctity of human lives. Now and alive.  

The discipline of focus

It is a miracle, to be clear, that the BBOG movement is still standing today. That its unpaid members and leaders are still standing tall and strong, and that they continue to maintain global credibility. Because typically, no movement in Nigeria, save for a military coup or an election, has lasted this long.

But the miracle is heightened by the fact of all that have been thrown at the campaigners. They have been attacked by those who detest the moral pulpit of Ezekwesili and cohorts because it speaks to their own lack of action, have been attacked by those who interpreted the movement as an political gang-up on Goodluck Jonathan, have been attacked by those who view every civil action in Nigeria as hypocrisy, by those who are waiting for Jesus himself, complete with celestial perfection, to lead any popular movement; those who are irritated that the movement did not pack up when Jonathan was sent packing, and now those who feel it must treat Muhammadu Buhari differently from his predecessor.

But one of the more resonant criticisms has always been this question: why the singular focus on the Chibok girls?

Many Nigerians have been kidnapped; why the disproportionate attention on the Chibok girls?

In response, BBOG has, from get go, ignored the noise. It came into being because the kidnap of the Chibok girls was one kidnap too far, and it has stuck with that purpose.

The understanding comes no doubt from the fact that no one person or group can change the world, and these ones had chosen their corner. To be effective, they must stick with that corner.

Of course, there has always been an immediate, and rational response to this criticism: That the girls from Chibok clearly stand as a signpost for all the named, nameless and faceless who have been abandoned by the Nigerian state; a indicator of the limits beyond which we cannot allow ourselves go as a people.

But, remarkably, BBOG desisted from making this point for itself. Because it is unnecessary.

What was (and is) necessary is its mission, from which it would not waste time on debates and arguments, and on dissipating energy.

The focus has been iconic.

The discipline of clarity

When trivial people ask the campaigners to go over to Chibok themselves and rescue the girls, the response has been a beauty of precision: we are an advocacy group, not a military organization.

That sense of clarity has always been the most effective thing about BBOG. They have an unnerving clarity about who they are, what they stand for, what they want, the viability of their demands, and the solutions they seek.

This is what BBOG is: an advocacy organization focused on ensuring the freedom, alive, of the missing Chibok girls, doing this by confirming the identities of each of their girls, tracing the timeline and chain of reactions from, making clear action, response, and marker of success.

There is no ambiguity in anybody’s minds about any of these.

The discipline of empiricity

Nigeria has never been a nation of precision. Our government doesn’t have proper records for its citizens; data is antiquated in many spaces or limited to for-profit desks.

Our media has in turn reflected this distinguished chaos. How many times have three news stories about the same tragedy, sometimes from the same paper, had three different number tallies for its victims?

Into that chaos came the matter of Nigeria’s missing girls. The first service BBOG did us was insist on precision in numbers, and then aid the eventual calculation: 276 girls were missing.

That desire for empirical evidences has defined the campaign.

The movement has delicately tracked the changing numbers as girls have been found, holding government accountable when it has claimed that girls from other parts of Nigeria were from Chibok, coordinating with the community on direct verification with the community. And it is from BBOG that we have a running tally of how many girls remain to be rescued: 196 as at today.

In making demands of the military, they have demonstrated facility with strategy, terminology and pattern. And they have drawn from that the authority to be listened to because they come armed with the knowledge that effective engagement requires.

When people have claimed the girls were kidnapped by A, married off to B, and flown away to C, BBOG has refused to be distracted.

Where there is no evidence to the contrary, they have stuck with the last know locations of the missing girls. Former president Olusegun Obasanjo declared that the girls would never be found, and they ignored him. As if he didn’t matter.

Because he didn’t (and doesn’t) matter. All that matters are the facts.

This has earned respect, avoided distraction, and enabled efficacy.

The discipline to be unreasonable

The one plea that those comfortable with the status quo often demand from activist movements is to be reasonable, by which they often mean to move at a pace dictated not by the urgency of action but by the comfort of the negotiator. The one error these movements can make is to fall for the blackmail.

BBOG knows where the banana peels lie.

Like Jonathan, the Buhari government has treated the protesters as high-impact irritants.

Jonathan did this from a place of incompetence, Buhari does it from a place of entitlement: this government believes that, unlike its predecessor, it has (initially) treated the campaigners with deference. And for that ‘goodness’, it expects breathing space. It also believes that, since it didn’t lose the girls, it bears no direct responsibility. It is only a friendly partner trying to clean up another’s mess.

It cannot understand why the protesters will not afford it an extended runway of goodwill. And its supporters, many of whom actually agreed erroneously with the Jonathan government that BBOG was a tool of the APC, also cannot come to terms with it.

In response? BBOG has turned up the heat.

The reason is simple to those who pay attention: the target of its campaign has always been the responsible party who can find and return the girls. And that party is the Nigerian government.

Once Buhari came into power (and especially since rescuing the girls was a focal point of his campaign messaging), he automatically took responsibility for the assets and liabilities of the government he is now in charge of. And in that case, as government is a continuum, it is now the machine that lost the girls two years ago.

That might be literally unreasonable, but in terms of the philosophy of democratic governments, it is entirely judicious.

The Buhari government, like all governments, serves at the pleasure of its citizens. The citizens owe it no special concessions. It just needs to do its job.

In refusing to give this government and the one before it (and hopefully none after it, since we pray the girls are soon found) any breathing space, BBOG shows a remarkable discipline.

Nigeria’s peculiar breed of irresponsible governance demands no less. We have learnt with the #OccupyNigeria and other popular citizen action that once you relax the pressure, governments revert to type: passivity and mediocrity.

No Nigerian government deserves patience. Especially not this one that campaigned on a promise of urgency.

BBOG has made that irreducible minimum – results or nothing – abundantly clear.

The discipline of organisation

It looks like a rag tag team of young and old gathered together under a tree every week in Abuja to demand better. But do not be deceived.

Without the benefit of an office, of funding, in fact of anything but a determined group, BBOG is one of the most highly developed change organisations Nigeria has seen in its history.

The biggest miracle is in maximizing a small base to achieve maximum global impact.

Ezekwesili has constantly spoken at recorded public events of the need for advocacy institutions to move from ‘noise’ to ‘voice’; being able to organize frustration and agitation in a way that earns respect and achieves targeted outcomes. With BBOG she has walked that talk, role-modeling behaviours through her co-leadership that others can only learn from.

At the start of the protests, she whipped dramatists like now-Senator Dino Melaye into line when he tried to corner the movement, they disavowed and excluded those who either attempted violence or even considered violence as a viable tool and when the writer, Elnathan John complained publicly about the regimented structure of the movement (a strict set of demands, orderliness in front of the villa, programming of speakers and representatives), the response was simply that movements cannot be allowed to derail via the wanton, reactive passions of its front liners.

In response to government letters, it has issued its own with detail and restraint. In response to government pronouncements, it has issued its own releases. In reaction to propaganda, it has armed sympathisers with its version of events. And it has managed to coordinate several stakeholders – media, community, partners, international institutions and Malala – with deft strategy.

In this century, an organization doesn’t need an office, or titles.

If that has been the defining philosophy of scholars of modern organizations, then BBOG is the ultimate demonstration of the capacity of a people bound together by a common vision, a definite mission, and a determined capacity.


Jideonwo is co-founder and managing partner of RED (www.redafrica.xyz), which brands including Y!/YNaija.com and governance communication firm, StateCraft Inc. Office of the Citizen (OOTC) is his syndicated essay series. Part 2 of this piece will be published on Wednesday.