The President and Chairman of Council, Nigerian Institute of Management (Chartered), Prof Olukunle Iyanda, in this interview with OZIOMA UBABUKOH, says a new leadership system is required to harness the potential of Nigerians in management
Would you blame the country’s poor maintenance culture on the absence of capable managers?
I wouldn’t blame our poor maintenance culture on the absence of capable managers. We might have capable managers but the environment makes them incapable of performing their functions. Our doctors, for example, go abroad and they shine.
Our youths were recently described as lazy. Are they lazy? They leave this environment and perform wonders in other environments. Therefore, there must be something environmentally challenging which can turn the best of managers and technicians into being incompetent. What could that be?
Let us look at the lack of punishment and the reward system. Someone does something wrong and is unpunished; someone diverts resources and is in court for six to 10 years and we all forget about it. There are so many cases that have been taken to court and the cases fizzle out. For people to perform competently there must be an enabling environment.
Many years ago, in the early 1990s, we informed the offices of this institute, the Nigeria Enabling Environment Forum, when we were examining each sector and looking at their suggestive reforms. After I left the country in 1995, I did not know what became of the group. So, we need to develop a reward system and sanitise our environment so that when people do wrong, they are punished properly.
People may have technical competence but because of the environment, that technical competence is overwhelmed. It then becomes subject to personal enrichment because the people who appoint you demand that you put something back into the system, but people would rather divert some of the resources into other things.
It is a complicated problem and not just a question of Nigeria or technical competence. It is within such environments that competent people work. An example is Arunma Oteh’s case. When she was in the Security and Exchange Commission, she challenged the system and the environment and she won. She beat them because she came out plainly to ask why they were victimising her just because she refused to play along with them.
If we had such people in several sectors, they would cleanse the system. She is now operating in the global environment even though we tried to frustrate her. When you appoint capable people and grant them freedom to work within their professional codes of conduct, only then shall we be able to have the kind of maintenance culture and an ideal organisation to become efficient and effective contributors to national growth.
Do you think Nigeria is on the right track in terms of organisational competence?
The country is poor and we seem to believe in quantity rather than in quality. We believe so much in numbers. Recently, I read the comment of the chairman of the National Universities Commission where he was blaming the poor university system on the managers of the universities.
He didn’t blame his own organisation, the NUC, which is just procreating universities without looking at the requirements that a university needs to distinguish itself. We have 162 universities or more, yet the total budget of the whole university system is not up to one of the universities we attend overseas.
The private universities are multiplying at a faster rate than the public universities. Each state has one or more. A state that cannot pay primary school teachers, how do they fund their universities? We believe in numbers; we create more and more.
We did it with states. We created so many states and there are still agitations for more states, even when a single state that wants to be split into two or three more states cannot meet its requirements.
Even when they split like that, they do not reduce their government structure. They have the same number of commissioners, the same number of advisers, etc. We need to deemphasise number and substitute it with quality.
Fewer can be better because they will be more equipped. They will be able to upgrade with what they have. In the university system, we are not multiplying the level of personnel which we require to operate universities.
Many universities have too many vacancies, fewer professors, and fewer lecturers. We need to develop a thirst for quality than for quantity. That way, we will be able to maintain what we have and ensure that they are working very well rather than just creating more and more, which we will eventually neglect.
Government has created many institutions. They are left on their own to begin to do all kinds of things to raise money. As Vice President Yemi Osibanjo said, universities are selling certificates to higher bidders in order to generate revenues internally.
Most universities manufacture water and bread; these are some common things. Most are supposed to act as mentors in advanced technology rather than do what every other person does. When they need money and do not get it, they end up doing what every other person is doing in order to pay employees.
As I said, we need to deemphasise numbers.
From your perspective as president of the Nigerian Institute of Management, what critical step would you recommend to make Nigeria better?
This country has enormous resources to make it better than it is today, and I mean the resources in terms of human beings, their intellectual capacity, their drive, and their self-propelling nature. What we lack is leadership that will provide the environment in which the individual characteristics of Nigerians can thrive.
We recommend the emergence of capable leaders in the country if the election system could become truly reflective of the wishes of the people and if our people can take an informed decision or be able to make use of their votes.
Right now, majority of us are illiterates and do not understand the dynamics of the current government system which we operate. We were ruled by kings, obas, emirs, obis and others; we did not have professional army, and the people were the army. Now, we have professional army, the police and civil service.
In those days, there were no professional administrators; the villages and towns were participating in their own governance. We need to find a way of reconciling the emergence of professional army and professional police that are at the disposal of government which can be used to perpetuate itself.
Before, if a ruler was not doing the will of the people, there was a mechanism to remove them because governance then was participatory. The ruler did not have an army to deploy against the people.
We need to indigenise our government system in such a way that the people’s choice will be reflected in the people that are ruling us. This, we can’t do except we actually enable and improve the capacity of the generality of our actions to be able to make informed judgement on the kind of people they put into leadership positions in this country.
We read all kind of things where people go abroad and commit crimes, then run home to become leaders of the country. As we speak, a lawmaker is being considered for extradition to a country where he allegedly committed some crimes.
There are stories of many people in the national sector that have tinted past that are now in leadership positions in the country. We need to sanitise the system in such a way that it becomes impossible for such people to get into positions of responsibility.
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