Hello Naija people!

Welcome to my blog – Naijawatchtower. As you may already know and can tell, this blog is dedicated to airing views, opinions and proffering solutions on Nigerian matters. I see myself as a watchman on the wall (not different from many other well-meaning Nigerians) and with the advent of this blog, I hope not only to comment on current national issues, but to also be in a position to offer useful and very practical advice and solutions to many of our beleaguered leaders on various pertinent national issues. As a citizen, I view the challenge of building a worthy Nigerian nation state not only as a crucial personal objective but also as a non-negotiable project which my generation must engage and overcome in other for us and our children to have a brighter future!

In the past, I have been unabashed in my opinion on Nigerian issues and in that regard, I doubt if anything will change. However, this blog is intended to approach the issues of Nigeria and its nation building objective as a project in which critical issues will be peeled off in layers, dissected, assessed and re-engineered. I hope to use this blog to facilitate and provide a solution-driven focus and theme which will be concise, uncluttered, illuminating and efficacious in proffering solutions needed to move the nation forward – that of course assumes anyone is listening. But then again, I have never allowed that to dampen my resolve in any way. If so much as one comment or suggestion from this blog makes it to the hearing of a person in position of authority and inspires a change, then this entire project would have been well worth it!

Years ago, I happened upon a travel website that described Nigeria as the oil-rich Cinderella state which never quite made it to the ball party – that depressing description and notion left an imprint and a lasting impression on my psyche! Why did it have to be so? Apparently because her chosen escorts and guards betrayed her trust and colluded to rape and despoil her on the way – she simply never got the chance to live up to her promise or potentials! What holds us back as a nation? Is there really any obstacle stalling our progress, you ask?. I do remember an occasion in my teens, while taking a trip through Ondo state with my father, I was captivated by the endless array of lush heavily forested and mountainous terrain prompting my Dad to say something which I am yet to forget. He said; “God had given Nigeria all the necessary blessings for greatness and He did it without adding the burden of natural disasters” He paused for a moment and pensively opined; “We the people, …are the only natural disaster!” Nothing captures the shortcomings and issues of Nigeria so succinctly as one of Mahatma Gandhi’s wise statements. I quote;

The things that will destroy us are: politics without principle; pleasure without conscience; wealth without work; knowledge without character; business without morality; science without humanity; and worship without sacrifice.”
– Mahatma Gandhi.

I hope and pray that my audience will latch unto those words above – internalize each one, chew on them and let it all sink in. The truth contained therein could not be better stated. As I embark on this new chapter and journey, I hope to learn just as much as I hope to contribute. It is my sincere hope and aspiration that this blog will not just be entertainment but that it might help elevate the standards in our nation, provoke much needed national dialogues, engage our imagination frequently and activate deep-seated potentials in us to join hands and build a nation that is reflective of our collective aspiration for our beloved Fatherland.

In finality, I would be remiss if I fail to acknowledge and appreciate all those who in one way or another encouraged and helped me to actualize this little project. Let me first of all thank my wife for her steadfast love, her resilience and her indefatigable belief in my potentials. I also want to thank family members and friends for their support. In particular, I wish to thank Mr Yinka Sanda for his wise counsel and priceless words of advice. May God bless you all.

– Olumide Iluyomade

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Why We Fail! (Ep. 1)

Do you know why those of us who are of younger generation have struggled so much with our aspiration and found no place to actualize our dreams politically in Nigeria? Because we have not found any node in the system – this is the fulcrum by which we could shift the system and turn it around to our advantage and purpose!

The good news is that there is a fulcrum and I believe I have found one (I believe others may have found it too!). There is a way to get leverage and I will speak about that at some point. I have done a great deal of thinking on this subject and have found that the Nigerian political system was deliberately designed like a gourd!

A gourd is the fruit of a plant (believe it or not) which is extremely hardy, hard and impervious on the outside while nurturing moist, soft, and fleshy internals! Its design is evolved to keep the elements out while protecting its own essence and seeds – because of this objective, its external body is hard, smooth and rounded, often very difficult for animals to handle. There is no easy way to handle it (most creatures do not have prehensile limbs) and the only way inside is through the attached stem! If there is no way to get inside except through the stem, then it stands to reason that the only things inside are things that have conformed to the plants desired output! Nigerian politics and political parties are very much like the gourd!

Nigerian constitution is flawed – it is poorly written and greatly flawed! Although it was supposedly a copy of one of the greatest ‘check and balances’ constitutions in the world, it was nonetheless rigged to favour the ‘few’ over and above the vast majority! It is a deliberate oligarchic design which fails to make note of our own peculiar idiosyncrasies and incorporate necessary elements.

Beyond these, the fabricators of the constitution were also self-serving – they made deliberate efforts to weaken the strength of the former by removing every element designed to check powers and prevent abuse or corruption! Much rather, they added elements which will allow, encourage and enhance corruption and self propagation! Above all, they also failed to include any mechanism for sweeping change – they gave the people no path to self-actualization!

What we ended up with was perhaps one of the most static and restrictive constitutions in the world, especially as far as dynamism and change were concerned! Nigerian constitution neither allows nor makes provisions for citizens induced change – there is no provision for referendum, no crucial path to effect change in the constitution except through the National assembly which itself may not be participated in except through political parties!

This in essence makes it near impossible to effect change for the people’s aspiration or even from executive position, especially when parties may have created enduring cultures and established successful oligarchies! It is therefore no mystery and definitely not a surprise that the very people and parties who are least interested in seeing change are the same ones whom the constitution has bestowed the mandate upon to bring and effect change!

The very national assembly which has disenfranchised and leeched the people to the bones, is the same body which our convoluted constitution empowers to effect change!

Let me ask a simple question – how do you think it will work out if students were given the powers to organize their own examinations, mark their own papers and grade themselves? Do you imagine you will be evolving a great educational system??

Hammers, Chisels and Saws are very popular wood working tools with each of them having wooden handles, nevertheless, not a single one of those tools was used to forge its own handles – that task was performed by another tool entirely!

Nigerian National Assembly (NASS) is a national institution whose primary purpose is to legislate (make laws) and occasionally fine tune existing constitution in accordance with constitutional rules however, the national assembly could not be and should never be the body by which the constitution (rules of engagement) are drafted and to which she herself is subject! There will no doubt be a massive conflict of interest if such were allowed! To do this and expect anything but a disaster is a colossal error of judgement!

Is there a way out of this quagmire?? Is there a way forward without bloodshed? I say a definite YES to the two questions however, space and time would not permit me to deal with that here and now. I am however eager and compelled to speak to that purpose in the nearest future. My two cents.

(THE WAY FORWARD) Steps 2 – Steps 4: Nationalism & Corruption

As promised previously, here is the second installment in the series which will be suggesting ways forward for the nation. A bit unusual however, is the fact that this installment will be touching on three separate steps and merging them into a single installment. Without much ado, I will be treating steps 2, 3 and 4 in this installment. I believe that the issues being discussed are straightforward and logical enough to be addressed without necessitating any lengthy dissertation.

Nigeria fragmentationPermit me to reiterate the fact that our nation, Nigeria, has in reality been a country of several nations since inception – one without a common vision, and whose internal rules and structures have been left undefined and under-developed for a lifetime thus subjecting it to the vagaries of ethnic and political manipulations. It is therefore imperative at this critical junction that we, the Nigerian people, develop a compass by which we must steer our nation’s policy and polity towards one that will foster unity, with one common future and a proud singular identity. It is no secret that the current state of affairs leaves much to be desired in this regard. Having witnessed the ugliness of the last national elections which was mired with a seemingly intractable penchant for geo-ethnic politicization in the various constituencies, it has now become painfully obvious that the very essence and soul of this nation is at risk. Nigeria has never been more disunited and the threadbare fabric holding the center together is barely holding, becoming more and more strained with each passing day. With this in mind, I have set out to propose and suggest the following measures which a government could adopt so as to boost confidence and assuage the citizen’s fear of disenfranchisement.

Step 2: Adopt Nationalist Policies:

Nigeria is a giant, albeit a giant whose output is only a pathetic fraction of its full potentials. The nation has never had the opportunity to live up to its full potentials and it won’t, …not unless it is forged into a true nation – meaning to have one nation with a singular identity! This fundamental truth is as true for Nigeria, as it is for any other diverse nation. It is a concept that was very well understood and imbibed by such great leaders as Lee Kuan Yew who took the great pains to forge Singapore into one of the most economically advanced nations in the world within the space of 50 years! In my opinion, the adoption of nationalist policies by the FGN is the only way to forge Nigeria into a true nation. Nigerian citizens must become ‘Nigerian’ nationals first and foremost, before any consideration could be given to other regional attributes. As a people, we must share a common platform of nationhood and become co-joined in mutual aspiration for national success and national greatness. It is thus through such ideals of national greatness that our identity as one people becomes forged and sealed together!

Nigeria marching forward togetherAs a first step towards encouraging nationalism and patriotism while discouraging ethnocentrism in our national polity, Buhari’s administration must vigorously seek and pursue a constitutional amendment which will first of all eliminate and strike out the use of “State of Origin” as a governmental reference index or as a required statistical data. The administration should seek to have “State of Origin” replaced immediately by “State of Residence” in all governmental indices and statistical database throughout the federation. The successful implementation of this policy will strike out the root cause of multifarious prejudicial discriminations and wholesome disenfranchisement which occur daily all over the nation while also eliminating one of the major barriers to unity. Fittingly, it is also purposed to strike at the very heart of rooted bulwarks which over decades, has prevented the complete integration of citizens who may have chosen to domicile in other parts of the federation.

Secondly, within the same context, the administration should also push for a constitutional amendment bill called Citizen’s Equal Rights Amendment (CERA). CERA Clause shall require each state to provide equal protection under the law to all people within its jurisdiction. Furthermore, it shall prohibit state and local governments from discriminating against any citizen on the basis of gender, religion, ethnicity or tribal identity especially with regards to employment, public services, land use rights and civil rights. The only legally recognized categorization of a citizen of Nigeria under the law thereafter shall be with regards to “State of Residence”. This means that wherever a citizen of Nigeria chooses to reside within the Federation, he or she will have all civil rights explicitly guaranteed under the constitution of the Republic – this includes the right to buy and own landed property (and be free of harassment); the right to seek full employment within the jurisdiction’s government without discrimination; the right to participate in local elections and run for office (once the minimal requirement for residency is satisfied); the right to enjoy the full benefits accruable to any citizen of the jurisdiction; and the right to seek redress in court should this inalienable rights be violated by any government or individual.

Step 3: Introduce and Institute Nation-wide Anti-corruption Reform:

Corruption-1This particular step is one which I am extremely passionate about and its importance with regards to the success of the NIgerian project is incontrovertible and beyond measure! Corruption is the single most devastating scourge that has afflicted Nigeria and halted her ascent, thus preventing it from attaining much needed growth and development. It is no secret that a nation denied its seed money could neither invest in basic infrastructural necessities nor develop the strong economic base required for secondary growth to take place. For the nation to grow and develop, a stop must be put to all kinds of unbridled corruption as has been witnessed in recent times. It should be noted however that General Muhammadu Buhari was elected entirely on the premise and strength of his credentials as a man of integrity. As such, the message to the ruling party is loud and clear – the people wish to be rid of corruption and its attendant scourge! Buhari’s government must remain totally committed to the tough decisions needed to eliminate this scourge and deliver wholesome solutions for fast paced national growth and development to take place. This administration must take the time to develop a model which shall reduce corruption to its barest minimum going forward and ensure that public funds get to the grassroots for equitable development. In other to achieve this, I suggest that the government adopt the following policies and measures designed to effectively combat corruption and restore trust in the nation`s public institutions. The administration should implement the following recommendations:

1) Legislate a new type of Bank account called a Public Agency Domiciliary Account (PADA) into law. The unique characteristics and features of this type of bank product are to be as follows;

  • PADA can only be opened by a government or a government agency in any commercial bank offering the product.
  • PADA is the only type of account recognized by Central bank (CBN) for the payment of subventions and allocations.
  • Cash withdrawal and electronic transfer out of the account is simply not possible. Money paid into the account can only be withdrawn by cheques.
  • All PADA accounts have two signatories – the Principal officer of the establishment or agency and the Accountant general of the same. Both signatures must be presented on a viable cheque.
  • A quarterly statement of all PADA account must be generated by the Bank in triplicate copies – one report goes to the Agency, the second report goes to Central bank records and the third copy must be archived by the bank for a minimum of ten years.
  • Commercial banks which are found to have erred in adherence to the law and set rules laid down by the banking law will be sanctioned with an appreciable fine and any funds lost to fraud or corruption because of this act of negligence shall be reimbursed by the bank at 25% p.a interest which shall be payable to the government.

2) Legislate a new federal law which makes it illegal for any government or its agency to carry out any transaction in cash. Henceforth, regardless of the size of a transaction, all government related transactions carried out by a ministry, department, agency or parastatal shall be concluded with a government issued cheque and such cheques shall be issued from the necessary PADA account. Any transaction carried out on behalf of a government or its agency in a manner that contravenes this law shall be deemed unlawful and illegal.

3) Implement a Federal policy whereby all Federal allocations and subventions intended for each of the 774 Local governments, shall henceforth be paid directly into the respective LGA’s PADA account. The allocations and subventions shall be paid through the Central bank on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria. This singular act is designed to cut off undue and undesirable impediments, interjection and manipulations imposed by state government’s which often has the effect of constricting growth, diminishing returns and starving developments at the grassroot level. The policy would serve to redefine and reorient grassroot development and empower local administrations so that the direct impact of Federal funding is allowed to accrue appreciable and significant benefits to the local population.

4) Legislate a Federal law that effectively limits ‘Security vote’ in any governmental branch or agency (particularly state governments) to a value no more than 1% of the total annual budget. Under no circumstance shall a budget which appropriates more than 1% of its total value to ‘Security vote’ be passed! What does security vote mean? By ‘security vote’, I refer to that notorious and uniquely Nigerian administrative euphemism which refers to the extra-budgetary allocations made to executive public offices, the use of which is often a virtual carte blanche. As has been in the past, abuse of this implausible provision has surreptitiously empowered executive public officers to operate like medieval kings thereby squandering and misappropriating billions upon billions of naira with absolutely no accountability or scrutiny. This law is deliberately purposed to put a stop to such unbridled acts of corruption and abuse consequently eliminating mindless profligacy in public office.

5) Adopt and implement a straightforward and simple policy for all Federal government related procurement. According to the rules of such policy, all Federal procurements shall be transacted directly with the original manufacturer of such goods or an authorized agent with no less than three years history trading in such goods. Where such arrangement is impossible, an alternative product which is available with similar function must be considered instead. Customized products must be procured directly from original manufacturer or customizing firm. Pre-owned or used items shall be procured from either current legal owner or a legally registered dealer in such items. This policy is targeted at the prevalent occurrences of cronyism and nepotism in awarding government contracts for the FGN. It is designed to reduce or even outrightly eliminate ubiquitous buddy-contracts which are often carried out with the aid of ‘shell’ companies and such other corrupt acts particularly ones carried out with impunity.

