‘Nigeria needs value, leadership revolution to get back on track’

Patrick Okedinachi Utomi is a professor of political economy and management expert. He is the founder of Centre for Value in Leadership (CVL) and producer of the popular television show, Patito’s Gang. Utomi is a former presidential candidate of the African Democratic Congress and governorship aspirant of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Delta State. He is also a professor at Lagos Business School. Utomi who once served as Special Assistant to former president Shehu Shagari, spoke with Emeka Nwachukwu revealing how Nigeria can regain its lost glory in the comity of nations. He also identifies major challenges that have engendered uneven development in the country.
Excerpts:

You have argued often that modernity, material progress, and a thriving Democracy elude Nigeria largely because of the poor quality of public conversation. Has that changed as we approach the 2019 elections?
Not only is the extant quality of public conversation more atrocious, but it is laden with consequences such as violence, the entrenching of unreason as political culture, and the elimination of criteria for solving society’s problems as the basis for selecting those who lead.

I am so petrified of the state of public conversation in Nigeria today that I sometimes think it is pointless to participate. The irony here is that we are dealing with the core of the essence of democracy.

The Public Sphere does not exist, and democracy and modernity are threatened, where there is lack of rigor in thinking and civility in expression of that thought.

With the ease of hindsight, I can see how much Nigeria has suffered from a challenged market place of ideas such that today most of what you see is a trading of insults, them versus us mindset, and nauseating partisan hauling of fake news-based ad hominen barbs at each other.

I was first inspired to do something about this nearly 20years ago not realizing things would deteriorate to what it is today. Worry about public conversation led to the creation of Patito’s Gang.

Before the 1999 elections I had led a team of people working with Candidate Obasanjo, on policy options.

After the elections I heard repeatedly from people around the president that he kept complaining I had joined AD and was working with Bola Tinubu.

Each time that came to me I laughed it off and said it was my duty to help anywhere I could and that I had joined no party.

Ironically the idea of national saving from crude oil earnings came from the Presidency and was fiercely resisted by the states, including Tinubu in Lagos. I recall Wale Edun, then Lagos State Finance Commissioner challenging my public statement in support of those “forced savings” ideas, when we met at a Tribune event in Premier Hotel Ibadan. I told him why it made sense.

So, Obasanjo was bashing me in Abuja on account of Tinubu and Tinubu’s people were saying you are supporting this funny plot to take away our money.

For me it was about ideas not us versus them. This was before the Sovereign Wealth Fund finally came into being and most reasonable people now see the point I was making then.

So, when the President was taking big hits that his government was not performing in 1999, he sent for me to come to dinner.

When I got there, he had VP Atiku, SSG Ekaette, Finance Minister, Ciroma, Chief Economic Adviser Asiodu and several others are in attendance. Then he asked me what was the trouble with the economy he and I had spent a lot of time deconstructing in 1998.

At that moment it occurred to me that one of the problems with policy was rigorous, serious, reasoned public conversion. I determined right there to create several such platforms.

One of them would be the TV show Patito’s Gang, which I produced and hosted at a very severe dent to my pocket.

Ironically the candor on the show would lead gossips to telling Obasanjo so much about how he was being criticized there that he remarked that I was a “terrorist” at a cabinet meeting, as I was told. Next year Patito’s Gang will be 20 years and finally rested. But its place in public conversation I hope will be remembered kindly.

Sadly, we could not forestall the tomorrow we foretold. The mess is so evident if you listen to information managers of both government and opposition.

This is your 63 birthday. You became active on public issues as a 17-year-old student at UNN and have been passionately engaged with Nation building for more than 45years. How has Nigeria evolved politically and economically these last 45 years?
I started as a 17-year-old protesting police brutality that resulted in the death of UI student Kunle Adepeju just after the civil war. UNN just coming out of the War, had little appetite for protests. Most had lost three years because the War.

Solidarity with students in other universities who were in school while they suffered during the war was not high on the agenda. I therefore learnt early to pursue what I considered right, in conscience, and not what was momentarily popular.

While the sentiment of those who lost three academic years due to the war was understandable, my sense of human solidarity led me differently.

Two years later, as an elected Student Union official it would seem my push for a voice for students in the making of policy, in the leading policy subject of the time, the Liberation Movement in Southern Africa, was rewarded with a lecture and discussion at Nsukka by the then foreign minister Joseph Nanven Garba, in February 1976.

That would become part of the Legend in UNN as I found just a few years ago when someone showed me a book on 50 years of SUG at UNN. The authors for some reason thought no SUG official had performed at my level since 1976. It did not please me by the way.

