A nation's place in the world is defined by a matrix of factors, which are reflected in two dimensions - how the nation sees itself and how others see it. The nation's image of itself emerges from the shared dreams and vision of the leadership and the citizenry and may involve some myth making. Its perception by others, however, will include their evaluation of that nation in the power calculus of the international order. If we are the Giant of Africa, we should not only project that image but there would be ingredients in that projection that will enforce recognition and compliance by other states.

By Anya O. Anya

ONE in every five Africans is a Nigerian and one in six of all black peoples in the world is a Nigerian. Thus, Nigeria is not only the most populous country in Africa it is also the largest concentration of black peoples in the world. This may, perhaps, account for the fact that many Nigerians often refer to the country as the Giant of Africa. This encapsulates the dream, vision and hopes, which Nigerians entertain of their country. Modern Nigeria is, however, a creation of colonialism arising from the Berlin Conference of 1885 by the European powers, which resulted in the partition of Africa and which allotted spheres of influence and control to the European powers. When Britain consolidated her holdings in 1914 the result was substantially the present territory of Nigeria except for the later additions of what was then Northern Cameroons. What the Treaty of Westphalia, in 1648 was to the emerging nation-states of Europe is what the Treaty of Berlin has proved to be to the African countries.

It was this British act of consolidation that the late Sir Tafawa Balewa, the first Prime Minister of an independent Nigeria, referred to as the "mistake of 1914". Chief Obafemi Awolowo preferred to face the reality in 1948 by proffering the view that Nigeria was a "mere geographical expressing". For the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the reality of Nigeria demanded that we should "understand our differences". This was in answer to Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who, in a moment of nationalist and patriotic optimism, had counselled that the leaders should de-emphasise their areas of difference and conflict in their vision of Nigeria. Thus, Nigeria's founding fathers did not share a common perspective on the Nigerian project at the onset of the journey as an independent nation-state. Nevertheless, Nigeria has weathered the storm through trials and tribulations in the last forty years of its existence. While Nigeria is recognised internationally as a state, it is not yet a nation although there is now an emerging national consensus that the Nigerian project is a worthwhile experiment that deserves a successful and auspicious future. It is how to assure that future that should, to a large extent, concern us in this lecture. This is why I have, in the spirit of editorial licence, re-arranged the points of emphasis and have re-titled this presentation as Building the African Giant: Managing the dreams, vision and myth of the Nigerian reality.


A nation's place in the world is defined by a matrix of factors, which are reflected in two dimensions - how the nation sees itself and how others see it. The nation's image of itself emerges from the shared dreams and vision of the leadership and the citizenry and may involve some myth making. Its perception by others, however, will include their evaluation of that nation in the power calculus of the international order. If we are the Giant of Africa, we should not only project that image but there would be ingredients in that projection that will enforce recognition and compliance by other states. As Samuel Huntington has observed, "values, culture and institutions pervasively influence how states define their interests. The interests of states are also shaped not only by their domestic values and institutions but by international norms and institutions". What then are the values, culture and institutions we need to create to project effectively the image of the Giant of Africa and what interests must we protect and project in the international arena to lend credibility and legitimacy to the claim?

The Emerging World Order

Since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the bipolar world in which international order revolved around the two super powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, has given way to a multipolar world in which there is a dominant surviving power - the United States - and other regional centres of power, which co-exist with the super power such as the European Union, China, Japan, etc. What is more, the projection of power has undergone a fundamental change: military power, as measured, for example, by the size of a nation's army, is no longer a sufficient index of a nation's standing in the power calculus of the world.

Economic power has become an important and indeed, a defining characteristic in the evaluation of a nation's position in the peck order of power. What is more, the tendency towards regionalism has also brought in its wake a tendency toward regional hegemonies. All this is happening at the same time as economic globalisation has encouraged Trans-border transactions in many economic activities. Governments are no longer able to control the flow of money, technology, ideas, goods and people across their borders. Multinational and Trans-national corporations (MNCs and TNCs) have now acquired some of the economic functions and power of the state. There is, however, danger lurking in all this. As Hertz has pointed out, we are now in a world of the Silent Take-over, "a world in which governments can no loner be relied on to protect the people's interests. Blinded by the allure of the market, MNCs and TNCs put corporate interests first". The danger is all the more real when the annual revenue of General Motors in the U.S. is more than the combined GDP of eight countries: Chad, Nicaragua, Namibia, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Uruguay, and New Zealand and nearly five times the GDP of Nigeria.

