AND A CONFAB HELD - Pat Utomi

Those who convened it are celebrating that it did not collapse. Some think it achieved a few things of constitution making value. But very few think it was of any seminal value. Was the confab a waste, and if so why did it not live up the billing?

As with many things Nigerian, the truth is far more complex than is canvassed on the major sides of the cleavages generated on the subject. But discussing Nigeria, its troubles and failure to claim its promise, has become too frustrating for people whose primary goal is truth, because many who seek to advance a specific perspective, either to capture power, or wealth or to ingratiate themselves to power. are in full array, stalking those who do not praise sing their point of view, After years of striving to encourage an understanding of a culture of a market place of ideas that pay little attention to persons but to issues and options of choices on the issues I sometimes feel like not bothering. Still the nature of the stakes for a conclave such as the National conference, make a review of such a conference an imperative of being.

Let me begin with a caveat about the idea of a national conference. There are those who have opposed a national conference, seeing such as an invitation to break up Nigeria, while others have insisted that a national conference is imperative if Nigeria is not to fall apart in 2014. This is partly why some celebrate the conference having avoided a deadlock. I have always argued that talk is good, whether it be cheap or not. Sure action is better than talk but few actions come without talk. Action is the trail and tail of talk.

I actually promoted a ‘private national conference’ during the Abacha era. Serving as chairman of the planning committee of a conference hatched in collaboration with the then Secretary – General of the Catholic Bishops Conference, The Reverend Mathew Hassan Kukah, and Rev. Father George Ehusani and others we convened leaders of thought from across the breath of the country at St Leo’s Catholic Church in Ikeja and raised the big question – Quo Vadis Nigeria.

When in January 2012 the Nigerian summit group convened a summit to discuss prospects of a National conference, I was not only the convener of the summit but also the moderator of the summit discussion. I was therefore not opposed to a national conference yet I declared publicly that the conference, was likely to be a farce shortly after it was convened.

I actually started to convene on alternative conference networking with some key stakeholders like youth groups, the Bar Associations and professional groupings but had to slow down on that plan not to be misunderstood. I still believe such an addendum conference is necessary.

My trouble with the conference is in both the framing of the key questions, the constituting of the participants and the consequences of the incentive frame for the key issues of values and institution building.

Niall Ferguson in his robust excursion, in the book; Civilization. The West and Rest, the framing of the 1787 constitution of the United States of America is perhaps the most impressive project of institution building in history. I share in the positive hype of that effort and feel that its gain for the prosperity and stability the US enjoys today cannot be understated. What is lost in referring to that document is that beyond structure, it deals with fundamental values of the American essence. Our conference fails in not emphasizing enough the issues of values over structures and consideration of fiscal issues of monetary transfers to levels of government.

In many ways the emphasis of the conference in sharing and fiscal administration, the essence of the Richard Josephian Bureaucratic Prebendalism is a function of the kind of people who went to the conference. They were predominantly beneficiaries of a rent-seeking elite paradigm whose sense of self has been shaped by an entitlement mentality to economic rent.

This stock of membership of the conference, deliberately or inadvertently, focused on yesterday and the wounds of previous association rather than on the benefits from future engagement. The result is that we missed the point that the biggest challenge to progress for Nigeria is a collapse of culture and a consequent perception of Nigeria’s national character as a people of low integrity and low trust, quickly inclined to corruption and low rigor in public choice.

Being one active on the international conference circuit, I have heard it so frequently stated in subtlety and with glover off, that Nigeria is a country self-deceit which has lost its strategic relevance in Africa which you could not enter 30 years ago without seeking to know how it would react but which today does not really matter.

These views flow from both a sense for how little Nigeria realizes that oil that gave her a voice a generation ago, is of rapidly declining value and that it had failed to palley what it had in the past into a cache of soft power.

I had hoped that a conference which would include more of those who would run that future should have focused on the values that can win the future. Unfortunately the average age at the conference was closer to 70 than the 35 I had hoped for. The issue was not so much the chronological age of the confab membership but, to paraphrase a retort from one American presidential election, the age of the ideas of the people there, and the antecedents of their values.

More painful, for me is that the conference reinforces an increasing setting view that the Nigerian people are increasingly hostage to a political class so consumed in self-interest and self-love that the future of their own grandchildren, and of Nigeria matters little.

I listened to arguments that suggested the expense of nearly 17 billion Naira to offer comfort to a few invited to the conference at a time when such money, wisely applied, can show millions of people, a way past misery that dominates the Nigerian way, was about how to buy more time for those in power to do with the common wealth as it pleased them. That perspective is gaining more legitimacy by the day. Whether I agree with that or not it is part of the reality to consider and our history makes it difficult with certitude.

Where it is today, it would seem, the Nigerian people who have been in powerless in the face of political class that seized space in the error of 1998, as Abdulsalam Abubakar beat a hasty retreat, leaving a system without proper checks and allowing politicians pillage the state and amass fortunes that they have used to block entry into the space for citizens interested in progress.

One of the major national challenges of now which is a critical part of culture and the essence of national character but which the conference failed to engage is the colour of justice in Nigeria. Today when I see a person being tried or sent to jail in Nigeria I presume him or her to be an innocent who stepped on powerful toes and the prosecutors as the truly guilty, until further information orients me differently. Yet this is so fundamental a subject for the sense of society.

Speaking before the Nigerian Bar Association on several occasions I have lamented the embourgeoisement of the legal profession in which the commoditization of justice make lawyers think of the process as a game of money making in which “justice” goes to the highest bidder.  So lawyers collaborate with politicians to rob voters of their choice at elections and open society to extra constitutional search for solutions with a coming anarchy as its “gift”. Far from lawyers in Pakistan protesting for justice on the streets, Nigeria Lawyers are acquiescing to injustice in their air conditional SUV’s. It leaves Nigerian civil society with one option of appealing to the international community that it must help if the Nigerian people are to reconstruct national character with values that make us contributors rather than potential burdens on the global community.

One way that has been proposed is to make impunity and economic crimes by leaders anywhere and everywhere crimes against all of humanity. If people realize they are likely to go from Aso Rock or Cabinet positions in Abuja and gubernatorial chairs to trials at the Haque and a lifetime in jail, there may begin to emerge a new discipline in service that will better address the national character issues that the national conference failed to address.

Then there is the other fact that with conferences of this nature the process is far more important than the outcome. This is why the alternative plan I have offered would have two level conference. One would be at geopolitical zone level involving a spread of generations with people under 40 constituting 70 percent of participants. And we do not have to pay them any generous allowances. Delegations made up of 5% of participants from the geopolitical zones at a new mix of 60:40 in favor of those under 40 will meet at the Centre to focus more on the future and on values at the heart of national character than on how revenues are shared. If the emphasis is on how to create wealth, increase a merit order, care for the weak and build national pride we can hope for a nation we of the promise of the independence fathers.

Pat Utomi, Political Economist and Professor of entrepreneurship is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership.

IS CIVIL SOCIETY TO BLAME - Pat Utomi

The failure, so far, to achieve the promise of Nigeria, the fractured and fragmented nature of Nigerian society and polity; and the leadership lacuna in Africa as a result of Nigeria’s declining strategy value, has been blamed on many things. Not often cited, yet determinedly central to all of this is civil society. How and why did Nigerian civil society, once so vibrant, go into snooze control while others swung to cruise control?

How did civil society which crystalized in colonial times as social networking resulted in horizontal linkages for the purpose of keeping power accountable and raising the voice of the voiceless. Labour unions got in on the act of protesting colonial dominations, as did women’s groups best known of which were the Aba women’s riots, and the work of Margaret Ekpo and Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti among others; and the community development associations, too. More recently than those roots in the colonial era, civil society was key to the military deciding that the cost of holding on to power was far too much, resulting in the hasty retreat in 1998.

So how come that civil society is watching politicians fixated on power polarize society so much. Why is that some society unable to be a strong enough embankment on the assault of poverty on the dignity of most Nigerians; and why has the work of that civil society not put doubts in people’s minds about ethnicity as a paramount basis of choice when other values could better shape the so called David Eastonian ‘’authoritative allocation of values’’ in Nigeria.

So much surely, has been taken away from what Nigeria could be, knowing that values shape human progress, if civil society has been enough pressure point to make the arena of choice one in which the right values determine both those who make decisions and the right values being at the core of the decisions. It is therefore not acceptable anymore that civil society continue to play Pontius Pilate in accusing politicians and the Private sector of all kinds for how Nigeria fails to claim its promise.

Let us take a few of the examples where strong civil society could have helped contain the conducts that are debilitive of progress. One prime area is the insurgency in the North East. But before that let us turn to an ever present issue of the nature of the market place of ideas, so central to effective working of democracy.

One of the areas civil society could have been of historic value is in checking abuse of the public square.

There is so much untruth being poured out through both traditional media and social media at citizens not equipped to appropriately interrogate material in the public space and find meaning.

Whether it be on TV or social media surrogates and avatars for entrepreneurs of power across parties and levels of government are posting accomplishments that range from outright lies to myths being reified into concrete form. They are also promoting ideas that divide rather than unite people and even more frightening they are promoting a new mercantilism in which rent champions masquerading as entrepreneurs are forging coalitions with politicians to exploit the people and create a new servitude citizenship.

Much of these have ominous consequences for the future yet no source of wisdom is interpreting these times to the less well equipped in a country without contending Think Tanks. This should be the domain of civil society, But that space is sparsely populated today.

