Thursday, February 8, 2007

"Look Both Ways Then Give Fair Judgment" by Nam Mokwunye

As a way of consolidating the debate of the last couple of days, we're introducing this list of the merits and demerits of the OBJ administration for you to consider. This was orginally written by Nam in an email to Misan after, I believe, the two engaged in a rather heated exchange... I'm sure you know already which side Misan was on :-P
Anyway, Nam kindly agreed to let us use his email for the benefit of The Afro Beat, and I have a feeling Derin will be happy to see many of his references laid out here.


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It’s quite easy to become an “arm-chair quarterback or politician or president”—primarily because we suffer few consequences. Because of that, it’s easy for us to judge the president’s administration—partially rather than comprehensively. I would encourage that we resist this temptation, view the full picture and back up our thoughts with facts. Before I continue my entry, I must confess that I do not consider president Obasanjo or any member of his administration a saint of the nation by any means. There is much he has not accomplished for the nation; in fact, many important things (some listed below). However, there are many things his leadership has accomplished.

Among these accomplishments (some of which are “firsts” in 26 years) are the fact that the administration:

1. Sanitized, re-militarized and restructured armed forces (2001-2003)

2. Successfully issued and managed privatization process (2001-2007)

3. Successfully nursed telecom industry growth (world's 4th largest growth)--300,000 lines to 27,000,000 lines in 5 years, 5 GSM licenses (2001-2007)

4. Raised minimum wage from N250/month ($1.96/mth) to N5,500/month ($43/mth) (2001)

5. Restored the implementation of the original Abuja plan (2004-2007)

6. Apprehended IG of Police (2004)

7. Restructured and recapitalized banking industry (2005)

8. Pension industry restructure and recapitalization (2006)

9. Insurance industry restructure and recapitalization (2006)

10.Reduced fake drugs import into Nigeria by over 60% (2001-2007)

11.Reduced inflation from 23% to 10.5%, in line with many of the BRIC nations (2000-2006)

12.Improved Nigeria's image among world leaders and major multi-national organizations (2000-2007)

12.Paid off $12b in foreign debt (2006)

13.Secured $18b debt retirement in exchange for $12b payoff (2006)

14.Avoided spending excess crude oil windfall to avoid inflation spike (2001-2007)

15.Increased fuel prices to balance supply and demand in market and reduce shortages (2002-2006)

16.Increased forex reserve from $18b to $43b (2000-2006)

17.Flooded the market with US dollars to reduce the demand for dollars and affectively reduce the Naira/$ exchange rate by 20 points over 18 months (2005-2006)

18. Reduced gap between blackmarket and CBN exchange rates to less than 0.5 points (2005-2006)

19. Re-established the relevance of forex bureaux (2006)

20. Re-established Nigeria's influence in Africa and strengthened Africa's cohesion through AU, NEPAD, ECOWAS (2001-2007)

21. Stopped regional wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Cote D'Ivoire (2000-2006)

22. Apprehended and turned-over Charles Taylor to the International Courts (2005)

23. Repatriated some funds looted and domiciled in foreign accounts by past military dictators (2004)

24. Apprehended (with the help of Britain) governors proven to loot treasuries in Bayelsa and Plateau states (2005)

25. Played a role in war against terrorism but refused to include Nigeria in War Against Saddam (2001-2002)

26. Maintained consistent stance against Isreal regarding the Isreal-Palestinean conflict (2000-2007)

27. Was first president to airlift citizens in Lebanese/Isreali conflict (2006)

27. Reinvigorated the capital markets through the privatization, restructuring, and public offer of key industries (2005-2007)

28. Apprehended key corporate chiefs for money laundering, round tripping, creative bookkeeping, and fraud (2000-2006)

29. Was successfully re-elected with little violence (2003)

30. Encouraged states opportunity to craft and implement own growth agenda (2000-2007)

31. Privatized the power sector (2006)

32. Tackled 419 and corruption with EFCC (2004-2007)

33. Created and implemented new economic reforms including due-process which has frustrated many privileged contractors (2001-2007)