That season was a time of military rule. We canvased a return to Civil Rule. As a youth corper reporting for Newbreed magazine I covered the Constituent Assembly that worked on the 1979 constitution.

Then I left in 1978 to go to graduate school, returning late in 1982. Again, I found a vantage point to observe things shortly on return by being invited into the Shagari Government.

In my view we have suffered a severe retrogression in our politics and the impact can be seen in our economy and economics.

The politics of 1950s focused remarkably on development. Its essence was about competition between governments at the subnational level who best served their people.

American Researchers Robert Melson and Howard Wolpe in their book from the 1970s referred to the phenomenon as “competitive communalism”.

That era was weakened by competitive communalism elevating ethnicity. While the politicians were more people of service with a heart for the people, ethnic passion polluted the polity, paying the way for the army to strike, and military intervention worsened those sentiments.

The military’s effort to engineer a bridging of ethnicity by creating states beholden to glue at the centre, destroyed the creative source of growth that the principle of subsidiarity or decentralization in a federal state, enabled.

In inadvertently destroying federalism, the military set Nigeria down the path of beggarly Subnational Units in a prebendal state mode oiled by Oil revenues but pushing Nigeria towards its current status of the poverty capital of the world.

The model of where we seem bound for is where fellow Oil-rich Venezuela which has the World’s biggest proven Oil reserves, currently displays.

With population less than Kano and Lagos States and all that Oil money, queques for essentials, like milk, and sugar, is the norm there.

In many ways the phenomenon that have defined us include growing embrace of impunity and the desire to completely dominate others by the powerful (growing fascism) increased anti–intellectualism in the political arena, excessive partisanship, and declining leadership capacity and moral courage by people of authority.

This has manifested itself in public life in the pursuit of legal plunder. Often times this has involved a weakening of institutions.

You can see how our institutions, whether it be INEC or regulatory agencies have been weak and often acted with questionable integrity, making regulatory risk one of the biggest risks for doing business in Nigeria.

A combination of weak institutions, collapse of culture and challenged choice of leaders results in the tighter struggle for progress Nigeria has been in. The good thing is that it is possible to reprogramme. Like Brazil did, despite more recent troubles.

Almost every free moment I find is given to thinking about these problems. My personal theme song is Nigeria will Rise up again.

How can this Southbound trend be reversed? I have no doubt progress can come but we need to work across Party lines in the interest of the common good.

We are about to have our 6th General Elections since return to civil rule in 1998. How much progress has our Democracy made in 20 years.
The trouble with election in Nigeria is essentially about the underdevelopment of political parties, and more latterly the capture of the parties by Party Apparatchiks and politicians without purpose.

Because the parties do not function within certain boundaries of ideas and values and recruit people based on disposition of those values.

If we are to attract quality talent into political parties and into public life we need parties run by sober visionaries with a sense for where Nigeria should be heading rather than the kinds of people who tend to dominate that space today.

It is the paucity of ideas, which could have been the basis for debates, and a marketplace of ideas that produces its inferior substitutes; violence, fake news and hate speeches.

The growth of our democracy has been negatively impacted by the state of the political parties.

We have to make public office less materially attractive so only people of service and ideas can aspire to public life. We must also limit how long people can stay in public office without a break.

The current arrangement is leading us to an army of social parasites masquerading as leaders.

At this stage of our country’s development anyone in public office for more than 12 years without a break of at least two years, or who forces in a blood relative, is engaged in legal plunder and is a social parasite.

 
You talk about moral tribes and legal plunder. To the person on the street what do these things mean? How do these impact their lives?
Yes, I talk about Moral Tribes and Legal Plunder because they are critical to understanding the challenges of progress in our country.

The Harvard Researcher Joshua Greene whose exploratory work on Emotion, Reason and Gap Between us and them uses methods from Psychological and Neuroscience Biology to try an order how our value frames affect our approach to social constructs.

There are moral tribes whose constructs advance a “modern” view of the Common Good.

I like to remind people that in our times of the greatest trials, moral tribes have emerged that steered us away from disaster even if “immoral” tribes, as a jocularly refer to them, always try to twist the narrative after-wards. Take June 12 1993 for example.

The complicit middle, as I call many of our siddon look professionals would have hissed and cursed but done nothing when I rallied them with two articles, the first of which was titled “we must say never again”, the concerned professionals emerged as a force in the struggle.

