April 8, 2015 § Leave a comment
The beautiful game of football, as most other sports, is entrenched in a win-lose mentality. And the more the loser feels the pain of loss, the sweeter the victory. The pain of loss and the sweetness of victory are so powerful, and make the game what it is. The English Premier League is a typical example of the all-consuming power of football. The chants, the binge drinking, the comradery, and the adrenalin rush, all present the necessary ingredients upon which this passion is built. The passion is entangled in and expressed as an emotive force, which readily transforms football (or footie – as it is called by some fans) into a cult of some sort. Football cultism, in most parts of Europe, is becoming a new religion. In the UK for instance, football cultism draws more people on a typical Sunday than all the churches combined.
Despite its win-lose mentality, football is not necessarily evil. It is a good game, which provides some sense of community, nurtures identity and talents, and offers huge exportable commercial opportunities to many actors – from club managers, players, fans, to investors. In that regard, football acquires a rare trinitarian essence of being a game, a religion, and a business. One of the quintessential characteristics of this game-religion-business triad is that it has become a global phenomenon and a poster child of globalisation consumed in season and out of season by many in the world today. Nigeria is a football loving nation. It is no surprise that the footie mentality can sometimes be glimpsed from other spheres of our lives as Nigerians, especially in politics.
For instance, I saw this footie mentality expressed through the recently concluded presidential elections. There were passionate fans on both sides of the divide. There were campaign managers and spin doctors. There were also commercial pundits, who make a living out of gambling. The pre-election campaigns were littered with promises, threats, and in some instance, raw and obnoxious lies. In truth, they looked more like boxing campaigns than footie. The shouting bouts of boxers making outrageous and intimidating claims weeks before their matches are both entertaining and exhilarating. They exude physical and animalistic power couched and framed in the benign language of sports.
Nonetheless, when the elections arrived, they were more like footie: there were players, fans, referees and others. The context was fierce and each group bit their nails as the results started rolling in and were counted. There were also dramas – some of them rude and extreme. It was a battle between two titans – i.e. the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), as the ruling party, and the All Progressives Congress (APC), as the opposition. The other parties did not count much. Even if they had superior arguments, here and there, to the titan parties, they merely attracted “wasted votes” at best. The social media was enthused – it has gradually become a cyber-world of fantasies, where grand wishes easily become realities. It created its own estimated results based on the intuition of its nouveau pundits who created a whole new science and art of numbers.
At the end, the real results were in and out, and there were winners and losers. In other words, some Nigerians won and some Nigerians lost. Unsurprisingly, the victories and losses came in different shades and shapes. Some claim victory because their preferred candidate won, while others claim victory because they thought they had better intuition and insights as to how the elections would go. The latter group almost now assume to be the new sage who can see the unseen in the distant future – something close to being magical soothsayers. While these come across as signs of active citizenship engagement in politics, there are some pressing questions begging for deeper answers and careful scrutiny: what is a victory and what is a loss, in this case? Can a loss be a victory, and can a victory be a curse?
Upon reflection, this footie politics mentality reflects some deeper fault lines in our polity, which are often wished away by many. These are bold fault lines characterised by insiders and outsiders; winner and losers. These fault lines can be ethnic, religious, or “economic” (in every sense of it). Beneath the footie politics mentality are some (un)conscious selfish interests masquerading as patriotism, which are reinforced by such trending comments as: “We won, you lost, deal with it!”. For the undiscerning minds who are truly patriotic, this can become a dangerous trap. In their naivety, they inadvertently become victims of organised ploys and footie politics. For those who are aware of these fault lines and speak out, they run the danger of being labelled. Either way, the fault lines win and become deeper. What is missed, unfortunately, is that the more these fault lines are entrenched, the farther away we are from our dreams of a prosperous, equitable, and sustainable society. Any win that does not prioritise the interests of Nigerians, as a whole, is not healthy for our democracy.
Finally, despite our unconditional love of the beautiful game, we must eschew the dangers of football politics and its lope-sided sweetness and pains. We shall be better off with a win-win mentality, no matter how unsavoury this may sound. At the end, we win and lose together, as the struggle continues in many ways.
Amaeshi is a member of Thought Leadership Forum, Nigeria, and a visiting professor at the Lagos Business School.