34. Removed Nigeria from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) blacklist of most corrupt nations (2006)

35. Made balanced decisions in supporting PDP presidential/VP candidates (2006)

36. Soon to implement the first-ever civilian to civilian handover (2007)

37. Catalyzed African commitment to fighting AIDS/HIV, Tuberculosis, and other related infectious diseases through the Abuja Declaration on HIV/AIDS (2001)

38. Emphasized the role of women in the leadership and the polity of Nigeria (2000-2007)

39. Attracted the first positive and proactive statement in 26 years about Nigeria from the US Department of State (2006), a huge contrast to the unfair judgement of Nigerian people that US once levied in the late 90’s and 2000

There are probably more accomplishments, but I think these hit the major categories: macro-economy, privatization, financial security, international relations, regional peace, internal security.

But, of course, the accomplishments are not enough. Following are some ways in which the federal administration failed its people:

1. Inability to restructure the healthcare system

2. Inability to provide adequate power (privatization came too late)

3. Inability to maintain and re-new key federal highways

4. Inability to restructure and increase contribution to education (they are doing it but much too late)

5. Inability to repair and build fuel and gas production plants

6. Seeming insensitivity to the plight of the masses (encompassed in 1-5)

7. Inability to improve Nigeria's domestic and international “public” image

8. Attempted 3rd term

9. Did not resolve NFA issue thus making Nigeria miss its World Cup Berth and Nation's Cup victory

10. Did not find solution for micro-economic consequences of adjusting macro-economic environment

11. Did not find solution to the SMIEIS entrepreneurial funds (10% from banks’ IBT was to go to SME, yet many banks don’t use it to support SME’s but use it to support their own projects)

You could probably add more, and you're welcome to do so. True, had the administration accomplished 2 or 3 of these items, it would have made a significant impact on the lives of everyday Nigerians--power, and fuel production, for example. However, one must consider the many things the administration did accomplish and wonder where Nigeria would be without the those accomplishments. One must consider "Where was Nigeria, what was Nigeria, in 1999?". One must ask, “Whose
leadership has erected the foundation upon which our country’s future now seems perched?” or “Is it possible that the only thing the OBJ administration was meant to do was build a solid foundation for moving forward?”.

While it is important to highlight the administration’s failures, it’s also important to illuminate the failures of others who are
direct representatives of the people—774 local governments and 140 million people. Thus, one must consider the things that the state administrations and their cooperating senators and congressmen failed to do:

1. Establish private healthcare systems

2. Adequately fund and maintain state education

3. Maintain and repair state highways and streets

4. Establish viable alternative transportation options

If the direct representatives were able to achieve at the state level, perhaps that might bring succor to the people for some of the micro-economic hardships brought by the federal administration’s macro-economic policy maneuvers. How, for example, can Delta State receive N60b per year in allocations, yet not have an alternative transportation system, a health care system, digitized education, or an extensive road system. That's the richest state in our country!

It's very easy to be an "arm-chair quarterback or coach or politician or president" when you've got nothing to lose and you're
10,000 miles away sitting on your comfort chair and in front of your computer with an orange juice or a bottle of beer. But when you're in the trenches in a country as complex as Nigeria, a good metric of success is “how much further have you moved from where you were a couple of years before”. [for more on this see Gov. Abdullahi Adamu’s entry on “Crisis of Democracy”]

In that context, the OBJ administration has moved us forward, to an extent that we have traction as a nation. There is at
least something for the next set of leaders to build on and, in fact, what is most on the minds of Nigerians who live at home is "will the progress continue?".

It's really up to us to do our share in each of our spheres of influence to make measurable impact. And because the stakes are so high, we cannot afford to make empty, irresponsible, and unproductive comments. As educated and uneducated
people, we must make that difference. We just can’t afford to sit on the sidelines.