6) All three of Nigeria’s anti-corruption agencies known respectively as Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC); Economic & Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); and Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) should be reconstituted, redefined and re-pointed away from the Executive branch to be placed under the Judiciary branch. Specifically, the agencies should be placed under the Chief Justice of the Federation who will in turn nominate an Attorney General and Chief Prosecutor to head each of the agencies (subject to the approval of the legislative branch). Such an arrangement will not only strengthen Nigeria’s democratic credentials and institutions but will also remove possibilities for imbalance and abuse of powers. To avoid the current confusion and duplication of duties and roles, ICPC should be mandated to target corruption in the public sector with special regards to embezzlement, graft, bribery and misappropriations. Correspondingly, EFCC should be refocused to deal with financial crimes which are committed in the private sector against any private legal entities – this oversight should include sectors such as banks, insurance, securities and stock exchange. CCB, on the other hand, should be focused on curbing ubiquitous acts of malfeasance in government – these are crimes which are non-financial in nature such as abuse of powers, abuse of office and unacceptable conducts in public office. In essence, each of these agencies will be empowered and equipped to act as internal affairs and investigative units within the government and on behalf of the justice department, they shall be mandated to prosecute any and all offending entities.

7) Adopt and implement a new Federal policy whereby all service contracts issued by the federal government (mainly for construction, repairs and renovations) shall be issued and awarded using a new financial tool and mechanism called Contract Assurance Escrow (CAE). The CAE mechanism itself is a contract between a financial/insurance institution and the government. The government or its agency defines and develops detailed parameters and specific scopes for its contract and issues a notice for all financial/insurance companies who are offering Contract Assurance Escrow (CAE) services to bid to ‘assure’ the contract. All CAE services to the government shall be billable by the percentage (e.g 6.5% of value of contract). Once a CAE service provider has been awarded the contract for a service, they are expected to either engageCorruption image 1 the services of a project management consultancy firm or act in the same role themselves. Concurrently, the government also issues a public notice for contractors to bid to perform the actual job. Once contract is awarded to contractor, the government agency’s role reverts to that of a client and supervisory regulator until the completion of the project. All payments shall be paid to the CAE service provider who will in turn disburse it according to the schedule stipulated in the contract. Performance and quality assurance is thus ensured through a two-fold process – The CAE provider is responsible for the escrow draw and the management of payment through several phases of the project. The CAE provider also has a responsibility to ensure that the contractor’s performance meets specification, scope and quality specified in the contract agreement before payment. The government agency’s technical department has the responsibility to supervise, cross check and confirm that all requirements specified in the contract charter is fully satisfied before jointly approving the payment for each phase of the contract. Phase draw or payment is issued only after there has been a joint approval which is accompanied by the signature of qualified officers in both organizations (CAE and client agency).

Step 4: Seek to eliminate ‘Immunity clause’ from Constitution:

EFCC-CartoonA successful war against corruption in Nigeria is crucial for national development. Corruption has without question been the most damaging scourge that has impeded Nigeria’s development and advancement. Without any equivocation, the immunity clause in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, is noted as the banner and hallmark of institutional corruption and an impediment and great obstacle in the war against corruption in our nation. It is therefore imperative that Nigeria’s leadership on behalf of the people takes urgent and necessary steps to eliminate this ‘immunity clause’ from our constitution. It is no secret that the provision has been allowed to become a weapon and a shield used with impunity by public officials against the interest of Nigerians. Buhari’s administration must vigorously seek to expunge, remove and repeal the ‘Immunity clause’ from the Nigerian constitution permanently to ensure that the benefits of transparent and accountable governance becomes a reality for all Nigerians.

So far, in the last two installments of this series, I have made proposals and proffered solutions that have taken us from step 1 through to Step 4. In the next installment, I will be getting into the juicy portions of the series such as the upcoming Local Government Reform proposal. However, in the interim, I do look forward to a healthy debate on the pros and cons – the merits or demerits (as the case may be) of my proposals. All opinions are welcome. Thank you for your time.

SOME TRUTH ABOUT AVIATION IN NIGERIA

Nigerian Airways 747-8I am always baffled at the reaction and response of many knowledgeable Nigerians whenever the subject of the creation of a national carrier (Airline) is broached. After the news broke this week that GMB had ordered the Aviation ministry to look into the possibility of starting a national carrier, the tempo and decibel of all such discussions became magnified. It is no secret that the Nigerian government has had a disastrous history with regards to starting and managing Airlines. As a matter of fact, the Nigerian government has an abominable track record and a long history of failure with regards to any form of commercial venture. While this truth and reality may in fact be responsible for the degree of negativity, worries and disagreements elicited by the president’s directive among many commentators, I have found it quite a curious thing that many of such opinions have been entirely based on very narrow and entrenched perspective which is not only based on half-baked knowledge but is also spurred by a general mistrust, scarred memories of historical failures and a slanted conviction that government’s should play no role in commerce or enterprise. They believe that any such attempt is fated for failure – a position which I vehemently disagree with.

