Home Opinion Is Nigeria, a case of beating the dead horse?

Is Nigeria, a case of beating the dead horse?

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Nigeria And The Problem With Stupid People
Nigeria And The Problem With Stupid People

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” – Mark Twain’s Own Autobiography: The Chapters from the North American Review.

From airports to roads, from hospitals to schools, we call it elephant projects, they are dead horses for me, national embarrassments. If you’ve ever worked in government or the private sector, you may be all too familiar with similar projects running on life support

In Nigeria, it is not just about airports, after all we were recently told that a whole airport in Abia state only existed in the figment of someone’s imagination, money gone, no airport anywhere, at least an airport is not something that just disappears or can be hidden.

Anyway, this admonition is nowhere near anything about airports, and talking about airports, how about the Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill, it is not a mill, it is not rolling and there are steel products anywhere near. You will be forgiven to think that this is about the Steel Rolling Mill, but again it is not, it is also not about the Lagos/Ibadan expressway of the Abuja/Kogi expressway, this episode of mine is not about the imaginary resuscitation of the Kaduna textiles.

But please follow me in this conversation.

The Dead Horse Theory states that “When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.” In the context of business and bureaucracy, the meme refers to a failed project which is nonetheless kept alive by wilfully ignorant management. Sage advice. But let’s start from the beginning.

The Tribal wisdom of the Indians, passed on from generation to generation, says that, “When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.” However, in modern business, education and government, far more advanced strategies are often employed, such as:

1. Buying a stronger whip.

2. Changing riders.

3. Threatening the horse with termination.

4. Appointing a committee to study the horse.

5. Arranging to visit other countries to see how others ride dead horses.

6. Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included.

7. Re-classifying the dead horse as ‘living-impaired’.

8. Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.

9. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase the speed.

10. Providing additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse’s performance.

11. Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse’s performance.

12. Declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overhead and, therefore, contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy than do some other horses.

13. Re-writing the expected performance requirements for all horses.

14. Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position of hiring another horse.

I have yet to meet someone with experience in business and government to whom this bizarre analogy doesn’t make perfect sense. Would I be wrong to assume that you have no problem recalling your own personal dead horse story?

A story told with frustration, passion and incredulity. It doesn’t have to be a colossal airport disaster or Ajaokuta. Any lost cause or pointless project that mainly serves as a black hole for resources will do. The chance to save the dead horse’s life by doing a Premortem Analysis was missed. So, to figure out what happened, let’s do a brief post-mortem on the dead horse.

The first underlying assumption of the Dead Horse Theory is that the horse has in fact met its maker. This makes it seem like pronouncing it dead was an objective and straightforward exercise. The implication is: Dismounting and abandoning the failed endeavour is not only possible but highly advisable. The list of “advanced strategies” reduces the seemingly simple solution to absurdity. It implies that the failed endeavour is an open secret. Yet, there’s no shortage of plans on how to solve the unsolvable.

It looks like we’re dealing with an exasperating mix of groupthink, wilful blindness and wishful thinking. Something is keeping people from doing the obvious, from dismounting the dead horse, from abandoning the lost cause. On top of that, there are no mechanisms such as institutionalised devil’s advocacy that brings these issues to light. Let’s brainstorm a few reasons why:

Know-How: The will to dismount is there. But nobody knows how and what mode of transportation to take instead.
Responsibility: It’s not anyone’s call to issue the death certificate and arrange the funeral of the poor horse. Instead, they might be engaged in an eternal game of buck-passing.
Vested Interest: Whoever could make the call profits from the horse being deemed alive and well.
Investment: Similarly, there may be too much financial or emotional investment at stake.
Ego: As a result, the reputational damage of abandoning the dead horse is too high. Withdrawing gracefully feels impossible.

Whatever it is, living an awkward lie seems to be preferable over admitting the nag should be buried six feet under. That puts the virtuous and principled employee in a bind. On the one hand, you don’t want to pour fuel into the fire of collective delusion. On the other hand, dismounting and abandoning your post might not be your preferred course of action either.

You see the Nigerian looks upon Nigeria as a theatre and the entire population representing and manifesting the full spectrum of acts and actors. In this revelry, life is the theatre; the nation is the stage upon which we perform. The politicians and a few of us are the actors, very often mediocre. When stars appear it is more often because a play must have a star rather than because the player is possessed of some dramatic genius. We falter and we muff our lines; sometimes our performance takes on an aspect of the grotesque-nobody takes this seriously because it is perceived as being the nature of the play. Our people become the audience.

The fact is that in the last 24 years I have averaged a one per year article on fuel or petroleum motor spirit palaver in Nigeria, from subsidies, to scarcity, to long queues to price increase, it is a story that is as old as the first car driven by fuel in Nigeria.

It is one of our many dead horses, just some stone throw few years ago, the Federal Government blamed the ongoing fuel scarcity on increased demand by nations in temperate regions. Addressing State House correspondents after a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said: “This is winter period. There is always more demand for refined products from petroleum during winter in the colder countries. This is what we are experiencing now.”

Mohammed also insisted: “The government has no intention at all to increase the pump price of petrol.”

Marketers meanwhile at same time blamed the NNPC for alleged favoritism in distribution of petrol. At the same time Kachikwu the then Minister of state for Petroleum at a press briefing in Abuja blamed the fuel crisis on the gap in supply of petroleum products. “There was obviously some level of gap in terms of volume. That gap arises from the fact that NNPC is the only one that is importing products currently.

This is a ministry that in the last 24 years the president has continued to oversee as senior minister, yet it remains a dead horse! Deceased horses are an opportunity to accept things as they are. As soon as you realise you’re riding a dead horse, feel free to dismount and find one with a better health record. Alternatively, you may want to stoically commit yourself to the horse’s resurrection. In order to show the futility of the whole effort, or on the off-chance that you were wrong and the horse was only in a state of apparent death. May Nigeria win…on a dead horse–Only time will tell

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