When 21 years ago a group of us responded to national crises and founded The Concerned Professionals, we gave new voice to the enlightened and helped part of society less well equipped an alternative prism through which the world of that time could be seen different from the fabricated reality offered by those who sought to manipulate people so they could have power to use as it pleased them, away from the common good.

Nigeria has never more needed such civil society as it does today. But where are the professionals or the Bar Association for that matter. I have said as often as Lawyers invite me that one of the biggest threats to the rule of law in Nigeria is the embourgeoisement of Lawyers. Justice seems to be a distant second place to money in the motivation of today’s lawyer in Nigeria.

Then there is the big problem of poverty, crime and insurgency activities associated with the desperate poor and this looming anarchy. Could civil society not have pressured policymakers earlier to watch the pattern of income creation and distribution?

Not having built up consistent and sustainable civil society has brought great harm to our democracy, making it less responsive to the needs of the people and accountable.

As German Chancellor Angela Merkel said recently of Russia one of its greatest to make democracy work for it is the building up of civil society.

There is ample evidence that the Worlds thriving industrial democacies tend to have more vibrant civil society. Our experience of recent provides lots of examples of how poop civil society frustrates pursuit of the promise of Nigeria.

The examples are legion but it seem the pertinent question is how do we give new impetus to civil society and social enterprise. I founded the Centre for Values in Leadership partly for this reason and I am searching still for ways to celebrate men and women who seek to change the world through social enterprise.

I find that age, education and exposure matter in the pursuit of social causes. It is not accidental the adage says if at 18 you are not a Marxist, something is wrong with your heart but if at 40 you are still a Marxist, something is wrong with your head. Youth is the age of idealism. This is why the decline of the student movement and the domination of campus politics by Prado driving students bankrolled by politicians highlight our decline. In my time as an executive of the students union at the University of Nigeria it was unheard of that political actors influenced us.

Pat Utomi, Political Economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship is Founder of CVL.

EDUCATION BUILT TO LAST

Many years ago I was in Germany for the wedding of a German colleague. Impressed by the church building which looked like it was rooted in antiquity I exclaimed; ‘remarkable old edifice’.

A German standing beside me informed me politely but just matter-of-factly: this church is not so old. It is only about 800 years old.

Seeing that my own Parish church in Lagos built about 1959 was being knocked down to be rebuilt, I began to approach him strangely. He then quickly added there were churches more than a thousand years old not too far away.

Those who built Loyola College in Ibadan some sixty years ago thought they were building an institution and turning boys into men prepared; in know ledge, wisdom and character to last forever. Yes men can last forever, what I have referred to in the past as the two, immortalities:- material and spiritual. In the material sphere, to touch lives and make a difference such that the person is remembered long after his body has become pure dust. Spiritual immortality comes for people of faith who get to see God face to face. But as Loyola College marks 60 years does today look better than yesterday, which is what must happen to everything designed to last.

St Ignatius of Loyola and Partners founded the Jesuits order, which has been described by one Jesuit as the 400 year old company that changed the world through being masters of education. Chris Lowney’s book show cases leadership lessons from the Jesuit tradition. Perhaps these lessons led the society of African Missions to set up Loyola College in Ibadan as tribute to St Ignatius of Loyola.

The SMA priests managed to set high standards. Back in the 1960s Loyola College was nicely referred to as Junior Varsity and back in those days when the Ashby Commission suggested it was easier to get into the Harvard than the University of Ibadan, almost entire classes from Loyola got into the College of medicine at the University of Ibadan.

Then suddenly populism came. I used to enjoy high banter with the late Chief Bola Ige in which I accused his Government of degrading my alma mater. When a group of us old boys including then Director General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Apostle Hayford Alile, then Vitafoam MD Chief Sam Bolarinde visited for a home coming back in the 1980’s Apostle Alile’s son was puzzled that his father could have schooled in such an environment.

Yet it was an environment in which many of us had a time of our lives. In those days of the civil war, we the boys from the Midwest enjoyed the freedom our war front home state lacked. From the big boys like Tonnie Iredia and Emmanuel Idehen and the deep war front people like Chris Ogbechie, Edmund Egbumokhai, Charles Ugorji, Joe Keshi yes this same Ambassador Keshi and serious troublemakers like myself it was a family. Even the Etomis who kept getting my messages later in life because many cannot tell between E and U added to the fun of Junior Varsity days.

Will the old boys return, like Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Loyola. It has to begin with Government letting go. Returning the management of the school to its original owners will aid the process of getting the old boys to live the pledge in their anthem

Loyola Loyola the Best in Everyway

Loyola Loyola will always win the day

We are students from a college that is in Ibadan town

And we have promised not to

Let that College down.

It stands for truth and Knowledge

And it stands for wisdom

Too………

A promise not to let the College down and a promise to match in truth must be a promise to arise, go forward and rebuild the walls of Loyola College so that another generation can enjoy the disciplined, quality education we got back then.

It used to be tradition that families who sent children to schools with great tradition ensured generations stayed faithful. In our time we had the Etomis, Runsewes, Ogunlesis, Adetibas across generations. But how many of us have had our children return. My own children turned to the new Loyola built in Abuja by the Jesuits. But our grandchildren can return if the government collaborates with the Catholic Church and the old boys for a Loyola restoration project.

I hope my dear friend, the Governor of Oyo State would do the needful to put us old boys on the spot to make that happen. I assure him the legacy effect will be bigger because a predecessor, Lam Adesina, a Loyola old boy, failed on that score. I had expected he would do what an old boy of my other Secondary School CKC Onitsha, did, Peter Obi set CKC on a sure path of restoration with the policies of his tenure.

At a time when education is the simple biggest competitive advantage of nations, it should be the top priority of political leaders to find the magic the Jesuits have worked these last 400 years. It seems to me that a good place to start is making the tribute the SMAs offered to that Jesuit founder, St Ignatius of Loyola Whose feast day we celebrated with relish on the 31st of July every year in those wonderful days when Ibadan was the largest city in West Africa and those of us who came from that coastal capital of Lagos proud to return to Lagos on holidays from a true centre of culture, Ibadan. PU

Very often many lament the Nigerian condition but are at loss about what they can do to change things beyond lamentations and blaming others. Pursuing the redemption of our school system is one sure area all can do their bit. Starting from our old school is a sure bet.

If every Nigerian who got a decent education can commit a certain number of hours and a certain percentage of income to their old schools to get the infrastructure, environment and equipment of study right and even spending time as group tutors and even as additional teaching hands, the school redemption process will be on the way.

In one of my social projects I get a multinational that has top engineers with strong physics and mathematics backgrounds to volunteer just two hours of those people to help out in the school close by. Given current teacher quality you can imagine the difference. Old boys can do same and do it with more passion. For Loyolans that would be one way to be the best in every way.

Pat Utomi, Political Economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership.

ON THE INSIDE OF CORRUPTION

I have written enough columns and Op. Ed pieces on corruption in Nigeria these past 25years to make a book of decent read. But seldom have these explorations of the phenomenon dealt with cultural, psycho – social and spiritual counters to corruption. I was therefore quite excited to read a set of mantras by His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shanker, founder of the Art of Living movement.

The scourge of corruption has left damage so evident, and pain so palpable, that many have come to the view that containing corruption is considered key to peace and development. To some it has found its place into the DNA of public life in Nigeria, making the country not so appealing to many investors and the rump left behind challenged with sustaining structured progress as against a recursive mode of two steps forward, three steps backward. This in spite of endowments and talent aplenty.

It is instructive that while most of the rationalizations, explanations and focus of blame, for ravaging corruption, is external; such as poverty, weak institutions that make consequence low, and competitive consequence of conspicuous  consumption of my Mercedes is bigger than yours genre, a good deal of what makes for corruption comes from within. So much of the lasting interventions or corrections have to do with the inside. The most frequently cited inside – out property that is a bulwark against the evil of corruption is contentment. So what makes two people of similar circumstances act so differently in the face of temptation for corrupt gain? A sense of contentment makes one uphold his or her dignity while the lack of contentment in the other drives what is then manifested as greed; just a little more, as Carnegie was said to have said, when asked how much is enough.

It is in the realm of these issues that Guruji, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar shares some words of knowledge and wisdom. He makes the cogent point that ‘a lack of connectedness breeds corruption in the society’. He gives this as reason why corruption is lower in the villages than in the cities. Indeed this point is a fitting reinforcement of one of the more seminal pieces to come out of Nigerian political science, Peter Ekeh’s “Two Publics” which explains why a Nigerian who would not dare steal a dime from his village union purse, has no qualm carrying away as much of the federal treasury that comes his way. He lives in two contending civic cultures. One, to use the Sri Sri’s language, is more connected. In Guruji’s own words “Half a century ago, a person would feel very secure when he had a lot of friends. Friends were his constant social support system, so he was not easily corruptible. He did not depend on just a few bills to get by. He said to himself, “There are people around me who are going to help me out” Today due to lack of connectedness you fear whether your own children are going to care for you or not. Because of this sense of isolation everywhere, the only feeling of security you find is in telling yourself ‘ok, amass more wealth’ and you keep it all in your personal account. Money has become the sole source of security”

The tragedy is that as policy failure and other upheavals shake people’s security in the corruptly gained money it triggered greater corruption to consolidate. Civil servants who lost lots of money in the stock market simply stole more to recamp. Then the security goes to social perception of how much you have and more obnoxious conspicuous consumption, like Private Jets, become the craze and the huge costs of maintaining those result in even greater corruption until a point where the Army of the unemployed, impoverished further because these competing rich are not creating jobs as their money is from corruption, and is hidden from investments spark off social anomie. The anarchy predicted, then comes, with all as victims. The corrupt can flee, but few are welcoming of them and their end may just be as welcomed as the case of Mabutu Sese Seko or Nikolai Ceausescu. (more…)

THE KIDNAP OF PUBLIC CONVERSATION

It is so hard to be a Nigerian today. In few arena is this more true than in the realm of citizen duty called public conversation. In many ways the public square has been abducted and is hostage.

As Chibok abduction of young school girls began to generate civil society reaction, I was excited that revival was underway for a part of modernity that was so inadequate in the public arena. But my top priority was the safety of the young women and the anguish of their parents and other relatives and dear ones. In some ways I saw it also as an opportunity for leadership to pull together our fractured society around a common cause.

I held my breadth as I hoped a leadership lesson I teach young people at the Centre for Values in Leadership would gain play. At times like we were approaching, I had often thought them, true leaders rally people across the many divides that can plague organizations, business or political life. People like Abraham Lincoln overcame by doing that, and is celebrated in discussions of the idea of a cabinet of rivals.

Each time reporters called me for attribution on aspects of the crisis of finding the girls I tried to maintain a line that we should first of all be statesmen and focus on getting the girls home, focusing on our shared humanity. Appropriately, as is their duty to find the angle that titillates, they ask if the Government’s handling of the matter has not been inept. I had to remind myself of one view of the news report, from my undergraduate days, that sees it as the ‘scintillating titillation’ of some of the days events. It was not abnormal that they were fishing for attribution to show the government was competent. I as opposition person it should have been music to my ears. So the effort to draw me into mauling the government where it was most vulnerable was normal. But I suggest we should first, think our humanity, our country and get our girls out before apportioning blame on conduct.

But the spirit of public conversation was far too partisan, so so emotive, and sometimes so unable to focus on the key objective, get the girls home. From across the divide of those for who it was one more piece of evidence of how hopeless things were, to those who will invent anything to show that everything is in the imagination of the enemies of the regime, the lines they pursued polarized without throwing light on anything. (more…)

WHEN A STATE LEFT THE UNION

The National Assembly raved and ranted but failed to reflect, when the erroneous report that a foreign government scenario planning report suggested Nigeria would break up by 2015,made the rounds a little over 10 years ago.

Today many are saying we have worked ourselves straight to the result. Some now say Jonathan could be Nigeria’s last president as they expectArmageddon in 2015. One thing is evident though, one state has almost taken leave of Nigeria. But who is to blame? The bad but true answer is all of us. The trouble of Nigeria is a failure of citizenship.

To start with, no one said Nigeria would break up in 15years that is by 2015. A routine 5 yearly survey of trends around the world for United States strategic planning was ostensibly the source of these speculations. The report hinted 14 years ago that Nigeria’s declining influence and degrading institutions, which if unchecked, would within 15 years, place Nigeria in failed state status

There are many who look at the so called failed state index and can conclude that the prediction already came through. But, in some ways, the idea of a failed state as a definitive destination and a point of collapse, as science would for example define boiling point under standard temperature and pressure, is neither here nor there. In ways the failed state idea is an emotive point used to make those not in conformity with some parameters of modernity feel a sense of shame. That notwithstanding, the truth is, no one said Nigeria would break up in 2015

As one of the global thought leaders assembled in Stockholm by the peace research institute in Stockholm, SIPRI, a few years later to consider the successor report, I know that it is not about predicting break up, but it is an indicator of great faltering. Nigeria had faltered. Its influence had waned.

So how come we are all responsible for where we are. I recall now a number of quotes I have used to rouse people to become citizens, get involved. The most frequent goes back to World War ll and the Reverend Martin Niemoller .First they came for the Jews and I said well, those Jews are trouble makers. Then they came for the Communists and I said, thank God I am not a Communist, then they came for the Catholics and I thanked my stars I was a Protestant. When they came for me there was no one left to speak up.

I have also often turned to Dante’sInferno, reminding that the hottest part of hell is for those who in moral crisis take refuge in neutrality. Again we draw from Martin Luther King Jnr who reminds us that in the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.

I think Nigeria lies prostrate because of the silence of its citizens not the guns of Boko Haram, or the voice of the foreign media. And part of it is in what the state invests in trying to ensure the silence of citizens. So how can we better educate power to understand how it’s greater interest is better served by an open, critical society.

