I recently wrote a brief piece for Democracy in Africa, reflecting on the discussions during the first Women in Government and Politics Conference for Africa, held at Central Hall in Westminster, London. The event was put together by the Winihin Jemide Series and I facilitated one of the panel discussions. Find the excerpt below:
African women have made remarkable strides in positions of leadership and authority across the continent. This has been especially evident with the wave of democratization over the past two decades. Women now occupy presidential seats in Liberia and Malawi, foreign ministry portfolios in Rwanda, Kenya and Somalia, the leadership of the African Union and many other positions hitherto regarded as the exclusive domain of men. It is in order to take stock of the progress made so far, the existing challenges remaining and how to overcome them that the first Women in Government and Politics Conference for Africa, held at Central Hall in Westminster, London was put together by the Winihin Jemide Series
The two-day conference involved female delegates in influential leadership positions such as parliamentarians, cabinet members, academics and activists. They liberally shared their views, their experiences on how they were able to surmount obstacles to get to where they are today, and their suggestions on moving forward. The Nigerian Minister for Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke while delivering a keynote address, noted that 11 African countries have reached the 30% benchmark of female representation in leadership positions through quotas and parity schemes. In fact, countries like Nigeria had surpassed this average, she reminded the audience. The Minister however reiterated the need for women to be proactive in supporting one another….
Read the rest of the article on the Democracy in Africa website.
On Monday 4th November, the Governor of Lagos state, Babatunde Raji Fashola spoke at an event at the House of Commons, in the UK Parliament, on his state’s priorities for sustaining growth and development, and how he responds to key challenges. The event was jointly organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Nigeria, the UK Trade and Investment and Chatham House.
It was an event I had marked in my calendar over a month in advance given the relevance of the subject matter, and the personality involved. Fashola is doing some amazing work reforming Lagos in terms of transport infrastructure, taxation, revenue generation, and a whole lot of other things. Lagos is the commercial capital of Nigeria. The state’s economy will become Africa’s 13th biggest economy in 2014, equivalent to that of Ghana, according to Renaissance Capital.
Unfortunately, I forgot to factor in the London traffic on Monday. I was therefore horribly late and missed more than 70% of the talk. I only caught the last two minutes of Fashola’s presentation and the brief Q&A session.
The highlight of the event for me was Fashola’s response to a question posed by a young lady. She asked what the Lagos state government is currently doing to encourage Nigerians in the diaspora to go back home and “contribute to national development”. Now, this is the typical question posed to African policymakers by (young) Africans in the diaspora at these Africa-related summits.
Governor Fashola retorted thus:
You are a Nigerian, it’s your country “why should I convince you to come back home?” Many Nigerians have made the move back home without anyone persuading them to do so. This man here [he points to someone seated close to him] moved back to Lagos from the United States a few years ago, and he has done a lot of things. It’s your choice. I don’t think I need to convince you to come back to your country. [paraphrased]
I think most of us were jolted by his unexpected response because the reply to such a question is usually more conciliatory and appeasing. Yet this departure from the norm by Fashola is really food for thought. If you’re so passionate about your country, as an African in the diaspora, do you really need anyone to convince you to go back and contribute to national development? Many others have made that decision, some have been successful, and others haven’t, isn’t this risk all part of life’s uncertainties? Is “moving back home” the only avenue of “contributing”? For those who make the decision, do they have realistic expectations about how best to engage or contribute? Does the government have a responsibility for putting in place special structures and incentives to encourage the diaspora to relocate back home?
The infographic below illustrates vividly, the disparity between salaries of parliamentarians and average incomes in a select number of countries.
Credit goes to: Visualizing Impact
Though Nigeria isn’t one of the countries sampled, one of the hot burning issues in Nigerian public discourse in recent times is legistators’ jumbo pay. A report by The Economist ranked Nigerian MPs as the highest paid in the world, not in terms of the amount actually received, but as a multiple of GDP per capita. Each Nigerian MP receives about $189,000 per annum as basic salary which is 116 times the average income per person in the country.
