Sunday Magazine

Utomi: All those talking of structures should be in jail, they stole public funds

 

Prof. Pat Okedinachi Utomi is a political economist and one of the driving forces behind the third force, a combination of political groups aiming to sack the All Progressives Congress(APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) from the presidential election next year. He tells GEOFFREY EKENNA in this interview that next year’s election will decide Nigeria’s future

 

 

There were protests organised by Labour Unions all over the country on Tuesday and Wednesday. They were protesting the continued stay-athome of the students which has lasted for almost six months. What does it look like to you as an educationist?

 

Does it show that there is a government at all? To be very broad and realistic, first of all, it shows that there is a fundamental problem with public policy around education as a starting point.

Secondly, it shows that we have not moved the government to a problemsolving institution. That, if there was a desire to solve it and there have been discussions going on, the magnitude of impact that a time where knowledge is the single most important competitive tool for humanity, the most critical source of generation that this knowledge has been held down for half of a year; certainly, the idea of government cannot be about solving problems because this is the biggest problem facing any person in today’s world-creating the knowledge workerwho will transform society.

Thirdly and very importantly, it is the reflection of the failure of Nigeria’s democracy, total and complete failure. If we can have a government in place that can treat shabbily something that concerns a very significant part of the population and actually expects to win an election, it does not make any sense. In a normal society, the government shouldn’t even file to compete in the next election. It is a complete rejection in normal society but we have them garruling and galloping and making statements about winning an election.

They have no chance in any normal democracy. They will lose every seat. These are just some fundamental issues that we can identify from the situation. If our young people, who constitute the biggest of our nation’s demographic segment can be so treated with a slight of hand the way that what matters to them has been treated, which is education, and their future; again, it speaks to some problems in our democracy if the majority can be run roughshod over by a small collection of power wielders.

The part of the reason there is little care on the part of those who made decisions. By the way, the question without taking a position on the approach of ASUU is that what they are asking for is a small fraction of the amount of money one man, who is the Accountant-General can put away.

At least, from what we have been told. People are actually going to sleep in that government and actually wake up normal that one of them can take away multiples of what all these ASUU struggles is about. It shows that the prioritizing of the essence of government is completely eroded in our extant reality.

So, how do we then deal with this?

Labour is within its rights to go out and demonstrate. The problem I have is that in other places, people don’t seem to understand what is coming together. The country has gone technically bankrupt but politicians are still buying SUVs. I was making a joke about what is going on in Egypt and Nigeria, Al Fatah Assisi is transforming Egypt in an unbelievable way- infrastructure wise.

 

When one goes around Cairo, one can find SUV occasionally and Abuja is the home of the most beautiful SUVs in the world and we are offering nothing. There is something fundamentally wrong about the conception of what leadership means in Nigeria.

It then brings this to a near pervasive state of insecurity across the land; videos going around that all train travellers, who have been in captivity for months now being whipped and the government carries on as if nothing happens. I don’t understand this. It is completely confounding rationality.

We are on the verge of being a failed state, and yet, there isn’t any sense of urgency about it. The Nigerian elite are silent. As a social scientist, I find it as an incredible phenomenon. I wish did nothing else than to sit down and study this. It will be hard to find many parallels in this.

Let’s talk about our debt services as it is shrinking our revenue. The government finally came to agree on what many of us have been saying for a long time. Where does that leave Nigeria, and is there any hope of salvaging where the country is now?

The most powerful tool in life is hope. The alternative language I used for flabby politics or politicians is merchants of hope. In reality, or possibility, it might be possible to reverse these conditions but it can’t happen with the people who are currently in the positions of authority.

Why is it not possible? It is impossible because the world has lost confidence in them, which is one of the most important tools in transacting. The alternative that salvages the situation is trust. The first thing we need is to get the right people who can man the country- a people the world can trust.

 

The Forbes article of May 28, 2019, referred Nigeria as Africa’s money-losing machine. People have reached a point where a combination of the perception of the corruption in the system and the regulatory risk because of regulatory risk. Government is the biggest risk for doing businesses in Nigeria. The political class doesn’t still understand how much damage it has done to Nigeria’s economic possibilities. Somehow, we need to have a process of training politicians to realise the real extent of damage they have done.

Look at the governors, many people will never invest in Nigeria because of the way governors cancel C of Os, try to steal people’s properties for personal reasons.

They don’t understand the circumstances and consequences. We need to build stronger institutions. The world doesn’t trust the kind of people who are running Nigeria today to be able to do that. If you notice, everybody has stopped investing in Nigeria.

They are waiting for other government to come in. Ghana is attracting more investments. I saw a report on the projected growth of Africa Ports. Nigeria Ports were not even mentioned, and I wondered how the Ministry of Transportation would not do anything about this kind of report.

 

Nigerian Ports are supposed to be servicing Namibia, Senegal…. Every day we are losing ground. People are discounting us and our politicians will just carry on as if nothing else has happened. What is happening to Nigeria is a national tragedy.

Are you talking of the past seven years?

It got worse in the past 7 years. It was….the biggest years of economic growth in the past 50 years in Nigeria happened during the Obasanjo regime. Despite its many challenges, those years spilled a little into Jonathan’s regime and it has been massively down hills since then. So is confidence. If there is no confidence in the choices that are being made by those making decisions.

How can we specifically deal with a recovery? It is going to involve first and foremost, beginning to produce. The only thing that can get us out is to produce. We need to do critical things. We have got to get power up. And secondly, we need to gear up investment. How do we do that?

A variety of things need to change. 2023 is critical. If we play the politics that we normally play and somehow bring any of these characters back. We may say we don’t have a choice. We can live with these people that we will be very careful. But we decide to start afresh and see if a new Nigeria is possible, it happened in Brazil in the transition that led to first Fernandez Cardoso becoming president. Brazil became one of the great potential going nowhere to the top six economies in the world. There are possibilities that we can turn things around. First, we need to stop the haemorrhage because it is still leaking.

It is part of what we are saying. There are still stealing heavily, and they still don’t know what the emphasis should be. They are still spending where they should not be spending. Anything in fiscal areas.

So, we need to really check the leakages. We need to begin to produce and we need to take advantage of the new opportunities. I have personally argued for using our latent comparative advantage and trying to dominate certain value chains based on our factor endowment, massively creating jobs and output in our economy. I think it is very possible but we need a change of personnel to be able to grow in that direction.

Talking about change of personnel , I  understand it to mean the two political parties that have held sway since 1999 should be disposed of…

My viewing is that it is imperative that we show red cards to both parties and begin afresh and again. Nigeria needs to begin afresh. I have argued and I can prove that it is not about this or that but structurally, these parties are in the hell hole to make Nigeria make significant progress.

You said we should issue red cards to the big two political parties…

If really we have democracy and we are serious as people, Nigerians have to realise that this time, we need a new beginning-new parties that can be real political parties-that can have specific clever rules that we all can identify with and that can dispense off us of this sharing mind set.

These transactions that lead ultimately to a certain kind of value system that stalls progress. I used to illustrate this as a paradigm that comes of out structure economics that is referred to as conduct structure performance paradigm.

Industry structure affects how a player in that industry behave. If there is monopoly or oligopoly, just like what happened in the banks some years where everybody would take tally number to get N100, then that structure in opening of new banks in the late 80s.

The competition generated new kinds of behaviour, the values and approaches changed. In the same sense, these transactions of if we can rig the election in Southwest or carry ballot boxes in Northeast, then you get Ministry of Petroleum. All these ministers are there for what they can get, not people motivated by how they want to be remembered.

Nigeria can’t make progress with these kind of people. So that change needs to take place. A new type of leadership, a new kind of political party structure and then progress can start.

The big two political parties are boasting that they are the only parties that can win elections. Where does that lead us to within the same circle?

It is their place to boast but it is the place of Nigerians to say that enough is enough. We can’t continue like this. If Nigerians don’t do it, I can bet it with you that it will happen violently. It is already happening violently. It is the way they run Nigeria that is why it is dangerous to go from Kaduna to Abuja now.

That is why there is an insurrection in the North-East and everywhere in the country. They have a choice to either go to the kind of change that leads Nigeria into a building or continue as they are and lead Nigerians to Somalia. I have no doubts that if they win, if Nigeria is not Somalia in a few years, you can come and take back my degrees and I will surrender them.

Labour seems to be the party with the freshest ideas and acceptability, though people say it is accepted on Social Media. The argument of the big two is that your party doesn’t have a structure.

What is a structure? The media helps in sustaining this silly myth…

They say structure means having buildings and people across the country who can rig elections… First of all, what they call structure should have all of them in jail but Nigerians have failed to debate this issue. The structure is stealing public money to maintain private political parties. The people that lead those two political parties should all be jailed, for stealing public money and use to create a  network of rent agents, who go out and extract rent from the system to support rigging to make a party come to power.

The reason why this ‘structure’ matter is that at the polling booth on the election day, it is expected that they will try to rig. So, if there are no soldiers on the ground, that means there is no structure and you will be rigged out. What I am personally promising from the work that we have done, is in every polling booth next year, there will be at least 15, people to support our cause. That is my promise. We have them registered already because Nigerians are fed up. They will discover disruption next year.

One of the finest professors of entrepreneurship of recent times but unfortunately we lost him about 2 years ago- Clinton Christensen. His last book, I believed was a prosperity paradox. He was particularly famous for talking about disruptions.

The change of technology, and other things that we are dealing with in the world now are all disruptions. The only thing that will save Nigeria is disruptive change and that is what I think we will experience next year.

 

How do you plan to do that?

I already told you we plan to have at least 15 agents in every polling booth, and we already have their names. There are volunteers across the country.

…including in the North?

This myth that has been created that we don’t have a footing in the North is wrong. The young people in the North are angrier with this establishment than the young people in the South but because of the way we play this game…

…like Atiku said 90 per cent of the North are not on Social Media…

He doesn’t know what he is talking about. Who are the people that attacked the president’s convoy? They may not be on Social Media but they were able to attack the president’s convoy. Why do they think those same people won’t attack all of them. People are not stupid. They know what is wrong.

