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Wednesday, 30 December 2015

DEMYSTIFYING & REFORMING THE SECURITY VOTE CESSPOOL


  In many  of my commentaries and books, I had criticized the Security vote provisions for the executive arm of government at all levels in our Country. I had done so for a number of reasons. The first is that I felt that the amounts that are drawn monthly by the chief executives for 'security' purposes was too much and dis proportionate to the other needs of the governments. In some States, the security vote appropriation was higher than allocation to Health care for the entire State. And we know that in addition to this vote, specific budgetary provisions for most of the security agencies like the Military, Police, Civil Defence, etc are usually made. Worse is that these so called security votes were also given priority place in cash disbursement. Thus even when we do not have cash to pay workers salaries in many States of the Federation, we conjured cash to draw down security votes.
  The second reason I have been uncomfortable with the Security vote issue is that it lacked every modicum of transparency. One man, called a governor or President was officially allowed to expend public money without accounting to no body. I thought this was bad in a democracy and infringed on the rights of the citizens to know and hold their leaders accountable for the disbursement of public funds. The third concern which derives from two above is that if there is no accountability required, then abuse would naturally follow. If Governors and Presidents were allowed to spend the Security votes without accounting, then they would be tempted to use it for both public and private purposes. In fact I suspected that they would use it more for private and personal purposes. My suspicion was strengthened when I found that in many states, that despite the huge security votes, crime rate remained high. Armed robbery,kidnapping and later terrorism have become almost normal in Nigeria in spite of the huge security votes collected regularly by the State Chief executives. 
   I remember one state chief executive who in trying to say that he was 'clean ' and not greedy announced that he 'only took that which belonged to him and did not look elsewhere'. In which case he saw the security vote as an entitlement and thus appropriated it as personal, spending most of it for his personal use and perhaps using a small fraction for sundry token security gestures like buying a few pick up vans for the police! But in all my writings and criticisms of the security votes, nothing prepared me for the recent media reported use of Security votes as revealed by the former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki. National income freely disbursed to politicians to pursue sundry partisan political and private objectives, most of which had nothing to do with National Security or did they?
 When I expressed my disgust and utter consternation at what I see as a brazen abuse of office, some of my friends told me that,there was nothing unusual in those revelations. That this was the way it was during the Military reign  and so it has been since the different regimes in our civilian democracy. I argued that it could not be, then they asked me to convince President Buhari to extend the demystification of the Security votes to the regimes before Jonathan and that I would faint if I got a glimpse of how the previous military and civilian presidents and governors spent their security votes.  I was downcast and crestfallen .
  It has been an open secret that our Nation has underperformed over many years. Everybody knows that our National resources have been poorly managed and there is agreement that our Nation has been a bastion of corruption. But as has been recently revealed, the security vote factor is a significant contributor to all these. Therefore, in addition to the ongoing probes of the former NSA and other probes that will follow, as Nigeria frontally confronts the challenge of endemic National wealth mismanagement and insidious corruption, I strongly believe that we must reform the Security vote concept immediately. First, we must specify what the vote will be used for, just the same way as we budget for items under the a Ministry of Works or defence. Second, we must have the National or State Assembly review, interrogate and approve the vote and its constituents through open debates as is done for other appropriation items. Third, is that the Chief executives must now openly account for the expenditures. The veil over security votes has been broken by Col Dasuki and so there is nothing else to hide. Fourthly, we must wean our current Chief executives from seeing the security vote as an entitlement or additional income source for them. We do not want to hear later, other Soddy stories of how they have misused our National patrimony only after they have left office. The fight against corruption must be more proactive than retroactive. And most importantly, it must be devoid of any political witch hunt if it is in the real interest of the ordinary Nigerian Citizen who wants a Nation led by shepherds and stewards and not hirelings and predators .
  Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 

