Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Why APC is good for Nigeria

'two old bickering political parties, each thinking it, and it alone, is the legitimate one. The bickering provides the continuous dialogue, the endless arguing, the necessary components for selecting the best political path for the nation to take'

The above excerpt from Dick Stoken's 'The great game of Politics' provides a nice backdrop to my thoughts on the emergence of the All Progressives Congress (APC), a product of the merger of the ACN, CPC, and ANPP, parties that hitherto dominated the South West and Northern parts of Nigeria respectively. These unlikely bedfellows and for the most part, PDP rejects, have come together to attempt to wrest power from the party that has monopolized politics in Nigeria since the advent of the third republic in 1999. 


A significant number of people are likely to dismiss the new party as a band of opportunists, and a warehouse of PDP rejects who have decided to seek alternative platforms to actualize their ambitions. With party 'stalwarts' like Tom Ikimi, Audu Ogbe, El-Rufai, and the others, you can surely see the merit of their arguments. A significant number of the party members simply fell out of favour in the political space over the last few years and are probably just seeking renewed political relevance. Most of them (save a few of the current ACN governors) had achieved absolutely nothing of note in their previous political lives and probably contributed as much as the much maligned PDP chieftains to the collective failure of governance at all levels in the country today.

Notwithstanding the above, I am absolutely delighted with the emergence of the party. I firmly believe politicians are good, not because they want to be good, but because they would benefit from being good. What do I mean? Countries that work do so because the structure of their democracies provide immediate feedback from the populace in the form of referendums, opinion polls, stock markets reactions, and eventually, elections. These structures mean that it is only in the best interest of these politicians to place the citizens firmly at the top of their 'to impress' list. I believe the absence of this structure is the biggest problem we have in our democracy today...not demonic or devilish politicians, or corrupt civil servants. These are just symptoms of a dysfunctional system that rewards corruption and poor performance and actually punishes any attempt to put the interest of the people first. In Nigeria, godfathers and other politicians are at the top of the 'to impress list' because our feedback system consists of 'impeachments, violence, and denial of re-election tickets'. So the electorate are really just a footnote in our political space.

What does the APC have to do with this? I believe the critical elements of an effective political system are a strong opposition, a free, fair and PROFITABLE press (that doesn't have to rely on govt patronage), an active band of civil interest groups, and of course free and fair elections. The emergence of the APC provides the strong opposition requirement and gives politicians something new to think about. Not only do they have to impress their godfathers and other power brokers to win primary tickets within their parties, they might actually have to care about the people and demonstrate sufficient performance lest the 'hungry' politicians on the other side seize their taps of abundance during the next free and fair elections. 

APC has a strong enough platform to provide credible choices to Nigerians during elections, in addition to acting as shadow governments when not in office. Building democracies are a long and mostly painful process and I believe the emergence of the APC to be a critical step in our journey.

'I am more convinced than ever that a lively two party system is essential to our democracy' - Stockwell Day


Monday, March 18, 2013

I Beg Your Pardon!


I have always tried to give President Jonathan the benefit of the doubt. I voted for him in 2011 and frequently defend some of his good policies such as the attempts to privatize the supply of power and his attempts to empower youth entrepreneurs via the 'Youwin' program. I have however been increasingly frustrated by what is in my view, a lack of perspective when it comes to one of the most important things for a country in Nigeria's position - signalling. 

As a young and evolving democracy, I believe the role of a president exceeds simply awarding contracts, he is in effect one of our founding fathers and he has a responsibility to mould society and develop an appropriate incentive system. A society where signals are sent to the youth that hard work and honesty is rewarded with success, accomplishment and financial security and corruption and laziness is rewarded with failure, ignominy and ruin. We have a society where corrupt individuals are held as beacons of success, as long as they possess the financial wherewithal to 'spread the goodies' around. No society can develop that way. There is no incentive to the youth to innovate or be productive when all they can see is a system where all the 'big men' are current and former public office holders who have stolen money. Ask an average youth on the streets in Nigeria today what they want to be and you are likely to hear 'Senator, Governor or any other office that will facilitate access to our oil wealth'. If their intentions lay around using their energy and creativity to deepen our democracy, this would have been a positive development. Unfortunately, the attraction to public office lies in its ability to facilitate an escape from poverty and mediocrity induced by failed governance at all levels.

