My favorite passage from the many essays by the 20th Century management theorist, prophet of customer-centricism, and dialectician, Peter F. Drucker, on the subject of change and innovation has to be his argument that we now live in a modern era where everything changes at the speed of light. To be able to cope in this season of creative destruction, and disruption, the manager of the future must constantly innovate and grow. Skills die faster in the age of constant change, hence, it is only the worker who is constantly developing himself and his or her skills-set that would in the long run survive. People are the biggest resource of any organization, but to remain relevant to the organization, the worker must develop the capacity to adapt to change almost at the same speed with which the changes occur. Peter Drucker was not right on everything he predicted, but his insistence on the nature and speed of change and innovation has proven to be a piece of compelling truth. Whereas his core competence was management theory and organizations, I find his ideas of change useful and applicable to everyday living, to changes we have seen in culture, human circumstances and psychology. Everything seems to have changed indeed at a dizzying pace. It was Peter Drucker that dominated my thoughts as I reflected the other day on this, and the cultural, individualistic, psychological, and nomenclatural dimensions of change with regard to Nigeria.
I begin, cautiously, with the media industry. Growing up, we referred to journalists who worked in radio and broadcast stations as announcers or newscasters. The people who reported the news were called reporters. There were editors, producers, sub-editors, line editors. But all of a sudden, the game has since changed in the media industry. If you have not been following the trend, you can’t understand the new labels and the social and psychological transformation that goes with it. Today, announcers, newscasters in the broadcast industry now go by the label OAP. OAP simply means On-Air-Personality. The first time I heard that phrase, I started wondering whether some broadcast journalists, male and female have become flying objects, like drones, in the air. It is no longer fashionable to be called a TV host, no, no no, it has to be anchor or OAP.
There is no broadcast journalist in Nigeria that would like to be addressed as a continuity announcer as was the case before now. Try that and you would get some strange glances. You are not allowed to call someone who is on air, most times of the day, an announcer. He or she is a personality, a celebrity! The likes of Mike Enahoro, Fabio Olanipekun, John Momoh, Soni Irabor, Bisi Olatilo, Cyril Stober, Mani Onumonu and the older generation – Dr. Christopher Kolade, Kunle Olasope, Olu Falomo, late Segun Olusola, Kevin Ejiofor, down the line must be wondering why there is today, so much emphasis in Nigerian broadcasting on title and personality rather than diction, poise and professionalism. In those days, Nigerian broadcasters went through rigorous training. The FRCN Training School was as good as any Department of Mass Communication in the country. The products ruled the airwaves from a position of excellence and difference. They had bosses who monitored every minute of on-air appearance and wrote notes. There were female broadcasters too, so many of them across Nigeria. They were not obsessed with being called OAP. They didn’t want to function as drones; they were willing to excel. From Anike Agbaje, the first woman to appear on Nigerian television, to Julie Coker, Bimbo Roberts-Oloyede, Ronke Ayuba, Sienne Allwell Brown, Ruth Benamaisia, Lola Ogunbambi, Kehinde Young-Harry, Eugenia Abu, Modele Sarafa-Yusuf, Abike Dabiri, Aisha Falode, Nigeria built a generation of TV girls who were distinguished by their knowledge of the job and professionalism. These days, female broadcasters are often recruited on the basis of hotness, sexiness and Western accents!
Peter Drucker talked about innovation and changing with the times. The current social media revolution has changed the way of the world; it has shifted emphasis beyond Peter Drucker at least here in Nigeria. The age of voyeurism and click-baits has changed the way we think, behave and perceive. In the broadcast industry, and even print, the attitudinal change that I have seen is at the level of titles and self-description. Every tyro is now a media executive. Anybody with access to an Instagram account is either a media-preneur or a fashion/social media influencer. Professionalism has been replaced by glamour, perception management, impressions and the number of social followers. The words: circulation, rating, and impact have been replaced by “followership”. There are even some persons who call themselves content experts and providers. A reporter is no longer a reporter. He or she is a content provider! The problem is that many of these content providers have never heard of such traditional organizations as the Nigeria Union of Journalists or the Guild of Editors or the Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria. They are not bound by the traditional rules of engagement in the industry. Good education, skilful writing, integrity and professionalism used to be standard requirements in Nigerian journalism, today, all you need to be an OAP is a beautiful face, a foreign accent, real, acquired or affected, even if your pronunciation will annoy Daniel Jones and the Queen. The OAP girls of Nigerian journalism routinely jazz it up: make up that transforms them, body works that turn around body shapes from the anterior to the posterior. The men are no less guilty. Fakery is the new way of the game. Too many hacks exploiting the social media to promote fraud and narcissism.
It is better to begin at home and I have tried that. But it is not only in the media that we have seen a downward inversion of the curve. Growing up, we heard of tailors, sew mistresses, London tailor and “ejika ni shop.” Today, there has been much talk about being a fashion designer. Tailor and sewing mistress are titles that have been thrown out of the window. We are in the age of fashion designers, or stylists or even fashion entrepreneurs. Nigerian tailors cut and sew. But nobody wants to be called a tailor anymore. Tailor ke. They are now stylists and fashion designers. They all have Instagram accounts. One of them is so popular she even sells herbal drinks that gives men more energy in the bedroom. She doesn’t only style clothes, she also encourages style in the bedroom. The excuse for this conflation of professional identity is explained, in Yoruba parlance as “ona kan o wo oja”: multiple roads lead to the market or in Western parlance, what is best is the search for a “multiple income stream”. I guess that is not exactly what Peter Drucker was talking about when he spoke about creativity and innovation. But Nigerians have become so innovative they add everything to it. A man who sells stolen vehicles by the road side, hoping that he would never get caught is actually a front for government officials looting the treasury. The car mart, with a fashion boutique by the side, run by Madam, is actually a money laundering unit. And if there isn’t enough coming from the looters in official corridors, the man and the Madam work on their computers and engage in “Yahoo, Yahooo” and do “wire, wire”. These are euphemisms for internet fraud, the new scourge of the age. Whichever road leads to the market, as long as it brings wealth, is interpreted as being in accord with the spirit of the times. Nigerians refer to it as the re-distribution of wealth. Every small-time hustler is an entrepreneur. Every bricklayer is an engineer.
