Thinking ahead of the 2019 election

A positive outcome of the current awful presidential term is that in 2019 anticorruption will not be the anchor of any campaign. President Buhari has clarified to all that incompetence is more debilitating than corruption on a nation. There’s nothing worse than fighting corruption incompetently. You don’t only make corruption worse, you also run a greater than evens chance of halting economic activity and making growth anaemic.

Therefore, between now and 2019, we need to come up with a list of competences that we will use to assess anyone that seeks elective office especially the Presidency. APC successfully made the 2015 election a referendum on Goodluck Jonathan. That presupposes Goodluck Jonathan’s government as a qualitative benchmark for what good governance is. We will only be playing ourselves if we repeat the same in 2019. President Buhari and his government will not and should never be the benchmark by which we must judge whichever actors parade themselves for the presidency job in 2019. Our yardstick of who should be worthy to be our President must go above and beyond the last occupier of the office. By defining this yardstick, shallow but ambitious candidates will readily rule themselves out of the running and not abuse our collective sensibilities by still picking up a form. We also need politicians that have demonstrated without any shadow of doubt, that it is Nigeria before self. We need politicians that will find it worthy to sacrifice their personal ambition if it means the greater good for all of Nigeria.

In my opinion, beyond any other specialist skill that a candidate may have in 2019, we need to ensure that potential candidates have demonstrable capacity of political, economic and social inclusion. This is especially important given the powers vested in the President and the Executive arm of Government by our Constitution. We cannot afford to vote for anyone that has strength in one but weakness in others. Whoever offers him/herself up for President must be strong in all three areas. By strong, I mean we should be able to award them a 70% pass mark after vetting them during the primaries and general campaign. To get 70%, they must demonstrate consistency in any capacity they’re claiming as supportive of their candidacy. The consistency will demonstrate that they are principled. It will demonstrate that the public should expect fewer policy flip flops. Why is this important?

Nigeria’s problems are longstanding, structural and strategic – meaning that the solutions are equally longstanding and structural. There’s been no significant reduction in our problems over the years despite the significant cost – human and capital – expended by successive governments. We are still deficient in the same areas, still running a patrimonial society, governance is still based on patronage and government revenues are still based on resource rent. Ideally, on a principles and structural basis, our political elites shouldn’t really be flip flopping on policy rhetoric because the circumstances haven’t changed, all new information are still confirming ancient problems. What we need most from them is credibility, integrity and stability of policies so economic actors can plan and commit their investment capital over the long term.

I emphasise “inclusion” because our nation is multi ethnic and multi cultural. It is through inclusion that we can turn our diversity into a developmental weapon that acts as a catalyst for our national progress. We can place all other ideal characteristics needed in a President under one of the three overarching requirements of a) Political, b) Economic and c) Social Inclusion.

By creating this yardstick, we can already rule out some actors currently being promoted for the race to be President in 2019. For example, we can rule out Governor Tambuwal. If we are to consider the integrity of our democracy, Governor Tambuwal shouldn’t have retained his position as Speaker when he decamped from PDP to APC in 2014. Whilst there was enough loophole in our Constitution for him to use, he should have taken an ethical stand and vacate the position. It was an opportunity to demonstrate that his ambition was not worth the appearance or perception that questioned the ethical standard of the House or our democracy. Unfortunately, both he and the APC were quite happy to sacrifice Nigeria for their political benefit. So if Governor Tambuwal comes out in 2019, preaching he’s an adherent to the spirit and letter of our constitution and that he is committed to the progress of our democracy, we should ask him why this wasn’t the case in 2014.

We can also rule out President Buhari. He has so far failed to demonstrate that he has the capacity to enshrine any kind of inclusion with his lopsided appointments, his economic policy flip flops and certainly his continued side-eyeing of politically expedient steps towards the South-South displays this. President Buhari has never run a business, it is no wonder he struggles to appreciate the challenges of the private sector or of small businesses. We know the President is a billionaire (his assets are worth billions per Garba Shehu’s statement on the President’s asset declaration), but we don’t know how someone without a business can become a billionaire. Becoming a billionaire shouldn’t be that easy – in fact it shouldn’t be normal. The President’s current fight against corruption that excludes members of his own party demonstrates Nigeria isn’t quite at the centre of his anticorruption drive but more of a settlement of scores. If his anticorruption fight was truly pan Nigeria, then flagrant disregard of court rulings will not be so common nor should some suspiciously wealthy members of his party be roaming so freely. Going after members of his own party may hurt its chances at the next election or his own chance of retaining the party’s ticket, but not doing so suggests he’s comfortable sacrificing Nigeria for his/party’s self-interest.

We can also rule out Governor El Rufai. His comments on social media in the lead up to the last general election further inflamed the fire of ethnic division. These comments were truly shocking. His recent comment pushing for interest rates by political fiat (further eroding CBN’s independence), being against devaluation or floating of the naira given our dire finances (nothing has fundamentally changed about our finances to influence this flip flop on devaluation, so what economic data influenced it?), his action or inaction during the army massacre of innocent Nigerians in his state all demonstrate a limited capacity for political, social and economic inclusion.

Some of these actions, if viewed through the lens of selfishness, are quite sound. But when we place Nigeria’s interest above self, then it is impossible for Gov El Rufai to justify his comments and actions as being beneficial and supportive of moving our nation forward. Governor El Rufai’s best track record in public office coincides with when he was able to implement ‘strong man’ politics when he was FCT Minister and DG of BPE. Given that ‘strong man’ politics isn’t what we need, thanks to President Buhari for clarifying, then we have to mark down this track record of Gov El Rufai when assessing him as a potential President.

I like Atiku Abubakar. He scores highly in my assessment of those in the running to potentially be President. He is politically inclusive – having demonstrated throughout his political life his ability to work with people from other ethnicity, economically inclusive – his businesses are successful, aren’t monopolies that have cornered government patronage but are also filled with competent people that he has assembled and demonstrably works well with. Turaki Adamawa is also socially inclusive – his agribusiness patronises local farmers and his educational establishments have supported pupils from poor backgrounds especially escapee Chibok girls. Unfortunately, he has been unable to shake the corruption tag on him which weakens any positive on economic acumen. We cannot afford any corruption drama to derail what should be a focussed presidency given the huge task at hand. More importantly though, Atiku will be 73 in 2019, we certainly need a younger President. So he too should be out of the running for president in 2019!

“It’s the economy, stupid!” – This statement will be used during the 2019 election campaign and rightly so. Any country that is serious about development has to meet its citizen’s expectations for jobs, economic growth and stability. So anyone serious about becoming President in 2019 must provide a demonstrable track record and capacity of delivering jobs, economic growth and stability. Obviously, the person will not be working alone, so they must demonstrate a track record that shows clearly that they have the capacity to identify, appoint and efficiently and effectively work with competent persons in their cabinet. They have to demonstrate that they can inspire and motivate appointees – knowing when to allow them run with ideas or when to keep them in check. The must demonstrate ability to grasp sophisticated and non-sophisticated economic and social policies for the greater good of Nigeria and be willing to sacrifice their ambition for the sake of Nigeria.

We cannot afford to put someone that doesn’t demonstrate a sound grasp of socioeconomic issues and their solutions in Aso Rock. Our procurement laws are not hidden, nor are the inefficient working practices in federal MDAs. You cannot get into office, waste time and be seeking emergency powers to implement what should have been covered in your policy implementation instrument. We have to ask the what, when and how questions on any economic rhetoric in campaign manifesto. They must show full workings.