 


Since he assumed office, the president has failed to send the right signals to the populace. The EFCC has become a toothless bulldog with hardly any notable convictions to speak of. He has also publicly fraternized with people accused of stealing the pensions of workers who spent their careers dutifully serving the government. To cap it all off and in perhaps the biggest indication of a lack of political will to fight corruption, he recently approved the pardon of ex-governor of Bayelsa state - Diepreye Alamieyeseygha who was convicted of money laundering and helped himself to funds meant to improve the standard of living of the people of Bayelsa state. The buck stops  att the president's table and he must ask himself if he has, by his actions, encouraged or discouraged corruption.

The issue now is not whether the pardon was lawful or not. He was well within his rights to do so and pardons are by their very definition controversial. The issue is the message his pardon is sending to all those in a position to help themselves to public funds. The message out there is as long as you steal enough money to remain politically relevant, you should be fine. He has increased the payoff to corruption and further incentivised potentially corrupt people. Some people might argue that Bill Clinton pardoned Marc Rich, so this pardon is justified. My answer to that is Bill Clinton faced a barrage of criticism when he did it but his record of performance provided him sufficient political capital to ride the wave of outrage. Besides, I believe president Jonathan has a more important role to play in setting incentives and fighting corruption than Clinton did given Nigeria's level of development and the effect of corruption to Nigeria relative to the United States. And finally, because Clinton did it, doesn't automatically make it right....as the good book says 'Not everything that is lawful is expedient'.

I am done giving him the benefit of the doubt....Frankly, 2015 can't come soon enough.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Which recent development, world event or book has most influenced your thinking and why?


I submitted this essay as a part of my successful application for admission to the Oxford MBA program in 2010. 

The ‘battery low’ icon pops up on my computer screen as I begin to type this essay; a timely reminder that I have not had any public power supply in three weeks. Most Nigerians have to generate their own power, source water privately and hire private security guards to secure their property. My house was burgled a few weeks ago and after reporting the incident at the police station, I was admonished by the officer in charge for not having the ‘common sense’ to have paid some form of ‘protection’ money to them before I was burgled. These are just some of the many examples of the widely acknowledged failure of successive governments in Nigeria to live up to even the most basic responsibilities. Democratic experiments in 1960 and 1979 were terminated by the Military, citing corruption among other reasons for their intervention. These Military rulers however went on to be worse than those they overthrew. The latest democratic experiment started in 1999 and is currently the longest one yet (the civilian governments of 1960 and 1979 lasted six and five years respectively). 

As one of the millions of youths whose lives have been defined by bad governance, I had lost hope in government and did not believe that Nigeria would ever enjoy good governance. I searched in vain for the magic wand that could remove corruption, reduce crime, ensure government revenue is actually spent on public services and solve the thousands of other problems facing Nigeria.
I believe I found that ‘magic wand’ when I read Bill Clinton’s book, ‘My Life’ and Tony Blair’s book ‘A Journey’. That ‘magic wand’ is free and fair elections. Both men documented their experiences leading two of the world’s most advanced democracies. After reading both books, it became apparent to me that the major difference between successful democracies like the USA and the UK and struggling democracies like Nigeria and Zimbabwe is the ability of the electorate to elect their leaders freely and fairly. Politicians in advanced democracies appear to be driven primarily by electoral success and are accountable for their actions, which is far from the case in Nigeria. Nigerian politicians are accountable to their ‘political godfathers’, powerful men who influence the outcomes of elections by rigging them. The implication of this is that they can get away with anything as long as they are consistent with their godfather’s wishes. I believe that if we can somehow muster the political will to entrench free and fair elections in Nigeria, there will be an unprecedented multiplier effect on various levels of governance. In ‘My Life’, Bill Clinton refers to a few members of congress who had lost their seats by voting in favour of particular provisions in the 1993 budget. These politicians acted against the desires of their constituents and were held accountable for their actions by being voted out of office. A situation where poor performance is immediately addressed by a defeat at the next elections provides a simple but profound solution to most of Nigeria’s problems. Corruption for instance would be drastically reduced if the president knows that he stands to be appraised based on his ability to facilitate a noticeable reduction in corruption within his first term of office. Legislators who know that they would be assessed by the number of value adding bills they introduce to the house of assembly and their voting record would focus on fulfilling their social contract in order to secure their future places in the house of assembly.
I now believe that the strength of any country’s political system is the single most important factor in determining the success of that country’s governance structure. A system that allows corruption and inefficiency with very little retribution would encourage the less ethically minded politicians to ignore their contract with the electorate and focus on looting the public treasury. I previously thought ‘unhealthy’ political practices like lobbying and zoning elective offices to particular ethnic groups were the biggest problem in Nigeria. Reading both books however helped me realise that there can be good governance in spite of these practices. In ‘A Journey’ for example, Tony Blair suggested that he should have been appointed deputy leader of the labour party in 1992 instead of Gordon Brown to counter the fact that both Brown and John Smith (then the leader of the labour party) were Scottish. He opined it would be more politically expedient to have a Scottish man as leader and an English man as deputy leader. This exact scenario is currently playing out in Nigeria as the Northern part of the country is insisting on its right to produce the next president as the South had previously ruled for eight years. Purists like me recoiled in horror at the thought that a factor other than competence would be considered in choosing the President of a nation. This has however helped me realise that good governance can actually be delivered in spite of politically self serving concepts like ‘Zoning’.
Thankfully, the present government in Nigeria appears committed to free and fair elections. There is also a re-awakening of political consciousness among the youth of the country. I am determined to be a part of this process and will sign up at the local chapter of one of the political parties. My initial party meetings will probably be very disconcerting with violence and election manipulating strategy the overriding topic of discussion. My enthusiasm is however kept alive by the belief that in the not too distant future, politicians in Nigeria would be appraised and re-elected on the basis of their performance in office, thus laying the platform for vastly improved governance hinged on accountability. I have Messers Clinton and Blair to thank for this renewed belief.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

In Defense of Arsene Wenger


Sack him! Wenger is clueless! He has lost it! Wenger out! Active users of the social networking site twitter regularly come across these phrases after Arsenal matches. The last one in particular has been popularized by CNN anchor Piers Morgan (a dedicated Arsenal fan), who appears to be on a mission to get Wenger fired. Mr Morgan, like millions of Arsenal fans worldwide love the club and simply want a return to the glory days when Arsenal bestrode the English Premier League like a colossus. We miss seeing world class players in our beloved red and white, tearing defenses apart and taking no prisoners. We want to go into matches, home and away, expecting to win. Unfortunately, we haven't quite gotten what we want over the last few years. 


Now the question is, who is to blame and how do we move forward? This is where I disagree with Mr Morgan and I suspect an increasing number of Arsenal fans who want the manager fired. Why are football managers fired? If I owned a football club, I would fire a manager if I thought he was under performing relative to the resources at his disposal with a view to getting a replacement who would do better with those resources. Firing Wenger would simply be tantamount to cutting off your nose to spite your face. Has he under performed relative to resources at his disposal? Let's look at the facts....

