(From the blog: ‘My Nigerian Dream’)
Nigeria remains a country of countless contradictions. Impressive and daring citizens on one hand, yet a shockingly unimpressive leadership on the other. When ‘we the people’ clamour for ‘good governance’, it’s not just a mantra. Why can we not implement seemingly simple yet reasonable strategies? Good governance is neither just an idea nor an elusive ideal. In its most simplistic and humane sense, it is small everyday steps, taken for the benefit of all citizens, and encapsulated by sensible action and empathy. Another way to say that is that leaders ought to develop policies and act based on a true understanding of the plight of the common citizen with a commitment to ease it. Finito! Not too much to ask, is it?
Recently, I experienced a most vivid example of this contrast. While the very unnecessary and rather unfortunate drama around National Identity Numbers (NIN) continues to unfold in Nigeria, I came to realise that not one, but two US-based companies, both led by African entrepreneurs have announced their impressive achievements of unicorn status. This is when a company reaches a valuation of $1 billion. What do both companies have in common? Yes, you guessed it – they both have Nigerians at their helms. Having said that, Nigerians have also created local unicorns such as InterSwitch, but such organisations, despite inherent challenges, are more a testament to the ingenuity and resilience of the Nigerian people than they are to the support or enablement of the state.
Calendly is a free online appointment scheduling software system, already boasting 5,000,000 monthly users, with LinkedIn, Zendesk, EMyth and the University of Georgia amongst its customers. Cityblock Health is a community-based healthcare provider that offers a total package of physical, mental, and social care with the aim of improving the experience and quality of care, all while reducing the cost to patients. Tope Awotona who moved to the U.S. as a teenager, is the Nigerian founder and CEO of Calendly. He is proof that education, opportunity and an enabling environment are fundamental to success. Might he have achieved what he now has if he hadn’t moved to the US? Perhaps! Did the move improve the odds? Certainly! Toyin Ajayi is the Chief Health Officer and one of three Co-founders jointly advancing the vision of Cityblock Health. While this son and daughter of the soil are busy beaming Nigerian pride abroad, many of us are embarrassed about what is happening at home. Should we not ask questions of the fate of the millions of Topes and Toyins that are right now in Nigeria, players on the sports field of life and capable of the same feats, but hindered by the dilapidated state of the playing field?
Back to the issue of National Identity Numbers. How as a nation do we make decisions? Simple decisions first, not even highly strategic ones yet. OK, let us lay this out. Nigeria is (now) a nation of 211+ million souls. By the way, since the last time I reported that statistic in a blog piece last year (207 million), the number has increased by roughly 2.55%. Staggering isn’t it? Anyway, let’s stay focused. According to statista, the number of mobile internet users in Nigeria in 2020 was 85.26 million and is projected to reach 101.27 million in 2021. If we use this as a proxy for the number of mobile phone users, the latter figure would be approximately 48% of the current population. I have written in the past about the estimated number of Nigerians in diaspora being about 15 million, of which circa 215,000 are in the UK. The point? Some of these folks abroad, I being one, also have mobile subscriptions in Nigeria. We have 36 states. Let’s assume an even spread of people across them (ignore the FCT); that would mean 2.81 million people needing to access NIN registration services in each state. Let’s be even more benevolent and also assume half of all those already have NINs, that would still mean 1.4 million per state needing the service. That’s the data.
Now for the analysis and the policy suggestions. So, a decision is made that all mobile subscriptions, on an individual basis, must be linked to a NIN, supposedly to clean up identity data in order to reduce crime. Perhaps you buy that reason, perhaps you don’t, but it’s beyond our scope here. This requirement was initially communicated by the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) on 15th December 2020 with a 2-week deadline for all registrations to be completed. Back to the data, rough as it is. 1.4 million people on average per state, to queue up at physical locations, over 14 days, to get this done? I don’t smoke, but a ‘back of a cigarette box calculation’, as they say, would have obviously thrown up the folly of this plan, and its unfairness particularly during a global pandemic. A good thing with a bad plan essentially amounts to a bad thing. Moreover, the NCC proceeded to threaten mobile operators with the withdrawal of their operating licences, based on what has now been proven and could easily have been foreseen as an impossible task. This, right here, is a typical example of poor execution, leadership, governance, or any other term you choose to call it. It is the case of an unrealistic policy devoid of empathy. Why was empathy needed? One word: COVID. Now, to mop up the tsunami that was unleashed, the Telcos, for example, MTN, are having to be licenced by the NCC to register citizens for NINs. Does anyone else see the sad irony in that? Anyway, just to bring in the diaspora angle; I have diligently sought to register for my NIN in the UK, but between the dead websites and grossly inadequate number of poorly located registration centres, it is so far proving to be nearly impossible task.
So? What to do? As a person of faith, I find it fundamental to consider any actions prayerfully before proceeding. Once that stage is complete, I suggest the following:
- Consider the problem thoroughly and decide if it is really worth pursuing.
- If it is, empathetically think through the policy implications and what they would mean for the population.
- I personally love the COST-QUALITY-TIME triangle (Pick 2) framework. Use it (see below).
- If you want cheapand high quality, then it will take time.
- If you want cheapand fast, then it will be low quality.
- If you want high qualityand fast, then it will cost
- Decide which of the above is best for the situation (hopefully not the second – never a great option in my opinion!).
- Take time to create a strong implementation plan (always think digitisation!) and test it for resilience.
- Introduce the agenda and gauge public opinion.
- If favourable (based on timing, funding, optics, etc.) take decisive action and implement.
- Sit back, watch a good plan unfold into a good thing, and THANK GOD.
Project Management Triangle
Does this consider all the realities? Is it practical or just theory? Could it really be this simple? Perhaps not, but I think it could be – with the right people, doing the right things. Do we as a nation have such people in waiting? Clearly! Will they rise up one day en masse, in a new era of disruption in the sphere of governance? I for one cannot wait for the day, and I am writing this, as much to myself, as I am to ‘them’. If this resonates with you, then perhaps it’s time to answer the call; because good governance makes sense, but it takes good people.
~ Ayobami Akinyode OLUNLOYO is a passionate Nigerian and African, political enthusiast, and accomplished professional. He holds an MBA with Distinction from the University of Cambridge, UK and was recognised amongst the 100 Best & Brightest Executive MBAs globally in 2020. He is currently a member of the pioneer cohort of the new unconventional School of Politics, Policy and Governance (SPPG) which resulted from the #FixPolitics initiative.
Twitter: @ayobamiolunloyo | Instagram: @ayobami.olunloyo