- Posted by Edith Ohaja
- On July 7, 2018
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THE MEDIA AND THE DEVELOPMENT CHALLENGE IN NIGERIA
AT A TIME OF CRISIS
PAPER PRESENTED BY PROFESSOR PAT UTOMI ON THE OCCASION OF THE 11TH JACKSON ANNUAL LECTURE ON JULY 3, 2018 AT THE PRINCESS ALEXANDRIA AUDITORIUM
These are interesting times in Nigeria. In many ways they are troubling times. But if history teaches anything, it is that trouble can be opportunity. The apparent threat to human progress by extant reality in Nigeria could be the point of surge for progress, or, if inappropriately handled the curvature from which we either tip into Jared Diamond type collapse or Robert Kaplan predicted anarchy.
Given the multifaceted nature of the challenges confronting nation building and economic development in Nigeria, both efforts at explication of the nature of the crisis and paths to solution have to be multidisciplinary. I am fortunate therefore that I came to the issue with a multidisciplinary academic tooling, beginning here at UNN with Mass Communication and then spreading to Policy Economics, Political Science and Business Administration. I have in fact found that I have followed enough economic historians that I now find myself being referred to as a historian.
In many ways though, a good Mass Communication person needs to be a bit of all of those, and much more, if meaning of value is to be transmitted from source to the receivers of what we push through the channels that are infected by all kinds of physical and semantic noises that impact the fidelity of the message.
Besides, the superior logic of a multidisciplinary approach to reflecting on the media’s role in assessing and shaping development tradition draws us to that approach. Much of what was media and society research was led by scholars from other disciplines.
When Ithiel de Sola Pool died of cancer at 66 in 1984, I related to the much celebrated MIT Political Scientist at that time as a PhD in Political Science, but I first encountered this author of the 1973 Handbook of Communication as an undergraduate in Mass Communication in UNN after the return of Ralph Chude Okonkwor inspired a select number of my classmates such as Ike Emeagwali, Isah Momoh and I to take an interest in Media and Society Research.
Indeed it is worthy of mention here that my first two publications, which were in a refereed European academic journal within two years of my leaving UNN, started their journey from the library of the Jackson School. The piece “Historical-Philosophical Foundations of Media Ownership in Nigeria” whose first draft was written in my final year, here at UNN, was of a multidisciplinary conception, drawing from my interest in History, Political Science and Public Administration, in addition to media studies.
I am pleased therefore to turn, today, to Structural Economics, International Political Economy, Institutional Economics, History, and Comparative Politics to suggest how the media may shape the agenda that could determine whether Nigeria claims the promise of the dawn of self-government or tip over into anarchy.
We shall turn next to the state of the economy and the process of media influence to establish the context of the dilemma of progress in Nigeria.
The apparent threat to human progress by extant reality in Nigeria could be the point of surge for progress.
What is the current state of the economy?
An incredible test of the way things are is how they vote with their feet. There is exodus from Nigeria at the bottom and the middle. The statistics of upper middle class, well educated, well paid managers and executives emigrating to Canada almost leaves the sense of scramble off a sinking ship. Why are IBTC managers, former bank MDs abandoning Nigeria even in middle age?
At the bottom, we are regaled daily by images of Nigerians being repatriated from Libya after torturous time crossing the dessert, and a taste of slavery. This is even far less gory than images of scooping bodies of those drowning in the Mediterranean.
The perception that things are not just bad but are likely to get worse is driving these choices. I have numerous anecdotal personal encounters, from a couple in the New York subway last September to that which lead to my OPED piece “The generation that left town”.
Should a country endowed so generously be the domain of such economic underperformance? Why are nations poor, and how do rising expectations and global media impact the sense of self-worth in a country managed such that it is performing below potential, leaving its people dispirited, destitute and easy recruits for terrorism, insurgency and criminal gangs involved in armed robbery, kidnapping and political thuggery.
In 1996 I wrote the book Why Nations are Poor and several years later even dared to suggest in another book that Nigeria acts as if it desires to be poor, in spite of the abundance of the resources, human and material that could make it a very wealthy country.
An incredible test of the way things are is how Nigerians vote with their feet (the exodus from the country at the bottom and the middle).
