Egube: Development Requirements Cannot be Met By Aid

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Mr. Sam Egube, who is the chairman of Alt Assist Limited, a Lagos-based consulting firm, was part of the committee that drafted the local content policy. He recently published a book on wealth creation titled ‘Thoughts from a Wealthy Perspective’. Egube speaks with Sandra Ukele on the need for the federal government to re-strategise its stance on the fight against corruption saying it should not be a national strategy

In your view, the defeat of corruption does not guarantee prosperity. What do you mean by that?

There are many factors that come together to produce prosperity; corruption is not one of them. The prosperity of a people or nation is tied to their productivity not necessarily their morals. Certainly there are many vices that tend to challenge the ability of people to be productive; things like tribalism over performance and competence, religious extremism, lack of trust and purpose of the nationals, weak leadership, largely unpredictable justice systems, weak education system and certainly corruption, yet some nationals have prospered despite these challenges. I understand Nestle for example runs their most efficient and profitable operation globally, here in Nigeria, despite the acclaimed corruption levels.

Certainly morally good people are not necessarily productive people nor do they always run great enterprises. Removing a negative vice will not automatically assure its replacement with a positive habit. I actually believe that prosperity is the biggest tool in fighting corruption and cannot therefore be dependent on its elimination. Except of course we define corruption broadly (beyond morals) as everything in the mind and thoughts of men, which do not positively encourage productivity. An example is the state government holding to a tradition of receiving a share of income from the federal government unconnected to the productivity of the people resident there, their level of innovation or their contribution to the federation. Another example is the idea of state of origin over state of residence that ties one permanently to a location that may hold no trace of his productivity; having to commit politically to a location where you may have no economic footprint or stake.

This is not a statement against the current war against corruption but an attempt to moderate national expectation from the effort and direct focused concurrent set of actions that actively support habits and orientations that favor production because even if we succeed in eliminating corruption, its defeat does not automatically result in productivity.

In your book, “Thoughts from a Wealthy Perspective” you said ‘Africa has stayed in poverty for so long it still uses the tools and language by which aid is attracted to capture investments.’ How true is that?

As a continent we have grown and developed under a culture of expectation for aid from external sources. We have been branded as the poor and dark continent, needing help and unable to help herself. Unfortunately what is required for development is so huge and cannot be met by aid. Aid is akin to alms, when people give alms, they do so from their wallet but when they invest they do so from their bank balances. People seldom borrow to give aid, but they would, if necessary to make an investment.

The language with which aid is attracted, which we have mastered is different from the language with which investments are attracted. While you speak of your weakness to attract sympathy for aid, you speak of your strength and opportunity to attract faith for investments. “I beg” is not a language for investment as investors pursue their own self interests not yours, they need a return and they have competing destination options. Accepting that our nation as fantastically corrupt may attract aid but will scare investors. Let the weak say I am strong seem a better proposition for attracting investment. We need to do what is necessary and present ourselves appropriately to attract investment not frustrating investors from the gates, or imagining a cumbersome civil service and processes is something of value to prospective investors.

Recently, the federal government affirmed the economy was technically in recession. As an expert, what strategies do you suggest the government employ to salvage the economy?

The government is attempting a lot already from the fiscal and monetary policy standpoint; unfortunately these steps are coming quite late in our national life, requiring therefore a lot of patience and endurance on the part of Nigerians. A lot still need to be done. We need to diversify the economy from a mono product economy. We should explore more deliberately both agriculture and in-country value added food processing. We should then expand the Nigerian content act and policy into every productive sector of the economy. We have in my opinion been abysmal with solid minerals, we need to formalise it rather than keep it at an informal level to favor only a few informal and illegal miners. It is beginning to appear ironically deliberate.

I also think we should approach the petroleum sector as energy source rather than an income source. As energy source we would focus on it as an input resource for value added production; this will then influence the way we invest in it. A reduced oil price should then mean reduced energy cost making our production even more efficient like in developed countries. We must also resolve the power crisis. We also require a civil service performance management system with consequence. They should be providing service rather than frustrating every thing requiring their attention. We have an army of civil servant behaving likes civil lords with impunity.

Given the time these policies take to yield results, we need a communication strategy that engages the average citizen in terms they can understand. We should show in their language what they should expect to see happen in their region based on government action, messages that motivate and mobilize for action and outcomes that are identifiable and measurable. We must vigorously push messages that unify us rather than divide us as a united and motivated nation is required to rally people to be productive and retain national pride.

Finally we need to consider governance and economic structures restructure within a united Nigeria that pushes productive responsibility largely to federating unit from the center and reduce the cost of governance.

The federating units should contribute to the federation rather than just get a share from it largely unconnected to the productive performance of the states or its people. Every federating unit has been deskilled and made to embrace unproductive habits due to the lack of responsibility on their part. Every state can be very productive let’s challenge them.

The country has recorded an upsurge in religious crisis. The lynching of people by members of the other religious sect is on the rise. What do you think religious leaders can do to curb these vicious acts?

Peace is better than the sound of war. We have seen what is happening in Syria. Nobody wins. Our unity in peace is more important to Nigeria than our religion. The truth is, we Nigerians are not religious enemies even though politicians and careless religious leaders seem to feel erroneously that fanning conflict is their way to accentuate and show leadership to their followers. Religious leader should lead the people of Nigeria to peace and unification rather than drive a divisive agenda. They should fight against extremism of all kinds. Sometimes it comes with pain and inertia for trusting, given the history of religious tolerance and failed truces. This is the sacrifice I seek from our religious leaders. We are not a people of violence, there is something definitely wrong. The education of the Nigeria of our dream must continue in the various worship centres.

The youths seem to believe that to become wealthy depends on only one major hit, and they are poised to get only that one hit without acknowledging the importance of patience. In your own words how would you advise the youths to employ perseverance in whatever they do and not wait endlessly for that hit (if it ever comes)?

It is a shame; we were not always like this as a people. This sudden hit syndrome is the result of a loss of confidence in the future and our justice infrastructure. Our politicians and business leaders buoyed by the poverty in the country have also been unhelpful. The truth is that process is part of development and growing is the best way to grow.

There are several stages where youths are historically trained to adopt great habits. Some religious leaders have also not supported the acculturation of the youths to wait for their process and time, neither have parental guidance engaged effectively. I have seen parents trying to help their children cheat. I encourage the youths that process and time only help to make their achievement sustainable.

How can the poor rise to become rich?

The poor can become rich, if they do the things and adopt the habits and work ethics of the rich. Rich people think differently. The rich were mostly not born that way, they have become wealthy by giving value but the poor think receiving value is their way out. The poor need to take more responsibility for the outcomes of their lives than they are currently doing.

I also encourage Nigerians not to take the right from the poor to be productive. The idea of alms while helpful, sometimes make the poor remain in a perpetual dependent mode, which is not helpful. Instead of giving alms as the primary way of supporting the poor, we should build great businesses, which give the poor a platform to be productive. This is more dignifying.