The Vanguard Newspaper will be hosting a national Economic Discourse on 13th April 2018. This humble contribution is made towards broadening the scope of discussion at the gathering of experts and moving away from the usual pattern of exchanges amongst our intellectuals and encouraging dialogue away from the usual parameters,diagnoses and solutions, which, year after year, seminar after seminar, had failed to make the desired impact.
Our continuing frustration with every government is largely because if we go by the same route a thousand times, we shall keep passing by the same landmarks and landing at the same destinations.
My take on the state of the national polity and economics, in all honesty has more to do with the bad policies which we take as norm and much less about who is our President, be he Buhari or one of our “coalitionists”. Going by the current trajectory, 2019 may come and go with nothing much to rejoice about. Yet by nature I am a predictable optimist !
Unless successfully interdicted by negative forces such as corruption, ethnicity or religious zealotry, the three elements that determine the longevity of a ruling regime are Trust, Respect and Need. Most fair- minded Nigerians needed a leader like President Buhari in 2015, trusted and respected him, hence his victory over Dr Goodluck Jonathan. Today, many may accept the economic and social attainments of the APC as acceptable given all the prevailing circumstances, but hardly will most Nigerians, come 2019, renew the trust and respect they massively gave the party in 2015, unless the President rapidly succeeds in finding a durable solution to the perennial killings and revenge killings, which are now a daily occurrence, amongst Nigerian farmers, herdsmen and innocent bystanders, north, west and east of the country.
Even if the APC retains power in 2019, or one of the “coalitions” now scrambling to occupy the political space,gains the upper hand, that regime and many more that may come after it, and even the zonal governments that may come on the heels of “restructuring”, will not likely perform better, in terms of the deliverables that all Nigerians earnestly yearn for, unless and until, certain inappropriate fundamental policies and practices in Nigeria, which had been our albatross, government after government, undergo drastic rethink and rework. We highlight 8 of them below, and the changes they need, to stop our repeated failures of political leaderships, year in year out.
- Change from “Zoning” to “Merit and Competence”
In the first place, whenever power or authority is “zoned” as a matter of deliberate policy, from one section of the country to another, religious grouping to another, concomitant with it, has been the expectation that the zonee will take special steps to advance largely the wishes and preferments, of his primary base, the zonee section. It will largely produce most of the appointees to the key sensitive positions, no matter the cries of marginalization and uneven distribution, in most of his critical appointments, policies and programs. The complainants will usually patiently await and loudly clamor for their own zoning turns to act out their own narrow minded scripts, thereby constraining the nation’s growth and greatness, because the leadership’s visions and missions have been blurred by ethnicity and or religion.
The national tragedy has been that almost all the primary beneficiaries of zoning, limit the goodies of office, only to their close associates and families, so that years after years, no one zone has much to show in terms of sustainable growth or development. Hence Muslims never really benefit from a Muslim Head of State, nor does a Christian President make any churches better or bigger than he met them. On the other hand, a leader chosen on a national platform of merit and competence, will be sufficiently intelligent and visionary, as to see the entire nation as deserving of his empathy and highest possible level of service and accountability. He will always strive to achieve nationally recognizable results. A national leader elected on a national mandate by merit and not by zoning, will not need ethnic militias or sectional war mongers, to sprint to his defence, each time he is called to account.
Each and every unit of government, including the security units will function nationalistically. I believe zoning has been with us long enough. It has failed to uplift any part of Nigeria. Zoning has outlived its usefulness and should now be discarded, since no part of the country, is now intellectually handicapped in terms of qualified potential leaders. Each political party should proclaim the death of zoning as soon as possible, if our country is ever to become functional and great. In like manner, zoning by age which age discrimination is, should also be jettisoned and every Nigerian who is legally old enough to vote, should be legally free to contest for any political office and have his or her fate determined freely by the electorate.