 

Thinking ahead of the 2019 election

Nation building ideas for Nigeria

About two weeks ago, Feyi Fawehinmi wrote commendably about his regret of not asking enough questions during the last presidential campaign on the ideas President Buhari intended to pursue after assuming office. A day later, he published another article on how Nigeria can move forward from its current malaise and if Nigerians can organise themselves around ideas or other organising principles that could move our country forward.

About 18 months ago, I published some rants, Rant I, Rant II & Rant III on my blog about how to deliver a sustainable Nigeria and argued that if we can organise ourselves based on ideologies, over time ideology may become a better unifying factor than ethnicity and religion among Nigerians — a long shot I know, but still worth a try.
Feyi focussed on trade as his initial idea on what may bring Nigerians closer together, although he has since admitted (worth a listen if you haven’t already) in a recent podcast with Tola Sarumi that it may not be enough. I agree and as my contribution to the debate which Feyi has now joined, I’ll summarise the ideas in my rants hopefully in a less “ranty” way in this foregoing article.

We currently don’t exist in a power or constitutional vacuum, so there’s nowhere else to start other than the Constitution. The Constitution in one of its opening preamble states “we the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; having firmly and solemnly resolved, to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation under God…” That preamble given our history, especially the most recent, is a lie — a lie that needs to be fixed. A lie that can only be fixed when we project dignity on all Nigerian life equally by recognising the unalienable human rights of every Nigerian; by developing a judiciary and civil service that applies the law impersonally and a police service that protects neutrally and uniformly. Without this impersonal application of rights and neutral protection of life, it will be difficult, as we’ve witnessed, to live in unity, harmony and peacefully.

Being a multi cultural and multi ethnic society, disagreements are inevitable — heck even closely knitted families have disagreements. So whilst strengthening our ties through trade is laudable and lofty, not having an institutionally neutral trade arbitration system that inexpensively and efficiently adjudicates disputes will result in a swift breakdown of any ties based on trade. So it is important that we urgently strengthen the Judicial arm of government by making it truly independent, properly funded and by revising its working processes for optimal efficiency and effectiveness.
Linked to the above is the necessity to separate religion from state. Whatever state administration system we agree on, must near militantly, defend the secularity of our laws especially in the implementation and application of such laws. We need to take personal and collective responsibility of defending governance from religiosity. Praying at state functions, expecting state sponsorship of religious pilgrimages, religious rhetoric in political campaigns or party constitutional documents must be firmly rejected. Religion must be separated from state in form, substance, perception or reality. Religion must become personal and personal only. It goes without saying that no one should be killed for practising their religion.

As we are finding out, incompetence is proving to be more expensive than corruption. We need to celebrate the dignity of hard work and increase the value we place on competence. Job openings, contract tenders, political appointments, promotions in public and private sectors, business deals should be made based purely on the hierarchy of competence of those or entities considered. We have to kill the patronage system in all its forms. This is the only way that iron can sharpen iron and the only way we can create an environment for objective competition. Any Nigerian (irrespective of gender, faith, orientation etc) should be confident that regardless of where they are in the country, if they demonstrate competence clearly for any endeavour they should expect commensurate compensation. Any Nigerian should be able to live and participate fully in any locality they choose to be resident. We should be against a patrimonial society. Celebrating and embracing competence as an overarching value system would enable the inclusion that our diversity needs to be the positive developmental weapon that it should be. The elevation of competence in our society should be most visible in our civil service and other societal agencies that facilitate business and trade eg CAC, Regulatory Commissions etc.

As has been mentioned by others, the Constitution of our Republic is in need of a root and branch review. That revision needs to recognise that all constitutional power devolves from the people. The extent of the powers of government has to be clearly defined and limited. The extent to which government can intrude into our lives or prescribe how we should live our lives should be limited. This last sentence is a personal preference but it’s based on recognising the militaristic foundation of our current constitution in the absolute and near limitless powers it confers on and reserves for government. Whilst democratic, this conferment is clearly despotic and must be reversed. The Land Use Act is a case in point. The Constitution gives the executive arm of government too much power in relation to property rights.

In recognising the plurality of cultures in our nation, we need to embrace federalism fully and truly. This can be achieved by having federal laws, which I’ll refer to as Constitutional Minimums, which guarantee federal rights. This idea of Constitutional Minimums is based on “what is yours is yours, what is mine is mine, what is ours we decide”. Constitutional Minimums are the laws that will underpin the rights freely given up by each federating unit to the federal government to form the basis on which we will remain a federal union. For example, a Minimum can be a law that guarantees that every Nigerian child must be educated to at least junior secondary school level. The law could compel every local government to make access to educational institution available to every child. The law should make it criminally punishable for any parent or guardian that prevents their/a child from getting this minimum education. We can have minimums for everything — health, eligibility for security services, citizenship, education etc.

We can have Minimums for taxation for example. During the last presidential primary campaign, Atiku Abubakar in one of his Q&A sessions responded to a question on development with an answer that intrigued me. To fund his idea on driving development, he said he would commit all revenues from oil to capital expenditures only and that recurrent expenditures will be funded by tax receipts! Wow! Let’s think about that for a minute, if we want government to be only focused on facilitating trade (Executive & Legislative arm), securing lives and property (Judiciary) then this is a wonderful way of focussing their minds and aligning governments interest with economic activity and productivity. When government realises that its recurrent expenditure can only be funded from tax receipts and not resource rent, it will start behaving like the Chamber of Commerce that it should be. So the Minimum in this regard, applicable to government at all levels, will be that all revenues earned from resources can only go to capital expenditure. I know this has implication for the size of the civil service at all levels but this is a good thing. Government should do well only when businesses do well and not the reverse.

Finally and in recognition of the plurality of our society I think we need democratic reform. We need to decide what form of democracy suits us. Democracy by default is a system of government that facilitates debate. Plurality of opinions is healthy to any debate and contributes towards a qualitative outcome. A proportional representation electoral system may be more suitable to us than the current simple majority system. A proportional representation system will ensure that all votes contribute to the result of an election not just the majority of votes. We should consider this proportional representation at least for legislative elections. It would mean that the size of parties in parliament will be linked to the percentage of votes they received in an election. I also think we should split the election cycle of the legislature from the executive. Elections for both arms of government should be split two years apart. This should enable, preferably force legislator’s to campaign on their own merit rather than ride on the popularity of a presidential candidate. It would also focus the oversight responsibility of our legislator’s as it becomes difficult to ride on the popularity of the executive especially if the party in office isn’t delivering or is different. We also need political campaign finance reform, something I previously wrote on too.

Hopefully some of what I’ve written above is useful and contributes to the debate of moving Nigeria forward along ideological lines.

Nation building ideas for Nigeria

The insincerity of our elites 

In my last piece I mentioned the insincerity of our political and economic elites and how a change of attitude from them is necessary to move our nation forward. All of these elites travel outside Nigeria regularly for all sorts of reasons. Some of them were born, raised and trained in developed countries. Most if not all of them send their children abroad to study or gain exposure.