As my father says, if you can't add value, don't say a word. And before you say something, look both ways then give fair judgment [see “Poor OBJ…” by Frisky Larr].

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Nam Mokwunye is a Reuters Digital Vision Fellow, in Stanford University, USA. He is the Founder/CEO of UDC. He is a member of The Afro Beat.

17 comments:

Misan said...

I agree with Nam that it is important to illuminate the failures of our governors and Local Govt chairmen (i'm not really sure how much power the latter have). I doubt OBJ has ever driven (hmm, funny thot...baba driving) on my pot-hole-ridden road before, or seen that HUUGE rubbish dump by oke-arin market (marina-side) but Gov. Tinubu must see that day-in day-out, as tinted as those windows are. Do we even have local government meetings? The Minister of Aviation goes through the torturous Arrivals process at MM Airport (i take that back, HE DOESN'T), but at least he's aware we only have one runway in that airport, and 2 conveyor belts! They are more in contact with these issues than Baba at Aso Rock.

California recalled its Governor Davies in 2003 (and replaced him with the Terminator but nonetheless) because of the electricity crisis in the late 90s. They held him to some degree of fault, and they kicked him out of there, not because he was corrupt, but because he was partly to blame for the crisis. I wonder whether there are rules under our constitution to make that happen? If so, should there be?

Kome said...

Once again I don't really know who benefits by listing all these accomplishments except for OBj and his administration.

Nam clearly articulated many very good points. And I am a huge proponent for placing things on a scale and weighing the issues.

But let's think about this, when it is 645pm and your guests are arriving for a dinner party at 7pm. Are you going to spend the last fifteen minutes making dessert?(which will be okay for only those who are not that hungry)

or

Are you going to spend the last 15 minutes ensuring there is enough water for everyone to drink, and that the chicken and rice is cooked?

It is the little basic things that mean so much more to the masses that are always important. As much as I am happy about the exchange rate, running electricity (barely) and private investment...we the educated and well off ones are the people who are reaping the benefits of those seeds sown. They are wonderful merits for the international community because it hits closer to home.

What is more important, is not getting the Ikoyi roads fixed, but providing housing, schools, and hospitals for those who have NOTHING...it doesn't sound that fancy and it doesn't get us more foreign investment, but it is the humane and right thing to do.

Those are the first steps that we should be taking...not listing out a bunch of accomplishments that mean nothing to 60% of the Nigerian population, if not more.

Fine Obasanjo has done some good things...but that is not what it means to be president...that is not what it means to make an oath to make your country better.

Question: when is it enough? when do we start or stop the questioning?

Jeremy said...

Clearly, from the perspective of the Nigerian poor (around 80% of the population living on a dollar-or-so a day), things have only got worse under the current administration. The power situation is worse, the education and health care 'systems' have deteriorated still further, many people have had their homes bulldozed and their livelihoods ruined. Child mortality is 140 per 1000, a tragically high figure for a country with such wealth.

It is important, as my friend Nam does so well, to list the achievements - Nigeria is so complex and enmired in corruption it is difficult to imagine any administration doing a much better job than OBJ has done. The ship will take quite a while to turn around. More pressure must be put on the next administration to continue the reform process apace. New media such as the blogosphere have an important role to play, especially given the weak and uncritical state of the print and tv media.

But 'changing the Nigerian' is the crucial issue. There are not enough Nam's out there just yet - people on a mission and resolutely determined to make a change. This is partly because the society is so destabilising and brutalising - journalists are still being imprisioned, human rights are still being violated. The Afrobeat should become one necessary support network amongst others for people to enact the most positive change in the best way that they can, rather than just a talking shop. Support is incredibly important in all its forms - emotional, spiritual, material, practical..

One major issue to crack is that of collaboration. In a low-trust economy like Nigeria, collaborations don't come easy. Perhaps the Afrobeat could be a platform for collaborative interventions, amongst other things?

Just some thoughts. Can't wait for Nam to come back - he'd better not stay!

Nam said...

Kome, our intention for listing the good and the bad is for everyone to benefit by seeing the whole picture. That is the essence of fairness. Ideally, we should judge not, but when we do, we must do our best to judge fairly.

These are analytical techniques that we learn as educated people for fair application. We must use them so we don't encourage the battering of people who are not completely guilty (i.e. some of the victims of badly implemented Sharia Laws). After all, what is the use of all the investments made in learning the Philosophy, Physics, Mathematics, and Sociology if we can't really solve real problems with those tools?

I’m glad that we both agree on two points: (1) The OBJ administration has done quite a bit; however, (2) Much of what has been done has not impacted the lives of the average Gani.

I believe we agree on a third point: (3) Something must be done about the drastic situation. I think we might even agree on WHAT should be done. However, I can project that we don’t quite agree on WHO should be responsible for doing the do—bring about the change.

Surely the change has to come from the people. But really, the change has to come from the people who represent the people’s immediate interests. That would be the governors, senators, congressmen, and local government (LG) councilmen. Their linkage to the plight of everyday people is evidenced within the constitution and their responsibility is emphasized in the definition of gubernatorial qualifications (Chapter VI, Part II) and in continued discussion about boundaries of legislative constituency (Chapter V, Part I, D).

The beauty of a democracy is that the GENERAL rules are well laid out in the constitution (in our case, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria: http://www.waado.org/NigerDelta/ConstitutionalMatters/1999Constitution/TableOfContents.html). It’s an 8 chapter document that’s worth reading for those who want access to one set of tools necessary to navigate the system (the other set of tools is street smarts and that can only be gotten by being there and participating). If you ask me, one of the biggest mistakes that this administration made is that it did not educate people enough on the substance of this constitution. It should have been made mandatory reading in every senior primary school—or at least significant portions of the document should have been emphasized in everyday life. Perhaps it was—please let me know if you’re aware of this or similar actions having been done?

With representation comes competition for resources. And we have seen the issue of resources raise its ugly head—Niger Delta oil ownership and state allocations from the federal budget. But doesn’t this competitive struggle make sense? Have you ever seen people in a soup line after not having had food for days? They are competitive. Or have you ever witnessed soccer players competing for water at half-time on a 100 degree match-day? Resources are finite, so those who represent their people must make a case for what they should get, how much they should get, and when they should get it. Making that case is the job of the congressmen (at the lower level), the senators (at the upper level), and the governors at the home-front. While the aforementioned make the case at the federal-level, LG councilmen make the case at state-level.

Having said that, remember the executive and the legislature must agree on the spirit and details of the annual budget. One of the jobs of the executive and the judiciary is to assure that all state representatives have the opportunity to represent their constituency. Another job of the executive is to assure that the states have enough resources to take care of their people. Because the census count is one empirical variable with which resource allocations are calculated, censuses can be quite politicized (see: Lagos State vs. The Federal Government: http://odili.net/news/source/2007/jan/11/399.html).

Unlike the executive and judiciary (who must always try to maintain the balance among states), lawmakers, will usually try to pass bills that grant significant benefit to their local constituents. And they should. That’s why it’s your duty to choose someone that will “bring home the ‘Suya’”! It is then the job of the people to put the governor, state legislature, and LG councilmen to task to use the resources responsibly for reasons that provide a better quality of life for the people.

Tip O’Neal, the legendary Massachusetts congressman was famed for the amount of resources he won Massachusetts during his 10 years in service in Washington, DC. In fact, aside from the fact that he was one of the longest serving congressmen ever, he was known for his stated belief that “All Politics Is Local” (http://www.tuppenceworth.ie/Politics/unlikelywar.html).

I believe we can take up more of this discussion in due course.