2015: GOOD POLITICS, BAD ECONOMICS


  In many  of my commentaries and books, I had criticized the Security vote provisions for the executive arm of government at all levels in our Country. I had done so for a number of reasons. The first is that I felt that the amounts that are drawn monthly by the chief executives for 'security' purposes was too much and dis proportionate to the other needs of the governments. In some States, the security vote appropriation was higher than allocation to Health care for the entire State. And we know that in addition to this vote, specific budgetary provisions for most of the security agencies like the Military, Police, Civil Defence, etc are usually made. Worse is that these so called security votes were also given priority place in cash disbursement. Thus even when we do not have cash to pay workers salaries in many States of the Federation, we conjured cash to draw down security votes.
  The second reason I have been uncomfortable with the Security vote issue is that it lacked every modicum of transparency. One man, called a governor or President was officially allowed to expend public money without accounting to no body. I thought this was bad in a democracy and infringed on the rights of the citizens to know and hold their leaders accountable for the disbursement of public funds. The third concern which derives from two above is that if there is no accountability required, then abuse would naturally follow. If Governors and Presidents were allowed to spend the Security votes without accounting, then they would be tempted to use it for both public and private purposes. In fact I suspected that they would use it more for private and personal purposes. My suspicion was strengthened when I found that in many states, that despite the huge security votes, crime rate remained high. Armed robbery,kidnapping and later terrorism have become almost normal in Nigeria in spite of the huge security votes collected regularly by the State Chief executives. 
   I remember one state chief executive who in trying to say that he was 'clean ' and not greedy announced that he 'only took that which belonged to him and did not look elsewhere'. In which case he saw the security vote as an entitlement and thus appropriated it as personal, spending most of it for his personal use and perhaps using a small fraction for sundry token security gestures like buying a few pick up vans for the police! But in all my writings and criticisms of the security votes, nothing prepared me for the recent media reported use of Security votes as revealed by the former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki. National income freely disbursed to politicians to pursue sundry partisan political and private objectives, most of which had nothing to do with National Security or did they?
 When I expressed my disgust and utter consternation at what I see as a brazen abuse of office, some of my friends told me that,there was nothing unusual in those revelations. That this was the way it was during the Military reign  and so it has been since the different regimes in our civilian democracy. I argued that it could not be, then they asked me to convince President Buhari to extend the demystification of the Security votes to the regimes before Jonathan and that I would faint if I got a glimpse of how the previous military and civilian presidents and governors spent their security votes.  I was downcast and crestfallen .
  It has been an open secret that our Nation has underperformed over many years. Everybody knows that our National resources have been poorly managed and there is agreement that our Nation has been a bastion of corruption. But as has been recently revealed, the security vote factor is a significant contributor to all these. Therefore, in addition to the ongoing probes of the former NSA and other probes that will follow, as Nigeria frontally confronts the challenge of endemic National wealth mismanagement and insidious corruption, I strongly believe that we must reform the Security vote concept immediately. First, we must specify what the vote will be used for, just the same way as we budget for items under the a Ministry of Works or defence. Second, we must have the National or State Assembly review, interrogate and approve the vote and its constituents through open debates as is done for other appropriation items. Third, is that the Chief executives must now openly account for the expenditures. The veil over security votes has been broken by Col Dasuki and so there is nothing else to hide. Fourthly, we must wean our current Chief executives from seeing the security vote as an entitlement or additional income source for them. We do not want to hear later, other Soddy stories of how they have misused our National patrimony only after they have left office. The fight against corruption must be more proactive than retroactive. And most importantly, it must be devoid of any political witch hunt if it is in the real interest of the ordinary Nigerian Citizen who wants a Nation led by shepherds and stewards and not hirelings and predators .
  Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

