Koka commission’s lesson on political administration
To the chagrin of those who had set up the enquiry, the commission’s sittings inadvertently turned into a lecture series of sorts on political administration.
Here are some excerpts: 1st Commissioner: Mr. Ita I take it you have sufficiently studied the Economic Intelligence Report of 1964 as we recommended to you at the previous session.
Mister Ita: Yes, I have, Mister Commissioner. 1st Commissioner: Thank you. As shown in the report, the eastern region’s capital expenditure for 1961, your first year in office, exceeded total collected annual revenue by as much as four times.
In your second year in office, that is 1962, capital expenditure to total revenue stood at a ratio of 6:1. In 1963 the figure was the same. In 1964 the figure went a notch higher; that is 7:1! My knowledge of economics is limited to O’Level GCE, so you can understand how totally confusing these figures appear to me.
Could you please explain those ratios? Mister Ita: Thank you. Those ratios appear confusing because of the regime of technologies we adopted in my administration.
We opted for technologies that are friendly to available manpower in the third world. Incidentally, such technologies also guarantee the highest GDP because of their high labour component.
These technologies also come for five, six, seven, or more for a penny because of their expired patents. Some people may laugh at the idea of adopting third or fourth generation technologies.
But, the truth is, these technologies afford local manpower the best opportunities to learn the fundamentals of technologies, thereby facilitating technology-transfer: A desperately missing component in our industrial quest. We live in the third world, so why insist on state-of-the-art technologies?
They are unduly expensive to acquire and prohibitive to maintain… 1st Commissioner: Pardon me, Mister Ita; but why then did your finance people not give the actual figures? Mister Ita: Because there are non-disclosure clauses in the sales and contractual agreements.
We still cannot publish the actual acquisition figures. 2nd Commissioner: Mister Ita, I was just wondering why other premiers didn’t take advantage of the wonderful opportunities inherent in these third and fourth generation technologies.
Did your training as a development economist give you an edge? Mister Ita: Yes, you could say so. 2nd Commissioner: Now please tell me; does any region of the world enjoy monopoly in the area of third and fourth generation technologies? Mister Ita: No. 2nd Commissioner: l thought so.
I was wondering why all the technologies you adopted had to come from eastern bloc countries. Could you explain, please? Mister lta: Availability of spare parts is a major problem in applying third or so generation technologies. Often times a manufacturer has to re-tool to meet customer’s demand.
The lead time to meet an order is a function of manufacturer’s age in the industry. The younger the age, the quicker and cheaper the spare parts arrive. As of today the eastern bloc affords the youngest of old technologies.
2nd Commissioner: Did you ever visit the eastern bloc before you became premier? Mister Ita: No. 3rd Commissioner: Mister Ita, you must be acquainted with the works of Karl Marx. Mister ita: Yes, Mister Commissioner. 3rd Commissioner: What is your considered opinion of “Das Kapital” in relation to developing economies? Mister Ita: “Das Kapital” is an imaginative book.
I think developing economies would find the book’s ideas on re-distributing commonwealth quite interesting. 3rd Commissioner: Would you say the author of that imaginative book was a great economist? Mister Ita: I can’t give a definite answer to that question, because Karl Marx was both an economist and a historian.
He was second to none in the area of dialectics. He wrote about history with the eyes of an economist. 3rd Commissioner: You haven’t answered the question.
Mister Ita: I’m afraid that’s the best I could offer with my knowledge of the man. 3rd Commissioner: How best do you reckon Karl Marx is remembered today, as a historian or economist? Mister Ita: I can’t answer that; I already said I’m not a historian.
3rd Commissioner: I would presume your idea of giving the country back to the ordinary people derives from Karl Marx’s idea of placing the proletariat at the commanding height of the economy.
Do you believe labour can replace management? Mister Ita: No, it simply lacks the capacity.
Labour will always remain labour, and management will always remain management. These are two very different sets of people.
But in present day Nigeria, management, represented by the government, is doing a lot less than is possible for the people, represented by labour. 4th Commissioner: I would like you, Mister Ita, to please enlighten this commission on how you financed your free primary education, free primary health programmes and subsidies to farmers.