Reports and op-eds within local Nigerian media have focused on the issue extensively. Former Education Minister and World Bank Vice President for the Africa region, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili recently accused the National Assembly of consuming over N1.1trn ($6.4bn) since 2005. Running the National Assembly consumes 3% of the annual budget, although this also includes administrative costs.
More recently, a coalition of civil society and youth movements led a protest at the National Assembly in Abuja demanding for transparency in information on how much exactly, legislators earn.
Interestingly, Nigerian or Kenyan legislators are not the highest paid in the world. Australian MPs earn $201,200 per annum. Obviously, little fuss would be made about the size of these African MPs’ remuneration packages if people felt they were getting value for money paid. Alas!
The London-based think tank, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, otherwise known as Chatham House recently published a report titled “Nigeria’s Criminal Crude: International Options to Combat the Export of Oil”. The report analyses the international dimensions of Nigerian crude oil theft and explores what the international community could do about it.
A summary of some of the findings include:
- “Nigerian crude oil is being stolen on an industrial scale. Nigeria lost at least 100,000 barrels of oil per day, around 5% of total output, in the first quarter of 2013 to theft from its onshore and swamp operations alone. Some of what is stolen is exported. Proceeds are laundered through world financial centres and used to buy assets in and outside Nigeria, polluting markets and financial institutions overseas, and creating reputational, political and legal hazards. It could also compromise parts of the legitimate oil business.
- Officials outside Nigeria are aware that the problem exists, and occasionally show some interest at high policy levels. But Nigeria’s trade and diplomatic partners have taken no real action, and no stakeholder group inside the country has a record of sustained and serious engagement with the issue. The resulting lack of good intelligence means international actors cannot fully assess whether Nigerian oil theft harms their interests.
- Nigeria’s dynamic, overcrowded political economy drives competition for looted resources. Poor governance has encouraged violent opportunism around oil and opened doors for organized crime. Because Nigeria is the world’s 13th largest oil producer – exports often topped two million barrels per day in 2012 – high rents are up for grabs.”
The report recommends the following four first steps for building a cross-border campaign against Nigerian oil theft:
- “Nigeria and its prospective partners should prioritize the gathering, analysis and sharing of intelligence.
- Nigeria should consider taking other steps to build the confidence of partners.
- Other states should begin cleaning up parts of the trade they know are being conducted within their borders.
- Nigeria should articulate its own multi-point, multi-partner strategy for addressing oil theft.”
The report rightly places a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the Nigerian authorities to take the lead in combating this illegality and plunder. After all, the theft takes place within the country’s shores with the active connivance of Nigerian actors, before the oil is shipped off elsewhere.
The onus clearly lies on the Nigerian government to demonstrate political will in curbing the flow of stolen crude from the source. It has so far embarked on an effective campaign for the international community to regard stolen crude oil as “blood oil”, in the same manner as “blood diamonds” are treated. Yet the root source has to be plugged. At a Chatham House meeting a few months ago, I made the same point to (Mrs.) Erelu Olusola Obada, the Nigerian Defense minister when she requested in her presentation, for the international community’s assistance in rejecting stolen Nigerian crude oil (the Minister was relieved of her appointment along with 8 others in a cabinet reshuffle earlier this month). I pointed out that there has been no major prosecution within Nigeria, of those involved in this criminal enterprise and their alleged collaborators in the oil companies, the army and in other government institutions. The responsibility lies squarely on the country to block the source of stolen crude within its shores.
The authorities need to show resolve, go beyond rhetoric and put action to words. To start with, known criminals need to be put behind bars for a long time. Though the security agencies may be under-equipped and due for reform, they are not thoroughly incompetent. Once a few high profile arrests of the middle men, financiers and “godfathers” are made and convictions are secured, then the international community will be assured of Nigeria’s readiness to tackle oil theft and its criminal networks.
Truth is, the exhibition of firm political will by the government can singularly breathe life into the Chatham House and several other reports’ recommendations. After all, even the most meticulously crafted strategy is only effective when it is actually implemented.