These elites have observed with their own eyes what a developed culture, society and country is and should look like. They’ve been on London underground trains, travelled on Japanese bullet trains, driven on Germany’s autobahn, and have houses in the US, UK, Middle East with superb construction and luxurious finishing. They’ve been to world class airports like Heathrow, Dubai, Singapore and have experienced first rate services that should be the norm. These elites have experienced what a proper capital, banking and finance infrastructure should be when they stash some of their (ill-gotten) wealth abroad.

What is befuddling is how these elites see these structures and infrastructures abroad; knowing it was all man made some even within the last 3 decades, yet come back to Nigeria to perpetrate a culture and structure that makes it impossible for Nigeria to rise above a failing or failed state? These elites own banks, yet some of their banking processes, apps and services are 18th century in nature. They just can’t see how development need not be sacrificed for wealth generation.

Issues like bad roads, lack of electricity, lack of proper water or sewage system, fuel queues, lack of train or transport infrastructure, dilapidated airports and such things that are now basic infrastructures in aspiring nations – how can the lack of these things not get on their damn nerves and grate them to their bone marrow? Why in 2016 would they want this type of issues be what is distracting their minds from focussing on more important world problems like eliminating malaria permanently or child poverty globally? I just don’t get it.

The one that is even more perplexing is how young Nigerians below the age of 40 that are either from elitist families or by sheer luck or maybe hard work have plugged themselves in the elitist patronage network, have turned themselves into doormats or enablers of this dysfunctional system. How can you as a young man with a young family not be wound up by the thought of spending what should be the prime of your youth in endless fuel queues or carrying your generators on your head to get fuel to power your “I better pass my neighbour”? Why should your Saturday, better spent with your young family, be spent at a mechanic village? Aren’t we all tired of dealing with poverty type dysfunction? Abi you think because you are not caught by the $2/day metric you are not facing similar challenges to poor people? How can young Nigerian’s explain their short-sightedness and insincerity during the last general election?

President Buhari was elected on three promises – anticorruption, security and economy. Of these three, anticorruption was by far President Buhari’s unique selling point. He self-styled himself as an incorruptible leader particularly playing on the War Against Indiscipline policy he implemented as military head of state. In my opinion, his claim was hollow at best. When President Obasanjo left office as military head of state, he did not disappear into a vacuum. He launched policy groups, was invited to and joined other leadership groups, represented Nigeria in peacekeeping efforts, he wrote books and basically immersed himself in governance and leadership circles communicating his ideas and ideologies whilst allowing himself to be shaped by the ideas of others so much so that he nearly became UN Secretary General. What President Obasanjo was about between 1979 and 1999 wasn’t in doubt. By the time he became President in 1999, he could refer to an established profile within the international community when it was time to beg for debt relief. Those he was begging already knew what he was about. It smoothed the process.

Can we say the same thing about President Buhari? Between 1985 and 2015 that he won the presidential election, corruption became an outsized monster in Nigeria. What did President Buhari do in those years to elevate and progress the anticorruption discussion? What book (ghost writers exists even if he couldn’t write it himself – Dele Momodu would have been too glad to be his ghost writer) did he write to enrich and propose ways that Nigeria can solve its corruption problem? Did he create or sponsor any CSO to pursue the anticorruption agenda? Did he give speeches at conferences to advance the movement? What conferences did he attend – local or international? Did he take his fight to international organisations like the World Bank, IMF or the UN? Did he link corruption to tax haven countries and how they enabled corruption? Did he raise the issue of the difficulty of repatriating proceeds of corruption stashed in tax havens? Did he create any profile of substance for himself beyond shallow rhetoric by referring to a dysfunctional policy he tried to implement in 1984? There’s little to no evidence that President Buhari did any of the above, so why did young people place so much faith in him being able to resolve the nation’s problem with corruption let alone institutionalise it? Now that he has become President and he wants to repatriate stolen funds, he needs to start from scratch what he should have donated his prime years to, yet he is surprised by his slow progress.

President Buhari’s lack of capacity is now being questioned and people are beginning to think ahead to 2019. Of course the elites are intelligent, they too are already thinking ahead and are also beginning to position themselves. One of the people being promoted by the young elites as a potential candidate in 2019 is Mallam El Rufai. This promotion suggests to me that some of our young people haven’t learnt from their 2015 mistake. We are a divided nation, a nation whose elites have used our multi ethnicity as a weapon. One of them, Mallam El Rufai, has been particularly guilty of highlighting our multi ethnicity and uses it against our nation to further his self-interest. His utterances on social media over the years have been truly shocking.

Prior to the general elections, Sheikh El Zakzaky was a good citizen worthy enough for Mallam to visit his home for photo opportunities to further his gubernatorial ambition. After elections, he became a persona non-grata with Kaduna (under Gov El Rufai) and Nigeria’s governments complicit in hiding the murderous rampage of 347 innocent Nigerians committed by the Nigerian army. Think about this, one of Governor El-Rufai’s state resident has been in illegal detention for months by the federal government, what has the governor done to raise this injustice and secure the release of Zakzaky? How will someone that finds it so easy to stoke ethnic sentiments inspire the kind of political and economic inclusion that our nation needs if he becomes President? Has he demonstrated that he has the capacity to inspire this leadership quality? Some will argue that his current cabinet is multi ethnic and say this is evidence enough, but how can this be? Surely we need a longer history that demonstrates this capacity beyond his current cabinet that has been put together mainly for Mallam’s benefit rather than Nigeria’s? Should our bar be so low as they want us to accept?

At the African Pension Summit held in October 2015, Mallam El Rufai said “I am warning the banks to bring down interest rates or we will do it for you”. Does this suggest Mallam understands economics at all? Should someone of his calibre and supposed exposure advocate for interest rates by political fiat – a move that erodes the independence of the Central Bank? It’s one of two things; either he lacks adequate economic understanding or he is pandering to President Buhari knowing fully well it was a wrong economic strategy but one that serves his self-interest of cementing his alleged position as “de facto” Vice President? Either way Nigeria is worse off by Mallam’s positioning and suggests perhaps he may do things that are not in Nigeria’s best interest but furthers his own? We need to shine our eyes.

At Nigeria Summit organised by The Economist in March 2016, Mallam said he was against devaluation as he cannot see the economic benefit for it. He asked “is the market the only way to solve the scarcity problem”? Again, this is something President Buhari will say and something someone of Mallam’s calibre and supposed exposure shouldn’t. In fact he said at the same summit that he’d always been in favour of devaluation and had experienced it thrice but somehow on this occasion, when our finances are in such dire state, he doesn’t think it expedient?

In 2018 when the sound-bites and rhetoric start flying about, I hope we all remember these things so that we don’t repeat the Buhari mistake of blind followership.

In fact what I hope is that a party like Kowa or firm like SBM Intelligence will create a tab on their websites where these shocking statements by elites that should know better will be displayed as a reminder so that when they start spewing their lies in 2019 we will call them out on it and ask the right questions.

The insincerity of our elites 

REQUIRED: new attitude, new leadership

Nigeria’s problems have been extensively analysed over the years by a plethora of intelligent people. In fact, lack of ideas or solutions to our teeming problems isn’t our biggest challenge. The political, visionary and leadership will to do the hard but necessary work to move our nation forward is what, in my opinion, we are most deficient in. The socio political and economic history of the world is littered with examples of the policies and strategies that work in moving a nation forward and firmly establishing it as a developed nation or at least lead it on the right path of development. Whilst right now, global politics is battling with social and income inequality that has led to the rising popularity of extreme political movements; this was not always the case with the global economy experiencing unprecedented wealth creation and transfer in the 40years to the Great Financial Crisis of 2008. To stem the rising popularity of extremism, global politics needs to come up with a new economic and political (democratic) transmission mechanism that efficiently deals with post-crisis income inequality and social mobility.

Sadly for Nigeria, our problem isn’t the same as the global world’s although some will argue its similarity. The number of Nigerians living, sorry existing below the poverty line is such that we need to first solve how these tens of millions of Nigerians can earn any income (sufficient to at least feed a small family thrice daily) at all before we even consider first world problems like those of the developed world of reducing income inequality. The good news however is that we have the economic system that delivered the biggest wealth transfer in global history to observe and copy verbatim. We don’t need to come up with new economic ideas, we don’t need to discover electricity, we don’t need to design new technology and neither do we need to come up with new ways of constructing road, rail or housing in order to move ourselves along the right developmental path. And with respect to politics and or governance, there are tons of countries whose struggles we can observe and learn from to avoid foolish and unnecessary mistakes. There are so many books on nation building that we can read, so many great leaders still living we can learn from, or even autobiographies of great leaders like Lee Kuan Yew, Nelson Mandela etc. Besides, we can also learn from our own history of what doesn’t work. 

At the risk of rehashing what others have already stated, I will summarise what I believe are changes to attitudes and mentality that our nation needs to move forward: 

1. Our history tells us that having an overbearing federal government with outsized powers isn’t supportive of developing Nigeria. It has so far been a burden and a headwind to political and economic development. Therefore, we need to urgently rethink, redesign and agree a new governance structure that reflects our sophistication as a society.

2. We know that true federalism works. It works in the USA, Germany, Canada, Australia and in other places. Most of these countries like ours have a history of similar inter ethnic tensions; some even fought civil wars like us, but have moved past this and are now developed nations economically and politically. So we need not fear true federalism, it will not lead to ethnic domination. Transferring majority of constitutional power to the governments that are closer to the people is one way of minimising our debilitating fear of ethnic domination and developmental bypass.

3. The role of government needs to be clarified especially in relation to the economy. We are at a developmental stage where we need all of our resources to be allocated and managed efficiently. The history of the world with economic systems shows us that a market based economy has been the most efficient at allocating resources – natural, capital, human and goods/services. This economic system was responsible for lifting the greatest number of people out of poverty the world has ever seen. History also tells us that this economic system is most efficient where government intervention is limited, interference (intervention and interference are two different things) a no-no and regulations are designed such that the proper and orderly functioning of markets is of utmost importance. There’s hardly a sector within Nigeria that the federal government does not heavily and unduly interfere in. Government intervention is certainly needed or even required in certain sectors. Such interventions must however be strategic and time pressured. It can never be open-ended as it has become in our case – a near obsession even. 

4. Our history as well as those of most members of OECD countries suggests that government doesn’t always know best and interventions need a specific purpose that is measurable and achievable within a reasonable timeframe. For example, affirmative action to get more of our brothers and sisters in the North educated or into schools may be necessary, but the lowered threshold for admission can’t stay low permanently. If for example admission requirement is 20% cut-off in year 2000 for entry into federal secondary schools, the government must draft affirmative action policy that aims to get that threshold to say 40% in a decade and on par with the highest in the country in two decades. Right now, what we have in the north re education is interference rather than intervention, an interference that has failed and is failing.

5. Our educational reforms need to match and reflect our developmental needs. Everyone needs to be educated at least up to a basic level (JSS) but not everyone needs to go to a university. Adult education needs to be encouraged especially with respect to health and hygiene, civic rights and obligations, role of government and how society should function and basic financial education. 

6. We’ve attached so much value to a university degree that everyone wants one, yet our universities are under resourced to cope. We need to reset our value system such that qualifications from educational institutions that are not universities are as valuable. Wages have to reflect living standards and actual value add from economic activities rather than just qualifications. We have to get to a point where not having a university degree does not automatically mean a decent living standard is unachievable.

7. Whilst it is important that we manage corruption better with stricter consequences and prosecutions that meet international standards, it is equally as important that we emphasise a value system that reinforces the idea that it is more rewarding to do good or right than to circumvent societal systems. We need to evolve our culture irrespective of ethnicity in a manner that makes doing good or doing right more economically rewarding and psychologically satisfying. The shame from proceeds of corruption must be elevated and harsher than even the consequence or punishment for corruption. Our threshold for corruption or corrupt people must be so low that those that perpetrate wrongs against society must prefer to commit suicide than face the shame of being proven to be corrupt. We need to get to a value and ethical place where you must be the low of the low or absolute dregs of society to contemplate let alone carry out acts of corruption.

8. Linked to improving our ethical and value system against corruption above is elevating meritocracy and competence as value systems. We must as a society abhor incompetence especially from public and civil servants. Incompetence must be fought like a plague and not tolerated. That President Buhari is comfortable with the incompetence displayed by some of his Ministers so far is disappointing and telling, even confirming the fears some of us have had all along. The Nigerian attitude that ‘lets get there first and worry about what should have been prior preparation and proper planning afterwards’ must be eschewed from our society. The mnemonic Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance that was drummed into us as kids needs to be brought back into our consciousness and imbibed across board.

9. Over the last two decades, the United Nations has published reports (UNHR Report) on an annual basis that supports the idea that diversity is contributory to economic development. The most developed nations, the most successful businesses typically have and aim to have a diverse nation or employee pool. These countries and successful businesses know that diversity isn’t the problem rather inclusion is. They realise that their success and development is linked to how inclusive they can make their diverse citizens or employees be. I am not suggesting that discrimination or racism doesn’t exist in these countries or companies, it does but steps have been taken to ensure it doesn’t compromise development, growth or profitability. So our urgent task is to infuse inclusion in every area of our societal life, systems and institutions. Our diversity should be the weapon that enriches our lives.

10. Finally we need a sincere political and economic elite class. Our current crop of elites must be ashamed of their mental laziness. Their current attitude and behaviour seems to suggest that their continued enrichment is impossible or will be compromised if Nigeria was a developing or developed nation. We know there are some members of the political elite that if not for a corrupt structure; their very limited skill would prevent them from having access to the wealth and power they currently enjoy. There are also others, some foreign born and trained, that do have skill or exposure that should be well compensated if Nigeria were a developed nation yet their behaviour is such that they just can’t imagine themselves being well to do in a developed Nigeria. This insincerity of our elites is what I find most befuddling about Nigeria. A cursory look at the most developed countries in the world or countries that are at the top of the developing list, shows us that it is possible to have billionaires in all works of life of a country whilst not sacrificing the socio-economic development of that same country. The individual and collective ambitions for a better tomorrow are not at odds with each other. Both can and have been achieved simultaneously in other countries. Examples abound around us. Steve Jobs was not born a billionaire, but he died as one. He did not need to sacrifice America’s development for his ambition. Donald Trump, as bigoted as he is and although he got $1m leg up from his dad, his current billionaire status has not stopped the US from remaining a developed nation. Across the Atlantic in UK and Europe, there are lots of millionaires and billionaires that successfully attained and continue to maintain their wealth status without the development of their nation being compromised.

11. So our elites need to stop being mentally lazy and stop perpetrating the depraved culture and structure that sacrifices development for wealth when both can be achieved simultaneously. More importantly though, the youth of Nigeria especially those between the ages of 25 and 40 need to come together en-masse and in sufficient quantity to demand almost militantly for a change in values and attitudes that will stem the hopeless spiral their parents generation seems to have anchored Nigeria to.

REQUIRED: new attitude, new leadership

Much ado about Brexit

I must say that I have found the hysteria around Britain’s decision to leave the EU very amusing. Some of the comments made by persons thousands of miles away (*sideeye* John Kerry, Reuben Abati etc) have been quite comical. First, let me say I voted for Britain to leave and I’ve explained my reasons in another post

I find it amusing that people, knowledgeable ones at that, used the volatility in the stock and currency markets within the first 48hours post the referendum as their justification and evidence of the economic woe that the Brexiteers did not appreciate would be the outcome of a leave scenario. If we place this initial volatility (markets have since calmed down) in proper context then surely this can hardly be used as evidence to support their doomsday scenario! The financial markets were mainly positioned and expected a ‘remain’ outcome. This is evidenced by the overwhelming support ‘Remainers’ received in London, Europe’s financial centre. With the referendum itself being a binary event, surely the initial volatility recorded in the markets was a rational and inevitable reaction to new information rather than a confirmation of economic doomsday or that the British economy had all of a sudden fallen off an irreversible cliff.

 

The outcome of the Brexit referendum is such that over the long term a multiplicity of economic scenarios is possible. Britain could lose out with the EU gaining, Europe could lose out with Britain gaining, both Europe and Britain could gain and all of these could happen to various degrees over various time periods. Crucially what will determine or more appropriately influence the likelihood of occurrence of any of these scenarios is the future trade deal that will be agreed between Britain and the EU. This crucial trade agreement of course is currently unknown. So how anyone can make categorical and hysterical statement about the foolishness or wisdom of Britain voting to leave at this point is completely befuddling.

 

The Brexit vote has political and economic implications. The long term political implication in my opinion is harder to guesstimate. But we can make reasonable assumptions on the economic implication without reaching any final conclusion as we don’t have adequate information to form the basis of any finality.

 

Assumption 1 – the fact is Britain maintains a trade deficit with the EU. The deficit was £25billion as at end of Q1 2016. According to Destatis, a leading provider of official German economic statistics, Germany’s trade surplus with Britain in 2015 was €50b. What this implies is that Britain is a key export market not just for the EU but for its number one backer Germany. Unless Germany and the EU have lined up other countries or regions to replace Britain as a trading partner, it can’t be in their best interest to take and be unwilling to move from a position that may impact Britain’s economy negatively. So my fluid assumption is that the EU would prefer a trade agreement that at least maintains the current economic status quo and is within the long-term run rate trade balance with Britain.

 

Assumption 2 – whatever trade agreement is finalised between Britain and the EU will be subject to non-exclusivity. This implies that Britain will be able to agree trade deals with other countries and regions that it had been unable to in the last 43years of EU membership. What this further implies is that other countries will at a minimum be competing for part of Britain’s existing trade relationship with the EU. If Britain can improve its productivity then it may be able to agree trade deals with multiple countries without each separate deal cannibalising the other. My fluid assumption here is that agreeing a mutually beneficial trade deal is in each nation’s best interest – we are not in a cold war environment after all.

 

Assumption 3 – free movement of people. This is the big one. It is so because it has security, political and economic angles potentially influencing its final outcome. The free movement of people has been a boon to the global economy over the last 30 to 40 years. It is not in Britain’s best interest to be too restrictive on immigration especially when one considers that Britain and the developed West as a whole is an ageing population. This demographic change is going to be an economic headwind for developed countries that governments of developed countries have to deal with. The UK for example is currently behind in its fertility replacement rate at 1.9 (EU – 1.4 but needs 2.1 as do all developed countries). That is, working population is reducing whilst retirees is expanding with higher life expectancy due to improvements in healthcare and technology.

 

Whilst it’s true that markets, especially the financial one dislike uncertainty and seek to imply this in the price of financial instruments, this can work both ways. The market can force the EU to negotiate a trade deal its European Commission President categorically stated months ago Britain will never get whilst simultaneously also forcing Britain to accept free movement of people that it is loath to accept as mentioned by Brexiteers during the referendum campaign. This is a possibility because economic growth in Europe is still anaemic despite the ECB’s humongous quantitative easing programme and that any unreasonable trade deal with Britain will be as damaging to the EU as it may be to Britain.

 

Further, Britain remains a full member of the EU with attendant rights, obligations and trade even after it triggers Article 50 and puts a clock on the deadline by which a deal must be agreed with the EU. As this article is yet to be triggered and it may take a while yet, there’s little need for panic or hysteria by all concerned.

 

London as a financial centre has a lot of positives going for it. It already has the infrastructure to support financial markets and maintaining this moat in a final EU/Britain trade agreement should be one of the easier parts of the negotiation. Britain can simply agree as it already does to always have equivalence legislation with all ESMA regulations. It can also agree to translate ESMA’s directives (note: ESMA Regulations are compulsory but Directives are open to national interpretation) to UK legislation as long as it doesn’t contradict UK law.

 

I cannot imagine that countries like China, Japan, Singapore, other Asian markets, the US wouldn’t want the opportunity to enter into a trade agreement with the UK. President Obama and more recently John Kerry’s comment about UK being at the back of the queue on trade agreements is quite frankly juvenile. Nations can and have negotiated multiple agreements simultaneously. Besides the economic reasons why a mutually beneficial agreement needs to be encouraged and reached between EU and Britain, there’s also the security angle. Britain’s GCHQ and security services are known to be the best if not one of the best in the world. Britain is one of the few countries that is meeting and committed to maintaining the 2% of GDP expenditure on defence. Cooperation with Britain on terrorism and the various security challenges the world is currently facing is paramount if the world hopes to conquer these challenges.

 

So keep calm and keep on Brexit.

 

 

 

Much ado about Brexit

Rationalising governance beyond ‘economic diversification’

One of the often used words by President Buhari, Vice President Osinbajo and others on their team during the last general election and the year since is “economic diversification”. The Presidency believes our economy isn’t diversified and aims to cure Nigeria’s overdependence on the oil and gas sector.
 

Periodic economic data released by the good people at Nigeria Bureau of Statistics suggests that our economy is divided into 19 activity sectors and as much as 46 if we are to expand to activity sub-sectors. The data released for Q1 2016 GDP suggests that the oil sector contributed 10.3% to our GDP whilst the non-oil sector contributed a staggering 89.7% of economic activity. What is unfortunate is that the oil sector contributes over 70% of government’s revenue and some 90% of government’s foreign revenue. According to IMF’s assessment of Nigeria in a report released in April 2016, Nigeria’s non-oil tax revenue has been on average a meagre 4% of GDP for the past 8 years against 14% for Indonesia and 16% for oil exporters. IMF’s assessment suggests that government’s non-oil revenue based on current activity within the non-oil sector should actually be 18%, well ahead of comparable oil exporters. The report goes on further to show that government’s take of corporate income tax (CIT) is a paltry 1% of GDP against 4.5% for other oil exporters and 4.6% for Indonesia.

 

What this tells us is that economic diversification isn’t the issue that requires resolution but government’s source of revenue. The government depends far too much on the oil sector for revenue. This isn’t the fault of the citizens but government laziness especially during the military era. There appears to be a mindset within Nigeria and certainly within the various levels of government that if the government does well, then Nigeria does well. This is evident in the existence of various industry cabals and the ease with which industries in face of any difficulty clamour for government patronage or protection. We need to change our mindset to that which dictates that when businesses do well, then government does well. Our government has to depend politically on its citizens and economically on businesses rather than resource rent. This change of mindset is absolutely critical if we are to successfully shift our economic structure to one that is market based. The government of President Buhari and the CBN have commendably taken a big step towards this by liberalising the foreign exchange regime. Its next focus has to be on improving the ease of doing business in Nigeria as well as its efficiency at collecting tax revenue and broadening the tax base in the near term. Whilst it has attached tax collection efficiency and improved collaboration with FIRS in its bailout condition for States and Local governments, it needs to do a lot more at the federal level.

 

As a left leaning government, some of the measures and steps this government needs to take will be counterintuitive and will fly against what a populist or socialist government will intuitively want to do. This government is predisposed to economic interventions and big government. It wants to revive Nigeria Airways, Nigeria Railways, Ajaokuta Steel amongst others – which suggests it believes government (or this government) can run businesses better even when there’s evidence (hello River’s monorail) in recent history of members of this government ruining businesses.

 

The ease of doing business report makes for horror reading and is quite clear what the government needs to focus on. Rather than market intervention, the government should stay out of the way of businesses by having as few regulations as possible. Government should focus on reducing bureaucracy and red tape around registering businesses and collecting taxes. The government will do much more for businesses by concentrating on infrastructural development than interventions. The IMF cautioned in its report mentioned above (page 19, item 29) that government’s intervention in agriculture is distorting allocation of resources and investment decisions with further unintended adverse consequences.

 

Linked to improving the business environment, the government needs to make it easier for Nigerian manufacturers to export their goods and services. The Doing Business (DB) report showed that it takes 159 hours to complete export border compliance procedure in Lagos against 108 hours in Sub-Saharan Africa and 15 hours in OECD countries. It cost $786 for export border compliance in Lagos against $542 in Sub-Saharan Africa and $160 in OECD countries. For export documentary compliance, it takes 131 hours in Lagos against 97 hours in Sub-Saharan Africa or 5 hours in OECD countries. The assessment of the difficulty in importing to Nigeria is even worse than exporting. Overall, the report concludes that Nigeria scored 18.05 DTF on Trading Across Borders, which is a whopping 82% below the best performer. The DB cost methodology excludes tariffs as well as cost of domestic transport, meaning it is all self-imposed non-necessity or graft or in Nigerian parlance corruption. These additional costs never make it into government purse.

 

As part of its restructure and optimisation of the sources of government revenue, I’ll advocate that the government elevates CIT, VAT and PAYE above tariffs collected on imports and exports. Whatever the government gives up in those tariffs can be made up in CIT, VAT and PAYE which are more linked to economic activity. By reducing its emphasis on import and export tariffs, the government will be able to reduce the bureaucracy and red tape within our customs. The current importance of revenue generation by customs directly feeds the bureaucratic monsters that are the custom officials which has turned officers into demagogues whose favour businesses court. I’d suggest that government changes the mix of compensation for custom officers. For example, if the average wage of a custom officer is N100k, I’d make 30% of that basic or guaranteed with the remainder linked to how close our ease of Doing Business rating is to OECD countries. I’d also add a government discretionary bonus (up to 2.5x basic) to the total compensation as a means of incentivising officers to suggest ways of improving our customs processes and follow through to implementation. Officers that are a hindrance to efficiency will only get basic salary or worse lose their employment.

 

Finally as part of the reduction of the cost of governance, I think the government needs to privatise or hand-off several of the research institutes listed in the federal budget. For example, the Federal Ministry of Science & Technology has about N54b budgeted to it. The ministry has 96 research institutes under it. Less than 15% of the Ministry’s budget is actually allocated to the ministerial headquarters, meaning 85% is consumed by the various institutes. From that N46b consumed by the institutes, about half (N23b) of it goes on personnel cost with the remainder marked for capital expenditure. Please note that a lot of the capital expenditure is ‘purchase of motor vehicles’, hardly a catalyst for economic recovery. The question is, we have been supporting these research institutes for years, what exactly have we received as return on our investment? If the personnel working within these institutes believe they add value, then let them source for funding from the private sector. The privatisation does not need to be politicised or made complicated. It can be done through a simple management buyout (MBO) with the government selling the institutes to their management for a nominal fee, say N1m. The management of these institutes can then prove their usefulness by selling their research to the private industry. They can even sell their research abroad if there are takers and be a source of forex to our newly floated FX market. I am almost certain that the first thing the management will do once privatised is lay off unnecessary staff that are currently a burden to government. Of course government can give grants to support life changing or economically important researches at its discretion.

 

Our civic focus on the reduction of the cost of governance needs to go beyond #OpenNASS.

 

 

Rationalising governance beyond ‘economic diversification’

Punishing businesses, rewarding politicians

One of our innate desires as humans is to seek comfort wherever we may find it. Being comfortable is our motivation for why we do most things. We work to afford things that’ll make us comfortable, comfort is a key consideration when searching for a partner (business or social), and we seek relief from pain sometimes going to extreme measure such as taking drugs (hard) to get comfort. We seek comfort even for pride or ego’s sake. We exercise for comfort, drink alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages for comfort, socialise or engage in other relaxation activities for comfort. We also seek comfort at societal level. It is why we want justice and equity to right wrongs, real or perceived. In general, we find comfort satisfying. 

This innate desire for comfort is also central to decisions made in politics, economics or enterprise. We reward businesses that help us maximise our comfort utility by continuing to patronize such businesses. When we’re truly satisfied we also help such businesses, mostly altruistically, through a marketing phenomenon known as ‘word of mouth’. In contrast, we tend to punish businesses with unsatisfactory products or services by taking our custom elsewhere or through the same word of mouth spread our dissatisfaction (e.g. Arik Air). It is why customer satisfaction is a critical success factor for any business that hopes to do well and why businesses often operate on the mantra that the customer is always right. Further, and in democratic politics, we generally reward politicians or political parties that make our lives (more) comfortable with votes and keep them in office whilst punishing those that make our lives miserable by voting them out of office. Well, the last part of the previous sentence is how democratic politics should work. In Nigeria, this doesn’t seem to be the case, at least at societal level.

 

This phenomenon is most observable at sub-federal level as it is difficult to ascertain why citizens have kept voting for the same politician or party given the failure of governance since our return to democracy. For example, in Ogun State, why was Gbenga Daniel rewarded with two terms of office? Did he or his party really improve the lives of the citizens of the state? Take Osun State and Governor Aregbesola as another example, has he improved the comfort level of the residents of the state? The economic stats doesn’t (and certainly his financial management) suggest he has, yet people turned out in droves for him and rewarded him with two terms of office. Or Benue State where Governors Akume and Suswam were rewarded with two full terms with little to show as reward for the citizens of the state. This continued reward of politicians where there is elevated doubt about their impact on the comfort levels of their citizens seems quite irrational to me and goes against what should be the natural and logical reaction of citizens to unsatisfactory governance. In the case of Osun, for example, what would have been rational is that even if APC apologists in the state can’t quite bring themselves to voting for other parties, abstaining from voting all together should have been their rational reaction. Commendation, however, should go to the residents of Lagos, they’ve consistently voted for the party that has improved their comfort levels, resisting the urge to change in 2015 even though familiarity and the shadow of the Jagaban proved almost too tempting to switch parties. Even if the resources of Lagos don’t quite match the outcome of governance, progress of Lagos over the years relative to other states can’t be denied.

 

So the question is why have we continued to struggle to react rationally to the failure of governance? The simplistic answer, though with a measure of truth, is ethnicity. In the years immediately following independence, persons from the North ruled Nigeria. This neither made the North’s development catch up with the South West’s pre-independence level of development nor make it keep pace with the rate at which the East developed. This trend of the tribe of the occupier of the Presidency (or its pre-1999 equivalent) having no developmental impact on his indigent region has continued to this day. That one’s tribesman is occupying the Presidency hasn’t in our history translated into tribal or ethnic socio-economic development. Voting along ethnic lines has been an irrational reaction to continued reward of politicians and political parties.

 

The more complex reason I believe is that our democracy is still largely non-participatory. By non-participatory I mean that at the onset of the 4th republic, elections were easy to rig so the will of the people was not always reflected in the outcome of elections. Whilst it has become harder to rig, and whilst one could argue that the last presidential election reflected the will of the people, the elections in general were still fraught with irregularities, voter intimidation and election rigging. The most fundamental reason though, in my opinion, is that the Constitution of the Federal Republic on which the foundation of our democracy is based is almost fatally flawed. The present Constitution, like past rigged elections, doesn’t reflect the will of the people. It certainly wasn’t drafted by the people or their representative. The document was designed by the military and a few privileged Nigerians, to become binding on all Nigerians. For example, the document as currently designed implies that Nigerians can’t be trusted to govern themselves in the manner they deem fit within each federating unit. Although the Republic is referred to as “Federal”, none of the federating units willingly gave up the rights and powers to the federal government. Rather, majority of the powers as contained in the “exclusive legislative list” were taken by the federal government through military might with the military allocating whatever weakened right or power they wanted to the State and Local governments. Democracy should be a government of the people, by the people and for the people. By definition, the people should collectively determine which of their inalienable human rights they want to give up to their government. The power of the government, in form and substance, at any level must devolve from its citizens. The citizens must be able to take back or amend such powers whenever they deem fit. Since our return to democracy and it’s been 16 years, there has been no attempt to fix the flaw in our Constitution and worse the citizens have been unable to compel their representatives in the legislature to review the Constitution to reflect their will on how they want to be organized as a society politically and economically. Basically, we have a political inclusion problem.

 

One of the things that we could do to improve the political inclusion, participation and the exercise of our civic duties is to separate the general election cycle of the various levels of government, specifically the executive and legislative ones. I advocate that the general election for the executive arm be separated by at least two years from that of the legislature, at all levels of government. As our democracy is still very much based on party politics, this separation could potentially help focus the minds of the legislators on their oversight responsibility of the executive as any underperformance of the executive in the two years preceding the legislative elections would impact the legislators whose party control the executive. Legislators will not only need to participate in policy formation, but will need to closely monitor policy implementation as well as any deviation from initial estimated impact. The memory of citizens will also be short which would potentially require more than stomach infrastructure to persuade them to append their vote for a particular candidate or party. Further, this separation should enable citizens to track government performance against election manifesto better. If politicians expect increased scrutiny of their election manifesto and delivery, they’ll be persuaded to only promise what they can deliver or better not change tack when they get into office.

 

This last paragraph of course assumes that we will begin to punish politicians for bad governance delivery as we punish businesses when we’re an unsatisfied customer.

Punishing businesses, rewarding politicians

Quick wins to stave off recession, is it doable?

Nigeria suffered negative GDP growth in Q1 2016 according to data released by Dr Yemi Kale and the good people at Nigeria Bureau of Statistics.

Unfortunately, and given the continued news about job cuts, backlog to salary payments, contractor debt and mobilisation, Nigeria seems headed for an official recession by the end of Q2 2016. Dolapo Oni wrote an article suggesting ideas on what the Nigerian government could potential do within one month to grow the economy by at least 0.01% in Q2 2016 in order to avoid an official recession and stave off its attendant issues.

Let me first say that if it is indeed possible to stave off recession with a month to go, then the government should do everything it can and take every step necessary to do this as Nigerians have already suffered enough.

However, I fear it may already be too late for anything to be done.

First, per Dolapo’s article, I don’t think quantitative easing or ‘printing new money’ is what Nigeria should do. Dr Nonso Obikili explains it here better than I ever could. Second, the article calls for government to pay outstanding debts to contractors on major infrastructure projects in construction and agriculture to stimulate job creation, pay outstanding MDA and security forces debts to power distribution companies and pay workers salaries to stimulate consumption demand and by extension the FMCG sectors. All of these are very good ideas.

My challenge is that the article not only assumes predictability of behaviour of recipient of these government disbursements but also the rationality of their behaviour. The problem is, it is difficult to predict how recipients will behave when they receive this cash. Also, what may be a rational behaviour in reaction to this cash receipt to Dolapo may be irrational to the recipients, that is, our definition of rationality differs and certainly our timescales differ. For example, whilst we may assume that some of the recipients will spend the cash on feeding and hence potentially stimulate agriculture, it doesn’t mean people will consume more (enough to bring economic activity above zero) in the month of June to stave off recession. Or we can assume that perhaps more beer will be consumed but will the breweries actually produce more or just ship what has already been produced but in warehouses? Could brewery reaction be to ship what they’ve already produced and not necessarily order more inputs down the value chain which is what is really needed to stave off recession?

The manufacturing sector has been in negative growth for more than a quarter and actually needs the government to relax its foreign currency restrictions so it can source its inputs more than government printing money. Most company’s plan their orders ahead, if they’ve been cutting jobs, we can safely assume they’ve been cutting their input orders. If this is the case, then can they really ramp up production or employment in such a short time for such a short demand cycle? Typically company management plan to increase their capital expenditure or investments when they have confidence of a sustained demand. Can sustainability be attached to the current demand cycle or the one that will potentially be stimulated by Dolapo’s measures? Further, how will power distribution companies likely treat this cash alert? Probably pay down debt. If they choose to invest it in capex, I can’t imagine it’ll be for short term investments. That will be tantamount to gross capital allocation indiscipline. In fact given the structural issues in the power sector, I doubt it is in the interest of the government to encourage short term investments over medium and long term ones.

Workers owed salaries once paid can simply hold the payment in savings out of fear of current economic condition. Some may change it to foreign currency again out of fear. Many more may use it to pay for foreign school fees or other things that do not lead to increase in local demand that will directly benefit or stimulate local production.

Finally given the ex-post nature of GDP estimation, that we staved off recession won’t be known for a couple of months, so end of August at the earliest. Meaning the confidence to be gained from the short term fix won’t be known until when we’re more than half way into Q3. For Dolapo’s suggestions to have maximum impact and achieve stated objective, the government won’t only need to disburse cash but also attempt to compel recipients of how the cash is to be spent and when too. Government may also need to consider whether it should focus the disbursement on sectors that have been growing like Transportation & Storage or Arts, Entertainment & Recreation or the ones that have dragged the economy into recession like Manufacturing, Construction, and Financial & Insurance. In making its decision, the government will need to ensure that it chooses the sector with the faster pass-through and the most durable in reaching underlying value-chain. The disbursement has to be very precisely targeted to achieve maximum pass-through. Dolapo’s ideas aren’t impossible, it just seems like more than a month’s job to me.