THE JUDICIAL DECIMATION OF PDP AND ITS IMPLICATIONS



   In the history of elections in Nigeria I had never seen the type of reversals of electoral results by the courts as we have seen in recent times. Last week was particularly spectacular as the appeal courts in Abuja, Lafia, Owerri and Enugu went on a kind of stampede and by the time the week ran out, a significant number of seats won by the PDP in the legislature, especially the senate had been annulled. In Rivers state, it was more like a tsunami that completely wiped out all the electoral victories of the PDP in the last General elections. And except for one case in Nassarawa that affected the APC, almost all the judgements were against the PDP. Very Puzzling!
   By the last count PDP had lost Taraba and Rivers State, through judicial declarations and I have heard comments about the puzzle of the Taraba case. The tribunal that was seating in Abuja because of security conditions annulled the Taraba gubernatorial elections and handed victory to APC because the party primary that elected the PDP gubernatorial candidate was held outside Taraba, for the same security considerations! Preposterous ! Why not ask PDP to rerun the primaries?, that is assuming, some PDP candidates complained. As for Rivers, the verdict was not very surprising as the APC raised alarm from the day of the election. Now the fate of Akwa Ibom is hanging on the balance as the tribunal judges have reserved their judgement. Till when ?one may ask . Lately, Ayo Fayose of EKITI State raised fears that the long settled Ekiti elections may be revisited through some ongoing manouvres. How can this be ?But the decimation has been most devastating in the National Assembly where many of the PDP Senators from the North Central, South East and South South regions have been ousted. Those who escaped the tribunals got decapitated by the Appeal Courts. The judgements may well be deserved but the trend is shocking and disconcerting for our democracy.
   The way things are going, the opposition offered by PDP is largely whittled down and that portends some danger for our democracy. The APC already has majority in the Senate and in the house and with the recent court declarations, should the PDP lose the reruns, then the APC may have two thirds majority in the National Assembly. Thus they can pass any legislation without opposition. This will be like running a one - party state. Certainly this will not be the best for a democratic Nigeria. Some of the failures of governance noted during the reign of PDP can be traced to poor opposition especially when PDP had absolute majority due to electoral victories. After the formation of ACN, meaningful opposition became visible which improved significantly with the formation of APC. This created two big parties with almost equal strength which changed the nature of governance and legislative activity. Debates became robust and the Nation became better for it as the arrogance of PDP was moderated. Indeed most stable democracies all over the World have two strong parties, especially those who run the presidential system. This gives credible choice to the electorate as we saw in the last General elections  and creates alternative views. But if we continue on this current path of judicial decimation of PDP, we may end up with greater tyranny. It certainly will not be in the best interest of the generality of Nigerians.
  The other question that arises is what to make of the claim of INEC that it conducted free, fair and credible elections in 2015. How come such credible elections are being roundly upturned by the courts, especially the appeal Courts. Or could it be that credible elections were only held in the North, where APC had landslides, since there has hardly been any judicial revisions in most of the North except where the PDP won like in Taraba State gubernatorial or in the Benue  South senatorial where PDP's David Mark won. To be true this should be troubling to any fair minded person. 
  Now have we considered the costs of all these to the political contestants and even to the National economy? A candidate who spent money to win party primaries, then expends so much to prosecute the elections and then has to hire costly Senior Advocates of Nigeria( SAN) to defend them at the tribunals and appellate courts with associated costs, will go through this whole process again. The cost must be mind boggling. Of course the cost of rerunning the elections by INEC can also be heavy on the National treasury, much more so now that the Nation is facing economic challenges. What of disruption of work and social life that occurs during campaigns and elections. Add the violence and destructions of human lives and material assets that occur at each electoral season and which worsens when elections are repeated .These costs are becoming too heavy for the Nation and can also provide incentives for promoting corruption, rather than reducing it.
  I fully appreciate the need to let Justice have its way, but we can not make participating in the electoral process such an expensive project. Otherwise, it will be only money bags who will participate in elections in the future and this may deny the Country of other less financially endowed good people. And we can not be unmindful of  the possible  corrupting influence of these money bags and their cohorts on the entire electoral and judicial processes. Thus, the time has come for the INEC to ensure that its elections are TRULY FREE,FAIR and CREDIBLE. And when this is done, the need for judicial intervention will be minimal as the judges must have to give greater credibility to the INEC released electoral results.
 In all this, it is important that the will of the people is not thwarted. With all due respect to our Honourable judges, it will be a travesty of Justice and the repugnation of the sovereignty of the People, if the verdict of one or three judges over rides the true will and wish of the electorate. This may portend such great danger to our National democracy as some people may come to the wrongful conclusion that there is no need to spend money at the campaign or even to make much effort at the elections, since it is the courts that will ultimately decide who wins. That will not do our Nation any good irrespective of party affiliations, since what goes round,ultimately  comes back. And to be true that is my worry and the true motivation for this intervention. And it thus presents a major challenge for the current political leadership.

Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 


Monday, 7 December 2015

PRO- BIAFRA PROTESTS, NORTHERN TRADITIONAL RULERS & PEACE MAKING

  In late October this year, I wrote an article titled " The implications of the resurgence of the Biafra Movement". In that article I advised the Federal Government to learn a few lessons from our recent poor handling of dissents and conflicts in our Nation and to try to engage the agitators for Biafra and to find out their grouse. I had opined that the unity of our Country is work in progress and as a Nation, we have advertently or inadvertently injured certain individuals or groups to the extent that they feel so unhappy with the Nation and would wish to opt out or failing may wish to pull down the roof on all of us. I also indicated that from all I had seen and heard, the pro-Biafran agitation did not start after May this year when President Muhammadu Buhari came to power. Those who read news or watch Television would have read about or seen one Chief Ralph Uwazurike and his movement for the Actualization of the sovereign State of Biafra( MASSOB) in the last couple of years. I further said that given the increasing tempo of the agitation and the entry of other groups like the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra( IPOB) and the Radio Biafra, London of which the now popular Nnamdi Kanu is the director, care must be taken in handling this development. My point was that this kind of mass movement  could not easily be stopped by acts of repression or by just by a wave of the hand. Since these agitators were largely unarmed, our best option I suggested would be to engage them and find ways to resolve their issues and perhaps win them over. Fortunately, several other commentators agreed with me and even went further to advise the government to release Nnamdi Kanu from custody, more so that the court had granted him bail. 
   Last week we read that some of the protesters were killed by Security forces in Onitsha after several days of protests . Following the killings, the protest turned violent with the destruction of property and bodily injuries. With the refusal, reluctance or delay of the government to dialogue with the protesters or even to grant Nnamdi bail, it is apparent that our government believes it can resolve this matter by use of force.  Again given our experience with recent militant uprisings in Nigeria, we ought to be wary in allowing a non violent, non militant agitation turn violent or militant. I pray that The Lord will grant wisdom to our Political leaders to resolve this issue without violence. Right now, it must be realized that what brought the young men to the streets across the south East and some south south states, was not necessarily an agitation for Biafra, but a protest asking for the release of Nnamdi Kanu, who has been granted bail by the courts. And if we begin to shed blood, then the agitation and protests may take different turn. Many people from the South East Nigeria  may not like the idea of a radio Biafra, and many may not even support the style of agitation but the moment, blood begins to flow, many may be drawn in by sympathy.
 And that is where I doff my hat for the Northern Traditional Rulers. I was enthused when I read the statement credited to the Sultan of Sokoto where he spoke of the Igbo as peace loving people who live among other Nigerians in several parts of the Nigeria, making meaningful contributions to the economic development of their host communities and the Nigerian Nation as a whole. He wondered what could be making the youth angry and wanting out of Nigeria. He reasoned that something had gone really bad and indicated that he would arrange to get in touch with the traditional rulers in Igboland and see how the anger of the youth could be diffused , so that normalcy could be restored. I was really pleased to hear this from the exulted traditional Ruler. Previously and lately, I have also heard comments by the Emir of Kano who in several literature has shown an unusual understanding of the challenge of Ndigbo in Nigeria. These two leaders have expressed so much wisdom on this matter unlike what I hear from some other Nigerians,including Ndigbo who dismiss the agitation with a wave of hand, or those who have maintained inexplicable silence over this critical National matter.
  This past weekend, a delegation of Northern Traditional rulers visited Alaigbo and met with some key traditional and political leaders to discuss the problem and to find a way out. Even before this visit, when it was rumoured  that some religious houses were being destroyed in Onitsha, I was pleased to hear some of our Northern leaders, speaking of the effort and measures they had taken to prevent possible reprisals in the North. This is praise worthy and also worthy of emulation.  This is a good model for Nigeria. If our leaders will take such bold and empathetic measures to deal  with National issues, it may help to avert small problems snowballing into major conflicts . I just hope that the governments at all levels will take a cue from our Northern Traditional rulers and show empathy to group or regional complaints and work out a mechanism for dealing with the issues as they arise and above all take deliberate measures to unite the Nation by Word and deed. If indeed we want a united Country, then we must try to understand the pains of each other and then take a concerted effort to either ease the pain, or share the pain or at the least empathize with the pain. I strongly believe that we must all do our bit to unite this country and create a peaceful environment for the revival of our ailing economy.
 Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 

