OPINION] To Fear Not is to Do Something – Pat Utomi

[OPINION] To Fear Not is to Do Something - Pat Utomi

Happy New Year. What’s happy about the New year? Many are stepping into it with fear. Fear of economic hardship. Fear of insecurity as scores are massacred in cold blood in parts of the country or kidnapped in other parts.. Fear of the state as bully likely to destroy everything you have worked for in demolition frenzies. Fear of state failure. Fear of darkness and living without power to produce. Fear of injustice in a country where the rule of law has gone so far south you can feel the Arctic freeze. Fear of uncertainty as institutions are laid waste by the powerful. But the preacher speaks full of faith,; fear not – be not afraid.

In ways the moment is choking and surreal. And very reminding of Abacha times. As those who could, processed exit visas, just like now, Pope John Paul 11 came visiting in the Spring of 1998.

His last words to the Catholic Bishops  of Nigeria as he ascended the Aircraft stairs were: do not be afraid. You have not been left the Spirit of timidity. A few weeks later Abacha was no more.

My reading of it was do not fold your arms in fear. I could imagine those words in the context of the Ghanaians  in their chant in praise of President Jerry Rawlings: JJ do something before you die. Do something. Do something before you die. To drum percussions and those words they welcomed him to Nigeria on one state visit.

What is the trouble with Nigeria and what must  we do to find redemption.

The honest truth is that self-cantered politicians have individually and collectively not only devalued the Nigeria brand but have deemed hope in the prospects of that country of promise.

In terms of the symptoms of what has gone wrong we can easily itemize some but the real reason to fear are deeper underlying fault lines  of understanding that take away from presumed prospects. Unless we can deal with those we may just be shadow boxing.

Economic hardship is often the easiest to stir the people. It is easy to blame those from before in authority for the dubious title of the poverty capital of the world or to put up theories about the lag or J-curve that follow the so called corrective policies on fuel subsidies and freeing up the exchange rate which suggest we will soon see the effects of those ‘right’ policies. That is what we did with Washington consensus policies under SAP and came up short in many critical areas like our educational system that took a bad hit.

I illustrate the difference approaches can have on outcomes even in pursuit of open economy policy thrusts by showing how differently Mathir  Mohammed’s  choices in Malaysia and those of Indonesia came out during the Asian financial crisis of 1997. It was clear from my study visit to Bank Negara Malaysia(Central Bank) following the World Bank Annual meeting in Hong Kong in October 1997 how leadership commitment to the pain of the people made a huge difference.

In spite of George Soros attack on the Ringit and Malaysia’s rejection of prescriptions by the IMF by contrast to Indonesia.  Malaysia got out ahead of Indonesia.

In our current circumstance we have seen a clear disconnect of policy makers from the people and their personal troubles. Just compare the speech of the Gambian lady legislator which went viral with her rejecting emolument increases for parliamentarians as immoral and the Nigerian Senator bragging that he had a better car than the SUVs they were purchasing, and even to the response of the president of Zambia in similar situation as our executive budget for Yachts and you will understand why Malaysia had better outcomes back then.

When you see a photo of Sweden’s Labor eating her Hamburger at an open station all alone waiting to go home from work or Turkey’s Central Bank Governor moving in to her parent’s home because rents are high in Istanbul you know something is wrong with the culture of accountability in our democracy. Again I keep referring to how as a thirty something year old soldier Gen Olusegun Obassnjo as Head of State turned to low profile that limited him to a Peugeot 504 official car while today’s 80 year old politicians that are supposed to be in touch with the pain of the people travel in 30 SUV convoys as the people turn to scavenging  trash dumps for food.

In many ways our today unabashedly showcases elevated hubris as governance. You do not fix economic problems with such disposition no matter what the world Bank says to you and even that World Bank is questioning the transparency of subsidy removal management.

Besides it is foolhardy to expect enough trust to enable stimulating economic growth in a deep crisis of regime legitimacy. Faced with issues of inclusion, to return to Mahathir, the New Economic policy Malaysia ‘s leaders assembled contending groups under the mantra borrowed from Lyndon Baines Johnson that it is better for all to be inside the house pissing out than for some to be outside pissing into the house. Right now a good majority are either heading out of Nigeria or pissing  in.

Beyond the economy there is the detached and disconnected manner in which the highest authorities are handling the scandalous cases of killings in North Central.

Even Garba Shehu’s pathetic statements of concern from the presidency under Buhari are now seeming a superior approach to current aloofness. In times of such distress people need to be led, consoled and stimulated to believe the Leviathan exists. Blame here goes not only to the Centre but to subnational leadership. The Governors are serving extremely poorly.

At a time of hardship and grave personal troubles of individuals for governments to find reasons to pull down the roof over people, their homes,  and the places of their source of livelihood,  without adequate effort to reduce the pain, especially where government or their officials sanctioned such is beyond callousness and will further alienate the state from society.

The more citizens are alienated from the state, even if they appear to be from powerless communities the more the legitimacy of the state is in question and the deeper the politics of power erosion. As this builds up in a fragile state a small spark can produce shocking outcomes. Let us read the history of Eastern Europe in the season leading up to and immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall in the 1980s.

Rev Professor Anthony Akinwale already described the Nigerian state as one held together at gun point. To recklessly jeopardize its future is gross limitation in wisdom.

If this is a small selection of the troubles of Nigeria today the deeper rooted malaise is the  failure of politicians to appreciate the place of institutions and values in  human progress. Unless they care little for progress they neglect these to the detriment of their place in history and even their safety today. The consequences are self-evident.

The desperate quest for power to exercise state capture has driven many politicians to push to damage our institutions which ordinarily set the boundaries to acceptable conduct and thus reduces uncertainty. We have seen them damage INEC, demolish the Judiciary as they make it the alternate INEC, and devastate the police. One former IG joking among friends described the police as uniformed thugs of the party in power.

Then there is culture. Many agree that values shape human progress but as anyone can easily observe in Nigeria little is more salient than the onrushing collapse of culture. Corruption is celebrated , modesty scorned, nepotism considered appropriate , the work ethic mocked and merit ridiculed  How does such a society make progress.

All must do something.: And be not afraid.  So what am I doing to be urging others on.?

I am driving the founding of a new tribe. A non-partisan gathering of  Nigerians  conscious that character matters, that integrity is key to everything and that the dignity of the human person precedes all gain and that patriotism drives advance of the common good. Members should be willing to declare as a rite of passage: I will not give and I will not take a bribe

If this tribe increases the world will fear less transactions with Nigeria.

I am championing the coming together of political parties and social movements establish a real party with ideology, policy planks and machinery for recruiting and socializing talent to set a leadership course. The big Tent and Remnants of the Concerned Professionals are active here.

In these 20 years since I founded the Centre for Values in Leadership I am hoping to expand its leadership development programmes , including gamifying ethics for Secondary school pupils. To build an army of ethical young entrepreneurs to drive the economic transformation of the country through CVL work would be a worthwhile way to say farewell.

Whatever we can do to save Nigeria is effort well invested.

•Patrick Okedinachi Utomi is a Political Economist  and Professor of Entrepreneurship is of the Lagos Business School and CVL and Enterprise Group UEG

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