Besides being an admirer of a Christian group, Promise Keepers, I hate it whenever I fail to keep a promise. In the heat of the run up to the gubernatorial elections my name was caught in a surreal outpouring of passions regarding remarks by the Oba of Lagos. I chose to keep from responding after a few tweets. But I promised to respond the day after season of emotions had gone past and my prayer and purpose for a tranquil atmosphere in which none was lost to rupture sprung from tensions associated with rumpus flowing from the remarks. Thankfully my prayers were answered on the peace the day after.
It should be helpful to first present a factual chronological sequence of how I came to be involved with this matter, then I will challenge on the welfare and wellbeing of Ndigbo in Lagos pull off the gloves on character, as the language of the internet seems to be uncivil conversation.
On the morning of Easter Monday I had several scheduled meeting at my home. As I chatted with some concerned Professional friends Chief Festus Odumegwu and some others arrived, complaining as they walked into the living room, of a remarks made by the Oba of Lagos. From the I -pad of one of those who arrived in his company, read the front page of a newspaper trumpeting it and collectively lamented the remarks and the prominence the newspaper had given it. We decided to call the Oba and express our displeasure indicating we would be heading to the palace to suggest how to make plans for erasing the impression.
As we got set to go to the palace, some people for the next meeting arrived. We then agreed that I stay back while the others go on to see the Oba. The next day I was at in a meeting in my office when a call came through from a friend in Abuja. The friend, Ubong, was neither, Igbo, Yoruba, or a politician. He said that he was calling to say to me that hate-laced exchanges in the social media around the remarks were getting out of hand and if not managed could result in a small spark on Election Day producing tragic outcomes.
All through the campaigns I had written, condemning hate speech, from all sides of the divide. Was my worst nightmare about to play out in the one place I did not manage to think it was likely, Lagos. My instinct was to do something to calm nerves and douse the flames. I quickly tweeted a view that the remarks were unacceptable but that familiarity with the Oba suggested it was in character to crack expensive jokes so the remarks should be ignored. I went back to work thinking I had made a modest contribution to ensuring that none may come to any harm with an escalation of barter of hate talk.
Two hours later I got a call that I was in the eye of a storm in social media. I could not imagine why. I thought which of my many foolish remarks has started this one. The last thing that crossed my mind was that something motivated strictly for what I at least thought was the common good. Could cause this I tried to read. The amount of poison was incredible. I immediately realized I had unwittingly played into the hands of those who wanted to make political capital relative to the vote of a few days ahead.
In a tradition of using hate to accuse others of hate, a few themes were evident. I had to be an Ibophobe, someone acting a surrogate for another to make light something grievous. I thought then it made no sense to provide more ammunition to those trying to make hay from polarizing the community, with little thought to how it was warming the keg of gunpowder. Surely if the Oba was wrong, I said so, why would I still attract such attacks? If the person, the Oba was wrong and going after that person so viciously could make the thing horribly feared, happen, there had to be unwisdom here. But politics and the emotion of that moment is not given to thinking things through so I decided to wait till after nerves have calmed.
Later that day I got another call from Chuma Okolo a corporate executive who is a chief of Asaba. He said he was berating some people on what he called the hypocritical quarrel with the Oba’s remark when someone said are you taking the Utomi position, and he asked what my position was. He had not seen the tweets. He said that what the Oba said would be said by the Asagba of Asaba if he was pouring libation days before voting if someone from elsewhere was contesting for local government chairmanship against his ‘son’ and that any traditional ruler in the East who did not do act similarly would be unnatural. And that those complaining were hypocrites. I told him that in truth I had not even thought about all that, and only had the safety of the same people who were abusing me in mind when I sent out the tweet.
But his remarks set me thinking about context and understanding. In traditional prayer forms we often say things which people outside the context could read differently. I recalled that just three weeks before, the President of Aka Ikenga had called me to host a meeting he was arranging for the APC team of the Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola and the now V-P elect, Prof Yemi Osinbajo and the now Governor elect Akinwunmi Ambode to meet the Igbo elite in Lagos. Even though it was not convenient for me I acquiesced, as duty, to host the meeting of nearly 200 in my home. I had the duty to break the Kola. Speaking in Igbo as was the tradition, I called on the gods; onye na chu anyi, ada. Onye anyi nachu, ada. Which translates those chasing after us will trip and fall, and those we chase after, will stumble and fall. There was rapturous applause. All it really says is may we prevail in the storms of life and in our pursuits. But it could be taken out of context to mean a prayer to dominate other peoples. I thanked Chief Okolo for his call and realized that even though my aim was quite narrow the lessons from this brouhaha for living together in peace was much broader. The great old Igbo mantra was Egbe belu, ugo ebelu. Nke si Ibe ya ebena… roughly live and let live. But I wonder if in the collapse of culture which I referred to when I introduced Prof Chinua Achebe for his Valedictory at the Ahajoku lecture. In Owerri shortly before he joined the ages.
But it did not stop my amazement at suggestions of ill-will or even Chamberlain-type appeasement on Igbo matters. Me? Could it be ignorance or mischief that anyone would dare suggest that? I would like here to pull off the garb of modesty and challenge anybody to show me six Ibos in the last thirty years in Lagos who have done more to advance the Igbo cause in Lagos than myself. I will be willing to go toe to toe in evidence based debate. Just on institutional arrangements I was in on the base year of the founding of Aka Ikenga. Could be wrong but I doubt anybody has chaired more working committees of Aka Ikenga than myself. When the challenge was media disposition to Ndigbo in the 1980’s I was requested to chair the information and culture committee. I believe men like Professor Joe Irukwu, Chief Hilary Onokogu, Dr. John Abaelu can give personal testimonies of the work we did. When the concern was educating the merchant class I was asked to chair the education committee, and when it was which way for the economic wellbeing of Ndigbo, I chaired the Economic and Finance Committee. The latter committee produced the blue print of the Niger Basin Project, a plan for private sector based development of the South East/South South Zone into the industrial hub of Africa. I believe Dr. Ken Ife who reviewed the document at the World Igbo congress in London in 1998, when coming of politics overrode the agenda, may still have words for that effort.
I served repeatedly as Vice-President of Aka Ikenga and remain till date perhaps the longest serving member of the Board of Trustees of Aka Ikenga.
Surely many of the leading Igbo merchants will recall that it was into my Living room they crowded as Chris Asoluka and I worked shuttle diplomacy when Port reforms aimed at crippling them, were being implemented. It was in that same Living room that an Ikenga General Meeting decided Ndigbo in Lagos needed to have an Apex, Umbrella platform different from Ohaneze. Someone then quickly suggested the task be mandated the ‘bridge’, as I was considered the one from this group of then 40- something year olds who was well wired into the Igbo elite in their 70s and was much accepted by the youth and at the same time the one Igbo as at home in the core South East as in his birthplace of Igbo bi nuzo, therefore able to pull together the Igbos of the South East and those in states like Delta, Rivers, Cross River, Benue etc.
On that mandate I called Odu Arthur Mbanefo, now Igwe Green Nwankwo, Admiral Ndubisi Kanu, Admiral Allison Madueke and a few others. In that same living room, with Odu Mbannefo presiding the formation of Ndigbo Lagos started.
Among the more intriguing things about the so called storm on the Oba’s remarks is that elements involved with TAN and its objectives stoked the fire. Interestingly Ifeanyi Uba of TAN is one of those who has repeatedly acknowledged, along with people like Chidi Anyaegbu of Chisco, my sacrificial giving of time, talent, financial resources and network to advance the wellbeing of Ndigbo in Lagos. To his credit Uba has on occasions sent cartons of premium alcoholic beverage and gifts, to support what he calls the non-stop traffic through my house on Igbo issues. Indeed, six years ago this month Ifeanyi Uba and others came there for a private dinner to introduce them to the newly elected President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo. Thankfully there is record of the President-Generals tribute to my efforts at the World Igbo Congress in Orlando Florida a few years ago. This is why I put the social media sentiments aside as pure politics and took no offense.
All of these people have been aware of my mantra on how to engage with host communities. It is a theme often reflected in my speeches at Igbo day celebrations as I have been consistently keynote speaker at the Lagos event, year after year. At the one of last year, my dear friend Jimi Agbaje was sitting a few places from me.