Thursday, 3 December 2015

NEED FOR AN ENTREPRENEURIAL REVOLUTION IN NIGERIA!

Global development is entering a phase where Entrepreneurship will increasingly play a more important role. An analysis of sources of economic growth by the World Bank( 2013), finds that the biggest differences between developed and developing economies are in innovation performances. It emphasizes that while Entrepreneurship and Innovation are very critical for economic growth,they have also become increasingly important for addressing major development Challenges, such as the ones related to poverty, inclusion and sustainability.
   According to the World Institute for Development Economics Research( United Nations University), it is expected that Entrepreneurship will continue to make significant contribution to growth and employment generation in advanced, emerging and least developed economies alike. This is a reasonable expectation- one that is supported by recent findings of historians, economists and management scientists.
  In the highly industrialized West, economy of the 1970s-2000s, characterized by reliance on big business and mass production has given way to an ' entrepreneurial economy'. In the emerging countries, most notably the BRICS countries, impressive growth has been driven by a veritable ' entrepreneurial revolution'. Even in the least developed countries, where aid dependency is high, donors have been shifting the emphasis in development cooperation towards private sector development.
 Unfortunately the developments in this sector in LDCs, Nigeria inclusive,remain a far cry from the quantity and quality required to effectively fire up the economies. Issues of infrastructural inadequacy,weak funding,and unaffordable financing, low entrepreneurial capacity, corruption and the surfeit of cheap foreign-made goods that choke locally made goods out of the market, coupled with a barrage of policies, like multiple taxes and difficulty in acquiring property, that appear insensitive to the existence of these challenges, particularly at the sub-national levels, all combine to militate against meaningful progress in this sector.
   World Bank statistics shows that, as at 2012, Nigeria had a new business density( a measure of the growth of Entrepreneurship) of 0.91.  Though this represents an appreciable growth from its rating in 2004, when it had a new business density of 0.32, the country is still significantly behind such developing economies as Uganda (1.17), Tunisia (1.52), Malaysia ( 2.28), South Africa ( 6.54), and Singapore ( 8.04).
  There is therefore a crying need to conscientiously transform the structure of Nigeria's economy by propelling positive industrial trends through growth in the small and medium scale industrial groups and eventually in the large scale manufacturing sector. This must involve a major and revolutionary effort to galvanize and motivate the entire citizenry to adopt the Entrepreneurial mindset. And to do so will require a holistic review of the Policies and incentives on ground to promote enterprise development. 
  First, we need to rethink our educational philosophy, to graduate students who are solution providers and job creators. The current preparation for seeking jobs and carriers in employment can no longer handle the volume of products from our institutions of higher learning, hence the unacceptably high level of chronic unemployment and underemployment, with its consequences on our social milieu. Thank God, the Government has taken some initiative in this direction but what is on the ground is only symbolic. Theoretical teaching only will not do it , we need a lot of experiential impartation and mentoring.
  Second, we need strong, consistent and carefully structured awareness creation. This must be run as a campaign, not propaganda and tokenism. Every person must know what is in place to promote entrepreneurship. The objective should be to make enterprise development a first option for young Nigerian graduates, not a fall back option when nothing else is forthcoming. For many young graduates today, their first option is political appointment, because that is where it is 'happening'.The few who are lucky to be employed in companies still depend on their parents, five years post graduation whereas the councillor, Local government Chairman's PA or Party youth leader achieves financial independence within 18 months with Jeep and house to booth.