  • He has finished in the top four of the premier league every season in the 16 years he has been n charge;
  • He has won multiple titles with the club (including going a season unbeaten) the last of which came in 2005;
  • Tellingly, since 2005 there appears to have been a deliberate shift in policy by the club. The end of every season since that FA cup victory in 2005 has seen at least one of our big name players leave the club - from Viera and Henry in 2005 and 2006 to Fabregas, Van Persie and Nasri in 2011 and 2012. A whole raft of world class talent have been sold within that period to fund our self sustaining model.  
  • These players have not been replaced with players of commensurate quality (mostly due to the lack of funds and the highly inflated transfer fees fueled by Arab and Russian billionaires).
  • Since the 1996/1997 season, Arsenal have spent 315 million on new players and have received 310 million - a net spend of 5 million pounds. Compare this to Man United's net spend of 250 million, Man City's 472 million, Chelsea's 504 million, Liverpool's 204 million and Tottenham's 174 million. 
Looking at these facts, it is clear that Arsene Wenger has performed a minor miracle in putting out a relatively competitive squad year in year out. I struggle to imagine how Ferguson would have coped with losing Rooney, Ferdinand, Evra and other top players every season for almost ten years. Arsene Wenger has had to identify talented youngsters in a tough market and blood them in to replace experienced professionals, while attempting to challenge for the title. The fact that he almost succeeded a number of times (2008 comes to mind) is a credit to him.


Do we have a problem? Yes! We have gone from having arguably the best squad in the league to one that has its moments but is frankly not good enough. Wenger has attempted to mitigate the effect of the devastating sales of players but it appears to have eventually caught up with us. Great football teams are built by having strong competitive squads, with a sprinkling of natural leaders and a winning mentality. We have none of these qualities. Does sacking Wenger solve the problem? No! Infact, I reckon Wenger is the only world class personnel left at the club, fire him and all you have left is a mediocre club with mediocre players (Liverpool?). 

I think its time to actively back Arsene Wenger in the transfer market. Arm him sufficiently to compete with his rivals for top players. If anyone has proven his ability to extract value from the transfer market, it is him. 

You don't take a sling into a gun fight. It's time for the board to take back that sling.....God knows we have suffered enough.

A concerned gunner....

Friday, August 24, 2012

Re-denominating our Pockets?


N5,000 note? Off with his Head!!!! Oya calm down. Before we jump on the band wagon and criticize another policy simply because it came from the government, let us try to analyse (without being too academic) the benefits and drawbacks of the proposed issuance of a higher denomination (N5,000) and conversion of some of the existing notes to coins.


First of all, I think it is important to dispel a widely circulated myth about higher denomination and inflation. A lot of people believe that the issuance of higher denominations fuel inflation. Perhaps this view stems from the currency problems in countries like Zimbabwe and Argentina (in the late 80s and early 90s). The introduction of higher denominations of currency was a result of, not the cause of, inflation. Inflation, simply put, is too much money chasing too few goods. So while a one-time injection of cash into the system might result in inflation, a change in the medium of cash delivery (with value of cash remaining constant) doesn’t really significantly affect aggregate demand. To illustrate, if yesterday you had ten N1000 notes in your wallet and bought a meal for N2,000, and today you have two N5,000 notes, does that mean you can afford to pay more for the meal today?

Another argument is that the conversion of the lower denominations into coins would render them useless, hence increasing lowly priced items. This argument is a strong but ultimately flawed one in my opinion. It is a strong argument because Nigerians might have lost the affinity for coins since its widespread use ended a few years ago. But my counter argument to this is that it is a function of value. What is the purchasing power of N1 today? Nothing! N5 also has an almost non-existent purchasing power despite the fact that it takes the form of a note. The real issue is the purchasing power of the currency, not the form of the currency. To further illustrate, the UK has coins ranging from 1 penny to 2 pounds. Coins below 10 pence are not very common while 2 pound coins are used widely. We will find out that the same Nigerians that ‘don’t like coins’ will guard their coins jealously if it has any value.

“But it is expensive to print new notes”....some others say. Well, yes it costs money to print new notes. But when juxtaposed with the estimated N190bn annual cost of cash management, it tells a different story. I reckon that the CBN also believes that if banks can reduce their cash management expenses, part of the savings can be passed on to borrowers via reduced interest rates. While I am sceptical that these ‘savings’ will duly reduce lending rates, it is nevertheless a valid point.