Quick wins to stave off recession, is it doable?

On Presidential Report Card

There’s a good democratic practice I’d really like to be introduced to our politics and if possible that the National Assembly makes mandatory through legislation. The practice I’m thinking of is an adaptation of the Prime Ministers Questions (PMQs) that is the norm in British politics. Whilst we don’t practice a parliamentary system of government, I have an adapted version to the presidential system we do practice in mind. Here it is: 

On an annual basis, the National Assembly should summon the President to its complex for a Presidential Accountability & Stewardship Debate (PASD). This annual event will serve as an opportunity for the President to give an account of his stewardship over the past year as well as offer citizens and their representatives the opportunity to ask the President questions directly. The PASD could be held annually on May 29.

The format of the PASD could start with a Presidential address for 30-45min, a 15mins break, followed by a moderated panel debate for an hour, another 15mins break and finally an open question session for 45mins to round up.

Presidential address – 30 -45mins

Break – 15mins

Moderated Panel Debate – 1hour

Break – 15mins

Open questions – 45mins

Currently the President delivers a speech on May 29 from the Presidential Villa. I think that should change and should be delivered at the NASS in front of the representatives of the people. This is symbolic and at least creates the perception that the President is reporting back to those he or she is responsible to – the highest office in the land – The Office of the Citizen.

I’d suggest that the moderated panel debate is composed of the President, Senate President, Speaker, Minority Leaders of the Senate and House of Rep, Attorney General and two representatives of two Civil Service Organisations.

It shouldn’t be compulsory for other Senators and Members of the House to attend the PASD. In fact Senators and Members of the House that are not principal officers should be actively discouraged to attend. Priority of attendance should be given to two representatives of every political party that is registered with INEC. With respect to identifying which civil service organisations (CSOs) are to be invited, the NASS on its website should, at least three months prior to the event, request applications from CSOs to participate in the PASD. Every CSO that applies to participate should then be included in an online poll (the poll could be open for two weeks) to determine which CSO will be part of the Moderated Panel Debate. CSOs should then solicit votes from members of the general public. The top two CSOs with the most votes will be ones that will join the Moderated Panel Debate. Two representatives from the top 20 CSOs from the online poll would then be invited as members of the audience that’ll get the opportunity to ask questions during the Open Questions session.

Besides taking questions from the audience within the debate hall, the Moderator of the event could also take questions from social media submitted by Nigerians.

My hope for the above is that Nigerians get the opportunity, at least once every year, to ask their President questions on stewardship of the mandate given at the general election. No question should be off topic during the PASD. This will ensure that whoever is President will have detailed knowledge of every aspect of their government or on issues plaguing the nation that their cabinet may have shielded the President from being aware of or that the President is wilfully avoiding for ‘emotional balance’.

On Presidential Report Card

Mismanaging self-interest 

Mismanagement – “the process or practice of managing ineptly, incompetently or dishonestly” – Yourdictionary

Growing up in Nigeria during the 80s and 90s was tough for a lot of people. Families did all that they could to ensure their immediate basic needs were met – some parents did multiple jobs, sought connection with the right people, attempted to plug themselves within the right patronage system, applied for visa lottery etc. Ah….US visa lottery…a lot of families applied for that. Getting a member of the family to “escape” abroad, through any means necessary – visa lottery, genuine migration visa or the infamous “oluwole method” where fake passports and visas were procured at significant cost to facilitate an escape became a sort of raison d’etre for many families. Parents sometimes sold everything they had in order to fund one child’s escape with the hope that, once established abroad, they will in turn help their siblings either by arranging for them to emigrate too or send money for a better living standard until their own escape is secured. Any family without a member living abroad seemed like an oddity then. This societal reality was obvious in almost every Nollywood movie released during that period – an escaped family member becoming the hope for the rest of the family, sometimes even a whole village.

Occasionally, the frailty of human nature will sometimes lead the “abroadian” breadwinner to develop an ego turning them into an overbearing demagogue. No family decision can be made without them, drip feeding assistance to the rest of the family to ensure their snooty status is not threatened or worse taking steps against siblings that show potential to surpass them in “perceived” success. This unnecessary fight against ones own can be observed in the wider society in our interethnic rivalry, fear of domination and lack of empathy that is so easily stoked by the political elites. What this means to me is that we’re mismanaging selfishness or self-interest i.e. greed is not always good. This mismanagement is corrupting several of our societal institutions and moral values.

There’s a tiny grey area between self-interest and selflessness. Acts committed within this grey area can either be classified as self-interest or selflessness depending on the angle one chooses to look at the act from but this isn’t always so clear cut. Adam Smith’s theory of the “invisible hand” is a classic example of this grey area. The invisible hand, also known as enlightened self-interest, is a philosophy in ethics which states that persons who act to further the interest of others (or the interests of the group or groups to which they belong), ultimately serve their own self-interest. In his 1776 book “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”, he states: “Every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it … He intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for society that it was no part of his intention. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.” In plainer English, one might say, if I steal and especially get away with it, then others might steal too thereby creating a thieving society which helps no one.

You see, we can be selfish without greed or have an enlightened self-interest where although what we are doing is purely for our own benefit but in pursuing this we create what benefits the society as a whole. For example, my passport is in need of renewal and I need to go to the immigration and customs office to get it renewed hopefully within 30mins (postal renewal will be even more awesome). For this to happen and for it to be a standard procedure, the immigration official will probably need to be well paid, motivated, work in a good environment under decent condition and be happy to deal with me as a customer. If these conditions that should on average enable the customs officer provide service in the manner that I want do not exist, then rather than be upset at them directly, what is prudent for me is to attack the system or governance dysfunction that has created a suboptimal passport renewal process and general working condition. By pursuing what will benefit others purely out of my own self-interest, in this regard, I will also be improving my own general welfare.

I reside in the UK and currently about 45% (a little lower actually) of my earnings is deducted as tax and other social contributions by the government. Would I prefer to keep more of my earnings, of course but given what the deductions go towards and how I daily experience the benefit, I am more than happy to give up my earnings. You see, the roads are almost always in great condition, my kids can get hospital treatment whenever, an ambulance is more likely to get to me and back to the hospital on time in case of an emergency (when we had our first child). I want nurses, doctors and the police to be well paid so they can afford a good standard of living i.e. be able to afford a mortgage or rent a decent property, go on holiday, buy stuff for their kids etc. Not because I love them so much, but for my own self-interest knowing that the police officer is more likely to be in a better frame of mind to help should the need arise or the doctor and nurses are less likely to make mistakes when carrying out diagnoses and treatments because they aren’t under pressure from low standard of living.

Point is let us not mismanage our self-interest. In serving or looking out for others we are invariably looking out for ourselves. Let us all worry about the environmental issues in the Niger Delta and condemn the government’s continued inept approach at dealing with the issue, even if you don’t really love Ijaw people. You see by looking out for the ND interest, perhaps pipeline vandalism will not be so rampant. Perhaps our gas supply will be better. Perhaps our electricity and other energy headwinds will abate. By serving and looking out for the Niger Delta, the rest of Nigeria will be looking out for itself.

Let us not be weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of Nigeria – Apostle Paul.

Mismanaging self-interest