IDEAS AND THE END OF SYSTEMIC CORRUPTION

Much of the routine criticisms of Nigeria politics has to do with the seeming of absence of ideas and ideology in organizing political competition and contestation for public office from where service can be rendered a population desperate for leadership so as to realize the promise of a great African modern nation state. It is useful therefore to situate the current campaign against corruption and buildup of consequence management in public life in Nigeria, in that context.

Something about the mood of the moment, in spite of those who as usual suggest the anti-corruption crusade may be targeting more of the opposition, suggest the a refrain from a hymn I have chanted for a quarter of a century is finally beginning to resonate among a broad part of the population. Corruption is far beyond goodguip, bad guys moral issue. It has indeed crippled the possibilities of progress in this land of great potential. But today it is desired to bring to the fore how that has harmed the place of ideas in politics and governance.
First, too many people in Nigeria have either lived in denial about the extent and effect of corruption; wish it away as a moral issue divorce from performance outcomes or seen it as nitpicking by those ‘unfortunate’ to be outside the arena of ‘chopping and so should want their turn for God to butter their bread. But the cost is so high and stirs us in the face all the time. Among the points I raise on this score is how it shapes perception of national character with costly consequences for our economy and the dignity of the Nigerian travelling around the World.
This denial on our side has not changed our reality and how we are seen. I often draw from the opening paragraph of a book on corruption and Development in Africa by Kempe Ronald Hope Snr and Bornwell Chikulo. Those first lines of the book suggest that corruption runs the range in Africa, from rare, in Botwana, to widespread in Ghana and systemic in Nigeria, tells a sad story.

I like also to recall an encounter with American investigative Journalism great Mike Wallace. While I was on sabbatical leave, writing a book on uncertainty and strategy in emerging economies, in 1996, in the United States. Wallace in an interview with Nation of Islam leader Loius Farrakhan challenge Farrakhan with questionable associations, industry visiting, in his words, the most corrupt country in the World, Nigeria.
I thought the reporting unfair and sent a fax to CBSTV expressing surprise that a thorough bred like Wallace would violate a law laid up for would be Journalists in Journalism 101 classes, care with the use of superlatives. Mr Wallace on receipt of feedback called me and suggested that sometimes hyperbole is used to make a point. He noted that Nigeria had disappointed many who wished it well by allowing corruption to cripple it. He said he had come to Nigeria in 1970 to interview the Head of State, Gen Gowon and presented an optimistic story about the coming of the first Black power. He said corruption had prevented Nigeria from claiming that promise. I insisted that even though his observations on corruption were not inappropriate it was still unfairing tarring of all with same brush not fair to many individuals and the country.

I said to him, I am a Nigerian and have served in Government at a presidential Advisory level, in industry as an executive of a multinational in manufacturing, in thought leadership and journalism as columnist, and at the time in academia and I could state with certitude that I had never asked or received a bribe in my life and I was sure there were many Nigerians better cultured than I.
Wallace expressed a wish he could correct the impressions and return to Nigeria with me and do such a story but regretted that in those Abacha days he could not expect to leave Nigeria alive after the stories with the hidden cameras and policemen extorting money on the streets now compounded by the Farrakhan interview.
The bigger irony of that encounter was that I had told Wallace I was a member of the Board of Transparency International Nigeria, as it was in those days. Barely a few months after the encounter Amnesty International published its first corruption index and Nigeria came out the most corrupt country of those surveyed in the World, in the perception of the business men surveyed. Wallace could then have been justified in his use of superlatives.
With these images dogging Nigeria from corruption one would expect it to be a central issue in how social, economic and political reforms are engage in Nigeria. But this has not been quite so until recently because the market place of ideas has been the arena of a few civil society types shouting themselves hoarse on the matter. The powerful who profited from the corrupt and corrupted order, somehow were successful in endouring the anti-corruption crusaders as impractical iconoclasts or even freaks angry with the world. So the mainstream saw the crusading with the bemused understanding reserved for those who have growing up to do.

For me the big challenge is in the effect corruption has on allowing for the flow of ideas that improve policy choice and reduces the extent of iatrogenic choices where the policies do more damage to the patient than the original problem policy intervened to solve.

Who are the kinds of people that engage in debates in the electioneering campaign process and how are they funded. No doubt just as people complain of the role of lebbyists in many more mature Democracies we can complain about the place of corruption in determining share of voice. The bigger part of the problem is that many people of ideas who could enrich the process. Many exit the arena, which for me is fleeing citizenship, but it is hard to be too hard on them.

The bottomline outcome is that the system is denied a body of ideas that can lead to consistency of superior ideas for progress. It is even more in the choice of political association and body of ideas, as ideology, that the trouble with corruption does even greater harm. Many who move from one party to the other, opposition to ruling and back if there is change.

In pursuit of the gains of being close to power in the Ruling Party some of those crisscrossing blur what the parties represent. If the lure of corruption were not there the tendency would be for belief systems to orient how and who people associate with. It would therefore be easier for people of ideas to coalesce into a followers of approaches on how to organize society in advance of the Common Good.

The lack of ideological movements make recruitment into political parties more challenging for people motivated by more than just raw power has meant that our society cannot find the right footing for sustainable growth.

As we hear the speculations on how bad things got with abuse of the Commonwealth it has become clearer that if we had a proper market place of ideas, Parties that were based on an articulated view of how human progress is made things would not have gotten as bad as they have become.

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

WHO WILL SAVE JOURNALISM AND CIVIC CULTURE IN NIGERIA – Pat Utomi

When I stopped by at a Nigerian Guild of Editors conference in Asaba a few year or two ago one old times made to effort to remind people of my journalism antecedents dating to the 1970’s at which point Onyema Ugochukwu, an Economics graduate who became a newspaper editor jumped in and said ‘Pat don Port’. Port or no port my love for journalism has never abated. But every day I lament the end of the era of Alhaji Babatunde Joseph, the great reporters and columnists like the Sam Amuka’s, Peter Enahoros and latterly the Gbolebo Ogunsanwos.

