THE PARABLE OF THE SHOP


“Let me clarify again what I said when I said fighting corruption is not an economic policy. It is not that we can’t fight corruption, but we can fight it more aggressively while addressing economic issues. For example, in 2015, unemployment and underemployment was 24 percent, today it’s 40. In 2015, we were attracting $21 billion in Foreign Direct Investment, we attracted only 12 last year….Our GDP was 520 in 2015 and per capita was 2,500, today it’s under 1,900. If you look at our Stock Market, it’s lost over 2 trillion in one year. So that is not any policy; you’re not creating jobs, you’re not doing the right thing and you’re just fighting corruption. You can’t shut down your shop and be chasing criminals.”

– Peter Obi (at the Vice Presidential Debate organized by the Nigerian Election Debate Group and the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria on Friday, the 14th of December, 2018)

“Let me say also that if you allow criminals to steal all the inventory in the shop, there’ll be no shop. That’s the problem. And what has happened to Nigeria in the past 16 years is what the World Bank told us, that the major cause of our poverty is corruption. That’s the major cause, that’s what we’ve been told. So, let me say that there is no way that we can minimize what has happened. You can’t minimize corruption. If you minimize it, we run the risk of completely….In fact, the argument is lost. We cannot do what we want to do unless we are able to minimize corruption or eradicate it completely, which is what we are trying to do”.

– Professor Yemi Osinbajo (at the Vice Presidential Debate organized by the Nigerian Election Debate Group and the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria on Friday, the 14th of December, 2018)

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I am reluctantly commenting on the Vice Presidential debate. I say reluctantly because the debate that should matter is the one between the heads of the ticket. However, for all it’s worth the Vice Presidential debate gives us an insight into the thinking of the Campaigns. For an incumbent, it gives us some insight into the thinking of the government, especially a secretive government like the Muhammadu Buhari government.

Frankly, only the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Mr Peter Obi of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) deserved to be on that debate stage. I felt quite sad at first watching the other three persons trying to engage, but as the debate progressed, I got angry. I was angered by the fact that they showcased the Nigerian disease of indolence and lack of preparedness. I was shocked that Vice Presidential candidates of parties had no grasp of the facts and issues, I was shocked they came before the nation to just disgrace themselves, their tickets and their parties. But I also confirmed something I’ve since been canvassing which is that apart from the PDP and the APC, all the other parties are time-wasters. Any Nigerian serious about the future of the country should not waste their vote on a third party. They are not viable at all. Of all of them though, I make an exception of Mr Omoyele Sowore’s African Action Congress (AAC). Sowore is not going to win, I know; but he is doing something different from all the others. Sowore has traversed the length and breadth of Nigeria campaigning. He is running an ideological campaign with a clear anti-establishment message. Unlike all the other newcomers, he understands the need to actually build a base first and he’s doing that amongst university students, students of other tertiary institutions, tradesmen, market women and the angry young. Though his running mate, Dr Rabiu Rufai and Sowore himself weren’t invited for the debate, their party had supporters there at the venue of the debate at Transcorp Hilton, Abuja protesting the fact they were not invited. The point I’m making is that Sowore is not viably contesting this very election of 2019, but he is effectively introducing himself as a politician to the nation. He is not campaigning to get into government now; he’s building a project. Whether he would succeed or not is entirely in his hands, but I just want to point out that I do not regard him and his party the same way I regard all the rest, apart from the APC and the PDP.

Nigerians were not very enthused by the debate. I saw some poor viewing figures being bandied around. I’m not quite sure of the exact figures now or the veracity, but what registered immediately in my mind was that they were poor figures. It’s not surprising in a country with its young lost in the bosom of Linda Ikeji and social media dramas. Inside the debate hall, it does look like the PDP had the strongest voice amongst the audience. This was what I could deduce from the breaches when the audience cheered or booed. Obi seemed to have the better reception with the audience followed by the Vice President. I don’t know how they chose the audience, but the reaction may well be that of a cross-section of Nigerians truly tired of the APC government. You get that sense from the boos the amiable Vice President received each time he mentioned the 16 years of the PDP and tried to blame them for one thing or the other.