In these position I have often cited the writing of Filipino Professor at Yale, Amy Chua, whose book, World on Fire, explores how globalization is expanding the coast of “market dominant minorities” and stoking ethnic hatred against them. Her illustrations include the Jews, Chinese across Asia, Igbos in West Africa, etc. And my proposition always has been that such groups should develop strategies for building goodwill and mutually beneficial interdependence relationships with host communities.
Even though we know of some who run off to Aso Rock and other centers of power in the name of Ndigbo and get due personal reward, none can relate my service to anything but selfless giving as duty. Yet to think that the descent into incivility is so complete in our social media culture that some suggested I was bribed by Senator Bola Tinubu to make light of the Oba’s comment, is to talk of the pits.
I dare here to repeat a boast I have made before. Even in this country of systemic corruption where I have heard testimonies at a fellowship of thanksgiving for being posted to a lucrative desk, I can invite anybody who knows of any occasion where I have used position to demand of another a bribe, what is not my due, to make something happen. Not in my entire life, no matter how difficult things were at any point in time, grace, which is more than sufficient, has enabled me never ask or take a bribe.
The last time I made this claim and invited anyone who disputes it to come forward I said the person did not need to provide proof. Just indicate the transaction, even if it is a false accusation. I am pretty confident even the nature of the transaction will show up such a person.
I may be many things, naive, careless, even incompetent etc. but have never taken a bribe. My relationship with the APC leader has quite a history, but certainly one in which no material benefit has ever come to me. I first met him at an event in the National theatre in 1998 when came up to me to say that while they were in NADECO exile my writings provided them a compass from which they took positions. A few months later he was elected Governor and I was invited to chair one of the working groups of the transition. As the Tinubu cabinet got in place I was asked to lead cabinet retreats. Those services were pro bono but as Yemi Cardoso who was commissioner for Budget and Planning would know I charged the bank he was an ED at, Citizens, and clients like National Maritime Authority, between 7 and 10 million Naira for similar services in 1999. As part of my citizenship duty I was literally donating tens of millions of Naira to the Lagos State government, not getting something from Tinubu.
The one effort to show appreciation in return was an unsolicited gift that was eventually not actualized. One day, the then Deputy Chief of Staff to the Governor saw me and said, ‘I have been holding something for you’. It was a letter awarding me a parcel of land on the Lekki Foreshore. In the end the government could not reclaim the land from the sea for budget reasons, and the allocations were cancelled with promise of reallocation. I have never asked what happened. Since I am not a contractor I generally have never asked for a contract in Lagos. I know I have been told I am foolish, and being used, many times, but it’s just that people think your goals and theirs match. My goals have often been around institutions that will leave tomorrow better than yesterday. When it dawned on me that Governor Tinubu was best located to make my dream of a two party democracy in Nigeria come through, I stayed close and kept the pressure on him. Seemed impossible, but it has happened, and I am pleased to walk into the sunset and beg for God’s mercy and history’s kindness. The gift of contentment, and love for my people and all of God’s children have caused action sometimes not understood, by people of different values. But in all I take to Jack Welch’s famous words: Leadership is not a popularity contest, so lead. Igbos say Ada eji mgbagbu ayologu. Will never shirk a just battle because people die in war. Besides mgbele ka eji ama dike. Ability to respond to the unexpected shows the strongman. To be of service elected appointed or even self-appointed you sometimes have to ignore what gets you claps and do what your conscience tells you is right no matter how many are ready to pour scorn in an age where abuse is considered public conversation. So I take no offense and apologize to those who truly misunderstood me. To those who choose to hold on to what they conjure up I respect it as their right but urge that they find a place for the ethos of decency in how they advance their judgmental disposition.
Pat Utomi, Political Economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership.
Besides being an admirer of a Christian group, Promise Keepers, I hate it whenever I fail to keep a promise. In the heat of the run up to the gubernatorial elections my name was caught in a surreal outpouring of passions regarding remarks by the Oba of Lagos. I chose to keep from responding after a few tweets. But I promised to respond the day after season of emotions had gone past and my prayer and purpose for a tranquil atmosphere in which none was lost to rupture sprung from tensions associated with rumpus flowing from the remarks. Thankfully my prayers were answered on the peace the day after.
In my management consultant mode, I am associated with a global strategy consulting Group, Palladium which grew out of the work of Harvard Business School Professors Kaplan and Norton, the Balanced scorecard innovators There the execution premium is buzz. In a few days the elections will be history, but if we do not now take on an execution premium mindset, no matter who wins, we may have taken the huge trouble and costs of this campaign and elections in vain.
An imperative of post-election season after these troubles, means whoever wins must be quick off the starting block prepping for an execution premium. There are many reasons to be quick off the block, and a few things that are critical to be reflecting on now to make a Usain Bolt surge forward.
Among the first considerations will be healing. No one can make progress governing a country where significant parts of the population are alienated. The 2015 campaigns were extremely divisive. I have lived through every election in post-Independence Day Nigeria. None, in my view, has been more divisive. To bring enough healing, no matter who is declared elected, will involve great skill. That skill needs to be deployed quickly.
Also quite important for effectiveness in the years that follow is financial conservation to make the short term tolerable. The election have been unbelievably costly. From my experience, I can hazard a guess that on a per capita basis it would be a runaway top spend campaign in the world. Despite the shambolic fundraisers, most know the much of the money came either from government treasuries directly, or from businessmen who will get a return on their investment in multiples from government contracts. The consequence has been empty treasuries around the land. This means the need, in the short term, to find resources to resuscitate activities in MDAs. Without such, things can deteriorate so quickly and make the implementation of any game plan
Goodwill for recently elected government, the honeymoon, is usually significant, but can run out fairly quickly. It is important therefore to move on major initiatives during the first 100 days. The need for clarifying purpose and aligning capacity to objectives while shaping culture to support the thrust of policy, should be high priority.
Had the elections focused more on issues rather than personalities, hate speech and the abuse of opponents, there would already be enough consensus to facilitate receptive grounds for execution. Much will have to come now from massive selling, drawing on the best from society to build confidence in the will to implement. Here, much can be learnt from how Henrique Fernando Cardoso, in becoming Finance Minister of Brazil, brought together Brazil’s finest young economists with the assurance he will go for the consensus they arrive at on the way forward, in spite of his life long career position as a ‘Dependista’ calling from de-linking from global capitalism. The consensus of the young economists favored globalization, and Cardoso used his credibility with the Brazilian people to urge the acceptance of that track. The policies brought the huge inflation and many challenges of the economy to a slow down, and the resumption of new growth. It was no surprise that Cardoso became president and foreshadowed Brazils ascendancy to global economic powerhouse status. Bringing the best and brightest of the land quickly into the house so all are in the house pissing out rather than many outside pissing into the house is important for both healing and charting the path forward.
One great value from the 2015 elections including even the name calling, is that they have caused awareness to be heightened. People are more likely to hold governments accountable, going forward. Many have come to be frustrated with the kind of candidates on offer and what the issues should be. It means civil society will be more active and citizenship come back alive. Are public officers better prepared to be accountable and not have the kind of thin skin we see today.
The elections also threw up the need to manage, differently, institutions that should be insulated from or supported better to hold up the system. The Umpire INEC, and the security services are good examples. The building of institutions and legitimacy of regime will be enhanced by their getting early reform attention as part of making commitment to better ways forward, transparent. Significantly a reform agenda early are important for giving hope at a time when many, particularly those who lost are despondent.
Pat Utomi, Political Economist, and Social Entrepreneur is the founder of Centre for Values in Leadership.
It seems to be here at last. The 2015 Elections. In spite of all that has been done, and is probably being done to abort it, it is likely Nigerians will vote for President and Senate seats this Saturday. The Die is cast but none has to die to cast a vote.
The lead up to these elections do not call for triumphalism of any kind but it has to lead down the path of some personal triumph and the triumph of that sphere of the human spirit that seeks to escape yesterday’s limitations, no matter the outcome of vote. I feel a great sense of gratitude for the privilege of being part of helping a country better understand and grow, albeit imperfectly, on the path of democracy and progress. This was made more meaningful by the fact that this was in the direction of both proselytizing the democratic ethos, with direct engagement of praxis in the building of stronger competing political parties, and the essennce of what democracies do.
One of the modules I teach in the Leadership sequence is Goal Setting. I make an effort to drink my own medicine; walk my talk and practice what I preach.