Mister Ita: The returns on our capital investments are real money, Mister Commissioner; that is where the region draws from to finance those people-oriented programmes you just talked about. Third generation technologies may look rugged but they operate at comparable efficiencies as state-of-the-art technologies; hard though it is to believe.
The hugely discounted prices on those dated technologies are not a measure of production efficiency. When patents on technology expire, huge royalties no longer apply; The discounts mean our industrial goods, like cassava grinding machines, rice milling machines, bicycles, wheel-barrows and farming implements, get to the marketplace with a huge price advantage. Huge turnovers follow.
Next, we plough back some of the excess funds into manpower development and factory expansion with the logical concomitants on the region’s revenues.
That is how the eastern region finds the money to fund its free primary education, free primary health programmes, scholarships to secondary schools and university students and subsidies to farmers’ cooperatives. 4th Commissioner: The records show you undertook quite a number of trips to the eastern bloc during your tenure as premier.
Why so many trips? Mister Ita: Quite frankly, Mister Commissioner, I would have made many more trips to those parts had time not been at a premium.
The eastern bloc offers so much opportunity to my region, and to our dear country, Nigeria, I dare say… 4th Commissioner: Did you have to make those trips yourself, considering the high demands of the office? Mister Ita: The effectiveness of that office is based on sufficiency of revenues. Also, I am a hands-on person where crucial matters are concerned.
I could well have chosen to delegate a better part of my office, and be an armchair chief executive, but I know the risks inherent in discharging a high office by proxy.
I was too mindful of my responsibilities to the people to expose the fortunes of the region to such risks. 5th Commissioner: Mister Ita, a section of the local media has referred to you as a socialist, and I am not aware you have issued a rebuttal.
Are you a socialist? Mister Ita: I would rather talk about facts and figures, that is my comfort zone. When it comes to semantics I am not as comfortable because there is no consensus on a wide range of terms. But if by a socialist you mean a person engaged in uplifting the living standards of the ordinary people, then I could pass as a socialist.
But I’m not fussy about name tags. 5th Commissioner: Your region receives free training and scholarships from the eastern bloc, are those not grants? Mister Ita: No, they are not grants. All those training programmes are part of our plants and equipment suppliers’ contractual obligations.
These obligations are clearly stated in the sales agreement to which I referred earlier. The eastern region did not receive any form of grant or loan from any foreign country during my tenure. 6th Commissioner: Mister Ita, you said you could pass as a socialist.
Listening to you in the last couple of hours one could pass you off as an admirer of communism. Do you admire communism? Mister Ita: I am indifferent to it. 6th Commissioner: Doesn’t it bother you at all that some of those young people receiving free training in the eastern bloc might return to Nigeria with doctrinal influence? Mister Ita: Doctrines are matters of the heart.
The hearts of men are in the hands of God. God converted Saul to Paul in spite of himself; did He not? Chairman: Em, Mister Ita, please let us keep to the rules; the commissioners will do the questioning.
Thank you. Mister Ita: Thank you, Mister Chairman. Before the commission wound up its sittings, Ex-premier Bassey Ita and some of his political associates were curiously charged with treason.
They were subsequently arraigned, tried, convicted and eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison. Barely three years after, he was released by a military government, following a coup; soon after, he was made de facto prime minister of the country.
Ex-premier Bassey Ita mirrors the life and times of a first republic politician variously referred to as “the only issue in Nigerian politics”; “the greatest president we never had”; “a political sage” etc.
Needless to say, the man was fully in tune with the essentials of transforming a third world to a first.
The widely acknowledged sage, who had predicted with mathematical precision the ultimate fate of the second republic, would have foreseen that the unbridled importation of state-of-the-art technologies by our present crop of leaders would ultimately litter the nation with debts-compounding white elephants: the steel complexes; the fertilizer complexes; the crude oil refineries; the petrochemical plants; etc.
I, in all humility, commend the prolific writings of the great Seer to anyone aspiring to transform Nigeria. • Nkemdiche, a consulting engineer, wrote from Abuja. .