Capitalism and politics

For an elected official to successfully deliver on good governance, that official needs to either be both a good technocrat as well as a good politician or failing that be able to assemble a good team of technocrats and have demonstrable evidence of being able to lead such a team to delivering good governance. The need to be a good technocrat is necessary so that issues can be understood, appropriate policies formulated, whilst the need to be a good politician will become necessary when political will is needed to implement programs especially when vested interests lobby to the contrary.

There seems to be a dearth of people in our politics with an above average strength as good politicians as well as technocrats. We seem to produce politicians that have strength in one and weakness in the other. Babatunde Fashola appears to be a good technocrat but weak at playing politics. Donald Duke, Kayode Fayemi, Nasir El-Rufai, Nuhu Ribadu etc all appear to fall into the same category as the outgoing governor of Lagos. These are governors/ex ministers that whilst they were delivering some form of good governance couldn’t replicate the same success on the political side so their public careers got truncated – too early. Fashola on the other hand, despite his weakness in playing politics, managed to retain the support of Asiwaju Tinubu by the skin of his teeth otherwise he too would have gone the way of other technocrats. There are others like Adams Oshiomole, Rochas Okorocha, Rotimi Amaechi etc that I find difficult to categorise as having above average strength on either side as they seem to be drifting from one side to the other on average terms at best.

For all of Asiwaju’s faults, he seems to be one of the very few people in politics that can be comfortable whether in the midst of pure politicians or technocrats. This fundamentally is the basis of his on going relevance as a public servant. He understands both divides of public service better than most. Governor Rauf Aregbesola seems to me like someone that has the same potential as Asiwaju but time will tell. Another politician that I rate and this would come as no surprise to those I’ve interacted with on Nigerian politics, is Atiku Abubakar. He seems to be equally able to mix with technocrats as much as politicians. Whilst he has not held executive office for which he was on the top ticket, his public service have been commended publicly by those whose technocratic opinion are noteworthy e.g. Mallam El-Rufai in his comments on public senate hearing held Aug 8-13, 2011 following his stint as director of BPE and the success of National  Privatisation Council.

For Atiku, I am disappointed that he hasn’t been able to shake off the corruption tag attached to him by his former boss Obasanjo. This may be due to the possibility that he is indeed corrupt. The man himself has powerful oppositions if not enemies and has been investigated severally even by the US Senate. Besides possible money laundering issues, he wasn’t found guilty of corruption. If after all these investigations, he remains un-convicted in a court of law in any jurisdiction, why does the corruption tag persist? This brings me to capitalism and politics – my main point of discourse.

Capitalism thrives best in a market that is inefficient and with at least semi-strong institutions. It is within an inefficient market that capital has its best chance of making abnormal profit or high return for a given level of risk. Semi-strong institutions such as stock exchange regulatory authorities or the judiciary are equally important so that instances of injustice can be enforced in ordinary arms length business transactions or settled out of court with minimal cost and time. It is this inefficiency and weak to semi-strong institution that makes or should make Nigeria the darling of those with real capital. If you have good capital, and understand the Nigerian market well, you’re very likely to make supernormal profit. If you then have political clout with above average understanding of technical issues, then you stand an even better chance of making uber supernormal profit. Of course with political clout comes the likelihood of being tagged as corrupt given the weakness of the system. Of course, when the market is inefficient and institutions are weak, one shouldn’t be surprised if a corrupt society is the outcome. This is a global phenomenon rather than an African let alone a Nigerian one. It may be the case that the corrupt or those with capital are ensuring that our institutions remain weak so that they can keep making supernormal profits.

What I find most interesting is that all of Atiku’s businesses are in industries where he can hardly be a monopoly, meaning his companies have to compete fairly with others in order for them to be and remain successful. This implies that industries in which his companies operate will at least have a chance of benefitting from any policy he lobbies for. For example, he has a sizeable interest in farming and related agro-services, if he lobbies for supportive policies for his farm business, the likelihood is that all businesses similar to his will benefit. This preference for business and market competitiveness can also be projected to his main business interest – INTELS – the oil services firm. Whilst Atiku does not get involved in the day to day running of his businesses, it is clear to all that he is astute at working with others ensuring that both they and he benefit from the alliance. Ultimately, the source of his wealth is known to all.