Why this nostalgia?
Every new day I am made more aware that the new generation of quality reporters moulded significantly by Lade Bunuola as my classmate and friend, Feminine Kusa, the super subeditor at the guardian have emigrated from journalism. My disposition to guide young reports when they come to interview me has been to be of help as best as possible and to elevate their dignity by insisting they neither violate the ethics of the profession nor grovel like beggars. Yet from time to time things happen that make you wonder.
I get calls about every day from reporters rushing to meet deadlines. I make an effort to be as cooperative as I can even when it is not convenient. When recently while meeting with group of people and talking to a gentlemen called Paul Olele on one telephone line, another line added to the noise level… as a journalist and pleaded that he required just a second of my time. So what is it? I literally snapped at him. I thought to just ask the person on the line to just call back. But the person quickly introduced himself as a journalist I said he needed just a second of my time. So what is it, I literal snapped at him. People are complaining about the lopsided nature of the President’s appointments. What do you have to say about it? I thought of a person who had thousands of appointments to make and had not, to my knowledge made a dozen and the appointments were already judged lopsided. My first reaction was to cut off the call. But I hate to be rude. So I said to him please let me be if all the appointment are from his village and they can do the job why should I care.
I continued my conversation with Paul Olele presuming I had managed to get rid of someone who did not do their homework. I still have not managed to read the report. But the first I heard of this 30 second telephone conversation with someone whose name I do not recall was someone saying he read my article about appointing people from the same village. I was puzzled because I knew I had not written any such article. It took my assistant pointing to something trending in social media about the subject of spread of appointments that I traced it to the few irritated minutes I spent on the phone with this reporter.
What worried me about the whole jumping to conclusion after less than the appointments is what I have come to borrow from Christian testimony of a dear friend as the near success syndrome in Nigeria. This friend’s testimony traces how he almost made first class, almost got there, almost did this. In many ways Nigeria always almost gets there. The window opens, as it did in 1999, and when the save Nigeria group and the consequent doctrine of necessity presented an opportunity for a fresh beginning and windows of opportunity. Often times these windows of opportunity were shut by acrimonious nitpicking by partisans and ethnic jingoists, my instant reaction to this business of nepotism in appointments was oh my God, there we go again, quarrelling about who was appointed can quickly distract and derail; and the near success syndrome will go on. Had I spoken beyond a few seconds I probably would have told the reporters that when John F Kennedy named his brother Robert, Attorney – General of United States in small cabinet that he should have been grateful he was not in Nigeria or Camelot would have been still born.
What I did find quite troubling about it all was the near total absence of serious homework in both the reporting and the reaction to the report. The kind of reporters Stanley Mace Bach and company trained were thought to provide background to their stories. The laziest effort at back grounding, since I write a blog and weekly columns, is that I have treated that subject so many times including in the last few weeks both in my writing and in public speeches that it should have been easy to show patterns. But a lazy reporting culture has come to feed on and feed declining civic culture in which the object of public conversation is to type cast people, go into name calling and in the social media hauling insults without understanding what is being discussed.
That none could ask how what was reported reflects the thoughts of Thomas Kingsley from 1948 which is retraining in my discussion of the subject tells how far both reporting and civic culture have sunk.
The matter is further compounded with a columnists who neither research nor think. Some claim to have 25 years’ experience but their minds are as closed as when they left their village in Imo State 25 years ago and all they have is one year’s experience repeated 25 times.
Who will save Nigerian journalism and civic culture with anybody who can get on social media thinking it is license to leave their brains at home.

Pat Utomi, Political Economist and Social Entrepreneur is founder of the Centre for values in Leadership.

MUCH ADO ABOUT SUBSIDIES

Language humor always gets me going. The TV series Mind your Language was a hit with me, therefore one of my favourite Language jokes is of an ‘Americana’ fellow from Owerri who returning from New York greeted his grandmother with full compliments of a Bronx accent: Grandma How are you doing (‘ow-r-u-dooin’). Poor Grandma, assuming he was speaking the dialect, responded: edu rum nga nduru (I am still sitting where I was sitting). She had assumed he asked How are you sitting? On the matter of fuel subsidy in Nigeria I feel like the grandmother: edu rum nga nduru.
Those who have sat in my classes know that like most business teachers I am quick to state upfront, that there are no right or wrong answers, as in case study discussions. As such; what mattered was the rigor in arriving at a decision. Clearly there are many ways to skin the Christmas Ram. Some use boiling water to get the skin clean of hair, others hold it over the naked fire until the hair is burnt up. Surely there are many tracks to the village market of subsidy and optimal utilization of a finite and wasting asset we have been gifted with, called petroleum.
As a business teacher one of my refrains is that there is no such thing as the one and only right answer. We can arrive same destination through different highways. But as JK Rowling reminds in her Harry Porter stories, we are the choices we make. When choice is not marked by rigor the outcomes tend to be suboptimal, and sometimes defeating of purpose. In this case, of subsidies, the question must be why subsidy, what are the benefits, what were the challenges in its implementation and what are future costs and benefits of continuing such a strategy of enhancing well-being, as the purpose of government is optimal enhancement of the wellbeing of the people.
My views were and remain that whatever the object of subsidy, it had been converted into a scam that has hurt more, the poor people and encouraged inappropriate consumption by the more well off while lining the pockets of scammers. Those views remain. Evidence of this firm stance can be found in interview I gave on Sunrise Morning on Channels Television during that January 2012 protest of subsidy induced petrol price hike, and course of action in response. That has not shifted at all.

When someone recently suggested my views on petroleum subsidy may have shifted, I could not but remember the Owerri grandmother. Edurum nga nduru. My views on the matter have not shifted. What is the difference between being prominent in occupy Falomo ‘when subsidy was the excuse for fuel price increase; and saying “subsidies”, as we call the phenomenon, are distorting markets and prices, and taking away resources for government investment in the well-being of citizens.
Why do governments turn to subsidies. It could be to reduce the burden of high prices so the people can have access to a product or service that improves their welfare, which a market price would make improbable. It could be to boost production so jobs can be created. Still, subsidies could be designed to bridge regional challenges as with cross subsidization, a good example of which would be bridging in distribution of petrol across Nigeria.
My experience is that subsidies, which bring the welfare benefits that the goals that bring them about seek, also have costs. Whether they should continue, generally then depend on a cost- benefit analysis. Sometimes the costs come in the form of abuses that subsidies can unwittingly promote. In the case of Nigeria, a major part of that cost comes from a rent seeking culture which, in a time of impunity, encouraged leakages in which between 2011 and 2012 subsidy’s costs went up by several hundred billion Naira when prices of PMS in the international markets hardly moved.
It is clear that the projection of improved benefit for lower price is a phantom. All over Nigeria only Lagos and Abuja seemed to have those subsidy prices to go the people. Lately, even Lagos has slipped, as stations in Ajah and some other parts have been verbally advertising prices #20 more for each litre and selling only to those willing to pay those prices. Yet the subsidy excuse takes away from market conditions that create competition that force down prices. If we remember the early days of GSM when prices were up, and per second billing was thought improbable. Then the oligopoly was broadened as Glo came along, and Etisalat followed. Per second billing suddenly became possible. Prices also fell to Earth from the stratosphere.
My problem with our petroleum subsidy regime is not just that the presumed benefits are being scammed off and a few individuals are amassing wealth from the scam, but that no clear goal, after which the regime stops, is insight. Yet many government services are lost for the drain of the subsidy. Arguments, have been put forward that the regime should stay in place until the refineries are fixed or more refineries built in the country. As I have pointed out, there is no absolutely right or wrong answer. I not only desire a quick fixing of the refineries I would like to encourage a regime that sees our coastline dotted with refineries and little, if any crude oil, exported. This would no doubt not only result in more value to Nigeria; as one hundred dollars of crude export could readily be three thousand dollars in income, if we processed; but would increase supply to the point that domestic prices cannot but fall.
The real question is how long we can allow the hemorrhaging in the name of subsidy, which does not result in benefits that reach the people, to continue. Surely those who profit from this, inappropriately, will be further incentivized to sabotage the system for continued immoral gain.
As I wrote down these thoughts I watched an NTA report on long queues at petrol stations in Abuja. The anchor then switched to neighboring Nassarawa state where the lines did not exist. The difference, they were paying more. What was even unjust is that some of the marketers were taking delivery, collecting subsidy money for what they collected, and further marking up what arrived at the filling stations. They were making out like bandits at the expense of economic development, and the poor fellows trying to commute.
Surely a more disciplined government with less leakages reduces the cost of subsidies, but in the end it just short changes everyone, especially if it is not geared at improving production and reducing the demand beyond need, for it. Our middle class drive around far more unproductively that their South African colleagues became the price of PMS. These are the reasons I vote for the market to be used to force down prices instead on that, edurum nga nduru.
Pat Utomi Political Economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship is Founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership.