I began by prioritizing my goals down to two, my citizenship duty goal and my institution building hope.
As citizen I had a duty of holding power accountable for how responsibility was discharged and ensuring that the interest I represent, values I uphold and aspirations I have, are in the mix of what results from the market place of ideas as policy.
In the run up to these elections, this goal raised a major red flag and new area of hope, the need for a culture rebirth in public conversation and for major reform of the electoral process.
The flight to abuse or trading of insults which was prevalent in social media and some campaign material put up by surrogates suggest new areas for education, but outside of that, the goal of getting people more aware of the challenges of governing and the appropriate fit of candidates with the need, enjoyed a big leap forward in the 2015. And this was partly also, beyond my citizenship goal, the result of the institution building part, with the emergence of two strong parties, the second of my two goals.
To friends who asked why I bothered “to be a citizen” by pointing out what was wrong with extant order, and taking it to the point of expressing preference in response to responsible comparison of conduct, even if within boundaries of my idiosyncrasies, there being no perfect objectivity, it was too costly. This costliness was in the sense of power abusing position to harm the interest of those not considered cheer leaders.
First I think that silence, so as not to be perceived as critical of or opposed to those in power, for fear of other interests being in jeopardy, is part of the reason our democracy has failed to come of age, allowing sycophancy that has damaged decision making, and fair play, create an atmosphere of cronyism and abuse of the commonwealth. As I told a friend, better that government officials cripple my interest and my children leave in freedom than that I financially prosper and my children be in mental slavery. Like Patrick Henry I was willing to say, give me liberty or give me death. The poor political culture of the Desperados of now threaten to poison relations in our country for a generation and I am proud to pay a price for standing up against it that history may know there were other kinds in these times,
Indeed there is the fear that the disposition for violence with hate speech not only make working together after elections difficult, but also justifies the fear of speaking truth to power or supporting credible alternatives for public office. It was duty for me, therefore, to stand up and be counted even if it aggravates power that is untutored about the ways of democracy. But that citizen duty compels a post-election canvassing of effort to change culture regarding power being used against the private interest of people who do their democratic duties, no matter who wins the elections. To lead, just as to live, is to serve. If that is the purpose those who offer to serve must be prevented from making us die so they can serve.
On the goal of institution building I cannot but pay tribute to all who worked to build a strong other party. These elections show it has been one giant leap for mankind who live in Nigeria. No issues would have been canvased or records examined without it. And it must continue that way after the elections if we are to make progress. Had hoped for a broader range of issues and more stout engagement on the issues but the journey to democracy finally started.
Part of my post election agenda, no matter who wins is strong engagement on reforms that will reduce the deployment of money in the canvassing for votes and pressuring a culture of the simple life for people in public life. Our treasuries are empty, state obligations abandoned. Yes, this is part of the failure of accountability, but also a derivative of the accepted life style of politician who have to be constantly on the go, in this season, with their entourages, and who think votes are for sale.
Pat Utomi, Political Economist, and Professor of Entrepreneurship is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership.
As presidential elections approach with major party candidates in a war of character assassination rather than on the issues. Those policy and performance matters taking the back seat, reminds of one of the many wars Iraq has known. Saddam Hussein’s long battle with the Kurds had, at some point gone on for so long that one of the International newsmagazines labelled it “The war the World forgot”. The 2015 campaign surely advertises the issues the campaigns forgot. But the people must not forget.
Issues based elections, besides the values of fueling learning for all, making for mobilizing, public support for policies easier, through the learning that comes from public debate, and leading focus towards the bigger picture; away from the violence that follows the trading of insults; yields governments better able to lead and solve problems. But 2015 has failed to turn our radars towards these issues critical for claiming the promise of Nigeria.
Missing from the stump in 2015 is a serious engagement to an innovation led attack of the unemployment scourge; the frightening trouble of the size and cost of government, the poor security situation, whether the Army is finally making progress or not; the big question of how to deploy revenues; the challenge of declining education and deteriorating healthcare, and Empty Treasuries of Parastatals, as a result of elections. Also critical are positions on the National Conference, as well as addressing the amazing claims on road, rail and power infrastructure, and on an economy in apparent free fall. Amazingly, all of these are easier to engage on than the name calling and hate messages that have polarized the country.
As I have remarked before, the saying in the West is that Opposition do not win elections, incumbents lose them. The challenge of elections is for incumbents is to defend their record, and opposition, to show a vision superior to that record.
The record of incumbents in Nigeria have so far been offered in the breach. Where they have been put up they have come as glittering generalities, or intentions are presented as accomplishments. None have been more ridiculous and embarrassing for me, than presentations of incumbents at the centre, on infrastructure. In a normal country I cannot possibly imagine a government going up for elections to so much and so many for granted.
As one Nigerian on the road, all the time, across the country whenever I see suggestions of extraordinary performance on roads in TAN and other adverts I remember being stuck between Ikot Ekene and Umuahia, regularly travelling between Onitsha and Enugu, and between Akure and Lagos. I wonder what country they are talking about. Then we hear of trains all over and I think someone is daydreaming, but a media, too lazy, or too compromised, to question, allow these claims to confuse the uninformed. With power we face the unusual. Beside the fact the incumbent President said no one should ever vote for him if the power problem was not ancient history by the time of the next election the situation somehow manages to be so much worse than four years back and I am fortunate for 3 hours of power in my up market neighborhood for a day. I can only imagine what it is like in less favored areas.
Everywhere in the World politicians have cosmetic budgets and deliberately touched up performance as elections approach. Ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the UK this week. Only in this 2015 elections have I seen misery index factors like poor power supply, poor state of pockets, as government agencies fail to pay monies they are owning Nigerians for honest work done in good faith expectation of prompt payment as emblems of norm. These failures to honor such payment obligations may indeed be, as one NNPC subsidiary General Manager said to me, because politicians have bankrupted their treasuries for campaign funds. Bottom line is that the system is dry even as the exchange rate has been losing value, frustrating traders and middle class people trying to remit money to children in school abroad. Watching the state of mind and purse as they relate to human misery you almost get the impression people in power believe people do not vote for their wellbeing because of ethnicity, religion and other parochial mind blockers. Still it seems all so unusual.
Most candidates at both the centre and in gubernatorial races do not seem to bother with issues.
The only one who has presented evidence based questioning of these matters has been the APC vice – presidential candidate, Yemi Osinbajo. Strangely, his share of voice has been very low. Is it media to blame or the APC campaign organization? Maybe both.
Then comes the big elephant, the economy. In many ways Chukwumah Soludo already set up the issues for big conversation on the economy. Fayemi responded for APC but the debate and town hall meetings that should have flowed from it did not come.
If Nigeria does not cut the cost of keeping down politicians and bureaucrats with an entitlement mentality, costs will kill the economy, just as was said about corruption, that if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. Corruption is so pervasive today it makes one sick, and the cost of maintaining so many appointees, so awful; most of our spending is on recurrent expenditure.
It will take a few more instalments to get to a full review of the issues, but is good to start here and then move to the peg social sector with Education and Healthcare.
Pat Utomi, Political Economist and Entrepreneurship, is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
MEDIA, POLITICS AND NATION BUILDING
I am honored and quite pleased to be asked to give the lecture marking the establishment of Anambra Broadcasting Service.
I am quite sure why Uche Nworah and his team targeted me for this role. I wonder if it is because I am an in-law, having been gifted with a very dear wife from Anambra, or because I was, as they say, the first non-Anambra person by birth to become a ‘member’ indeed a ‘founding member’ of the League of Anambra Professionals.
One rumor about why I was invited is that Anambra is attempting continuous extracting of bride price. I must admit it is a demand I am pleased to meet given that the wife Anambra people were gracious to allow me take has been a great blessing. If after 30years of marriage, you look 30years old, and lift the spirit like a bunch of 300 roses, paying additional bride price should be welcome. But further rumors suggest it may be related to my multidisciplinary back-ground that include a mass communication degree and discipline implicated in Nigeria’s current troubles, policy Economics, Political Science and Business Administration.
I do hope that whatever the reason, those antecedents bring some value to the conversation. Surely one thing that background brings, from the fact that my very first publication in an international academic journal of some prestige, the Dutch Journal, Gazette, in 1981, was titled “Historical-Philosophical Foundation of Government Ownership of Newspapers in Nigeria is familiarity with the turf”.
