I have always held the view that it is the economy that will force us to rational Behaviour. We can fool around as much as we can, argue as much as we can with all kinds of biased, ethnic, religious or primordial considerations but when the economic reality dawns on us, we either decide to take the right decisions or we are forced to sink.
For many years I have stood against State creation. I have argued that State creation destabilizes the Federation, making the centre much more stronger and more domineering. I have argued that every new State comes with its admistrative paraphernalia that consumes the income that should be devoted to development. I have argued that most of the existing states are unviable and many are insolvent and there was no economic justification to create more. I had argued that States in Nigeria were not created for altruistic reasons. They were created primarily to weaken Eastern Nigeria and subsequently Biafra in 1967. They succeeded in that mission and have continued to weaken Nigeria ever since as we went from 12 to 19 to 21 to 30 and then to 36. I have further argued that we should restructure the Federation by either returning to the Regional structure ( now 6 Regions instead of the previous 4) or at least forge Regional cooperation within regions to share services, save costs and optimize resources.
Most times I have faced opposition either from some ambitious politicians who are looking for turf to 'colonize' and rape or from some"ignorant" Nigerians who thought their lives would be better if they had their own states. At the National Political Conference in 2005, I was very vocal in my opposition to any issue of state creation, until I was "bribed" with promise of one additional State for the South East without prejudice as a gratuitous gift from 'considerate' Nigerians who agreed that it was a manifest injustice for the zone to have only five States, while the North west has Seven States. But this 'wonderful consideration or concession' was followed by agreement to create additional but equal number of States in the six geo-political zones. It is note worthy that the recent National conference called by the immediate Past President came up with similar recommendations: Create more States. Since then I have used every opportunity I have found to draw attention to the political and economic reasons why we should not create more States. I have written several articles on the subject and devoted much space on this in my books.
But watching what has been happening in most of our States in the last one year or so since the price of crude petroleum took a precipitate drive southwards, I have decided to 'change 'my mind. I have decided that actually we should create more States. If possible, let us turn each of the local Governments into States, so we can have at least 774 States. In which case I will have ' the Autonomous State of Arochukwu' similar to Rauf Aregbesola's 'State of Osun',except that mine will carry the additional word- autonomous, akin to the autonomous communities we have in Igbo land which is indicative of our freedom to do what ever we like without reference to any other authority. If the 'confederate' State of Osun can owe workers salaries for seven months, it will be no news if my ' Autonomous State of Arochukwu' owes twelve months salaries or indeed runs the government without paying salaries or even without employing workers at all! Can anybody measure the productivity of workers who have not been paid for seven months? It must be close to zero which is almost equivalent to having no employees. What is the difference between six and half a dozen? Please answer me!
Another area I have cried my self hoarse, is the issue of Petroleum subsidies. I have used the platform of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group and other platforms including the Presidential Advisory Council and Presidential committees, to canvass the overriding need to fully deregulate the down stream Petroleum sector. I have written severally on this need. I had called it a double jeopardy for our Country. I had shown how 300billion Naira given to the SURE-P committee in 2012 and 2013 produced Roads, Bridges, Rail lines, built health and maternity centres and provided some adhoc employment for teeming Nigerian Youth and Women, as against the nearly 2 Trillion Naira we spent on Petroleum subsidy in 2011 alone, that produced nothing except sordid allegations, confusion and misery for more Nigerians. Well, some would say it produced more private jets!. I had argued that total removal of subsidies from Petroleum products, will save money for the Country, providing needed capital funding to develop infrastructure; minimize if not totally remove the alleged corruption in the subsidy scheme, provide economic ambience for new investment by the private sector in the sector and ensure that local refineries come alive. Indeed in my recent memo to President Muhammadu Buhari, I joined many other commentators and Patriots to request him to make the total deregulation of the down stream Petroleum sector an urgent priority.
