Former Governor Peter Obi’s delivery at ‘The Platform’ might have been the most reviewed of the contributions to national debate – his model on governance is largely defective, writes Olawale Olaleye
The Platform, a forum initiated by popular Pastor Poju Oyemade of the Covenant Christian Centre, was arguably the best gift anyone or group had extended to the country during her Independence anniversary celebration in recent years. Titled “The Economic Value of Nigeria and How Nigeria Can Be Made to Work”, The Platform, an annual interventionist approach to the Nigerian project provides an avenue to address some issues of national importance as well as charting the way forward. This particular edition was no less the biggest intellectual show of the year.
Apart from parading the crème of the society and some of the best talents of this age, the level of intellectual discourse assumed another dimension and indeed, Pastor Oyemade might have been challenged for a better edition next year, whose preparation, without any iota of doubt, must commence immediately. That’s the way organised and progressive minds operate. They always accord time its place in the planning process.
However, of all the speakers, former Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi’s contribution appeared to have tickled the spontaneous fancy of a majority of those, who were either present at the venue or watched the live streaming. That singular intervention appeared to have altered completely, if not coloured, this year’s edition. It gave it some unintended approval.
Obi, who addressed the need to curtail what he described as mindless waste in government, gave what in his own words, were practical examples of the degree of waste that goes on in government and how as governor, he cut them to size. He earned unsolicited applause almost at every juncture in his delivery. There is no doubting the fact that he was right about the degree of waste in government and the compelling need to reduce same especially at a time like this, when the economy is in near comatose. Hence, for every issue he threw up, he had a personal example to chip in and justifiably so.
First off, it is true that the burden that some states bear in the name of presidential lodges and all of the needless emulation of more buoyant states are sincerely unnecessary. In reality, they often do not need them. Any day, anytime, a debate on bullet proof cars is neither here nor there. Besides, if the United States President is visiting any country of the world, he will certainly come with his own bullet proof car, no matter the type the host country is providing.
So, ideally, the Nigerian president could have come with at least one bullet proof from his fleet, when visiting any part of the country. But the problem with Obi’s prognosis is that in trying to look good or appear to stand aloof from the maddening crowd, he told a few ‘lies’, thus exaggerating some of those things he called practical examples. Ironically, the ‘lies’ resonated with the audience and it seemed like the ‘truth’ the audience wanted to hear.
Talk about the cost of feeding in Government Houses or at the presidential villa, to which many people had allocated different costs, depending on how much they envisaged might have been budgeted for it, one thing that is missing here is that your state house is the symbolism of your sovereignty. For crying out loud, the president is not the one eating all the food and drinking the drinks budgeted for. In other words, you are assessed the way you present yourself and it is the same image you’d boast the day you have a visiting president or renowned personality from other climes.
This is why even at the family level, no matter how bad or good a house looks, the tendency that you will be prevented from entering the kitchen is high. The living area is where people are quick to showcase. This is because if you sight the state of the kitchen in some homes, you may never take a cup of water there anymore. But the case is not the same with the living area!
The point being made here is that there are some minimum things that a state house must have and you don’t budget for them in piece meals. For example, you cannot go out every time to buy bed sheets; you can’t also go out to buy pillows in bits and pieces. Likewise, you cannot go out to buy food stuff in that manner. It is done in lump sum, so, the store is stocked in the event of contingencies.
At the time of putting this idea together, the President of Niger Republic, Mahamadou Issoufou was in the country. If at the reception in his honour, he requested for a certain thing you either don’t have or out of stock, are you going to ask him to wait while you rush to Wuse Market, Abuja or a nearby store to purchase it (which is what Obi could do), because you are caught in a bad corner while cutting cost? But if that’s the model the Nigerian people want, then, so be it. But be sure all of these are not being eaten or taken by the president of Nigeria but his guests and by implication, the guests of Nigeria as a sovereign nation.
Here is another worthy example. The Federal Executive Council meets at least once a week and cabinet members would have arrived for the meeting by 9am. Therefore, it is expected that they would be provided, first, a tea break and then later, lunch. Of course, every member of the cabinet can afford some tea and lunch except you want an EXCO, where members come with tea and food flask every Wednesday to the meeting.
The people must be sure of what they want since these are part of the support services in government. Otherwise, if you count it as waste, then you must be ready to give at least two hours break for people to go and eat and come back. But how about the time wasted on account of the lunch break? The two hours would have amounted to sheer waste of executive time during critical deliberations on national concerns.
Everything is about opportunity cost, in other words, you make your choice and stick to it, having sufficiently explored other options. After all, they meet and eat once a week as a team and not an everyday thing, so, why is that a big deal or considered waste in the estimation of anyone? You choose the sort of Bohemian lifestyle you want, it’s your cup of tea, but be sure there would be cost implications too.
It is worthy of mention too that the lunch period usually provides an opportunity for those, who have been itching to meet the president over certain concerns. It is the budget of the state house and the fact that it is the budget does not mean everything will be spent. Yes, sometimes it could be in excess which amounts to waste since some of the items in stock will expire and would have to be disposed of. But that can be addressed by reducing the waste and not see the entire idea as insensible. It is part of support services in governance that enhance the smooth running of government.
It is also important to know that these support services are provided by people, and which help to stimulate the economy at some level, for instance, the persons selling (as small as it is) kola and bitter kola. A majority of cabinet members eat these to stay awake and be attentive. But if you stop it because they do not make sense to you or because you think it is waste, then you might have technically put some people out of job or trade. Any right-thinking person would detest waste, naturally, so cutting the cost of governance is not debatable but not service delivery since the primary purpose of government is to serve.
The convoy matter is another interesting debate. It is true that the fleet of some governors can be an eyesore, if not sheer oppression. But check out the convoy of some sane governors and you would make sense of the combination. For example, a majority of them have ambulances in their convoy as well as back-up vehicles in the case of an eventuality. They don’t have to be used by the governors but they could come in handy. There have been instances, where some governors ran into accident scenes or armed robbery and had to administer first aid on some of the victims rescued as well as convey them to the hospital or move them to safer places.
Had that governor not included an ambulance or a back-up car in his convoy, his timely arrival at the scene would have been of no consequence. There was the story of a governor, who ran into a stranded citizen on the express and at a bad time. He not only offered the citizen the back-up vehicle, he also asked that his security ensures his mechanic gets to the place before leaving. That’s providing leadership, however, insignificant it might seem and it is one of the most effective ways of identifying a responsible leader.
One thing you cannot shy away from in modern day governance is that the governor or president is the champion of the society because he represents the society. But if in the name of reducing waste he left out some of the most important things, then, he would pay for it dearly.
Olof Palme, a former Prime Minister of Sweden, was assassinated on February 28, 1986 in Stockholm because he took certain basic things for granted. Palme was fatally wounded by a single gunshot from some crazy guy, who just wanted to prove a stunt, while walking home from a cinema with his wife, Lisbet Palme on the central Stockholm Street, Sveavägen. He probably thought going there with the usual security combination was a waste and in cutting down the waste, he cut down for good, his own life.
Take for example, if a governor did not have a back-up car and his vehicle developed fault while on an assignment, coupled with a naively pruned security and he ran into the operation of some armed gangs, it is to your tent oh Israel! If the argument on convoy does not take into cognizance these realities, then, it is inconsequential and pretentious, perhaps. You must always strike a balance and that is what Obi’s model failed to achieve in a majority of his accounts.
Let’s go to cutting cost and savings. He claimed not to have borrowed while in office and saved up a lot for his predecessor. That’s enviably some good news. But the question is, from those savings, why did he not pay doctors’ salaries for nearly two years or was he saving it on their behalf? What was the state of infrastructure when he was in office and was saving? In other words, he would rather save and leave the state in decrepit?
How did that benefit his people that their money was in the bank while they groaned under poor development infrastructure? Do not also forget that what he claimed to have left behind in savings became a subject of dispute immediately he left office, but alluding to this could taint the essence of this very intervention. Importantly, there is something curious about his culture of savings. It is not impossible someone was getting some interests on the savings. Just maybe!
Will it also be out of place to find out what bank he chose to save the money for the state and why the bank? Could the governor possibly have some business interest in the said bank to have settled for it? If that’s established, is that not in conflict with certain laws and status?
When you analyse between his model of governance and the one by his successor, Willy Obiano, there is no basis for comparison. Obiano is one of the rising star-governors in the South-east region on account of his serious approach to governance. He is fixing roads and guaranteeing security, which Obi failed to provide in the name of savings.
Look at it this way, Obi claimed he was not borrowing but saving and yet, wasn’t developing infrastructure in his place, but inadvertently stifling investors and discouraging individual involvement in the general development of his state. On the other hand, Lagos, for example, was borrowing and at the same time, developing infrastructure, which was attracting investors and private individuals. Between the two, his people chose to run to Lagos to erect structures and invest, while the state was collecting property tax from them including him and making more money for the state.
In addition, every construction site also created more jobs and that was some kind of stimulus to the Lagos economy about the same period. Strangely, while Anambra was suffering capital flight, Lagos was lounging big in excess of taxes. So, who is smarter or which model is better and effective?
Obi is generally believed to have left Anambra in a state of poor infrastructure, but the Lagos model encouraged the springing up of very good hotels in nearly every part of the state with all sorts of commensurate businesses and economic reactions, further elevating the Lagos standard and status. The same applies to Ogun, which many investors are beginning to see as the alternative to Lagos because of the huge infrastructure development going on simultaneously in the state as well as its proximity as the gateway state.
What then is the big deal about saving – to get your money and put it in a bank? Good, but any idiot can do that. How about water, did he provide one before leaving? What with security, how safe was Anambra in his days? How about roads, what was the state of the roads when he was there? What about healthcare delivery, were the hospitals anything to contend with? What about schools, what sort of school did he leave behind as legacy? How about family life, was an average Anambra family better when he left than he met them?
If this were put in a different perspective, the conclusion would be that Obi was, perhaps, a very lazy governor, if saving at the risk of other demanding challenges was his biggest achievement. Although the monster of the dispute that greeted the exact amount he allegedly left behind would not go away because there was no transparency ultimately, whatever was however left, Obiano put it to work immediately and today, Anambra is better for it, no doubt. Not because Obi saved up for the state but because a better manager of resources assumed office. If anything, making Obiano to succeed him should be ticked as Obi’s biggest achievement.
Obi is better off a treasurer and should not have left the banking hall in the first place since saving is his calling. Like it or not, there will always be waste in government, the same way it is at the family level. The degree of the waste must however be defensible and what an average person can gloss over. That should have formed the crux of his delivery and would have been able to make a lot more sense, interfacing.
A governor, who would rather cross over to the hotel adjacent the Government House for a N5,000 buffet than give his cook N30,000 naira to cook for the entire family, certainly, does not have a grasp of the weight and challenges of his office, hence he could bounce off such inane idea and be applauded as if he was addressing a kindergarten class gathering.
The issue is one of materiality. But to think there won’t be waste in government, come off it. Even in family, there is always waste. In discussing Nigeria, you must learn to discuss how you manage the homes too because Nigeria is no less a family, both in conception and composition.
Again, take a moment and ponder this: as a family, if there is financial crunch and there are assets to make do with, would you not dispose of some of them to defray your debts and move on? What is the essence of accumulating assets and shares in companies when they cannot bail you out in times of need? Isn’t it a fall back option in terms of crisis?
Why is the assets sale debate a big deal when some can be sold off immediately to raise money and get the country back in shape? It is called asset conversion and not anything out of place. Why keep assets as if they are monuments? It is primitive to do so and against basic economic literature and of course, not in collective interest. This is the kind of decision a family takes in unison when confronted with a situation. But getting emotional about it is rather counterproductive.
After all, you can still buy back some of these assets if the economy of the family picks up again. A fraction of the percentage is all that will be put up for sale, so, why the foul cry if this will improve the lot of the county, at least? There is no doubting the fact that assets are valueless if they don’t give or cannot guarantee comfort. Rudimentary economics dictates that you get rid of non-performing assets otherwise, they become a burden. Period!
Relating it in context, why hold-on to four refineries that are not working and keeping as employees, people who are not producing oil, to whom you would be obliged to pay pension and gratuity later in life? Is that how to run a company? Obviously not!
Think about this: when Obama was going to strike the Iran nuclear deal, the opposition against him was legion. But he refused to be distracted because he saw a bigger picture that a majority of those opposed to the idea could not see. Part of his arguments was that they had sanctioned the country for almost 21 years and for that long, no one could move near to either inspect or ascertain what it was up to. But the report he was getting proved that Iran was getting closer to its nuclear destination each day and that was not good for the global peace.
The deal was therefore meant to slow Iran down for at least another 20 years, pending the time the US and others come with another approach to the issue. But if they failed to strike the deal at the time, it would take less than four years to get to the nuclear war destination. He had an opinion and debated it successfully.
Nigeria is evidently broke. The oil installations from which she makes money are being vandalised. The reserve is daily dwindling and yet, everyone is complaining that the economy is inclement. This notwithstanding, you still don’t want assets sold to raise money and get the economy back in shape. Certainly, the Nigerian people do not know yet what they really want.
The recent economic retreat by the federal government with five renowned global economists – all agreeing to assets sales as the way forward was the clincher; it’s a no-brainer. Outside of this, the only obnoxious option would be the IMF loan and if Nigeria goes that route, that would be the end. Remember Greece and Egypt and where they are today.
Standing before a distinguished audience and advancing some archaic economic or governance model in the 21century can only excite a few or at the minimum, those in that category for a fleeting moment. There is much more to taking Nigeria out of the wood as it is than sounding like a Donald Trump on a venerated platform. The model failed Obi himself and is unlikely to do anyone any good. But at least, thanks to Pastor Oyemade’s The Platform for exposing and clearing off this extraneous miasma.
In all, it is convenient to dismiss Obi’s posting as hypocritical and fraught with illogic, because he thought it was sheer waste to cook in his own Government House, but considered it fun to go to others and eat from their waste. He thought it was wasteful to keep extra bullet proof cars for high profile dignitaries but could run to other ‘waste-inclined governors’ for a bail-out. He thought it made no financial sense flying private jets but would haste to join his colleagues and fly with them (because he understood what it meant to manage executive time) and yet, did not share this model with them and let them realise they have been relishing in waste.
If he thought he was smart, he was wrong. He merely suffered sheer foolhardy, which could have earned him nothing but scorn and mockery amongst his peers. Perhaps, he would be delighted to know the impression his colleague-governors hold of him (although he cares less). A majority of them dismiss him as a pretender. They knew of his cheap ploys, they just allowed him to relish in his follies and he thought he was clever by half.
Indeed, a basket – absolutely hypocritical ideology!
In all, it is convenient to dismiss Obi’s posting as hypocritical and fraught with illogic, because he thought it was sheer waste to cook in his own Government House, but considered it fun to go to others and eat from their waste. He thought it was wasteful to keep extra bullet proof cars for high profile dignitaries but could run to other ‘waste-inclined governors’ for a bail-out. He thought it made no financial sense flying private jets but would haste to join his colleagues and fly with them