Simon Kolawole: This troubled Nigerian project

by Simon Kolawole

…the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the party in power since 1999, does not seem to have an articulated vision. Even if there is a vision, the consistency and strategies required in implementation have been awfully missing.

During a one-week business trip to Dubai with a friend last November, we spent most of the time discussing Nigeria – despite our promise to avoid the topic! We found ourselves comparing Nigeria with Dubai at every nook and cranny, and our disappointment was that there is nothing done in Dubai or Doha that cannot be done in Nigeria if we have the right people in authority over us. The good thing, though, is that we did not spend the time lamenting our slow pace of development. We discussed and debated the possible routes out of the mess.

We listed corruption as a major obstacle but then said even countries where corruption is also rampant, such as Indonesia and India, have managed to make serious progress. So, while corruption is a major problem for Nigeria, it does not tell the whole story. We said maybe we needed a dictatorship to succeed, with reference to South Korea under the military and Singapore under Lee Kwan Yew. Again, we dismissed this option, reminding ourselves that Nigeria had military dictators for decades and still didn’t make significant progress.

We considered balkanisation – maybe if we break up and there are no more ethnic rivalries and mutual suspicion, we would develop. We also couldn’t sustain that line of thought because, we reasoned, balkanisation doesn’t guarantee that we would have visionary leaders. Incompetence, mediocrity and greed are everywhere. No state, ethnic group or political party has a monopoly of ineptitude. More so, many ethnically homogenous African countries are as backward as, or even worse than, Nigeria. So balkanisation is no magic cure, we said.

My friend came up with a well-argued position on the role democracy can play in development and suggested that credible elections could form the stepping stone to our development. If votes count and public officers know that they will be voted out if they fail to perform, this could form a contract between them and the electorate. Therefore, the incentive to perform is there. But when they know that they will always rig their way into power, they are not motivated to perform. Good point, you would say, but many countries have developed without democracy. In fact, Dubai, or the United Arab Emirates as a whole, is not a good example of democracy. Nevertheless, there is a huge space for credible elections if democracy is to bring about development.

We further reasoned that development comes about with a vision. You have a mental picture of where you are taking the country to and then you set out to achieve the dream. It is like building a house. The architect designs it. No matter the builder, there is a guide to follow and a task to accomplish. In Nigeria, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the party in power since 1999, does not seem to have an articulated vision. Even if there is a vision, the consistency and strategies required in implementation have been awfully missing.

The key word in visioning is “consistency” in implementation. Some visions cannot be implemented by one person – so it requires “continuity”. Singapore developed with one man, Yew, firmly in charge for decades. He envisioned a great nation and saw the project to a logical conclusion. Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad was the Prime Minister of Malaysia for 22 years during which his country joined the big league. This was what perhaps partly propelled President Olusegun Obasanjo into surreptitiously seeking a third term in 2007. But he failed to reckon with the fact that Nigeria’s socio-political dynamics are different from those of Malaysia and Indonesia. More poignantly, some of the most backward African countries have had the same presidents for decades! So self-perpetuation might have worked in Asia but it has failed woefully in Africa.

In my opinion, Obasanjo had better options of promoting “consistency” and “continuity” than going for a third term. Having worked with a core team during his tenure, he should have supported one of them to succeed him. He erred by going for Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who knew nothing about his vision. The first thing Yar’Adua did was to stall on the power projects, reverse the sale of refineries and halt work on the Lagos-Kano rail. If Obasanjo had promoted a member of his core team, there is every possibility that his programmes would not have been reversed. All things being equal, we could be celebrating uninterrupted power supply by now, in addition to reduced fuel importation and significant progress in the downstream sector of the oil industry.

Despite his glaring shortcomings, Obasanjo showed a semblance of forward thinking, especially during his second term. If he had backed his vice-president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, to succeed him, Atiku would have carried on with, and perhaps improved on, the vision. But the two men fell out bitterly. It was Nigeria’s loss. But Obasanjo also had a team to pick from – Nasir el-Rufai, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nuhu Ribadu, Chukwuma Soludo and Oby Ezekwesili, among others. Obasanjo even had governors who were part and parcel of his reform agenda. He instead went for “strangers”. That was a crippling set-back for the privatisation programme and reforms in the power and oil sectors. We’re still paying the price.

It is not a co-incidence that many countries that are making progress today are built on policy consistency and continuity. The Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, was the finance minister when the country started its reforms in 1991. The Mozambican Prime Minister, Luísa Dias Diogo, was deputy finance minister years ago. The Brazilian President, Dilma Vana Rousseff, was a core member of the team of former President Lula. The trick, therefore, is to have a core team that will run the relay and keep the flag flying. Countries do not develop by mistake or by trial and error.

After the one-week “national conference” with my friend in Dubai, I became more realistic about how Nigeria is going to change. Let’s be honest: it won’t happen overnight. There must be a visionary. There must be a vision. There must be fidelity to that vision. One person cannot be our saviour. There must be a pool of vision “actualisers” who will continue to run the relay long after the visionary is gone. Fellow Nigerians, we have a very long way to go.


And Four Other Things…

Abuja residents woke up on New Year’s Day to see posters announcing that President Goodluck Jonathan would run in the 2015 presidential election. The president has denied having a hand in this. It is one of two things – either the sponsors want to draw out the president to make his position public or the president himself is testing the waters to gauge what public reaction would be. There is an element of irony on the poster (“one good term deserves another”) which tends to suggest that the president’s opponents did it, but is it true the posters were also in the State House, despite tight security? The “mystery” continues…

Criticism, when it is taken as a full-time profession, is blind and stupid. When the governor of Kogi State, Capt. Idris Wada, broke his thigh in an accident, he chose to treat himself in Nigeria. The next thing the critics would say is that why did Wada not go to the National Hospital? Why did he choose a private clinic? You can be sure that if the man had gone to the National Hospital, he would have been accused of staying in a private ward or sleeping on an imported, rather than a wooden, bed. It could even get more ridiculous – why did he not patronise traditional bone-setters?

Still on professional critics, the church seems to have become a soft touch for them. There is this mischievous talk about taxing “big business” churches. I am scandalised that this is being promoted by people who know that the laws regulating charities and non-government organisations worldwide do not make provisions for taxing them. If you want churches taxed, it is as simple as proposing to the National Assembly to amend this law. If a church sets up a commercial business, of course it must pay taxes. As a Baptist, I know that the Nigerian Baptist Convention pays taxes on its bookshops and schools. That is something else.

I was impressed with the performance of Super Eagles in their friendly match with Catalonia (made up of the big players from Barcelona and Espanyol) which ended 1-1. Even if we had lost, I would not have been bothered at all – I just love the spirit I saw in those boys. I am all the more excited at the display of the back five: Chigozie Agbim in goal, with Solomon Kwambe, Azubuike Egwueke, Godfrey Oboabuna and Benjamin Francis in front of him – all home-based players. Striker Bright Dike took his goal so well. A new team is being built. I hereby plead with the authorities not to sack Stephen Keshi if he doesn’t win the Nations Cup. Sacking is always our first option!


This piece was first published on ThisDay Backpage



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

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