The fifth anniversary lecture of Realnews magazine, which held on November 16 has warned that Africa lacked good leadership for the continent to grow and meet the yearnings of its citizens.
Speaking on the topic: “African Leadership in a Turbulent Era,” which was the theme of this year’s lecture, speakers at the Realnews’ lecture warned that keeping the teaming population of African youths idling away was dangerous.
Although Africa could be said to be making progress in political and social cultural developments, they warned that without the economic muscle there would be perpetual poverty, unemployment and lack of development.
The well-attended lecture with more than the full capacity sitting had in attendance dignitaries from different spheres of human endeavours, from banking, oil and gas, military, road safety, media, civil service, advertising firms, among others.
Indeed, Maureen Chigbo, the publisher of Realnews, set the ball rolling for discussion in her welcome address as she recalled the recent peril of 26 young Nigerian women and girls, some as young as 14, who were found dead at the Mediterranean Sea, near Libya on November 7. The young Nigerians were suspected to have been killed after being sexually assaulted as they tried to cross to Europe in search of greener pastures.
Besides, Chigbo appeared to be petrified by lack of peace in some African countries thereby causing refugee situation in the continent and forcing people to leave their places of abode to look for comfort in other countries. She said: “From South Sudan where warlords appear bent on disintegrating the country, to the lingering Boko Haram insurgency in West and Central Africa, coupled with a rash of uprising by separatist groups including the Niger Delta militants and the Indigenous People of Biafra in Nigeria, in addition to the increasing wave of terrorism in other parts of Africa, the prognosis looks bleak, to say the least.
“Millions of African children are at the receiving end of the socio-economic, political, security and development challenges, with many now victims of serial abuse and violence, human trafficking, malnutrition and avoidable deaths, while others are deprived of quality education and a viable future.”
In the same vein, Akpan Ekpo, director general, West African Institute for Financial and Economic Management, WAIFEM, who chaired the event, said with the rising challenges, Africa leadership had not shown enough commitments to tackle issues besieging the continent.
In his opening remarks at the lecture, Ekpo said after almost 60 years of attaining political independence, the leadership in Africa in the past 20 years had not shown any positive sign of moving towards economic independence. He said that currently, almost all the countries in Africa depend on the export of commodities (agriculture and/or minerals), and thus, remain backward and underdeveloped.
Hence, the professor of Economics said without strong economy, the perception that Africa is rising could be best be regarded as an illusion. He argued: “If the African continent especially Sub-Sahara Africa has a strong dynamic economy, its citizens would be respected globally. The perception that Africa is rising is not only a misnomer but an illusion. How can Africa be rising yet poverty is rising, and inequality is widening despite its rich human and mineral resources? How can Africa be rising yet thousands of Africans try every day to cross to Europe in search of a better life, with hundreds drowning in the seas of Europe.”
Oby Ezekwesili, senior economic adviser, Economic Development Policy Initiative, AEDPI, and former minister of Education, who was the guest lecturer, said it was a sad development that President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who was hero of her generation, had now become a victim of military putsch because of his refusal to leave power. She recalled how Mugabe had led a guerrilla-war fare which ended the white minority rule in his country and how Zimbabwe had been regarded one of the most promising nations in Africa.
The former vice-president of the World Bank said the ignoble way that Mugabe had led his country was typical of African countries which had hampered development of the continent.
Although Africa had gained some political and social economic development, Ezekwesili said these had transformed the continent into a status expected of it, because its economy is stuck.
She said the unemployment rate of African youths especially should give room for concern because it had become a time bomb that could lead to crisis if not properly handled, adding, that is why African youths were perishing in the Mediterranean.
Besides, she noted that women form more than 60 percent of the poor in the continent. “African cannot continue to fail. Leaders are meant to fix turbulent situation and then go ahead and stabilise things,” she said.
Ezekwesili compared the development of Singapore with its counterparts which gained independence at the same time, saying it was very disheartening that the country’s GDP was more than three times the GDP of the whole Africa. “We should be more than three times this level we are now. No country has been found to develop without good governance and the rule of law. Good governance provides improved living condition. Africa needs leadership that has character and is accountable,” she said.
She warned Africans had been comfortable with dismal performances of their leaders for too long and it was time to demand, accountability, good governance and rule of law. “We must grow at seven percent per annum if we want to lift the continent out of poverty,” she warned.
That notwithstanding, ending her speech, she said: “It was time for African to say goodbye to failure.”
The lecture, which lasted for more than one hour thirty minutes, was vintage Ezekwesili who was nick-named Madam Due Process, because of the office she helped to establish while in government far back in 1999, earned the former minister a standing ovation.
Drawing from Ezekwesili’s lecture, Ahmed Kuru, the Managing Director, Assets Management Company of Nigeria and one of the discussants, said that Nigeria would need to work very hard to deal with prevailing act of impunity, elite conspiracy and build strong institutions otherwise, the country would continue to struggle to make a difference.
Kuru said once institutions are strong, the citizens will not be insisting that somebody must head a particular agency, unit, department or ministry because the institutions are strong enough to resist any form of irregular behaviour.
He said: “For me I always tell people privately that what worries me is not corruption but impunity because if there is consequence around all our activities, I strongly believe that it will mitigate the corrupt tendency that we see. There is corruption in America and Europe but you know that once you take N1 as you are taking it you know the implication.
“Immediately they catch you, you know the implication. I think we need to work very hard on the issues relating to impunity because unless we remove impunity from our society, it will continue to affect the kind of leadership that we aspire to be.”
Besides, Kuru said that conspiracy has been working against the progress of Nigeria thereby making it impossible for the nation to grow. “It is only a Nigerian that will not be eager to accept a lower standard when it comes to another country. If Nigerian enters toilet in London airport or a toilet in Dubai International Airport, and there is no tussle paper or the cleaner has not cleaned the toilet, you will hear his voice, almost instantly. But immediately he lands in Lagos, there is no toilet at all for somebody to clean and he will humble himself and will be very happy to carry his bags and go home.
“So, sometimes you wonder what is it in us that make us so much to accept our situation, it is very disturbing.”
Having examined democracy as practised in other countries, Kuru said Nigeria and, indeed, other from African countries do not lack capable hands and good people to lead, but would need to look at the kind of democracy they practice and structure a system that would suit the continent. “Nigeria is not a small country at all. Sometimes you wonder what is wrong with us because in terms of capacity we are not lacking. In terms of character, I must tell we have very good people,” he said pointing at Marthin Lurther Agwai, a retired lieutenant general and former chief of Army Staff, who was at the lecture, to buttress his point.
The AMCON boss said Agwai had remained his role model since he got to know him. “We are all familiar with why he left the previous administration. I’m sure quite a lot of us know. Is not that we don’t have good people, we have them and we also have capacity. But there is always conspiracy of the elites, whether is from the southwest, north, east, I can assure you that we are altogether because I cannot say I’m not in the elite. Fortunately for me, there is that conspiracy and the conspiracy of the elites have worked so hard to deter the progress of Nigeria.”
He said it was the same kind of conspiracy that had made the Nigerian banking sector to be the most corrupt in the country. “One of the best places to work is the banking industry and sometimes even under a turbulent situation. Banking industry is the only industry where you book a very bad credit. Maybe you book a credit of N2 billion after one year the credit will not be performing. After two years you will write it off your books and everybody goes home and sleep,” he said.
Although he works in the banking sector, Waheed Olagunju, executive director of the Bank of Industry, BoI, gave a different view about the situation in his bank. In fact, he recommended the model being adopted by the BoI for every other institution in the country for Nigeria to progress and eliminate its leadership deficient.
Olagunju, who spoke extemporarily as one of the discussants, related his experience at the BoI to buttress his points that Nigeria has competent hands to handle problems besetting the country. He said: “I bear witness that Bank of Industry in the last 16 years stands out as a Nigerian institution that has been restructured by very competent, efficient and capable Nigerian leaders.”
He said while others complained that the business environment was bad for a lot of banks last year, 2016, it was one of the most successful year for the BoI. “In 2016 we recorded highly impressive returns double digits in some instances. We are a Development Financial Institution, DFI. Most DFI in Africa operate at losses. They are lost-making institutions. But last year we recorded a 42 percent increase in our operating profit from N11 billion in 2015 to N17 billion in 2016,” he said.
According to Olagunju, it was the desire of former President Olusegun Obasanjo when he assumed office in 1999 to turn around the fortune of the bank which was then known as Nigerian Industrial Development Bank, NIDB, and which was established in 1964. It became the BoI in 2001 through the efforts of the Obasanjo regime, which spearheaded its reconstruction.
He reminisced that Obasanjo wanted the best hands to run the BoI and was ready to even recruit an expatriate to run the bank. But it did not get to that. He said following the placement of advertisement placed capable Nigerians applied for the job and Lawrence Osafina emerged as the best candidate and he was employed. And since then Nigerians have been heading the bank as it continues to grow.
He said: “Over this period of time, all the chief executives made wonderful contributions to the bank. And each of them left the bank stronger than they met it. Many of you cover the Bank of Industry and you reported on the performance. What is clear is that it is possible in our life time as Nigerians to take the bull by the horn if and when we decide to.
“If we could do it in BoI that means it can be done in many other institutions. What we need is many BoIs across the country in terms of state owned enterprises. The methodology in the BoI module is what should be adopted in other states owned enterprises. If major is owned by the government but in terms of operations it should be private sector driven and we benchmark ourselves in terms of global standards, international best practices.”
That notwithstanding, Olagunju advocated that Nigerians should pray for their leaders because of the challenges inherent in leadership in Nigeria.
He said: “As you heard and like my brother (Ahmed) Kuru said leadership particularly in Nigeria can be a very challenging role. One thing all of them have mentioned up till now is that our leaders need prayers. I have the opportunity of working with six managing directors closely. I can tell that leadership can be very challenging and unless you are close to God and believe in God, you may not succeed. We need to be close to God so that people don’t mislead us.
“We have a great country. We have a great people. It is not too late if we all decide to be effective leaders in all our respective assignments.”
Speaking on the topic: “Providing Effective Leadership in Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry in a Turbulent Era,” Maikanti Baru, the Group Managing Director, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, who was represented by Siky Aliyu, the Managing Director, National Engineering and Technical Company, seemed to agree with Olagunju as he said that given the importance of oil and as the major source of revenue for the country, it had become imperative that leadership of the industry must be effective in its duty.
Baru said recurring security challenges in the Niger Delta, volatility of crude oil prices occasioned by supply glut or global economic ebb were some of the challenges facing the oil and gas sector. He said in each of the challenges, the effectiveness of the managers of the sector would be tested on the extent to which he/she could cut deals, “employ the stick and carrot approach, dialogue with stakeholders as well enlist the support of the various arms of government like the National Assembly and the intelligence and security agencies to his or her rescue.
“In a turbulent era of low crude oil prices, the effectiveness of the manager is tasked by his or her ability to rapidly review the company’s business models, with a view to reining in on the company’s costs. It also involves the manager taking proactive approach in engaging other crude oil producers to stem production as was the case that played out late and early this year when crude oil prices were lowest.”
According to the GMD of the NNPC, the corporation has been able to stay afloat the turbulent era because of its adopted strategies. “To stem security challenges in the Niger Delta, for example, the NNPC management has been engaging industry stakeholders, including the various host communities. We have also stepped up the implementation of our Corporate Social Responsibility projects in the host communities, whilst employing members of the communities to guard the over 5,000 kilometres of pipelines and other facilities of the corporation across the country,” Baru said.
Besides, he said the era of price volatility was far from being enviable, especially because of the demand for foreign exchange, which the corporation normally expects to generate. Hence, he said at such period, the corporation would be closely marked and its activities scrutinised, “not to talk of excoriation from some of our more aggressive stakeholders.”
To avoid problems associated with price volatility, the NNPC, according to the GMD, had learnt to starve off attacks through proactive measure of monthly release of the NNPC operations and financial reports, which had given the corporation high ratings with regards to adherence to transparency and accountability.
Nevertheless, Baru said providing effective leadership to navigate the era was, therefore, beyond an individual or nation. “On the contrary, it requires the ability of the various leadership personalities across nations to collaborate and dialogue to take collective action to improve on the fortune of the industry. I want to believe this was what played out in the last one year with the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, as the rallying point. The role of Nigeria in bringing about the relative stability in the crude oil price in the last few months cannot therefore be over emphasised.
“It will be deceptive to think that navigating the turbulence era on the oil and gas industry starts and ends with providing effective leadership alone. Responsible followership, I reckon, could also be part of the solution, if not the panacea,” he said.
He, therefore, recommended dialogue, as against militancy, as means of resolving issues, especially for the sector.
Baru, therefore, appealed to the media to be responsible in their reportage, avoid sensationalism that could cause conflagration.
He thanked the management of Realnews Magazine and Publications Limited for creating the platform aimed at finding solutions to challenges facing the country and Africa at large.
The NNPC GMD said he was delighted to be part of Realnews magazine fifth anniversary because of its balanced reportage. “I am delighted to be part of this year’s Realnews Magazine Online Annual Lecture which holds today in Lagos. Your online medium may be only five years old, however, the impact, I reckon, it’s been making in the newspaper industry is phenomenal. I regard your reportage as responsible, balanced, fair, credible and well researched, underscoring, I suppose, your attraction to readers. I can only urge you to maintain your high standard as this will continue to open door for you in high places, locally and internationally,” Baru said.
In the same vein, Sola Adebawo, communications manager, Chevron Nigeria Limited, his goodwill message commended Realnews for the lecture, saying it was apt considering the current socio-political and economic challenges facing countries in Africa.
Adebawo said he was not disappointed because Realnews annual lecture “has always been a platform to discuss topical issues and emerging trends.” Nevertheless, he said: “We value your role in setting the agenda for public discuss and moulding public opinion on variety of critical issues.”
General Agwai, similarly commended Realnews organisation for the lecture, and singled out Chigbo, like other speakers for being so tenacious to get guests to commit themselves to attend the lecture.
The retired COAS said the issue of African leadership in a turbulent era could be regarded as self-inflicted because of lack of good governance and the rule of law. He said the problems were caused because parents would want to do things for their children instead of allowing their children to face challenges of life and solve them by themselves.
He recalled that when he was growing up he prayed and saved towards using his earned wages to buy his first bicycle, which he got in 1968. But now parents would buy cars for their children without thinking about the implication.
“All of us at our level should develop good leadership. Make the place better than you met it,” he advised.
It was no doubt, a successful outing for Realnews as everyone testified. The array of intelligentsia that greeted the occasion also attested to it that Nigeria, nay, Africa needs a leadership that works.