Nigeria needs her leaders and citizens to embrace this simple philosophy. Let us resolve to make the slightest adjustments to our lives or nation. Living our lives by only doing the smallest things may seem weak and foolish to some of us. Do remember, it is akin to the “weak force” of the Messiah. It points to the paradoxical weakness and foolishness of God that Paul describes…


Nigeria’s problems are big, and our leaders claim they cannot wrap their hands around them. It is grave poverty of thinking that compels our leaders to offer this excuse. Who told them that they need to solve any problem by wrapping their hands around it? Who told them that they need to face our problems head-on and make mighty changes? We only need them to make slight adjustments: Here, a little; and there, a little. This is how even God and the Messiah work.

According to the Jewish philosopher, Walter Benjamin, making slight adjustments to the world is the reason for the coming of the Messiah. This is how Giorgio Agamben, the Italian philosopher explains Benjamin’s point: “There is a well-known parable about the kingdom of the Messiah that Walter Benjamin (who heard it from Gershom Scholem) recounted one evening to Ernst Bloch, who in turn transcribed it in Spuren: ‘A rabbi, a real cabalist, once said that in order to establish the reign of peace it is not necessary to destroy everything nor to begin a completely new world. It is sufficient to displace this cup or this bush or this stone just a little, and thus everything. But this small displacement is so difficult to achieve and its measure is so difficult to find that, with regard to the world, humans are incapable of it and it is necessary that the Messiah come.’ Benjamin’s version of the story goes like this: ‘The Hassidim tell a story about the world to come that says everything there will be just as it is here. Just as our room is now, so it will be in the world to come; where our baby sleeps now, there too it will sleep in the other world. And the clothes we wear in this world, those too we will wear there. Everything will be as it is now, just a little different.’”

I am not saying Nigerian leaders are Messiahs, but we need to see in them the pursuit of the telos of tiny displacements, slight adjustments. I am talking about Slightly Modified Leaders. Such leaders might be revolutionaries, but they never wish to destroy everything, they never wish to uproot and to start planting all over again. They will never promise to transform the country at one fell swoop. They only want the slightest of adjustment that will make human life flourish for all in Nigeria, especially for the poor in our midst.

Neoclassical economics is also about thinking of the next small thing. Economics teaches us to think at the margin (the role of substitution at the margin, equi-marginal allocation of cost and revenue). Thinking at the margin is the revolutionary idea that entered economics in the 1870s.


What we will find most intriguing about their leadership are the tiny adjustments they will make to our thinking, to our understanding of nation-building, and to what it means to be a Nigerian. The slight adjustments that they will advocate for in their governance will point to and participate in the ideal of absolute change. Such a style of national leadership will bring us to the periphery, the edge of our knowledge systems and traditions, so we can perceive afresh the sense and limits of our social practices or being-in-common. Slightly Modified Leaders will make the slightest adjustments to our collective imagination and sense of nationhood, fairness, and equity.

Such leaders’ way of administration will be rooted where the wisdoms of God and human beings converge. Indeed, God works in the smallest of measures. God, in the book of Ezekiel, is a marginalist, a deity concerned with the next small thing. Ezekiel’s God (chapter 33:12–20) stated that a person is punished and condemned for his marginal (incremental) act of sin even if he has always lived without disobedience. Similarly, a sinner is saved by his next act of obedience. God uses this approach to decide who to reward with life and who to make suffer death, which is all based on repentance or act of sin at the margin.

Neoclassical economics is also about thinking of the next small thing. Economics teaches us to think at the margin (the role of substitution at the margin, equi-marginal allocation of cost and revenue). Thinking at the margin is the revolutionary idea that entered economics in the 1870s. It is called the Marginalist Revolution and it led to the downfall of classical economics. The revolution is about conceptualising constraints to economic activities as margin or border. The predominant concern is: What is the marginal use of a particular resource or endowment? In this revolutionary way of thinking pioneered by William Stanley Jevons, Carl Menger, and Leon Walras, the value of any product or factor of production depends on its marginal value — that is the value it can command, given a particular configuration of constraints in the economy. Marginal changes happen when the configuration is altered, meaning constraints are relaxed or tightened incrementally. Marginal changes are minimal steps in a series that approaches some limit of a sequence.

The man or woman who is excellent pays attention to small things. Excellence is paying attention to details, the next small things operating at the margins. The will-to-transform-a-nation is not the will to be a ‘super-mench’, to strive to do the greatest thing possible, not to overcome the most daunting obstacle, but to do the next small thing.


In my 2009 book, The Principle of Excellence, I defined excellence as doing the next small thing. The man or woman who is excellent pays attention to small things. Excellence is paying attention to details, the next small things operating at the margins. The will-to-transform-a-nation is not the will to be a super-mench, to strive to do the greatest thing possible, not to overcome the most daunting obstacle, but to do the next small thing. Excellence is thus marginal. It is marginal because it is the next small thing arising from the spaces between previous achievements and the next small step into the unknown. It is marginal because it is related to all that comes before and after it, and it is not free of commitments to them. Excellence is the result of the cumulative attention you pay to the small things; it is about the small improvements that you make that take you to your highest place. When we begin to pay attention to the small things, when we begin to insist that small things must be perfect, that is when national progress comes.

Nigeria needs her leaders and citizens to embrace this simple philosophy. Let us resolve to make the slightest adjustments to our lives or nation. Living our lives by only doing the smallest things may seem weak and foolish to some of us. Do remember, it is akin to the “weak force” of the Messiah. It points to the paradoxical weakness and foolishness of God that Paul describes in I Cor. 1:25. It is the kind of weak force we see in advanced economies. They are constantly making minor repairs in their systems.

Nimi Wariboko is a professor of economic and social ethics at Boston University, USA.