- Prioritize preventing corruption over fighting corruption
There is no doubt that Mr Magu and the EFCC, and ICPC etc, are doing the best they can, and achieving some successes in our war against corruption, despite the not too heart warming results in the prosecution of corruption cases, which itself, may not be far from being a product of corruption. given that no prosecutor was a Youth Corper lawyer ! It is a sad fact that a person charged with corruption in our country today, has a higher statistical chance of being let go, than of being convicted, and that ought not to be so. The day to day experience of most Nigerians who have one thing or another to do with government officials, all over the country, in the three arms of government, gives the impression of business as usual. No corrupt civil or public servant, has as yet, been caught through a sting operation. Sadly, no attention would appear to being given to addressing any of the three drivers of corruption, which are Pressure, Opportunity, and Justification. A senior public servant that cannot after 20 years of service,be assured of his monthly salary, acquire a small car, own a modest home or be assured of regularly receiving his pensions, whilst a politician who serves for only 4 years receive scandalously huge array of pension rights, is a ready disciple of the art and science of corruption.
Also an individual who had to monetize all his or her assets and go into debts before securing party nomination, contesting, winning and defending his “victory” in court, will not gladly consider the huge financial outlay as lost investment and proceed to serve selflessly and incorruptibly. He or she must find one way or another, to recoup the huge outlay. Most senior civil servants have long banked their future on pensions. But pension thieves have changed that. Not many judges, these days, want to retire back to the village or jettison the yearly holiday abroad !
Hence, not many senior office holders, in all arms and levels of government in our country, can today honestly declare, or swear on effective oath, that while in office, they received, spent or saved up, only their legally approved emoluments. It is very doubtful, if any government ministry, department or agency, in Nigeria, can be declared as corruption free. Therefore, the focus of our fight against corruption, should now be changed towards adequately researching into how we can manage each of the three corruption drivers of Pressure, Opportunity and Justification in each given role. Certain agencies of governments, are known to be the league champions of corruption. They should be marked out for proactive sting operations. Each position needs to be made reasonably rewarding, whilst well designed control measures are put in place to curtail the opportunities for corruption. Otherwise as public officials strategize to serve in the “juicy” establishments and roles,the struggle for attaining the juicy roles will heighten, so will the funds lost through corruption continue to increase.
What might have changed between 2014 and now, is the resort to more sophistication and creativity, in the ways by which money is illegally extracted from Nigerians, and public funds diverted by most persons placed in privileged positions in all sectors of Nigeria. No matter how altruistic and nationalistic, a politician who monetized all his assets and those of others to get elected into office, or an official elevated by corruption, he will not just serve and walk back home on foot. We must all therefore think outside the box, and develop a new kind of Nigerian democracy that can produce new and effective leaders without their having to be the richest persons around, or being propelled into office by those who had massively looted the public treasury. The environment of each responsible post, must be modified to eliminate the opportunities for corruption. Otherwise, come year 4040, Nigerians will still be battling corruption.
- Change the top-down budgeting system
We have been copying foreign systems where budgeting matrices and key elements have matured and have become quite predictable, over many decades of public finance management. Instead of the standard model of industrial and commercial budgeting, which emerge as a collation of proposals from the lowest units upwards, our officials decide which projects they believe the public aught to have, and proceed to budget for them. Consequently, year after year, our public budgets fail to meet real public needs or affect the welfare of the majority of the people.We must henceforth shift the system to one that ultimately represents and meets the expressed needs of the villages, towns, cities and states, that make up Nigeria. Ownership of the budgets should be shifted from the state and federal government officials, to the people through a system of formalized ground level consultation and budget propositioning. It will not be an easy change, but one that must be done if the yearly budgets are to meet the real, rather than assumed, needs of the people. Such a change will make people identify more with the governments, and see the Nation as really their own, against the repeatedly failing top-down system that we have practiced for decades.
- Re-define the status of CBN to accord with goals of party in power
It is true that in some parts of the developed economies, their Central Banks are largely independent of the government in power. But each political party in power, tries to make the appointment of a central bank governor amenable to its philosophies, a major priority. It is not sensible to expect a central bank which subscribed to, and faithfully implemented the ideals of a capitalist government, to also faithfully pursue the ambitions and promises of a socialist government. The current group of CBN managers are no doubt doing a yeoman’s job to pilot our previously incapacitated economy, and for which they deserve our praise and gratitude.
However, until an appropriate and comprehensive change in the CBN law is effected, a CBN populated by bankers that are faithfully right of center, believe in the paramountcy of market forces, like during the 16 PDP years, should not be expected to change overnight, and embrace the ambitions of a leftist APC, and it’s populist economic promises. Hence, supporters of the APC, which promised Nigerians an exchange rate of naira parity with the US dollar, now anguish over a regime of N360 per dollar, up from N197.93 on 1st of May 2015! The party’s promise of single digit interest rate is now 18-30%. The party may become the laughing stock of the whole world under any independent, “free market forces” framework, that now make monetary policies in the CBN. Is it not very absurd, that a president and his political party, will be held responsible and punished by the electorate, for the realities of an economy, the critical monetary policies of which, are entirely beyond their reach, let alone, their touch ! It should therefore be the highest priority of the Buhari administration, to still do everything doable, in the time available, to remove the existing, “two parallel governments” dichotomy in Nigeria, created by the CBN Act.
Any Federal Government on assumption of office, in a developing economy, should have the power to evaluate and if need be, restructure policy making by its Central Bank, to make the bank amenable to the visions, targets and directives and guidance of the government freely elected and empowered by the people, through its Executive Council and the Minister of Finance. Going forward and within the next six months, the CBN should be persuaded to effect the following five critical changes: a).Make all licensed financial institutions observe a maximum of all-inclusive lending charge of no more than 9% per year, and let us all see if the heavens will fall; b). Since the US dollar will continue to be scarce relative to demand and the BDCs’ currency hawkers have nothing to lose if the dollar exchanges for N1,000, henceforth, no BDC should buy dollars at more than 2% above the CBN highest selling rate.
A so called market-determined exchange rate regime that is expanding poverty, is not in our best interests. The dollar will reach N500 by 2019 if the current policy stands! c). Federally collected dollar revenues, should henceforth be shared to all States and local governments in dollars, and kept in individual government’s dollar account, held by the CBN. Such will make the states economically stronger and more self reliant. d).
Each state’s share of Excess Crude Account, should be determined quarterly, and credited to the respective government’s Compulsory Savings Deposit Account in CBN, and which should only be accessed by the beneficiary government, following a 75% majority resolution, of the National Economic Council. This will reduce the capacity of the central government to spread poverty across the land via profligacy. e). Industrial establishments indebted to AMCON and or the banks, should no longer be subject to Receivership or Liquidation in the first instance, unless and until a Restructuring and Temporary Co-Managership Arrangement, by the Lender and the Borrower, had failed, or rendered impracticable by the borrower.
This way, viable but mismanaged companies capable of generating substantial employment will not be callously closed down, for several years, sometimes for over a decade, whilst a Receiver or Liquidator, is looking for a buyer, or the fate and fortunes of the enterprise, languishes in the courts.
- Replace youth empowerment with adult empowerment:
Henceforth, we should stop trying to solve any of our permanent problems such as roads or youth unemployment, with transient and temporary palliatives. Concerning youth unemployment, an expert study by either the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research or the National Bureau of Statistics, will show how much money the nation has spent on all manner of youth empowerment initiatives, directly and indirectly since the advent of the National Directorate of Employment under IBB, and how many of such youth enterprises, have survived for only 3 years, and how many sustained employments, they had all created. Such a study should also include the youth agriculture schemes. Whilst media shows of youth empowerment projects may sooth the conscience of the sponsoring politicians, especially ahead of elections, the study will reveal a project attrition rate of close to 99%.
The difficult to admit but honest truth, is that it is easier to register a business name and print letter headings, than to make an enterprise survive and prosper. It is even much more difficult when the founder is an unemployed, young graduate who has to serve as product designer, producer, marketer and accountant all combined. Indeed, no sane person will see a soap made by say Unilever, and buy a soggy one made by an unknown youth. Even where a youth’s business survives for a few years, it’s fortune soon becomes inadequate for the youth’s personal and social needs, and before long, the project grinds to a halt, and the youth begins to look for alternative means of feeding and housing himself.
Yes, there may be a few exceptions, but the number of success stories is minuscule. Instead of continuing to throw money away over an unrealistic ideal, governments and philanthropists should encourage adults with say 10 or more years of gainful employment, specialist practical training, know what, know how, know where and know when, to establish medium or small scale enterprises, provide them with needed capital, and have them employ a minimum of 3 or 4 youths from a localized register of unemployed graduates, in each case under a special 3 to 4 year contract. During the tutelage period, the government should pay 50 % of the attaches/trainees salaries, whilst the employer pays the remaining 50%. Enterprises registered for such special schemes, should be given priority by both the public and private entities, in the awards of supply contracts in their chosen areas of capacity. A special scheme like this, will assist to curb unemployment in a more durable and more sustainable way, than the current bound to fail, “youth empowerment” schemes, which would appear more suitable only for artisans, technicians and widows with very limited future needs and ambitions.
- Stop use of triangular pegs for round Holes:
As any experienced management consultant will readily affirm, when a corporate institution is in disarray, and under threat, “do it once and do it right” is the rule for its successful and cost effective restructuring.
Therefore, speaking frankly, I believe the present administration made a big mistake when it gambled and deployed some professionals as ministers, in areas in which they had little or no prior hands-on competences. Nigeria would have done much better, within the past two years of the Buhari Administration, if say, technical experts in the Cabinet, had been appointed as ministers in technical ministries, experts in budgeting and planning, appointed ministers in the planning ministries, industrial barons, appointed to head the ministries of trade, industry and investments, while a seasoned labour leader or personnel management expert, had been deployed to head the labour and employment ministry.
In a developing nation such as Nigeria, when you deploy a professionally deficient minister, to head and lead a specialist ministry, you unwittingly make the leader not only a follower, but also a learner and pupil ! Such a minister, must adopt a system called “management by errors”, which is always very costly . A friend attributed this serious error by several recent administrations in Nigeria, to the glaring loss of party supremacy, in our present day misguided practice of democracy. If the APC and President Buhari wish to produce better results within the next two years, they must quickly move to fine-tune the Federal Cabinet, by shifting the round pegs away from triangular holes, into round holes.
- Deploy reliable gifted veterans:
Nigeria has a large stock of highly gifted and very honest and capable veterans. But they are never called to serve, most appropriately in advisory capacities, in the federal or state governments. But as soon as one of them dies, loud crocodile tears of how Nigeria has suffered a terrible loss of a gem, fill the media. This practice must change, and be seen as being actively changed, at both levels of government, if Nigerians are to be made happy once again. Deploying only politicians to high public positions, will never bring out the best of Nigeria. Trusted and competent, non partisan senior professionals and intellectuals, should be proactively incorporated, into the huge task of salvaging Nigeria, and making her one of the leading nations of the world.
To start with, the NNPC, CBN, the Budget Office, Ministry of Power and Works, Office of the Chief of Staff to the President, Office of Secretary to the Government and the National Assembly, need a number of such proven and non-partisan high calibre veterans, as members of Policy Implementation Panels of Advisers. They would urgently assist in vastly expanding the professional capacity of key policy formulators and implementers in each department, and optimizing the use of the nation’s human and material resources, towards the rapid improvement of the welfare of the people.
- Encourage religious groups to develop society:
Leaders of the major religions, constantly misinterpret secularism to mislead the public, and divide the nation, such that the more virulent and warlike a religious leader screams and barks, the higher the billing he attains from the media. Not many Nigerian religious group leaders, can point to what tangible things they have contributed, towards reducing poverty or making life better for their followers, not to talk of other Nigerians. Instead of pressurizing governments to provide projects and services that would benefit their members and other Nigerians, they would go to any length to campaign for abrogation of any public initiative which merely has a label that seems religious, rather than dispassionately studying its benefits to society, or it’s capacity to significantly improve the lot of all Nigerians, no matter their religious faiths. Our religious leaders should henceforth, pursue inclusiveness and stop behaving like the wicked woman of the biblical time of King Solomon, who requested the king to dissect a baby whose maternity was in dispute between her and another woman.
Henceforth, our religious leaders should minimize self serving religious activism and divisive politicking, and deploy their massive financial resources and intellectual endowments, towards improving the economic wellbeing of their followers through industrial projects and sustainable empowerment financing.
Without our rapidly achieving the above recommended changes in our governance modality, a thousand and one “coalitions” and changes of government,will not materially deliver a better and more effective governance in our country, Nigeria.
Otunba Lateef Owoyemi, CEO of LOP Consulting, and Past President of ICAN and IMCON, wrote from Idowa Ijebu.