If this is an indication of what the Presidential debate will look like, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Muhammadu Buhari duck it as he did the last time. He’s an exceptionally tone-deaf leader who might think he won it the last time without appearing and can therefore win it again. He will not understand that the circumstances and expectations are different. Buhari would be scared stiff of the subdued reception accorded the Vice President. He is likely to read more into it than there is and opt not to appear. Alhaji Abubakar Atiku will certainly be there. He’s already indicated that he would after watching the Vice Presidential debate when he said he couldn’t wait to show up for his. It’s obvious that because of the exceedingly poor performances of their running mates, Kingsley Moghalu of the Young Progressives Party (YPP), Fela Durotoye of the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) and Oby Ezekwesili of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) are going to be extra-motivated for the showdown. Of course, they are going nowhere, but they would be in the mood to claim the scalps of the APC and PDP candidates. As they say in Nigeria, they’d want to “shine”. Of the three, the person likely to make hay in that regard is Kingsley Moghalu. But in truth, Nigerians would only want to see an Atiku and a Buhari face-off. If Buhari cowardly opts out, then Atiku will be left with the hyenas, but I know he can hold his own.

In terms of the debate, there is no doubt that Peter Obi was the clear winner. Obi who is not blessed with a great voice was confident, knowledgeable, at ease and clearly prepared. The Vice President looked bedraggled, tired and repeatedly stuttered as he got intimidated by the reaction of the audience to some of his poor takes on issues, especially anytime he chose to go the route of “16 years”. Now, I don’t know what the rules were in terms of whether contestants could openly refer to materials, notes, computers, etc. while on the podium. I remember how during the 2004 US Presidential debate Americans and the world nearly had a meltdown at the possibility that Dubya (George W Bush) had a hidden device in his suit to ‘cheat’ during the debate with John Kerry. The contestants are supposed to talk ex tempore. On the debate stage, only Obi showed that level of preparedness to appear without notes, stepping back from the microphone once he finished answering the question and returning there to answer when further asked.

Peter Obi dished out a lot of statistical data to support his points, but there were a couple of these that got the ‘fact checkers’ fluttering and squawking in their cages. In his opening remarks, Obi said we now live in a country where we have the highest number of poor people in any nation, “87 million and growing 6 percent every minute”. The fact that Nigeria has become the poverty capital of the world with about 87 million people is not disputable, but why needlessly add that this is “growing 6 percent every minute”? My suspicion is that Mr Obi simply misspoke and likely not deliberately. He was obviously well prepared with statistics, but he got something mixed up there. First, nobody rates poverty statistics every minute and if they do, 6 percent every minute is Armageddon. It is logically impossible. Maybe Mr Obi wanted to say that the poverty figure has the capacity to grow 6 percent every year, I don’t know; but clearly that part of the data he provided is totally meaningless. All he needed to say was that with 87 million people living in extreme poverty, Nigeria has become the poverty capital of the world and he would have still effectively made the point he was trying to make.

The other problem with his statistics was when he mentioned that Nigeria has 2 million vehicles. This again was baffling. The difference between his figure and the reality of over 11 million is quite wide. Ordinarily, when I judge people’s use of statistics in this type of pressurized atmosphere, I do not do so harshly as I look out more for the sense they make with their vision, rather than the numbers they quote. Clearly, Obi’s anti-subsidy argument and his claim that what we are subsidizing today is inefficiency was very powerful and convincing, but where the statistics is provided to mask a big lie or score an unfair point, you need to look at that closely. In this very instance, Mr Obi was trying to make a case against the petroleum subsidy by saying those it is meant to benefit are an insignificant number in the population. By saying 2 million vehicles instead of more than 11 million, the impression is created that less than 20 percent of a certain class of beneficiaries are actually benefitting. There is clearly an intent to use statistics dangerously there, unlike in the case of the poverty figures. I was a little put off by that.

But nothing put me off more than the unrestrained untruths streaming out from the Vice President’s mouth. It seems that Professor Osinbajo has taken it upon himself to be the Chief Pinocchio of the administration. His unconvincing pitch about the petroleum subsidy masks the fact that he, the President, the Minister of State for Petroleum and their various government, party and Campaign spokespersons have been lying relentlessly to Nigerians from day one about the subsidy payments. Today, despite having increased the price of petrol from N86 to N145 in one fell swoop and at a time crude price is low, his government is paying atrociously more in subsidy than the vilified Goodluck Jonathan government and we are hearing rumours now that they intend to increase the price again before the end of the year or by early next year. Professor Osinbajo has also perfected a pitch where he keeps repeating that their government is earning 60 percent less than the previous government which is a claim based partly on fiction and partly on the assumption that revenue is the same as earnings. Each time he claims that the Jonathan government earned $383 billion from crude sales, he conveniently refuses to acknowledge that this was at most revenue and not earnings as this was money shared between Nigeria and the other foreign partners. Of course, the share of these foreign partners can never be earnings, but Osinbajo is okay selling the lie that it is.