 

Specifically, what is Labour party going to do differently from what we have now?

First of all, Labour Party will go for a  massive transformation of the economy in a way that will literally provide jobs across the country. We will focus on education that they have allowed slipping very badly, focus on production, and strategy that will yield new kind of production and opening…….

to take an issue as strongly as the environment to immediately put millions of young Nigerians to work literally from day one of the government. I wrote a piece from Rome last week and it has been published.

The temperature was close to 40C and the British got the highest temperature they have never had in the recorded history of about 41C the world is desperate to solve the problem; a good part of that solution will come from what happen in the Rainforest of Brazil and Africa. The Sahara is rushing forward and jeopardizing the lives of many people.

Stopping the Sahara is a critical issue, just creating a green army will immediately every young Nigerian to work and with the way I have envisioned it, they are going to doing it from 7.30 in the morning and 1.00pm in the afternoon doing environmental job, planting trees, getting rid of the plastic bags and between 1.00pm and 4.00p.m, they will be in skills training programmes.

So, that when those industrial pass are being created, we will have people who have the capacity to move in and enterpreneuring creating and manufacturing businesses, within one or two years of the programme, they can exit into their own production centres bumping up all over the place with limited of industrial policies on specific value chains not the ones that will create….that is the way we will begin to transform our economy.

We will have to curb the appetite for wasteful spending and they have killed education in Nigeria and at a point almost of all us has to send our children abroad to university when we all went to university in Nigeria. We must begin the process of making our universities become excellent, so that we can begin to send our children there. Instead of taking the small foreign exchange to send our children abroad to go and study, there is massive work to be done.

The first thing is that there is going to be patriotic national…not criminal gangs of people just trying to loot for their pockets.

The world is in a fuel crisis. As it is today, almost all our airlines are grounded, and local flights have gone out of the reach of even the middle-class. The problem is that the petroleum industry has been at the centre of the elite crisis. After the military, we built an elite that developed an entitlement mentality, subsided living without a national patriotic sense, having gotten used to easy money and NNPC was the major source of releasing these monies to most of these people.

They have private jet without employing anybody and the costs of that tradition we refuse to measure and it has just simply come in to roast. In Nigeria, once you are into petroleum retailing, they assume you are a very rich man and say this is incredible because the most community commodity business in the world is petrol. It is so community- based that its margin is so thin that in the rest of the world, nobody really makes money on selling petrol.

Oil companies for many years have had to approach; the approach of integrated businesses. When oil prices are high, the upstream ones are very profitable, when oil prices are coming down, the refinery cost is lower and marketing  companies make a little bit more, in being integrated they trade off from one side to the side, that is one approach.

 

The second approach, it has been so long in recognition that the margins are so thin on the retailing, basically if one goes from one station to the other, everybody wants to attract you by lowering their prices, thereby making money, because one must buy petrol to keep moving.

 

You must enter there; they entice you to buy other things. When you are inside, there you must enter their forecourt, they entice you to buy other things when you are inside their forecourt. Mobil will make more money from minimart and a bit from selling petrol, Total from Bonjour, because you must come in to buy petrol. You are in captive market.

Then, they make money off you from the other things they are selling when you have entered, that has been the strategy. So, this business of ours that once you are selling petrol you are rich is because of the corruption in the system, nobody should be rich just because they are selling petrol.

All those models have to crumble, first and foremost, we ruined the refinery because the search for easy money make those in power cannibalise the business of turnaround maintenance. Every market woman, who has connection gets one quarter of one side of the refinery. In the end, they killed the refinery. It is madness that they are saying we need billions of dollars to refurbish the refinery, absolute total lunacy. Give away the refinery for $1 to anybody who is willing to fix it and run it.

The British sold Rolls Royce for one pound. Back in the late 50s and early 60s, a thesis began to revolve in management thinking because when business cycles is down, management is in trouble and when it goes up they are like superstars, businesses began to buy counter…..businesses to diversify. So, that if one of your main businesses is going up and the other one is going down, on the average, you are doing fine.

A lead company in their diversification bid bought company they didn’t know how to run, they found they couldn’t run the business. It was so nuance because they were selling cars and they were willing to pay somebody to take the company. They didn’t sell it. They just wanted the person to manage it for them. Let’s come down to Nigeria. Let’s look for the best refiners in the world to take over our refineries. Just pay $1.

All you have to guarantee us is that you have to refine the petrol here and ship abroad to sell and provide to our local markets. We are going to import to compete against you to curb monopoly in our market. There must be competition.

You will see that after five years, nobody will remember this refinery problems. The market will take care of it. That was the point Clinton Christensen was making in that Prosperity Paradox. The market will create the infrastructure that we require.

How optimistic are you about this election. You have the best candidate. Is Nigeria ready for the change we all desire?

 

We are going to the marketplace and try our value, and what we think is good for Nigeria. If we succeed, it will be good for Nigeria. So long as we are not forced off, if it is our failure to communicate what is good for the people, that is another matter but if we succeed, we succeed. If we fail, we should get ready to die.

 

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