Now, Misan, I'm glad that we're bridging our gaps. Bridging those gaps in viewpoint among us who are really keen on “elevating to captivate” is quite important. At base, our mission is the same; however, we must always establish a common point of departure to start that challenging journey to the finish line—together. It’s somewhat like running a 3-legged race without having agreed (1) that you are doing it, (2) why you’re doing it, and (3) which way you are going!

The collective journey is the action and collaboration of which Jeremy speaks. It no doubt begins with discourse such as this. But before going beyond discourse, it might be necessary for each of us to make our own personal journeys to prepare ourselves to collaborate (am sure there's more that can be said about this).

A personal journey might take as little as a minute or as much as 5 years—or more. But I guarantee that the more you're ready within yourself to take on the challenges ahead, the more likely you will be to help others become ready. After having lived in the USA most of my life, it took me 23 years to make a leap and another 2 years to adequately understand the Nigerian environment to the point that I felt confident about the impact I could make.

Speaking about impact, I am so glad that my friend Jeremy made it to the Afrobeat. Because he's good people, his presence tells me that the Afrobeat attracts quality. We should guard that reputation.

Jeremy has made quite a remarkable personal journey over the last 3 or 4 years. Here's an English man married to a Nigeria woman who gave up his high paying executive corporate/artistic/PhD lifestyle to come to Nigeria. He had every reason to leave, upon arrival. The water didn't work, the lights went off, people made promises they didn't keep; in fact, he wasn't paid for some time while working at a prominent and visible company in a prominent and visible role.

Having been dealt these injustices, Jeremy's options were limited: (1) Go back to England, (2) Sit and complain in misery, or (3) Suck it up and become a change agent. Fortunately, he chose the latter. Now he and his wife, Bibi (also a PhD and specialist in Women Empowerment), spend a good part of their free time promoting Nigerian writers through their publishing company CASSAVA REPUBLIC PRESS (hhttp://cassavarepublic.biz/content/view/22/47/).
Though the government won’t automatically grant him citizenship, Jeremy is Nigerian—as Nigeria is more in his heart than it is in that of some who were born there.

Jeremy made a choice to commit to help re-build our great country. Like him, we each have that choice of commitment to make. And for those who choose to stand up to the challenge, there are more avenues today than there were yesterday. But if you haven’t yet made that choice, I hope you at least endeavor to begin your personal journey and seek the guidance of someone who might be able to help you come to that point of commitment—or point of decision that rebuilding Nigeria is just not for you. It’s much easier to begin a collective journey after completing this personal journey.

For the collective, there are a number of routes we can take. What I would suggest is:

• Study the constitution and become well versed on what it means to live in a democracy

Then (either/or/and):

• Do work overseas that directly impacts or positively influences Nigeria’s fortunes
• Do work overseas with the commitment and plan to return to Nigeria
• Get a job in Nigeria and become immersed (strategically selected)
• Design and pursue your own project and bring together team to implement it
• Join other people’s ongoing project and contribute with passion

At Stanford, I’m working on the ICE initiative, a project in which we’re transforming 100 Nigerian university campuses into digital campuses (http://www.udcnigeria.com). ICE is an acronym for Information Communication and Entertainment. By connecting the universities to one-another and then to the broadband world, my company, UDC, will develop a digital social network of over 1 million users. From these university hubs, we intend to proliferate useful broadband services to the surrounding 100 communities. Our objective is to impact knowledge-sharing, job creation, brain-drain, and civil integrity. It is a for-profit venture, so we also want to bring strong returns to shareholders, but we’d like to improve the system while doing so. We are partnered with Cisco Systems and NeGSt Global (the managers of the Nigerian eGovernment implementation process). We now have 100 student volunteers in Nigeria and will continue to build that team even as we raise off-shore funds. We always welcome additional hands and minds.

If anyone is interested in taking either route, please feel free to contact me so we can talk or chat about your ideas: diginam@stanford.edu.

In the end, remember that we each have a choice and the choice you make can impact the lives of millions for generations to come.

Nkemka said...

NIGER DELTAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!

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