Patrick Okedinachi Utomi, a professor of political economy and management expert, has decried the political class-focused governance practised in Nigeria. He warned that unless governance is given a human face and made people-focused, the country may be heading the way of Somalia. He spoke on other national issues.
National Consultative Front (NCF), a group which you are part of was launched recently, what is that all about?
In a nutshell, the front is not a new thing. Consultations had been going on among different Nigerian groups regarding the state of the nation. In fact, many of such consultations are running and I belong to about four such different groups. But NCF has held several meetings in which several people could have seen and participated in; the meetings were held via Zoom. In the course of the conversations, some fundamental questions about Nigeria and the nature of our politics, governance and economics were raised. I think a greater urgency came to all of these following the realisation that Nigeria is on the verge of near economic disaster. The World Bank has been talking about poverty, the economy and other fears that have been coming. The total confusion in the political class, where everything is about politics at a time when we are at a moral equivalent of economic war, is worrying. The government should be basically about putting all hands on deck and focusing strongly on the actual problems. Unfortunately, those in government are busy squabbling over who will distribute jobs, who will award contracts and who will be in charge of the school feeding programme. Those in power are concentrating on the continuing distractions of politics and the pursuit of frivolities when Nigerians are depressed and the government is almost not functioning. The political parties are in disarray, we are all witnesses to what is going on. So, in the conversations, there was a need for agreement about making things work and how to create a steering group to steer the country towards those goals.
We have seen these kinds of consultative groups before, particularly, just before the 2019 general elections, when the Nigerian Intervention Movement (NIM), aka Third Force, which you also belonged to was floated, why is it that such groups do not make any headway?
It is not that they don’t make any headway. Part of the problem is when they are floated very close to the elections, with their primary motivation being to intervene in that election. This makes it easy for politicians with all the state resources to hijack them and cause confusion by generating fake news to shatter the people and at the end, such organisations would not take concrete form. The NIM was a civil society initiative to bring people together to debate on the best way for us to travel, but it had not even gone anywhere by the time things started. Some groups within the NIM started adopting people and political parties and all that. I remember that I said the formation was too close to the elections and that it should not be about forming or adopting political parties, but about strengthening participation in the system. Anyway, things got worse after the election. But the NCF is beyond a party now, this is about modus vivendi, how do we live as a people? Nigeria is being devalued everywhere on a daily basis. Nigerians in the diaspora are even angrier, ironically, Nigerians are among those that started #BlackLivesMatter in the United States. Nigerians abroad are now trying to refocus that to #NigerianLivesMatter, because the Nigerian government treats Nigerians as if lives don’t have meaning. Nigerian young professionals around the world now want to start demonstrating that #NigerianLivesMatter, until proper elections are conducted. The input of these young professionals has come into our own conversations. So, the NCF is actually about creating a steering group to incorporate those interests. Some interests are on civil society, some on fighting corruption, there are those that are on the structure of government, changing the constitution and on reducing the cost of governance and so on. All these are non-governmental interest organisations working towards the same end; they are not interested in running for office. For those who want to participate in governance, some of us are suggesting that such people can gravitate into existing political parties and be adopted by those parties until we have clear-cut political party ideologies and processes of socialising people into those value systems and then those parties can go out and bid for the attention of Nigerians based on those ideas and hopefully that will redefine our democracy.
In other words, the National Consultative Front has no agenda of transforming into a political party?
No, it is just the media that called it a political group. The interest of NCF is in creating and encouraging true party participation broadly on the ideological spectrum.
You said the NCF was formed because of concerns with the precarious state of the nation; you belong to the All Progressives Congress (APC), the ruling party. How does it make you feel being a member of such a party?
The APC has done me 419, they did many of their members 419, but that is not the issue. The problem is that there is a situation of state capture that has prevented the party from working. Some members of the APC don’t even know what is going on in the party, they don’t make input in the affairs of the party and that was why the APC nearly came to a complete unraveling until there was a subtle intervention. We don’t yet know where that is going, but we are watching.
How do you describe what happened in Edo, your neighbouring state?