If you look at the leadership of CP, Tola Bobolurin, Asue Ighodalo, Ayo Ighodaro, Sam Oni, Morin Babalola (later Desalu) Oby Ezekwesili, Tony Rapu, Pat Utomi, Waziri Mohammed, Bisola Okunu, Atedo Peterside, Konyin Ajayi, Osita Wigwe etc. you will see that what emerged was a Moral Tribe and not an ethnic tribe.

Moral tribes of that type reason and do not blindly become one of us versus them because of the accident of location of parentage. Concerned Professionals helped shape NADECO, and, contrary to later fables most of genuine original leaders of NADECO were not Yoruba.

Names like Ebitu Ukiwe, Ndubisi Kanu, Anthony Enahoro were along with Adeyinka Adebayo, Abraham Adesanya, Segun Osoba and co were part of a moral tribe. Concerned Professionals Chief delegates to NADECO, Asue Ighodalo never forgets the nature of that struggle.

But the trouble with the nature of society is that those who break into power from struggle, when they seek a share in the plunder, rather than fight legal plunder do untold damage to the course history.

Claude Frederic Bastiat, the early 19th century French thinker in his famous monograph “The Law” says “woe to the nation” where those who break into power by any means, violent or “democratic” seek to share in plunder.

What has happened to Nigeria is that like Chinua Achebe’s politician who has come out of the rain and not wanting to return to it those who were outside and have entered the House of plunder are given us a bigger burden than Pharaoh had on the people of Israel. I am writing a three volume book set on these matters.

The first titled ‘Why Not’ has just been released. The second volume titled in the Devils Den-How politics underdevelops countries uses comparative politics, Development Economics and Leadership theory to illustrate the Nigerian condition.

That book is half way done while the third volume with the working title of Immoral tribes is a more close examination of the political class in Nigeria.

Corruption was the central issue of the Buhari campaign. With Nigeria not having changed much according to the Transparency International Report. What do you make of the fight?
The fight against corruption is an important fight. Has it been won, or has it been well prosecuted so far? Expecting yes or no answer to either question will betray a problematic understanding of the phenomenon.

I was privileged to lead a committee set up by President Obasanjo early in his 1999 administration under the supervision of his Adviser on Transparency matters, Ambassador Emeka Azikiwe.

That committee which drew members from high echelons of Law Enforcement (DIG Abang Wushishi) Civil Society (Gen Ishola Williams, Soji Apampa, NACIMMA President Dr. Ngogha Okeke, Neville Linton from TI, UK etc tried to offer a structure for the institutions of integrity in government and an understanding of the nature of corruption.

The root causes go from institutional structural reasons, personal character issues, and problems of level of discretion of positions of Authority, operating systems in place and leadership influence.

There are examples from round the world like the Hong Kong Police Force, and Customs Service in Singapore that show us what can be done to take people from extremely corrupt to the other end in a short time.

To respond appropriately to the question will take another hour and more space that the editorial can afford for one interview.

There are many who say what Nigeria needs is restructuring not elections. Do you agree?
We have a tendency to be carried away by buzzwords. Decentralizing or return to Federalism, which I prefer, to the nomenclature of restructuring, is an important track to travel. But it is not a panacea.

Even with it we still need a values and leadership revolution to get Nigeria back on track.

As for elections, I have come to some problems with how universal Adult suffrage is interpreted, here, today.

It takes away from the key to modernity and the robust Public Sphere. If you just devolve power to subnational units you may have oppressed villages complaining about subnational units.

The key is to push closer to the people the burden of facilitating wealth creation and thriving from Tax revenues levied at that level.

The weakness with current efforts a tax implementation is good example. This is why local taxes closest to the people is better than an overlord in Abuja decreeing what people should pay until business fold up.

The election campaigns in your Party, the APC, with such divisions and drama in Rivers, Imo, Ogun, and your state Delta, played out badly at rallies. Could the disagreements not have been better managed?
It takes a good Democratic culture, a tradition of healthy respect for dissent and shared ideas or values to manage such things well.

Many in Party Leadership had neither the talent nor the discipline to handle such matters.

This has hurt the Party badly. But they are learning points from which we must regroup and rebuild. In many of these there were discoveries.

The First Lady, Madam Aisha Buhari, would prove to better embody Party ideals than so called Party leaders driven in impunity and self-love towards Totalitarian domination of others, a new kind of Narcissistic Fascism.

Enough damage was done that the shape of post 2019 Parties must be radically different.

Part of the reason I have continued my campaign in Delta is that we must resist such forces so the people do not feel like Orphans.

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