When Professor Barth Nnaji was appointed as the Minister of Power, it was clear to us he was bound to fail. And we said so to those who would listen. Those who did, if charitable, called us pessimists. And from some of the rest, we even got curse words. God is great. However time and events have proved us right, though this is nothing to celebrate. Now, despite the hype surrounding his ascension to high office, Nnaji’s failure was so indicated even a blind watchman of the Nigerian system, would have picked up the signals.
Firstly, Nnaji was appointed on a false and non-sustainable premise. That premise was that if electricity worked, then Nigeria has started to work. Literally industries and employment would, like the Jamaicans say, catch a fire, dry grass, marijuana, and all. Now that is a lie. Electricity is the least thing you need to run industries. In fact to generate and vend electricity is in itself an industry. As if to provide a compassionate and unasked for proof, Libya and much of the Arab world, have fairly constant and generous electricity supplies, but nothing industrial or otherwise happens there. And we advise, we do not rush to conclude it is for lack of entrepreneurs.
The reason is that, with the Arabs, one may not be too wrong to conjecture, they have not found, as the Americans would say, the next big thing. Or perhaps, they have not found their first big thing; depending on who does the counting. The next big thing, alone, is the resolution of any persistent or generative problems, and not any technical sleight of hand or prudence. The import of this loss of perspective, on what drives and fires industry, is that Nnaji will be under tremendous and rather unnecessary pressure to perform. He will like an Abdul Nasser, during the Six Day Wonder war, be under so much pressure, he was bound to make fatal errors.
Of course pressure is good, but after a point, it leads to countervailing returns. And that pressure point is easily surpassed when you base your calculations on gung ho, false, even if optimistic constants. Two, there was euphoria that Nnaji, one man, knew the game so much he will make all the difference, he will score all the goals. That is delusion, if not insanity. One man never does. However, one idea, one big idea, the next big thing, may. Man is mortal, but profound ideas like equations are for eternity. Three, projects are only at their best 30% technical, the rest 70% inputs, are human, are environmental, systemic etc. That is technical proficiency is not the silver bullet.
It is a problem as old as time. Its best dramatic expression comes perhaps from the Soviet era: Is it better to be a red expert or an expert red? And by the time the Soviets were about to found an answer, their empire collapsed on its own weight. And one of Britain’s finest masters of the Exchequer is actually their last prime minister, Gordon Brown. But everything, including his Prime Minister-ship, collapsed on him, little thanks to the 70% non-technical prowess of other realities. Nigeria Ronu. Of course we have no interest on the suspicion of immense and immeasurable corruption, which tarred and cashiered Nnaji. Corruption is beneath our dignity.
We have more fundamental issues to worry about. In fact our prayer is that Nigerians were only corrupt, and then we would have been as blessed as the Italians. God is great. What we need to have our electricity, indeed our nation, work flawlessly, is nothing other than the next big idea. This is indicated, because ideas never work in parts, they work in whole. Without the next big thing, no small, component piece or idea can function on its own, in the first place. Sub-systems have no life on and of their own. They require appropriate host/environment, whole systems, just like viruses or germs, to flourish. Otherwise like viruses too, they go into cyst or spore age.
As for Nnaji, if he has any big ideas, we are sure they will live; but if the delusion of those who sent him, is that it is a matter of the force of personality – then their assumption, is that he is immortal. However, speaking in power and office terms, Prof Nnaji like the great god Pan, is now dead, and so his force of personality has zero charge, and cannot generate the least wattage or current. Already folks are complaining of the fall in electricity wattage since Nnaji left. There is nothing unexpected in this.
The system was too dependent on a person/s, not big ideas, to last a season, Nnaji or no Nnaji. In fact his death in power terms, like that of Murtala, saved him his fated and greater tragedy. We all should thank God for him, his sack and all. What is to be done? The first thing is to come to knowledge. And it is the knowledge that all we need is the idea, the next big idea, or even if our numerical counting is right, the first big idea, with which to construct and run Nigeria, her component parts, not excluding electricity.
It is this big idea that will shape, give charge, and electrify the rest of all we do. It is this idea that will awaken us and make of the Levites rather than Ishmaelites, our role models. Our first tragedy is that Arab influence on us is so decisive. Our worst tragedy is that this Arab incubus is so unseen, un-enumerated, we are today like a corpse dreaming we are alive. Arabs are the only people who have a scripture and are not doing well, post enlightenment. They are only as rich as their oil, their earth. The question is why are they not reaping, not producing off their scriptures?
The Israelis are as rich and powerful as their brains/scriptures, and that makes all the difference, like good old 7UP. And unlike oil, scriptures are renewable and inexhaustible mines. Scriptures are the big ideas; the earth, electricity, oil, etc are her component pieces, mere dividends. And we warn, Nigeria won’t work as a special interest case, at least not before God. God is never partial, never listens to the specially challenged nations. This is because every challenge is actually a lever. All you needed was to be an Archimedes, and you could move the world, author new scriptures, the next big ideas. And a country only works when it has found or founded her next or first big ideas.
Anything before that is to sweat the small stuff, even if heroically. And this is futile, is sterile. In fact without the next big idea, it is futile to work hard, it is imprudent to labor. (This, the inability to generate the next big thing, accounts for the so called mid income trap in nations). It is this magic of the next big thing, that transforms multitudes, the many too many. That is the why and how it becomes feasible to have common men, do uncommon things. And not wait on the unsure supply of geniuses, of redeemers as persons.
This proposition has been proven and given life all over time and history, even if it has only become apparent in our times. And America it is evident, has given the thesis of the next big thing, its most fully fleshed dramatization. The American thesis of the next big thing or idea (which, if well understood it, a procession of the next big things, of eternal frontiers) accounts for the whole of America, made flesh. Like the rest of the great universes, America is by the grace of the next big ideas, not muscles, not the next big men, never by a coup maker or thug’s guns. Horse power or hard work can never take you to the moon. But paper work, the next big, gravity defying idea, does.
To go to the moon, economic or celestial, all you need is an imagine-nation. America is the first modern imagine-nation. The Germans would have been but things went wrong. We can conclude that when nations, little nations lack big ideas, they, led by their unimaginative philosophers preach we make up with the force of personalities. And personalities however grand, our Mother Aendu, warned us in great confidence, never lasts longer than a stolen kiss; historically they are non-starters. That accounts for our ignorant fascination and adoration of thugs, who turn up as coup makers.
The reason is that we have no imagination, no philosophers worth their weight in salt, so we lean on force of personalities, to see us through, alas. Of course when we speak of little or great nations we do speak so in the terms of which Aristotle advised; never confound a great nation with a populous one. As for Nnaji, the next big man who has fallen, as they all must, we will see in hail… in a hail of remembrances, in whatever haven, it is we meet . Ahiazuwa.