In a televised Presidential Media Chat on Sunday 29th September, President Goodluck Jonathan had this to say about the phenomenon of oil theft:
“The stealing of crude oil didn’t just start now, it started since the military regime [...] Oil theft is not done by petty thieves but by big people and exporters, to end it, we need the assistance of our foreign country friends and refiners to stop accepting stolen crude. In addition, we have committees on the issue who meet regularly”
Paperback and kindle editions available on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing
Publication Date: February 2013
“…to put on record my version of events…” is one of the reasons Nasir El-Rufai puts forward for writing his provocative autobiography, The Accidental Public Servant. It’s a book which could easily tie with Chinua Achebe’s memoirs, as the most debated in Nigeria’s recent history. Flipping through the pages, it was apparent that readers could choose to either verify or refute El-Rufai’s version of events in government, or appreciate its rare insight into the intricacies of Nigeria’s fourth democratic experience. I opted for the latter.
As the title suggests, the overall theme of the book revolves around the intriguing journey of an individual from very humble beginnings in an idyllic post-independence era, in a rural part of Katsina, northern Nigeria, to occupying one of the highest public offices in 21st century Nigeria. The reader glimpses into how El-Rufai’s fiercely independent, resolute, feisty and cerebral personality evolves from the tragedy of his father’s passing, the calculated attrition against Sunday, the primary school bully, the role-model influence of his brother in his early years and becoming a self-made private sector millionaire by his mid-twenties (p.36).
The “accidental” part of El-Rufai’s journey begins, from the age of 38 with his reluctant entry in government in 1998 as an adviser for the military government of Abdulsalam Abubakar. It continues through to his appointment as the Director-General of the main privatisation agency, the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) and then as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, and his membership of the elite corps of economic reformers between 2003 and 2007.
Along the way, lifelong friendships are built and broken, alliances are forged and betrayed and the gruelling challenge of public service and reform in the midst of entrenched practices and powerful vested interests takes its toll. He strives to balance public and personal interests with loyalties as he gets caught in the middle of altercations between a strong-willed President Olusegun Obasanjo and his equally powerful Vice-President Atiku Abubakar. At the height of these disagreements, El-Rufai inadvertently rises to a defacto Vice-President, a position which would ironically lead to his persecution and exile less than a year after leaving public office.
A refreshing aspect of the book is the revelation and demystification of the inner-workings of the highest levels of governance in Africa’s most populous country. For instance, El-Rufai stresses how appointments for the highest public offices, are mostly fortuitous, having little to do with meritocratic or rigorous processes. His narration of events during his first few days as FCT minister (p.199), what to expect after a ministerial nomination, the obstructive tactics of entrenched civil servants opposed to reform are insightful and invaluable details that offer a useful departure from textbook political theory or international ‘best practice.’
In particular, the author’s revelation that without a coherent plan, a new and mostly unprepared government minister could easily drown in administrative routine attending to “more than 100 visitors and 200 phone calls” daily for the duration of their tenure, is instructive (p.201). He discusses the immense influence such appointees wield and how they become devastated when they leave office, once the lucrative perks of office are withdrawn and the “hundreds of phone calls a day… drop to near zero” the very next day (p.393)! These are valuable disclosures for the younger generation planning to go into public service.
El-Rufai also underscores the absolute importance of political will by a president in effecting key reforms. With Obasanjo’s backing, the residence of the powerful chairman of the ruling party was demolished as part of the restoration of the FCT master plan (p.296) and a number of seemingly impossible tasks are implemented seamlessly. The reader thus gets a glimpse into Obasanjo’s ambivalent approach to governance: a wilful, ex-military leader, with an eye for good people, an ear for good advice and a vision for Nigeria despite his links with vested interests and rentier elite, but who was unfortunately consumed by his vindictiveness and narrow ambitions to run for a third term in office. The reader is likely to come off with a better informed and more respectable view of The Obasanjo personality.