No one doubts that ownership is a critical part of the role media has played in the evolution of media impact on politics and Nation building.
I have chosen, in reflecting on the times, to speak to the role of the media in Nation Building and the effect of how it reports politics with consequence for nation-building.
It is fortuitous that as I was about to start putting down my thought on this subject, Dr. Tom Adaba, pioneer Director-General of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission published a scathing critique of how the media has handled the uncivil campaigning that has marked the 2015 elections campaigns: He was evidently quite upset that the media betrayed lack of social responsibility and poor gate keeping. The lambast came as the postponement of the elections were announced, simultaneously triggering higher levels of tension and capping the pressure in a great paradox of Nigeria on the brink.
For me even though the damage is significantly done, effort can be made to reduce the extent of damage. The amount of hate messaging in the air is enough to poison ethnic, regional and faith relations in a way that will make living together and governing difficult for generations. Why politicians who claim to lead, do such damage, puzzles me. But how media do not know some of these politicians are either too ignorant to truly realize the damage they are doing or too desperate to know better, should bend themselves to be so used calls for indictment even more damning than Tom Adaba’s trashing critic.
I wish again to point to Rwanda and the call on Radio to cut down the tall tree in the expectation that leadership would better appreciate the impact of hate speech. It is frightening therefore that incumbents seem to have done more to stoke divisive politics that can stoke hate that lasts generations and that the NBC could not act because incumbents were deeply involved. If opposition acts foolishly, incumbents should know better because the real burden of leading imposed certain responsibility, which is why incumbent US Presidents, besides the self-interest of ‘acting Presidential’ tend to deploy the so called Rose Garden Strategy.
The media has additional accountability as the fourth estate of the realm, that may surpass that of a wayfarer who stumbles into public office as a result of rigging. Besides, serious journalists are typically better informed than politicians and it should be easier for them to tell the people what similar conduct as we are currently having did to Kenya. It has taken Kenya a good six years to begin to recover from that election. Is anybody’s personal claim to power worth that much damage to the soul of a nation?
Could the media have prevented us from getting to this edge. That surely depends on what you think of media influence, what it takes to build a harmonious and prosperous nation, and how the media is oriented to playing its role in Nation Building. So how does the media exert influence?
Understanding how media influences society is an enterprise that is generations’ old, beginning largely around elections behavior surveys early in the 20th century. Back then ideas around media influence suggested a powerful media that literally determined society’s orientation. The underpinning theory, the hypodermic Needle thesis, hypothesized that like injection delivered medicine to a receptive blood system, the media administered reality to audience. But this thesis was shown the ‘lie’ card when powerful newspapers like the New York Times would endorse candidates who went on to lose the elections.
The media influence Paradigm of that moment yielded ground, in the face of evidence, to a new one which saw media influence from the perspective of opinion leaders mediating media influence, the so called two step flow of communication. This paradigm which asserted the superior place of Opinion leaders produced the hypothesis of two step flow of communication and then the multiple step mediation from media to social action. This view of media influence would increasingly give way to views that suggest media influence came from its Agenda setting function.
Since so much happens in the world, and only a few of these occurrences enter our consciousness, and a fewer still dominate our consideration, the gate keeping function of the media allow it to set the agenda. In the sense, therefore that the media help us, or decide for us what is important, media has great influence.
So if media has influence, what suggests the direction in which they deploy this influence regarding politics and nation building. As many have found economics of media survival, the nature of ownership of media, and the organizational challenges of the media enterprise including the human capital element are critical for media influence. Also valuable thesis in the evolution of media theory from which our media like Anambra Broadcasting has an accounting is the status conferral function of the media, the thesis suggests, confer status. People seen in media get a bit of hallo. The prestige, best noted in the fact of the public assuming newscasters on TV to be well-of celebrities being shocked to see them in those days when they could be level 9 civil servants scratching out an existence, means that those seen in media quickly became role models. So if the media feature crooks, celebrate corrupt people or promote 419 people, the failure of the gatekeeping function there makes such people role models. The current collapse of culture in the country, especially noted in some of the values in today’s southeast can be significantly traced to media access to people who should not make it into media for their ways without editorial commentary on what they represent. That failure of the media has affected what the young value. Part of it is heard in the clichéd saying that the gorgeousness of the man flows from his pocket (nma nwoke di na akpa ya).
For us to fully appreciate the direction of media choice and how these affect the direction of human progress in Nigeria, it should be profitable to interrogate a framework for understanding economic growth which was first offered in my 2006 book, Why Nations Are Poor. The Growth Drivers Framework crystallized from a desire to develop a more holistic framework for understanding why some countries thrive and others incline towards misery.
The growth driver’s framework was the core tool of my 2006 book, Why Nations are Poor. It grew out of two challenges. In 1998 I had published a book; Managing Uncertainty: Competition and Strategy in Emerging Economies, which essentially looked at how competitive strategies of firms were shaped by uncertainty in the environment and how institutions reduce uncertainty. Its focus was mainly on the micro levels response to choices at the macro terrain. In 2006 I sought to show how factors shape that macro arena that firms respond to.
The second influencing source was trying to better explain the frustration African leaders face in following prescriptions by multilaterals. I had gone to the Southern African summit of the World Economic Forum as contribution to the Africa Competitiveness Report. The team, led by Jeffrey Sachs wanted to make the leaders sensitive to factors affecting the Competitiveness of their Economies. One of the questions asked by one of the Southern African leaders showed me clearly how important it was to move away from analysis of change for progress that was unicausal.
The outcome was a framework of interdependent sets of variables that I thought resulted in sustainable human progress.
These are policy choices, institutions, human capital, Entrepreneurship, culture and leadership. I doubt that progress is possible where we fail on most of these counts, but quite central is culture, because values shape human progress, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s Two Truths’ emphasize and the Harvard colloquium on it, illustrates. The pervasive impact of culture and institutions on progress are ultimately affected by how leaders set the tone of culture. Leadership failure, compounded by the problem of citizenship can be very easily seen as the reason the promise of Nigeria has dropped to the level of paradise deferred. Until people in power recognize that leadership is other – centered behavior and think less of self, beyond a place in history, we may continue to be challenged. Stephen R Covey does well to remind us of two dimensions that must be present for effectiveness in leadership, knowledge and a sense of service. If you look in Nigeria you generally find both knowledge and a sense of service severely in short supply in the class of typical power welders in Nigeria. Poor performance is therefore understandable. This is actually compounded by a progressively anti – intellectual disposition of the political actors.
Media and Nation Building
The Growth Drivers framework shows us that in advancing the quality of policy choice, moderating contending voices in a manner that result in boundaries that become institutions, the media advance the possibilities of progress because institutions, as Hernando De Soto persuasively argues in the mystery of capital, advance the material possibilities for man.
But where the narrative is one of impunity, as has been that of our recent history, our institution atrophy, and society’s progress remains putative, just potential.
Indeed the framework suggests to us the importance of human capital for growth and development yet if you look at how the media sets the agenda, Nigeria politics is decidedly anti-intellectual, often the extant narrative points Nigeria in a direction of uncompetitiveness.
With Entrepreneurship, you can see an increasing understanding of its importance. Yet the kinds of institutional frameworks that Rhagiram Rajan and Luigi Zingales promote in the book, Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists, have not received concerted push from the media.
The big Gorilla in the room here is culture. Values shape human progress. But we have witnessed a collapse of culture in Nigeria. The dominant ethos are of an entitlement mentality and instant gratification.
Also rife in the culture is corruption and abuse of position of authority for vendetta, ethnic and nepotistic motives and cronyism. All of these shoot progress in the foot. While media remains vibrant in Nigeria it has not systematically campaigned to end such elements of the collapse of culture.
In my experience the media is handicapped in this regard by low levels of professionalism, poor economics of its business model and the nature of its ownership.
The matter of professionalism, affected by the training of journalists, the ethics of practice and quality of the people that enter the profession as well as their sense of self worth and mission. The street wisdom, with all the talk of Brown envelopes, exaggerated as they may sometimes be, indicate low levels of professionalism.