Mass Media Society Theory and Media Influence
If the forgoing be the state of the human condition in Nigeria, largely captured from Political Economy perspectives, how can media be used to influence the course Nigeria could travel in the face of these realities, and more importantly, how can journalism or Mass Communication be taught here in a way that may affect those who move from the Den to arena of praxis and can have impact that could orient the path of history.
I would like to open this section of the discussion with two caveats that provide some insight into my view of the essence of the university and its influence; and my view of how history aids explanation of social phenomena.
About 18 years ago I returned to the green hills of Nsukka as speaker to give one of the lectures to mark 40 years of the University of Nigeria. Back then Karl Maier’s book: This House has Fallen-Midnight in Nigeria had just been published. A few years earlier I had also responded to request from Enugu campus to share the podium with Justice Chukwudifu Oputa to speak on the idea of a university, revisiting John Henry Cardinal Newman and the mission of the university. I drew from Maier’s charge and my summation of Newman to title that lecture “The Falling Walls of Nigeria and the Nehemiah syndrome” suggesting there that part of the purpose of the university is to equip its graduates to go out there, like the prophet Nehemiah and rebuild the fallen walls of society. I hold that perspective still as my urging of an understanding of media theory is to show how graduates can take advantage of such knowledge to build the walls of progress in a Nigeria whose walls are fallen in most places and falling in others.
The second caveat draws from the indelible mark left on me as a graduate student in the late 1970s by the great sociologist C. Wright Mills. His point in The Sociological-Imagination was that history essentially comes alive at the nexus of the grand flow of statistics and the personal trouble of individuals. As those who write the first draft of history-the journalists take on their task, a robust Sociological Imagination is needed and only multidisciplinary preparation could make that possible. Also key to effectiveness would be understanding the path of Media Influence.
So what are those linkages between phenomena that denote whether, how and when the media influence society?
Incidentally my classmate and friend Isah Momoh has done a nice job of compiling and explaining the dominant theories of Communication which include the theories of media influence, in his books: A Survey of Communication Theories, and An Introduction to Media and Communication.
For my purpose here, the question is do the media have enough influence to affect the choices we make, as a country, through our institutions and through individual action to advance the course of nation building and Economic Development? The history of Media Influence research suggests that the media do have influence, which means that influence can be deployed into building Nehemiahs. But the nature of that influence is what has been in question. A better understanding of the nature of this influence should facilitate how it is deployed.
With multidisciplinary preparation and an understanding of media theory, journalism graduates can build the walls of progress in a Nigeria whose walls are fallen in most places and falling in others.
Early in the twentieth century it was taken for granted that powerful newspapers had direct and powerful influence on their readers. The general thesis that captured the phenomenon was likened to how a hypodermic needle delivered medicinal content in an injection situation. But the veracity of such views was challenged by occasions of powerful newspapers like the New York Times endorsing candidates for elections in New York and the voters, their readers, voting the other candidate.
This influenced research which resulted in new questions being posed. The outcome of the studies was to suggest that opinions formed and choices we make were the outcome of opinion leaders modulating the information received from the media.
Communication, it seemed was in two steps from media through opinion leaders to the people. Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson and Hazel Gaudet offered the two step flow thesis in the 1944 book: The People’s Choice. Later studies would establish that the modulation of flow could be more than one point and that opinion leaders’ impact could actually be a multistep flow.
These points remain germane today. How did the US media not see the victory of Donald Trump in November 2016 and some had in their files cover stories about America’s first woman president, Hilary Rodham Clinton? It is the same phenomena at play but much more is even explained by later day theories we shall return to such as spiral of silence thesis which made Opinion Polls misleading because people whose values disposed them to voting for Trump were either too ashamed to admit their inclination or feared that as “minorities” they may look bad.
