Benchmarking Nigeria for Progress

Progress is forward looking defines benchmarking as a measurement of the quality of an organization’s policies, products, programs, strategies, etc., and their comparison with standard measurements, or similar measurements of its peers. According to Wikipedia, benchmarking is the process of comparing one’s business processes and performance metrics to industry bests and best practices from other companies. In the process of best practice benchmarking, management identifies the best firms in their industry, or in another industry where similar processes exist, and compares the results and processes of those studied (the “targets”) to one’s own results and processes. In this way, they learn how well the targets perform and, more importantly, the business processes that explain why these firms are successful.

The objectives of benchmarking are, to determine what and where improvements are called for, to analyze how other organizations achieve their high performance levels, and to use this information to improve performance. In a nutshell, benchmarking seeks to move an organisation from point A to point B, keeping best practices in mind.

The definitions above may suggest that benchmarking is limited to the business environment and far removed from governance but we all know that in life, the goose and the gander both like what is good. So, let us keep that at the back of our mind. Better still, let us substitute business with governance and management with government ( is it not funny that each pair ends with same consonant sound). That cleared, I believe that benchmarking is forward looking, progressive and perfection or near perfection driven. It is not retrogressive, neither does it set its goals based on the past. It may draw on hindsight but elevates its approach over and above the past, the present and pushes towards the best future. It does not pride itself for surpassing the past, but rather chides itself for falling short of accepted best practice. This is why deadlines are set ahead of starting time, against a time to come and not against time past.

What is the practice in government circles in our beloved country, Nigeria? It appears we have stood the concept of benchmarking on its head. Government after government, administration after administration, party after party has always compared its achievements to that of the immediate past instead of the accepted best practice, in simple terms, those doing better than us. In spite of stupendous wealth in human and natural resources, we still grope in the dark. Why? Because we are too obsessed with the past, so much so that we do not even see our noses, not to talk of beyond it. In fact, we are so into the past that if it is possible to grow additional limbs to make the cuddle tighter, we will gladly do. It is always; the past administration did this and that. The past administration did not do this and that. We have done this and that, what did the past do? Same questions, same rhetoric, four years, eight years and we go back to did and did not do this and that. Like the dog, we keep chasing our tail. That is how we benchmark. Because of this, an administration builds a kilometer of road more than the past one, it goes to town thumping its chest. A government renovates one more classroom more than the past one, red carpet is rolled out for commissioning. A government catches an alleged thief that the past one did not catch, we run to the western world with it, thinking, we have arrived. If I may ask, is it absolutely amazing and incredible that an incumbent does better than a predecessor? Is it not natural, if we understand that the focus should be on best practice instead of past practice. The present has to be better than the past and the future better than both. 2 has to build on 1 and so on till we get to the desired number. 100 cannot be 100 if there is no 1. Take 1 out of 100 and it becomes 00 or 99, depending on how benevolent you are. So, there is nothing absolutely fantastic about the fact that 2 is an improvement on 1. Good but not fantastic. Truth be told, it is expected.

We have focused so much on past practice in rating ourselves that we have lost a glimpse of where we should be. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being standard best practice, let us assume that past practice achieved 2. A current government that is focused on rating itself against the past will walk the street shoulder high on achieving 3. If same government rather envisions where we are supposed to be against the standard 10, even 6 becomes unacceptable. How come countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Dubai who were with us on the same pedestal years back have left us behind. It is because they started dreaming. They started focusing on where they should be. They stopped making excuses with their past. They stopped appraising their achievements against their past. They looked upward and forward and asked the big questions: What are countries better than us doing? What is the gap between us and them? How can we catch up and surpass them? Who do we partner with? What will our future performance be? How do we adjust our goals? How do we communicate this? How do we implement this? How do we review and recalibrate? These are tough questions (except the second: what is the gap between us and them? Ans: Atlantic ocean and red sea combined) and answers to them require imaginative thinkers and visionary leaders. Getting down to the business of working out the answers leaves no room for recounting how the military did this and not that, how PDP did not do this and did that or how APC is doing this and that. Working out the answers should set off an alarm in the minds of those in charge; by Jove, the world has left us behind!

It is against the world we should benchmark, not against ourselves, because we have, so far, failed ourselves. Not necessarily as a people, but as a government. We need to let go of the past that we so lovingly cling to with all our limbs. We really need to let go or we will not be able to catch the future. Gone should be the days of GDP growth that is not inclusive. Gone should be the days of governance that is not inclusive. Gone should be the days of religion that is divisive. Gone should be days of politics that is skewed in favour of ethnicity. Gone should be the days of celebration of one man instead of institutions. Gone should be the days of… I think I should stop the gone now before I say gone should be Nigeria, God forbid.

Countries that have left us behind have done away with all these. If they have left us behind, it means they have gone before us, they have prepared the way for us, they have fallen and stood up again for us. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. We only need to copy, paste, change font sizes and colour here and there to suit us, save and off we go. We do not need to shout Eureka again. Those who have left us behind have found it all. We only need to get the same looking glass and see what they are seeing. This is the benchmarking we need. One that sets us on a forward trajectory. One that will propel us to the proverbial el dorado. After all, what other propellant do we need than our fuel. It is in abundance here; or is it?

This article was originally published on by same author in 2006