El-Rufai also rightly reflects on a fundamental yet overlooked implication of the decline of Nigerian public education and constituent alumni networks which are critical to leadership and elite incubation (p.42-43). He stresses how friendship and alumni networks in Barewa College and Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria proved useful in several instances in his life and in public service. He laments that the decline of hitherto elitist public institutions mean that their local and important alumni networks such as the Barewa Old Boys Association are now unavailable to foreign-educated Nigerians, his own children inclusive.
However, the scant mention of the highly controversial NITEL-Pentascope privatisation controversy is quite conspicuous. This is especially since El-Rufai studiously accounts for the key hallmarks and controversies of his stewardship of the BPE and the FCT Ministry. While the author does state that a full account of the NITEL saga would come in a BPE monograph (p.128), most readers would have appreciated at least a few paragraphs devoted to this contentious issue.
The author’s approach of divulging the inner workings of governance at the highest levels, and naming and shaming the key players irrespective of ethnic or religious affiliation is truly refreshing. Yet in a few instances, there’s a nagging feeling that he probably divulged too much. This ranges from revealing verbatim, some conversations which held in strict confidence to the extremely personal details about meeting and marrying his subsequent wives.
Notwithstanding, the rare insight El-Rufai provides into the highest echelons of power, politics and decision-making in Nigeria is unprecedented. The heated debate sparked by the book should prompt other key actors to document their own version of events, ultimately to the betterment of Nigerians outside the tight power circle. For Nasir El-Rufai the successful entrepreneur, technocrat, exiled student and now leading opposition politician, one can only wonder what the future holds.
“Some mosques in particular consistently condemned me and prayed for my downfall. One or two declared me an apostate for daring to demolish a mosque, conveniently forgetting that Prophet Muhammad ordered the demolition of an illegal mosque in Madina Al-Munawwarah, some 1,400 years earlier. Many of the affected ‘churches’ prayed that “by God’s grace, El-Rufai will go down, El-Rufai will lose his job, El-Rufai will die in Jesus’ name.” I was there for nearly four years and we removed all of them.” (p.212)
Culled from the World Bank:
“The Africa Region of the World Bank Group is launching the World Bank Group Fellowship Program for Ph.D. students of African descent. The program will increase the diverse workforce that is a priority for the Bank and its clients.
The Fellowship Program aims to build a pipeline of researchers and professionals from the African Diaspora, particularly women, who are interested in working in the development field at home or abroad, and in starting careers with the World Bank Group.”
Information about eligibility requirements, application procedure and so on is available on the Bank’s website. Alternatively watch the video promo below:
The Students’ Association of Nigerians in the Diaspora (SAND) – UK is organising a conference titled “Nigeria Beyond Oil: Opportunities in Enterprise and Development” as part of its Annual Nigeria Diaspora Youth Leadership Summit. The conference is scheduled to take place on 4th September 2013 at the London School of Economics and Political Science. I have been invited to chair a panel on “Achieving Nigeria Beyond Oil: The place of Youth Entrepreneurship” featuring five panelists. Find the conference agenda here (PDF).
The conference is set to host an array of prominent speakers such as Alhaji Atiku Abubakar (GCON), former vice president of Nigeria, Inuwa Abddul-Kadir, the Nigerian Minister of Youth Development (FRN), Professor Julius Okojie the Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), Elizabeth Donnelly, Assistant Head Africa Programme, Chatham House and many others.
If you’re in the London area, don’t miss this!
Nigeria’s former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, recently announced that he is offering one undergraduate/postgraduate scholarship to young Nigerians, to cover study within Nigeria or in a foreign institution. The details of the scheme titled “Education Solutions” are available on his website here.
The scholarship scheme has been attracting mixed reactions on social media so far– applause and condemnation in almost equal proportion. Personally, I am very ambivalent about it. While I will not condemn it, I certainly think more can be done to improve education as a whole in Nigeria, through teacher trainings and workshops, provision of books and study materials, advocacy campaigns and so on, rather than giving out one scholarship. To be fair to the former vice president though, he has emphasised that it is a nascent, pilot scheme, and he does own one of the most reputable private universities in the country, the American University of Nigeria.
Ultimately, there is no harm in our former public officials giving back to society. Giving out scholarships through a competitive process that selects the best and the brightest and changes someone’s life positively certainly beats sitting idly about, making self-serving, inflammatory and polarising press statements threatening that “Power Must Return to the North or Else…” or “Power Must Remain in the South or Else…” whilst sitting on a huge mound of fortune that is either frittered away in obscene and vainglorious consumption, or that lies dormant in Swiss Banks, South African hotels, Malibu mansions and Emirati apartment blocks. Call it the lesser of two evils if you must.
Now imagine if more of Nigeria’s “big men” were to invest in education, advocacy, and productive enterprises at home. We probably wouldn’t be begging the Americans, Europeans and lately the Chinese to do OUR work for us: to come establish labour-intensive manufacturing firms on our shores. If only 10% of Nigeria’s $170 billion stashed in foreign accounts (these are 2003 figures, the current figures must be several multiples of this amount) were to be re-invested back home, the tremendous impact it would have on our economy is best left to the imagination.
I have argued severally that a lot of our former public officials need to make themselves useful. It has been 14 years since the transition to democracy. These 14 years have created many former governors, former ministers, former senators, former ambassadors and others who have held influential positions (I haven’t even included the titans of the military era). These are individuals with the resources and the clout to make a direct positive impact on their communities in numerous ways. A few of them have proceeded to establish consultancies, NGOs, think tanks or are still engaged in politics or policy. Some have chosen to retire in peace. Many others have temporarily skulked back into the depths of obscurity, resurfacing occasionally to rally young Nigerians to their ethno-centric, bigoted and self-serving causes.
There are so many productive ways to get involved.
One way is advocacy and enlightenment campaigns on leadership and good governance to ensure people at the grassroots stop selling their votes to the highest bidder.
Another is advocacy and enlightenment campaigns to ensure young women are enrolled and allowed to complete at the barest minimum secondary school education especially in the North East and North West.
A third could be the establishment of profit-making enterprises (if they can’t find competent local managers, they can hire qualified expatriates – there are many!) which will create value and jobs in their communities and make more money for them.
A fourth could be teaching and lecturing in many of our tertiary institutions that are wallowing in the dearth of expertise and learning equipment. Writing opinion pieces on the pages of newspapers is just not enough. Young Nigerians in tertiary institutions will benefit tremendously from the wealth of their experience in public service.
The list is endless. Most of them are influential. Many of them have the resources. Many of them can make a difference.
It is really tempting to dismiss Atiku Abubakar’s scholarship scheme or to question his motive. Indeed, one might even wonder whether the scheme will last beyond the 2014 elections primaries. Nevertheless, society will definitely benefit from more of the well-to-do giving back in useful ways that will make a real difference to people’s lives.
A proposed scheme by the UK government that would require first-time visitors from certain Asian and African countries to deposit a £3,000 bond to obtain a visitor’s visa to the UK has provoked outrage from these countries, notably Nigeria and India. The pilot scheme to commence in November 2013 would initially cover a select number of “high risk” visitors from countries whose nationales have a higher probability of absconding, and if successful, would be extended over other visa categories. The affected countries feel unfairly targeted and the scheme itself could have profound implications.
Since the announcement by the UK Home Secretary Theresa May, some of the affected countries which include India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Ghana have reacted with indignation on the grounds that the proposal is selective. The Nigerian House of Representatives has described the policy as “discriminatory and capable of undermining the spirit of the Commonwealth”. The Confederation of Indian Industry has described the scheme as “highly discriminatory and very unfortunate”.
While tackling illegal immigration and managing legal migration is a key concern for any serious country to ensure adequate access by residents to infrastructure and public services, targeting those who contribute to the economy is not only discriminatory, but is plain disrespectful. This scheme is perceived to be unfairly selective, applying to those countries whose nationales actually contribute to the UK economy, struggling to bounce back in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
Over 140,000 Nigerians and 340,000 Indians visit the UK annually contributing significantly to the tourism sector which is Britain’s fifth biggest industry and third largest foreign exchange earner. Nigeria in particular is not only the UK’s second largest trading partner in Africa, but Nigerian shoppers rank among the highest spending tourists in the UK, sometimes outspending their Chinese, Arab and Russian counterparts. Middle-class Nigerians annually flock to the UK, not only for sight-seeing, but mainly to get good bargains especially during the annual summer and winter sales, with the British economy typically witnessing a bump within this period.
This proposed scheme seems to be the latest in the long list of rapidly changing and increasingly hostile immigration policies by the UK. In 2012, the UK closed the Post-Study Work visa which allows non-EU university graduates to work for two years in the UK (and pay taxes). The badly managed brief suspension of London Metropolitan University’s license in 2012, with little thought for the thousands of international students who had already paid thousands of pounds in school fees, and all the wrong signals it sent out to prospective international students, cannot be easily forgotten.
Although David Cameron’s coalition government has insisted that Britain wants to attract the “best and the brightest” to its shores, this seems to be a euphemism for “attracting the richest only”, especially with such steeply expensive conditions for securing a UK visa. There is a growing feeling especially among Commonwealth countries that the familiar bond with the UK is deliberately being severed by such antagonistic policies. One of the reasons why Britain has remained highly competitive as a tourism and shopping destination, despite higher VAT than the USA for instance, and as a higher education hub due to the historical link with former colonies. With this realisation, many have since been looking at more welcoming places to study and with this recent proposal, to spend their hard-earned money.
This proposed visa bond scheme is seen to be in reality, driven by the exigencies of domestic British politics, especially the Conservative Party’s campaign pledge of reducing net migration to the UK “from hundreds of thousands, to tens of thousands”. There is a sense that in a bid to stave off the growing threat posed by the far-right United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) to the Conservative Party’s core electoral base, and unable to limit EU migration because its hands are tied by EU migration policies, the Coalition government has chosen to target non-EU immigrants.
Such anti-immigration policies have been fuelled xenophobic rhetoric based on the mostly inaccurate assumption that African, Asian or other non-EU immigrants claim state benefits either legally or illegally depriving citizens, of these benefits, and jobs. For instance, a recent study by the British Department for Work and Pensions (PDF) reveals that only 6.4% or 371,000 of the 5.5 million people claiming work-related benefits in the UK are immigrants, and out of this 371,000, only 2% or about 7,500 have done so illegally. The number of non-EU immigrants claiming benefits will be much lower if the figures are disaggregated by EU and non-EU migrants. Obviously, it is incredibly difficult for undocumented illegal immigrants from outside the EU, who end up living on the fringes of society, to secure decent jobs, access the National Health Service (NHS) and other state benefits here because all these require detailed registration and identification.
Clearly, this policy ought to be considerably watered down or completely rescinded. Indeed, the backlash from the individual countries to be affected and the potential economic repercussions have prompted Cameron to embark on damage control by insisting that the policy hasn’t been finalised. If the British government does insist on pushing ahead with this Visa bond scheme, then the affected countries, especially, Nigeria, India and Pakistan which are hotspots for journalists and researchers, are well within their rights to diplomatically reciprocate by similarly demanding steep bonds for visiting Britons. A collective response, under the auspices of the Commonwealth for example, might be more effective in pressuring Britain to water down this discriminatory proposal. Either way, it is Britain that stands to lose more in the medium to long term by this knee-jerk approach to managing immigration.
“The masses of our people are chained down in dehumanizing and grinding poverty while we continue to maintain few islands of false prosperity in a turbulent ocean of penury and squalor… There cannot be peace and harmony where there is wide disparity between the few rich and a multitude of the poor”
This is an excerpt from a former Nigerian Chief of Defense Staff, General Theophilus Danjuma’s (rtd) speech, at a traditional turbaning ceremony. His statement, which was in reference to Nigeria in general and northern Nigeria in particular, could easily apply to a number of African countries.