If the media did not exercise direct influence, it seemed to have influence through its Gatekeeper role. The editors determine what goes out as news. So if they had a policy not to report 419 Kingpins they denied them social influence that comes from the halo effect that flows from the status conferral function of the media. Where the Gatekeepers celebrate crooks who can splash money around, those socialites become role models. That can damage the incentive structure of society that is at the core of production of goods and services. So Gatekeepers were considered key to the social value frame. When I arrived the United State in 1978 to commence graduate studies the man frequently voted the most trusted man in America was CBSTV Evening News Anchor, Walter Cronkite. He ended his broadcasts by saying, that’s the way it is Monday 20th, 1978. The Gatekeeper was influence. Policies Choice in the Economic arena had to have been impacted by decisions of the Gatekeeper. So as Cronkite said it was, that way it was presumed to be.
The Gatekeeper value of the Media is today challenged by the phenomena of social media that gives to everybody with a cellular telephone or computer the possibility of being both the source and Gatekeeper of the flow of information. With such a variegated Gate-keeping access mode, a new order reigns.
Because of the many things that happen every day, only the ones the media choose to focus on become part of societies’ priorities. This is the Agenda-Setting function of the media (my favorite Media Influence thesis).
What this new order particularly challenges is the structure of the Public Sphere. No one better understands that, in my view, in the current era, than the German Philosopher Jurgen Habermas. The philosopher of Social Theory focused on how to transform the world and arrive at a more humane and Just order has rightly focused on the benefits of Democracy and Modernity based on Communication Reason and Communication Rationality because the market place of ideas and Thought Leadership are infinitely capable of orienting society towards the Common Good, and a productive use of the resources of the earth to advance the quality of life of citizens. I believe that incidence of fake news and abuse of channels of Communication will ultimately reduce the value of social media as source of credible information even though it will broaden the scope of Gate-keeping. In the face of this the Communication Village Square, traditional and new, will inevitably witness the ascendance of Thought Leaders that can point society in the direction of the kind of society Habermas advocates with the coming of Capitalism and Democracy creating a Public Sphere of citizens exchange of information and ideas distinct and separate from the state. Whereas people like John B. Thompson of Cambridge University criticize Habermas’ idea of the Public Sphere as challenged by the nature of Mass Media, I take the view that invariably the “tower of Babel” media society will find social progress hampered enough that the creation of Thought Leaders will approximate the Habermas notion of the Public Sphere. This idea of the Public Sphere as domain of reasoned discussion and arrival at choice in the public interest is captured in debate in the US on the law of Eminent Domain, compared with the land use Act in Nigeria.
The Gate-keeping function as path to influence was only a part of the more definite thesis that media have influence. Because of the many things that happen every day, only the ones the media choose to focus on become part of societies’ priorities. This is the Agenda-Setting function of the media.
For years the people of Congo Democratic Republic had been dying of Ebola: It did not become a global health crisis until it entered the radar of global media just as Nigerians have been wallowing in slavery in Libya but it was not an issue until CNN Freedom Project brought its Sudanese-born correspondent Nima Elbagir to the table. The Agenda-Setting Function has always been my favorite Media Influence thesis because it holds the more plausible explanatory power of the contending theories but I like to joke that I am stuck there because that was the dominant paradigm in media influence studies in the late 1970s when my academic interests shifted to development economics.
But the Agenda Setting paradigm is even more interesting in how dominant media set the agenda of other media through Agenda surfing and Agenda cutting. This has brought frustration to those who see the Agenda of national media set by an old boy network in dominant media groups. One of the most remembered frustrations expressed about this are in the words of US Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew, who served under Richard Nixon, and lashed out at the Eastern seaboard press as “nattering nabobs of negativism”. Similar feelings have been expressed by some about the “Lagos-Ibadan” media axis in Nigeria. Trump’s assault on America’s Liberals also highlights the Agenda cutting thesis.
My personal experience with agenda cutting could be interesting here. Frustrated with how narcissistic leaders were stoking civil wars across Africa and exacerbating the crisis of poverty and deprivation on the continent I became part of groups calling for an international criminal court to try leaders for genocide. I even advocated for two courts, a political crimes court and economic crimes court. I argued then that the corruption of many African leaders constituted the moral equivalence of economic genocide against their people. In January of 1978 I had the opportunity to push my views to editors of a remarkable US newspaper.
The corruption of many African leaders constitutes the moral equivalence of economic genocide against their people.
Earlier in my career, on arrival in the US to start graduate studies I ran into the Africa Editor of the Christian Science Monitor at a conference. Many in 1979 considered the Christian Science Monitor to be perhaps the best newspaper in the World. Meeting David Annable was therefore a great thrill. It would end as a pleasant shock when the conversation finished with him inviting me to contribute on African affairs. My second claim to fame would therefore be appearing on the pages of the Christian Science Monitor where people like Dele Giwa first came across my name. So when in 1996/97 I was spending my sabbatical at the Harvard Business School writing the book Managing Uncertainty: Competition and Strategy in Emerging Economies, I thought I should take my campaign for an international criminal court to the Newspaper.
I called up and introduced myself as a contributor from 17 years back. They graciously invited me for a chat. When, that cold morning, I raised my campaign for the two international criminal courts, they laughed it off as Utopian and unlikely to happen. Obviously Americans were not comfortable with consequences, not because of what a former Harvard Professor Klitgaard would call “Tropical Gangster’ in referring to African leaders but because of American covert activities around the world.
You can imagine how I felt when the Rome treaty establishing the International Criminal Court in the Haque came into being. The attempt of the establishment media in the US to do agenda-cutting on that matter had failed.
My experience is that dominant media ultimately influence culture. One of the great contemporary historians, the British historian Niall Ferguson, in his book, Civilization: The Six Killer Apps of Western Power, analyzes how the cultural power of the blue jeans extended American economic and political hegemony into Eastern Europe. Less generous people describe that as cultural imperialism but media research sees it as the product of more resources in America to create film and other artefacts of culture which those less financially endowed buy cheaply and then get immersed in.
If culture shapes human progress and media can help engineer culture, the media influence can be a catalyst for Development, Economic Growth and Social Advancement.
Media influence theories such as the cultivation theory of George Gerbner essentially provide framework for understanding such culture influence. This is so important because I am persuaded that culture or values shape human progress. A colloquium at Harvard on how values shape human progress helps provide deep insights into phenomena on the subject. Based on Patrick Daniel Moynihan’s two truths, the colloquium which is reported in the volume Culture Matters edited by Lawrence Harrison and Samuel P Huntington Jnr point us to culture being central to progress.
As I argue in explaining the Growth Driver’s Framework, the thesis central to my book, Why Nations Are Poor, leaders are important because they set the tone of culture and that determines economic performance. Huntington himself cites the example of Singapore in which one Liberal, Lee kuan Yew, used politics to engineer culture and move a pretty backward society in one generation, from Third World to the First. If culture shapes human progress and media can help engineer culture the media influence can be a catalyst for Development, Economic Growth and Social Advancement.
For me, ultimately the influence of the media is best understood in the nature of the Public Sphere. Here we turn to philosophy and the remarkable work of contemporary German philosopher Jurgen Habermas who I call the philosopher of the Public Sphere. His thoughts on the State of Democracy and the place of Public Sphere largely defined by its Market Place of Ideas elevate the role of the media in the erection of a democracy that advances the Common Good.
As is evident Nigeria’s Democracy is dangerously flawed because instead of being a Government of the people, for the people and by the people, it is patently a government of politicians for politicians and by politicians with occasional rationalization of an apparent common good. Sadly the Nigeria media are significantly complicit in this obtuse operation of democracy in what they do and in what they fail to do.
Nigeria’s Democracy is dangerously flawed because instead of being a Government of the people, for the people and by the people, it is a government of politicians for politicians and by politicians with occasional rationalization of the common good. Sadly the Nigeria media are significantly complicit in this obtuse operation of democracy in their actions and inactions.
Can the Nigerian Media Rise to the Agenda Setting Challenge of Nation Building?
From Siebert, Petersen and Schramm and the Four Theories of the Press we learnt long ago that Press systems were supportive of governmental philosophies within which they operate. But those systems, even beyond the Social Responsibility typology are generally mobilized to advance a social purpose. They do indeed become institutions of socialization like Schools, Religious agencies and the like. But how they do so depends on extant governmental philosophies.
It is this that influenced part of my early research in Media and Society resulting in my 1981 publication in the Dutch Journal of Media Studies, Gazette. “The Historical-Philosophical Foundations of Government Ownership of Newspapers in Nigeria” aimed to show the relationship between ownership and content. Ownership influences on content in Nigeria remains an issue and affects the nature of the role the Mass Media, as we know can play, in Nation building and economic development.