To conclude, I think the real issue here is the value of the naira relative to other currencies. We have to focus on increasing exports even further and reducing imports (Cassava policy?). We also have to have an economy that encourages foreign investment so as to increase the inflow of foreign currency and strengthen the Naira. Those are the real issues.....and please remember, these are my personal views.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

No! Don't Move On!

Haven't we seen this before? It just feels strikingly familiar. The initial shock when news starts to filter in about a plane crash, the fear that someone you know is on it, the numbness as you scroll down the manifest. The weeping politicians at the crash scene, the tough talking opposition politicians, giving interviews and making noise just so they can be elected to weep at the next crash scene. Of course the politicians promise to move heaven and earth....enquiry upon enquiry, committee upon committee, and if the noise is just enough, maybe the minister might be re-allocated to another portfolio. Our initial anger turns to acceptance, and then, we move on....hoping that we're not the subjects of the next crash. 

The plane crashed into buildings, killing all 153 passengers on board and an unidentified number on the ground


According to sources (http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=20120603-0), the crashed MD-83 Boeing was a 21 year old plane that had suffered two emergency situations before being sold to the Nigerian airline (Dana Air) in 2009. The plane, previously owned by American company, Alaska Air had an emergency diversion in 2002 due to smoke in the Cabin. In 2006, it was evacuated once again after landing in California with smoke in the cabin. After which it was 'stored' (I presume this means the airline decided to stop using it) for a while before being sold to Dana. I'm not an aviation expert but common sense says that a plane that old, with that kind of history should not be trusted with human lives, at least in a country where its citizens are valued. Unconfirmed reports also state that the same plane made several emergency landings at various times in Lagos, and Uyo. A staff of Dana air also anonymously went on air to state that the plane was not fit to fly that day (http://www.vanguardngr.com/2012/06/dana-forced-ill-fated-plane-to-fly-staff-alleges/). Dana Air is probably not the only culprit of this prioritization of profits over human life. An ex-staff of Air Nigeria also went on record (http://saharareporters.com/news-page/air-nigeria-flying-coffin-former-executive-director-says) to state that its planes are not being maintained optimally. 

The Anyene Family....wiped out due to a quest for profits

We cannot continue to accept this. We must ensure that every company that is responsible for human lives has that as its first priority. While everyone would likely look at the executive arm of the government to prosecute the offenders, and rightly so, I believe the onus also lies on members of the legislature to figure out a way to ensure these companies are kept in line, now and in the future. Governments change, but laws remain....so while prosecution of individuals is a good short term deterrent, we must also seek laws to ensure that in the long term there is a strong alignment of the interest of these airlines with that of the welfare of the passengers. For instance, I believe that the lawmakers should explore the possibility of passing a law that compels every airline to publish the details of every aircraft in its fleet on its website. Purchase details, accident history, maintenance schedule etc. That way, having good, safe aircraft can constitute part of a company's competitive advantage and align its interest with human safety. If passengers have access to an airline's fleet prior to choosing a flight, airline companies have a clear incentive to buy only the safest planes.

Yes, we know life is cruel and accidents happen, but we don't need to aid that cruelty with our incompetence and disregard for human  lives.

May God keep us all.....

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Intent, Capacity and Externalities: An Assessment of Jonathan's First Year in Office

'So you no longer support him?' I asked a friend. 'No I don't, he's as clueless as they come....he said'. A year ago, my  friend was a strong supporter of Goodluck Jonathan, voting for him in the elections and hoping that he could perhaps achieve what others before had tried and failed to do....put Nigeria on the right path to development. My friend is perhaps only echoing popular sentiments in Nigeria....he was elected a year ago, with many people (including yours' truly voting for him) on his way to winning what many felt was a free and fair election (albeit relative to past elections in Nigeria). If the elections were held again today, it is unlikely he'll triumph, regardless of the opposition, in free and fair elections. How do you lose so much goodwill in just under a year? What exactly happened?

