Frankly Speaking

June 21, 2009

FEC: Yar’Adua and the rubber stamps

By Dele Sobowale
0803-251-4336: I have just read in the dailies that the FEC approved a whopping N14.5b for the upgrade of a moribund college in Kaduna.

Pray who sets our priority in this country?! The Benin-Ore Road linking 10 Southern states remains to be completely rehabilitated in spite of the mass suffering and carnages. Surely we need to collectively examine our heads.

NOT just under Yar’Adua but under every head of state and governor in this country for more than 30 years, members of the Federal and state executive councils have been nothing more than glorified errand boys and girls as well as rubber stamps.

The chief executive of each estate determines what he wants to do and the “rubber stamps” endorse or are shown the way out. So, there is only one head that needs examination in each government – federal, state or local government – that of the ogapatapata.

After effects of CBN governor appointment 0806-037-6003: Am disappointed with your Governor Lamido Sanusi column, to you the most important thing for him to do is to revs that sound policy of the Obj administration. You don’t wish Nigeria well, you don’t at all

0803-600-5131: You are one of the few readable columnists around. But, you did not have to play the cheap Northern hand to push your anti-Soludo agenda. Where were all the billionaire northerners during the consolidation? — Onyi, Yola.

Those who deal in ideas, if they are wise, must welcome attack. Only a peaceful passage should dismay them for it proves that the ideas do not affect anyone very much —Professor Kenneth Galbraith, Nobel Prize winner in Economics, c1970.

MY brother, Onyi, either does not play cards or does not understand  the meaning of what he wrote. But, never mind, every disagreement is an opportunity for the writer or speaker to explain himself.

Let me do it by asking some questions. When in the same article a northerner is praised, and his boss also a northerner, condemned can that be called “playing the northern card?”

And can all the attacks on Yar’Adua since 2007 and Obasanjo since 1999 be called “playing a card” since they have been consistent? At any rate, what will be the motive for playing the card – money, appointment or what?

There is nothing that Yar’Adua can give me that I could not have got under Obasanjo if I was willing to be a praise singer; especially with Bode George so close. As for the first writer, he confuses a report, a comment and a prediction. The first part of that column stated what happened – in this case consolidation.

The second was the result and how it affected a section of the country – the north – and their reaction to it. The third warns about what to expect next. The three summarise the jobs of media people. At its best journalism is not designed to make you feel good; but to tell you what you must know; whether you like it or not.

What you do with the information is your problem.  To begin with, consolidation, when first muted, was not unanimously endorsed – especially the short time allotted to it. Even today, there are opponents of it irrespective of ethnic affiliations.

For reasons too numerous to mention here, the theory tagged “the bigger the better”, which underlies consolidation, has always been challenged and will always be challenged irrespective of whether the author of the latest variant is Soludo, Abubakar, or Sobowale.

It is not an ethnic thing peculiar to Nigeria but a universal debate as two examples from the international community will show.

Goldman Sachs was one of the largest financial institutions in the world; so big it could buy all the Nigerian consolidated banks three times over and still have change left. It attained its status during the Alan Greenspan years as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank when bigger is better was the mantra.

Yet, it went bankrupt last year – right under our eyes. General Motors, GM, was not only the largest industrial conglomerate in the USA, it was the biggest in the world as well.

At one point, it was generally said that “what is good for GM, is good for America”. Today, GM is operating under bankruptcy judgment of a US court. It took years of increasing bigness for the world to know that size can mask internal rot which will ultimately undermine the enterprise.

The point is, the final chapter on banking consolidation in Nigeria will not be written until years after Soludo has left – even if he served a second term.
One of his fans sent a text asking why I still write about Soludo after he had left. Surprisingly, the same fellow has never asked why I still write about Obasanjo – who obviously has not left.

That shows the limits of understanding of economic history. Keynes and Freidman who represent two opposite sides of economic theory are still discussed till today and will be discussed forever – even though they are long dead. Every economic precedent in any country represents a case study for arguments as long as people live.

Why? Because any new economic initiative creates “winners” and “losers”; and consolidation had created its own share and more are on the way. Whether a policy is good or bad depends on where the majority of people lie with reference to it.

Are Nigerians as a whole better off now than they were before its introduction – for instance? This has not been determined. But, one thing has been determined – we pay more for banking services today than before consolidation.

And you run a greater risk of losing your money today through ATM fraud than you ever did before it.   The fact is, ideas and the people who promote them are like Siamese twins; they are virtually inseparable.

A principled individual would support or oppose an idea and remain consistent irrespective of who advances them.

At any rate, the limitations of consolidation were already apparent before long and corrections have been made by the establishment of micro finance banks by Soludo himself.

So, did he wish Nigeria well or not when he banished small banks? Does he now wish Nigeria well or not when he returned them in the shape of micro finance?

Those are issues for debate for a long time to come.  Having said that, it is quite clear, to me, that many of those deliberately misunderstanding the article were those who wanted Soludo to be given second term.

Let me state clearly, that to me it matters not where the person comes from as long as he/she can perform.

And nobody should be regarded as indispensable. After all, President Charles De Gaulle, of France, had told us, when he voluntarily quit office, that “The graveyards are full of indispensable people”  (Vanguard Book of Quotations, p 102).

The best we can do for Soludo is to preserve what was good about consolidation and strengthen them and amend what needs to be corrected. Any policy by man cannot be perfect.

We should always remember that instead of calling people who point to some defects as enemies of the promoter of the idea. Henceforth, I turn my attention to Lamido Sanusi and the policies he will introduce – without prejudice one way or another.