But having watched the recent economic hardship in the Country, where we pay Subsidy to oil importers and then turn around to pay the market price for the same "subsidized" products at the filling stations, I am about to 'change' my mind. Watching workers in the Federal and State government employment complain of no salaries because of decline in National income from oil, I now want to join the Nigerian Labour Congress(NLC ) and the Trade Union Congress( TUC), who actually should be worried that their members are working without pay, but prefer to insist that Government must not deregulate, to say that we should not deregulate any more. I even want to go further and suggest that we should reduce the pump price to like 50 Naira per liter, so that we can pay the petroleum importers more subsidy. And should our current National income not be be enough to meet the subsidy claims,then we can apply to the World Bank or the IMF to bail us out. Since the NLC & TUC, do not care or worry if salaries are paid, then we can devote all earnings and borrowings to meet subsidy claims by refined oil importers. And please nobody should talk of deregulation or removal of subsidies thereafter, until the refineries are fixed and working to full capacity. If any one tries, I will join the NLC & TUC to 'ground' the economy as they had repeatedly done during the more recent heroic efforts of Presidents Obasanjo and Jonathan. My only regret is that I did not join them then and may be too hungry to join them in future, if things continue this way and my paltry pension is affected. God, please help us!
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR
Sunday, 28 June 2015
Monday, 22 June 2015
On the 29th of May( about 3weeks now), I arrived Miami, Florida in the United States of America to attend my son's graduation from the Ross University School of Medicine( RUSM). The first thing I did was to link up with Nigeria on the Internet and on phone. I was eager to hear President Buhari's inaugural speech. I was impressed with its brevity and memorable literary lacings. The quote from Shakespeare on the import of seizing the moment was heart stirring and the catcher" I belong to everybody and I belong to Nobody" was poignant, brilliant and pregnant.
When he finished speaking, I swallowed hard and lingered around as if waiting for more. Somehow, rightly or wrongly, I had expected more from that Speech. It was a speech and a day many Nigerians had waited for with high expectations. In the weeks preceding the handover, if you complained about anything, especially matters related to governance or the economy, you were told to wait till the 29th of May. And so we waited. Among other things, I was hoping to gleam from that speech the economic direction of his government and perhaps some major policy planks in the Socio-political arena. But there was not much. Well, this may be part of the change, I thought. Traditionally in Nigeria, inaugural speeches are usually longer and more detailed, whether new civilian president or new military president.
Then I concluded that the agenda would begin to unfold from the next day, more so as I have held the view that President Muhammadu Buhari has adequately prepared for the job, perhaps more than anybody else who had occupied that position. I had canvassed the expectation that he would hit the ground running. Every day I would read all the Nigerian newspapers on line, listened to Aljazera and CNN, called my friends at home in Nigeria, no news. Then we heard of the appointment of Media Adviser and a senior special assistant on media and I asked why? If we want smaller government, this is where to start. Media adviser is good enough, why duplicate with a senior special assistant on the same assignment. That was how it was, but in this change era, it should not be so. Yet, we shall still have the Minister of Information. By the way, I am told that Presidential advisers are on the same salary level with Ministers, so we already have a minister equivalent. After that, we heard that the President has sent a request for Fifteen Advisers which is equivalent to fifteen Ministers in terms of cost to the people of Nigeria. Up till date, I do not know if the Advisers were approved and who those advisers are, including what they are being hired to advise on. May be, I missed the news. But,I pray that we do not have Presidential Adviser on Domestic affairs again. Mrs Aisha Buhari should be in a position to handle this familiar terrain with ease. All we need is to increase her allowance! Then everything went cold and quiet.
I returned to the Country last week and I began to read all the newspapers afresh, in case I missed something from the online versions. I spoke to my friends in the Private sector about business, and they said everywhere was quiet, that they were waiting for the new President to unfold his economic agenda. That they were tired of second guessing him or listening to the economic projections of the cerebral Bismack Rewane, irrepressible Pat Utomi and their 'trybe' of economic 'seers and soothsayers'. That they needed to hear from the' horse's mouth'.And then I joined in the wait. And what we heard was that the President had travelled to Niger, then to Germany, then to South Africa where he told Nigerians there not to expect an old man of 72 to perform miracles or magic! Thereafter we read of elder Ahmed Joda and some APC party chieftains asking Nigerians to be patient. And I said, for how long? If they told us for how long, then we could switch off and face other things, rather than listen to AIT at 8pm, NTA at 9pm,Channels at 10pm, Silverbird at 11 pm in search of direction from the new government.