  

In my view, there are three key variables that determine the success (or failure) of any elected official in an immature democracy like Nigeria; Intent, Capacity, and Externalities. The current benchmark for successful governance (according to most people) is Governor Babatunde Fashola....He clearly has the intent to make a difference, his years as a Chief of Staff to the previous governor, previous exposure and personal characteristics meant he had the capacity, but most importantly, I believe the fact that Tinubu (the previous governor and political colossus in Lagos state) allowed him work in a political paradise allowed him actually put his good intent and capacity to work. I will share my personal views on President Jonathan below;

Intent: I believe president Jonathan intends to make a positive difference to Nigeria. I realise that this is contrary to the widely held views of most Nigerians and perhaps a few would stop reading this article because of this view. You really can't prove good or bad intent, its a judgement call....so I would move to the next point.

Capacity: This is perhaps the most important variable and where the president has failed to live up to the expectations (or hopes) of those of us that voted for him. I don't believe a successful president necessarily has to be a genius. But I do believe that it is important to be able to inspire the confidence of  your people. If President Jonathan had the oratorical abilities of President Obama, or the late Kwame Nkrumah, or at least projected an image of self assurance, he would have bought the patience of Nigerians for perhaps the first couple of years of his term. President Obama's economic performance is nothing to write home about (if not abysmal), but he has been able to consistently inspire the confidence of a lot of his people via great speeches and little publicity stunts here and there. Unfortunately, President Jonathan has mostly come across as unsure, hence the quick refrain to 'he's clueless' whenever you ask the average Nigerian of his views on the president. Of course additional blame has to go to the president's media team who have, in my opinion, done an abysmal job of managing the image of the president. 

A good president receives information and advice from his aides, and makes decisions after taking into consideration the mood of the populace and the possible effects, vis a vis the potential gains. Here again, the president has disappointed me with a lot of his decisions. Removing the subsidy on petroleum in the manner, and at the time he did was not the smartest thing to do, in my humble opinion. There was clearly an economic imperative for the action, but it was extremely politically inexpedient. Renaming the University of Lagos was an ill advised and badly considered move....these in addition to many other smaller decisions .....placing army officers on the streets of Lagos, consistently causing hours of untold traffic with every visit he or the first lady pays to Lagos, did not help his cause. Constantly talking about 'cassava bread' to a populace eager for stable electricity just paints a picture that he has misplaced priorities. A move to reduce our dependence on imports in order to conserve foreign exchange is fine....but by all means, let it be something one of the ministers talk about...not the president....especially when the priorities of your people are clearly different.

Externalities: Let's get one thing straight, President Jonathan is not a military president. He was democratically elected. For all the benefits of a democracy, one of the drawbacks is that with a country full of vested interests like Nigeria, it is difficult for one man to implement changes. There are just too many battles to fight....look deeper at every problem we have in Nigeria, and you'll see the presence of powerful  individuals whos' interests are at variance with that of the entire country. In the power sector, if that problem is solved, Nigerians would no longer have to buy generators or diesel depriving some big people of billions in revenue. Even education...if the populace is well educated, the political class would have diminished power as the people would actually be able to provide greater resistance. The fact that he also has to contend with a terrorist group just compounds the entire situation. Why hasn't he been able to combat the menace of terrorism? I personally don't blame him for the glaring lack of capacity of our intelligence agencies to sort this problem out.....we haven't invested in them over decades, we can't expect them to suddenly wake up and successfully infiltrate and destroy a terrorist agency. It takes time and significant budgetary allocation (just ask the USA). An argument can be made that Obasanjo made the political arena conducive for himself by incapacitating the governors, taking control of the party machinery at all levels and rendering the military non-existent politically. Perhaps, its also a reflection of president Jonathan's lack of capacity.

It's clear that its been a disastrous first year for president Jonathan....and if concerns about the Eurozone continue to batter oil prices, the next year is unlikely to be better. But on the bright side, perhaps that'll mean there'll be less money for the political class to fritter away and provide an incentive to develop other sectors of the economy. Whatever happens, one thing is certain. We're a growing democracy and will continue improving....the speed of that improvement is what we need to accelerate....fast!