Equally challenging is the economics of media. Many newspapers and Television stations run on models that do not allow for enough income for the right levels of investment to get the job done well. Late salaries, and limitation in resourcing tools of the trade, invariably result in poor performance. I tell the story of how a major American newspaper was following up on the Halliburton scandal in Nigeria and a reporter told me he was given a budget of $100,000.00 to nail Dick Cheney, the then Vice-President. I can only imagine of who could receive such a budget to close a story here.
This is part of the reason, besides tradition, from colonial times that we have governments owning media to ostensibly disseminate development information.
Ownership also interfaces with media orientation and content. In the country of the big man this is an even more troubling factor.
The foregoing helps our reflection on how media affects development. We are convinced that a media that plays its role right will be a driver of progress by helping build strong institutions.
Patrick Okedinachi Utomi
It is February 20 as I write. The day is deserving of note for more reasons than one of my children being born on that date. Indeed it is a day close to my heart because it is the World day of Social Justice set aside by the global community for us all to reflect on matters of poverty, unemployment and the tendency of a minority to hug for their use and abuse a greater portion of the treasures of the earth. But this year it is a day of great pain for me because as we in Nigeria manage the temperature and pressure of a heated elections campaign few have highlightened this day and fewer still have a clear strategy to reduce poverty in this land of plenty.
When society truly has a burden for a challenge facing it a determined leadership elite, properly prepared, invariably articulates a vision of a way out. Sometimes that pathway to the future may be utopian, and the dream is lost, sometimes it’s based on an ideology too dogmatic or bureaucratic that the path proves unrealistic and, at other times it is romantic and ignores realities of the nature of man. The one that achieves the desired objective is often rigorous, demanding disciplined but largely sensible. Such is the case with poverty alleviation in Nigeria. Now, these times of elections should be the time for seeking a sensible path to end poverty.
The single biggest issue in Nigeria today is poverty in a world of plenty. The elections of 2015 should really be about the scourge of poverty. Here incumbents can show what they have done to alleviate the conditions highligtened, with much consequences of shame for us, in the UNDP Human Development Report, the Legatum Reports, and the Mo Ibrahim Leadership Index. As incumbents show how on their watch they tried to change those conditions, contenders would need to unveil alternative visions of how those conditions can be changed for the better.
The truth about why this is important for the political campaign process is that it helps make people sensitive to how to act aright because the goal cannot be achieved if the citizenry do not flow with policy. Elections help create the right mindset that make reaching the point of the vision more feasible. A classic example is when we announce a programme to boost tourism and encourage foreign investors and I travel the day after through a major international airport in Nigeria. It is not hard to tell the initiative will fail because the frontline contact people are in a completely different universe; many quite able to make an investor or tourist turn back right from the airport.
Compared to an experience I had going back to 1984 on my first visit to Zimbabwe. I never forget the immigration officer looking at my passport and lighting up with a huge smile, as he said welcome to Zimbabwe, I am so glad you have come to spend some of that your Nigerian Oil Money here. Even though Zimbabwe suffered major relapse, that level of consciousness is required for the progress we need.
To overcome poverty politicians need to mobilize a broad constituency to the depths of their vision. As emphasis has gone to hate messaging in 2015 we lost the chance to do something big. I recall that the theme of my own 2007 Presidential campaign was: Nigerians have no reason being poor.
On this matter of combating poverty surely the burden must come partly from the need to do the much advertised diversification of the Nigerian economy away from Oil, which is an enclave sector that creates few jobs; educating and skilling up a generation for the new ways of creating value; and strategies for enhanced competitiveness, based on the comparative advantage of the economy and value chains from factor endowments of the country.
Such a revolution is beyond pushing models and theories of economic development. Success, as with all management triumphs, is driven by passionate commitment, clear strategy and knowledgeable engagement with the value proposition. This is not to say that policy thrust is irrelevant, but as I have often pointed to, a good read of Lee Kuan Yew and the Singapore story will show that as far as policy choice goes, there was hardly any policy Singapore turned to, including the much celebrated impactful forced savings, that Nigeria did not turn to. So how come the outcomes were so dramatically different? Difference was in leadership, culture and management orientation.
Having noted the importance of both the management factor and the political Will, one must still return to policy or strategy for alleviating poverty. In my contributions to the formulation of the manifesto of my political party, the preferred thrust rested on factor endowments and value chains; state interventions for social safety nets; and public works projects to stimulate economic activity and the use of clusters for production. Beyond this an over aching framework of peoples capitalism that inspires mass entrepreneurship with support of a programme that may require transforming the NYSC scheme into an Entrepreneurship Extension Service will determine the triumph over poverty.
I insist this economy can easily fund Free Primary education for every child with a free meal a day to go with it. The multipliers from such policy can easily be measured. In the flow of proof of concept an initial move that goes to plugging corruption loopholes, recovering stolen monies in the billions of dollars, will be channeled into public works programmes that will provide hundreds of thousands of jobs to the unemployed on the condition that it is a work study initiative in which they give two-thirds of their work/day to the public works programme employing them and the remaining third to acquiring new skills that will support the value chains to be developed from factor endowments.
In this regard, massive retraining of fresh graduates in the NYSC, equipping them with business development skills, to serve as Extension service agents working with artisans, mechanics, bakers and small business men and women to help put structure and growth leverages into the wheels of the ventures, is one way to go. Ultimately this should move them from the informal into the formal sector with much by way benefits to the development of the economy and job creation. But the heart of the direction of sustainable longer term growth would be in identifying endowments by geographic zones.
In that regard a critical review of information already available from work of the Raw Materials Research and Development Council, the Agriculture Economy of the 1960s and other sources, will identify the top two endowments of each zone of development in the country. My work in the South South, as chairman of the geopolitical zone’s economic summit, a few years ago, would place Rubber, Oil palm and Hydrocarbons as the Key endowments around which to seek global domination of the value chain from planting, through manufacturing of rubber, oil palm and hydrocarbons based products and derivatives; their place in markets all the way to supermarkets in United States suburban malls. This will include developing entrepreneurship strengths on aspects of the value chains as well as vocational skills that can meet global needs. Why does the Philippines dominate crewing of ship around the world; How come Egypt dominates a form of oil drilling work in the world? There lie the keys to investing in skill development and education around the value chains which can include Gum Aerobic and food processing for the Northwest; and sesame seeds for the North Central etc. Industrial clusters or Parks designed as nodes for new cities should be developed for each of the regional zones of development.
To get people to own such a strategy and work towards clearly set goals without developing an entitlement mentality should be the drives of Town Hall meetings.
Pat Utomi is a Political Economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship and founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership.
The hate speech is everywhere. They are coming from people you expect to be more responsible. The so called campaign adverts do more damage than the young people, on social media, who seem not to realize how Rwanda happened, even though one of them has generously been circulating a warning from the Sierra Leone experience authored by one Omar Bangura. Then there is Obasanjo in the broth. Quo Vadis Nigeria?
A quarter of a century ago I wrote a weekly column in this newspaper, The Vanguard. Its title was Thinking Aloud. And it appeared every Tuesday. That I find myself thinking aloud today shows, to use the title of a book by another Vanguard columnist of old, the late Pini Jason, that we are traveling A familiar Road. Sadly, this familiar road is looking like it is getting so much more dangerous we can reap more damage than the recursive economy we have erected from moving close to the brink ever so often and retreating from the edge of the cliff.
The bottom line in this effort at thinking aloud is to remind political actors of their duty to campaign and not stoke conflagaration and to remember accountability for the consequence of their conduct.
The Campaigns of 2015 have been more animated because the stakes are higher. For the first time in a long time there are equally matched Political Parties contesting the Presidency. Here tribute has to go to the Lion of Bourdillion, former Lagos State Governor. Bola Tinubu.
The building of a strong opposition has been central to my own engagement in partisan political life. After eight years of fairly intense engagement on the matter, I literally threw up my hands in frustration before Sen. Bola Tinubu. The former Lagos State Governor who had been in the process, decided it was time to get things done and he met with success. Instead of celebrating this success, the 2015 seems to have moved elections into the new moral equivalence of war. Insensitivity to what makes competitive electoral politics work for countries is now in danger of making this good thing of a two party dominant system a threat rather than opportunity for the well being of the Nigerian people. Blood is beginning not to seem to matter. But those of a certain faith know how Abel’s blood mattered.
When I spoke at the Leadership Newspapers annual lectures a few years ago on the subject of Political Opposition and Political Parties I made the point that the raising of contending perspectives on the issues in governing, with the benefit of the education of voters, was one of the great benefits of multi party democracy. Surely the people cannot learn and vote right, better, with the hauling of insults and digging up of old wounds, as they will if policies on diversification of the economy, job creation to deal with the scourge of unemployment; Corruption, which has clearly become a weapon of mass destruction, and how to better insure security of lives and property, are not more important than personal insults, religious and ethnic sentiments.
As frightening as the poisoning of the atmosphere in a way that raises spectres of violence, before, during and after the elections there is the question of how people think they can govern if there is so much bitterness between the actors. No one can govern effectively without the other, so democracies need to have a culture of moving on after elections with less sharp divisions between government and opposition, even when the useful tool of a shadow government exists. When the quarrels become personal and deeply bitter, as the kind of contention we are witnessing, has potential for, that cooperative engagement for nation building is denied society. Surely, the Nigerian people do not deserve such.
How come politicians, who have reached heights they may never have aspired to, but for opportunities that Nigeria provided, do not reflect enough on how these expressions of aggression and desperation can bring the whole house come tumbling down. How do not feel possible outcomes from such desperate games.
Casting my mind to how we managed to get to this stage I can see enough blame to parcel around. From the nature of political recruitment process, the material benefits to be made from politics, the poor education in history of politicians; a media not as alive as it should be to its social responsibility role; weak civil society and elders that have failed to be elders, all have blame as I do. The costs are already manifesting in economic decline, tense environment, escalating violence with amazing levels of loss of lives and lowered standing in the world, for Nigeria, if we read the foreign press on these elections.
How do you justify the vicious attack on the character of opponents. While both sides of the two leading parties could tone down on those kinds of personal broadsides, that amount to petrol and matchsticks in the minds of supporters, I must say that General Buhari has been the greater victim. In his media chat President Jonathan suggested he may not be in the know of hate messages flowing from people who act in his interest. He should make effort to find out. One civil servant in fact said to me that the awkwardness of desperation flowing from incumbents was because the fear of a clean audit of the system by a cleansing new government frightened many civil servants and politicians indulged in an orgy of corruption and impunity. In the old wisdom of Machiavelli, in The Prince: those who profit from an older order will do everything to prevent a new order from coming about; while those who could profit from the new order do not do enough to bring it about because man is incredulous in his nature, not wanting to try new things until they have witnessed experience of it.
I often dare to add that those who could profit from the new order are usually in the majority do not act in their interest, however, on this occasion I would point to the fact that where profit from the old order is criminal, as with the current pervasive corruption and impunity in the system, those who profit from the old order are more likely to be most desperate. The problem with such desperation is that it is enormously short sighted to let personal desperation bring a country to ruin, because in the end even if they temporally uphold the old order, the people ultimately get desperate enough from the weight of injustice that the House falls, in their uprising for justice. Like in Liberia and Somalia or Rwanda, they trade their private jets and fancy cars for refugee camps or police cells, awaiting transfer to the international criminal court, whereas only a few could have been used as example if the new order had been allowed to arrive.
But it is telling of how much rot we have all allowed the system to degenerate into that people who have the sacred trust of agents superintending the Commonwealth are so scared that a cleansing new order might come about.
This is why a premium part of my prescription is that no matter the outcome of the elections, a primary duty would have to involve a reform of the rewards of public life, recruitment into political parties and positions in public office and citizen monitoring of public management.
The rewards of power in Nigeria are quite unhealthy for good governance. We must push for a political culture that emphasizes the simple life for people in power. Beside humanizing power, which is important for democracy, as different from the current distance and disconnect of the public office holder in Nigeria, it makes having office so alluring that pursuit of it, becomes the favorite chase of scoundrels, rather than people who can give service. We need to get rid of motorcades, dramatically reduce or get rid of the presidential fleet, or government jets, prosecute public officers who avoid commercial flights, except in attenuating circumstances, and charter jet aircraft for local travel. We should also bring security votes under some oversight, and limit discretion in deployment of public resources.
Presently political parties across the board disappoint on how they recruit and select candidates. If character were a premium we will have limits to the swings in loyalty. In the main it remains about cash, not competence, commitment, credibility and a passion for service, with only occasional exceptions from the rule.
Unfortunately, as I feared, the postponement of the elections, no matter the truth of the motivation for such a shift, has only intensified this sense of desperation. The emotions boiling in people for and against one candidate or the other has converted the radio phone in show into a stream of venomous outpouring of hate talk. If they only knew it was how the chant ‘cut down the tall trees’ took hold in Rwanda and exposed man’s bestiality in the golden glow of sad sunshine. We must, as we say in Nigeria, exclaim: it is not our portion. But ejaculatory prayer is not enough. We must work and pray. And to work here begins with politicians speaking prudently; elders acting wisely, and cautioning moderation, and the media and civil society getting politicians to focus on the issues while INEC forces a pulling off of messages that smear others. Then there is Obasanjo.
May God give General Obasanjo temperance of nature and as an elder wisdom to make what point he thinks is useful, with learning from the Clintons on Bushes who seldom speak on the extant order and are therefore not subjected to rain of insults I hear pouring down in torrents on a father of the nation, from people as young as not to have been born when Abacha held him in the Nigerian Gulag.
As we act and pray, I trust that Nigeria will rise up again, like the phoenix from this low point it has fallen, because the cost is high. The Business class seats on major commercial airlines into Lagos had dropped so low a friend on a well known flight from London had only three others sharing the cabin, the stock market fell eight percent in the week following the postponement of the elections and was ranking with Ukraine as among the most challenged in the world. Desperate politicians hardly think economic costs to the people.
In many democracies in the world that I know many office holders and Leader Wannabes would rather bow out with grace than let their country suffer such for the sake of their ambition. For some reason love for country in Nigeria is still at such low stock that many who lead us would rather our stock crash than their fortunes.
We must keep hope alive but the truth is that the polity is sick, the economy is unwell and I am not feeling quite so good myself. So let the deliverance ministry go to work. We need dry bones to rise and walk.
P.S The forgoing lines were written before General Olusegun Obasanjo’s dramatic tearing up of his PDP membership card. While that is within the rights of the individual in freedom of expression I hasten to plead that elders have a duty to calm tempers and not pour kerosene on troubled waters. For some time I have been ‘harassing’ the elders I am friendly with, General Gowon, Gen TY Danjuma, General Ibrahim Babangida, General Aliyu Gusau and others that they must speak caution and peace to the land so history not treat us as some have unfortunately had to be treated as I look at the Middle East, Somalia, Libya, and elsewhere, even as the world looks to an age of progress. I have done it so often that some of these elders jokingly or seriously begin to warn me as I come towards them. February 16 was a cause of great fright for me. I hope now that people who failed to understand why I once suggested the incumbent should gracefully step away to save the country these kinds of moments will understand. Add to the events of Abeokuta the frenzy of support for General Buhari in Maiduguri that was of such a pitch he could not even stay on at the rally as a change desperate people poured out their hearts. Our country is polarized we need the calming balm of statesmen.
Listening to radio call-in shows and hearing the passions for and against I begin to fear that the politicians need to read the Omar Bangura piece and begin to educate all that the key to the future is for all to be inside the house pissing out, than for some to be outside the house pissing in. Veritable words from Lyndon Baines Johnson, the former US president, which the Malaysians adopted as Mantra for their vision 2020 process.
Again I like to recall comments I made at lecture to mark the 60th birthday of Pastor Wale Adefarasin, a few years ago. Ironically the speakers were the now APC V-P nominee, Prof Yemi Osinbajo and myself. I gave examples from Liberia and Somalia of elite of Somalia and Liberia and what they, were reduced to in refugee camps and Osinbajo who served on an assignment in Somalia cited an example he witnessed. The key is for all to remember that Nigeria, and the future of our children come bigger than all our egos. So let them arm themselves with Olive branches and know that to allow a country like this become a version of Dante’s inferno, the hottest part of hell will be like deep freeze, compared to what they reap as against the path of immortality, in erecting peace but encouraged violence.
Pat Utomi, Political Economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship and founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership was a Vanguard columnist in the 1980’s.
A William Adams quote has recently gone viral. It reminds that: ‘There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people’.
The evidence of how true this is can be seen from the show of military strength the morning after the announcement of the postponement of the 2015 elections. They went on exercise demonstrations which I witnessed on the streets of Lagos as I am told was the case in many cities around the country. The troops needed in the North East to wipe out Boko Haram in Six weeks, after five years of unsuccessful effort were somehow available to intimidate some ‘to intimidate bloody civilians’, in the view of some people.
The truth was, I enjoyed watching the street exercise. From childhood one of my favorite spectacles has been watching soldier in drills. If it was possible for me to join the Army, two magic moments could have been the lure; watching Gen. Ike Nwachukwu, then a younger officer, at the 1970 Independence Day Parade, and the late Gen. Joseph Nanven Garba as a young Brigade of guards Commander were for me greater than watching a pop star. The purpose may have been to alert any potential protesters, after the postponement, that a mighty force lurks to respond, but for me, it was a nice pleasant throw back to an excitable childhood and early teens when a civil war raged and I saw soldiers both at the war front and in the rear, at Ibadan, after I resumed schooling there. This was as the soldiers were put to Rapid Result Truck Driving lessons at the Ibadan Garrison Organization which I remembered more for its nice band, than with thoughts of War.
But talk about the street spectacles the day after the postponement of the elections got me thinking about how dutiful citizens unwittingly became so called enemies of the state. Having looked up at guns pointed at me, several time in the course of my life, by agents of the state, it seemed appropriate to reflect on how the state in search of real and imagined enemies, manages to make nation building more challenging.
First time a gun was pointed at me, execution style, was in a time of war. Had the trigger been pulled it would have qualified for war crimes, but no such trial could have taken place. Those who shot many in cold blood got away with it, a year earlier. It was at Asaba in 1968. Thousands of men had been lined up already and executed as the chanted ONE NIGERIA, a few months before. On this occasion, as a bunch of 12 to 15 year olds were being separated from the women and lined up, an officer showed up, and as the drama goes, slapped the NCO who was lining us up and ordered us moved to the refugee camp, from where a friend of my father, who was the Battalion Commander, ensured that I headed to Lagos where my father was and then to school in Ibadan where we actually were rather oblivious of a civil war taking place two hundred miles away.
Next time I looked at a gun threatening me, was as leading executive of a multinational company, I had joined a group of professionals to protest the annulments of the results of the 1993 Presidential elections.
If we excused that experience as an excess of military rule, the third time could not be so excused. That one followed the removal of so called petroleum subsidy in 2012. I thought something was wrong with pretending that what petrol was all about cost subsidy. I had on several occasions challenged friends in downstream petroleum marketing that it was peculiar that in a margin-thin business that forced strategic thinking in which industry orthodoxy now recognized that to make money you take advantage of the traffic driven by the need for petrol to sell Groceries, hence Mobil’s Minimart, Total’s Bonjour, etc; that people assume that being a petrol retailer was presumed to be the installation of a money mint. I had a moral burden to make the point that what was called petrol subsidy was significantly a combination of corruption and inefficiency costs. I did not hesitate to answer the call of some young professionals to come out and demonstrate. Then the civilian government sent in troops armed to the teeth to stop a group of unarmed, as some say, Champagne drinking middle and Upper Middle Class people at occupy Falomo who just wanted their voices heard on how their country was being run, a group that at a point included some high court judges, retired and serving. For the third time in my life uniformed agents of the state pointed a gun at my face and looked quite determined to pull the trigger. The people had become the enemies of the state, in the William Adams context.
My hope and my prayer is let the people not be the enemy again. The cost of the people as the enemy for Nigeria has always been high. And this is beyond financial costs. If the nation building goal and the Common Good are kept in view it must be obvious that all being able to put hands on deck, in a cooperative way, will advance good, more quickly.
Lyndon Baines Johnson, President of the United States in the 1960’s put it in a way only a Texan could: It is better for all to be inside the house, pissing out, than outside the house pissing in. This mantra was picked up by the Malaysians as its Prime Minister back in the late 1980’s; Mahathir Mohammed chased a vision 2020. The visioning process in Malaysia was about consensus forging to get most into the house so the pissing is majority outbound. The limited skill of Nigerian politicians for pulling towards consensus seems for some reason to be poor. The quarrels became personal, rather than on issues and competing prisms through which reality is filtered.
If leadership is to show sagacity in Nigeria, job no 1 has to be diffusing the time bomb of division. So far the moment has given us the most divided Nigeria has ever been in my opinion, on ethnic, religious, ideological, regional and partisan lines. Conversation does not seem civil anymore. Examples of how Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe would go campaigning for his Party and Chief H O Davies will be doing same on the opposing side and, in the evening, one will drive to the others home, and pick them up to go and have a game of Tennis and a drink after. How did we lose that ethic? I still recall stories by Alhaji Maitama Sule about being scolded as a young MP and Minister, for not going across the Aisle to ‘greet’ more like pay homage, to the opposition leader Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and older person deserving of his respect as a result.
We owe it to both the promise of Nigeria and the future of our children to stop inventing enemies of the state and to provide a climate for culture of building bridges that grace the path to the Nigerian melting pot. There may be competing models of a modus Vivendi in Nigeria; from those who take federalism so far it is almost a Bhantustanisation of Nigeria, to those who want a restoration of the federalism of the 1960’s on the one hand; to those who prefer a strong centre, on the other hand; no matter the shade bridges matter. It is these bridges that should be the focus, and not making enemies of the many citizens whose main desire is to see a state they can be cheerleaders for.
Thank God INEC had the wisdom to pick Valentine’s Day for the original date of the Presidential election. Perhaps we can reflect on the true meaning of love for to lead is to love and love a people is to be willing to sacrifice self for the good of all. To make the people the enemy is not to love them.
Pat Utomi, Political Economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership.
And the elections were postponed. Ghosts of the predicted came alive. The usual culprits were willing tools; elements in the military, political leaders who abused the commonwealth and traditional apologists who profit from abusive public authority. What was more ridiculous than the lack of Grace of bringing a people to ridicule in the eyes of the world that will wonder how those Nigerians cannot organize something as routine as an election, was the way people went about justifying the shift in date.
I watched Sunrise Daily on Channels television the Monday after and found Lagos PDP Chairman Tunde Shelle struggling to stretch imagination in response to questions relating to the postponement. He summed up the loss of a sense of shame in Nigeria when he was asked what he would do if as Commander-in-Chief, his officials in charge of security came to him barely hours before elections and told him they could not guarantee security during elections. Shelle concentrated on lampooning, INEC, Suggesting that for love of voters and ensuring no one was denied the opportunity to vote he would move the elections for six months and even much longer, if necessary.
A number of fears I had, which I had tweeted the night before were crystallizing in concrete from Shelle’s answers. The first was that INEC, far from being Independent had been pushed into postponing elections it had indicated it was ready for. Second, it was clearly part of the goal of PDP leadership he was part of, to upset INEC Chairman Attahiru Jega enough to make him, as an honorable man, choose to throw in the towel. His resignation would be manna from heaven for them to declare Force Majeure and cancel the elections, primarily because they are far from believing in Democracy but simply see the democratic process as a useful vehicle to acquire power and use the state for their other intentions. Three, that they have enough contempt for the people that their protests against shift of date not withstanding, an election in which the signals pointed to an electorate so fed up with the extant order was targeted to be thwarted. The indications were they would vote anything but the current order so whatever would avert a looming will of the people, even if it damaged our institutions and burdened several generations with the consequence of failed electoral institutions, seemed fair game to fracture.
Four; and very importantly, six weeks is only a first go, and that the prize was high enough to either topple the democracy’ of this moment rather than lose power after 16 years of the feast of the locust, or keep power at any cost.
I have tried hard to have an open mind about what may be the justification for the aborting of the pledged election dates but find most of those offered hard to think of as logical and often as quite spurious.
They say the main issue is security. Poor Professor Jega not being a security man throws his hands up in the air. But how logical is it that threats you have not contained in more than five years can suddenly become amendable in six weeks because you need to have elections. If that is likely then those who have not dealt with it for so many years must face consequences for dereliction of duty.
There are those who also ask the question; how come previous elections took place in Niger Delta States when an insurgency was located there; and how come the political parties have been able to campaign in some of those states in question in the North East.