Indeed it was in this search for news, that I ran into the drama at the International conference centre in Abuja and at the National Assembly. This has kept us busy since last week, reviewing and analyzing the thriller. Who was the fifth columnist who sold the APC legislators a dummy? Whether he was an insider or outsider, he must receive an award for being the greatest dummy seller in Nigeria. For APC, it was the equivalent of scoring own goal in a World Cup final. But for Nigeria, I have a feeling that it is a good omen. Our Legislators haven blunted the party hard line of division, can now review matters from a common Nationalistic outlook. May be, this will speed up the passage of critical bills like the PIB, the Railway Bill and the recommendations of the National Conference.
Meanwhile the President has returned from his 'nuptial' trips and the transition committee has submitted its report, after reading and reviewing the handover notes from the previous government and the 'Newswatch' has resumed. Looking at the size of the reports submitted by Alhaji Joda and his team of ' transistors', I am praying that we will not need another committee to do a white paper on the report while we wait. Yesterday at a board meeting, during the discussion on the economy, many of the directors expressed concern with the level of uncertainty in the economy and complained that it was not helping business. They emphasized that businesses can not thrive in climates of uncertainty, and the longer the uncertainty, the more inclement the climate becomes. As I am won't to doing, empathizing with the establishment, I joined in the "let's be patient" sermonizing, emphasizing that Preparation comes before success and that the type of change anticipated requires plenty of preparation. In apparent frustration, one of the directors quipped " Is uncertainty part of the change we asked for?" Another answered " It could be a variant". "How?" the other guy retorted. "Because when you move from Gear one to neutral, it is a change", "Too bad!" the first director replied and concluded " If uncertainty is change, then it is a MALODOROUS one". At this point the Chairman of the Board asked for adjournment of the meeting and I supported him.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR
Thursday, 18 June 2015
I am grateful to the leadership of the Public Administration and Management Development Institute( PAMDI) for the kind invitation to speak at this year's conference. These are 'political times' in our Nation and the subject for my intervention is germane. Nigerians must remain thankful to God for a long time to come for the peaceful elections and the smooth transfer of power from Dr Goodluck Jonathan to Muhammadu Buhari, from PDP to APC. It is a unique development in our Nation and perhaps signals that may be at long last our Democracy is maturing .
In matured Societies as you see in Europe and else where and to a great extent in the United States of America, people are evaluated for their fit for a particular Job or position based largely on identifiable and measurable criteria. They look at your education, experience, skills and other such issues in making a choice. They hardly will be interested in who your father was or were he came from or what is your mother tongue. In the truly sophiscated societies they would not care what the color of your skin is and these days they do not even care if you have physical disabilities, or your sexual orientation as long as it would not hamper the discharge of your responsibilities. In a number of these societies, they have come this far from the civil & cultural evolution of their societies and in others, they have been helped by legislations which stand against any form of primordial considerations in employment or political expression. We know that in the United States of America, the fight to abolish racial discrimination lasted centuries and we can still feel some of the vestiges. In nearby South Africa, the evil of apartheid was only recently defeated and the Nation is still struggling with it. But even in these two Countries they seem to have overcome primordial considerations in their Politics. Obama's two-term presidency in the United States and the African National Congress( ANC) black dominated Government in South Africa bear eloquent testimony to this.
In our Nigerian society and in many similar less developed countries especially in Africa, primordial considerations remain prominent in the allocation of employment opportunities and in the filling of political positions. Issues of Ethnicity, Tribe, State of Origin, Religion, language spoken and cultural affiliations remain significant in the choice of candidates for political offices and employment. In a multiethnic Nation or federation with diverse Nationalities, primordial considerations assume wider importance. In the Nigerian political environment, it is called Zoning and in employment it is called Federal character. To be sure, when properly applied, it could lead to inclusiveness, maintaining some balance of fairness in sharing political offices and hopefully engendering a General sense of ownership.
THE IMPACT ON INSTITUTIONS
The word is when properly applied. But in our recent history, there is little evidence that the use of primordial considerations has been helpful in maintaining institutional stability or advancing corporate growth. The impact has been detrimental to most National institutions. When a new President is sworn in or a new Governor is sworn as we have just done, changes in institutional leadership and management become imminent and prominent. In the best of cases, these changes happen supposedly to ensure fair spread of appointments. But in most cases they are undertaken to put the President's Men or the Governor's men in position. People are appointed seldomly because of competence or skills, but mostly because of relationships and affiliations. The governor appoints his inlaw as the chief of Staff and most of the advisers are either School mates, church members, people from the same town or fellow cult members. Very often political affiliations take primary consideration, even when the institutions to which they are appointed to lead are supposed to be apolitical or politically neutral.
Whether in the best or worst case, the often unwarranted changes create needless instability to the institutions. As positions change, so do policies and practices. The concept of "it is our turn"dislocates the existing systems and people are moved or removed to create way for 'our own loyal persons'. The newly appointed people, knowing often why they were appointed( not necessarily for competence or capability) place their allegiance not to the institution but to the person who appointed them. And with that the institution gets weakened, unable to meet its mandate or pursue its vision .
Soon the Governor finishes his term or he is impeached or the minister gets changed. The new incumbent starts the cycle afresh and the institution goes through another round of dislocation and convulsion. Institutional learning is abridged or thrown overboard and new experimentation starts which may also be prematurely terminated. Is it then little wonder that National institutions are perennially underperforming. Be it political, military, economic or social; be it regulatory, judicial, legislative or administrative.
IS REDEMPTION POSSIBLE?
Nigeria's political instability is traceable to the weakness of its political institutions. The chronic underperformance of our Nation is traceable to poor political leadership at different levels. A major hindrance to the emergence of quality leadership is the use of primordial considerations in selecting leadership in our Nation. Unfortunately, on many occasions, political leadership based on mundane primordial considerations have disappointed all including the promoters. Many god sons have turned against their god fathers, and many poor successors have rubbished the legacies of their predecessors. I believe therefore that it is about time, we began to jettison primordial considerations in selecting political and administrative leadership. Lessons from other climes have shown that when the qualified and the competent assume positions of leadership and authority, there is increased productivity, growth and development. Here everybody becomes a winner.
Even in our own Country Nigeria, we can learn from the Private sector which has made some significant advance in jettisoning mundane and primordial considerations in selecting Leadership and management. Focus has shifted to competence and skills and the shareholders are the better for it. Every sector where significant growth has been reported in the economy like Banking, Telecommunications, oil & Gas, Food & Beverages and ICT, a revolution is taking place,driven by the way human capital is recruited for these companies. Even in our limited experience in the Political arena, there is ample evidence that when Competences and skills are given preeminence, the result has been heartwarming. The stories of Akinwunmi Adesina in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Dora Akinyuli in the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration & Control(NAFDAC),Ernest Ndukwe in the Nigerian Communications Commission( NCC ), Ifueko Omogui-Okauru in the Federal Inland Revenue Service( FIRS) and M.K. Ahmad in the National Pension Commission( PENCOM),just to mention a few, are indicative of what is possible, when we jettison or minimize primordial considerations in political and administrative appointments.
Perhaps there is a lesson to be learnt here as our brand new President and the State Governors begin to make new appointments and cause dislocations in our state institutions. Good things can only give way to better things. Change for change sake is a dangerous proposition, but purposeful and positive change can only happen when the Expereienced, the competent and the skilled are carefully selected to run our institutions, with minimum attention to primordial considerations. I guess that is enough justification for holding this PAMDI conference at this auspicious time. I am however hoping that some one is listening.
Thank you for your attention. God bless
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR
( This is the text of a speech I delivered today at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Public Administration and Management Development Institute)
Sunday, 7 June 2015
Your Excellency, as I conclude this three -part memo as my humble contribution to support your historic assumption of office after a record lengthy struggle, permit me to give my thoughts on some of the very critical issues on which you have promised the Nation significant, if not revolutionary change. I have chosen to write on them last because, in my candid opinion, these are the areas you need the best advice and the greatest help. This is so,because when all is said and done, these are the sentiments on which you won the election and it is on these your success will be measured:
FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION
Nigerians can and do disagree on many issues. But when it comes to corruption, ALL Nigerians agree that the level of corruption in Nigeria is very high. When the Transparency International places us year after year at the bottom quarter of the Corruption Perception Index(CPI), they are only reflecting what we Nigerians and our friends say about ourselves. They do not do so out of hatred or bias. Therefore, since there is this unanimous recognition and acceptance of this national malady, it should be relatively easy to cure it, because as we say in Healthcare, the successful diagnosis of a malady, is half the solution. But the problem we have in Nigeria is that while everybody accepts and confesses that our Country is corrupt, very few are willing to accept that they are part of the corruption. The General tendency is to see the corruption everywhere else, outside of ourselves. It is always that some one else or some other organization or some other group or sector is corrupt. And not us.
Often, corruption in Nigeria is said to exist only in the government, and every other sector is clean, only politicians are corrupt while other professionals are not. It is only the Police that is corrupt, but we who commit traffic offense and bribe the Police to let us off the hook are not corrupt. The taxi driver who cheats or overcharges his passenger does not see any corruption in what he is doing but is quick to accuse the Police at the check point who collects twenty naira from him as corrupt. The electorate who demands money or gifts from the politician before he casts his vote for him on Election Day, does not see that as corruption but shouts at the INEC official who connives with another politician to change results. The Private sector employee who makes a false claim on his tax form of having four Children and two aged parents, when he has only a child and his parents are long dead, does not see that as corruption but will ask that the Legislator who collects "oversight" ticket from the Securities & Exchange Commission(SEC),should be sent to jail for being corrupt. Even the Journalist who demands or expects a brown envelope before he writes a story or publishes an article seems oblivious of his corrupt Behavior but is ready to ask for the head of a soldier who rides in a bus without paying the fare.
Your Excellency we can never win the war against corruption until we have a common definition of corruption. To us Nigerians, corruption means different things and majority of us are blind to our own corrupt activities. I believe this is one of the frustrations that your immediate predecessor, Dr Goodluck Jonathan expressed when he tried to distinguish stealing from the omnibus word -Corruption. But the same hypocritical Nigerians made a joke of a serious matter. So sir, my first advice on this subject is that we need to define corruption in the Nigerian context. In the event that you plan to retain the National Orientation Agency(NOA), this might be a worthwhile assignment. You may wish to rename them National Anti corruption Agency( NAA) .We need to agree on what corruption means and how it manifests and they should impress it upon every Nigerian. It should be taught in our schools and we must find a way of testing every Nigerian's full and unambiguous understanding of what corruption is and how it manifests. May be we should include it in the test for driver's license renewal or what ever. Let Nigerians know that corruption is not only the taking of Bribes or awarding of inflated contracts. It is much much more. Let the NAA carry out a campaign on this as the first shot to be fired in this war.
Sir, the second recommended step is to ensure that all law enforcement officers from the Police, the Federal Road Safety corps, and Regulators of all kinds,to the Judicial officers at all levels are well paid and well maintained. Hungry men can never successfully enforce laws, nor can they successfully resist temptations to be corrupt. Some of those we arm to fight crimes or maintain the law are paid 'starvation' wages and many have become 'official' armed robbers.My point is that if we must make the war effective, and sustainable, we must take good care of those who will be directly involved in the war fare, other wise the hunter might end up being the hunted.
Third Sir, is that the Governments of the Federation must become responsible employers. They must not hire people, if there is no budget to pay them. Employees must be paid on due dates and all of their other entitlements paid as at when due. Government must never again wait for workers to threaten strike or go on strike before their legitimate demand are met or before promises are fulfilled and agreements implemented. Your Excellency, I do not know your experience, since for most of your life you have lived on government largesse,( Officer Cadet,Commanding officer, Minister, Head of State, Retired General and now President), perhaps in your younger days as Junior Army officer you may have experienced it; it is very very difficult for most working Nigerians to survive on their salaries without 'additional income'.In the frank absence of social safety,they bear many burdens for themselves, their families( nuclear & extended) and the community. Now how are these workers expected to survive when salaries are delayed, and as happens very often in States, workers are owed six months salary. Believe me Sir, it will be difficult to fight a war against corruption in such a milieu, not to talk of ever winning.
Fourth Sir, we must all lead by example. And I believe you will lead by example. But it is critical that all other leaders and office bearers in your administration at all levels must be made to lead by example. When a head of department or agency is abusing his office, it is futile to expect those under his or her command or supervision to be angels. The fish begins to rot from the head. So we need to keep surveillance over all leaders in the government. This must be some agency's responsibility. If you intend to keep the ICPC, this should be their assignment or if not, you may assign this to the bureau responsible for public officers asset declaration- Code of Conduct Bureau. In which case their mandate will be to investigate any officer who is living above his means. They must not wait to receive petitions or complaints, they should work like internal auditors who routinely check that things are going according to plan, and where they notice incongruences, people are invited to prove their innocence. In Abuja, many people know many Mid level and Senior Public Servants( retired and serving )who own high rise buildings in Maitama and Wuse and yet no body is questioning them,perhaps because everybody is playing the same games.
Your Excellency, Focusing only on political office holders and throwing them into jails as you did the last time will not work and I believe that you know that it did not work even then. That is why I am making these suggestions. We must begin this fight from first principles, so that the impact will be far reaching. I am not suggesting a police State. What I am saying is that People must be conscious of the consequences of corruptive activities and must feel that they could be caught. We must not allow those who have become adept at covering their tracks to continue their dastardly acts and believe they would get away as they have done in the past. My point is that there must be deterrence, if the battle will be won. All over the World, including the most developed Countries there are men and women who are pushed by their lust to abuse Public trust, but they ultimately get caught, not necessarily that some body complained, but because' Uncle Sam is watching' as they say in the United States of America.
If you ask me, I will suggest that you do not spare costs in revamping, rekitting and rebuilding our security infrastructure. Sir, you have said it and it is well established that the first responsibility of any government is to protect lives and property of its citizens. When a government fails in this primary responsibility, for what ever reasons( defensible or not), then its legitimacy is called to question. We know there is Bokoharam terrorism in the North, which is significantly under control, but it took the military time to achieve this feat, most probably due to poor equipment and morale. But as bad as terrorism is, it is not the only security challenge that Nigeria faces. To be sincere to you, most Nigerians and our foreign business associates feel that Nigeria is Unsafe. In Nigeria life is cheap. People are murdered in broad day light, and the criminals disappear like 'spirits' never to be found, except perhaps if the person they killed is a Policeman!. So rather than give free meals to students or invest limited National income in some public sector funded physical Projects, let's first rebuild our police force, develop a robust intelligence gathering capacity and ensure that no criminal escapes speedy justice in our country.
LAW & ORDER
Your Excellency, if you can turn the image of our Country from that where anything goes to one where law and order reigns, you would have met the expectations of most Nigerians, including those of Nigerians yet unborn. In this you will need the support of the other arms of government ( legislature and Judiciary) and other tiers of government( States and local governments). But you will have to lead. Truly, we may not necessarily need new laws. Let us obey and enforce all existing laws in our Statute . If one keeps the laws and follows the rules, he will get all that are due him and he will be protected by the State. If any breaks any law( minor or major), the State will go after him in line with due process and he will be made to pay. No friends, no foes. No bias , no favour. No exemptions. No exclusions. " I belong to Nobody but I am for everybody"
Your excellency if you spend all your time fighting corruption justly, keeping Nigerians safe where ever they live or work, going after criminals and law breakers and Enthroning law and order, you would make Nigeria A preferred investment destination. Then the Private Sector( Domestic and International) will bring in the investment to support the building of infrastructure, and the establishment of businesses that will create employment and generate wealth, thereby reducing poverty.
RELATIONSHIP WITH THE PEOPLE
Finally your Excellency, please do not allow your self to be held hostage by your aides or officialdom. You freely moved around the People when you canvassed for their votes. You held town hall meetings and village hall meetings to explain yourself to the people. Please do not allow anything keep you away from the People. Find regular opportunities to shake off officialdom and touch base with the Real People and get first hand information on how things are going. Do not allow yourself to be shielded from Reality. Remember that you met them on your way to the top, and that they will still be there on your way down. May the grace of God give you the Solomonic wisdom to lead Nigeria successfully. Thank you so much for finding time to read my memo . Respectfully submitted.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR