Seun Onigbinde: New FX rule and a year of ‘Yes men’

By Seun Onigbinde

In Marianne M Jennings’ book – The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse, she stated stern warnings that CEOs must watch out for to avoid landing in a pit. It applies to leaders in government too. A culture of fear and silence and young guns larger than life around CEOs (read leaders) are critical points that trouble great entities.

Officials of the Ministry of Budget and Planning and Seun Onigbinde at a budget event.

Officials of the Ministry of Budget and Planning and Seun Onigbinde at a budget event.

Some people think what we do at BudgIT is actually to fight government. I think it is a reflection of our society and a poor understanding of democracy.

What is democracy without conflicting debates? We had an event on Tuesday and a Minister, the Director-Generals of Budget and Procurement and House Committee Chair on Appropriation were present.

The idea most Nigerians push is that once you start criticizing government, you want them to fail. They also think you have joined the opposition. Those who have problems with your criticisms are not the leaders but the cheerleaders and praise-singers, looking for a mud to fight. Rather than have their independent opinions on issues, they prefer to follow what the leader signals.

I worked in a company that I was favoured to sit in management meetings. I was not allowed to talk (sometimes I interject when allowed) but I sat by the sides with colleagues watching our boss present memos. On this day, while working on the memos, I heard someone suggest an idea. The response from a boss was “The MD will not like the idea”. I had a pause in my spirit. “So what you are saying is that even though this might be good, we have assumed the thinking pattern of the MD, we should not be bold to suggest alternatives to him.” It was a moment I can’t forget. Subordinates do this not because they feel the MD might not accept the idea but if he accepts and the idea fails, the blame will fall on their head. No one wants to bite the bullet. They rather keep quiet and stay on the safe lane.

We have been caught in this scenario for a year. The President did not seem to get it that right currency pricing is needed for inflow of foreign capital. Rather than pin it on him to accept, the CBN, looking more than an extension of the Villa, decided to follow his “I won’t murder Naira” chorus. It was a belief that if this fails, I won’t be the one to blame. Peering into Emefile’s thought process, “ I have to serve master President and I will follow where he leads.” This was the movement till we landed in a ditch. Till growth went into negative territory and the Avengers compounded FX earnings shortage by blowing pipelines. This is when the evidence showed that the country was in a pit.

This leads me to a discussion I had with a Director in Nigerian civil service recently. In his words “The biggest pointer to corruption is the route to which people get to office. When you put incompetent people in an office, they have no ideas and all they do is to trade favours to maintain their position.” That’s why it was hard to do the needful because we all knew the route to Emefile’s CBN and so when his seat was up for grabs with a new government, he decided the sycophantic way.

Nigeria is already bearing the pains. I remembered how brilliant Nigerians such wrote a series on Premium Times on the need for FX adjustment and Oby Ezekwesili challenged them to a debate. Even when IMF came around, rather than listen, our leaders were referring to SAP and screaming all is fine. When you have friends in sycophants and Marxists, there can’t be a Damascus experience till you reach the edge.

This is a thought I hold dearly and I am always willing to accept that correction in my own office. I gracefully accept criticisms from my staff. Yomi, our Advocacy officer, once told me I need to stop tweeting for BudgIT. I accepted. I was doing it wrong. How easy is it for us to take in the opposing voice in the room?

There is no other way to fail than to stop listening. To stop changing your views in the presence of superior facts is a recipe for disaster. That’s why President Buhari must be afraid of people who can’t tell him to his face that he is wrong. That leadership bubble is easy to prop up in Nigeria even if you read a ton of newspapers.

I hope he gets it and looks for “Yes-men” and tell them to walk. Fuel subsidies have been quietly eased off, FX have also been liberalized to an extent, what else are Nigerians telling Buhari that he feels it’s an empty noise?

Lincoln in his wisdom had a team of rivals. FDR despite wanting to spend big, hired a highly conservative budget director, Lewis Douglas. Buhari needs to find his team of rivals. Lest, the yes-men around keep regurgitating and prop him up for disaster. We should all take a lesson in the Presidency of Goodluck Jonathan but do we?

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Seun Onigbinde is the cofounder of BudgIt.

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