Growing up in this same country, families looked down upon anyone whose source of wealth could not be explained. Parents told their children that a good name was better than silver and gold. Any trace of strange wealth, of prosperity without work, was frowned upon. Families gave their daughters to men with known means of livelihood. Teachers and priests took pride in grooming men and women who would inherit the kingdom of Heaven, and serve God on earth. In this new age of change and innovation, all that has changed. There is a whole population out there, of girls, men and women who have taken the philosophy of innovation far too literally. They will do anything for money and attention, and that includes the spiritual guardians of the realm, pastors, imams and herbalists. We also now have in Nigeria, men who claim that they have become women, and who are openly promoted by the media. They have no biological explanation for their conduct other than that their innovation is a very lucrative business. They represent some zoo-like curiousity; and they get paid to be advertised as some circus-like monstrosity. Age of innovation!
Growing up, when you met a woman, you knew it was a woman you were talking to. Today, here in Nigeria, a very conservative society, you cannot be too sure anymore. Even when you are most certain you have met a woman, you still cannot be sure that particular woman has not undergone some transformation. In the name of looking good and “being myself,” Nigerian women of today now do what they call butt job, they enhance every item of their body, including eye lashes, stomach, waist, lips and skin colour. They wear artificial wigs. You can see a woman totally dark-skinned in January, by December, she would be Cuacasian-white. The same woman used to speak, rustic Ijesa dialect in January; by December she would sound like a mis-mash of Welsh and Cockney plus something from the American mid-West. How they do it baffles me. The only problem is that some of these persons may never have been to any International Airport. They sound like they learnt the mongrel accents from television and the social media. There are men like that too. They not only speak strange. They dress strange, even if their fashion style is an imitation of the fashion of American correctional facilities.
Growing up, our parents did not tolerate nonsense. They queried any child who showed traces of unusualness. Outsiders called it madness. They tried to beat every child into the path of commonsense and communal adjustment. Fathers threatened to disown any problematic child, and shamed any mother who could not raise a disciplined child. These days, parents look the other way. They may not know what their son or daughter does for a living, but as long as he or she is rich by whatever unknown means, the parents are pleased. Young girls below the age of consent suddenly become the bread winners of their families. The parents are too glad to have access to money. Their daughter may be a part-time prostitute, they don’t care. It is their daughter and she is creative and managing change and innovation very well. Their son may have dropped out of school. They only see him around with a laptop and an expensive phone which they did not buy for him but as long as he brings money home, they will not ask questions. The father will boast that his son has taken after him: “Who born stupid pickin?”
Once upon a time, that same son would have been banished from the family home, but not any more. Years of bad governance in Nigeria and rising displacement of order in households have resulted in destruction of values in homes and communities. Parents no longer care if their daughter is a professional prostitute on the streets of the High Mountains in Italy or the dark corners of Spain. The son that is an online fraudster is a breadwinner. When the bubble bursts and the child is arrested abroad and punished, there is no sense of shame. We have had cases of young Nigerians who were executed for drug or online scam in Asia, their corpses were brought back home and they got lavish burials. Once upon a time, their families would have been so ashamed, they would not dare invite anyone to such embarrassing burials.
And yes: In those days, offices used to have messengers, and the persons so called, were proud to do their job. You sent them to buy things, to run odd errands, to assist the office. In Nigeria’s new-found age of expression, there are no messengers anymore. They have become Personal Assistants or Executive Assistants. We used to have persons called house girls and house boys. In the new age that Peter Drucker predicted, these ones have graduated to the grade of Special Assistant (Domestic). I also can’t remember when last I met anyone who introduced himself or herself in a Nigerian office as a Secretary. The Secretary of old is now a Business Development Officer (BDO) or Executive Office Manager. Being a Single Mother in Nigeria also used to be a stigma, now they have put a fine label on it too: a Single Mother is now known as a Baby Mama, an increasingly prestigious title, especially if the woman is a serial romance scammer with children from about five men.
Peter Drucker meant well when he preached innovation and creativity in the face of change. The predicted future is here, but does it look good? It is sad that in Nigeria, that principle seems to have worked out negatively. We are saddled with Governors and leaders who think creativity means better skills at looting, a growing youth population that finds crime attractive, an education system that produces intellectual wimps and a social community that valorizes unexplainable wealth. In Nigeria, we don’t get things right. Our leaders don’t do the right things. They even use state resources to defend personal interests. Peter Drucker obviously wasn’t thinking of the Third World when he came up with his theory of management and innovation. He wasn’t thinking of a community where innovation will be interpreted negatively to promote adverse values and reverse the advancement of public good.
Reuben Abati was spokesperson and special adviser, media and publicity to President Goodluck Jonathan (2011 – 2015). A former chairman of the editorial board of The Guardian, Dr. Abati is one of the most respected columnists in Nigeria. He writes his syndicated column twice a week. He tweets from @abati1990.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer.