Sunday, September 6, 2015

One World, One Prosperity or One Poverty

By Olu Akanmu

One world, one prosperity or one poverty. That is the lesson of the migrant crisis now in Europe. In a globally integrated world, we all have a shared destiny on the long run. Syria looked so far from Europe but now it is now so close. Europe, the US and the OECD must do more to support democracy and good governance in developing countries, support the building of strong institutions but not by being confused and indecisive as we have seen in Syria. From Iraq to Libya to Syria, Europe and the U.S must learn the lesson of how not to intervene in a country to entrench democracy, whatsoever is the objective of their Syrian or Libyan adventures. The West’s intervention in Syria and Libya has been disasters leading to even more fragile and collapsed societies than the ones they sought to replace. Libya has virtually become a failed state like Somalia, after Gadhafi was removed. Syria is nearly a failed state due to the Western sponsored proxy war against Assad.  The near failed nature of the Syria state is what has made it easier for an ISIS to over-run parts of Syria and create along with the Assad regime, the human catastrophe and genocide in their part of Syria. Meanwhile, the jury is still out whether life is better in Iraq today than before Western intervention.

The events in Syria and Libya begs the question if it was not right for Army to intervene in Egypt and Abachalized the Egyptian revolution and truncate its emerging democracy. Western confusion and indecisiveness in Syria and the mess in Libya will make the Egyptian Generals tell the Egyptian people that they are better off under their jag-boot government because they could perhaps hold the state together and prevent it from falling apart. Would Egypt have gone the way of Libya if its strong national army had not intervened in its politics? This is an interesting debate. It is a dialectical contradiction of history that dictatorial regimes had sometimes held the fragmented, fragile and weak societies together better than democratic governments. This is a worrisome pattern for democratic political science as events in Libya, Syria and the Balkans after the collapse of Yugoslavia seem to suggest. The consolation in all these events is however in the progress of democracy in Tunisia where the Arab Spring and Middle East democratic revolution was sparked. Tunisia’s democracy is marching forward with two democratic elections since the Arab Spring. The Tunisian society and its governance have become more inclusive with even, a very high level of women participation in government. Tunisia holds the beacon and the hope that the Arab societies even in Saudi Arabia shall yet be democratic one day. On the long run, even in weak, fragmented and ethnically diverse societies, only a true plural and federal democracy holds the enduring key to stabilizing society as we see even in complex states like the Democratic Republic of Congo.

One of the lessons the West must learn from the failure of its Syrian policy and the success of democracy in Tunisia is that nothing ultimately substitutes for will of the people, finding a way to organize themselves in true mass movements to change their society. The true mass movement of the people for democracy is stronger than arming thousands of guerillas by proxy to fight dictatorial and genocidal regimes, the type that we have seen in Syria. The second lesson is the need for a truly moral high ground beyond economic interests, in supporting democratic resistance in developing countries. Whether the West likes it or not, it lost a significant moral high ground when it could not find nuclear weapons in Iraq, the basis of its intervention to remove Sadam Hussein. American intervention, losing a moral high ground, in its Iraqi intervention created a new wave of anti-west and anti-imperialist sentiment in the youths of Islamic countries which terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS harnessed to establish their franchise across the Islamic world. Was the war in Iraq really about protecting oil and American interests but presented to the world as war against the dictatorial and genocidal regime of Sadam Hussein?

The imbroglio surrounding post American Iraqi intervention, the fact that the Iraqi state seemed weaker than it was even before its initial intervention and the political backlash against American politicians at home made it dither, unclear and confused about how to approach Syria. It was not clear what American policy was concerning Syria. Whichever way, President Barack Obama must take responsibility as the leader of the Western world for the human catastrophe and migrant crisis going on in Syria and across Europe. A Yoruba proverb says that “Orisa bi o ba le gba mi, se mi bi o se ba mi”. It means” if you cannot deliver me from my trouble, at least leave me the way I was, don’t leave me worse than you met me”. This is what the West, led by the US have done in Syria. Its intervention by proxy through the Syrian armed resistance has made the people of Syria worse than before. No-one could have imagined that hundreds of thousands of people facing war and deprivation at home will be determined to march across seas, continents and countries from the Middle East to Europe to survive. The mass migration across Europe that we see on television can only be likened to a second Exodus of a deprived people marching to Germany that now carries the aura of a new Canaan. The sad picture of the dead body of a three year old Syrian boy, lying face-down, swept ashore, in an attempt to cross the sea from Turkey to Greece, has become the most touching symbol of the human desperation and the failure of Western policy in Syria.

There is a third and bigger lesson. It is that the world is ultimately one village on the long run. The West cannot insulate its prosperity from poverty of the rest of the world. Somehow, one way or the other, either through a migrant crisis, piracy or terrorism, poverty and human deprivation in other parts of the world will impact Europe, America, Japan and Australia. The leaders of Europe especially Angela Merkel and David Cameron must accept this reality. It therefore beholds on the leaders of the Western World to re-strategize on policies on how to spread prosperity and good governance across the world, support investments to alleviate poverty, invest and support the education of people of developing countries, support the strengthening of governance and market institutions in those countries to promote prosperity, forgive debts where they are unreasonable as in Greece and achieve a world where prosperity is shared across nations and continents.

Olu Akanmu (@Olu Akanmu) publishes a blog on “Strategy and Public Policy” on

Monday, August 31, 2015

On Buhari's Counsellors, Character and Competence

By Olu Akanmu

It is important that President Buhari should not squander his political goodwill early in his administration. He will need that goodwill to manage and navigate through complex and difficult economic conditions ahead. This is one of the governance lessons from the failure of former President Jonathan. The President clearly by the lack of clear fiscal action on the economy, his attempt to revamp the national airline, revamp the NNPC refineries rather than privatizing them seem to be economically oriented to big and populist government in a period of constrained fiscal resources.  Inevitable painful decisions are ahead on petroleum subsidy because they are not sustainable at least at present levels. We consume petroleum products far less as a nation than what we import. It has been estimated that at least thirty to percent of petroleum products get smuggled across into neighbouring countries due wide cross boarder price differentials. Yet, the Nigerian government pays for these huge subsidy. We are essentially subsidizing significantly fuel consumption in neighbouring countries at huge cost to the national treasury.  The other collateral effect is that the naira is perpetually under pressure as a very significant portion of foreign exchange available is used to support importation of petroleum products. The naira will positively appreciate to the dollar with positive collateral economic effects if we import less petroleum products or if we could keep our petroleum products at the level of our actual national consumption.

We support and commend the new transparency and anticorruption stance of government. Resources previously unavailable such as the LNG dividends are now being discovered to be made available to the people. These liberated resources are however meager compared to what is required to fix the infrastructure challenge and the rotten decay in social sectors like education, health and create jobs. The President will need to ask the nation to sacrifice at a point and negotiate the reordering of government fiscal commitments given meagre resources. It is in this context that the President would need all the political goodwill when he would have to take inevitable difficult economic decisions. The outcry against the President’s perceived or real sectionally lopsided appointments, which could potentially squander his political goodwill should therefore alarm or give the President serious concern. President Buhari needs to ensure that he does not by commission or omission confirm the fear-mongering by opposition during the Presidential elections that he would be a provincial President. This is another lesson to learn from the failure of former President Jonathan. He failed to remember consistently his national mandate and largely governed as a provincial President with “it is our turn” mentality screaming boldly out of his actions and inactions.

Wise kings surrounds themselves with wise counsellors. They know what wise counsel is and know where and how to find it. President Obama surrounded himself with the very best of political and economic brains in the United States taking a leaf from Abraham Lincoln by appointing even his rivals like Hilary Clinton. His executive team had strong public, private or academic sector pedigree. The only thing you could disagree with was the ideological orientation of his appointments and that is if you are republican. President Obama even appointed his mentor in John Kerry, who gave him his first national speaking platform at the Democratic convention, as his Secretary of State. Obviously, President Buhari is justifiably concerned with widespread integrity and character issues in our national leadership cadre. He is putting integrity and character as key qualifying criteria for his political appointments. The President should however recognize that he needs women and men with a combination of character and competence and not just character alone in his government. Despite the public relations script of the Presidency especially on his latest appointments, the merit or technical competence in those appointments are largely debatable. Character and competence are not mutually exclusive in leadership or public service. They should not be a substitute for each other. President Buhari must find people who combine both and appoint them into his government. Public servants or leaders with competence and no character will steal us dry while those with character and low competence will largely run a confused government with technically competent but corrupt elites and civil servants running rings around them. Good intentions does not guarantee good governance. A public servant must know and understand policy issues and know what to do to perform. 

The President also must show political savviness to hold together the “coalition of good” that brought him to power. He will need that coalition to govern in a democracy of plural interests where he does not hold absolute powers.  This will call for being politically pragmatic without compromising his core values of integrity. Political pragmatism combined with good values is equivalent to political wisdom, that which is necessary to build contingent pro-active coalitions and consensus and also knowing when to exert uncompromising executive authority in order to move the nation forward. While the President must “belong to nobody” so that he is not held captive by vested interests, he must build a broad level of trust with the “coalition of good” that has brought him to power by sheer political pragmatism and  savviness.  This trust is critical to hold his political coalition together.  President Buhari must develop personal and emotional touch with his various constituencies while keeping them publicly and privately focused on the larger ideals of “greater good of the nation”, selflessness and good governance.  The national assembly crisis of the President’s political party suggests that he must raise his ante significantly in this area.

Finally, we address the subject of defeating corruption on an enduring basis. Values set at the top matters and we commend the President on this. Suddenly, the anti-corruption agencies woke up from a deep slumber and electricity is now more available without an additional dime of investment. Beyond values however, we must strengthen the institutions meant to fight corruption to ensure they continue to live up to their purpose after President Buhari’s tenure.  The first task in this regard is to prevent the institutions from being captured by narrow and corrupt elite through the appointment of their lackeys into the leadership of those anti-corruption and law enforcement institutions including the regulators, the judiciary and the police. The President must be vigilant about nominees into his government, their nominators and their motives to ensure that these vested and narrow interests do not capture his government and critical state institutions even at policy level.  The second task is to strengthen our electoral process and institutions to ensure free and fair elections and ensure that people’s vote truly count. There is a clear correlation between corruption in a country and its level of free and fair elections. Every round of free and fair election purifies our national leadership and purge dishonest men and women from governance.  Good and evil produce after their own kind. We must elect good people who are likely to appoint their own kind to lead critical state institutions and set the right values in those institutions which over time may ossify into an enduring institutional culture fit for their institutional purpose.  President Buhari must therefore revisit the Uwais Electoral Reform Panel recommendations to strengthen INEC, criminalize electoral offences, promote internal democracy in political parties and reform political party financing. The third task is to review the enabling laws of the anti-corruption and law enforcement institutions to make them more transparent, publicly accountable and less susceptible to political interference. The Presidential Advisory Committee on Corruption should note this and take forward. We wish President Buhari well.

Olu Akanmu (Twitter @OluAkanmu) publishes a blog on Strategy and Public Policy on


Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Citizen’s letter to General Buhari

By Olu Akanmu

Dear General Buhari,

Congratulations on your well earned election victory. You were dogged and stayed the course over the last sixteen years from the ballot box to the court room and back to the ballot box. As our incoming President, who I believe will like to be in touch with the citizens, please allow me to share a citizen’s perspective of the challenges ahead.

First, it is important to recognize that while it has been tough to win the elections, it might be actually tougher to govern. Winning the elections might be a far, more easier task than governing and fulfilling the expectations of the people. Your victory has been near euphoric, at least for a broad section of the population. Some have even said that it feels like a new Nigeria Independence. Expectations of the dividends of democracy are high yet you are taking the rein of governance of the country at a very difficult time, where the treasury is nearly empty, the reserve have fallen below USD30b, an all- time low that can barely cover few months of imports. Oil prices remain down, excess crude account is nearly depleted; states and even the federal government occasionally are unable to pay salaries.  Unemployment, underemployment and social inequalities are at an all time high. Our young people want jobs, they seek a country that will truly liberate their great potential with good education and skills training and a buoyant industrial sector that will employ them.  The infrastructure deficit of power and transportation to support small and big business and aid a good healthy living of the people are very huge. Essentially, the resources of the state at this time may be fall far short of what is required to fulfill the expectation of the people.
The first task of governance may therefore be to manage the expectation of the people, to present the reality of government revenues to them with honesty and integrity, ensuring that government expenditure profile places the people above the self-interest of narrow elites who I am sure are gathering quickly around you as the new locus of power and resources.  You may need to ask the people to make sacrifice and trade-offs. Your government will however succeed in doing so only if it can maintain the high moral credibility with which you are coming into office.  If you must ask the people to sacrifice, the people will need to see that you have applied the same rule to yourself, to the members of your government including using your presidential leverage to stretch this sacrifice to the legislature.  A prudent government under the current situation is critical. You will need to resist the tendency to blow up the size of government. Rather, you will need to rein-in the diverse ethnic, political and business interests that are gathering around you to ensure a small and prudent government.  We do not need forty ministers and hundreds of special advisers and assistants. If you run a prudent executive, you will have the moral credibility to publicly ask the legislature to act responsibly by cutting its unjustified over-bloated allowances. As the President and leader of the majority party, you should also ask your state governors to follow your example of a prudent and small government at the centre and cut down their commissioners and hundreds of special assistants.  Whatever is saved from government prudence can then be ploughed into social services that will improve the health and well being of our people.

A small and prudent government does not imply a state that abandons its social obligations to the people. It is rather a state with an efficient government that encourages and incentivizes the private provision of social services to cover its resource gaps but provide a safety net for the poor and socially vulnerable in public provision.  It ensures that no citizen is left out of social and economic progress.  To this extent, the privatization program in sectors like power must be continued but it must be made far more transparent, ensuring that we do not replace public monopolies with private monopolies, and that the people get real market value for the sale of public assets.  Policies that subsidize the economic cost of few hundred oligarchs in the privatization program at the expense of the state and the people need to be reviewed. Putting a break on the privatization program will imply a return to a big and non-prudent government which we cannot afford.
Some of our Niger Delta brothers may feel a sense of emotional loss of state control with your coming to power. It is important to specially address them and assure them that more of them rather than a few narrow Niger Delta elites with access to Abuja, will prosper under your national leadership. Dear General Buhari, you cannot be uninterested in the governorship elections coming in the next few days in the Niger Delta.  With the relative huge resources including derivation, of the states of the South-South, the quality of life of our Niger Delta people could be much better. We need governors in the South-South who will recognize that good governance is not about building Las Vegas type stadia and swimming pools that have little impact on the lives of the people.  We need governors in the South-South who will invest massively in the people, in world-class education and vocational skills program that will make thousands of our South-South youths employable or start their own business in construction and the oil industry value chain.  Without truly responsible and accountable governments in the South-South, where corruption is massively tamed, even special Federal schemes like the Amnesty program will make little enduring difference in improving quality of life of our Niger Delta brothers. 

You said it so brilliantly in your acceptance speech on corruption, that when huge funds meant for  public use finds its way into private hands through corruption, it creates an illegitimate group of super-wealthy who undermine  our democracy because they think they can buy government or buy the elections.  You assured that this corruption will no longer stand as a respected monument in the nation.  As you will not fight corruption alone, law enforcement and anti-corruption institution building will be very critical. You will need to be on guard against the self interest of narrow elites who will seek to capture institutions meant to fight corruption through the appointment of their lackeys.  No-one should be above the law irrespective of their status or relationship to power. Impunity must be tackled to the ground permanently. There must be real consequences for those who break the law through strong institutional enforcement of the law and sanctions against crime, to act as detriments to others.  Where wealth has been acquired illegally by corruption, the state should not shy away from recovering it to communicate to society that sooner than later, the law will catch up with those who commit crime. Finally, dear General, you will need to lead the nation to set new value standard of ethics and morality which has been debased by corruption. Just as debased words like “settlement” crept into our national lingo from the top, let’s have new ethical words like character, integrity and selflessness creep back and ossify firmly into our national value standard. You have an historic opportunity to make this happen and lead the nation back to more pervasive prosperity. Best wishes.
Olu Akanmu publishes a blog on Strategy and Public Policy on


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Disenfranchising us by Permanent Voters Card

By Olu Akanmu

Only INEC believes itself that 38 million Nigerians have collected their Permanent Voters card. The reality is different on the ground. A visit to many local government offices of INEC where there are piles of uncollected voters card in their little white boxes, yet with hoards of Nigerians trooping to the INEC offices to find their cards without success, suggest that INEC, if we are not careful may be about to mess up this critical election. And even if the INEC numbers are true, the fact that 16 million registered voters according to INEC, are yet to have the permanent voters card on their hands, just nearly a month to the elections makes it imperative to cry out, that this rule to use the Permanent Voters card for this election will mar the integrity of the electoral process.

The coming Presidential election is largely between two candidates, largely a vote to choose between continuation of the status quo and change. The expression of the true democratic aspiration of the people is critical to the path the nation takes at this momentous cross-road in our history.  16 million disenfranchised voters can change massively the total vote count, decide who gets the absolute majority and determine who will be our next President. Even a million votes of Nigerians counted can swing the Presidential vote in a potentially close-call election. It is therefore worrisome that INEC can be subtly thumping its chest by giving the impression that it has scored a pass mark of 70% because seventy percent of voters have collected their permanent voters card (PVC). INEC needs to be told very clearly that in a potentially close call election, every vote will be critical as even a few hundred votes may end up determining who will be our next President. 70% cannot be a pass mark for PVC collection for INEC.  The pass mark should not be less than 98%.  Anything short of this can potentially make INEC to bungle the credibility of the Presidential elections, its acceptance by the people and the peace and tranquility that should follow what should be a credible presidential elections.

I have been to my local INEC office in Lagos three times without success in collecting my PVC despite having voted in the last two Presidential elections. My name is definitely on the Voters register. I have confirmed by sending my details to the official INEC short code 20120. How come then my permanent voter’s card could not be located? There are many like me who keep coming back to same INEC office. Feedback around the country suggests that this experience is typical of millions of Nigerians. Even the official INEC figure confirms that there are 16 million of us who could be potentially disenfranchised because of the PVC.

We should doubt the claim of the INEC Chairman that 38 million Nigerians have collected their cards. What is the basis? A cursory observation of the card issuance and stock keeping process in my local INEC office does not suggest that there is a professional inventory management and stock-keeping system in place in the INEC local offices. With the ways in which rolls and rolls of boxes are piled on each other, opened, closed without any form of entry for card issued, there is no way the officials of INEC in my local government in Lagos can thump their chest and assert that they know accurately how many cards are collected and how many cards are left in their stores. Essentially, INEC seem to have a basic management problem where there is no organized inventory and stock keeping system in its local offices. So how did the INEC Chairman get his figures? Is it based on disbursement to INEC offices or actual card collections?

Integrity is not enough as a success factor in INEC. Management competence is also very critical. We need to worry about a critical public service organization that seems not to be capable of simple and basic inventory management system. Those in business know that the moment your store-keeper cannot account for his inventory, he either has integrity issues or he is managerially incompetent. Whichever way, he is not the kind of store-keeper that you need in your business. We need to be worried about the management competence of INEC. It clearly does not understand how to design a distribution channel that is attuned to the needs and behavior of its customers. Otherwise, how come anyone will expect that in this busy Nigeria, where millions are struggling to survive and running around in pursuit of their daily bread, that three days will be enough to distribute the PVCs in their polling wards? It must have assumed that only a marginal percentage will need to go to the now centralized local government INEC offices to collect their cards. This has not been so. INEC clearly does not understand its market and its customers and have designed a very inefficient PVC distribution system.

In the elections of 2011, INEC betrayed management incompetence in project and logistics management where elections materials could not arrive at most parts of the country on election day. Elections had to be postponed by a week. We need to worry loudly now about the way the PVC collection exercise is going before the credibility of the elections are bungled. It is cheering news that the citizens of Plateau state led by General Domkat Bali, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, the Attorney General of Plateau State and the Gbong Gwom of Jos have gone to court to challenge INEC on the use of the PVC for the coming elections. That the PVC will disenfranchise the people of Plateau state from fully exercising their democratic right to vote. We need more people and communities to sue INEC in our courts before it disenfranchises millions of our citizens and bungles the Presidential elections.

If 98% of Nigerians cannot collect their Permanent Voters card by two weeks to the Presidential elections, INEC must allow the use of the temporary voter’s card for voting.  The credibility of the last Presidential elections was not in doubt despite the use of temporary voter’s card. Why then this insistence on the PVC if rather than add value, it will affect the credibility and acceptance of the Presidential elections. INEC must not be allowed to disenfranchise 16 million Nigerians by its troublesome permanent voter’s card. INEC needs to reverse itself now on the PVC before it is too late. Jega must not be allowed to use the plea of good intentions to explain away the serious managerial incompetence of INEC. The credibility and acceptance of this critical election must not be put at risk. Every vote must count and every citizen must be allowed to make her vote count at this momentous period in our history.

Olu Akanmu publishes a blog on Strategy and Public Policy on