We have human beings in large numbers. Over 200 million of them. We are one-fifth of the continental population and the most populous black nation. There is no doubt that this is a substantial plus for our enhanced output. When correctly capacitated and incentivised, the human force can produce large amounts of goods and services. However, where we fail to harness these potentials in decision-making, a reasonable proportion of this workforce rather than becoming assets that are utilisable in production, quickly transform into social liabilities. In that liability-constellation, we will have the unemployable, beggars, and lawbreakers. To avoid this undesirable situation, the managers of Nigeria need to understand and learn how businesspeople successfully manage their human resources to produce maximum possible output as well as maximise profits. Productive people management aims at achieving three essential results. These are inclusiveness, capacitation, and incentivisation.
How do entrepreneur’s in a typical business setting ensure inclusiveness? The first principle is that of behavioural guidance. A well-crafted human resource policy manual governs every excellent organisation. This manual sets out all necessary details regarding the rights and privileges of each member of staff. Such manuals are predicated on the principles of equitable justice. It also specifies the dos and don’ts of the organisation. In effect, therefore, the robustness of the human resource manual, as well as the effectiveness of its implementation, determine how inclusive the work environment is or will be. Like a firm, Nigeria’s constitution should play the same roles that the human resource manual plays within an organisation. Like the human resource policy manual, the law helps in ensuring the belongingness of all the workforce and citizens. It is the heart of inclusiveness and belongingness. Ideally, it should repel and banish those evil forces such as marginalisation, unfairness, mediocrity, lawlessness, and confusion that have put us down as a country.
Unfortunately, our laws have consistently failed to contain marginalisation. Marginalisation permeates the air of Nigeria’s socio-economic existence. Ethnic groups such as the Ibos justifiably complain about this and so also are many individuals and groups. For instance, the Ibos of South-East Nigeria, which is not only an ethnocultural bloc like other geopolitical zones has only five states while the rest of the geopolitical zones in Nigeria are made up of six States each. Likewise, there is no representation of the Ibo ethnic group in the topmost levels of security command in Nigeria. Apart from the case of the Ibos, marginalisation is palpable in the allocation of office portfolios. It is visible in appointments to sensitive offices.
There is also the complementary and more entrenched problem of mediocrity which we celebrate under the quota system. The quota system brazenly enforces the marginalisation of merit and has successfully destroyed every sense of healthy competition in virtually every sphere of our socio-economic life. In its stead, it has elevated patchiness. No honestly hard-working person will feel included and enjoy any sense of belonging in an environment that celebrates poorness and the side-lining of other groups. These hydra-headed monsters only survive in environments of lawlessness and confusion such as ours. That is also why we should not be surprised about the spiking levels of insecurity around us.
Imagine that our leaders insist on building a country in which there is a fair representation of all in such a way that that does not destroy meritocracy. By implication, all those who are to represent their various constituencies must first be qualified to be in that position. If a constituency, however, is not able to produce a qualified representative, then such office remains either vacant or is held in trust by one appointed from another constituency. Constituencies here may be gender, ethnic, age, religion-based, and so on. A country that is built based on the principles of merit and competition will always do very well in socio-economic terms. The reason for this is that merit, and healthy rivalry authentically thrives on the values of fairness, equity, and determination. Hence, unless we refocus our societal values along those dimensions, it is most likely that we shall continue to wander in the mists as we currently do.
In addition to ensuring that every person belongs, those who manage the people in firms try as much as possible to sufficiently capacitate the workforce. A high-quality workforce is one that is adequately skilled, incentivised, and well included to give their best. As a country, we have a highly deformed skilling model for our citizens. It is heartrending that in today’s world, a country like Nigeria that is so resource-endowed can afford to have millions of its children not receiving primary education when they should. There is a gross inadequacy of schooling infrastructure even at the primary school level. Even in some areas where structures that look like schools exist, they are hardly accessible to many of the kids that desire to patronise them. Some of these supposed schools’ structures lack trained teachers and necessary teaching facilities. Some governments also fail to pay the teachers wages as at and when due. The case is no different at the secondary school level. It is the same case of a government that has chosen not to commit needed resources to educate its citizens properly. This situation gets even worse with the quota system and consequent outputting of poorly trained and unemployable graduates. The capacitation expectation of the government also extends to ensuring that its citizens are healthy. The healthier the citizens are, the higher the chances of enhanced productivity. But the sordid story and the challenges of the Nigerian health sector are not at variance with that of the educational segment.
Four key strategies appear to be what is critically needed to rescue the Nigerian health sector. Firstly, medical practitioners in public health institutions should not simultaneously own or work in private health institutions. Secondly, all general hospitals and university teaching hospitals must be attached to a comprehensive but cutting-edge medical diagnostic centre which must be owned and managed by the private sector. Thirdly, there is an urgent need for the reform and improvement of the national health insurance scheme. Fourthly, the legislature should criminalise the acts of top government officials and their children seeking and receiving medical treatment overseas.
A starting point for a new Nigeria should be one where primary education is mandatory, and the government entirely bears its costs. It means that the government shall prosecute parents that do not send their children to primary school. It also means that the governments would have made enough provisions to support such critical investment nationwide. There is no debate that this social investment is superior in all ramifications to the current subsidisation of petrol. Much of today’s challenges of insecurity emanated from the many decades of deprivation of educational opportunities to children in northern Nigeria. This regrettable neglect created a generation of highly vulnerable illiterates yearning for education and money. The combination of the hunger for learning and income gave a fillip to their comfortable reception of the Boko Haram ideology. It makes perfect sense that investing in compulsory solid primary education for all Nigerians is a clear and indisputable way out Nigeria’s current crisis. Exemplary organisations do the same for their workforce. They train them knowing full well that such capacitation shall have a positive rebound effect on the productivity of their firm.
Capacitation, conducive working environment, and reasonable compensation form part of the broad incentivization programme in properly structured firms. A pleasant work environment in the context of the country should ideally constitute such necessities as the presence of good social infrastructure, minimal fiscal burden, the rule of law and leadership with clear vision. If these indicators truly define a pleasant working environment, then ours in Nigeria is unpleasant.
On the other hand, compensation as a form of incentivization is to encourage more production and enhanced productivity. Whether it comes as a bonus, or the actual amounts usually paid per period, it is nothing more than the price paid in exchange for labour contributions in production. It is a reward for performance and has nothing to do with any sense of inheritance. Therefore, compensations should ordinarily be a consequence of past performance, or prospectively based on future performance expectations. The latter is typically reflective of an easily predictable historical pattern of production. Therefore, in a typical business organisation, minimum compensation benchmarks based on industry averages or target industry players are usually determined and pursued as a policy. However, it is not only compensation that is the target benchmark. Salaries benchmarked against that of other industry players are also expected to be consistent with the output and profitability performance of those benchmark firms.
But unfortunately, our civil servants and indeed the labour unions want to pressure the government as an employer of labour to pay a minimum wage that is not reflective of the performance expectations from them. The Nigerian public service is a rotten hub that produces an abysmal performance. And so, the presidents of the country such as ours that have consistently failed to lead us on the part of strong economic performance and improved standard of living earn more than five times the compensation of the presidents of countries who are tirelessly performing excellently. Similarly, our appallingly performing legislators make more than ten times that of their counterparts in other countries who deliver satisfactorily on their legislative mandates. This contradiction is evident across the entire spectrum of the Nigerian public and civil service compensation-performance model, which reclines on a false sense of inheritance. And there is absolutely no doubt that it is sheer robbery when compensation which should be tied to performance is not. And until we demand and insist on matching performance expectations of those in government with the corresponding compensation they receive, the inefficiencies that keep us down will persist.