With this in mind, I want to address some of the many issues being raised by my compatriots. I am well aware that we all want what is best for Nigeria even though we may frequently disagree on the means or the methods adopted from time to time. I was going to just make a brief statement on FB (facebook) however, the words kept pouring in and since I am not one to deny myself, I let it go. Quite quickly, I became mindful of the fact that I could not do justice to this topic with the scant provision allowed by a FB status page so I decided to make a slight detour from my blogging agenda and feature it on this blog. The truth is that I am actually in the throes of writing a detailed and comprehensive paper on how to reform the Aviation industry in Nigeria – the paper is intended as one of the episodes in a series of articles being featured here on this blog which I have named ‘The Way Forward’. Thus far, I have released precisely one installment only in this series – suffice it to say there is a lot more coming. While it is true that this is NOT the aviation industry reform write-up that I have coming up, I did however have an irresistible urge and compulsion to write this unscheduled piece so as to serve as a precursor and point out a few things that are often neglected in these arguments.

Airlines, particularly the ones referred to as national carriers, are more than just mere business ventures. Most national carriers are created in hopes of attaining profitability and many do (others don’t), however, various other important reasons are considered and weighed in the creation of a national carrier. It is also these same considerations that often inform the decision by governments to continually sustain and support ailing or unprofitable national carrier ventures. If profitabilityNigerian Eagle were the sole objective and primary consideration for governments, then I can assure you that there are many other investment opportunities that could not only be much less trouble but would also be much more profitable! The truth of the matter is that aviation is an essential part of nation building – it is a primary building block which helps provide a connectivity and a platform for advantageous global participation. National carriers are often not developed to churn out mad profit (although profitability and sustainability are necessary and should remain fundamental objectives). Much rather, such airlines are developed to serve as a robust vehicle (literally and figuratively) for economic growth, massive employment opportunities, national prestige and the instant facilitation and enhancement of multiple profitable downstream and upstream enterprises such as Tourism, Aircraft Maintenance, Finance & Insurance, Aviation Service providers, Petroleum product sector, Hotel industry, General commerce, Advertisement & marketing and so on and so forth. The economic impact and domino effect created by a successful aviation industry has far-reaching and massive consequences.

aviation impactTruthfully speaking, the problem with us in Nigeria is that our memories are scarred and our trust in leadership has been permanently damaged. We have been duped consistently by our so called ‘leaders’ in the past and thus we are unable to shake off our bad experiences and believe in our own potentials! This inherent lack of trust in public institutions and public ventures which we rightly exhibit has paralyzed us, leaving us economically immobile ensuring that we are unable to have a paradigm shift and solve our problems by thinking outside the box! We take economic theories verbatim and fail to make adjustments that are necessary to ensure a proper fit for our own economic peculiarity and social needs. Look around you – was British Airways founded and developed with private funds? Up until 1997, who owned 60% shares in KLM? (the oldest airline in the world). If we are going to sit here and quote theories propounded by western economists, then maybe we should ask them how Air-France became so big and successful? Up until 1999, didn’t the French government own Air-France? Let us look to Asia – Singapore Airlines, Air Asia, Thai, ….which one of them was founded and developed strictly on the basis of meagre private investments? Many people will stand before you and argue against the creation of a proud national airline but will turn around to purchase Ethiopian Airline’s ticket or Emirates’ business class tickets! Was it not other governments that took such bold initiative and risk to invest in and grow those airlines into what they have become today? Were those governments waiting for the private enterprise or foreign investors?? We love to be part of success stories but are always unwilling to show faith and do the work required to produce our own stories! We love to wear diamond and gold jewelries but refuse to acknowledge the need for a mine and the toil necessitated there-in.

The truth of the matter is that the aviation industry demands and requires massive capital outlay for it to be done successfully. You cannot make any considerable impact by doing it piecemeal – it will probably not survive at all! The real secret to success in aviation industry is called ‘scale’ – investment must be done at a scale which ensures survivability and dominance! The other secret is ‘sound management’ – this does not need to be spelt out. To do anything less is to ensure incremental attrition akin to what we are witnessing with Arik Air. These simple words and concept is what makes it so hard and near impossible for the private sector in Nigeria to come up with successful aviation stories. No nation in Africa has the size, the potentials and the capabilities of Nigeria and yet what do we have? We have failed to see and understand our own value and potentials – we will rather consume other nation’s services and live with the growing probability that moribund domestic airlines will inevitably ‘kill’ many of our loved ones. It is such a shame! Without any equivocation, I should like to make clear the fact that there are many problems with the way the aviation sector is currently structured and regulated in Nigeria. There are also other issues of gross incompetence and negligence on the part of airline managements and regulatory agencies. I cannot however address those issues here and now but will do so in the promised write-up. What we need is an attitude that assesses the problem, studies the issues and learns from its mistakes, ….not an attitude of fear which runs away from problems and folds arms in indolence. The problem with most previous attempts made by past administrations could be summarized in one giant swoop, as one occasioned by a lack of commitment on the part of previous leaders and beyond that, a failure to carefully structure and define the ‘venture’ which is being created. If the FGN were to create a new national carrier, three things are crucial and needed. Detailed attention needs to be paid to the following:

  1. Ownership structure and a future plan for divestment
  2. Management structure and incentives for performance
  3. Financial accountability and the implement for oversight
    (Note: I will be spending more time on these points in future)

Aviation potentialsHere is the kicker – the interesting observation that spurred me into writing this quick opinion. Many smart Nigerians continually point to the failed Nigerian Airways and the defunct Virgin Nigeria. They conclude that the Nigerian government has been inept (true) in taking care of its affairs and is thus incapable of setting up a worthwhile enterprise (not true). They contend that such ventures will only enrich few pockets, waste government resources and end up as a catastrophe! Here is what I have to say in response; Many Nigerians do not realize that since the demise of Nigerian Airways, the FGN has wasted much more money on ‘private’ airlines than Nigerian Airways ever needed. Many of these things were done discreetly and has resulted in an outcome that has only helped to support and line the pockets of the so-called private airline operators such as Jimoh Ibrahim, Ibru family and the Arumemi-Ikhide dynasty. Most of these financially strapped private airlines are flying coffins and disasters waiting to happen, however beyond that, they are also insatiable cess-pits which ceaselessly consume government resources one way or another! If you do not believe me here is some data to bolster my claims – AMCON, the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria, was created and set up in 2010 to bail out and rescue distressed corporations whose operation may be of critical national interest so as to forestall a greater economic fallout. A report from Ministry of Aviation’s Audit claims that five Nigerian airlines, including the defunct Air Nigeria, owed AMCON an estimated N190 billion! At the time of release of the statement, that money was equivalent to USD $1.2 billion! According to the audit report, Aerocontractors owes $200m (N34bn); Arik Air, $600m (N102bn); IRS Airlines, $55m (N9.4bn); Chanchangi Airlines, $55m (N9.4bn); and Air Nigeria, $225.806m (N35bn). These debts have nothing to do with other external (international) debts owed by the airlines or the fees owed to numerous federal government agencies. In essence, the truth is whether we like it or not, the Nigerian government has been sucked in (albeit without the benefit of control, prestige or dividends) and the level of indebtedness indicated above leaves me in no doubt that the money has gone into a bottomless pit. These airlines have nothing of value (no asset) or operational robustness to command such debt profile – the situation is a disaster! The level of indebtedness of Aero contractors alone is such that AMCON has had to take over 60% of its equity share (a gross over-estimation and over-valuation of its value in my opinion). Arik on the other hand, is nothing but a walking corpse or a puppet with strings attached to AMCON’s hips. It’s demise is a question of time. Here is my summation – I will rather support a well intentioned and robust Nigerian Airways, which provides decent income and livelihood for thousands of Nigerian citizens even if it needs an annual subsidy of $100 million, than continue to discreetly pour money into private pockets, criminal enterprises and thieving public officials. DIezani Alison-Madueke alone is alleged to have cost Nigeria anywhere between USD $2 billion and USD $6 billion in the last few years alone! Go figure…

With 170 million citizens, most of whom have yet to blossom economically, no nation needs a sound and effective economicSleeping giant development plan more than Nigeria. To grow and develop an economy, several sectors of the economy have to be induced, tailored and cultivated to deliver the gains and growth needed. You cannot talk about overcoming massive unemployment when you continuously constrict evidenced potentials because of fear and paralysis. You cannot talk about overcoming debilitating poverty when the vast potentials of promising sectors and the domino effect contained there-in are continuously doused in selfishness, fear and negativity. Economic prosperity and growth are products of a multiplex of induced, tailored and targeted incentives which ultimately culminates in economic activities and commerce which invariably has the cumulative impact of raising a nation from an under-developed status to a developed nation, …raising a people from poverty to middle class economy and beyond. It is the pursuit of such vision and possibilities that elevates nations from third world to first world and propels corporations from start-ups to global multi-national corporation status. Nation building is no different from building a house. Like a contractor/owner, a government has the responsibility of ensuring that the nation’s economy is continuously in good health and is growing. A house has critical components which cannot be ignored, so likewise every economy has critical components, every one of these components (sectors) is crucial to its overall health. The neglect, shrinkage or underdevelopment of any of the critical sectors ultimately has a devastating domino effect on the prospects and viability of the rest of the economy. A government cannot afford to lose sight of the big picture for the simple reason that ultimately, it is the cumulative effect (the totality) that matters at the national level! Yes, the Airways could make a loss of $100 million here or a profit of $178 million in another year. However in all, what is the totality of its impact on Nigeria’s economy? $1.5 billion? $2.8 billion?? That is my point. Let us, as citizens, put things in perspective and not shoot ourselves in the foot by denying ourselves the opportunity to move the nation forward when we have a committed president who is willing to do so. Just my two cents……

