Nigeria in search of builders, not Okiriekwes – By: Vincent Nwanma
In Do It Well, a book published in 2008, I identified Okiriekwe syndrome as one of the forces inhibiting Nigeria’s march to greatness. Okiriekwe is a metaphor for incompetence, incompetence, a half-baked professional, and the inability to operate effectively to create value. It is a metaphor for destroyers of value and killers of dreams. It represents the contempt of knowledge and the celebration of ignorance.
Nigeria’s attempts to elevate itself to great nation status have been serially aborted by this bug and its application in national affairs and key decisions that affect our collective identity and destiny.
Okiriekwe is a name given by the Ngwa people of the Southeast to one of the bird species found in the region. Like any other bird, it lives in a nest, but its nest is different from the homes of most other birds. While most other birds’ nests are usually covered and therefore serve as good homes for them, At Okiriekwe the nest is only half built, something like a half circle facing upwards. This house therefore offers no protection against the elements: the sun and the rain beat down all members of the house.
A good example of a bird with a semicircular nest is the song thrush, while hummingbirds and wood stars build cup-shaped nests which, like typical cups, also face upwards.
Legend has it that At Okiriekwe problem started quite early in life. As the tale says, Okiriekwe only learned to build a nest halfway through and boasted at this point that he had known it all. Thereafter, he took leave of his teacher and began his life of independence.
Unfortunately for him, he soon found he couldn’t get past the point where he had interrupted the learning process. This, according to this legend, explains why this bird cannot build a nest close to that of the weaver.
A characteristic of the weaver bird is that it continually builds and rebuilds its nest. It is known as one of the birds with the most complex and intricate nests among all bird species in the world. A typical weaver’s nest has about two chambers, the first serving as a living room or waiting room, and this leads to the inner chamber, where the bird lays and hatches its eggs.
Nigeria today is a huge Okiriekwe nest, so mismanaged by ill-equipped rulers that it has not served the purpose of a typical country. What are the basic functions of a country or nation-state vis-à-vis its citizens? Just take the case of electricity, infrastructure, transportation and other necessities of a functioning economy.
What does it take to enlighten Nigerians around the clock in this 21st century? Why is it a problem to make gasoline available to Nigerians without the thorny issue of subsidies? Why can’t Nigeria build good roads and a rail system to facilitate the movement of goods and services in Africa’s largest economy? Aren’t our acclaimed leaders ashamed that they can’t perform the basic functions of an economy?
Every human Okiriekwe believes in mediocrity and even praises it. And because they easily find their way to leadership positions in Nigeria, mediocrity is now an exalted virtue. When mediocre individuals meet and preside over citizens’ affairs, the result is quite predictable. You know the consequences. Think of the decadence of our national life; think of the death of commitment to work and excellence in service; think about the fact that things no longer work as they should simply because the “oga” who should insist on standards or the right thing does not care or even know or he/she is even more guilty of vices than subordinates. Why?
They believe in short-term, one-time solutions or palliatives to difficult problems, instead of taking a long-term view and planning accordingly. Some of our acclaimed leaders, who are no more than Okiriekwesusually acting in concert with like-minded members in their organizations, have failed monumental national enterprises, forced some into liquidation, and left others adrift.
The 21st century economy has been aptly described as a knowledge economy. Concretely, this means that the current economic system has recognized the value of knowledge and has therefore raised it to a higher pedestal in the hierarchy of values in society.
Knowledge has become a valuable asset and anyone who has it can distinguish themselves by putting that knowledge to good use. Like any other asset, knowledge can now be converted into cash in the same way that a company’s projected cash flows or profits are converted into cash through securitization – which is the process by which projected production of a business is converted into monetary value.
As the reader is likely aware, the value of companies is determined by financial experts who look at the company’s cash flow outlook and express the company’s expected value in current monetary terms. In other words, the value of a company is determined by what it is expected to produce using all of its assets – resources – available to it now and in the future.
Between Okiriekwe and the weaver bird, which would you hire as a builder or architect? Which of the two traits would you like to manifest? As citizens of this naturally endowed country, we have to choose between Okiriekwe and a weaver bird.
Who would you employ as a member of staff in your business, either as a clerk or as a senior manager responsible for running the business profitably? Who would you hire as a broker or asset manager? Or who would you like to have as a seamstress? Would you take the weaver bird or Okiriekwe like your barber? No doubt, a Okiriekwe the barber will cut off parts of your hair, leaving the rest untouched. The haircut might as well continue the next day.
There is no doubt that as a rational person, you will strive to hire a professional who knows his stuff. Therefore, if you know someone who is a half-baked professional, clearly you wouldn’t trust them with anything of value to you.
Human Okiriekwes are destroyers, both of private companies and of national economies. They inhibit growth, and over time their activities or inaction could only lead to lower production due to misuse of resources. In Nigeria, many entrepreneurs, government officials and employees operate in the spirit of this lukewarm bird that does not believe in excellence or in building structures or businesses that last.
Okiriekwe managers are asset strippers, leaving wholesome organizations, states, or even nations bleeding while walking away with bloated loot wallets. For them, what is important is a platform to stand on and grab for selfish ends, not for the greater good of the many.
A Okiriekwe The governor, once in office, views the government house as a passport to accumulating wealth for his family and cronies and cares less about the fate of the millions of citizens who elected him to power. He initiates a systematic plunder of state resources, overtly and covertly, planting men and women of his family in strategic locations and proceeds to use them as executors of his evil plans. In the end, the havoc team leaves the state or local government area bare and worse than they encountered.
A Okiriekwe governor or chairman of a local government is one who rebuilds a mile of road and calls a “world press conference” to announce his achievement and waves his magnanimity to the impoverished state or local government area and its citizens. Meanwhile, the reconstruction or rehabilitation of the road was not carried out to acceptable standards and was not intended to last. It was a simple stopgap measure, simply intended to get uninformed people to hail it as the “best thing” to happen to the state or local government area. Six months later or when the rains are over, you will look for the road but will not see it. He was washed away by the flood waters.