I listen in on the cacophony of now and I hear the deafening silence of the elders, those you will call elder statesmen, elsewhere. I hear the hum of the murmur of business leaders and I see the Abacha era all over again. I hear the voices of those sponsored by state actors to muffle the voices of citizens like the *BringBackOurGirls torchbearers; and those muscling all who dare ask how come the Leviathan fails in its primary duty of securing lives, property and the pursuit of happiness. The louder voices powered by state Treasury says ‘do not hold your elected representatives accountable for security’; you should instead hold accountable, it legitimizes a group of anarchist, threatening our civilization. What remarkable wisdom. It reminds me, at the level of economic analysis of how many development scholars first reacted to early writings of people like the MIT Economist Rudiger Dormbusch when they canvassed the idea of the open economy. Today those concepts are welcome. They are the reforms we all tout now. (more…)

THE DEATH OF LIFE

It seems so worthless here, life that is. There is hardly any day, these days, when the headlines do not trumpet the boldness of death unnatural. Violent death from the work of people who you have never had a quarrel with seems to define daily life now in Nigeria. How did it come to be so and what can the committed do to pull back from this brink.

Whatever may be the general thinking about why this orgy of violence is upon us the reality is that death is dancing on our graves and we are not trying hard enough to locate why our individual lives and collective being is so broken and traumatized.

It is important here to note that death is about more than the loss of life. There are very many walking deads laid waste by the culture of death which stokes us. Take the living in Jos after the bomb blast kills so many innocents.

Those who survive deal with the trauma of uncertainty, constantly looking over their shoulders waiting for where and when next. People too scared to go to market are quietly starving to death even as those who cannot transact the daily trading that is source of income, are too broke to have real life. And so we all die slowly. To fight back against, this death taking us hostage, we strongly need to die.

Die? How can dying save us from death? In Liberia the slang for give me a dash, is die small for me. True indeed it is that when you give up something you die a little, in a manner of speaking. A Nigerian priest travelling in Liberia during the civil war once gave a touching homily about policemen at a check point who said to him bossman, Oga, in Nigeria speak, die small for us.

To save us we must be willing to make sacrifice for truth. So what is the truth about why Nigerian life is worth so little that the daily news reports of so many being killed by Boko Haram bombs is now taken as one of those routines that people hardly blink when only a few people are killed.

If we are to get to the bottom of why all of this is norm we ought to talk about the fundamental problematic of the Nigerian Condition. This is the collapse of culture in which the general value system and dominant social ethos hold other things more valuable than human life. In Nigeria money and power at all costs, seem to have become prime desire. To get either, or both, people have been willing to suffer humiliation, betray trust and become numb to their shared humanity as they pursue the goal of money or power.

Politics is a classic vehicle for loss of a sense of life as the ultimate value. I first reflected deeply on this when about 20 years ago. I attended a meeting of Ohaneze Ndigbo in Enugu. As was the tradition, a selection of top of the class retired for caucusing and lunch atthe home of the then Governor of Enugu State, who at that time had just become a former Governor. At Dr. Okwesiteze Nwodo’s I was seated between some notables like a former Vice-President of Nigeria, Alex Ekwueme, Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu when in the cause of lunch one noted money man and politician quietly leaned across to me and said “you see all these people puffing up as big men, just wait for the military to blow the whistle for the resumption of politics and you will see them groveling at my home. When that time comes I will bring out a casket with a corpse and get them to swear allegiance to me and jump over the casket so they can get money for their campaign” (more…)

AUTOMOTIVE POLICY AND THE REST OF US

It was a little surreal to learn of a new automotive policy that had just been proposed for Nigeria. A close mimic of the import substitution industrialization strategy made famous by Latin American Economist Raul Prebisch from his time as Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA) and First Director- General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The logic is simple. To create jobs through industrialization the import list is taken up and some items deleted with substitution coming from local production. That local production may begin with CKD assembly in which on- costs may be quite high and uncompetitive. To make up, high tariffs or import bans are imposed to ‘protect’ local industry.

The trouble has been with the infant industry burden on local consumers as many infant industries fail to become competitive.

When Nigeria began industrializing the Nobel Laureate in Economics Arthur Lewis was promoting the ISI idea in his work in the Gold Coast (Now Ghana) It was natural that ISI strategy affect policy choice in Nigeria. When National planning during the Gowon era identified the automotive sector as having great potential to stimulate production in several sectors, an ISI strategy took firm root.

To get things going Nigeria signed agreements with several automakers to set up plants to begin with CKD assembly and backward integrate. The result was the setting up of plants in Kano by Fiat Iveco, Bauchi for Steyr, Lagos to host Volkswagen, Kaduna, Peugeot and Enugu, Daimler Benz. Ilorin was to host Nissan.

On account of the agreements, import bans and tariffs went up to allow market demand build up. Nissan sold lots of Datsuns as part of that advantage. About 1977 the Datsun 180k was one of the most widely sold cars in Nigeria. When it came time to implement, Nissan begged off.

