Rev Ladi Thompson, pastor of Living Waters Unlimited Church, Anthony, Lagos spoke with ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA on a broad range of issues affecting Nigeria, painting a picture of a bleak future except something urgent is done to bridge the digital divide afflicting leadership of the country
Many Nigerians attribute the problem of Nigeria to that of leadership and with President Muhammadu Buhari coming in 2015 the expectation was that he would breathe fresh air into the system; four years on, what is your view on this issue?
Our problem is not a leadership problem. Nigeria is living way below her potential and the issues go way beyond leadership matters. We have not made progress because we keep asking the wrong questions. The reason why Nigeria is where it is now has nothing to do with President Muhammadu Buhari. This may sound stupid but the basic questions of what, when, where-from, who and where-to? have never been settled for Nigeria by Nigerians. The wise man who said ‘rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think’ was talking about us as a nation. Nigerians don’t know the difference between liberation fathers and founding fathers. Nigeria has liberation fathers but no founding fathers till date because founding fathers supply the programmes on which the nation’s foundations are laid.
What then do you see as the problem of Nigeria?
When such questions are answered you will discover that our problems are systemic and problems at that level do not answer to charismatic leadership. Rwanda for example seems to be doing well for now but its problems are also systemic and we all know that Paul Kagame cannot live forever. Magufuli of Tanzania is also striving to provide exemplary leadership but all these men will go down in history as candles in the wind just as the great Julius Nyerere is now remembered. Nothing changes until systemic flaws are addressed and they can only be addressed by leaders who understand the programming aspect of social engineering at the national level. African leaders have hardly ever understood programming and now that programming has gone digital our systemic flaws are now so sublime that it would take a discerning eye to detect them. The systemic flaws in Nigeria are rooted in the enculturation, acculturation and trans-culturation programme that were designed for us. We have ancient enculturation programmess that produce the Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa and Fulani but these conflict with the acculturation programmes that produce the Nigerian citizen.
Are you putting down the problem to acculturation then?
When you conduct an extensive study of a nation covering a span of about 100 or 200 years perhaps more, there are truths that will jump out when the dots are connected that otherwise would never be seen with short term studies. Unfortunately, Nigeria is acculturated to shallow thoughts and a fire brigade approach to all problems and we can’t tell our left from the right. Yet modern Nigeria is exactly what it was designed to be by the engineers who wrote its programme. Has anyone stopped to ask how the leadership selection programme was run before Nigeria was formed? The next question would be who, when and how did we arrive at the leadership selection programme that Nigeria is now running? When, how and why did military soldiers become acceptable as state and national leadership materials? While answering these questions you will see clearly that Nigeria is presently running a fractured leadership selection process that was designed to frustrate our growth. This is one of the systemic problems that has to be addressed. Whether it was Atiku Abubakar or Buhari that emerged as the leader is not an issue, the real issue is why must a Peter Obi deputise for an Atiku while an Osinbajo deputises for a Buhari? Let us go beyond these unprofitable individual assessments to accept that charismatic leadership may sound sweet but what we need is digital leadership that can initiate the quantum leap that Nigeria needs to beat the systemic flaws. There is no question that Buhari has the charisma but the poser is whether he has surrounded himself with people that can deliver on the digital narrative.
What therefore is your expectation for the next four years?
To predict with accuracy what the next four years will produce we will need to contextualise the issue by looking at things from a global perspective before we impute the local pointers. While we are sleeping the rest of the world has had another industrial revolution. A new global market economy has emerged that we are hardly involved in. There is an economic flux and employment crisis sweeping across the world and most major nations are in deep depression with unimaginably high unemployment figures. Underemployment is at an unprecedented high with many college graduates accepting pay grades that cannot justify the college fees they invested since a university degree is no longer a guarantee for employment. The shift in the winds blowing point to an end of an industrial age and things will never go back to the way they were a few decades ago. All over the world, companies are downsising and outsourcing jobs to stay afloat and the old giants are crashing. Totally disconnected from the new reality Nigeria is pressing forward with antiquated economic models and producing dinosaurs with her outdated education system. I won’t even waste my breath talking about a local government chairman who thinks a mother board is an ironing table not to mention the state governor that assumes that uploads are the jobs that labourers do. Nigerian youths are not lazy just that they have seen that the world has discovered better ways to do things on the digital track. If we don’t address the systemic flaws and bridge the digital divide at the national level the next four years will be a fruitless exercise in enthusiastic sincerity.
Are you then saying the fut u re i sonce again bleak for the country?
What might look like bad news on the surface is actually the greatest opportunity that Nigeria and other nations of Africa have to bridge the gap between ourselves and the nations that left us far behind. Perhaps I should use Uber as an example of what the future holds. With the introduction of one simple global application the business model in the motor transport sector has changed forever. Riding on the processing speed and computing latitude of the digital age there is a generation that has found a better and more inclusive way to do business. They have collapsed the old employment structures and managerial culture to the consternation of national governments. The new breed has erased national borders, shrunk the globe and enabled services that disrupt convention and defy tax rules. Start up companies operating from garages are competing with global corporations and one single individual with a virtual market on his smart phone can generate incomes that a chain of stores may not match. This opportunity for a quantum leap is much bigger than what Obafemi Awolowo detected and exploited to prosper the Western region of yore.
How do we then begin to bridge this digital gap?
To bring it home we can use the advances of the information technology age to revolutionise the ‘almajiri’ culture within 18 months. Instead of beggar bowls each waif would have a certification in his hand with a competency that took only nine to12 months of user-friendly computer education to obtain. The young urchins would be integrated, the economy would receive a boost and a national problem would be cured in one fell swoop. This is why I have insisted that what Nigeria needs today is exceptional leadership that is armed with digital computation skills. The digital generation of leaders are the only ones with the skill sets that recognise and understand the programming and reverse engineering required to cure the syst e m i c flaws in the Niger i a n s y s – tem.
What is the place of agitation for restructuring then?
Again, you would now understand why I keep asking the Federal Government to upgrade its leadership mode from analogue to the digital mode. Its is the analogs that keep agitating for a mere restructure because they live in the past and don’t know the difference between reprogramming and restructuring. A reprogramming exercise could erase the divisions between north and south while a restructure at best will further deepen the divide.What Africa refuses to grasp is that the advances made in the fields of artificial intelligence, genomics, agronomy, green energy, computing coupled with robotics and other scientific fields can feed the entire world with excess to spare, build enough homes for every citizen on the globe and kit out every soul on the planet with mod cons for next to nothing. The whole world is waiting for the new global programme that will create a package that will harmonise all the bits and pieces in an arrangement that will incentivise everyone to contribute their best and give fresh meaning to life on our planet. That solution could come from Nigeria and the resulting quantum jump would make Dubai look like mere child’s play. Can president Buhari deliver on this? It would require great wisdom, courage and deep thought and I do feel he could set the ball rolling if he set his heart to the task.
Boko Haram is still very much with us; what is the way forward to curbing the increasing threats from them and other insurgent groups ravaging the nation?
The Boko Haram extremists and the Fulani herdsmen militia have now been joined by the Nigerian face of Islamic States of West African Province (ISWAP). After decades of denial Nigeria is finally getting to admit the reality. We are a nation at war and has been at war for decades but choose to ignore the signs. On August 5, 2012, my interview was published where I stated clearly that Goodluck Ebere Jonathan was a war time president. If I said that then what do you think my opinion is now? This is a new type of war and it has a global reach. Most nations have addressed it but Nigeria is still playing games with human blood. There are four stages in this type of war and Nigeria is already at the third stage now. At the first stage there is indignation, the second stage brings acceptance and accommodation, the third stage a surrender of the national will before the collapse of internal organs at the final stage. The unaddressed religious divide is one of the systemic flaws in our national make up and this factor alone has weakened our defences. The armed forces and security services have tried their best but we have moles in our system. We are underestimating what this threat represents and there is no sign that we have got into the enemy’s head at all. The general insensitivity to the rivers of blood is disheartening because its 360 degree war machinery is a shape shifting hydra that sponsors a predator-prey tension. Even though it cloaks itself with religion it is primarily a supremacist agenda that kills Muslims with the same ease with which it targets Christians. It is capable of sustaining hostilities over decades into centuries until it achieves its objectives. We need an urgent change of strategy, and I am disappointed that some simple digital devices are yet to be deployed.
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