When I wrote the Journal article the concerns were with Government ownership of media as that was the factor of that time. The Daily Times, the primary newspaper of Record in Nigeria at the time, had been nationalized in the mid-1970s and the alternative were state owned Newspapers which flourished at the time. Many of our graduating colleagues went first to the Renaissance in Enugu (later The Star) and others to The Chronicle in Calabar. To compound matters, by 1977/78 state owned Television Stations were co-opted into a centralized body called the NTA. Part of my small claim to fame was that as a Youth Corps member at Newbreed Magazine I wrote an investigative report on this subject in a cover story titled “The Radio Kaduna Controversy”. It ostensibly forced the departure of then Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Ayo Ogunlade, from the Federal cabinet.
With the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) turning to privatization, to rescue the state from its errors, a new mindset took hold. Today there is significant private ownership. How has that changed the way the media may play a role in development? Private media have played a huge role in the evolution of the American Free Enterprise system and the shared values that define Nation Building there. America’s success comes significantly from how the media help build the legitimacy of American institutions. How well do our private media do so in Nigeria? Legitimacy is very important for governance as Seymour Martin Lipset so well advances in the First New Nation. Such social institutions are useful for establishing such links between the people and power in a way that the essence of authority can be established.
In my view the economics of media in Nigeria which leaves us with Newspapers and electronic media that pay poor salaries and many times fail to pay for months, diminishes capacity for performance. Many media practitioners are caught in crisis of existential nature and so lack the sobriety for the issues in nation building.
Reportage on Nigeria is dominated by the staged event, press conferences, AGMs, Lectures, etc. These largely place the domination of news by those who stage events and facilitate the dolling out of gratification the poorly paid reporter has come to look forward to. Even transportation money to the staged event is hardly forthcoming, much less resources for the investigative report.
The economics of media in Nigeria which leaves us with Newspapers and electronic media that pay poor salaries and many times fail to pay for months, diminishes capacity for performance. Many media practitioners are caught in crisis of existential nature and so lack the sobriety for the issues in nation building.
This is largely because the media business models in Nigeria are such they cannot afford the traditional methods of news gathering. Compare this to a personal experience I will now share.
I once arrived Washington DC and checked into the Hilton on Embassy Row, near Dupont Circle. I was hardly settled in when the phone rang. The operator connected me to the caller, a reporter from the Wall Street Journal. I was shocked because few people knew I was coming to DC and few knew where I was going to be lodged.
The reporter wanted insights on the operations of Halliburton in Nigeria. He was investigating whether the then US Vice President Dick Cheney was implicated in corruption allegations in Nigeria. But how did he know where to find me, I asked. Simple answer: His boss had given him a budget of $100,000.00 to nail Dick Cheney. He combed the academic and policy community for Nigeria contacts. Someone mentioned me, another indicated I was due in Washington and yet another indicated I stayed in Hiltons around the Northwest. So he began to call them until one indicated I was checked in there.
These are simple steps every investigative journalist or Researcher/ reporter knows to take with rigour. But how many Newspapers will give a reporter a million Naira to follow a story, not to talk of USD 100,000.00. So ownership and economic structure issues become prisms through which we see the world. How will a poorly resourced media find the platform to live the sociological imagination in crafting those early drafts of history? How will a newspaper founded just to advance the political interest of its owner discover sustainability and deploy a strategy that ensures it delivers sustainable superior performance over rivals in terms of value offered its readers.
I had the good pleasure of being co-founder of Business Day Nigeria, and the Chairman of its Board until I stepped down to run for public office. The startup team probably still remembers the passion with which I drove all toward strategy that would provide for an institution built to last. Many media projects do not deploy enough rigour in constructing strategy because of the motive of their owners and so arrive at very poor economics. This is above and beyond the general troubles in the environment of business in Nigeria.