Peugeot, VWN etc, watched the policy environment unable to advance the goals of sustainable motor manufacturing. The contradictions were obvious. The Productivity Prices and Incomes Board (The Price Control Agency) stipulated prices which relative to costs meant giving away shareholders funds until the end could be seen. This produced ridiculous outcomes in sales of used cars. As prices for used cars could not be fixed you generated used cars and auctioned them and people bid twice the price of a new car that was hardly available, for a used car. The reason I never remember my car number is we used cars for weeks just to generate used cars.

When I went to work for VWN I declared the ISI model for automobile manufacture an anachronism. The nature of scale economies was such that the number of automakers in the world would shrink to a few, and the entry barriers were such that Nigeria competiveness was of little hope, and more importantly backward integration, otherwise known as local content; had failed very badly. The component manufacturers that established in Nigeria like Fichtel and Sachs were closing shop, etc.

My suggestion then was that we take advantage of the partners here, VW, Peugeot SA of France, Daimler Benz etc, to become suppliers into worldwide production of the firms in which our factor endowment gave us competitive advantage to become global leaders in its production. My favorite endowment was Rubber, of which we had at a time the best yield per hectare in the world. In my view, if we became the leading supplier of one or two rubber components produced most efficiently at the highest quality for supply into global value chains.

One of those who gave my views a good listen shortly after I joined VWN was Oxford University economist Paul Collier. Ironically he was, two decades later, commissioned be UNIDO to study China’s rapid ascent in manufacturing and what Africa could learn from it. It was no surprise that what Collier learnt from the study was that the Chinese did what I was prescribing for Nigeria in the 1980s. His favorite example was one local government that produced nearly three quarters of all the buttons worn in the world. Had we become 80 percent producer of one rubber component used in motor cars world wide it would create hundreds of thousands of quality jobs and earn us more foreign exchange than crude oil.

To know this and see the same old game being played in ISI logic with the same Nissan that was a no- show a generation before is to feel deep sadness.

As we celebrate the hard work of a super salesman, Chief Michael Ade Ojo it is appropriate to make the point that sometimes you have to trade. Britain was renown, as a nation of shopkeepers. We all now go to Dubai trading. We can trade where that is strength and manufacture where we are competitive. Sony cofounder Akio Morita came to be known as the paramount salesman of the 20th century. Chief Ade Ojo is in many ways is our Akio Morita. CVL is proud to hold him up as example of hard work, entrepreneurship and salesmanship. Even more importantly he is a role model in giving back to the community.

Pat Utomi
Founder/ CEO
CVL

ON FORGIVENESS

Work on my Obituary has been going badly. It is not the only thing I am struggling with these days. My drafts have come up as poorly and challenged as the struggle to bring harmony to Nigeria, so the promise of Africa’s most populous nation may be retrieved from the file marked ‘’paradise deferred’’ You may be worried that I am working on my obituary. But I do not see anything more compelling than that. Maybe my motivation for not being afraid to think of my death is higher than that for many of my friends because I have had the good fortune, very few people have, of reading their obituary. After an automobile mishap near Asaba, in July 1991, rumors of my passing resulted in some obituaries being reported. The more interesting ones were the ones that reacted to people who led the announcement of my death. Of those, I particularly remember the piece by then Fr Mathew Hassan Kukah and Vanguard columnist Doyin Okogie. They were the most fun to read. Like with Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, some of those who announced that death, including one who gave Doyin Okogie graphic description of my mangled corpse, have long passed away.

One gain from that is more frequent engagement with issues of my mortality and of possibilities of immortality. As they say where I come from, when a person remembers death, the footsteps are more gentle. With that benefit in mind I took those two favorite words from scripture to heart- fear not. I try never to be afraid, not from strength, but by faith which is why my auto biological reflection in the book To serve is to Live has a chapter titled the courageous coward. Having been on a train bombed by terrorists in London that faithful July 7th, escaped a near crash air and an assassination attempt by agents of state terror in 1996 I am, understandably, a little more relaxed about the subject of one’s death. (more…)

APC AND THE MYTH OF SAMENESS

Cliché’s have a way of reinforcing stereotypes and shielding either the truth or an understanding of trends that result in more than the narrow visions of the point. There is perhaps no better example of this than the frequently repeated view that there is no difference between the major parties. It is cliché that needs discerning exploration.

It may be true that no clear set of ideas defined engagement of political parties in the wake of the hurried departure of the military, in 1999  but lessons from history suggest that the kind of groaning and travails that currently mark the system have had a way of giving birth to something new and more desirable. It is this history that leads me to being more cautious in judgment. It is in fact my expectation that not only are the more carefully observed signs pointing to an APC that will be ideologically left of centre, and very peoples oriented, a kind of people sensitive and responsive enterprise economy that is justice focused, but also that even the PDP will come out of this process, less prone to impunity, even if conservative, and may become more disciplined. Why do I think so.

