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If Nigeria was a PLC, it would be sold for N1 and restructured

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Olu Fasan

THERE is a well-known practice in the business world in which a large multinational corporation could be sold for £1 or $1, the token price tag serving only as a symbolic proof of exchange. But why would a corporate entity be sold for a token sum? Well, that often happens when a company, despite its asset-base and prospect, has been so badly mismanaged that it’s struggling to operate profitably.

Someone, usually a private-equity investor, could then buy the distressed company for a token sum, restructure and turn it around. There are several high-profile examples of such £1 or $1 companies, such as Chelsea, the English football club, sold to Ken Bates for £1 in 1982! But some say countries are unlike companies; they can’t go bankrupt or be dissolved. However, as we know, that’s not true. Empires have come and gone. The popular saying “adapt or die” is as much true for countries as it is for companies. A country that doesn’t reform or transform itself will atrophy, stagnate and eventually fail or even collapse.

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Now, let’s face it, if Nigeria was a multinational corporation, bullish restructuring firms would be queuing to buy it for one naira so as to restructure and transform it. And why? Well, every corporate restructuring specialist knows that, with the right governance structure and the right leadership, Nigeria Plc has such huge potential, with its enormous human and natural resources, that it could be transformed into a global corporate giant.

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But Nigeria is not a company and couldn’t be rescued through a corporate takeover. Even as a country, it cannot be salvaged by outsiders. So, its transformation must be endogenous. Yet, Nigeria doesn’t want to reform and transform itself from within. So, what’s its future? Well, the sad truth is that, without a deliberate and concerted effort to turn this country around, it faces an existential decline! Look no further than Nigeria’s appalling performance over the past 59 years of its independence to see that only transformation change can save it from deepening deterioration!

At independence in 1960, Nigeria compared favourably with Southeast Asian countries like South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia. Today, it lags behind these countries in virtually all global rankings. In his Independence Day speech, President Muhammadu Buhari described Nigeria’s foreign reserve of $42.4bn as “robust”; how would he then describe Brazil’s reserve of $388bn, Indonesia’s $124bn or Malaysia’s $102bn?

According to the US Fund for Peace’s 2019 fragile states index, Nigeria’s ranking has deteriorated from 24 in 2006 to 14 in 2019, and the country is now in the red alert category with countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Guinea, Syria, Yemen and Somalia. Recently, the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, talked proudly about “the uniquely confident way we stand out”, calling it “the Nigerian swag”. But what is there to brag about, where is the basis for the so-called Nigerian swag, when this country is wallowing at the bottom of global league tables with failed states like Afghanistan and Somalia?

Truth is, Nigeria is failing! And it’s failing because it is structurally defective and badly led. Recently, in a speech titled “Economic and institutional restructuring for the next Nigeria”, Professor Charles Soludo, former CBN governor, said: “You can’t build a 100 storey-building on the foundation of an old bungalow.” Of course, you can’t! And, as such, Nigeria’s deeply skewed politico-governance structure, with an over-powerful centre, is totally unsuited to this country’s multi-ethnic makeup, and undermines its cohesion, unity and progress.

But, the flawed structure apart, there is also the acute problem of bad leadership. In his book, “How to run a country: An ancient guide for modern leaders”, Philip Freeman drew on the key lessons from the writings of Cicero centuries ago. Sadly, those lessons have gained no traction in Nigeria. Let’s take just two of them.

First, Cicero says that government must be founded on a system of checks and balances. He warns: “Beware the leader who sets aside the rule of law claiming the need for security”. But didn’t President Buhari say that national security trumps the rule of law? Indeed, in his Independence Day speech, he vowed to “take firm and decisive action” where the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression “threaten to undermine our National Security.”!

From James Madison to John Stuart Mill, it’s long established that liberal democracy rests on three fundamental pillars: a strong elected legislature, an independent judiciary and the sanctity of the press and all forms of expressed opinion. But Nigeria is operating an illiberal democracy, with a president who disregards the independence of the judiciary, threatens press freedom and has a kowtowing legislature subservient to his will. Truth is, Nigeria’s president is too powerful, and that’s not good for democracy and good governance.

Which brings us to Cicero’s other key lesson: “Those who govern a country should be the best and the brightest of the land”. He points out that “if leaders don’t have a thorough knowledge of what they are talking about, their speeches will be a silly prattle of empty words and their actions will be dangerously misguided.” Isn’t Nigeria governed by leaders who are clueless about how to run the country? You bet!

Surely, if a plc, Nigeria would be bought for N1 and turned around. Yet, as a country, it must be restructured, else it would descend into a failed state! Cicero compares governing a country to steering a ship. But the Nigerian ship of state is creaking and badly in need of repair! Sadly, those steering it, the president and the political class, are in denial!

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