In contrast, almost all other politicians in Nigeria, we just know that they are wealthy, the source of their wealth remains a mystery. Most if not all of them can’t replicate the same level of wealth or hope to survive in the private industry, even Mr. President. In an economy where market inefficiency makes it the dream of those with capital and considering we’ve supported #OurNASS annually over the past few years with N150b, besides buying properties in Dubai and stashing money abroad, what have our politicians done with their largesse? Does how APC and PDP legislators spend their capital not suggest they don’t know how to create wealth let alone redistribute it in a manner that minimises income and wealth inequality? One of the politicians, whose source of wealth is fairly publicly alleged, is Asiwaju Tinubu. Alpha Beta Consulting (ABC), the tax consultant to the Lagos State government (LASG), has been linked to Asiwaju along with others. Alpha Beta is alleged to receive in fees 10% of all taxes it collects on behalf of LASG. When one considers LASG’s IGR, the cashcow that ABC is for Asiwaju in what is more or less a monopoly is staggering. This level of cash generation makes it especially difficult if not impossible for anyone to challenge Asiwaju’s authority or dominance in our godfatherism led politics.

Quite a few of those that are currently financing General Buhari’s candidacy are clearly wealthy and powerful but more importantly have a source of wealth that remains unclear to most Nigerians. This inevitably means they have either benefitted from the inefficiency of the Nigerian economy or have been outright corrupt. One could think ‘or both’ but seeing that very few of them have private businesses that can be claimed as their obvious source of wealth we can discount this as an option. So, should this obvious conflict of interest not make us question APC’s “change” message? If those who have vested interest in maintaining status quo are in or around power (with status quo being controlling or influencing power), will things really change? By substituting PDP for APC, will we not just be changing form rather than substance? The point is regardless of what any politician promises us, 2+2 will always be equal to 4, it can never be 5 or 6.

It is with this in mind that, were I based in Nigeria, I’d be voting Kowa and Mrs. Oluremi Sonaiya for President. I’ve read a lot of commenters turn up their noses at Kowa but I find this disappointing although I acknowledge that every one has a right to their preference. What disappoints me mostly are the reasons given as to why Kowa isn’t a viable alternative. Most voters acknowledge that APC is almost equally as handicapped as PDP given the ease with which weak and sometimes out rightly useless politicians cross-carpet. There’s been so much cross-carpeting between APC/PDP that they could almost be regarded as one. Indeed most voters acknowledge that the circulation of vested interests around Buhari is a real headwind for his presidency should he win. The other reason they espouse is the numbers game. Whilst true that PDP and APC have the advantage of numbers on the other parties, this is only the case because even for all of their glaring faults, people still choose to support them. If you can support APC/PDP with all of their issues, why is it so difficult to support Kowa who are a relatively young party but more importantly with fewer issues and handicaps than the two major parties? Their leadership team consists of ordinary Nigerians from all works of life – no benefactor or national leader – just ordinary Nigerians from various ethnicities coming together on ideology. Does this collection not reflect how Nigerians should gather for democracy’s sake?

What Kowa offers is a real break from the cycle of vested interests. The virtues that some use as basis for supporting General Buhari’s candidacy are not unique to him alone. Can Mrs. Sonaiya not pursue an anticorruption mandate? With her being free from vested interests, is she not more likely to do so? Her aptitude is clearly not in doubt, so will she not be at least equally as capable as General Buhari in grasping policy issues and pursue those that will be of benefit to majority of the populace than a cabal few? Kowa’s manifesto points on federalism, devolution of powers and making education up to SSCE compulsory for every Nigerian child particularly resonates with me. How are these not at par if not better than what PDP and APC offer? Besides the exception of Lagos (even that is only relative to very poor peers), has APC delivered the change they’re campaigning on at state level let alone federal? So on what basis should we then place confidence in their ability to deliver change? We look at Lagos but Lagos is an anomaly; it and APC benefits largely from two things: i) the fact that it was previously the national capital (pre & post colonial) and ii) the stellar governance Lateef Jakande delivered when governor.

It is obvious that PDP has lowered the standard of governance, meaning APC don’t have that much height to scale to gain followership. However, we will be doing ourselves a great disservice if we let APC get by with just the bare minimum. All of their current campaign rhetoric needs to be paired with (legislature and executive arms) their delivery in the states they currently govern. Does it add up or are they just doing needs must? Are they campaigning on record or rhetoric? The two main parties have to at least be made to sweat to get our votes and there’s no better way to do that by supporting a viable alternative in Kowa.

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Capitalism and politics

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