BANK ABUSE, ENTREPRENEURS AND GROWTH

To make progress and have peace we need economic growth and for jobs to be created. That can hardly happen without innovation and hardworking risk takers who start businesses. Entrepreneurs, as that tribe is named, often complain that its increase is held back by the problem of access to capital. As a teacher of entrepreneurship I find that I have to spend most of my time telling entrepreneurs banks are not enemies armed to frustrate them.
Banks on the other hand are constantly complaining about loans that are not performing. The tendency is to accuse borrowers in general of not being diligent or of being guilty of sharp practices. I have often considered a focus group experiment including bankers and businessmen. From the kind of language a whole classroom full of entrepreneurs I was teaching used on bankers, just last week, I have a feeling the Fire Brigade may be required to be on standby for such a Focus Group session.
In the trading of blames the point still remains that entrepreneurs are needed for significant material progress. They need to work with sources of finance, one of which is the Banking system and that there are a few players who abuse the access to banks and so jeopardize access for honest, diligent entrepreneurs. How to flush out these willful offenders without harming the system has been a matter of some debate.
Among the solutions that have been tried, and is speculated as being about to be tried again, is publishing a list of presumed chronic debtors. When it was first done, and at points when the tactic has come up, I have often pointed to it as an iatrogenic policy choice. Such choices are made when the medicine applied to heal a disease does more harm, to the patient than the disease it aimed to cure.
This metaphor from Medicine was more famously deployed by a US Senator who was previously a Harvard Professor and a member of two cabinets in Washington, Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
There are many reasons why such choice is more harmful to the goal of the industry and the economy than what gain may come from making the real targets look bad. It is quite clear to me, and many others, that even with the best of intentions, regulators and those seeking to get the bad guys, could unwittingly become complicit in the prolonged reign of poverty.
The ironies in the approach include the fact that the real targets do not care about reputation, so the effect of publishing their names is a waste in advertising spend, but the list, as the last time, will include many disputed and out rightly incorrect claims, resulting in many libel litigations. Yet the courts and the credit bureaus designed to stop the credit- challenged from further access to loans are fully in place. More troubling is that many entrepreneur – wannabes, at a time we are preaching the Gospel of venturing, may be frightened off that track, lest a risk gone south make them object of ridicule.
The current state of frustration by entrepreneurs seeking capital is significantly a part of the last such exercise the frightened lenders of lending lest the cost of risk destroy them, and borrowers from being so reticent as to avoid even borrowing on a modest appetite. No modern economy can be grown at that emotional level of financial system engagement. The view that has been encouraged in the public domain assumes lending to be risk free and only troubled by dubious conduct. All ventures involve risk, some more than others. Where the risks are fully disclosed, as gain would have come to both lender and borrower it is usually that if risk crystalizes in the negative, it could impact the lenders for ill, but it even wipe out the borrower. The key is how to contain these risks such that overall the Banks, entrepreneurs and the system, profit.
Let me draw from practical local and perhaps one or two foreign experiences to illustrate why it is wrong to make out entrepreneurs who come to adversity as criminals, especially because many of the successful corporations in the United States have been in and out of Chapter Eleven bankruptcy.
Nigeria’s journey to the internet truly provides an example of views on Risk and how they can shape human progress. Twenty one years ago I was so ashamed several African countries were on the internet but Nigeria was not. Our telecommunications monopoly, NITEL, was beset with other problems. Addressing a group of entrepreneurs I chewed them up on private initiative not circumnavigating the regulatory minefield to redeem us.
Afterwards one of them came to me and asked if we could partner to make that happen. I was pleased. We spent hours working on strategy, then apportioned work. He would develop the technology feasibility, I the business model, and pulling the investment together. Then I invited a select group of potential investors to a dinner at All Seasons Restaurant in Victoria Island. Three among them were Managing Directors of Banks. My nervous presentation of the Model indicated we would lease E1 lines from NITEL and pipe our traffic to Pipex; a backbone provider in the UK. When I was done, one of the Bank MDs, Erastus Akingbola noted that the risk of something NITEL could disrupt by simply pulling off the E1 lines was too high. I could feel the wind going off my sail when another of the Bank MDs, Biodun Dabiri, responded, acknowledging the risk, but arguing that the risk could be mitigated.
That conversation made the point of our investment strategy which was that such technology investment was not the type you brought traders or money bags to, because their thinking on the risk would go against the mindset that gave them success, if they did not get quick returns.
Having been rescued by Dabiri, we would raise that night, the money that launched Linkserve, and a few months later, Nigeria was on the internet. But Akingbola’s fear proved real.
At an event in Abuja, then Chief of General Staff (VP) General Oladipo Diya was brought into what was probably the first Cyber Café in Nigeria. The company’s General Manger used photos from that to promote the company. What risk in those Abacha days. Security men quickly took over the company’s premises and NITEL pulled those lines. But, fortunately, as Dabiri suggested, the risk was mitigated and Nigeria’s first Internet Service Provider (ISP) was back up and running.
Imagine that the risk was not successfully mitigated and that those men borrowed the monies they invested and lost their entire life’s savings plus a small borrowed portion, because they wanted to make some profit putting Nigeria on the World map, making businesses more efficient through ICT, and opening more businesses to opportunity that would have eluded them. If you branded those men criminals, exposed what has the sanctity of Doctor-Patient, or Lawyer- client type confidence, in newspapers, would many people who know them take risks that move society out of poverty. What is more likely is that the most gifted retreat into using their talent for safe rent seeking creating the time bomb of unemployment we have.
The major issues in abuse of access to Bank facility is using the monies for activity other than what was agreed to, and not showing enough prudence and diligence in pursuit of the object of the facility, a moral hazard. This often happens because the lender does not have perfect information on the motives and actions of the borrower; the challenge of information asymmetry.
The perennial challenge of decision making in economic intercourse, because of information asymmetries which result in either “Adverse Selection”, when a used Car salesman removes one zero and tells you the car has done ten thousand kilometers whereas it had clocked up one hundred thousand, and ‘Moral Hazard’, when you tell the banker you need the loan to buy Yam seedlings whereas the intention is to marry new wives with the money, will always be there. The question is how do we sanction those n error.
The system has a duty to build to checkmate moral hazard. The trouble with the way we are going about it is that we are giving the impression risk is a moral hazard. That can be destructive of innovation and entrepreneurship. When honest borrowers are terrified you will increasing find that only the crooks come to play.
The credit Bureau system and the courts should be appropriate if used well. People are quick to say our courts don’t work so why do we not work with relevant authorities to make them work. Special credit courts with Judges well trained on the financial and economic systems could focus on quick dispensation of justice. To mock one of the most important pillars of modern democratic order, the judiciary, does not serve the system well. In a sense that is what we do with the extra legal process. The ghost of Bridge banks which have no basis in law and which have been used to violate the property rights of many remains an open sore that only truth can heal.
Another kind of asymmetry that increases risk in the financial and economic order is power asymmetry. This is especially so at a time of impunity when property rights are routinely compromised. When someone who has political power in their favor can get away easily with riding roughshod over the rights of another.
It is this which lead many investment advisors to counsel foreign investor- prospects to generally avoid regulated sectors of the Nigerian economy because regulatory risk, a function of power asymmetry, can pose severe risk to enterprise. My own experience alone provide ample illustration. From Oil and Gas, Banking, Power and regulated media, the failure of regulated sectors to be level playing ground prove with no doubt the point of my 1998 book; Managing Uncertainty- Competition and Strategy in Emerging Economies. Even the way waivers distorts markets tell same story.
In Banking, from the forced consolidation of the Soludo era, to the Sanusi Stress tests, all you need do is ask for an independent international forensic evaluation and eyes will pop out of sockets. But in a country where you can be judge, jury and choir master of public opinion cheerleading, justice is left only to God’s Court. Yet a savvy foreign advisory community, beyond sounding off in politically correct tunes, know the truth, as I learnt listening to a South African born PWC partner at Wharton a few years ago.
Who takes the blame for an investment that was okay until regulator action forced it south? The borrower who acted diligently or the regulator who wanted to use power to reallocate instruments of wealth creation to those they favor, thus compromising investments diligent made and in which no moral hazard was evident?
For five years I have ploughed almost all I have earned to service a loan made for investment well made but compromised by willful regulator abuse. Top that with one I have brought up before, an investment that has been frustrated in a land lease, with no cogent reason, except the unspoken one of the Lease being approved by a predecessor Governor from a different political party and with whom there had been much acrimony. It was a case that led a well-known former Attorney General to say to me: If they can do this to you, with your voice, imagine what they do to those who do not have a voice. It is such comments that determine comfort with investment which drive growth.
The Linkserve story and several other startups which appear in another one of my books; Business Angel as a Missionary show why the economic potential is not realized in our country, leaving so many so poor and vulnerable.
The matter of pressurizing those who abuse Bank access is an important one and should be part of our institution building agenda. Surely we can learn much from experience elsewhere and the state of thought on the matter which have been elegantly synthesized by Raghuram G. Rajan and Luigi Zingales in the their book Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists. We will do well to avoid solutions that do more harm to the patient than the disease.
Pat Utomi, political Economist, and professor of Entrepreneurship is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership.

GOING TO AMERICA

Confirmation has come that President Muhammmadu Buhari will be going to America this month. This going to America should not only be different from that of African prince portrayed by Eddie Murphy it should be different from that which marked both the beginning of the Yar’adua and Jonathan Presidencies. This going to America for an ailing nation of great potential must be a concrete effort at forging partnerships in pursuit of the great goal of the Great Escape from misery for the biggest concentration of the people of Africa descent.
Going to America has always been a matter laced with Irony. As a young Youth Copper reporting for the Newbreed Newsmagazine some thirty eight years ago I wrote a story that pointed to Army Intellectual, Olusegun Obasanjo, criticizing African leaders journeying to America. As head of state then he had evidently forgotten his old quips, and was preparing for a journey to America.
I have never thought of going to America a problem. The mindset of America their America’ offered by one of our literary giants was not my own frame. What my concern always was and remains the issue for this visit, is, how to go beyond ceremonials and photo opps. to handshakes that produce mutually beneficial outcomes. For the US and Nigeria this has to include in todays context a boosting of capacity for security and economic advance in Nigeria and Trade opportunities with new markets for American products where there is comparative advantage that do not depress prospects for sustainable development in a country of prospects.
With security problems in Nigeria’s North East threatening efforts to reduce the scourge of poverty, disease, and a brutish state of nature; a huge infrastructure deficit, financing gaps that have left even salaries unpaid for months, partnerships with foreign powers need be obsessively focused on relatioships that can help bridge gaps and uplift the Nigerian condition.
In this regard I am persuaded that with we, as Nigeria, should unveil a clear National Strategy anchored on latent comparative advantage based on select factor endowments in which value chains in which we are quite competitive are developed into global markets. With the Chinese understanding of the benefits of industrial policy in building such Values Chains, we should not be shy to do infrastructure deals around industrial parks with them. In the same way opportunities for partnerships with the South Koreans, Japanese and with the Australians in Mining and Road Infrastructure should not be allowed to slip by. With the Americans so much can be done with Power, services, Technology and education. We need to expand our fast growing education and health sectors. With so many Nigerians of the diaspora active in the US in these areas, the trip should be used to build bridges. We just saw reports of a meeting of Nigerian physicians in the US which took place in Orlando Florida. We should tag into that to be a medical tourism hub.
What a visit such as this must do is provide the opportunity for President Buhari to find that one quiet moment to provide assurance of lasting goodwill if specific support with arms, equipment and intelligence to accelerate ending the insurgency, is offered. A clear shopping list is helpful and a pointer to an appropriate desk officer to serve as clearing house should be determined. We should neither play the subservient with a begging nor our protocol laced meeting of equal sovereigns, friends don’t ask who is bigger. They know.
We miss much running around at the highest levels with much concerns when the Ambassador can court the right desk officer and get things moving. If President Buhari can convey the warmth of friendship, passion, and selfless giving of self for the good of a country that has been unfairly treated, he could get a useful nod from President Obama that his people can work with. He needs to have a few of those critical people with him. He must not leave the impression the ones before him left, that there is no capacity or interest in making promises bear fruit. Our failure to profit from AGOA is cape in point.
In that sense an opportunity to thank Obama for the Power Up Africa initiative with specific requests for how it can help reduce the darkness of our patch of earth at night and put many to work, so Boko Haram will find it harder to find recruits should be clearly stated. Here it will be nice to nicely apologize for our tardiness with AGOA, and pledge that in the spirit of change and new beginnings in Nigeria, the economy of Nigeria will be more engaged with an AGOA extension.
President Buhari will profit much from elevating the tone by showing resolve to whole heartedly fight corruption. America help with tracking and repatriating money stolen from the Nigerian people. This should be requested.
If change is to result in dividends for the Nigerian people PMBs visit to Washington must not be a visit from the leftovers. It must be worked at so it becomes a journey into a welcoming mat for a strategic partner. When President Jimmy Carter’s 1977 World tour that would have brought him from Europe into Africa was terminated in Europe, due to urgent developments at home, a rescheduling was done. On resumption in 1978 the visit to Nigeria was dubbed, by one of America’s newsmagazines as ‘Carter’s journey to the leftovers’. We owe it to our children that this visit to Washington not be seen as another visit from the leftovers.
– End –
Pat Utomi, political Economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership.

REDEEMING THE SUB-NATIONALS

How things have changed. At the time of independence, they drove progress. It was by the name of the premiers of the Regions, that citizens spelt relief. Not so anymore. Today it is from the leadership of sub-nationals that workers spell indigestion, many not having received salaries for nearly one year. What happened to subnational government in Nigeria? If it is bad at many state levels, it is simply horrendous at local Government levels.
To be sure, not all states are badly run. But there has been a big reversal of fortunes in the contribution of the subnational level of government to citizen well-being today as against the way things were in the1960’s. Where and how did things go so very wrong. In my view a number of factors can be located. Among them, the changing nature of Nigerian federalism; deterioration of both political culture and values in General in Nigeria, and the misuse or misdirection of leadership talent in the country. Also critical to this is the sense of accountability and the shift in the structure of the Nigerian economy.
Let us begin with the over flogged issue of the Nigeria’s federal system. The system of government the founding fathers of Nigeria opted for made the tier of government closer to the people, the regions, the location where their essence was defined. Both the current list and residuary powers pointed clearly to the distribution of authority. It was therefore no surprise that one of the more powerful politicians of the time, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, chose to send his deputy, Sir. Tafawa Balewa, to the Centre to be Prime Minister, while he manned the backbone, as Premier of Northern Nigeria. This bottom up Federal structure, examples of which remain available in Canada’s contemporary experience are there to look at.
In the first self-governing epoch from 1956 to 1966 the tradition of subnationals competing around who will most bring progress to their people is well establish. Robert Melson and Howard Wolpe’s book on modernization in Nigeria speak to this ‘Competitive Communalism’. My own favourite examples include the rush to industrialization in which Chief Awolowo rushed out with the Ikeja Industrial Estate and Okpara responded with Aba and Port Harcourt, as the Serdauna did in erecting Kakuri in Kaduna as the hub of Textile manufacturing in Nigeria. Same race for Television with Ibadan as first city in Africa to have TV. With education Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe having gone East tried to respond to free education in the West with the budget bursting 1957 Eastern Nigeria thrust.
Today hardly any initiatives for progress are coming from the subnational level. It’s all about FAAC account receipts and salaries payments. Some say it is because they are too small and not viable relative to the regions of the 1960s. Even though I was one of those who argued this fission of states, making the point that federations are better built by accretion, I still think small states can be viable with intelligent creative and dedicated leadership. The city state of Singapore is proof-positive of that as Luxemburg in Europe from an earlier time. Indeed the prosperity of the Low Countries in Europe defying images of viability by Economists present enduring examples.
It is pertinent to note the prudence of those who ran the larger, so called more viable subnationals of Nigeria in the 1960s compared to those who run the extant atomized structures called The Premier of Northern Nigeria make do with one or two official cars with his ministers using their own cars and claiming mileage allowances. In the last few years Governors disappeared from front row Business class seats and the hearty welcome by the Captain of His Excellency to chartered or owned Jets even when last month’s salaries had not been paid to people whose precarious existence looked so deep in water that even a ripple could drown them.
The ethics and morality of the times as well as the quality of exposure of those who run our states today, compared to those earlier times compared with failure of citizen engagement for accountability is significantly responsible for the problems. State Governors are treated and therefore act as Lords of Manor presiding over fiefdoms.
I never stop talking about how Dr. Michael Okpara never allocated a plot of Land in Enugu even though he had responsibility for the allocation, because of ethics and how those who came long after, presiding over smaller portions allocated hundreds of plots to themselves as EFCC cases suggest. The saudarna case in northern is even more amazing because he not only could not buy government lands but when he tried to buy private lands the banks told him his income was inadequate to support a mortgage. Can you imagine that happening today?
Part of the reason for this ship is the alchemy of soldiers and oil. Military rule with the command structure and limited room for questioning a superior officer, mixed with Oil revenues making taxation less of an imperative of how we govern ownership of the essence of governing slipped from the people and accountability as what people demand for use of their money was lost.
With a general collapse of culture, as the simple life left politics the subnational governments not given to wealth creation and the sourcing of future tax receipts multiple dimensions of the problem resulted in the crisis of this moment.
In my view what is needed is a radical rethinking of the way states are governed, especially in view of the abuse of the 1975/76 reforms of local government administration that brought them into the fiscal arrangements with transfers to them from the Federations Account. Access to the Distributable pool Fund has not buoyed Local Government Administration largely because of the quality of Leadership there and the advantage it provided governors who with the excuse of poor capacity prey on Local Government Funds. A comprehensive probe of this phenomenon in the last 16 years with consequences should help correct things.
We must become a learning people. It is not acceptable that in a time of forward surge around a globalized world our yesterday seems better than our today. This failure to learn is seen in the current crisis in the National Assembly where the practice of capture from the states has moved with the Governors who ran them to their favourite next step, the National Assembly. When I first reflected on the senate presidency elections and lamented that the change Nigerian people could be under threat, some thought it was alarmist. Not more than a week after it had become evident that I was prophetic and that if the people do not rally appropriately even regime legitimacy could be shaken.
It is critical that we not only rebuild our institutions but that we all take personal responsibility for how our conduct shapes history and the future of our children. The youth of our nation must seek better understanding of the signs and seasons and not just go on stereotyped abuse on matters they understand little. They must seek to make sure the pursuit of personal power does not jeopardize the promise of a nation and its generation of now.
If we can begin from the subnationals to rebuild, we may yet save the national government beset by the major challenges of economic management that has forgotten the people in favour of special intersts, creating income distribution challenges moving towards a time bomb with the levels of unemployment; systemic corruption; huge infrastructure deficit; and insecurity writ large on the land.
Pat Utomi, Political Economist and Prof of Entrepreneurship is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership.

DEMOCRACIES PARADOXIES AND HANDICAPS

You do not have to look hard to find the wisdom in Winston Churchill’s definition of democracy as the worst form of government, except for the rest. In our country, one of the great pointers to what is troubling about our democracy are the kind of people who dominate it.
Many political actors are hustlers and have no obvious other sources of livelihood than the rents they scavenge off being politically active, as well as the scams they perpetrate against the commonwealth, which are clearly debilitating of the process of delivering quality public service that advance the common good and improve the quality of life of citizens.
All these add to the image of politics and politicians as something unwholesome, causing many capable people to flee the public space. The result is that policy choice is significantly latrongenic, that is to say very of many times, the policy choices we make do more damage to the patient, than the disease we are trying to cure. This is understandable, as many who dominate the arena of policy making have neither the training, leadership capacity, nor the discipline to apply themselves, responsibly, to solving society’s problems. As a person usually cannot give what they do not have, the lacuna left by poor capacity is quickly filled by a process of goal displacement is as aptly described in the book; Complex Organizations, by Charles Perrow, resulting in an obsession with corrupt enrichment of self at the expense of public purpose. Goal displacement can be the bane of the bureaucratic order. In typical analysis this is seen as greed and a manifestation of a narcissism of the bureaucratic age, whereas the problem is a feeling of a void, created by lack of capacity and purpose, with other goals more personal than organizational or public, filling the void. This underlies the problem of local governments with “tout” councilors.
A general recourse in truly to solve this problem is to call for radical change in citizenship conduct such that the better prepared for public life instead of fleeing the public space not to be contaminated by the violence, blackmail and the mischievous scandalizing of those who enter by those who live off politics and often have nothing to lose by way of pedigree and reputation but everything to gain by the power, and material benefit that come from political position.
So we urge forward quality people, who are able, to enter political life. But what do they encounter? Their businesses are quickly stigmatized. They cannot access financial instruments because they are tagged politically exposed persons. With the PEP stigma they are likely to suffer in economic life and be tempted, like the professional politicians who lives off the system, to think of ways of surviving while serving sacrificially, for the good of all.
I know a few good men who have tried politics, motivated by the noble ideal of service, got so much poorer, without being appreciated for the sacrifice they made, that they swore never again to approach the arena of political life.
Which capable and competent professional would really want so seemingly a tainted tag as, politically exposed person? It’s easier for such people to cynically refer to the arena as territory of “Dem all crazy” and retreat into striving to construct his comfort zone, a bubbled based on an economistic sense of self love. The truth, in the end is that like all bubbles, it is not sustainable. Worse still all of society is poorer for that orientation. So how do we install a regime in which the professional politician is pushed back, and the citizen politician, equipped in the Aristotlean philosopher King mode steps forward, burdened by the need to advance shared prosperity and social harmony, to offer light.
My alarm on this subject has been heightened by the amazing number of people with and without capacity, who in my recent experience I found desperate to be appointed into positions of any kind in government. For the first time I came to a full understanding of why we have bloated government.
In my thinking, one of the ways to tackle this choking of the system, with carrying unproductive load, is to create more centres of prestige in society and reduce the material attraction of political life. Where the businessman who makes a success of enterprise, a bureaucrat who builds a reputation for attaining execution premium, and the soldiers who reaches to the top with distinction is celebrated and recognized as much as the political success there will a lower incentive for crowding out the arena of politics for those with the passion to serve. When a very strict culture of accountability, compensation systems different from what the National Assembly has managed to institute, are put in place, to ensure that political pay comes into line with the civil service compensation and requires sacrifice on the part of those in government.
People have to learn to sneer at politicians with no evidence of job creating, wealth creation enterprise, behind him or her. At the same time we should learn to celebrate the simple life in public life. The status conferral function of the media needs to be developed to raise the profile to politicians who move around without a coterie of aides and security people and who live very simple lives , do society a world of good.
At the same time the abusive interpretation of the idea of PEP should be reworked so that the entrepreneurially oriented who have capacity to advance the common good in public life with transparent systems to ensure accountability, and the blockage of possibilities of abuse of public position for self-interest, should not be disadvantaged by what the PEP idea insinuates.
With this in mind we can consciously look at the paradoxes of the Democratic culture in practice and evolution so that society profits from democracy as desired.
Pat Utomi, Political Economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership

THEY HAVE HIJACKED OUR CHANGE, AGAIN

It may sound naïve, especially for a person who is obviously a partisan, but my concern and alarm have little to do with the who won or lost in the National Assembly leadership election palava. Easy as this can be lost on the gladiators; we could be collectively sabotaging the poor ordinary people of Nigeria desperate for change. Could this elite which has consistently failed to find its mission and do for its people what their old classmates in schools in the US and UK and elsewhere in the West, have done for their people in Asia and Latin America, unwittingly miss this window built on a change mantra, and betray another generation. It was with this spirit of wondering how easily we chase power, unmindful of purpose that I exclaimed on seeing the political bloodletting in National Assembly leadership selection. My reaction was oh my God, not again. With the process and outcome clearly signaling disunity, lack of discipline and weak goal setting, and severe goal displacement, the least impact would be challenged implementation of what the people voted for.
Oh no. Its not happening again Not again in my life time? But it was happening. The sense of dejavu was not just troubling, and evidently palpable, it had a puzzling force that left you feeling and wondering how is this possible; the way you feel when a 747 or an A380 is tossed around by mere wind in clear air turbulence. The vote for change had run into turbulence at the inauguration of the National Assembly. It was not about who won or who the battle was against. It was about a public brawl and the change agenda.
It was about the ordinary people who had persevered so much in the face of underperforming and uncaring governments beholden to special interests and so seemingly unable, or unwilling, to go where less endowed rivals in other parts of the World have gone, and dramatically improved the lot of the people. To drive a change agenda for which the people voted in April, legislative Common purpose was a clear imperative. To go to legislative inauguration without Party discipline and with a fractions mode and the old ways, of , money and personality politics in top flight, was to betray the voters of this country, and that is what 9th June means to me. Hope has again been annulled and for the third time in my life a costly battle for change has again been hijacked. As 1993 and 1999 so seems to have gone 2015, if the people do not fight back.
I was lamenting these things when someone called my attention to and advertised full page opinion by some concerned APC members in Daily Trust Newspaper of the 9th of June. That Advert was so reminiscent of the kinds of Advertisements published in 1993/94 by the Concerned Professionals that I did exactly the same thing I did in 1993.
In that year many of us had canvassed a change agenda. The social Democratic Party and its flag bearer, Chief MKO Abiola had come to symbolize that change. Two days after that historic vote I journeyed to the United States to attend a convention. It was at that convention that a Ugandan delegate came up to me, very angry saying “you Nigerians, you Nigerians, whenever Africa is set for progress you drag us back”. I was not sure what he was talking about, but that was how I learnt of the annulment of the June 12 elections. I immediately packed my stuff and went up to my room and began writing an OPED piece that would appear under the title “We Must Say Never Again”. That piece resulted in the founding of the Concerned Professionals. That body acquitted itself well in the struggle against military. It was a principle based struggle. They may have sent policemen to beat us up as we protested and sent assassins after a few like myself but the principle was not lost on them.
When Abacha passed and they withdrew under pressure we erred in thinking our work was done. The politics of the last 16 years that followed, left Nigerians so exasperated that they jumped on the Change mantra. So uplifted were they with the outcome that they assumed their World would change dramatically come May 29. Such was the expectations that analysts worried the expectations were unrealistic and bordered on expecting miracles.
Then comes June 9. For days before the vote for National Assembly leaders I kept saying that for me it was not about a particular candidate but about a process that shows party discipline and national consensus around an agenda for change. If the process gets fractured, I had warned what will happen will include a return to the old ways of vote buying in which goals of the common Good are traded off in the old goal displacement ways, for money and self-interest. Then there is the loss of speed on consensus critical for change legislation. My song was clearly a borrowed verse from US President Lyndon Baines Johnson, and Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohammed: It is better for all to be inside the house pissing out, than for some to be outside the House pissing in.
It is easy to see it as a simple political game if you miss the cost of these simple games for why Nigeria is poor and our society is marked by much disharmony. You may then analyze New PDP vs other groups in APC, or checking certain power blocs. Even many of the actors who presume to be acting in self-interest have embraced a narcissism that has blinded them to their own long term self-interest, as they embrace short term personal gain. Because of this the ‘only business in town’, politics, manages to do continuous damage to the real sector businesses which give life to a majority of the people. But to the short sighted, it does not matter, this is politics. So my view was, sort these things out, whether in smoke filled rooms, or in a sanctuary of truth and love for the suffering poor of this endowed society. The signaling from a public brawl that will bruise egos and carve cleavages into the polity and etch animosities into the relationships even in intra party affairs may create momentary victories but they have a sad way of amounting to phyyric victories and delaying the reclaiming of the promise of Nigeria.
With mountain high challenges in the economy, trailed by an unemployment time bomb; security problems that go beyond the Boko Haram and Kidnappings, and Electrical and Petroleum sectors, in much need for reform, even as corruption, failing education and healthcare make us a tribe of refugee around the planet; now was not the time for politics as usual.
I have tired of worrying about Raw political power, quest for possessions and quick inclination to predation (The 3Ps) muzzling Purpose, to prevent progress, in Nigeria. The 9th of June brought it home again. There could be merit in the pocket wars and persons that were the target of breaching the consensus for change on that day, but the consequence will no doubt be progress deferred. The big losers, the people; the small mechanic who needs electric power for a job to earn the next meal, the farmer who remains in subsistence because poor infrastructure locks him out while public officials live like Lords off a wobby state, To the truth and prescription the citizen typically go away forlon for they swallow the lies of politics as usual. The only solution for me is people power. The people must say to a political class riding roughshod on their well being: enough is enough. People power must come to save the people recovering from the euphoria of a promise of change that seems deferred again.
What was the purpose of the vote for change? The purpose is an elite that for one generation failed a people and denied them the progress they deserve and desire, should change their way and bring progress to the greatest number of people. The patience had worn thin. Now it is the people must now take back their country anyway they see fit. They cannot watch as Singapore escapes Third World status, South korea, became one of the most knowledge-driven high income societies on earth and Brazil go from potential to a top 10 economy in the World. These countries found a patriotic elite at some point that sacrificed for progress. Since Nigeria has been repeatedly denied such by its elite the people may have no choice but to rise up and save themselves. There were enough blames for June 9 to go around, from the APC Party hierarchy whose complicit role was put forward in the Advert I referred to in morning in The Daily Trust by some concerned APC members, to PDP leadership whose business, no doubt, is to make the party in Government uncomfortable but who must know that in decent societies a government must be allowed to settle in and not for legislators to collaborate with those across the Isle in ways that can be disruptive. Fortunately, it’s never too late to begin again.
Pat Utomi, Political Economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership.

