Ibraheem Dooba: Wisdom of the crowd: Why northern governors should come together

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In 2004, James Surowiecki who writes ‘The Financial Page’ column for The New Yorker wrote a book, ‘The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations.’

In this book, Surowiecki argues that rather than always relying on the judgment of experts, “under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them.”

In his review of the book, Craig L. Howe retold one of the stories in it: “In 1906, Francis Galton, known for his work on statistics and heredity, came across a weight-judging contest at the West of England Fat Stock and Poultry Exhibition. This encounter was to challenge the foundations of his life’s study.

“An ox was on display and for six-pence, fair-goers could buy a stamped and numbered ticket, fill in their names and their guesses of the animal’s weight after it had been slaughtered and dressed. The best guess received a prize.

“Eight hundred people tried their luck. They were diverse. Many had no knowledge of livestock; others were butchers and farmers. In Galton’s mind this was a perfect analogy for democracy. He wanted to prove the average voter was capable of very little. Yet to his surprise, when he averaged the guesses, the total came to 1197 pounds. After the ox had been slaughtered, it weighted 1198.”

So, Surowiecki says, to solve a problem, just ask the crowd. The problems that could be solved with this thinking include: cognition (trying to find an accurate answer), coordination (synchronising activities with others) and cooperation (working together despite the self-interest of individual members of groups).

However, for the crowd to be wise, four basic conditions must be fulfilled. One, the crowd must have diversity of opinions. Two, members must be independent from one another. Three, membership of the crowd must be decentralised. And four, a good method of aggregating opinions must be fashioned.

Why these conditions? “The diversity brings in different information; independence keeps people from being swayed by a single opinion leader; people’s errors balance each other out; and including all opinions guarantees that the results are “smarter” than if a single expert had been in charge.”

I’m convinced that all the northern states with all their imperfections and problems have the inherent characteristics of a crowd. And even if not all, they fulfill most of the conditions necessary to make the crowd wise.

They are independent of one another; northern states have diversity of opinions on how to solve even the similar problems of their respective states; and a good method of aggregating opinions could be devised through the Northern Governors’ Forum.

Thus, if they pool their resources, both human and material together, they can find more enduring ways to solve our problems in education, security, job creation and so forth. I must credit my friend, Ibrahim Umar Wali, who first wanted me to tell him why our governors wouldn’t come together to solve their common problems. Well, following are some of the problems the crowd could solve.

EDUCATION

For over two decades, Singapore has consistently been coming tops in global assessment on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programme. Although some have faulted the system for lack of creativity, parts of North America have been using the Singaporean curriculum. The Niger State government wants to do the same thing. We’re putting measures in place for Singapore to facilitate the same success for our state. When northern governors decide to put ideas together, this would be one of the projects that Niger would contribute to the collective; and because many other states would come with their ideas too, we are likely to agree on one near-perfect system.

EMPOWERMENT

Another initiative that Niger would contribute to the crowd is our three millionaires per month programme - one from each senatorial district. In one year, we would have made at least 36 brand new millionaires in the state. In four years, we will in sha Allah, have 144 millionaires. This will expand our markets and alleviate the economic gloom that has enveloped us. Also, we want to adopt the USAID programme where 100 women are chosen per local government area and each is given N50, 000 for business. The USAID successfully implemented this in Sokoto State.

Like other states, we also have other projects in other sectors such as agriculture, energy and so forth. Therefore, if the north makes a deliberate effort to fashion solutions to our problems together, it may become a wise crowd that finds enduring solutions to the problems that are threatening to kill us


By Ibraheem Dooba (Prof. Brainy column)

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