For a president coming to power under the mantra of change, President Buhari is being asked to start the change from within by changing the Minister in charge of Budget Planning for the budget fiasco and the embarrassment caused the president.
The man putting the president to task is Dr. Olatunde Ayeni, Chairman of Skye Bank Plc and a foremost businessman, entrepreneur and a boardroom leader spearheading the acquisition and the return of old NITEL under a new name and a new spirit.
I was with Dr. Ayeni for nearly 90 minutes talking about boardroom leadership and sharing his experience at Skye Bank and other boards which he chairs. Of course, every reader of this column knows about the book I am working on: Boardroom Leadership and Corporate Governance from the Nigerian experience.
From the boardroom we switched to the subject of life—what it takes to succeed in business and in life. First, what advice will he give to young Nigerians wanting to make it in life? Next, how does he see the Buhari leadership? Does he pity the president for the uneasy crown he is wearing? Excerpts from the Ayeni interview:
My advice for Nigerian youths wanting to go into business has always been: remove greed from your system. Be committed to whatever you are doing which is tantamount to hard work. Hard work and focus. And also have faith in God. When people have a temporary breakthrough, if you are not hard-working enough, it would remain temporary. They would fizzle out. And if you also have faith in God and there is no hard work attached to it, you would only be left with your fasting and prayers. So the three elements must work together. I am a believer in the Almighty God. Even the Holy Book says labourers deserve their wage—which means that you must work to deserve your wages. If you work hard, with the blessings of God you can be anything. And that is why you have seen people who when they started had no shoes but they got to the pinnacle of the society.
Most of the time, what takes us away from the reality and what leads to rancorous environment, is greed. If you are able to overcome the spirit of greed, that would be a great blessing, because we are very greedy in this country. People want to acquire everything. It’s a winner-takes-it-all society. Once you are greedy, every other vice including selfishness would key in. That is what we experienced in our political space resulting in where we are today. For me, I appeal to the younger ones to train their spirits not to be greedy. You have to be determined not to envy that your friend. You have to be determined not to reap where you didn’t sow. Because if you hear your friend has a contract of one billion, you want him to start sharing with you. If he doesn’t, you start planning for his fault. For me, remove greed, be hard-working and committed and have the fear of God. Those are the keys to success. With that, you will get to where you want to go in life.
You ask: Do I pity Mr. President? Who am I to pity the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? I don’t pity him. I admire his zeal. But my advice also is that he and his team must grow slightly above sentiments and put the right things in place. I have an attitude which is: Hire and fire. I can hire anybody from anywhere. If you do the job well, I keep you. If you don’t do it well, I fire you. I have no sentiments. And there is nothing called absolute trust in business. The basis of the trust is the result. If the result doesn’t come out well, you see the consequences. If it comes out well, you see the reward. Let me give the example of the budget. If there is a problem with the budget, what is the Minister of Budget still doing in office when you fire a permanent secretary? For me, it’s a question that I ask. You should take the first heat.
In my early days, there used to be a stabilizer that is shaped like a ball. We call it Binatone. It’s meant to protect the television against surge. But then, when the surge is heavy, the Binatone will not blow up, the television would blow up. How you know you have a bad stabiliser is when your television that is it is meant to protect blows up. But the Binatone is still alive. So the question for me: Is the minister in charge of the budget like Binatone? It is for us to answer it? If he is, Nigerians must learn to take responsibility. When you have failed, if you don’t go, you should be pushed out. It is the Binatone that must suffer, not the television. Even if the television will suffer, they should both suffer. Tell me, where is the moral right—with all this crises—for you to present a budget where the integrity of Mr. President has now been put to test, to the extent that the President is making a statement in a foreign land that he was embarrassed? What is the minister in charge of the budget doing? Did you not see it before you gave an advice to the President? People should take responsibility for the actions on inaction. In law, we say ignorance is no a defence. Excuses like “I did not know, I did not hear, I did not check” is not a defence. But the point is this: the President must also be there to say: “Look, take responsibility for your action.”
If you are not ready to, somebody must be there to tell you to take responsibility. The minister in charge is a fantastic person. He is a lawyer and he has an impeccable integrity. But where you goofed, you must face the music. Every day in our life is very important. You get older, you don’t get younger. There is no opportunity for giving a second chance to people. When I was doing my A-levels during President Babangida’s early days in office, what was in the vogue was Structural Adjustment where people were told to manage and that we’ll soon get over it. Conditions have continuously got worse. We are still trying to get over it, until I am almost 50. Is this how we are going to continue until I pass away at old age? And somebody else still comes and the generation after us would still be trying to get over it? The point I make is this: We must determine where we want to go in this country. When people start taking responsibility for their actions and inactions, things would sort themselves out.
Back to your question, do I sympathise with President Buhari? I don’t. Because he must set the rules of the game. So that he can get less stress. If somebody is fired for any action or inaction at the highest level, many will learn from that. I believe the mistake the PDP made when they fielded the former President Jonathan, if they have a second chance, I don’t think they would do it. When people are fired, it is a learning curve that if I have the opportunity again, I won’t do it. When you fire somebody, the next person who is coming would avoid the mistake of his predecessor. But when people lobby and they escape the consequences, then others will also believe that they can commit an offence and get away with it.