‘Political offices should be de-monetised to attract the right people’
The 21st President and Chairman of Council, Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM) Chartered, Professor Olukunle Iyanda, in this interview with GLORIA EHIAGHE, explains the challenges of democracy in Nigeria, how they could be effectively managed and how the country could wriggle out of developmental challenges caused by inept leadership, among other issues. Excerpts:
Despite government’s acclaimed measures to tackle unemployment, the number of unemployed youths keeps rising. What other measures do you suggest would reduce unemployment in Nigeria?
Unemployment is a consequence. It is a result of something, and unless you tackle the root cause of unemployment you won’t move anywhere. What is the root cause of unemployment? They are infrastructure deficit, insecurity and instability of the political structure. An American security analyst has forecast that Nigeria would have disintegrated by 2015, so why would you want to go and invest in such country where you don’t know whether you will be catering to a population of about 180 million people because a threat of dismemberment is loud, unless you want to deceive yourself.
So the problems of insecurity, political instability and lack of infrastructure are some of the challenges to tackle first. Once you tackle them, employment would follow. Unemployment is not something you tackle directly, say by employing this or that number of people, no. If you provide those things that are needed to establish the production unit or the business unit that would employ people, the challenge would reduce.
Rather than thinking of solving the problems that would create jobs for the teeming youths, politics is our pre-occupation. People are already thinking where they want to be in 2023, who wants to be president, who wants to be senator, who wants to be governor in the states. That is all they are thinking about. We have not finished one election, we are thinking of the next election. Is that our pre-occupation? Why should that be our pre-occupation? Why don’t we spend time to think of how we can make this country move forward and provide services to the people? So that is the root cause of unemployment, the destruction of infrastructure, lack of security, inappropriate policies and inappropriate structures.
Firstly, is to educate the citizens of this country. People need to be educated about the political choices they make. They should look beyond immediate gratifications. What is that person’s track record? What kind of person is he? Is he someone who is looking only for his own selfish interest rather than someone who actually wants to serve the people?
Secondly, we should de-monetise politics. Particularly, we should make political offices less financially attractive. The benefits to political officers are offensive, immoral and insensitive to the masses. You serve as governor for four years and you steal as much money as you can, and when you leave office, you are paid in billions.
We should make political office less attractive financially so it will attract the right kind of people, not people who are looking for ways of dipping their hands into the commonwealth. That will also encourage good people to go into politics, because right now we have all kinds of people they are attracted to politics by money.
What influenced the choice of ‘Managing the Challenges of Democracy’ as the theme of this year’s Annual Management Conference?
I think this country is facing the challenge of democracy. People are not happy. There is unrest everywhere, people are being kidnapped, killed and being extorted for ransom. We are not developing, we are not moving ahead. This country should not be where it is today in terms of people’s wellbeing, development indices and in terms of harmony of the nation. We think that these are issues that need to be addressed and that is why we choose the topic. What we consider a relevant issue for the country is how do we manage the challenges posed by democracy?
Do you think democracy is working in Nigeria?
Those who designed the current democratic rule have certain assumptions on which democracy is based. On those assumptions, you will remember that before a democratic rule, there have been all kinds of systems. But with people getting more and more knowledgeable, it was said that each citizen should be able to participate in deciding who actually governs them. But to exercise that responsibility effectively, it is assumed that the citizens are sufficiently knowledgeable to select their leaders. Secondly, that there are real options of the political system, or the philosophy of those we want to elect, and that we know those who are presenting themselves to govern us. But, currently, these assumptions are not met in Nigeria. At least 60 per cent of our population is still illiterate, they cannot read or write. How do they know who they are voting for? Do they even understand the system? That is why people will vote for someone who gives them money rather than his capacity to represent them.
Do they understand the contemporary world? Those who are in, do they understand the global connection in the world, so that we cannot just be doing things the way we like? It won’t work because we are a part of a big thing and we must fit into that global system of operation.In a sense, since those underlying assumptions of democracy are not currently in Nigeria, democracy cannot work. That is why politicians would say our own brand of democracy, Nigerian version of it means anything goes, it is our own way of doing it. But there is nothing like “our own way of doing it.”
Democracy in the pure concept of how it can work, but people have to make it work. They have to develop the spirit. Democracy simply is defined as a government of the people by the people and for the people.
In this country, is democracy for the people? No. It is for the government. All the benefits, dividends of democracy are to the government. Was a governor not sacked in this country because he did not patronise or give the benefits of democracy to the party leaders? It was not that he did not serve the people, but because he did not let the things flow to the party leaders. Is that democracy?
That is why this institution wants to examine some of these factors; why is democracy not operating as well as it should operate in other places?
President Buhari resolved to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next five years through massive jobs creation and economic diversification. How feasible is this? Can Nigeria achieve it?
Whether we achieve it or not depends on whether we adopt policies that are complementary to that dream and objective. It is a possible and noble idea, but we need to change the way we do things. But if we continue to handle things the way we are doing, and we say we will increase the number of people who are living in abject poverty, poverty will remain.
These are issues we need to re-examine and each of us should think and do our bit at least by constantly letting government know that what they are doing is not right. We pray that the government will be able to lift 100 million people out of poverty. But for them to do so, they need to adopt different policies and different attitudes to governance. Let governance focus more on the people than on the politicians. We need to change our attitude for this country to move forward.
How can the issues on security challenges be addressed in Nigeria?
The first responsibility of a human being is to preserve his life because it is when you are alive that you can dream and get things done, but when people’s lives are threatened, they become pre-occupied with that and they don’t do anything. That is why you see that the economy is not doing well apart from the other challenges we have.
So you will now talk about investors, when he hears that the place is unsafe, why will he want to come here? When there are a thousand other places where he can go to where his life is secure and he can invest, operate his business and feel fulfilled. The returns in this country are good for investment. They are much higher than the global average, but the environment is not conducive and while investors would like to make money, they want to be alive.
Addressing the issues of security lapses is to train security officers, challenge them and set targets for them. Tell me what you will do and what is the timeline when that situation would be resolved. And if they can’t do it, you fire them. That is why you are president. You have the authority and the responsibility, and I will call those who are security experts to tell me what their plans are? It is my responsibility as president to provide it. Thirdly what is the timeline? When will I see the effect?
And you tell me in three months time; nobody will talk about security again in this country as an issue. And I wait; if by the timeline you gave me there has not been any effect of very visible improvement, I will change.
Kidnapping, which is now rampant is easy because you have roads close to thick forests. Anybody can hide there. In many countries highways like that, so you can see from about 10m from the road. But here, this is the end of the road, this is where the forest begins, very easy to harbour all kinds of people. In some other African counties you see that for highways about 10m from the road are cleared of thick forest and all that maybe grass or whatever and they are constantly maintained. So, you have visibility that helps tremendously and of course you can’t hide in low grass, people will see you. But we don’t maintain our roads, we are not even talking of quality of the roads, we are not talking of the environment of the roads. We have houses built almost on the road and in some cases we have stores built right on the road that also helps impair security of the roads.