IN response to the first part of this series published last week somebody asked a rhetoric question:” why is it that despite being the only governor that published the monthly account of his government for public scrutiny you are still being accused of financial impropriety?” The person asked another incisive question: ”why is that when anyone is in power he forgets totally the beautiful things he sees whenever he travels abroad and makes no effort to replicate them back home while in power, only to remember with great admiration how beautiful those systems work after leaving office?” He was not done yet, he asked another question:” what can OUK do differently to strengthen the weak institutions?”
Before I respond to the questions above, it will be expedient to publish a very intelligent feedback I received on the series of last week, which is being concluded this week. This is the first time I am publishing any kind of feedback in this column since it was born in 2007, even though I receive scores of them weekly.
Here it goes: “Dear OUK, I have always read your bits on this forum with keen interest. I had once urged you to step up the tempo and fill the gap of a political leader for Ndi Igbo. On your last article, you have made some great points, but I wish to call attention to two books: Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, and Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson. The summary is that at different levels, we have instituted EXTRACTIVE political and social institutions that now pave way for EXTRACTIVE economic institutions. I believe what our dear nation needs, as a matter of urgency, is cleansing. Both the leaders and the led keep paying lip service to the solutions to the problems. In a country where we have enthroned mediocrity and falsehood to the extent that the literate, lazy, and daft all of a sudden ‘hit’ money and become a power broker, how do you expect the opposite to feel and behave?
No one questions sources of wealth or queries the integrity of leaders….There is so much to be said about our bad situation, but I think we need deep examination of conscience. I will not subscribe to the continuous comparison of Nigeria to the Western world because most of those that feel the pain of bad economy, do not know what the inside of an aircraft looks like. So, how can they miss a breakfast they never knew about? I am talking about the common man. His needs are basic, which subsequent administrations over time have not addressed. Nigeria can easily be fixed with HONESTY. It will be transformed if our patriots that stashed money away can retrace their steps.”
The foregoing submissions suit the topic under consideration. However, what I intend doing is to address the questions raised by the first submitter then strengthen the arguments made by the second. In both circumstances I will keep my eyes on the crux of the matter.
The first question as to why leaders fail to replicate what they see abroad back home. Let me speak for myself. When I was the governor of Abia State from May 29, 1999 to May 29, 2007, we faced many competing challenges. The most crucial was how to provide social infrastructure that would later drive the economy of the state. Despite inheriting three months’ arrears of salaries and several years of unpaid gratuities and pensions, including a general debt portfolio of N8.3 billion, we hit the ground running. In the first 8 months we had succeeded in clearing all the arrears of salaries and an appreciable percentage of the unpaid gratuities and pensions. Within the same period we built 6 quality roads in Aba, stabilized the economy of state, and provided the architecture for watertight security across the state.
Our overall objective was to work within the limit of our financial capability to develop Abia State and make it the pride of the east. Without sounding immodest, I can state here that we achieved our objective by the time our tenure ended.
Don’t mind the machinations of our detractors we achieved so much for Abia State in every sphere of the state’s economy. Take for instance sports, we excelled, winning the elusive African Soccer Championship Cup back-to-back for Nigeria for the first time in 38 years after it was started. This was apart from our exploits in the local league and challenge cup.
Our exploits in soccer came about as a result of our determination to build lasting legacies in the sector. The institutions we built to manage our successes in sports were so strong that if properly managed would have taken the state to greater accomplishments. Unfortunately, the administration that took over from us did not see any wisdom in sustaining these institutions. This is responsible for the poor performance of the state in local and international competitions in recent times.
Even in the area of roads, we excelled. We built new roads and reconstructed existing ones to make life better for our people. Surprisingly, all the roads were allowed to deteriorate by my successor in order to discredit me, without considering the pain and agony he was cursing our people. Painfully, many of the roads, including all the roads in Umuahia Capital City that are plied today in Abia State were built by our administration. The same thing happened in other areas such as housing (the Ehimiri Housing Estate built and allocated to civil servants and other categories of persons), education, security and regular payment of salaries.
On employment, we created many job opportunities and sent many youths that were hitherto involved in all kinds of misdemeanours to different schools and skill acquisition centres. At the last count, we created 10,000 jobs.
Our achievements in office, though not generally appreciated, are yet to be beaten by any administration after ours. The last administration was an abysmal failure. All it was able to achieve in eight years with the close to one trillion naira allocations it received from all sources was to peddle unfounded lies against Orji Kalu. In fact, no day passed for the eight years he was in charge as governor that my name was not mentioned derogatorily for upward of 10 times. What was my sin?
We made effort to replicate some of the good things we saw abroad, but there was not sufficient money. The first one billion naira allocation we received from the federation account was in the last quarter of 2005 – less than one and half years to our exit. We ran the affairs of the state with accountability, openness and the love of our people in mind. We never did anything anyhow. We were meticulous, focused and painstaking in our actions. That was why we were able to maintain a round-the-clock security across the state for eight years. The security architecture we designed was capable of outliving our government. But my successor could not sustain it. And that is why the state has remained at siege by armed robbers and kidnappers.
Our agricultural programme was about the best in the country at the time. We planted thousands of hectares of palm, cashew, pineapple, rubber and other food crops. We grew enough to satisfy local needs of our people and export.
Life in Abia State was generally very good then. Civil servants and other categories of workers got their pay and promotions when due, and attended courses regularly, which enhanced their productivity.
For the ordinary citizens of the state, including market men and women, they lived and did their business in an atmosphere of congeniality and progress.
On the question about what I could do differently. I am a very committed and courageous person. I stand for what is right at all times. It is always very difficult to make me shift grounds on what I believe in strongly. Those who have encountered me closely would attest to that. It is very sad that some persons have refused to understand my kind of person. I do not harbour any ill-feelings against anybody. I forgive as easily as I am offended.
But there is something also unique about me: I fight against injustice with all the strength and resources I can muster. It was this die-hard posture that almost made former President Olusegun Obasanjo destroy my business. He used state machinery to go after me and my supporters simply that I opposed his third term bid. In all that he did to cow me, I remained unfazed.
My worry is that our dear nation has the capacity to grow into a global giant if we had had visionary leaders in the closest past. Corruption and self-aggrandisement have constituted an impediment to national advancement. What is the big deal in building strong institutions that will grow the economy and stand as buffers to our fledgling democracy? The beautiful things we see in the UK, United States and, indeed, the whole of Europe were not built in one day. It took years of planning and enforcement.
As the sixth largest producer of crude in the world Nigeria does not have any reason not to be great. We have sufficient resources to provide regular power and other good things of life for our people. What has probably held us back is poor leadership. A strong and energised leadership would naturally produce strong institutions and vice versa.
The money stashed away by Nigerian leaders, past and present, will be enough to provide at least 60% of our needs, including regular electricity, security, food and shelter. These are the most pressing needs of an average Nigerian.
The Military is an important institution in Nigeria that has played visible role in the socio-political development of the country. It is one of the institutions that contribute to the development of any nation. No nation with a weak military can be adjudged a great nation. Russia, the United States, Germany, United Kingdom, China, and France have very strong armies. The strength and popularity of these countries are measured by their military.
What Russia did in Syria in the last one year showed how sophisticated and deadly its military could be. Russia launched some guided missiles from the Caspian Sea, thousands of kilometres away, to some targets in Syria. It succeeded in achieving its mission with precision and deadliness.
The confidence of the United States in global issues emanates from its democratic ethos, functional system, immense influence on other countries of the world, buoyant economy, sophisticated military, awesome technological prowess, etc. These are the things the developing countries of the world lack.
The closest the developing nations have come to technological advancement is the importation of weapons of mass destruction from the developed countries. With these weapons they have threatened to destroy one another and set the world on fire. Iran and North Korea’s nuclear projects have continued to threaten the peace and unity of the whole world.
From the foregoing it is easy to understand why the strength of any nation is measured by its strong institutions.
I must state here that I am not strange to building strong institutions. I have done so with many of my business concerns scattered all over the world. The brands I have developed over the years – especially in the past 20 years – have become household names, making their impact felt in the business world. In SLOK, for instance, we have branches in over 30 countries with over 3000 workers. These workers are well remunerated. And this has motivated them to work harder for the good of the company.
So, when somebody asks how differently I can do things the person is asking a familiar and obvious question. I can do things in many different ways. Growing a company with a very modest beginning to a very gigantic global player is not a tea party. I am determined to leave behind legacies for which generations unborn can be remembered.
When people try to drag my name in the mud all I do is remain focused and unshaken, because I know that the God I serve will always vindicate me. For the close to 27 years of my political career I have faced very difficult challenges. Each time solution had come from the divine.
Nigeria can build strong institutions by first embarking on citizenship education and moral rearmament. This will make them more patriotic in their duties to the nation and their fellow human beings. The level of indiscipline and moral decadence is such that if nothing concrete is done to address them, then we might as well bid our young democracy bye-bye.
It is a thing of joy that the present government has intensified the war against indiscipline and corruption. How far it can go depends on how serious it takes the war. Nigerians are very amenable people. But for them to obey there must be a convincing attitude on the part of the formulator of the policy. Unfortunately, our leaders dwell more on rhetoric and less on transformative action.
Nigeria has reached a stage where things must be made to work, no matter whose ox is gored. As indicated in the first part of this series, our electoral system needs immediate overhaul. Getting our elections right is the first step to building strong institutions that would contribute to the growth of the nation, particularly our democracy.
While it took the United States over 240 years to be where they are today, it will definitely take Nigeria more years to attain the same status. However, if we redouble our effort and work with greater vigour, we will attain greatness faster. What I am deeply convinced about is that the days and months ahead will be quite difficult, but in the end we will shine. Nothing good comes easy. The sufferings of Nigerians have reached a stage that palliative measures should be introduced to reduce their burden. This should be the immediate task facing the President.
Our ultimate hope is that by the time the President serves out his tenure Nigeria will be in a better position to compete more favourably with its contemporaries across the world.