How much does the Structure-Conduct-Performance paradigm in Structural Economics teach us about why many media ventures are not on a sustainable course? Plenty I would dare say. If you take the Porter Diamond made popular by Michael Porter at the Harvard Business School you will see that the typical newspaper or magazine in Nigeria is in an arena of intensity of rivalry; the threat of substitute products from social media and other news sources, low barriers to entry, and low purchasing power, with effect on weak power of suppliers and buyers, and you see a business prostrate. But can you alter industry structure and play in a profitable niche? Surely that is plausible but it may require scope economies in which the marketing of business intelligence or organizing of sector conference off the back of content gathered or mined information from the flow of news. These could create cash cows and new stars of the types identified in the Boston consulting group (BCG) matrix that could better sustain profitability and superior performance. So how can media so challenged as in Nigeria find a decent place of play in economic development and nation building? I am convinced that strategy focused on promoting successful enterprise development and nation building can be found. To do this well, media entrepreneurs have to realize that media is business and only best business practice will enable sustainable good performance.
Many media projects do not deploy enough rigour in constructing strategy because of the motive of their owners and so arrive at very poor economics. This is above and beyond the general troubles in the environment of business in Nigeria.
Were the media to evolve on a structure that facilitates their being a catalyst or major driver of development, what would be the critical emphasis of effort? What would be the key issue on which they must set an agenda for society to travel in the direction of elevating the dignity of citizens by reducing infant mortality, maternal mortality, at child birth, build capacity to adapt to the pace of a changing world and have infrastructure that enables and sustains economic competitiveness.?
My approach is to suggest that the media have to understand what shapes human progress and speeds up economic growth. I have, in the past tried to identify that path of understanding in a framework I first offered in the year 2000 which came to be, as already indicated, the base framework of my 2006 book: Why Nations Are Poor. The Growth Drivers Framework brings together sets of interdependent variables which influence that path of progress.
Growth Drivers Framework
The Growth Drivers Framework identified salient sets of variables that impact growth and progress: the Policy Choices of the Governments, the strength of their institutions, and the quantity and quality of available human capital. The others include the state of the practice of Entrepreneurship; the values that underpin popular culture and how leadership drives culture and performance.
THE GROWTH DRIVERS FRAMEWORK
At the World Economic Forum (Southern Africa Summit) in 2000, I had, as part of the team that produced the Africa Competitiveness Report, an opportunity to gauge the pressure of African leaders on the challenge of progress in Africa. A remark by one of those leaders who lamented the lack of new investments, following economic reforms, proved a ringer on the barometer I carried. Humorously, he stated that they had been assured that if they tightened their belts (austerity), showed new policy disposition away from economic controls, etc. investments would pour in, but he complained, they had swallowed the bitter pill, yet investments were not in sight. Counseled by a World Bank official present at that Durban, South Africa forum, to be patient as investors were watching track records, the leader sat down unconvinced but I was convinced that neither the African leaders nor the World Bank official were right in their gauge because they relied mainly on policy choice to impact outcomes.
The response was the offer of a framework for growth that brought together six sets of interdependent variables which act to make infrastructure, the right strategies in areas of comparative advantage or competitive advantage, to build on factor endowments as well as capacities for being competitive on value chains, to assure sustainable growth and superior performance. The variables identified as key to growth are Policy Choice, Institutions, Human Capital, Entrepreneurship, Culture and Leadership.
The Growth Drivers Framework prescribes six sets of interdependent variables which can act to assure sustainable growth and superior performance.
While the weight of where the burden of growth and development falls, between destiny and policy, tends to fall on policy as the way out, the experience has been that governments act as if once you get policy right everything else will drop into place. Many experiences especially the Nigerian one, where policy reforms during structural adjustments improved the foreign exchange markets, reduced the distortions of a licensing web, price controls and government ownership of business ventures through an aggressive Privatization Programme, point to the importance of policy choice.
But as we saw repeatedly, when more appropriate policy choice resulted in a growth spurt with the introduction of a market based foreign exchange system and reforming the banking system, these gains were quickly eroded by a weak institution like the Central Bank of Nigeria struggling with inflationary pressures and deploying tools like stabilization securities and charges on Accounts of Banks at the CBN. This was meant to shrink money supply. The result was the disappearance of long term lending that would hurt enterprises that required commitment to the long term. Flexibility as survival strategy for many firms would create a pipeline of capital flight from some alien businessmen, in such sectors as the Textile industry, where the alien businessmen borrowed locally and fled with repatriated capital, at a time when local entrepreneurs could not support their business with 90 day tenure for loans that was the norm. Improved policy would prove to be inadequate to drive and sustain growth. Policy choice was a necessary but not sufficient condition for sustained growth.
If Economic historians have a growing consensus or are increasingly working within a dominant paradigm, it has to be that institutions are a major key to man’s material progress: From the old Institutional Economics School to Douglas North’s frame setting 1990 book, Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance to Niall Ferguson’s Civilization- The West and the Rest.
Institutions which have been more the domain of Political Scientists gained currency in economic analysis. The analysis like Daron Acemoglu and James A Robinson in Why Nations Fail, beginning from a base in political economy began to bring further proof to this new sense already embraced by Economists like the Peruvian Economist Hernando De Soto who explains The Mystery of Capital in an elegant effort, defective mainly to the extent it denies the place of culture in shaping progress.
Institutions as rules, constructs and structures that set the boundaries for conduct, with appropriate sanctions for stepping out of those boundaries, essentially act to reduce uncertainty and increase the possibilities of economic intercourse. In the 1998 book, Managing Uncertainty: Competition and Strategy in Emerging Economies,I noted that weak institutions meant people looked at the risk of engaging in economic transactions and either choose not to engage, or hedge their bets, which amounted to high transaction costs, and a loss of competitiveness.
Institutions set the boundaries for conduct, with appropriate sanctions for stepping out of those boundaries. Thus, they act to reduce uncertainty and increase the possibilities of economic intercourse. Weak or fractured institutions such as Nigeria has breed impunity and stifle economic activities that can lead to material progress.
It is around here that the vote to pursue poverty is most strongly made. When state authority is used to abuse property rights or elites fail to act, in their own self-interest, in a manner that results in the evolution of institutions as Douglas North theorized, competitiveness is threatened.
The reign of impunity that has defined recent Nigerian experience provides ample evidence of the fracturing of institutions. When in 2014 a Governor-elect from the ruling party was accused of getting thugs to beat up High Court Judges and a rapid response did not come from the Nigerian Presidency, it indicated for me that subtle support or acquiescence for such conduct, did more damage to possibilities of progress than the sharp drop in Oil prices, that followed long after but the drama of sudden price drop received more attention.
At the heart of the divergence in the quality of life of the average African in the twentieth century, and that of the average European was, as Peter Drucker pointed out, the tremendous surge in productivity in Europe. Central to the spirit of productivity in ascent, was human capital. The improved education and healthcare that provided the Great Escape from misery in Europe, which Angus Deaton explored with care in his book; The Great Escape, Health, Wealth and the Origins of Inequality, essentially defines the age. That many countries of Africa, and, remarkably Nigeria mismanaged investment in Education and health is evidence of commitment to poverty, especially if they once acted differently.
I refer often to the report of the Ashby Commission on Higher Education in Nigeria at the time of independence and the remarks of the British educator, Eric Ashby, who chaired that Commission that recommended the founding of the University of Lagos, after the Eastern region had led off with the University of Nigeria and the other two regions had followed suit with Ife and Ahmadu Bello, in addition to the University College, Ibadan. Sir Ashby had said higher education in Nigeria was as good as the best in the world, noting that it was harder, at the time, to get into the University of Ibadan than it was to get into Harvard.
But funding for higher education dropped dangerously below UNESCO prescribed minimums even as the military governments of the late 1970s insisted in democratizing access to higher education. The result was falling standards, and university environment culture that negated rigorous study orientation. Quality crashed, effectively mediocritizing higher education.
Low and mismanged investments in health and education in Nigeiria, along with the mediocritizing of higher education, have resulted in poor human capital incapable of driving productivity.
Worse happened to vocational training on the watch of several leadership teams in Nigeria. It was the same for healthcare. In OPED pieces, I have referred to the golden age of healthcare when the University College Hospital was top three in the Commonwealth and wealthy Arabs came to Ibadan for care in the 1960s only for those trends to be reversed in the last decade such that a Professor of the College of Medicine who spoke before me at a symposium described the healthcare system as ‘a man-made disaster’. Could such happen if, as a result of some considerations, the elite did not choose “The Great Escape” as a universal gift to man? In effect there was an inadvertent commitment to the pursuit of poverty, in the way healthcare has been implemented in recent history.