On this matter I like often to point to the history of how the Republican and Democratic Parties in the United States have evolved in relation to African Americans.

Many young people who presume the Democrats have always been the more liberal of the Parties with higher sensitivity to the minority groups are shocked to learn that the Republican party was once the Party opposed to dehumanizing slavery, and that Abraham Lincoln who fought to end it, as state policy, and who put the people at the centre of the purpose of government was a Republican. In the nature of how political party traditions emerge, as I indicated at the keynote I gave at the Leadership newspapers annual lectures two years ago, referring liberally to Reberto Michels and his 1911 study of political parties, trends of how parties thrive, abound, and of Michels Iron law of oligarchy, informs of anything, it is the important place of the political parties structure in evolution. This is why I think a close look at the political history of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, General Mohammadu Buhari, Chief Bisi Akande and some workroom people in APC do a better job of revealing where APC may be going than the excitable pundit on television points to or that the journalist seeking sensation is likely to see.

Let us take Tinubu. I can speak with fair amount of authority to some of his strengths that I see leaving an imprimatur on the APC the pundits miss. This is because I spent a fair amount of time being part of or facilitating retreats of the-would be cabinet from when he was Governor-elect until some time into his first term. The first of the strengths is captured in his passion for competence and his comfort level with having the best around him. A US Ambassador to Nigeria once said to me that he wished the Federal cabinet were half as good as the Lagos State Cabinet.

That disposition and the courage of the lion in taking on daunting obstacles is a flavor I see clearly affecting the course of the APC.

With General Buhari, his austere and ascetic ways with a clear following by the people at the bottom of the pyramid who are looking for people of integrity with a monomaniacal focus on the needs of the downtrodden mark him out and show the imprint his preference will leave on how the party is shaped after all the building of critical mass settles. Then there is Chief Bisi Akande.

As I have indicated before, when The Concerned Professionals wanted a speaker for an event many years ago and decided it wanted someone who had been in government and had shown uncommon touch, for the common Good while living integrity, it settled for Chief Bisi Akande.

Mesh this with the intellectual wing of APC which includes elements from the Restoration Group that emanated from the Concerned Professionals and people like Nasir El-Rufai who has unusual capacity for faithful execution and the kinds of conversations quietly going on with the principals mentioned here that I have been involved with and you see that the APC will crystallize into a peoples Party that is left of centre with programs of free education, decentralization of authority and large scale small business support for massive job-creation based on value-chains derived from the factor endowment of local development areas. At a discussion I participated in on instructions of Chief Akande, to shape party policy, one professor summed up the nature of the vision of the party that emerged as “Ijoba mekunu” or party Umu obenye, in the spirit of the Talakawa focused thrust of Aminu Kano. To see the in cross carpets as coming to party in the Party, and think there is no ideology in Nigerian politics or that there is no, difference between PDP and APC is to miss the point of parties in evolution and watch a test of analytic power on the part of commentators.

The Parties are clearly in evolution and the future of Nigeria depends on the expectation that power can swing back and forth between parties. Nigeria is richer for the fact that the alternative is not now only much bigger than those who were previously in opposition, to but it is developing an ideological bent.

There are, in one orientation, or tendency in APC, people like myself who are more interested in principles, systems, values and institutions that shape human progress. Our path to the APC began with escalating roles in social enterprise and civil society, to trying set the agenda for the political arena in 2007. On that track I was matched in the top traunch of the Presidential debates with candidates Umaru Yar’adua and Muhammadu Buhari.

Mallam Yar’adua was either unwilling or unable to come, so I debated General Buhari on that fateful nationally televised debate. As permanent video records indicate my last words at the end of the debates as we shook hands was; This country can be fixed, General; we can work together to change this country for our children. We must fix Nigeria. In that spirit I ended up in his Hotel Suite for dinner that night.

From that moment forward the main role I have played has been to try to pull together a formidable opposition and help build a value platform on which it could rest. After the terribly rigged elections that brought Yar’adua to office I worked with General Buhari, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and others to show how flawed those elections were. In 2010 and 2011 I worked, first with the late chief Anthony Enahoro and Chief Olu Falae in pursuit of the same goal. When Ashiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu invited me to accompany him on a similar mission a year ago I confessed that I was near exhaustion on that track but will work with him where necessary. He succeeded where we had failed and I have praised that accomplishment and been working, as promised to help with future content and structure. I have no doubt that this is not perfection on day one but it is a strong head start in what may be one of the biggest left of centre people centred political movements in the world since Fabian socialism gripped the soul of Europe after World War II and catapulted the Labour party into prominence in the United Kingdom. This is both an article of faith and statement of hope on the one hand as it is a rigorous reading of trends on the other.

Pat Utomi, Political Economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship is Founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership.