What we need from Atiku

There’s a lot that needs fixing in Nigeria. The task is made more difficult by the lack of an educated majority. By education, I don’t mean academic education although that is also a problem that needs fixing, I mean civic education.

There’s a disturbing gap in how much majority of Nigerians, particularly those captured by poverty indices and those most impacted by poor governance, know about civics. Majority of us don’t know what our civic rights and responsibilities are and what the responsibility of government is, the limits to its powers and why those limits are necessary. We’ve had some call for the suspension of one arm of Govt, others suspension of the constitution and more lately overreach by the military with some members of the public even justifying same. It’s clear we have a followership problem. This problem is exacerbated by an obvious leadership problem given the terrible leaders we’ve had over the years even if a nation deserves its leaders.

Until and unless we improve the level of civic education amongst Nigerians, we will remain susceptible to seeking a messianic solution in a politician.

The government or our clandestine rulers, for diabolical reasons are incentivised to maintain the status quo as it assures their hold on power or at least their proximity to it. It’s highly unlikely the present crop of political elite will implement the kind of mass civic education we need (just observe how they see payment of salaries as doing the civil service a favour). Even if a creative disruptor arises from within the ranks of the current political elite and goes rogue, their attempt to change the status quo will be easily suppressed given the lack of civic education of most voters and the systemic way voter ignorance has been sustained.

It isn’t hard to see evidence of this lack. All we need to do is observe how some Nigerians justify the actions of the military in civil matters since the Buhari government assumed office. The many years under military rule as made military involvement in civil matters seem normal to us – even the govt is quick to call on military intervention. No govt in recent times has made any attempt to upgrade the police force to meet the challenges of securing a complex society.

This lack of education is now at crisis level and we need to break this cycle like yesterday.

I am sympathetic to Waziri Adamawa’s interest to become President or at least be on the top ticket of a party in 2019 but I cannot support him. The main reason is we need people with resources like him to help educate the people on civics. From the lowest of Nigerians all the way to the middle of middle class need to be engaged and taught about government & governance, its role, responsibility, necessary limitations as well as highlight the issues with our laws & constitution, governance structure, societal structure, the relationship between the govt and the governed and the need for a debate to agree a new one. We seemingly need to be educated on what democracy actually is, especially the “for the people” part. We need to be almost brainwashed that it is the people that is sovereign, not govt. We need to be reminded (or have it planted like a microchip in our brain) that governmental power devolves from the people. Public servants aren’t doing the public a favour. The key word is servant.

Waziri, this is where we need you. We need you to partner with your like minded friends to create a programmatic educational resource that will systematically go around the country between now and the next general election educating the majority of Nigerians about democracy, governance, the responsibility of government and the responsibility and power of the public. When majority of the public become educated in civics then they’ll be better able to engage their local, state and federal legislators to pursue changes to laws that will bring about improvements to our living standards. Do this Waziri and you will go down in history as a legend of our nation.

My request does not stop there. We need help with our leadership pipeline. The pipeline isn’t currently skewed to the needs of the society or to producing those with the skill and the heart to serve. People with the heart and skill to serve are too easily frustrated out of party primaries and the governance process. We need to tilt this pipeline in favour of the society.

Waziri, even if you become President, an ignorant populace will be easily stoked against you by those with a vested interest assuming you’re genuinely the Lee Kuan Yew we’ve been waiting for or need. You’ll need a better educated public to buy quickly into reform policies as I’m sure you’ll appreciate how a slow adoption prevented the pace of reform during your second term as VP.

As you go around the country seeking support for your candidacy in 2019, know that an uneducated public makes it less likely (you had the best manifesto with the best ideas during the last presidential primaries of all parties – only an educated public will read and appreciate the effort) you’ll ever become President. Please help educate us. Our government is too unreliable (eg PACAC) in this regard.

What we need from Atiku

Time to set our stall out

Saying it has been a tough time for Nigerians since President Buhari was sworn in is probably understating the scale of the economic challenge people are currently facing. I agree with Feyi that 2017 is the last year of full governance before election dramatics begin in readiness for 2019. Sadly, I think as explained here by Dr Nonso, the federal government will continue with its bad policies from 2016. The President is clearly statist and can move no further left on the political spectrum so I’m not expecting him to change. Furthermore, his ideas aren’t working because of corruption and unruly Nigerians not because the policies are bad — he believes this. This isn’t the change we all expected from the APC government particularly those that voted and supported this government during the last general election.

Given what we now know about government, policies, governance and how election rhetoric can be markedly different from reality, it’ll be a huge shame if we don’t learn any lesson from the 2015 election. I think it is safe to assume that our biggest lessons from the last election were: a) not asking enough questions, b) not being cynical enough of political rhetoric and particularly c) not matching political rhetoric with demonstrable evidence of prior delivery. For example, when a political aspirant promised to create millions of jobs, the rational question to ask was: where’s the empirical evidence that they’ve done this before that makes us believe they can do it again on the scale they are claiming possible? Or a governor running for a 2nd term claims he will employ millions of youths but is owing salaries and pensions, yet we refused to ask where the salary to pay the youths will come from? That is, before we even consider whether economic conditions are such that such scale of job creation is even possible — are they personally capable with empirical evidence?

As mentioned above and particularly in Feyi and Dr Nonso’s articles, 2017 is likely to be a tough year. The federal government has proposed another ridiculous budget. 2016 budget implementation report isn’t out yet and we don’t know when it will be released. We don’t know if some of the 2017 revenues will be used for the 2016 budget to help improve its performance or implementation report. We don’t know how quickly the 2017 budget will be passed and how effective and efficient implementation will be. The government so far has backed itself into a corner which may force it into some reckless spending in 2017 in order to create the appearance of it doing something to get the economy out of recession without actually doing anything of substance like suggested by Dr Nonso.

Before this recklessness starts, of which a number of Nigerians will benefit, I think it is important we document the questions we failed to ask during the last election. Before we get blindsided or our judgement become clouded by campaign slush fund in 2018, I think we should spend 2017 writing down the demonstrable evidence we need to see from political aspirants in 2018/19 that will make us trust them with our votes. For presidential aspirants in 2019, I’ve written my own questions and profile with which I intend to measure them by. I also expect or intend to assess the legislative agendas of political parties in the run up to 2019 election. I prefer to not get dragged into the jostle for principal office’s foolishness post-election. I want political parties to give their legislators clear marching orders irrespective of who becomes a principal officer.

I believe that if we set out these yardsticks, perhaps even discuss and agree it among ourselves now, we can potentially avoid the diversionary tactics typically employed by useless politicians. We could also avoid the superfluous bifurcation along party lines that makes post-election convergence or reconciliation impossible if not difficult. Please let us avoid the name calling, name tagging and condescension of 2015 in 2019.

I hope and pray for a prosperous 2017 for us all. May God bless our hustle. Be well.

Time to set our stall out

There are several ways to skin a cat

or more than one way of achieving an aim…

Quite a lot of us have been yapping on about Nigeria needing true federalism and that our political, constitutional and economic structures are in dire need reform. Several of our federating units can really unleash pent up productivity within their states if they can get themselves disentangled from the drib drab of monthly FAAC or loosen the grip of the FG by watering down its enormous powers as expressed by the “exclusive legislative list”. For example, I imagine that the second Niger bridge or that more larger/international ports would have been built by governments of the South East and South South had this not been restricted to the exclusive legislative list. Given this fact that the federal government is literally holding back the development of quite a number of economically critical federating units and that changing this can only come via the federal legislature and constitutional amendments, why have Speakers of the Houses of Assembly of SE, SS and SW states not banded together to lean on their federal legislators to co-sponsor a bill that will bring this much needed change?

The President or federal government for example cannot stop the Speakers leading or sponsoring such a bill. Constitutional amendments require two-thirds (or 66%) of States HOAs and both chambers of the National Assembly to vote for an amendment. For example, the SS, SE and SW in combination control 47% of the NASS which also equates to 17 states. This implies that for a reform amendment that entrenches federalism and reduces the overbearing nature of the federal government, they’ll require 7 states, 22 Senators and 71 House Reps in addition to get the amendment through. Majority of this can be lobbied from North Central states (including Abuja – 7 States, 19 Senators and 51 House Reps) being the closest to SS, SE and SW geography wise. With adequate public sensitisation and buy-in, visionary leadership and comradeship – the Sponsors of such reform bill should be able to lobby 3 more Senators and 20 House Reps required to get the amendment bill over the line.

Political elites like Atiku Abubakar from the North East who have championed the cause of true federalism hopefully will be able to lobby the 3 Senators from his state Adamawa to make up the senatorial shortfall and reduce the House Rep shortfall by 8. I’m not sure where the final 12 House Reps needed to get the amendment bill over the line will come from but I imagine Kaduna State will probably benefit from the amendment and has 16 House Reps – maybe 12 of them can band with the rest of the reformers to get it through?

Whilst I may have been a little unfair in my last post about elites not sponsoring any bill that help our nation progress (Madam Oby Ezekwesili did good work with NEITI, Procurement Act etc), the type of amendment that will actually move us forward and remove the bottleneck that is the federal government have not been proposed.

We don’t need a messianic President to move us forward; we just need people power via the legislature to chart the course that we desire.

 

There are several ways to skin a cat

A little musing and some speculation

The foregoing are thoughts that have been on my mind for some time. Not sure what the point of this piece will be in the end, but I hope there’s a point or two in there somewhere.

There is a level of insincerity within our elite class that I find demonic as it is difficult to understand the level of selfishness and self-centredness within their ranks. We probably can count the number of elites that have actually walked the talk on one hand. Given the scale of patronage in Nigeria, these elites have always had the means and power to do what is right for our country without necessarily sacrificing their self-interest. But time and again they choose to be demonic.

It is obvious to me that the only way Nigeria can move forward is to restructure and reform. This can only happen if and when the legislative arm of government wants it to happen. As powerful as the executive arm is, the most they can do is propose bills, only the legislative arm can pass them into law. For whatever reason, we’ve paid little attention to the legislative arm of government especially those at the federal level. I can forgive some parts of the general public for this lack of focus on the legislature (ignorance, lack of/inadequate education etc), but I find it hard to forgive members of the elite especially the political ones for this oversight. What bills have El Rufai, Atiku Abubakar, Oby Ezekwesili, Pat Itomi, Ngozi Okwonjo-Iweala, HRH Sanusi, Raji Fashola, Asiwaju Tinubu, Charles Soludo, Femi Aribasala, Reuben Abati, Segun Adeniyi, Omobola Johnson, Akinwunmi Adesina, Rotimi Amaechi, Adams Oshiomole, Kayode Fayemi, Alex Otti, Tony Elumelu, Bismarck Rewane, Prof Oyebode – sponsored or lobbied their representative in the NASS since our return to democracy to help move Nigeria forward? I explain.

We are all aware of the insolvent nature of most of our states or sub-national governments, particularly the need for each federating unit to have more control over its affairs and resources. Prof Soludo actually gave a fantastic speech at UNN in 2010 titled “Who will reform politics in Nigeria?” (please find it if you can – I can email a copy if you want). The issue I have is that what efforts have those with the means to lobby NASS effectively made to ensure this structurally positive step is actualised? For example, the need for this structural change will be known to someone like Gov El Rufai. What steps has he taken (beyond fighting Shehu Sani) to lobby his state’s representative in the NASS to propose bills that will lead to federating units having more control of their resources? Even if he lays claim to not being responsible prior to becoming Governor, now that he is, what is he doing? This isn’t an El Rufai bashing piece. The same allegation can be laid at the feet of every current and past governor. The governor’s forum is quite clearly a powerful one; we’ve seen how powerful they can be when they defeated hapless ex-President Goodluck Jonathan in the ECA case at the Supreme Court. Why can’t they lobby their representatives in the NASS to bring about the necessary change their state so glaringly needs? What sort of lobbying am I referring to? The type that resulted into the creation of the 13% derivation formula in our Constitution as well as the type that Senator Remi Tinubu tried to get for Lagos when she introduced the defeated Lagos Special Status bill.

We all know the means available to Turaki Adamawa. Since our return to democracy, has he prevailed or lobby the NASS members of his state to band together with other like minds to push reform bills through the legislature that are in line with his stated belief that Nigeria needs to reform and embrace true federalism? What exactly is stopping Turaki to prevail on his friends in politics like Senate President Saraki or Asiwaju Tinubu to come together and drive reform through the NASS? Must they have control of Aso Rock before they can do this? Another example, why can’t Governors agree at their forum to sponsor a bill establishing State Police and lobby their NASS representatives to push the bill through? Why must they wait for the Executive to propose this bill? Wouldn’t the establishment of State police have helped fight Boko Haram, Herdsmen crisis or even help (*sideeye*) Gov El Rufai maintain peace in Kaduna? State police for example can be placed under the State AGF if there are fears Governors can misuse them?

If I have a point in my rant above it is that these ‘usual suspects’ that have paraded themselves as messianic to our problems have always had the means to bring about the real change our nation needs by lobbying the legislature appropriately. But for whatever reason, they’ve chosen no to do so, seemingly preferring to wait until they get the keys to Aso Rock just so that they can be the one that takes the glory of being in power when reforms happen? Turaki may never become President but if he’s sponsored reform bills like those mentioned above, won’t it be on record that he led Nigeria’s reform? Given how useless NASS seems to be, the next logical step is for elites with access to proper intellectual resource to come to the aid of our NASS so that they can rationalise our laws and pass appropriate and reasonable amendment acts. Besides, it is likely that two terms of office may not be enough to complete the reform objective, does it then not make sense to start well before?

Personally I’d like to see smaller parties like Kowa, NCP focus more on invading the legislature with qualitative people than waste money chasing executive offices. The change that Nigeria needs can only come from the legislature. If our people need to be more educated on democracy and governance, then it is the arm of government with more people in public office that is better placed to spearhead that education. If Kowa, NCP and others are focussing on getting executive power, then their strategy will be wrong in my view. Let them start with aiming to get control of at least a third of NASS in 2019.

What is the point here? I think our salvation lies in the legislature. It is where we can really show people power. My hope is that in 2019, we focus more or at least as much on the legislative elections as we do on the executive elections. The legislature can constrain the executive and it is where the real power is. The executive can’t act outside of our laws, if they do, they leave themselves open to impeachment!!! We also need to test our recall mechanism. I hope one of the small parties can pick two federal legislators – one from each chamber – and get them recalled, just to bare their teeth and give confidence to the public that we proved in 2015 that we can change executive power at the centre, we can do the same to any federal legislator too!

The big hitters have already begun moves for 2019. Some of them have manoeuvred themselves into tight spots already. Let me speculate.

Ex VP Atiku clearly is interested in contesting in 2019. I can’t see how he’ll pick up APCs ticket. In my view, incumbent President Buhari is ahead of him and if he decides not to go for a second term, Gov El Rufai is also ahead in the pecking order. His options will then be to either form a new party or join one of the existing ones. Decamping to PDP for example will ensure his defeat. He could choose to exit APC with ACN/nPDP and align with Asiwaju Tinubu and Senate President Saraki. Asiwaju doesn’t seem to be interested in becoming president so he can be a real tool for Atiku to get as much support as possible. If Asiwaju and Atiku join forces that will increase the likelihood that VP Osinbajo may not be on President Buhari’s ticket in 2019. The assumption here is that they will accept that they won’t win SW votes; most they can get is Ondo and maybe Ogun given the recent outcome of the Ondo election and President Buhari’s longstanding relationship with Gov Amosun. That will leave President Buhari to go for the SS/SE votes to compliment his Northern votes to retain office. Front runners for running mate in that case appear to me to be Rotimi Amaechi or Adams Oshiomole. Rochas Okorocha seems to me to be a political lightweight.

Where does this leave Gov El Rufai? He’s been trying his best to be and sound more like President Buhari in order for the President’s inner caucus to accept him as a worthy/direct replacement should the President choose not to pursue a second term. Given what he wrote about himself in his book The Accidental Public Servant, El Rufai has had to contradict himself or who he claims to be just to be accepted as successor. The extent of this contradiction and the length he is going to prove it seems to suggest that the inner caucus aren’t quite buying his act. If he misses out on the 2019 ticket and given the rotational nature of the ethnicity of who should occupy the Presidency, Gov El Rufai may need to wait until 2031 to have another shot. By then though, he’ll be 71! I can’t imagine he wants to be President at that age so I expect the heaviest push for his candidacy from 2H2017 all through to 2018.

So when the campaigning begins officially in 2018, please remember this point.

A little musing and some speculation

Considering a National Legislative Agenda for 2019

Quite a few Nigerians have commented on the structural issues plaguing governance and nation building in Nigeria over the years and since independence. Our country has particularly been hindered by the “big man” syndrome since the first coup of 1966. Given the lop-sidedness of our constitution evidenced by the excessive concentration of power in the federal government and executive arm of government, it is hardly surprising that we have become beholden to the messianic politician who promises to fix our problems out of the goodness of their heart. Whilst the constitution enslaves us to this messianic executive, the reform our governance needs requires near equal cooperation from the legislative arm of government to succeed.

Candidates for executive office know the power they’ll have prior to getting to office and can promise to deliver heaven on earth on that basis when they get into office. Not so much Members of the federal legislature. The Members of the National Assembly make promises to their constituencies only and this can lead to conflicting agendas between constituencies even from the same State. Further, any one of these Members can be elected to principal offices in the NASS. The problem given our current state of affairs is that NASS principal officers do not have a national agenda. The welfare of their fellow Members is their principal task if they intend to retain their office. It is this lack of a national legislative agenda that informs some of the clamour for political parties to be ideologically based. The idea being that whichever party holds the majority in the NASS will be pushing to implement their party’s ideology on how a society should be run. Essentially, this is why it matters not who from the Democratic, Republican in US or Conservative, Labour parties in the UK is elected into principal offices – the policies they’ll pursue in government will align with their party’s ideology.

We’re all witnesses to the ineffectiveness of our current NASS and their failure to propose any meaningful agenda that advances our country and unlocks the legal bottlenecks that continue to be a headwind to our nation’s development. Whilst the executive arm controls the majority of the resources of government and is not unreasonable to expect it to be the arm that proposes most bills, this shouldn’t really be an impediment to the NASS itself taking the initiative in certain instances and set the ball rolling on reforming some of our laws. For example, the NASS can reform the Land Use Act without waiting for the executive to propose a bill on it. A lot of resourceful material has been written on the headwind that it is the Land Use Act for NASS to push a reform bill through.

Our current bunch of political parties are evolving slower than ideal and we can’t force them to clarify their political ideology(s) or announce where they’re positioned on the political spectrum. What should be easier to do is to require every party to have a national legislative agenda that is published in the same manner as the manifesto used by the executive to campaign for office. So when a presidential aspirant promises state police in their manifesto, the public can search the party’s legislative agenda to see if it has a working blueprint or legal framework that will establish a State Police Act that backs up the manifesto of the presidential aspirant. Besides the collective matching order that a party’s national legislative agenda will give its elected legislators, it can also help Nigerians avoid getting drawn into or distracted by the usual manoeuvring and infighting that seems to plague political parties once elections are over. Nigerians will be able to expect delivery of an agenda irrespective of who becomes Speaker or Senate President.

Our dysfunctional constitution compels us to focus on presidential aspirants during the general election, but we need to pay at least equal attention to the legislative arm of government and at all levels too.

Considering a National Legislative Agenda for 2019

Who will volunteer?

The chatter about Nigeria getting back on the path of economic and political development has been going on for 50 years now. There’s been little to show that all the shouting has had effect. The closest we’ve come is the Nadeco shouting match against Abacha, even that needed divine intervention to succeed (relatively).

Whilst I personally haven’t engaged in the shouting match for long, I am becoming despondent about Nigeria’s future given the refusal of the old order to pave way for the young and energetic to takeover and even starker the fact that some of the young ones are beginning to demonstrate the same trait of the older generation that has led us to where we are.

So my appeal now is for a volunteer ward or local government, may be one in every geopolitical zone, to demonstrate whether we can actually organise ourselves as a modern society. Let’s test if we are even capable of that which we dream of. If we are not, then we stop trying and all man for himself.

Top down changes to bring about development seem impossible. We seem too divided to effect changes bottom up and wholesale. So we may as well try piecemeal bottom up changes.

Whichever local government volunteers will need to embrace everything that makes a society modern. Democratic politics, a government that acts with the knowledge that its power devolves from its residents, transparent public finances, trim and efficient public service, residents that pay their taxes, adhere to their civic responsibilities strictly and be socially responsible to their fellow residents. The volunteer local government will also need to commit to providing progress reports, preferably online, so we can track their successes, challenges and failures for learning purposes.

It won’t matter which party controls the volunteer government as all parties lay claim to having the solution to our problems. Let them demonstrate it with little so we can trust them with much in the future. In fact each party that controls at least one local government can volunteer a local government that demonstrates or to demonstrate the efficacy of its ideas or party manifesto.

So, are there any takers?

PS- apologies for any errors. Hurriedly written.

Who will volunteer?

A rough idea on funding infrastructure

A rough idea on funding infrastructure….

In addition to all the reasons espoused by Dr Nonso as to why this $30b loan request by the FG is a no-no and that the senate was right to say no, my personal grouse is that this government suffers from trust deficiency when it comes to economic management. In addition, Nigeria’s governments at all levels have proven to be inefficient allocators of capital. There have been little instances where the government has successfully intervened in sectors and have been prone to interference. Finally, the election cycle of governments incentivises short-term decision making which, if our history is anything to go by, near guarantees that the infrastructure projects that this loan will be spent on are likely to be influenced by political considerations rather than economic productivity expediency.

Given the above, I have this rough idea on how we could potentially navigate these Achilles heels. The idea is centred on exploring the ‘off balance sheet’ concept. Nigeria’s government finances are in dire straits, our debt to revenue ratio is atrocious so adding more debt to an already overburdened revenue profile doesn’t seem smart to me.

We can avoid all of the inefficiency, debt burden and potential politicisation of the selection of infrastructure projects if we turn the Nigerian Infrastructure Fund into a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) that is listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) but with the same vision and mandate. The government’s current holding in the Fund can be turned into equity. The NASS can legislate that the government must not hold more than 15% of the equity of the Fund. Given the strategic nature of the SPV, government can through the NSIA have a non-executive director on the Board of the SPV. The management of the SPV can then source for capital, raise debt from the financial markets as it deems fit to finance its projects. So rather than the FG looking for $30b to invest in infrastructure, it’s the SPV that will do this. The SPV could source for funding or enter into strategic partnerships with multilateral organisations like the IMF, AFC, IFC, World Bank, China EXIM etc.

NSE’s listing rules will apply to the SPV. Nigerians will be able to buy shares in the SPV directly, Pension Fund Managers (better than Fashola’s plan to raid pension assets)will also be able to buy shares or debts issued by the SPV. Foreign investors will be able to do likewise too. The SPV will pay dividends and interest on issued debts like a normal company would. Whilst Nigerians may be charged tolls or some other fees for using the infrastructure projects owned by the SPV, they can get this back through dividends or coupon payments.

Of course the initial executive management of the SPV will be influenced by NSIA but can be done in an open and transparent manner. Over time this will change as the broad shareholder base vote for subsequent management changes. As per normal listing rules, the SPV will need to publish audited accounts, release regular trading statements and provide guidance on the company’s financial performance. The current opacity of getting project details from government will be avoided as transparency will be inherent. The management of the SPV can have an endowment type mentality where its focus will be on generating healthy and steady long term returns. This will provide steady long term strategic vision with aligned implementation and efficient allocation of capital. The SPV can issue debts with long maturities say 25 years+ which should also help deepen our local corporate debt market.

The NSIA lacks real funding to make any meaningful impact, going down this SPV route can potentially unlock this.

The above is a rough idea I think has leg to run.

Written hurriedly, errors regretted.

A rough idea on funding infrastructure

Profiling PresidentNG for 2019

The Presidency is an institution, an institution granted executive powers by our (dysfunctional) constitution. The duty of the necessary bureaucracy of government is to serve that institution as the institution serves the public and to ensure that certain aspects of the institution cannot be abused by the occupier of the office. Whilst the doctrine of separation of powers in a democracy exists as a “check and balance” measure that aims to prevent one branch of government from abusing its powers, the effectiveness of this doctrine can only be as strong as the quality of the members of the various branches of government. However, what can other branches of government do when the constitution of a country grants the Presidency outsized powers relative to other public executive offices? How will the Presidency check itself from abusing others?

For example, should Nigeria continue to fuse the office of Attorney General of the federation with that of the Minister of Justice? With the Ministerial part of the fused portfolio being a political appointment, can they really operate independently of the Presidency in its mandate as AG to pursue fairness of justice for all? Can a fused office provide both legal advices to the Presidency whilst also making decisions that are binding on the same government as AG? More recently, a separate Attorney General will be defending the CJN and other judicial officers in the Presidency’s DSS onslaught on judicial officers but with our approach being a fused one, the office is conflicted and neutralises the checks and balance offered by separation of powers!

In this article, I mentioned the need for us to create a profile for the Presidency and hence a job description for prospective Presidents. I argued that by creating this profile, some candidacies will become non-starters as the profile will readily rule them out of the running leaving us to get on with the serious duty of electing a fitting President by only considering high quality candidates. I also argued that the Presidency profile should be broadly based on inclusion under three overarching categories: political, economic and social. Subsets of these three categories can then become the basis of the President’s job description. We could potentially apply this vetting framework to any public executive office.

What do I mean by economic, political and social inclusion?
A lot of inhumane atrocities and discrimination passed off as ‘culture’ has been committed in our country over the years. Even if it is indeed culture, this is the 21st century and culture by nature is evolutionary so some practices like female genital mutilation, child marriages, inadequate support for disabled persons, gender inequality are all social imbalances that the Presidency should be concerned about on an ongoing basis until appropriate mitigating laws are passed, policies implemented and desired outcome observed and a new more-socially-aware culture becomes mainstream. In vetting Presidential candidates, we should seek to ensure that candidates have a sound grasp of the gaps in our laws; have clear understanding of required policy changes but importantly also have demonstrable history of advocating for a socially aware society and experience of successfully implementing same in their area of career expertise.

As has been written several times by a plethora of political commentators, Nigeria is suffering from a political crisis – a crisis that dates back to pre-independence and has afflicted both civilian and military administrations. With hindsight, we now know that the way the British divided Nigeria and handed it over on independence was a ticking political time bomb. As surely as night follows day, the country has been in one form of political crisis after another ever since the first coup in 1966. We know that we cannot continue to pay lip service to federalism. We need the Presidency to pursue and fully implement all aspects of federalism. The President must realise and act like s/he is the President of all of Nigeria and not just their party or those that voted them into office. Candidates for President must be able to articulate what our fault lines are and have a clear strategy of reducing the fault lines in an equitable, fair and just manner. Candidates for President should have demonstrable and independently verifiable history of being bridge builders, promoters of one Nigeria whilst restructuring the nation in a manner that gets every division to buy into the vision of actualising a Nigerian dream. Candidates for President should be able to enunciate the imbalances in our political institutions, structure and establishment. Candidates should have clear and implementable ideas for dealing with our imbalances with the aim of reducing it, allowing for dissenting views and the need for political opposition whilst appreciating historical grievances and their relevance to moving our nation forward.

We need to clarify the default ideological views of candidates on the rule of law. Is it sacrosanct to them? Will they respect it? What demonstrable history do they have of respecting the rule of law? What is the candidate’s ideological position on corruption? How do they believe it should be tackled? Who do they believe should be tackling it? What are their views on using the carrot or stick approach to tackling corruption – more stick than carrot or vice versa? What does the candidate know about our political history? What is their default ideological view on how we should be politically structured? Why do they believe this is better for us as a nation? What in their history demonstrates consistency with this view? If there have been ideological changes to their view over time, what instigated the change in view? Have they read the various Confab Reports and what is their view of it? Do they intend to reinvent some wheels? How do they intend to go about implementing their ideological views on our political structure? What is their view of security and policing structure? What is their view on establishing state police? If they believe in it, what implementation timeline will they commit to? What hindrances do they foresee and how do they hope to navigate these? What issues have candidates identified with our Constitution? Why are they issues? What are the solutions to these issues? Are their solutions visionary and ideological or practical and only provides short term respite? Can the solutions be implemented within a reasonable time frame? What is their view on the cost of governance? What changes would they propose and at what level? How would they go about securing universal buy-in from all arms of government and the public? Do they have demonstrable and independently verifiable history of implementing structural and strategic change?

Typically, citizens in a country practising the democratic system of governance reward political parties that meet their needs for jobs, earnings, security and a decent living standard with more tenure in public office. This implies that the point of political power should be to improve the living standards of citizens as well as their aspiration for growth and development. Political power becomes unstable in an environment of declining economy. The foundation for our country’s recent recession was laid year’s prior to President Buhari’s tenure. No matter what the current government says, this recession was not inevitable – slower growth and development were, but the recession could and should have been avoided with better policy reaction. Besides being in recessionary environment, the level of human development, income & economic inequality in Nigeria is at crisis level. UNDP, World Bank, Ease of Doing Business and our own official Statistical data show that the trends are getting more worrisome. The Presidency as an institution must make economic inclusion a key and permanent policy focus. Our economic challenges require that those in leadership positions need to have excellent knowledge of economics and investing for growth and development. To this end we must ensure that candidates for Presidents have the required level of economic knowledge that will be useful in this regard. Candidates must clarify their view of markets and the role of the financial market. Where on the economic spectrum is their belief system? Are they philosophically inclined to free-markets or have preference for a planned economy? What is their view of the role of monetary authority and policy in the economy and its independence? What is their view of the role of fiscal policy and what policies do they intend to pursue in that regard? What is their view on currencies and what role will the exchange rate play in their overall policy strategy? What is the candidate’s opinion on sources of government revenue in relation to taxes and extracting resource rent? What sort of economic growth do they want to pursue – export led or more emphasis will be on import substitution? How does this fit in with fiscal policy? Do candidates have demonstrable business experience that shows appreciation for issues facing businesses in Nigeria? What sort of economic or business relationships have candidates cultivated over the years? Are these relationships aligned to proposed manifesto promises? Can we observe philosophical alignment between the candidate and their network of connections? Does the candidate have demonstrable experience of creating and managing a team of experts and have delivered positive/desired outcome? Has the candidate’s ideology on economic system been longstanding? Have there been any changes? When did this occur? Is there an empirical, intellectual and rigorous basis for this change or was it just politically convenient?

What am I getting at?
We need Security Reform, Judicial Reform, Education Reform, Healthcare Reform, Gender Reform, Industrial Reform, Political Reform, Governance Reform, Economic Reform, Technology Reform, Census, Welfare Reform basically there’s so much to do and the rest of the world isn’t waiting for us that we run the risk of being permanently left behind. We cannot afford to be distracted by partisan considerations that perpetuate the sorry state we’ve found ourselves and that keeps the worst of us in the corridors of power or make it impossible for the best of us to deliver when they find themselves near power. The solutions to most of our challenges exist in the world, we just need to copy and implement right. We need to elect those that understand complex political and economic models with the empathy and resolve to apply it successfully.

#PresidentProfileNG

Profiling PresidentNG for 2019

Nigeria’s fiscal policy opportunities

Our current dalliance with democracy has been going on for 16+ years. That is a lifetime in politics. Given that our structural imbalance has been a challenge for even longer and remains substantially unchanged, it is extremely annoying that President Buhari and his government remain largely lacking of strategic short, medium and long term solutions to our challenges. Whilst it is true that APC as a party was unprepared for governance, those elected at the very least have had 16years to fine-tune their ideas or fraternise with those that have ideas. To now have a federal cabinet lacking ideas is quite frankly irksome given the goodwill enjoyed by this government when it assumed office in May 2015.

President Buhari was presented with a huge opportunity to reset our economic, political and social structure, an opportunity that even small (positive obviously) policy changes would have had meaningful impact. The President has the opportunity to change our approach to the fiscal side of policy at all levels of government. The possibilities are plentiful:

We can be a low tax economy. CIT at 10% or lower for the FG, States can bolt on their own CIT rate. VAT need not be as low as it currently is at 5%. FG can collect 5% VAT with States and even LGs bolting on their own. States can compete for businesses through tax or other infrastructure. So States with better infrastructure will be able to get away with charging higher business and consumption tax. Nigeria can become the destination of choice for international corporations looking to set-up in Sub-Saharan Africa. Like Ireland has done in Europe, Nigeria can do same. We’ll need to sort out our education sector though but there are enough young people to employ to make it attractive. Like India did with technology, Nigeria can do same with the recent ZuckPress on NigeriaTech. Government can use fiscal policies to induce global corps to set-up shop in Nigeria as their African hub. Whatever is given up in CIT can be made up with PAYE. Our PAYE seems competitive at current levels so little need for downward review in my opinion.

Government can devise fiscal policies that stimulate exports and incentivise Nigerian companies to be globally competitive. For example, the FG can grant CIT relief on a sliding scale that is linked to export, number of Nigerian employees and the volume of returned exported goods and if service, foreign customer complaints. So Dangote could get 0.5% CIT relief for every 100k Nigerians he employs, 0.5% relief for every $1bn of exported cement up to a maximum of 2% (so gets the 2% relief if he exports more than $4bn worth) and 0.1% charge for every $10m of returned cement. The foregoing assumes the nonsense that is the “Pioneer Status regime” is scrapped permanently across all sectors. I prefer giving relief to economic activity ex-post (e.g the relief could be claimed on a three year cycle ex-post). This focus on export and job creation will need to be matched with reforming our customs process so that goods are processed in double quick time by linking their pay to the volume rather than value of goods they process. Checking that the quality of products (by industry regulators like NAFDAC) meets the requirements of foreign trade agreements would need to be done before goods ship out of factories. This will intensify and place the cost of low quality product squarely on the shoulder of manufacturers as they won’t want their warehouses clogged with defective goods. The pay of industry regulators too could be linked to returned exported goods that they passed as having met quality standard by reducing their pay accordingly.

Government can also use fiscal policies to incentivise manufacturers on import substitution rather than through monetary policy or currency manipulation. For example, manufacturers like Cadbury could be incentivised through CIT relief to use more of Nigerian cocoa than imported cocoa (I don’t know if Cadbury’s imports cocoa just using it as an example). The amount of relief obtained can be linked to the level of import substitution.

Given how competitive and integrated the global economy is becoming, the need to continue to find ways to innovate and improve productivity to ensure a nation not only retains its share of the world economy but also increase it is forcing governments to think of smarter ways of organising their affairs. Serious governments (eg UK’s Civil Service Reform plan 2012, Singapore’s Public Service Development 2011 etc) are reforming public service to support and promote the private sector and local economy by finding new ways to get more for less. As we all know, our governments and budgets have been burdened with huge personnel cost and ghost workers for years. The amount we spend on civil servants given the output does not indicate value for money. Personally and if I were President Buhari, I’d spend a considerable amount of political capital on forcing the civil service commission to place every federal civil servant at risk. That is everyone should reapply for their job. Prior to doing this, I’d request the World Bank in conjunction with one of the Big 4 consulting firms to review and advise the FG on what the size of the federal civil service should be given our current revenue challenges. Upon completion of this review, I’d ask the Commission to create new higher minimum qualification (educational and non-educational) criteria to be used for a merit based reappointment of civil servants.

If President Buhari and his cabinet continue to struggle for ideas, they can steal ideas from our most recent decent economic team. They can go back to implementing the NEEDS, SEEDS and LEEDS economic programme initiated under President Obasanjo. The programme was well on its way to making meaningful impact. Dr Ngozi Iweala’s book on “reforming the unreformable” describes the programmes successes and challenges in detail and how it can be improved on and moved forward. This will be like giving expo to a student before sitting for an exam. If they can’t be original with ideas, they also can’t struggle with copying best ideas or can they?

As I’ve argued previously, President Buhari should not be dragging economic policy with experts. Not when he is struggling to deliver excellent public goods/services. The output from his own sector cannot be so underwhelming yet he’s spending time dragging the quality of output from the private sector. The private sector is needed to pull us out of this recession, but that is a very short-term focus. The public sector needs to be operating effectively and efficiently first and foremost and that includes letting go of what should be in the remit of the market and letting economic data determine policy thrust.

UPDATE

The best thing about changing our approach to fiscal policy or any of the above is that it is cheaper to implement when compared to the nonsensical monetary manipulation that has been going on with currency and CBN. Government would not require to go cap in hand to IMF or other multilaterals for borrowing. Yet, it is the very measure our saintly President is dilly dallying on.

Nigeria’s fiscal policy opportunities