 Third, we must maintain an unceasing focus on building capacity in all ramifications of the Entrepreneurial pursuits. It must be emphasized that possessing technical or vocational skills does not translate to entrepreneurial skills. The financial,the business management skills, the ability to measure and manage risks are critical skills for enterprise development and we must develop an integrated capacity building scheme that will enable our young business men and women build successful businesses  . 
  Fourth, we need to ensure that we have, develop and adopt appropriate technologies that will leverage product and service delivery. In the global competitive market environment of the 21st century, Technology has become a major differentiating competitive phenomenon. If we drive on the left when others are driving on the right, we may be the only ones who will buy our automobiles for example. The World has gone digital and the Nigerian business culture must therefore be run on this 21st century technological platform. Luckily our youth are highly adaptive to this new technology, all we need is to create generous access. 
 Fifth, there is a crying need for enhanced access to Venture capital. In Nigeria there is a deficit of entrepreneurial promotive capital. Some reasonable efforts are currently being made with the support of the Central Bank and the Federal Ministry of finance. As much as this is important and most welcome, private venture capital is more sustainable. Given the attractiveness of our market, we need to get other elements of competitiveness in place to build confidence and attract a lot more of venture and equity capital from the global private sector to complement the domestic public-sector supported initiatives.
  And sixth, we need to be deliberate in promoting Innovation and innovative entrepreneurship. Most of our current entrepreneurial pursuits are directed to meeting basic human needs-raw materials, cocoa, flour, sugar, cereals, cement,crude Petroleum, importation of refined fuels, trading, banking services,tele-communications etc. Most of these are commodities with global price ceilings. But in the innovative realm which is essentially creative destruction of what exists and creating new or bringing what only exists in the imaginary realm into present reality. Here, the inventor and creator determines his margin and can quickly ramp up wealth. Most of the wealthiest men in the developed world come from the knowledge and innovation realm- Microsoft,Apple, Yahoo, Goggle, and Alibaba. We are happy with the emergence of Jumia, Konga and other online trading and shopping platforms in Nigeria
 The truth is that these can be achieved only through strategic partnerships among key stakeholders- governments( and their agencies), Research centers, educational institutions and well-meaning private sector organizations( including NGOs) and individuals to form a network that can drive the movement for revolutionizing our entrepreneurial land scape. There is therefore a crying need for the new government of President Muhammadu Buhari to March words with action in this direction.I believe that it is in the pursuit of this need to form a coalition, that will take steps to ignite an Entrepreneurial revolution in Nigeria that the African Centre for Business Development, Strategy & Innovation ( ACBDSI) has organized the National Summit on Entrepreneurship & Innovation (NSEI) which is holding this week- hold 30th November/ 1st December at the Lagos Sheraton Hotel. 
  This summit with the theme: Entrepreneurship and Value Creation will bring together Policy Makers,Financial intermediaries, Industry Leaders,Business Promoters, Business Researchers, Professionals and budding Entrepreneurs in Nigeria and the West African sub-region to network, share ideas,question paradigms, challenge status quo and generate creative solutions to contemporary issues revolving around the use of entrepreneurship & innovation to stimulate economic renaissance. My hope is that the expected generous presence of the older and successful Entrepreneurs will motivate,stimulate and mentor the younger and struggling Entrepreneurs with their stories. This in my view will show that so much is possible in our country and help change the narrative.
  Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR