AKINYEMI: Order, structure not a strong leader will see nations grow

Tuesday July 16 2019

A county marshal directs traffic in Nairobi. Structure and order are said to be the foundations for sustainable growth in individuals, organisations and even nations. FILE PHOTO | NMG


Waiting on a queue at the Immigration counter years ago at the Murtala Mohammed airport in Lagos, Nigeria, a middle-aged man was ushered to the front, and within seconds he was attended to.

A few minutes later, the same thing happened to another man and a middle-aged woman. Like many other passengers, I was angry, particularly because there was little that could be done.

To ease my frustration, I convinced myself that they were probably not feeling well hence their being fast-tracked.

When we landed at London’s Heathrow Airport, and to my shock, standing behind me in another queue were the same people who were fast-tracked in Lagos.

This scenario repeats itself in so many areas across the continent. People who will not stop at the traffic lights in their own countries will do so when they travel abroad. People who will not litter in other countries do so with reckless abandon at home. The list goes on.

In the past few issues, we saw a clear distinction between one-talent nations and five-talent nations. Further, five-talent nations boast strong institutions that must be driven and put in place by strong leadership.


However, we have seen nations with strong leadership that have failed to advance. In essence, it is not enough for the leadership to be strong. There is a missing ingredient.

When Ibrahim Babangida ruled Nigeria with a strong hand, no one was in doubt as to whether he was a strong leader.

He made it clear and once said that the opposition and democracy activists should not forget that his administration was not only in government but in actual fact also in power. This was a subtle threat to remind anyone who wanted to oppose him that there would be dire consequences.

The same thing happened under the leadership of Sani Abacha. So, we have had these strong men preside over the affairs of a nation whose steady decline is the subject of many a study. What was the missing link?

Structure and order are the foundations for sustainable growth in individuals, organisations and even nations.

In a society where literally anything goes, things will not move forward. A society that does not place a premium on order and structure cannot develop no matter how strong the leader is.

When you move from the slums to wealthy areas one thing that stands out is how people live, eat, sleep and conduct their activities. In the slums, it happens in one room.

Affluent neighbourhoods

In the wealthier areas you will find order and structure expressed in the fact that there is a room for sitting down or the sitting room; there is a dining room for eating, there is a bedroom for sleeping, there is a kitchen for cooking and there is a bathroom. This simple identification of structure that designates certain places for certain tasks is not found among the poor.

Hans Rosling in the book Factfulness makes us understand that all nations on earth were at the same level in 1800.

Life expectancy was roughly 30 years everywhere in the world. As nations developed one common thread that ran through those that left others behind was structure and order.

He describes Sweden, which saw the evolution of an indoor cold water tap and a latrine bucket in the basement. These represented structure and order for that time compared with water from a river and no designated order for a person to ease themselves.

He describes a Sweden with open sewers or ditches and where there was no enforced regulations to protect bodies of water with fences.

As structure and order became cultural, it was easy for the societies to grow and move from one talent to five talent societies.

Nations that have made the transition from one talent nations to five talent nations have had leaders who drove a clear agenda with emphasis on order. Once there is a strong culture of order and structure the transition will begin.

This may be stretching it too far, but there actually seems to be a correlation between road civility and national civilisation. Maybe we can start with that.

Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer, PowerTalks