Wealth creation depends very much on creative energies that imagine a better tomorrow and organize resources to make that future come about; making the atmosphere that encourages a flowering of the enterprise culture. It is a major part of the remit of the modern state and civil society. The soul of the Rhaguram Rajan and Luigi Zingales discussion of Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists was essentially how the conditions are created that facilitate creative destruction in which higher value supplants yesterday’s great value. In Why Nations Are Poor (2006), I try to link this process of venturing with the other variables of the growth drivers framework and how they collectively advance man’s material progress.
For a long time I held up Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) as a model of how the state helps advance enterprise and brings prosperity to the nations. I therefore feel that ignorance of these known and available principles amounts to choice. That choice is the pursuit of poverty.
When Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s Two Truths inspired a Harvard Colloquium on how values shape human progress the organizers may not have realized the impact it would have. But from the gathering and the volume edited from papers at that colloquium by Lawrence Harrison and P. Huntington Jnr., it was seen that values like those on the work ethic, deferred gratification, respect for the, dignity of others and human solidarity, thrift, as against conspicuous consumption, etc help shape progress.
It is not difficult to see that part of the challenge of progress, in Nigeria, as example can be traced to what I have often called the Collapse of Culture in Nigeria. As values went south, effectiveness in many spheres declined and became challenged. Key ingredients of this collapse have been corruption, instant gratification, nepotism and cronyism that make injustice pervasive and erode the legitimacy of the state in the consciousness of the ordinary citizen. Ultimately these new ways add up to a challenge of the rule of law which damages institutions and cripples progress. It is my opinion that as culture shapes human progress it is an area in which the media can have impact that is profound. If agenda setting, the Gate keeping consequences and the halo effect on the appropriate role models by allowing those worthy in character and contribution to the common good to be the ones that enjoy the benefits of the status conferral function of the media, because it is them rather than people whose net worth cannot be explained who dominate the headlines, we could see a media beyond the ideals of a social responsibility of the press regime.
The media can help to address the collapse of culture in Nigeria by properly carrying out their gatekeeping and agenda setting functions and ensuring that only appropriate role models enjoy their status conferral benefits, rather than people whose net worth cannot be explained.
Leaders are particularly important because leaders shape culture. We could dwell long on how leadership when it fails does the most for the pursuit of poverty but that is also documented in more details in my last book The Art of Leading. To vision the future, based on a burden, and pull others together to make what was yesterday’s impossible tomorrow’s routine in the face of the drag against the wind of change is really what progress is about.
If the media can help enhance rigor in policy choice and encourage a culture of reasoned public conversation on policy matters, play up the activities of civil society that results in stronger institutions with more effective investment in human capital, we can expect to see more virile entrepreneurship and economic growth resulting therefrom. With culture aligned to progress from a social responsibility orientation media, the developmental press, driven by visionary leadership, Nigeria can reach the heights its founding fathers dreamt. The Nehemiah syndrome should spur the media towards shining the light for Nigeria to rise like a phoenix and great lofty heights attain at home and on the global stage.
The Nehemiah syndrome should spur the media towards shining the light for Nigeria to rise like a phoenix and great lofty heights attain at home and on the global stage.
Mr. Chairman, Jacksonites Worldwide, Lions and Lionesses, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, the media can make a major contribution to the healing of many wounds that currently define Nigeria, and help construct a melting pot in which recruiting, quality of political actors, prospecting a strong sense of the mission of the generation, powers a new consciousness for progress. But it will take new vision of the business models of media enterprise and journalists who understand how the media exerts influence and who see the Nehemiah in themselves to make things happen. The ball is in our courts: The teachers who prepare the next generation of the journalists, the political actors who better understand the mission of the media and the society desirous of raising the dignity of the human person. We must together seek to do what we repeat the most here at the Den, seek “to restore the dignity of man”.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I am done.
Partick Okedinachi Utomi
To learn more about Prof. Pat Utomi, you can read his biography.