It makes me ashamed as somebody who studied political parties that such a thing happened. The roots of the formation of the APC started from a lecture I gave in Abuja in 2012. All the principal leaders of what became the APC were sitting in the front row in the lecture hall that day. What happened in Edo State is the exact opposite of what I said that day regarding what a political party should be.
The Federal Government is talking about creating 774,000 jobs, what is your take on that?
First of all, I think the whole approach to job creation is wrong. That is not how jobs are created, what they are doing is job manufacturing. Job creation must have a productive goal which will stimulate the economy. I know that Trivia Economics suggests that in times when you need to stimulate the economy, you may even need to give people jobs of digging holes and then covering them, just to keep them employed. I think Nigeria has to urgently diversify its economic base. Whatever new jobs being created should be able to lead to this diversification and sustainable growth of the economy. In this regard, therefore, job creation should not be a function of political actors, it should be a function of economic actors. The strategy for me should be based on the comparative advantage of an area. What this translates to in structural economics is that you take factor endowment of that area and look for how you can build up the capacity to dominate global value chain around that environment. For example, if you want to create jobs in Benue State, where you have an abundance of sesame seeds, which is used in making soap, you can increase the production of the seeds in Benue. In the end, you can extract and export to America and Europe where they are needed. This will not only divert foreign exchange away from crude oil, but it will also make the community in Benue better off. This process does not need a political actor but a champion on sesame seed. I think the process the Federal Government adopted is fundamentally flawed and will only lead to sharing the money.
Talking about diversification of the economy, we have been singing that song from the days of Operation Feed the Nation and Green Revolution, yet till date, the economic base has not been diversified. Why?
I believe it is time to put all the rhetoric about diversifying Nigeria’s economy into practice and the way to go about is using the latent comparative advantage, which will allow you to create an industrial policy that is particular to your factor endowment, then you can use that to boost production. Until we can become a production-driven economy rather than consumption or sharing money economy, we will be constrained with being the poverty capital of the world. Apart from the Brooklyn Institution’s ranking that showed that Nigeria has overtaken India to become the global poverty capital, the Bill and Melinda Gates study suggests that in a few years, Nigeria and Congo, will between them have 40 per cent of the poorest people on earth. So, we are in a major crisis that requires thinking people sitting down to work together. In my view, among the areas, we should turn to, if you look at our factor endowments should be agro-allied manufacturing and agro-allied processing and agriculture.
Security and anti-corruption constitute two of the three cardinal programmes of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, but we have seen the country slide down the global terrorism index, the corruption perception index and just recently, the internal security and police index also rated the Nigerian police the most corrupt police formation in the world, what is your take?
It is not difficult to see these kinds of ranking. In the year 2000, an American, Robert D. Kaplan, published a book, ‘The Coming Anarchy’, in which he predicted that given the ethnic and religious cleavages developing in West Africa and particularly in Nigeria, that there is a possibility that the entire sub-region may descend into anarchy. This is not about the system of government in place but about the conditions that exist in the country. This is a country where you have someone buying two or three private jets; this is a country where there are no opportunities, where graduates are roaming the streets with nothing to do. So, it should not be a surprise if we travel down that road to Somalia. It is sad that Nigeria is going down that road to Somalia. This is why there is the urgency for a government where the focus is on the people to take over from the current structure where the focus is on the politicians. Currently, the entire structure of public service is on how we can sustain politicians in their comfort and all people of conscience must realise that we are in a lose-lose situation. Politicians who think that they are being taken care of by the system now will ultimately lose out if we become Somalia. We must get people who speak truth to each other and to power.
Before local governments became a factor in revenue sharing, there were twice more local governments in Southern Nigeria than in the North, but since local governments became a factor in revenue sharing, the political muscle was used to create more local governments in the North. Today, out of the 774 local governments in Nigeria, you have more than 500 of them in the old Northern Region. But we must ask ourselves why the North who gets more revenue is getting poorer than the South? It is because you don’t get rich on revenue, you get rich on production. This is the basic truth we must tell ourselves.