PLAIN TRUTHS FROM RENEWAL

You are right again Einstein. The old thinking that created this problem will not fix it. Nothing is more desperately needed than a new way of thinking about our problems in Nigeria, but there is ever present dangers if old ways still hold sway. In the area of the greatest urgency, saving the country from impending bankruptcy, wiping the unemployment scourge, and boosting confidence in future prospects, through inspiring our youth to recreate the future, challenges of approach remain. Has change really come?
It is common talk amongst those who know that if we do not do an extra- ordinary job of cutting our coat according to out cloth we shall be knocking on the doors of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) before the end of this year. Their conditionality may prove far more painful than the enjoyment of few private jet owners during the difficult to pardon recklessness of our recent history. How do we recapture the lost opportunities and rebuild the wounded lives that victims of our wrong choices have endured.
In my view, the new thinking must include a show of example at the top. That show of example has to include deep cost cutting on protocols, unnecessary aides and wasteful entertainment on the executive side, and on the side of the National Assembly. We may be constrained by the constitution from going directly to a citizen legislature, or part time Assembly, which is what we really need, but some major cuts and shifts in how that body operates is a national emergency, before the country heads for the IMF. We do not want to be in Africa, what Greece is in Europe.
We should not see that matter as fault finding because what we need the most right now, is elite consensus and rallying common cause for rebuilding the fallen walls of the fatherland. The legislators of the land, just as the big man of power in the executive, need to see this as a patriotic rallying cause. Even more importantly the bureaucrats in the system should show leadership and plug the leaks in the system as well as Dams over corruption streams that make policy implementation difficult. Everyone needs to be inside this house of reconstruction, pissing out, rather than for some to be outside in the ‘open air of their selfish interest’ pissing in.
What Nigeria is caught up in, with finances so bad, following on a period of earnings boom from which there could have been much savings, but little was done, is the moral equivalence of war. We need therefore a war cabinet of economic reconstruction with new thinking not only on how to plug the leakages but also on how to harvest the demographic dividend of our huge youth bulge. My preferred approach is a total emersion in an entrepreneurial revolution that draw the youth of Nigeria, in a change of mindset, from a rent –based consumer economy, to a creative, competitive production economy. In this model the factor endowments of different zones of development should be that basis for building globally competitive value chains that are private sector driven with impassioned public sector facilitation in contradistinction from today’s public sector with a culture of the policemen slowing things down, and often extorting from potential job and wealth creators, who are then discouraged. This process will involve converting the customs and immigration agencies into public relations vehicles competing for who will best welcome those who add value to the Nigerian experience.
In each zone the educational system needs to be deliberately focused on competitiveness on the endowments of that zone. The new industrial policy should locate Industrial Parks and incubators, with Entrepreneurship Extension Service Agents to hand hold young Entrepreneurs and guide them to global leadership on segments of the chosen value chains. I do go as far as suggesting a Central Banking strategy similar to the regional Reserve Bank system in the United States in which the Central Banks are driven by the goal of stimulating regional commercial Banks directed at the regions endowments, and global competitiveness.
It is jobs created in this way that will prove sustainable pipeline for new jobs, reviving both Agriculture, relevant manufacturing and some services in the ICT, and tourism niches, that will replace some short term new jobs from public works programmes that will provide quick infrastructure and improved environment ‘value – adds’ while the young persons are developing new skills, part time, as they work on the public works initiatives.
Critical to such a strategy will be interministerial coordination skills at the horizontal level, and state and federal coordination, at the vertical level. The spice will however lie in motivating the young persons to confidently own the future and to recognize that if they can dream it, they can make it happen.
Surely the intersection of fall in Oil prices and change in Administrators is an opportunity rather than a threat. It is an opportunity to move from angry helpless youth to confident creative, new generation, building a dream nation. It is opportunity to go from cutting corners and instant gratification, to deferred gratification that creates lasting value. It is opportunity to shift from poverty and a miserable place in the misery index, to a nation of many triumphs and prosperity. The big challenge here is that if we are to save Nigeria from the old thinking that got us where we are, being the same deployed to save us, we must admit some truths. One of them is that as a country Nigeria has been mortgaged to some special interests since the time of military rule.
For these interests, change is not about the common Good. It is a matter of reshuffling the deck, change is about new lists of surrogates. The Nigerian people may therefore just wake up to their great expectations quickly becoming rising frustration.
If the youth of the land want to save their future they must not relax in the believe change has come. They must be prepared to take extraordinary measures to prevent these special interests who finance elections from sacrificing the greater good at the altar of recouping their “investments”. No one should be shy of talking of an unfinished revolution and working towards finishing it. No generation deserves to carry the burden of narcissism of a handful of men from a generation before.

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