Designing the New Nigeria: on governance and cultural considerations by Amara Sesay


BY AMARA SESAY, JANUARY 10, 2022 | 05:43 AM

When we talk of politicians, we talk of them like aliens or spirits from the evil forest. People who came with their own set of beliefs, attitudes, approaches to life and different perspectives on divine justice and the torture in Hell. We talk of them like we do of cold, callous people whose race is bent on inflicting the greatest damage possible on the human race. But wait...who are these politicians?

Let's keep the answer in the brain and move on to something really urgent: the design of governance experience. Do we really see this as something we all could do better? Should leaders and followers look at governance from the lens of user experience design? I think they should!

If every product, starting from the Constitution to the Curriculum was designed with the people who they will affect in mind, I am quite sure the outcomes will be different. Hardly anybody is going to look at the current Constitution and Curriculum and say: Yes, these were designed with empathy, love and responsiveness to the needs of the citizens.

If the guy who presses the button at the Electricity House has the empathy to think that with every touch of the red button somebody is going out of business, a baby is dying in the hospital, an investor is packing his bag to leave Nigeria for good, a boy is missing vital lessons because he can no longer cope with doing his assignment in the dark, a family is exposing their lives to carbon monoxide generated by generators and so on. If he ever approached his work like a user experience designer, a lot of problems could have been solved by now.

If the northerner or southerner stealing from the public treasury realizes that with every kobo stolen a citizen dies, and that this corruption-induced death is agnostic of region, religion or tribe, then we wouldn't need an Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. If every contractor realized that every badly-designed road is a graveyard for his fellow citizens, then potholes will become history.

If every Nigerian who had the opportunity to lead 10 people or more or even less realized that these micro leadership tasks are a microcosm of the overall leadership output of the nation, then the nation's leaders will be as upright as we want them. If every employer knew that every right violated is the beginning of bad governance,then the next commander-in-chief will make it a personal duty to provide the enabling ground for every citizen to thrive.

When everyday becomes a reminder of the responsibility we all have as leaders in our various capacities,we will witness the birth of the beautyful ones. There will be thoughtful and resourceful leaders in every cranny on the road to building a great nation.

If every young person on Twitter and Facebook knew that every tweet or post could potentially destroy a life, even if it looks like "catching cruise" then fake news will be reduced to the barest minimum. If every journalist knew that every fake report opens bigger wounds and increases the pain point of his readers, then nobody will invest millions on fact checking. We all would have had less cause to verify the news and have less regrets for sharing harmful and divisive contents.

When we start seeing this all as a design problem and not just some problems caused by some aliens or foreign species, then we will be mentally ready to ask the right questions. And let's know that INEC cannot give us what culture has deprived us of.

While scratching at the surface for the past 60 years has given some temporary relief, the question of how far have we come and how many more years can we afford this mediocrity in governance here and across the continent?

We have ousted leaders we hate to much jubilation and fanfare. We have brought in our tribesmen and "starmen" to power and opened doors to stupendous wealth for kinsmen. But in truth, the problems have compounded. So, it's not an election problem, it's culture, design and system that we have to work on.

Talking alone won't win us good leaders. In the same vein we can't insult the elected into good governance. They have to want to. And the only way that happens is vision and a culture that makes it difficult for people to be bad at the top.

At the mention of Nigeria, everybody becomes an expert. But most of these expertise only hit at the surface, compounding the problem with false claims, unverified and alternative truths, faulty assumptions, stereotypes, bigotry and received "wisdom".

We have got to wake up and smell the coffee. There is a design problem out here. Until we are heavy on researching root causes and being genuinely interested in knowing all the whys of the problem, until we see ourselves beyond the just-a-citizen mindsets to the mindset of restless inventors, these problems are only growing bigger and more complex regardless of who is at the top.

We have got to build a culture of research and replace that with false assumptions and stereotypes. Until we see the governance products of today as collective input of everybody who played a role, no matter how little, until the people in power (from Local Government to Federal Government) create a mechanism to regularly capture feedback and continual improvement, we will still have to come to these basics many years later.

Go to the archives and read headlines of the 70s and 80s and compare them to the headlines of today, you will observe a pattern that will shock you. In short, it's the design process that is faulty, but we are finding it difficult to rethink the process, because thinking itself is going to require an effort which we are not yet ready for.

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