December 28, 2013 § Leave a comment
NOTE: ***A version of this article was first published as an Op-Ed in The Guardian (May 9, 2010) ***
President Yar’adua is dead; may God rest his soul. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has been sworn in; may God guide his conscience. However, whether he likes it or not, the political history of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has grown to embody a double-edged public discourse which may not be entirely accurate, but yet resonates powerfully across the country. An aspect of the discourse presents an image of a humble and peace-loving man who patiently goes through his ordeals until success is achieved. This heroic imagery is further intensified when you bring in Patience, his wife, into the frame. In this case, the Goodluck and Patience phenomenon becomes the embodiment of the heroic traits of the virtuous person. These are powerful and essential traits for rebuilding Nigeria – a country currently riddled by unpatriotic traits and characters. I applaud this discourse and imagery, especially if it eventually translates to a potent force in redirecting the footsteps and conscience of our political elites to serve the interests of the populace, and not their selfish indulgence.
The other side of the Goodluck discourse evokes a very discomforting dark imagery. Here Goodluck becomes synonymous with brazen corruption (chop-I-chop mentality), laziness (sit-down-look attitude), apathy, and reckless subservience to power and authority, as long as one is not caught out unexpectedly and prematurely, too. It fine-tunes the selfish inclination of the person who patiently awaits the downfall of the other for him or her to shine with good-luck. It diminishes the worth of hard work and showcases inaptitude as a viable alternative. In general, it portrays the emptiness characteristic of the shallow mind who ignobly says: let’s feast and merry today, for tomorrow we shall all die! This version of the Goodluck and Patience discourse is very uncomfortable to imagine, especially as one thinks of it as an apt description of the continuing unchallenged public psychology of the Nigerian populace, essentially orchestrated by the public debauchery of the political elites.
Lagos and Abuja appear to eloquently represent these sharply contrasting imageries of the Goodluck and Patience discourse. Despite the criticisms voiced against the recent BBC documentary captioned Welcome to Lagos, which, in my opinion, mainly (and lopsidedly) portrayed Lagos to the outside world as a filthy environment of people living in abject poverty and sub-human conditions, it also highlighted the resilience and hard work that accompany such existence. It showcased people who were not prepared to abandon themselves to the fatality of fate, but were rather prepared to shape and formulate their destinies, despite the odds against them. It showcased Lagos as the hub of positive private entrepreneurship and creativity. This imagery of Lagos is further enhanced if one steps out of the squalor portrayed in the BBC documentary into some of the civilised parts of the city, which the documentary, in the popular characteristic of the western media, refused to explore. I am by no means suggesting that Lagos is a perfect city. It still has its significant drawbacks and yet thrives in private entrepreneurship and audacious stories of the human ability to survive extreme conditions. As most people who live in Lagos would say: “anyone who survives in Lagos can survive in any corner of the globe”. And most of the time, this turns out to be a truism.
Then contrast this private entrepreneurial spirit of Lagos with that of Abuja. In Lagos, money changes hands and economic productivity is enhanced. Despite the serenity and luxury of Abuja in comparison to Lagos, it is a city where most idle minds talk about money, money changes hands, and we are plunged back a couple of years back. In all its glory, Abuja has come to symbolise the face of the seeming massive and horrendous looting of public funds in Nigeria on a daily basis as a result of bad governance. It is very difficult not to sense this bad governance since our infrastructure has continued to remain poor despite our national wealth; and the poverty level in the country has continued to grow hand in hand with the incredible bank accounts held outside the country. However, one might quip that it is not easy to embezzle public funds creatively and go unpunished, even when it is public knowledge that one is a thief – no, it is nowadays called political entrepreneurship. The political entrepreneurs in turn serve themselves and their political god-fathers. Yes, this is a form of a diabolical entrepreneurship, and certainly the inspiration for such must definitely come from no other source than from below – i.e. the brute and primitive elements of the human person. Abuja appears to epitomise this gory side of the Goodluck and Patience discourse.
Coincidentally, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and his wife, Patience, will live and work in Abuja. Some political regimes in Nigeria have been alleged to notoriously promote public corruption on a massive scale in the country. So, it is also for the President and his wife to choose whether to promote the Lagos or the Abuja culture. One thing that is certain is that the choices they make, as leaders, will definitely rub off on the public psyche. For instance, and on a lighter note, it will not be surprising if the number of the population bearing the names Goodluck and Patience increases as a result of the Goodluck and Patience discourse. Unsurprisingly, some people on Facebook are even beginning to use Goodluck as their middle names! However, on a more serious note, the Nigerian public psychology does not need more of a laissez–faire attitude to bad governance. We need a change of orientation that rewards the discipline of hard work and recognises fairness and justice. We need a change of orientation that deters public recklessness and punishes corrupt political entrepreneurship that has continued to set us all back as a country. Unfortunately, we all know this, but yet fail to act.