In an effort to control these flows, regional co-operation and integration has been given a boost, which reinforces the tendency towards regional hegemony. The emergence of new and often regional and international institutions has encouraged the emergence of international bureaucracies that have constrained the freedom of action of nation-states. Consequently, nation-states have suffered loss of sovereignty at the same time, as they have had to devolve functions to sub-state and intra-state regional bodies, provincial and even local entities.

National governments have to cope with the pressure to cede power to supra-national institutions at the same time as the pressure to devolve other functions to intra-national organs is increasing. In the process, cultural factors have become a lot more evident in the building and maintenance of intra-national and international relationships, which define, constrain or project power. There is thus an emerging creative tension between the forces of globalisation and integration vis-a-vis the forces, which are pushing for regionalism, devolution and fragmentation. The boundaries between social factors, political factors and economic factors and their dynamic inter-relationship in the evolution of a stable world order become blurred. The establishment of a nation's place in the world becomes a matter for multi-faceted and multi-functional analysis. Culture and religion as well as economics and politics become critical determinants.

This is why Samuel Huntington has further observed that "the post cold-war world is a world of seven or eight civilisations. Cultural commonalties and differences shape the interests, antagonisms and association of states. The most important countries in the world come overwhelmingly from different civilisations. The local conflicts most likely to escalate into broader wars are those between groups and states from different civilisations. The predominant patterns of political and economic development differ from civilisation to civilisation. The key issues on the international agenda involve differences among civilisations. Power is shifting from the long predominant West to non-western civilisation. Global politics has become multipolar and multi-civilisational".

The dominant civilisations listed by Professor Huntington include the Western, Latin American, African, Islamic, Sinic, Hindu, Orthodox, Buddhist and Japanese. What are the implications of this new order for Nigeria and her development?

The Nigerian Socio-Cultural System in Perspective

Contemporary Nigeria is a state of nations and nationalities. It is, therefore, a multicultural, multilingual and multi-religious society in which differing socio-political systems were dominant before the emergency of the new Nigerian-state. This social reality naturally has implications for the prevailing value system, especially within the traditional systems of governance and inter-group relations. Thus, there are social norms, which can be said to be common to all the traditional value systems of pre-colonial and pre-independence Nigeria. These include respect for elders, honesty, accountability, co-operation, industry, discipline, self-confidence and moral courage. These were found amongst the Kanuri as they were amongst the Igbos, amongst the Hausas as they were amongst the Ibibios and the Tivs. They were common amongst the Yorubas, Gwari, Nupe, Chamba, etc. Naturally, the post-colonial socio-political economy has left its impact on these traditional values and many have become frayed at the edges.

Nevertheless, the Vision 2010 Report recognised seven values as the desirable values needed to steer Nigeria into modernity and economic prosperity. According to the report, Nigeria should become a nation which is God-fearing and God-conscious, caring, sincere, honest and accountable and whose citizens have pride in their country and their heritage. However, a survey of the newspapers recently indicated that Nigerians yearned for a nation, which guaranteed freedom of choice and the Rule of Law to its citizens. In addition, Nigerians put great score on accountability, probity, transparency, equity and justice. They hold the absence of these as the most serious stumbling block to the emergence of a prosperous and progressive nation. It is a rather curious fact, however, that neither the Vision 2010 Report nor the survey of the newspapers included the values of industry and discipline, which all the traditional systems seem to revere.

It had been claimed that the protestant (puritan) ethic of thrift and industry on the one hand and the Confucian ethic of patience and dogged industry on the other hand, propelled the Western civilisation and the Chinese cultures respectively, to their present positions in the world system since they were particularly effective in the build-up of prosperous economic systems. So, the question arises: how do we construct a viable, potent and resilient system of values, which can catalyse the renewal of our society at the same time as it facilitates the resurrection of a new culture or civilisation, which can reconcile and integrate the traditional value systems with the demands of modernity in an environment of social stability and harmony?

As we have noted, Nigeria is a plural society with diverse cultures. But the value systems embodied in these cultures are not irreconcilable. On the other hand no common national endeavour can be pursued within a plural framework unless there is an overarching unity of purpose and interests. A system of value anchored on a broad framework of a shared vision and common dreams is, therefore, vital. It is the integrating thread that must hold together all the otherwise disparate parts of the national polity. In the Nigerian situation, given the fact of pluralism and diversity, such a vision must be powerful enough to draw together and unite while assuring each component part of their self-determination and a reasonable level of autonomy. In a diverse and plural society, devolution, decentralisation and the assurance of freedom of choice are essential ingredients in the development of a common national ethos as the example of Switzerland continues to each us.

Thus, while national unity and harmony are essential to assure and guarantee a sense of shared vision; it must be allowed to grow organically from a sense of shared destiny. This is where the visioning process becomes particularly relevant and appropriate. In the visioning process, the first step is to analyse and understand the factors, which are essential in a nation's pursuit of success in today's world. This is followed by the definition of appropriate national objectives along with the strategies that can be used to achieve the shared objectives and shared aspirations. The final step consists in focussing attention on the implementation of a programme to achieve the objectives through the establishment of realistic targets, blue prints and action plans in the pursuit of the common and desired future.

Vision, Consensus Building and the Democratic Ethos

A vision by its very nature is the projection of a desired future anchored on a desirable and desired outcome for a set of national objectives canvassed by the leadership class. To become the national vision, it must enjoy broad acceptance within the population. Because the evolution of a vision depends on the interactive dynamics first within the leadership and later in the wider population, consensus building is an essential ingredient. Ideally, national consensus should be subject to legitimisation by the democratic process.

The democratic ethos rests on the assumption that representative governance involves the delegation of sovereignty of the people to the elected representatives and the elected government. This is why the existence of parties, which canvass varied issues that are important to the public interest, becomes vital to its success and continued relevance. Where the public interest is suborned through the corruption of the democratic process or where the free expression of the public will is constrained, democracy becomes compromised - it can no longer be depended upon, as the barometer of the popular will. What is more, consensus as an essential ingredient in determining the national direction while often necessary and desirable has its limitations. As Lady Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of Great Britain, pointed out, "There are dangers in consensus: it could be an attempt to satisfy people holding no particular views about anything. No great (political) party can survive except on the basis of firm beliefs about what it wants to do". In other words, a party's relevance in the democratic process rests on its firm commitment to some vision of the future often elaborated in a manifesto.

There is a further danger to the democratic process in the emerging modern world of the 21st Century. This is represented by the proliferation of interest groups with narrow and limited agenda driven by activism rather than by a broader consensus. The many NGOs that are emerging all over the Western world and more recently in our own country represent a category of these interest groups with narrow interests and sometimes with a 'portmanteau' vision. There is a dilemma here. Often, the issues they raise and the causes they canvass are relevant to the evolution of a broader national consensus. Because their communality of interests focuses often on a shared disillusionment rather than on specific consensus and proffered solution, there is an in-built glass ceiling to the validity and viability of their preferred solution.

Unfortunately, these protest groups and activist movements are likely to increase for in "a world where politicians now all sing from the same hymn sheet, people who want to change the hymn have to go outside the church". Given the emerging communality of interests and conformity in view points between transitional corporations, government and international organisations, people who are disillusioned by development around them and disenfranchised by the limitation to their inherent freedom of choice will continue to swell the ranks of the protesters. We need to broaden the base of participation of the citizenry in the democratic and electoral process if we are to contain this emerging ogre.

