By Gbenga Olumekun
Nigeria is a funny place where we always trivialise important issues particularly when we do not have concrete answers to problems or issues that assail us. The last electioneering campaigns were filled with all sorts of anecdotal offerings which served to liven up the campaigns. Issues ranging from whether we needed change when we were not bus conductors in Lagos to whether women would be happy to visit their husbands in jail were the burning topics. These issues ranged from the puerile to the sublime but, all in all, we had good fun while it lasted. Unfortunately, like a high performance by comedy artists, there must be an end and on the issue of change we must face our demons after the amusement has worn off.
For the past three years I have been struggling to do a short training programme on the Management of Change, The syllabus includes:
Leading Change: Strategy through to Implementation
Planning for Change: A Strategic Approach
Implementing Sustainable Change
Managing People through Change: Attitudes and Behaviours.
A cursory look at these subheads will show what is involved in Change Management. I am really glad that even before the loud agitation for change it had been my perception that one of the issues that have been paramount in the development of any system is the ability to conceive, conceptualise, implement and perpetrate an attitude that can promote change, whether in societies or the corporate environment.
From experience, changing individual or organisational behaviour is always a tough job to accomplish because attitudes and behaviours remain the same. If I may borrow a biological term, it can be likened to an ossification of ideas which have become so entrenched that the desire for change is overshadowed by the fear of the implementation process, as well as the endpoint.
However, we must first agree that there is need for change. Several Nigerians are still holding tenaciously to the images of the past though when closely x-rayed we’ll discover that those who resist change are the enemies of the Nigerian Project. These are people who have mined the system to the hilt and are not even ready to let go of their prey like lampreys because they are so lecherous that they do not even understand what the rest of us see when we want a systemic transformation.
Change for the sake of change can never be progressive. For change to bring positive gain it must address issues by “putting on blinkers”. Sometimes there is pain, sometimes there are denials but it always ends in the veneration of the principle of “no pain, no gain”. This is indicative that change often brings hurt but the end will always justify the means. For us to advance therefore, we must be prepared to develop a phased approach for managing and implementing change. Sudden change will be cataclysmic and can be destructive if not properly managed. The way forward is therefore to define our implementation strategy and select the tools we need for implementation. This will be followed by an enumeration and consolidation of required resources.
In 21st Century practice, stakeholder engagement is an effective means of ensuring ownership. This principle was utilised effectively by Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) in 1985 when he needed to take some hard decisions. Every Nigerian was encouraged to talk even when the government of the day knew its direction and was only seeking to hoodwink the rest of us. IBB wouldn’t have succeeded if we never felt part of the decision process. I am not advocating “IBBnism” as this was a deceptive way of getting people to follow a predetermined policy but there is need for a well managed stakeholder engagement.
There is always a classical response to change by the establishment and any reactionary measures taken to brow-beat or make opponents fall into line will only entrench resentment and afford opponents an opportunity to assemble themselves into a viable opposition.
Unfortunately, a key component of change management is to diagnose gaps that can be exploited and utilise proactive measures to manage resistance. Fortunately, resistance melts down when people see demonstrable instances of positive performance as a result of change. We had a demonstration of this when fuel scarcity which was hitherto an intractable problem disappeared overnight. The only problem is that such initial euphoria may wear away if not consolidated by a proactive presentation of solutions that will perpetrate the gains of change.
It has become apparent that “project change” is gathering storm and there are serious battles ahead. Only a couple of days ago, we became heavily distracted by “Specialist” Commentators who went to town on the size of President Buhari’s cabinet and the implications of not making every Minister the holder of a specific portfolio. The real issue is not in the constitutionality of this initiative or the extreme case when President Buhari intimated all of us that he was going to be Petroleum Minister. The real issue is the resistance that can be mounted to any change initiative, no matter how well meant. I guess the problem is not in the initiative but in the management of information. Lai Mohammed has made the point of letting Olisa Metuh know the benefit of undergoing tuition in opposition spokesmanship but he seems to have forgotten that he should also approach the Fani-Kayodes and the Okupes of this world to learn a few things about how to sell even the most unwanted product to an indifferent clientèle. It just works both ways. We may seem to be too engrossed in triumphalism to realise how we are wasting goodwill by the misdirection and mismanagement of information, whereas information is critical in change management!
Now the real battle in changing our society and mindset is just beginning by the issues that are being unearthed on a daily basis. Even the masquerades are coming out of the forest and the worms are out of the woods. Whether we fail or succeed in this change agenda depends on the coming days when we begin to lay the foundation of our future conduct.
The National Assembly has a duty to pilot or at least police the process of change but there is already an excess baggage being hoisted around by a great many amongst them. Many of us will dare to ask if the National Assembly does have any moral right to conduct oversight functions especially when there is blatant violation of our statutes by the honourable men and women in the hallowed chambers. After all, they committed hara-kiri when they passed a vote of confidence on an accused. Or what is the status of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, at the moment? Is this an example of the absence of moral rectitude or demonstration of crass predilection? What does that behaviour portend for our determination to institute a change of morals, a change of virtues, a change of everything negative that has stunted our development as a nation?
I see danger lurking in the horizon. What is becoming clear is a denial of the desire for change. We always want to continue the way we are. Even the common man is as guilty. Motorists don’t obey traffic laws any more, neither do we see any benefit in anyone seeking to preach orderliness in our national conduct. The answer is so simple; It is an “I and I” mentality where we are blinded by the drive for personal benefit. Or what motivates an official to embezzle billions of Naira that his unborn generations will be unable to exhaust, yet his kinsmen will complain when he is called to account? It is a promotion of obscenity in the highest!
The biggest obstacle is that change management is not a tea party after-all. Many innocents may even be consumed, but at the end, it is largely the guilty that should be afraid. We may indeed pay a price of punishing a few innocents since when it rains, it rains both on the righteous and unrighteous, even the Bible recognises this. Our society however will eventually benefit as consistency in the pursuit of what is right will bring sustainable benefits.
In this journey of ours, I get peeved off when the system wants to take action against established evil but gets distracted by the organised chorus that well intentioned acts are evidences of political persecution. I usually hear shouts of the term “politically motivated” as if there shouldn’t be a motivation for whatever we seek to do? Unfortunately, we are living in a season of self denial; we deny everything good at the crucial moment. Pastors deny, Elders deny, Leaders even do so. If judges are unrighteous, will their judgement be? If leaders are unrighteous, will their leadings be? My little knowledge of the Bible tells me that God in His infinite mercy even wants judgement to begin at the Altar. It therefore means politically exposed persons must actually be ready to get exposed. It really doesn’t matter for now whether the weight is tilting to any side. What matters is whether the process of interdiction is fair and just.
Nigeria must move forward and change, we must. Those who live in glass houses must learn to keep their clothes on and never hide any blemishes worth exposing under their cloaks. I guess they mustn’t even have anything in reserve worth condemning. Then the change which we value will come.