Monthly Archives: May 2013


Changing Nigerian Political Landscape.

The Nigerian political commentaries never cease to amaze me. With the Jonathan administration scoring itself high and the opposition scoring him as poor; it again emphasizes the age-old wisdom that the truth is always between the two extreme positions. A perusal of the government report on itself will reveal a catalogue of self-praise and achievements; with no credible mention of its failures. And reading the opposition analysis equally reveal all that the Jonathan administration has done wrong without any praise for whatever it has achieved. This scenario portends badly for the Nigerian political discuss. It simply shows that the government is as bad as the opposition. It reveals a level of political immaturity and bitterness that is bound to derail any plan for national development.

Nobody and no government can be completely bad. I am sure there are plenty of people GEJin Libya and Iraq today that reflect on the regimes of their former dictators with glee and affection. As bad as these dictators were; they got some things right. There was better stability; less casual violence and there was definitely no daily killings by militia groups. Don’t get me wrong; I oppose these dictators; all I am saying is that as bad as they were; they still did some things well, no matter how few.

So why do the opponents of the Jonathan administration never seem to be able to get themselves to admit what he had got right and praise him for the good things he has done. Or are they saying that ALL decisions taken by the President since Day 1 of his government have ALL been wrong and bad for the country. Also why is it that the President cannot get himself to admit his mistakes and failures while promoting his achievements? Does he think Nigerians are fools? Maybe many of us are.

I am not a fan of the style of Mr. President; but I am passionate about Nigeria and I refuse to give up on the nation. So both sides have to be fair in their analysis. The primordial concern of a government mid-term report that only focuses on its achievements and not its failures is that the administration will not give attention to fixing the problems we all know exists; but which the government has not admitted exist. People do not make effort to fix a problem they have not admitted exist.  So a candid admission of its failures will assure Nigerians that at least the government can see what we all can see; thus giving hope that solutions can be found. But when government does not admit openly to problems everybody knows exist; it is difficult to have confidence of any imminent solutions. Sadly our political leaders live in a bubble that makes empathy with ordinary Nigerians difficult for many of them. But do they have to rub our noses in it?

As for the Opposition groups; I have even greater criticism of their performance. Opposition for its own sake is bad politics and bad for transformation of any nation. If truth be told; Nobody (regardless of their political sympathy); can honestly believe the Jonathan administration has been 100 percent bad. Not even Saddam Husain was totally bad. There will be more credibility in opposition groups if they produce balanced analysis of the government performance. That will require them to accept and praise the government for what it has done right and then criticize what it has done wrong and then A_street_in_Lagos,_Nigeriaproffer their own solutions. Simply going on about how bad the government is will not wash. This is lazy politics. Afterall; many of these opposition players have been in power in one way or another in the past. What did they achieve when they were in office? How did they transform their sphere of influence? We need to move beyond the politics of noise to politics of substance.

My recommendation for the opposition is that they should form a Shadow Cabinet to replicate the real government. And they should produce a quarterly scorecard for each ministry they are shadowing. Stating in a SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threats) format; the activities of each ministry as shadow cabinets. This will make them look like government-in-waiting and it will also create a pool of people who will be better familiar with the details of operational activities in each ministry; thus making it easier for them to hit the ground running if they get into power. They must stop all these nonsense of headline grabbing abuse and criticism of the Jonathan administration; just for its own sake. Their opposition is against the government and not Nigeria. Hence in the interest of the country; they must oppose responsibly and constructively. Nigerian will believe more an opposition group that credits the government when it is due and opposes them when it is deserved. Nobody has a monopoly of solution; afterall there are educated and experienced professionals in the current government. So they must be doing some things right and it will make sense for the Opposition to admit the successes of the government as and when it happens. This is the kind of opposition Nigeria needs. It also strengthens the voice of the opposition, thus increasing their influence and credibility.  An opposition that always opposes regardless of the facts; will become a laughing stock.

As for the government; President Jonathan need to take note of a wise counsel of our ancestors that; if a man with a big head goes into the public square to speak and first jokes Nigeria_politicalabout how big his own head is; it neutralizes anyone’s subsequent joke about his big head. People will say we know…he has told us himself.  So a government that honestly admits its failures with stated plans for change and improvement will wrest from the opposition the power to influence the citizenry.  Putting your own bad news and failures on the table candidly will take the sting away from any subsequent criticism. So the government’s constant denial of all things negative should stop. The administration should be bold to state both its achievements and failings. People love plain-speaking and candid politicians. Politicians that say it as it is. Politicians that do not insult our intelligence by denying what most of us know as truth. The recent First Lady sickness denial debacle comes to mind.

So who should blink first? The opposition should reform their approach and consider the recommendation I made earlier. It seems however clear that the government has the resources to implement the foregoing changes more quickly that the yet to fully congeal opposition groups. Why not show leadership by changing the style of your administration Mr. President. Move from the lethargic posture to a more open and pro-active leadership style. And by the way; Mr. President; you need to get rid of Okupe immediately. You cannot secure credibility from a discredited mouthpiece like him. I believe that (given the right instruction and encouragement); Abati (though disappointed many so far but not yet fatal failure) can still do a better job than the politically scared and tainted Okupe.  I still believe Abati may be able to do better if given the right climate and rules of engagement. It is time for less spin and more spunk.

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Why most Nigerians do not trust President Jonathan and his administration.

As the Cuban missile crisis raged in October 1962; the US president sat in the White House and called the leaders of the key nations that were members of the UN Security Council to get their support for American position at the UN. The world was on the brink of a nuclear holocaust. The Russians denied everything the Americans claimed and the stage was set for a monumental nuclear confrontation. Up till this point; there was no objective evidence as to who was telling the truth; Russia or America. So it was simply a game of whose report to believe. It was reported that the French President, 0413-nuclear-summit-Goodluck-Jonathan_full_600Charles de Gaulle received a call from President Kennedy asking for the support of France in the impending UN vote on this matter. The French president offered his unqualified support for the American position. Few days later a French minister asked the President why he supported the Americans when there was no conclusive evidence of their claim. Charles de Gaulle was reported to have responded boldly “The word of the American President is good enough for me”. 

That statement demonstrated that Trust is key to any meaningful relationship between governments and also between governments and the people. It is not always possible to provide clear evidence of government decisions; either due to national security concerns; or the conclusive evidence does not exist. If there is trust in the relationship between the people and its government; a lot can be achieved as the citizens rally round its leaders to move the nation forward. This intergovernmental trust was one of the unwitting victims of the Iraq debacle. Many leaders now do not trust the American position on many things today. This will hunt the global diplomatic scene for decades to come. There used to be a time that the American position was accepted by the world without any question; not any more.

The foregoing brings me to the case of the Nigerian government and the lack of trust by many Nigerians. Over the years; the fabric of trust has been eroded by successive Nigerian leaders; thus creating a cynical and untrusting citizenry. Many expectations of the people have been dashed. An average Nigerian does not believe anything the government says. Each new administration is given an initial window to prove itself and as always they all fail by unveiling their predisposition and addiction to lies, corruption and deception.  Hence many Nigerian have grown to expect lies and sometimes the worst from their government.

Focusing on the Jonathan administration; it is sad to see how a potentially transformational government has squandered its goodwill and productive expectations. Many Nigerians, including myself had high expectations of the Jonathan administration at the beginning. But now; it is a different story. There is a wise saying that states: if you sell-out your relatives at a cheap price; you cannot buy them back at an expensive amount, because once they lose trust in you and see your betrayal; that will be it. For me; the Jonathan administration seems to have forgotten the adage that it is the little foxes that spoils the vine. It is the ‘little’ acts of deception and lying that erode trust and make it difficult to believe the big things; even if they are now true.

For example; when you have the President’s office telling the nation that the First Lady was not sick but merely taking a break; despite all the reports to the contrary. Aso Rock denied all reports of any illness of the President’s wife. Only for a few weeks later to hear the First Lady herself tell Nigerians that she almost died and had to undergo several major operations in foreign hospitals. It is clear; we were lied to. Yet no apology till date. There are several instances of these “little” lies by the government and the presidential team. That much cannot be disputed. So how does President Jonathan expect us to believe him on “big” issues like the menace of Boko Haram and national security situation when he has already lost credibility and the trust of the people through series of “little” lies. It is indeed the little foxes that spoil the vine. The President may indeed be telling the truth about many of the major issues confronting the nation today; but how can we believe him and his team when they have shown themselves unworthy of our unflinching trust.

GEJIn my experience; honesty in “little” things is the hallmark of real honesty. It is more difficult to lie about big and major issues due to the complicated and multifaceted nature of such things. But it is much easier to lie about minor and small matters; thus revealing your dishonest nature. So a person that refuses to lie about minor issues (that many cannot verify in any case); will tend to remain honest when the big, more verifiable matters come up.  If you ask me what time I went to bed last night and I am honest in my response (even though you have little way of verifying my answer); it will be easier for me to be believed if asked what time my flight to London took off from Lagos; (as there will be many more witnesses to the departure time).