The question for us then is: how do we broaden and deepen the democratic process in Nigeria such that it embodies a shared vision at the same time as it improves the potentials of consensus building to contain disruptive and destabilising tendencies?

The Intellectual and Constitutional Framework

In any viable socio-political and economic system, which is what a nation-state is when stripped of the accretions of emotionalism, posturing and myths on which patriotism is anchored, the vision, philosophy and ideology that gives validity, credibility and legitimacy to the national personality is embodied within a constitutional framework. The ideas, which give life to the citizenry, depend on the depth of the intellectual anchor and relevant underpinnings of the national vision. Since ideas are the forerunners of action, the quality of thought and the vitality of the intellectual endeavour are in the final analysis the defining signature of a culture and determine its historical relevance, genealogy and life span. These factors shape its evolution into a civilisation.

A culture without a formidable intellectual base is not likely to survive and a society in which the conduct of affairs is not embodied in a system of laws and legitimacy cannot endure. The integrity of the socio-political and economic system is held together by the sinews of its laws and propelled into the future and its destiny as a dominant culture and civilisation by the universal appeal and timelessness of its intellectual production.

In contemporary Nigeria, the quality of thought and intellectual practice, which under-gird the social and public policy domains are abysmally low. While academic pursuits provide the raw material for the intellectual endeavour, the pursuit and development of an intellectual culture presumes an inherent love, reverence and conscious cultivation of a tradition of learning and scholarship. The lack of an intellectual base and our lack of appreciation for same, is demonstrated by the fact that currently, Nigeria has no institution for advanced studies of any kind. We often do not appreciate that in a society where true learning and scholarship are venerated and have an honoured place in the culture, even an academic professor of standing could be considered deficient in learning and scholarship and is humble enough to recognise his limitations and deficiencies. In our contemporary culture, mere holders of the Masters degree consider themselves experts in various areas of learning and professional competence. This is why there has been a proliferation of all kinds of spurious seminars and workshops conducted often with an eye to the financial returns rather than the quality of the intellectual offering by all kinds of half-baked, fake and quack consultants, "gurus" and "brilliant" experts. This has also produced a side industry in the culture of purchased doctorate degrees by even the unlettered. A society run on such a doubtful intellectual tradition is unlikely to produce anything that is worthwhile or that could endure to acquire universal relevance - a precondition for the nurture of a civilisation. A society with a future must consciously create the environment to nurture creative and original thinkers. Otherwise, such a society cannot produce an enduring constitutional or legal framework for the conduct of its business, including its governance.

Excellence, Merit and the Rewards System

It has been said that the average is the enemy of the excellent. In a different context, I have observed that the pursuit of excellence is a discriminatory principle. Indeed, most societies recognise that the exceptional does not follow the rules of egalitarianism. This is why societies, which cultivate the pursuit of excellence, also nurture the value of humility and modesty even while rewarding the exceptional. It is in recognition of the fact that excellence is vital if the best in human potential is to be realised for the benefit of society. Thus, special strategies and programmes are put in place to discover, nurture and reward exceptional and creative people in the society.

The reverence and appreciation of gifted and exceptionally creative people by a society is in itself a measure of the maturity and productivity of a given culture. It is shown in the reward system whether of remuneration or of honours that a nation pursues. This is why France will always bestow its highest accolades on its philosophers and men of letters. This is why Germany will venerate its pantheon of the immortals - Goethe, Beethoven and even Gunter Grass. In both Paris and Berlin, the most striking boulevards are named after their illustrious keepers of the intellect. Here at home, one may ask, which street is named after any of our illustrious intellectuals - the Kenneth Dikes, the Chike Obis, the Eni Njokus, the Pius Okigbos, and even in our times, the Akin Mabogunjes, the Aboyades, the Wole Soyinkas, the Chinua Achebes, the Iya Abubakars, the Umaru Shehus, etc? At the risk of sounding facetious: what really is a Nigerian Order of Merit worth in the social order of preference in Nigeria? We know what the value of the British Order of Merit (OM) is and we know the veneration accorded the holders of that rare honour. It is a life changing achievement. A nation that does not value its intellectual pathfinders cannot inspire its youth and cannot therefore harness the creative genius of its best for its development, progress or welfare. The all-knowing Divine Creator on any basis of providential quota does not apportion excellence and its reward. Thus, a society run on quotas cannot excel.

It is pertinent to recall that a recent President of Brazil earned less as the President of the country than he did when he was a professor in one of Brazil's leading universities. It is not accidental that those in the contemporary world, who are leading the fastest growing economies, are themselves exceptional intellects - Clinton of the US Blair of Great Britain, Lee Kuan Yew (until recently Prime Minister) of Singapore, Mahathir Mohammed of Malaysia, late Erhard of Germany and Zia Jemin of China whose relaxation is to translate Shakespeare into Chinese!

A nation's appreciation of learning and scholarship is often shown in what its leaders read. At the height of the 1996 re-election campaign and while running the world's most complex and most powerful government, former President Clinton could discuss on television the book he was reading at that particular point in time. It was not a book on politics or economics. Even at the height of the Lewinsky saga, aides affirmed he continued to read! In our circumstances, some Professors are no longer able to read the newspapers on appointment as Ministers of State!

The value a society places on certain functional rules in the society is reflected in reward system as shown in salaries, wages and other preferment. It is not a matter of humour when the ASUU sticker proclaims boldly: My employer is a joker. The wages he pays cannot take me home. When we allowed 10,000 Nigerian professionals to leave the universities in the last decade, who will build Nigeria? How many of the choice plots of land in Abuja belong to our distinguished professors or other distinguished professionals outside those who have served as ministers or have made enough money to buy it off some smart Alec or political operative? The discount of excellence in the Nigerian state is the single most important factor that drives our insatiable materialism and with it our hypocritical and ostentatious life of frivolities, trivialities and corruption.

The Economy and Social Stability

Two-thirds of Nigerian youth, which have attained the age of adult employment, are presently unemployed or underemployed. Two-thirds of all Nigerians live below the poverty line. Nearly half of all Nigerians are illiterate. Not more than one-third of the population of young Nigerians, which should be at one or other of our educational institutions, is, in fact, receiving any education. This week, a miserable number of 800,000 you Nigerians are doing the Joint Matriculation Examination and not more than 10 per cent of that number will find a place in the universities. Given our demographic profile, the number gaining admission into the university, if they were only one per cent of the relevant age cohort, should be a minimum number of 600,000!

In a recent lecture, I had pointed out that at the current rate of growth of our GDP, it would take 18 years for the lowly GDP per capital figure of $300 to double to $600, and another 11 years for this to double again to $1,200 - a little above the level of our GDP In 1981. What all this suggests is that our current economic growth profile is insufficient to meet the demands of our needs and of our ambitions. In twenty years, we had regressed from a barely adequate quality of life to the level of the poorest of the poor. In half of that same period, China had pulled itself from the status of a poor country to that of a medium income country. So, our present circumstances are not beyond redemption. It is a Herculean task, but it is doubtful, if we understood the magnitude of the task we are facing!

It is a task, which demands a committed and engaged leadership class. We had earlier observed that a nation's status in the power equation of the New World Order revolves around the size and dynamism of its economy. Given the reality on the ground, we should be under no illusions that anyone regards us as the Giant of Africa. It is a myth that lulls us into a false sense of importance and achievement. Given our resources, it is also a circumstance that portrays us as an incompetent, uncaring and visionless society for, in the modern world, no elite faced with these dire statistics can sleep easy. And the reasons are obvious. Food riots, violent protests over living conditions, especially housing, disillusionment and the loss of hope in a viable future in the youth - all these have brought down many a government in the history of the contemporary world over the last thirty years. It is a truism that the best guarantor of social stability and social harmony is a prosperous and growing economy. In the modern world, it is economics that drives politics and not vice versa.

Nations, Culture and the Search for a Nigerian Civilisation

Non-democratic and military Nigeria had been referred to as a failed state -a country incapable of meeting the basic expectations of governance and incapable of discharging the expected obligations, national and international of functional and viable states. From our earlier analysis of the emerging world order, Nigeria qualifies as one of those nations that stand betwixt two contending civilisations - Western and Islamic and thus fulfils Huntington's characterisation of fault-line states. What applies to Nigeria had also applied to some of the successful economies of South East Asia in an earlier phase of their development. Today, no rational being would deny Malaysia and China the status of successful nations, on account of their level of accelerated development and the fact that they have reconciled the demands of contending cultures. In the case of Malaysia, they brought the values of Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist civilisations into fruitful equilibration; in the case of China, Confucian, Buddhist and even communist traditions were reconciled. The genius of each society embodied in its people and leadership created a balance in the creative tension of cultural balance. The trick in each case has been to filter out creative and stabilising values in each culture and utilise them to drive the modernisation process.

If we were to undertake an equivalent task in the Nigerian situation, there are a number of domestic chores we must endeavour to accomplish. First and foremost, Nigerians are hypercritical of their situation and circumstances and of what are taken as the national failings. And for good reason! However, we, too, easily fall into the temptation of "confessing the negative" and in the process, inaugurate the phenomenon of the self-fulfilling prophecy. There are more cases of violence, for example, in the streets of New York or Johannesburg in the course of a working day than in a whole month in Lagos. Yet, Nigerians, in their analysis and discussion, would easily reverse the roles. We need to believe more in ourselves and endeavour to project a more positive image of ourselves and of our country.

Nigerians lack patience and are often incapable of staying the course in matters of national engagement but at the individual level, we can show such doggedness and determination that to many outside observers we must be a nation of schizophrenics! In any case, our penchant for trivialities and frivolities must confound and confuse even the most tolerant and insightful of our friends. The Japanese and the Chinese are even prouder of their heritage, including their national costumes than the average Nigerian can imagine. Yet, they do not go to work in the Chinese or Japanese equivalent of the parachutes that we inflict on ourselves everyday as our working clothes in the name of projecting our culture.

There are, therefore, urgent tasks we need to undertake most expeditiously in the light of the analysis presented above. The most urgent are the following:

  • we need to rebuild and modernise the economy to propel it in the direction of a sustainable industrial economy with capacity for international competition;
  • we need to cultivate and nurture the exceptional for it is the basis of the creative genius of the innovator and the entrepreneur - the mandarins of the modern industrial economy and the basis of international competitiveness;
  • we need to reform the electoral process to redress the dominance of monetary incentives in politics while cultivating and internalising the democratic instinct;
  • we need to consider seriously the proposal for independent candidates in our electoral process.

While we are doing all these, we must not lose sight of the ultimate goal - to create a Nigerian nation that will be the leader of the African civilisation. In the Vision Statement of the Vision 2010 Report: the Nigeria of our dreams and or vision should be: "a united, industrious, caring and God-fearing democratic society, committed to making the basic needs of life affordable for everyone, and creating Africa's leading economy". It is a tall order, but it is not an impossible task. In Huntington's scheme, an African civilisation was a mere gesture of tokenism and South Africa was his choice candidate to lead it. On whatever frame of reference, the Nigerian train has more engine and traction power than South Africa's once it takes-off, but the question is when? And the question of when can be answered by reference to an allegory: fifty years ago "the yellow peril" as the Chinese 'menace' was contemptuously dismissed by the West was given no chance. When the miracle began to happen, it was ascribed to the Confucian ethos. But that magic ethos was alive and well in China even fifty years ago when China was at its lowest and prostrate. The moral is clear: the development experience of each nation is a unique event as the combination of factors, which makes for success in each case has its own intrinsic logic and dynamics. This gives a basis to hope that one day, the Giant of Africa will awake - and when that day comes, neither Africa nor the world will be the same. I can hardly wait for that day!

Excerpts of 2001 speech given at the Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM) distinguished management lecture by Dr. Anya. Prof. Anya, MFR, FAS, NNOM is the Chairman of the Governing Board of the Nigerian National Merit Award (NNMA) and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group.