Also, repeating the proven lie about the amount of electricity we generate was annoying, especially in the light of the recent claim by the Minister of Power, Mr Babatunde Fashola that government is not responsible for the poor state of power supply in Nigeria and so also was the repeat of the fable about our level of self-sustainability in rice production. Osinbajo’s figures about what they are spending on the social intervention programmes hide the huge corruption going on in the system where no independent audit of any sort is engaged and where the only spending and figures we get come from his office without independent corroboration from elsewhere. The financial recklessness involved in that programme is simply mind-boggling. And the shamelessness is brazen. For instance, the open vote-buying scheme that is the MarketMoni or TraderMoni with the Vice President as the arrowhead crisscrossing markets to ostensibly distribute these monies is puke-worthy. The Vice President, despite his claim to being a Christian cleric, is leading a government that has taken Nigeria to a new low in political immorality. Forget the surreal sight of the Vice President himself being the one personally doing this this ill-disguised vote-buying, does this not indicate that the government has no good intentions for our country and our people if this is how they think they can lift people out of poverty? Is it that the Vice President is so jobless that he has to be the ruling party’s operative at the dirtiest end? Of course, he repeatedly tried to deflect attention from their own mismanagement and open thievery by reclining into his “16 years” blame of PDP for corruption, but the audience reaction each time he did that tells us clearly that Nigerians see through their lies. Nigerians look forward to the day Professor Osinbajo and the APC would leave government at the centre so the nation can properly investigate them. When the shoe is on the other foot, we’ll see how the facts stack up.

The truth of the Vice Presidential debate is encapsulated in the two quotes above from Obi and Osinbajo. Obi said you cannot lock up your shop and chase after thieves and Osinbajo responded that if you leave thieves to steal the inventory there’ll be no shop. These two quotes capture the mindsets of the APC administration we have in place now and the PDP angling to take over. Obi understands that losses to thieves, trade competitors, customers and so on are par the course in business. While he will not encourage theft, he will not abandon the investment in pursuit of losses because he realizes that without the investment, there will be no losses in the first place and the losses do not have to define the investment if the investor does everything to protect the investment. Obi recognizes in the analogy that the shop is Nigeria; this is your duty post as a patriot and as a public official and policy formulator and implementer. You cannot leave your duty post for any reason. Rather, you create processes and get facilities to deal with any challenge that may arise from focusing on that duty post, instead of thoughtlessly running out to supposedly confront those challenges.

But Osinbajo’s attitude of chasing after the thief is akin to leaving your flanks open while running after a loss. I mean, which is bigger – the shop you are leaving to run after the thieves or the things stolen by the thieves? First, in going after the thieves, you are on an adventure with an uncertain outcome. You might capture them and recover your losses from them and you might not. So, assuming you recover those losses and return, it’s either of two things you’ll meet – your shop and inventory gone or a loss of business because of what you could not attend to while supposedly chasing the thieves. Yes, while you were gone, these are the only things likely to happen and both are bigger losses than whatever you chased after.

It’s thus obvious that Obi and his team have a better sense of how to grow our economy. He repeatedly showed this with his analogies and in his use of comparative statistical data to indicate what we are doing wrong as a country and what we have to do to improve our productive base. When he said fighting corruption is not an economic or governance policy, he wasn’t proposing that we should not fight corruption. He’s saying making a song and dance about fighting corruption with little result and a huge dose of hypocrisy while we leave the real policy issues that should improve the people’s quality of life and our standing in the world is a loser’s manifesto. Obi has a great record in public service that neither Osinbajo nor Buhari can boast of. Indeed, if we were to grade Governors of the Fourth Republic from 1999, I would have Obi top of my list for the evident successes he brought to administration in Anambra State. He’s no slouch in the private sector either and that combination isn’t something you often get with our politicians.

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