A roadmap for incremental change: 52 things we need to do (#NewLeadership Series with Chude Jideonwo)

For the kind of country we have now, everyone should be an active citizen.

I wrote at the beginning of this series about the two options for nation building that we have.

There might be more, but I see two clear choices – mass revolt or incremental change.

In the absence of a mass revolt, I said, those who seek to drive change now need to fall back on incremental change, a collection of little drops of activity by different sectors of society that will eventually deliver what some have called the Flywheel Effect. This will involve a deliberate, sustained effort to move from business as usual in the way our country is run.

It would sound like the violence that revolutions bring make them the more difficult option, but in fact the slow and steady change is the most difficult route to take, because it requires a collectivity of involvement; and a people deciding together that they will subsume short-term desire for long term goals.

Because of the nature of modern societies – large, divergent, mostly urban – this is not a simple process and usually has to be forced from the top by a leader conscious of the imperative, which is why the choice of Nigeria’s president is so important.

As we work towards that however, there are a few things that we will need to know, to learn and to do. This brief below is by no means exhaustive, but – one for each of the 52 weeks in a year – I have done up the below as a list of some of the things that are important for our generation as we slowly engage the hard, necessary job of re-directing our country.

1 We need to keep voting – there is no alternative to choosing our leaders in the system of government that we have now; we must ensure that our leaders understand they serve at our pleasure. There is no better way to emphasise that than with voting with insight, and protecting that vote.

2 We need to test our democratic institutions with the knowledge that sometimes they will fail us, most times not even respond, but that the best way to get a machine working is to use it. Write letters to your representatives, send a complaint to your local power authority – test the system.

3 We all have our corners where we are doing something small or big – our country can work based on a collectivity of people committed to excellence. Whatever you do, do it well. It’s the least you can do.

4 For those who control processes or systems (SMEs, associations, NGOs et al), it is important to understand that society is the sum of its institutions – build your institutions with an eye on the long term; adding value to the country in the long run.

5 For the kind of country we have now, everyone should be an active citizen. You do not have the luxury of apathy, I am sorry.

6 The media in any society is very crucial – we need media that is intelligent, fair and well funded as a people-driven arbiter and a constant framer of the issues important to citizens.

7 Speakers of arbiters, our eyes must stay on the judiciary – the guys in the courts should know the public is looking at them, and counting on them.

8 We should encourage the good guys to get into politics as candidates – politics is a dirty game, but someone has to do it and it better be our best hands.

9 Those of us who haven’t decided on non-partisan roles should join political parties and get involved in local politics and influence especially. We should also work on reforming those parties so they function properly.

10 Let’s embrace social media – it is a deeply democratizing tool, and the only one that gives even more power to the led than the leaders.

11 We should take an active interest in what’s going on at our state governments.

12 It sounds clichéd– but a lot can actually happen at the local government level. Sometimes they are the guys in charge of things like your roads and water.

13 We will need to build coalitions and networks – our country will not be changed through silos; we need to build broad consensus and coalitions around issues, ideas and solutions. To do this, we will need to work on our tolerance threshold.

14 We don’t need everyone to come home – Nigerians in Diaspora need to excel wherever they are so they are able to exert social and financial influence from a place of independence.

15 We must focus on our education – it is the foundation of our society and ours is a mess. Whatever else we are doing, this should be a prime agenda.

16 We must hold activists to account. Watch the watchers – like anyone else, they are not without fault.

17 Follow the money – we must always keep an eye on budgets, allocations and government spend. It’s what Western citizens do best.

18 We must embrace our faith – many advanced civilisations have evolved through a deep acceptance of their spirituality. We are a spiritual people, so we should embrace this.

19 Federal Character needs to go. It sounds great, but it hasn’t worked. It has, as Achebe said, replaced meritocracy with mediocrity, and it’s killing us. Let’s face it – if one part of the country has more capacity than the others, then we should come to terms with that and adapt it as a competitive advantage.

20 Lets praise the small strides that our leaders make so that they can do more. Acknowledging the good is not fatal to the case for asking for better.

21 We shouldn’t just focus on government – what happens in the private sector is just as important.

22 Keep an eye on enterprise – a society is driven by how much it produces and small business should be at the center.

23 Pay your taxes – enter a contractual relationship with your government.

24 Read widely – much of the poverty in our national conversation comes from our acute ignorance of how much of the world actually works.