Whilst I agree to the view that each and every Nigerian needs to take responsibility for propelling the country forward, I equally recognise that some people are better positioned to champion change in the country than others. And what position can be better and more powerful than the Office of the President? Although there may be more than meets the eyes in both the President and his wife, unfortunately they do not easily and collectively radiate an identity far from being products of luck. The general opinion is that luck has continued to trail their footsteps, probably because of their names. I am inclined to dismiss this as fetishism. Notwithstanding, the ball is now in their court to lean on the side of the discourse they subscribe to and, thus, diffuse the inadvertent public myths and fetishism around the Goodluck and Patience phenomenon. They have a dream opportunity to, at least begin to, right the ills of the Abuja culture in Nigeria. Although they will live and work in Abuja, they do not necessarily need to live out the Abuja culture. As leaders, we want to know what they believe in – i.e. their political ideology. Let us know our president and his wife and who they truly are – and here, actions need to speak louder than voice.
President Yar’adua’s regime has gone with its uniqueness. This is a new beginning for President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and his wife, and a golden opportunity for them to either write their names feebly on sand or firmly in history. What would be immensely disappointing is just to see their regime gone as an ill-fated product of luck, which will be an unfortunate sharp contrast to the wise saying that: luck meets the prepared! I pray they are adequately prepared; and time shall tell this.
Adieu, President Yar’adua; and welcome, “President Goodluck”!
Dr. Amaeshi teaches Strategy and Policy Innovation at the Cranfield School of Management, United Kingdom, and is a Visiting Professor of Corporate Governance at the Lagos Business School, Nigeria
December 19, 2013 § 3 Comments
The current public squabbles between former President Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ) and the incumbent President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ), which tend to border on moral heroism, is both revealing and intriguing in many ways. In the first instance, the difference between OBJ’s and GEJ’s moral rectitude (and in fact the difference between these two and most former presidents of Nigeria), in my view, is akin to the difference between six and half-a-dozen. Nigeria is yet to have a Mandela, unfortunately. In that regard, as much as OBJ’s letter to GEJ might contain many a truth, it reveals some disturbing sublimal characteristics of Nigeria and her polity lurking around seemingly unnoticed.
Beyond the rhetoric of the letter, I see a meta-narrative of an institutional void and abyss, which gazes back at those who are drawn to its abysmal depths. I see a reckless and false democracy that has gone out of control, and on rampage to consume itself and the disenfranchised citizens. Democracy, as the government of the many for the many, requires strong institutions and voice to function effectively for the interests of the many. What we see unfolding before us is a shadow of democracy – a government of the few for the few – being sold to the many as true democracy.
Beneath this public grandstanding and elite antagonism between OBJ and GEJ is a very ugly elite activism for private interests. After all, there are no permanent foes in politics, but permanent interests, as they say. These interests are, unfortunately, not ideologically driven; instead they are often driven by primordial sentiments and instincts devoid of any public interests, and are definitely anti-common-good.
The emergence of elite antagonism masquerading as elite activism spells danger for a budding democracy. It clearly signals that the public space and voice have been hijacked and muffled by the powerful few in society. OBJ, GEJ et al., no doubt, are members of this elite class. This emergence of elite antagonism, whilst seemingly appealing, is a subtle annihilation, alienation, and impoverishment of the critical mass required to challenge and put elite power in constant check. In the classic Marxist expression, it signals the triumph and continual domination of the bourgeoisies over the proletariats.
In other words, OBJ’s letter points to the absence of a critical and powerful civil society. It highlights the marginalisation of the commons by the elites and the powerful in the society. The letter in the public space has met a toothless bulldog resigned to the fatality of learned helplessness. A public that has been brutalised, betrayed, and bamboozled by different governments and regimes over time. The public has become the proverbial suffering grass in the fight between two elephants. It is from this perspective that OBJ’s letter makes more sense to me.
The obvious absence of the critical mass in our democracy is a clear signal of under-development and the entrenchment of belly politics in Nigeria – a dangerous politics that does not put the interests of the country over and above the interests of the very few elites who falsely parade as messiahs in human flesh. No wonder this form of politics has continued to fail Nigeria and Nigerians.
Whilst some have focused narrowly on the content of OBJ’s letter, I see the need for the civil society to reclaim its rightful place in democracy in Nigeria. I see the need for the average Nigerian to explore the dynamics of the current elite antagonism not from a religious or ethnic lens, but from a class perspective. This is a classical class struggle that needs to be dismantled.
The elites have creative ways of selling their antagonisms as laudable activism for the many. Succumbing to their antics, again, is to further strengthen their resolve to use this strategy against the many. As much as the civil society has been subdued, I see this subjugation as a function of information asymmetry employed by the elite class to decimate the many. This subjugation will only be overcome if the many engage, mobilise, and support common interests.
There are a couple of new active civil societies out there at the moment. They need all the support they can garner to create a critical mass that will be able to challenge the elite few. Democracy, as much as it advocates peace, is a form of governance sustained by constant and creative contestations. It is a governance system whose equilibrium is sustained by constant tension. What we are currently witnessing in Nigeria is a lope-sided contestation and tension, which will only sustain the domination and interests of the very few elites in the country who have treacherously continued to feather their nests while many people in the country roast in penury and abject poverty.
OBJ’s letter is a welcome development. At least, it exposes the under-belly of the elite ruling class, and at the same exposes the absence of a credible and powerful civil society in the country. Creative, thoughtful, and informed activism by the many is at the heart of effective democracy. Such engagement is a clear demonstration of active citizenship. The time to act is now and always. 2015 will come and go; but active citizenship should always continue.
Despite the antagonism of the few elites in our society, OBJ, GEJ, and their likes should not be allowed to escape the constant scrutiny of the court of public opinion. Anyone who wants to act in the public space should also be prepared to be publicly held accountable. OBJ and GEJ are already in the public arena; let them face the wrath of the public scrutiny. Let us not lose our eyes on the ball.
It is a class war. The struggle continues.
Kenneth Amaeshi is a member of Thought Leadership Forum Nigeria @kenamaeshi
October 12, 2013 § Leave a comment
Africapitalism – “an economic philosophy that embodies the private sector’s commitment to the economic transformation of Africa through investments that generate both economic prosperity and social wealth” – is an emerging business philosophy from Africa spearheaded by one of the continent’s leading entrepreneurs, Mr Tony Elumelu. From my experience of interacting with business leaders, especially those interested in the sustainable economic development of Africa, I get the impression that Africapitalism has the power to unleash positive emotional energy and the ability to suck-in interests for Africa’s development. It has an awesome way of captivating the imagination of African entrepreneurs and citizens, in particular, in a manner that has not been done by any other socio-economic construct. It jolts consciousness and repositions the development of Africa in the world firmly as an indigenous project in which Africans will play significant active roles. I see this glimmer of audacious hope whether engaging with business leaders in Lagos, Nairobi, Accra, or Johannesburg. The message is unique, as well as the sentiments it evokes. (to continue, please click here)
First published by African Arguments of the Royal African Society (UK), October 2, 2013
October 12, 2013 § Leave a comment
Kenneth Amaeshi and Chris Ogbechie
On 24 September 24 2012, the Central Bank of Nigeria launched the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles. The adoption and implementation of these principles are compulsory and require Nigerian “banks, discount houses and development finance institutions to develop a management approach that balances the environmental and social risks identified with the opportunities to be exploited through their business activities”.
This move by the Central Bank of Nigeria, spearheaded by the current governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi – which has been internationally applauded – appears to be the first of its kind globally. In its approach to promoting commitment to sustainability, it is an unusual mix of soft and hard governance….. (to continue, please see the link below)
Published in The Guardian (UK) Sustainable Business Blog October 2, 2013
July 30, 2013 § Leave a comment
As with most developing economies and emerging markets, sustainable business is a hard sell in Africa – especially in sub-Saharan Africa. As an academic and practitioner in this space, I often blame the weak institutions and poor governance characteristics of these regions. In addition, the slow uptake of sustainable business across the continent clearly shows the absence of a developed, indigenous philosophy about the role of business in Africa.
Please continue here (Guardian UK)
July 15, 2013 § 1 Comment
Kenneth Amaeshi, PhD
I recently had a knowledge sharing session with a group of Nigerian business leaders in Lagos to explore the subject of Nigerian firms doing business abroad. These business leaders have first-hand experience of internationalisation given that each of them has business operations in one or two African countries. The session was particularly interesting. Two things stood out for me at the end of the encounter. The first impression I got was that “brand Nigeria” is a hard sell, if not a burden, in Africa. One of the business leaders expressed his frustration much more bluntly, thus: “they (referring to other African countries) will watch your Nollywood movies, but will not patronise your business”. The second impression was the level of antagonism and poor economic relations amongst peer nations in the continent. Whilst the former could be interpreted as a firm level challenge, and the latter as an intergovernmental issue in Africa, the two can dangerously combine to work against Nigerian firms in other African countries. No wonder some Nigerian banks are still counting their losses and licking their wounds in this regard.