(THE WAY FORWARD) Step 1: Adopt fiscal conservatism as a policy

Fiscal discipline -CartoonI had made a promise (yes, I know) in my last blog which is now long overdue to fulfill and as such, this will be the first in a series of articles where I will be suggesting, addressing and proffering solutions and policies aimed at resolving national issues and moving the nation forward. Since I intend to start this series by suggesting the adoption of fiscal conservatism as a policy, let me take the time to define the term ‘fiscal conservationism’. Fiscal conservationism is a political/economic philosophy that calls for lower levels of public spending, lower taxes and lower government debt. Fiscal conservatism advocates the avoidance of deficit spending and ensures balanced budgets. It also calls for the reduction of overall government spending (mostly wasteful expenditures) which in turn reduces or even eliminates national debts altogether. Fiscal conservatism is simply concerned with the demonstration of fiscal responsibility and as such, is not such an oddball or a strange approach to governance as one might suppose. It is actually the proper way to run a nation and a government – private companies and corporations practice it everyday to ensure profit and growth!

An interesting thing which is worthy of note is that the current government of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, has so far demonstrated an attitude and a propensity which gravitates towards this very fundamental ideology. It is most certainly something which I believe is worthy of commendation. It is my sincere hope that such policies will be formally pursued, developed and deployed in a meaningful and wholesome manner so as to ascertain that the nation makes a full economic recovery and thereafter continues to reap the long term benefit and reward of responsible management.

Fiscal healthAs mentioned earlier, fiscal conservatism calls for lower levels of public spending and waste, lower taxes and a lowering of government debt (where outright elimination of such debts is unfeasible). If the current federal government were to formulate policies in this direction, the main thrust of such policy should first of all deal with a drastic reduction of the overhead and cost of running the Federal Government of Nigeria. Recently, the Federal budget for the year 2014 specified a N911.96 billion in deficit spending. In the preceding year, the story was no different. To cover these deficits, the Federal government took on an external debt of N577 billion in 2013 and borrowed N571 billion the following year (2014) – this, despite record earnings from petroleum export in the last five years! In 2013, the recurrent expenditure spending accounted for 68.1% of the entire federal budget. In 2014 the same accounted for 72.71%. One has to wonder where that leaves us in regard to our quest for development? With the fall of Oil prices and the consequent reduction in government earnings, Buhari’s administration must make the necessary adjustment and rein in unnecessary government expenses and expenditures. In developing a process to shrink such overhead cost, the FGN must also ensure that recurrent expenditure is also reduced to a more practical and palatable figure of 60% or less of the total Federal budget.

Secondly, the process for the appropriation of budgetary allocations for all Federal departments should be structured to demand a well-defined and laid out appropriation process whereby annual objectives and plans are laid out for each department, proposals are reviewed and defended by each of the federal department’s head before appropriate budgetary allocations are approved. Approved allocations should ideally comprise of budgetary tranches which have been specifically purposed within the various budgetary subdivisions and which shall demand strict adherence in its implementation throughout the fiscal year. Considering the fact that past governments in Nigeria have had an abominable track record and a long history of failure with regards to fiscal discipline and the implementation of budgets, this requirement which calls for stricter micro-management measures should not come as a surprise to anyone.

FGN expenditureThe quest to shrink the Federal government’s overhead and reduce recurrent expenditure is a fundamental strategy that is vital and key to the central objective of achieving economic growth through the demonstration of fiscal responsibility and discipline. This strategy is necessary for boosting the nation’s capacity for capital investment thus inducing fast paced development which could be engendered through tailored policies and sound investment decisions. As it is, Nigeria requires and demands a massive injection of investment capital in order to bring its infrastructure to 21st century standards. The most sensible and feasible way for the Federal government to achieve this is through a demonstration of fiscal discipline which not only frees up critical funds and capital for crucial development initiatives but also boosts private investor confidence thus leading to an inflow of needed private capital.

In order to achieve its twin objective of reducing overhead cost and shrinking the annual recurrent expenditure, the current administration must necessarily develop and adopt policies which are not only effective in attaining the end objective but are also quite simple and straightforward to implement. It is my opinion that the aforementioned fiscal objectives could be achieved by implementing a three pronged process which is summarized below:

  • The first aspect to achieving this objective calls for a drastic reduction in the FGN’s size through the elimination and merging of unnecessary cabinet portfolios. I believe cabinet portfolios should be reduced to include only necessary Federal Ministries which in turn demonstrates and reflects the administration’s priorities and focus. Along with numerous existing Federal Agencies and Commissions, this ministries should cover all vital areas of Federal oversight. I propose the approval of the following ministry portfolios for Buhari’s administration:
    – 1) Ministry of Justice
    – 2) Ministry of Finance
    – 3) Ministry of Defense
    – 4) Ministry of Health
    – 5) Ministry of Education
    – 6) Ministry of Agriculture
    – 7) Ministry of Foreign Affairs
    – 8) Ministry of Home Affairs (Internal Affairs)
    – 9) Ministry of Petroleum Resources
    -10) Ministry of Telecommunication
    -11) Ministry of Trade & Commerce
    -12) Ministry of Power & Energy
    -13) Ministry of Transportation
    -14) Ministry of Works & Infrastructure
  • We cannot forget the Federal capital Territory (FCT). So let us make that the 15th ministry cabinet.
  • The second aspect of this objective should entail the development and implementation of a Federal Employee Identification Program (FEIP). FEIP is a program which when adopted will allow the FGN to identify and assess the ‘true’ size of its workforce so that a commensurate estimation and projection of the overhead cost could be made. It is also critical to note that FEIP is designed to eliminate all redundant claims, criminal claims and Ghost-workers from the balance sheet. This program shall also serve as a test-bed and a first step towards the implementation of a proper National Identification program
  • The third and final aspect of the objective entails the implementation of a program called Federal Employee Re-Qualification Initiative (FERQ). The premise and essence of this initiative is simple and absolutely necessary. For the past 30 years, Nigeria has had to contend with the detrimental and negative impacts of corruption, nepotism, cronyism and the gradual erosion of standards to the point where, quite frankly, the nation is in crisis with low expectations being ubiquitous. Mostly, our affairs are constantly at loss and in complete disarray simply because of the prevalence of unqualified or untrained personnel, quacks and charlatans being put in critical positions. it goes without saying, that standards must be restored before the nation can start moving forward! The objective and aim of the FERQ initiative shall be to raise the standards of performance in federal positions, to eliminate unqualified personnel and to prevent shoddy and substandard outputs by re-qualifying all federal employees. This policy shall pave the way for building strong national institutions which will in turn usher in an era of professionalism, high standards and strong work ethics!

It is my sincere belief that If the current administration were to adopt and implement the policies and initiatives listed above OR ones similar to these, then the nation will be well on its way to full recovery from years of debilitating social malaise and unmitigated decadence. Without any equivocation, I make bold to say that with committed and dedicated leadership, Nigeria could most certainly make a turnaround and be well on its path to regaining the respect, admiration and high regards that has been accorded it in the past with the full restoration of its leadership role in the African continent, which has of recent been questioned. Just my two cents……

Agenda for the future……

NationbuilderFor more than 48 years now (since 1966), Nigeria has in reality been a country of several nations – one without a common vision, and whose internal rules and structures have been left undefined and under-developed thus subjecting it to the vagaries of ethnic, military and political manipulations.

In the 55 years since the nation’s independence, the country has remained an anomaly lacking in the structures required for a veritable nation. It is my firm belief that with the prevailing state of decadence, dissatisfaction, inequality, pockets of unrest and uncertainty, …what Nigeria needs and has indeed needed for a long time, above all others, is sound leadership that is unwavering and unalloyed in its commitment to building a viable and veritable nation. Nigerians need leadership that is not afraid to make the tough decision to establish order by eliminating the influence of ethnic politics and in the same breath adopting nationalism as a policy and end objective. The adoption of nationalism as a policy is the only way to forge Nigeria into a true nation.

It is my greatest hope that with the advent of General Muhammadu Buhari as the elected president of Nigeria, that such leadership may very well have been realized. It is therefore paramount that well-meaning citizens and national groups join in the vision and effort to encourage a rebirth and a new beginning for our fatherland. The new political dispensation is the very first child of the people’s long struggle for political emancipation – It is the first time in the nation’s history that the people’s will has prevailed against entrenched oligarchic control and vested interests!

We, the Nigerian people, must develop a compass by which we must steer our national policy and polity to become one nation, with one common future and a proud singular identity. It is no secret that the current state of affairs leaves much to be desired in this regard. We must realize therefore that all citizens, regardless of creed, culture and ethnicity, are equal partakers and stakeholders in the determination of the nation’s future and as such, each individual’s participation will foster a new spirit of cohesion thereby causing a re-awakened sense of purpose and national pride within.

It is such hope and re-invigoration that gives birth to a new nation characterized by hope and unprecedented economic growth. It is by this means that mutual developments in all spheres of national endeavor and requisite social safety nets are created. After much deliberation, based on careful estimations and on policies which are mutually reinforcing. I have set out to lay down objectives and policies which if vigorously pursued, could help the incoming government to attain success – the aim of which is the attainment of the citizen’s aspiration and a common vision for a united, strong, viable and economically progressive nation which upholds truth, justice and equality as an ideal.

In the next few weeks, I am going to embark on a series of titles called; ‘The way forward….’. With this series I intend to pick on and recommend policies and objectives for the new administration, coupled with suggestions and ideas on the best possible way (in my opinion) to move the nation forward and how to best implement such ideas. As things stand right now, I have been able to compile twenty (20) such objectives and policies which I believe are absolutely crucial and necessary for the nation, if we are to move forward and achieve our dreams and aspiration for the fatherland. It goes without saying however that such ideas must also be feasible and attainable, for it to be worthwhile. I do honestly believe that such policies and objectives, if clearly laid out and implemented, could very well stand as a blueprint for a winning nation.