25 Know our history – the schools don’t teach it well, but history always helps in identifying what the future holds.

26 Governments fear mass revolt. It is not to be used all the time, but we must never forget the power of public protest.

27 The organised opposition is so indispensable. Sometimes they go over the top, and calling the president a scumbag doesn’t add much value to the process, but the friction between the ruling party and the opposition is important for a free society.

28 The creative industries capture the soul of the nation – music, poetry and art. It’s not just the West that understands this – look at Asia and the Middle East. Our art captures our essence and helps us connect with it emotionally.

29 We must pile pressure on the wealthiest amongst us (young and old) to invest in our society – through philanthropy, promoting ideas they believe in, supporting causes they are interesting in, pooling ideas through working groups and think tanks.

30 There are a lot of processes that are ongoing in our country – especially as driven by civil society or led by government. We have Electoral Reform Conferences, Sustainable Development meets, Review Sessions with the National Youth Council. Get involved.

31 Don’t let cynicism win. Find out more about government-driven platforms – from YouWin! to the Lagos technology cluster. If the best of us don’t get involved in these processes imperfect as they are, we will leave them to be influenced by the worst of us. Nature abhors a vacuum.

32 Be ready to compromise. That is the one thing that should be non-negotiable. There is no one person whose “principles” are more important than a peoples’ collective aspiration.

33 Always search for alternative solutions to problems – we must resist the trap of a single solution.

34 We must avoid the temptation to be lazy – in ideas, in criticism, in engagement. Research is crucial. There is no alternative to facts. We need a society driven by logic.

35 Learn to question authority – teachers, pastors, ex-presidents.

36 If you’re a young person and you don’t have a job, then that should be your focus. Not criticising everyone you come across on social media. The only assignment you should have is yourself.

37 Let’s actually pay attention to what happens in our country – let’s pay attention to the news, and let us be curious to understand what we read. Knowledge is power.

38 Our criticism should be tempered. One of the real tragedies of our society is that everyone is criticizing everyone else, when they have no moral authority. Think of it: what right do people who work in our telecoms industry have to accuse Nollywood of mediocrity? When you think of Nigeria in that log-in-your-eye way, we will realize the time we spend criticising can be better spent looking inwards; at what we are doing ourselves. When criticism emerges, we have a responsibility to be constructive.

39 Those who want to be leaders should build their capacity. Many of us are not equipped to lead – we have to learn, theoretically and practically. What Nigeria needs above anything else is competence.

40 NO matter how bad it gets, we must NEVER give up on democracy. Even if we decide to choose a different system of governance, democracy is our best shot at making the best decision.

41 We have to set our agenda – in different sectors, we should work towards achieving some kind of consensus of what we need to thrive.

42 The only thing we have is hope. Hope keeps faith and passion alive and it is passion that translates into action. There is plenty of good around us – lets employ that to keep our hope alive and strong.

43 If you see a problem, do what you can to bring a solution to it. Most likely someone else is already do that, find that person and join in. If they are not doing it right, work with them to do it better.

44 Do not be afraid of joining government – we need to stop making that seem like a dirty thing.

45 Develop the courage of your convictions. We seem to have become a generation that plays to the gallery. Those who seek to lead it must be courageous to stand against both the establishment and our own constituency when we feel they have gone astray.

46 Kill arrogance – You are not the first person to be passionate about changing Nigeria, and you won’t be the last. The key is not the what – it’s the how.

47 Learn from the mistakes of those before us; there is much to learn. Listen more to your parents and those who have tried to change this country and either failed or given up – they made so many mistakes that we are repeating and will do well to avoid.

48 Greed kills. Kill greed. The rest is detail.

49 Mentorship is crucial. Sadly this is a tradition the generation before us seems to have killed. We need knowledge exchange and transfer. Somehow or the other, we need to create that stream.

50 Don’t sweat the small stuff. In the task of nation building, as with much else, it’s not every battle that must be fought.

51 Keep our eyes on the ball – at this stage of our development as a nation, what we need is a nation that works; that functions.

52 Keep trying. Keep pushing. Never give up. We have no other choice.

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Chude Jideonwo is publisher/editor-in-chief of Y!, including Y! Magazine, Y! Books, Y! TV & YNaija.com. He is also executive director of The Future Project/The Future Awards. #NewLeadership is a twice-weekly, 12-week project to inspire action from a new generation of leaders – it ends on March 31.


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