So my counsel to President Jonathan is to demonstrate his openness and honesty first in little matters. Build a “portfolio of honesty” in the eyes of Nigerians. He should instruct his team to either give out honest responses to all matters or simply ‘no comment’. This portfolio of honesty will help to build goodwill with Nigerian; thus making it easier for us to believe the leadership when big issues come up. Honesty does not mean divulging every single information about an issue; it simply means being honest about the thrust of an issue; even if you then refuse to go into specifics, for good reasons. But the deliberate deception that has been often evident in the words and actions of the Presidential spokespersons and government officials need to stop.

We want to be able to believe our leaders. We need to be able to believe our leaders.  Our prayer is that one-day will come, when an average Nigerian will be able to proudly say; “The word of the president is good enough for me”. Let that paradigm shift and process begin today.

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Empty Promises Full of Corruption

Recently, I wrote (as part of this series) a blog on how the unreliability of government statistics in Nigeria has made it more difficult to assess progress in the country on many fronts. It is either the figures are cooked by officials or made up of imaginary numbers plucked out of thin air. No wonder many Nigerians do not see a similarity between their daily experiences and government figures. This is a problem at both State and Federal levels.

Lagos NigeriaIn this follow-up article I want to challenge the government further to stop the habit of making promises whose attainment can only be confirmed by itself rather than the people of the country. In many areas of life in the country; the government couches its promises in manners that make assessment of fulfillment almost impossible and susceptible to tampering.

Let me give some examples. The government came out and said; we will deliver nationally, x KW of Electricity by the end of 2014. So what does x KW mean to you and I. Absolutely nothing. Instead the government should be saying; we are promising every home connected to the national grid in Nigeria x-Hrs of electricity everyday. This is measurable by every home and fulfillment of such promise is easy to ascertain. It is disingenuous of government to keep couching their promises in ways that only they can verify. It is possible for the government to genuinely meet the x KW target they promise, without any benefit to Nigerian homes. What if a few heavy industries take on the extra Wattage. The government would have met its target; yet you and I will still live in darkness as before. Who can then be sure if indeed the government met that target.

Similarly; government tend to come and say things like; we will invest x Billion Naira extra in education this year. But what does that mean to you and I? Again that figure means nothing. Rather it is easier for the government to say we will provide x number of new Teachers in every government schools this year. That is easy for us to verify and fulfillment of that promise will be apparent to all. But rather than take this easy route successive governments seem addicted to making promises, whose fulfillment is unverifiable by the general citizenry. I can give you more examples of Nigerian government making promises in figures that do not make sense to an average citizen.

The root of this approach in my view is corruption. This brings to mind my challenge to a governor of one of the Western states a few years ago when we were on the same flight from London to Lagos.  We met through a mutual friend.  I asked why he kept saying his administration will invest x Billion Naira on roads; instead of saying he would deliver x Kilometers of good roads in the state. The latter is easy to verify by all; but the former is impossible to verify by the people. His administration could have spent x Billion naira on roads (at least awarded the contracts); but the people may still fail to see any difference in their appalling road conditions. The governor was surprisingly frank in his response to my question. He said that promising x Billion naira is easier for him to deliver. But the x Billion could be used for x or y kilometers of road; depending on how much money he wants to make. So N1Billion could be used to construct 5Kilometers or 50Kilometers; depending on how greedy or corrupt the governor is. So it is possible for the governor to have indeed spent x Billion naira as promised on roads and yet no discernable improvement in most roads in the state.

Both federal and sate governments in Nigeria are guilty of this deception. We should all begin to insist on clearer verifiable promises from the government. So next time a minister says the government promise to spend x Billion naira on anything; ask him to explain what that translates to in actual outcomes that we can verify and hold him accountable for. Giving out a contract for x Billion naira is enough for the government to say they have fulfilled their promise. We should measure their delivery by tangible concrete outcomes as it is done in the west.lagos1

In the UK; the Labour government promised to spend £2Billion extra on schools in 2001. But they then explained that it would mean the repair or rebuild of run-down buildings in 500 UK Schools. This promise later led to the ‘building schools for the future’ programme. The schools were then named, area-by-area. So at the end of the administration; people could go to these schools and see for themselves the new buildings. It was easy to verify the promise has been met.  That is accountability. Simply throwing figures around is not enough.

This is one of the subtle ways Nigerian government are making themselves unaccountable. We should all insist from now on that all government promise should be expressed in concrete outcomes that we all can verify; rather than just throwing around numbers that make no sense to the people. This is one of the foundations of a just and progressive society.

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The more you look the less you see.

This is the first in a series of articles I will be writing on the hidden and subtle ways in which corruption has become entrenched in Nigeria and solution to them. This relates to successive governments and not just the current administration. You cannot pick up any newspaper in Nigeria today without evidence of the war of words between pro and anti Jonathan compatriots battling it out for supremacy of idea. Those who are in the anti-Jonathan camp, call him clueless, non-performing and corrupt. GEJAnd the pro-Jonathan people call him highly performing, intelligent and list his achievement in office so far. Regardless of which camp you belong, one question should exercise your mind in this debate. And that is: How difficult is it to agree on what “performing” or “delivering” is?  To me some things are pretty obvious. If the mission is to travel from Lagos to Kano; and you reach Abuja; it is pretty straightforward to say that you are nearer Kano than Lagos. While admitting you are not yet in Kano; we should all be able to agree that you are closer to the destination than from where you started the journey.

With Nigerians so far apart on whether Jonathan is a performing president or not; it is clear one of the camps need to take the reality check or take the truth serum. But which camp? The Pro-Jonathan or Anti-Jonathan camp. The parameters to measure the performance of every government ion the world fall into two broad categories. There are Objective parameters and then there are the Subjective parameters.

The Objective parameters are mainly statistical in nature. These are measurable. These tend not to be disputable… mainly. So if the unemployment rate was 30% when a president comes to office and it is now less at 20%; then you can Objectively say fewer people are unemployed and things are better in that objective area. Everybody pro or anti tends to agree on such in civilized political climate.

In the heat of the acrimonious and bitterly fought US Presidential campaign; even the strongest Obama supporters did not dispute the Objective measures of Rate of unemployment; the level of the economic Deficit; or even the number of jobs created or lost every quarter in the US economy. They can dispute its impact or importance or effects; but the raw Objective facts are never in dispute. So there is unity around the Objective measure, even if its interpretation is argued. But it amazes me that in Nigeria; we cannot even agree on the Objective data in the first place. This is partly due to general distrust in Government and also a lack of credible and independent Data collection or Statistical agency. So the statistic you get depend on who you talk to?

With Lagos State having more secondary schools than ALL the core Northern states put together; yet the national Census figures says that Kano state alone has more population than Lagos. You can begin to see the embers of the distrust in government statistics in the country. Even when the CBN governor gives the national inflation rate figure; people wonder if he took his measurements only in Aso Rock as it does not reflect the realities of people personal economy. There is widespread distrust in any statistics in Nigeria; especially any that has government as its source.

So the first task of the Jonathan administration; in order to help itself and prove his performance claim; is to set up an Independent and credible Statistical agency (made up of credible non political professionals) that will be run at arms-length from government and its funding hypothecated (Ring-fenced); to avoid any political interference. This agency should then be tasked with producing for the nation; key statistical measures every quarter that Nigerians can begin to trust. In the US, you have the Congressional Budget Office for instance which is seen as above politics. And its numbers accepted by all political parties; regardless of who is in power. In the UK you have the Independent Office of Budget Responsibilities; whose figures are independent of government and is chaired by a respected professional and not a civil servant. Every matured democracy sees the need for a reliable and trusted objective statistical agency. This will make it easier to at least agree (regardless of political affiliation) on the basic state of our economy, without political tint. The current statistical organization in Nigeria is useless and too wedded to the government of the day. There is also doubt as to its composition.

Nigeria_politicalIt will elevate out discuss and debate as a nation; if we can at least agree on some basic facts and then discuss around it. Right now the pro and anti Jonathan camps speaks as though they are talking about two separate countries rather than one nation. They both cannot be right. Every team sports need a referee; so a new credible statistical agency can begin to create some objective parameters to guide our debate.

Then you have the Subjective measures and parameters. These are less tangible measures. They are dependent on individual perception. These tend to vary vastly in any country and it is dependent of people’s personal experiences, media exposure and even personal preferences. It is consistent for people to disagree on Subjective parameters because it is a product of people’s perceptions and proclivities. This is where politics can be allowed to have its way as every party supporter will see things differently from non-supporters.

So back to Jonathan. What needs to be done is for the pro and anti Jonathan camps to explain what they mean by “President Jonathan is performing or not performing”.  Is that an Objective statement or Subjective conclusions. My personal opinion is that a lot of the pro-Jonathan camp’s case, is based on mainly subjective measures. In a democracy, they are clearly entitled to their opinion. But these should not be presented as credible Objective facts.

Finally; the only other explanation for the pro-Jonathan camp’s claim of his performance, could be what I called the epidemic of Implementation Gap in the country. If the last government approved XBillion naira for low cost loan to small businesses and President Jonathan now approve X+5 Billion naira for the same; his fans can claim he is performing. But the fact that the entire allocation was stolen by ten politicians and officials rather than given to the intended ten thousand small businesses is ignored. This is where the raw statistics has its limit. Corruption truncates any credible statistics. So in the end; I guess it will always be a combination of Objective and Subjective measures.

So the performance of this and any government will be judged by both a combination of credible statistical measures and how people feel in their pockets and personal circumstances. A hungry man does not give a damn about increased food supplies statistics.

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