Nigerians are not easily loved, and neither do they make themselves so. This could be an average Nigerian business’ perception. However, the typical stereotypes out there include that Nigerians are: extremely aggressive, obnoxiously materialistic, loud, domineering, and criminally minded in their entrepreneurial quests. Despite the fact that these stereotypes are often manifestations of cultural biases, they may constitute what is technically known as the liability of foreignness, which is typical of non-indigenous firms. One of the CEOs gave an account of how his company did not break-even in a neighbouring West African country for the first five years of being there mainly because a Nigerian was the face of the company. The change in fortune only occurred after they hired an indigene, with a Nigerian as a deputy. This was a big lesson for this CEO. In their subsequent internationalisation endeavours within Africa, they have consciously and tactically chosen to mask the Nigerian origin of the firm and its identity. This makes me wonder if other foreign firms – especially those from outside Africa – suffer the same fate. Will a German, British, Chinese, Japanese, or American firm in Africa face similar challenges? One may also wonder if the home country of a firm truly matters.
Research suggests that the home country of a firm is a reasonable part of its corporate brand and identity; and where a brand originates matters for many reasons. It might signal high or low quality, for instance. Arguably, Chinese products are to a large extent regarded as inferior to either European or American products. With the passage of time, China as the country of cheap labour and production is no longer a sustainable brand proposition. Chinese firms and government understand this and are doing their best to enhance their brand value. The gradual emergence of global brands with Chinese origin – such as Huawei and Lenovo – is a classic expression of the brand building efforts of the Chinese government and firms. These brands usually signal quality, value and benign-ness. In that regard, the Nigerian government and firms may need to look to the East for some useful lessons in brand positioning, market penetration, and country reputation management.
Whilst one might see reason with regards to the liability of foreignness, the antagonism amongst African countries and the poor economic relations inherent in the continent is rather strange, disappointing, and unhelpful. Despite the advantages of the globalised world economy, regionalisation and regional economic blocs are veritable mechanisms of withstanding and minimising the negative onslaughts of globalisation and its discontents. The European Common Market and Monetary Union are all attempts to take advantage of, and cope with, the excesses of globalisation. The European investment in Airbus is a clear strategy to push back on the dominance of Boeing – an American firm – in the global aerospace industry.
Regional economic integration holds significant positive benefits. It is almost impossible to see a French company rejected in the UK simply because it is French, and vice versa. Unfortunately, African countries are yet to wake up to this reality. The many boundaries and structural obstacles in the continent – represented and sometimes orchestrated by the multiple regional blocs – will continue to frustrate economic relations in the continent and dampen entrepreneurial pursuits. Ultimately, the quest for a better and developed Africa through private sector engagement will be pushed back and made much more difficult to realise.
Upon reflection, my recent encounter with the business leaders suggests that Africa needs a common voice to harmonise economic relations within and between African countries and economic regional blocs. It is the primary responsibility of policy makers to do this, and bodies like the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) and the Nigerian Ministry of Trade and Investment, for example, and probably their counterparts in other African countries, might be in this space already. Notwithstanding, it behoves on African entrepreneurs to creatively work with the different governments to achieve this goal. This is where responsible business-government relations becomes a critical strategic option for businesses in Africa. Thought leadership is also necessary. In this regard, Tony Elumelu’s Africapitalism agenda – “an economic philosophy that embodies the private sector’s commitment to the economic transformation of Africa through investments that generate both economic prosperity and social wealth”– needs to be encouraged, supported, and developed as a robust economic philosophy for the continent.
Africapitalism is a creative push back on the disadvantages of globalisation. It is an entrepreneurial quest and mindset, which challenges the conventional win-lose mentality of entrepreneurs and businesses in Africa to create shared value (i.e. win-win outcomes) in and for Africa, instead. If adopted and mainstreamed, Africapitalism has a strong potential to offer an antidote to the negative Nigeria brand and the antagonistic trade relations in Africa, which have continued to set Africa backwards.
Nigeria is the second largest market in Africa and has a relatively open economic culture. The government of Nigeria and business leaders should be at the forefront of this economic agenda. The idea of capturing national governments for personal gains, which seems rather prevalent in the continent, is anachronistic, unfair to the African society, and ultimately unsustainable. Economic patriotism, which is at the heart of Africapitalism, is unashamedly good for Africa, and should be promoted within and for the continent.
Amaeshi is an Associate Professor (Reader) in Strategy and International Business at the University of Edinburgh, UK, a Visiting Fellow at the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility, Cranfield School of Management, and a Visiting Professor at the Lagos Business School, Nigeria. He is also a member of Thought Leadership Forum, Nigeria