When held down on the security score, they turn to the challenge of PVC distribution. I am amazed these people have the kind of conscience they lacked in previous elections. If the President had asked for advice from me six months ago I could have told him how to be a hero. Avoid contesting these elections. But we know from Machiavelli that those who profit from an old order will do anything to prevent a new order from coming about. So those who parasite on the Nigerian state around him, goaded him on to the point of fouling up his place in history. Decency, because it was said privately, prevents me from mentioning something he said to me, in the presence of one other person six years ago which made me certain he would not fall into this trap. But we are back to 1993 and 1997. Back then our conscience led us to the founding of the Concerned Professionals and a long drawn struggle for democracy. I did not know it would happen again in my lifetime. But man proposes, not sure now who disposes, but this does not look like God.
It is amazing that this plausible, but not thought too incredible to play track, has become reality, throwing up amazing dilemmas. Clearly they want to abort this democracy. So, why, someone asked, should someone like me who talks about the error of 1999 and the error of how the wrong people entered the political process because many true leaders did not take the departure of the Army seriously, not celebrating an opportunity to end it. Having entered the system, at a time of high oil rent, with little accounting, and pillaged the commonwealth, they used that to erect barriers of entry in which money, and not capacity or sense of service, determined the path of politics, an objectionable system emerged, I have indeed argued. So why would I not be thankful, that no matter the motives of those who are trying to sabotage this flawed Civilian regime, an opportunity to begin again may be the result of their effort.
The question is how far back do we go each time in this recursive evolution. I have worked so hard to move Nigeria close to where Ghana reached some years ago, where confidence is established with the system as incumbents are replaced by opposition, and back, in election cycles. To always start afresh when allowing the will of the people to adjust, past errors, is possible. For all one cares, electing anyone but an incumbent, as happened when I lived in the US in 1980, anyone but Carter (ABC) can lead to something less attractive, but it allows the rejected to clean up their act and possibly return in the next round, the better leaders. For the Americans, depending on your prism the 1980 election of President Ronald Reagan resulted in the renewal of the American spirit.
But what can we learn from this thing that is repeating itself, one more time, in my lifetime. Why is the desire for power so consuming and make people lose sight of the damage they do to their country when these unsavory power grab games are played.
You wonder do these people see the Al Gores who walk away from election outcomes they could have contested, when they diminish their country after so many years in power. The incumbent vice-President with a majority of the popular vote and a questionable Florida count that affected the electoral college, walked quietly.
I believe a number of things are important to save us all this global humiliation. First we must make power so much less attractive that only people of capacity, chasing a place in history, should be attracted to the arena. This should mean stripping public office of the excesses of use public resources, the trappings of prestige, and the extent of discretion available to public office holders. It must also mean building up civil society to be strong in holding power accountable.
To make civil society a tool for institution building in reducing the motivation for desperation to hold onto power, it should have training on how to test the truth of claims by incumbents. Were such available to the despicable lies about accomplishments of incumbents during the on-going campaigns would be put through a truth-o-meter which can lead to more care in claims. Watching the campaign adverts one would think Nigeria was one Eldorado in which all were cheering for more of what we have, something quite different from what the Legatum Reports suggests is one of the most miserable places to be born on earth and in which I have been getting less than four hours of public power a day for quite a while. But the media and the civil society continue to disappoint. As I write I am receiving calls on what civil society is being compromised with in Wadata House headquarters of the PDP.
I just have trouble understanding how we seem to be able to live with this world of justifying the lie.
Pat Utomi, Political Economist, and Social Entrepreneur is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership
I got a birthday present recently. It was both unique and peculiar on one hand, but on the other, was dejavu, journey down a familiar road. In its essence it showed how a mute conspiracy crushes free speech in Nigeria more ferociously than terrorists killing editors of Charlie Hebdo, yet no one says Je suis Nigerienne. What makes it even more sad is that the conspirators in the Nigerian case are not misguided anarchists like the terrorists, but do include corporate Nigeria, supposedly enlightened government officials and educated bureaucrats. Even institutions and multilaterals seem to be sucked into this conspiracy, sometimes unwittingly.
The gift came from a call from the World Bank, a leader from which a keynote address was to come at the annual meeting of the Center for Values in Leadership (CVL) the annual lecture. Hours after receipt of the presentation and conclusion of travel and hotel arrangements for the World Bank Representative an apology call came. The problem was politics. Even though the organizer was an NGO and that the lecture from 2014 was given by the Minister of Agriculture to the acclaim of thousands of viewers in halls across the country, with Google hangouts and live television coverage. Then there was nothing political to it. But a week before the 2015 lecture, staying with the same theme of leadership and poverty but, this time, with emphasis on the ultra-poor, I had written a reaction to a debate stirred by former Central Bank of Nigeria Governor Chukwuma Soludo who had problems with how the economy was being managed. Even though World Bank Insiders were kind enough to say my Intervention was balanced and thoughtful, it was enough to be political that I mentioned I was a card carrying member of the APC.
My experience suggests that if I had said I was a card carrying member of the P DP there would be no consequence. The bottom line is that this CVL lecture, held on my birthday, was okay as long as it was about cheerleading the party in power. It was not the first time the annual programme was experiencing this manner of subtle gagging. Add that to my experience producing Patito’s Gang and reactions to my business and economic interests from column writing, and you see a pattern of threatening free speech.
A few years ago CVL established a partnership with the Nigerian Institute for International Affairs for the purpose of these annual lectures aimed at setting agenda for confronting a social challenge and providing Young professionals who are leader wannabes on where and how to develop a sense of service. When Professor Joy Ogwu who established the partnership moved on, the new Director-General was advised that I had become politically active and so it would be inappropriate to hold those colloquiums at the NIIA. Another D-G would reverse that a few years later but those kinds of experiences are symptomatic of an assault on a fundamental human right, and a major key to democratic society and human advance from freedom of expression.
The mortgage of free speech is best seen in the Patito’s Gang story which shows how corporate Nigeria, the powerful who profit from the extant order, and public officials who hate to account to stakeholders, detest freedom of expression. The extent of the hypocrisy and quiet conspiracy against voices not cheering of the current order first struck me early in life of Patito’s Gang in 2000.
A good friend who was Chief Executive of a bank called to express his excitement at both the production quality and content. When I saw how pleased he was with it I told him we would be looking forward to advertising support from the bank. He was honest enough and gracious enough to observe that the programme made more than fair effort to speak truth to power and that meant power could see advertisement from a company as supporting discomfiture for power. He would therefore rather that we let him know any day we would discuss sports. He was prepared to pay twice as much for such an episode. The outcome was that for more than a decade a good part of my personal income amounting to tens of millions of Naira, a year, went into producing episodes of the TV series and paying multiple networks to air the episodes. Nigeria has a peculiar TV broadcast model where content poor stations instead of paying producers for content, charge them for airing the show.
At some point, a good #450 million, mainly income from my consulting and corporate Governance role incomes had gone in there.
All the traditional reasons for advertising platforms such as reach, passion of the viewers, etc seemed not to matter. But I deliberately decided to deny myself much to keep the programme on air as it clearly advanced the common good.
To be sure that it was not set up as opposition to power, efforts were made to ensure a spectrum of opinion, for and against, were available on the show. The only requirement was uninhibited free speech that did not label or scandalize anyone but sort to hold power accountable by brining sunlight into the public choice process.
At the risk of becoming bankrupt I stopped the production of Patito’s Gang after more than 500 episodes in ten and half years. The whys were so loud that 9 months later I resumed production. This I was determined not to pay for airtime after spend so much in producing the show. If the outflows from my pocket were the only source of assault in free speech. I experienced, it would not be so bad. Many times executives of parastatals that I offered professional services as a management consultant would rather say they could not keep our services because someone on Patito’s Gang spoke critically about the government, or delay our due payments for months if not years to frustrate us. For a good quarter century I have struggled to step aside being economic hostage with business interests threatened because of commitment to free speech and refusal to be bought into silence. It cannot continue.
How does a country make progress that will reduce poverty if even the mare modest voices are found so offensive that the only voices are those of power and those determined to fight power on reasoned or unreasonable terms.
What has emerged in Nigeria is a new dangerous mercantilism in which business interests in collaboration with partners in power act to squelch thought.
To save Nigeria, it is important to strip the veil on this persistent but subtle war against free speech in Nigeria which pushes people who question the order as unjust, turn insurgency.
Pat Utomi, Political Economist and Professor of entrepreneurship, founder of the Center for Values in Leadership