All posts by Oluwadamilotun Koko

Azaiki’s gift to public discourse

by Precious Dikewoha

Thoughts on Nigeria is the latest offering from Prof Steve Azaiki, ex-Bayelsa State Secretary to the State Government (SSG). It is a five-part book. The first part deals with governance and politics; the second centres around the Niger Delta; the third is made up of tributes to great Nigerians; the fourth are views on international and contemporary matters; and the last part is made up of interviews on issues largely around the Southsouth, resource control and so on.

The book, which is a collection of Azaiki’s published articles, essays and interviews, contains his emotional piece on the passing of his sister, Cecilia Zifawei. As expected of such piece, it drips with emotion. It shows the moment must have been one of the most painful in his life. The emotion displayed in the piece confirms the fact that the deceased was like a mother to Azaiki.

His “My Three hours with Goodluck Jonathan” is a detailed account of his meeting with the former President at the Presidential Villa and issues related to the meeting. Some of the issues that came up during the meeting include Almajiri education, second Niger bridge, power challenge and so on.

Another article, which will remain relevant for a long time to come, is “Confronting Poverty and Social Insecurity in the Niger Delta”. It espouses the issues in the Niger Delta and how corruption has not made impossible to tackle the challenges facing the region.

Azaiki’s intellectual prowess comes into play in “Why the Hostage-Taking Industry must collapse”. It is an x-ray of the hostage-taking, which started in the Niger Delta but has spread to other parts of the country and seems to have defied all efforts to curb it.

Two pieces, which those leading the fight against insurgency, are bound to gain from are “Nigeria at War: The case for State of Emergency” and “State of Emergency against Boko Haram”. They are both about the Boko Haram menace. Written before the kidnapping of the Chibok girls, the pieces paint the gory picture of the insurgency challenge and suggested ways to deal with it.

Azaiki’s concern in “Political Conference of Hope” is on the vexed issue of how to arrive at  a working configuration to move Nigeria forward.

Aside his tribute to his sister, Azaiki’s offering on former President Shehu Shagari is worth delving into. Titled “Alhaji Shehu Shagari:  The Moral Leader of Our Nation”, it is a fitting tribute to Nigeria’ first Executive President. It is an expression of the high esteem in which he holds the respected statesman. So many writers have examined the Da Vinci Code from different perspectives. It is no surprise that such spiritually-stimulating subject is bound to attract such responses. Azaiki tried to review some of the these diverse views in “The Vinci Code: Was Jesus married?”

His desire to help solve the myriad challenges facing the country led him to the formation of the National Think Tank. So, the piece “Call to Service: The National Think Tank – Mission Statement” points out why the body was formed.  It shows that strategic planning, being very critical to success of any nation, was the main reason for the organization, which provides a platform to assist government in the formation of its policies.

His piece “Let Mandela Go” reviewed the rare honour and privilege of meeting Madiba in 2007 when former President Thabo Mbeki introduced him to the world icon. The new about the late Madiba’s health provided him the opportunity for the review. In the piece, he leaves no one in doubt that he saw Madela as great and fulfilled man, who fought the good and had nothing to lose departing in peace.

Also touched in this book are issues quite germane and connected to the Niger Delta, oil theft, kidnapping, constitutional conference, Bok Haram, leadership, politics, agriculture, patriotism and many others that have impacted positively on the people and country.

Azaiki shows that he is a highly detribalised Nigerian who has continually called many’s silence in time of danger into question.

In this book, he has given so much to the country expecting nothing in return. This book indeed is a document of history.

 

the nation newspaper 2015

Azaiki rethinks development strategies for a better Nigeria

The babble of voices on the socio-political space sometimes makes it difficult to sift through properly and winnow out the best and practicable views that best suit Nigeria’s intractable problems.

This is further compounded by policymakers who fit World Bank and International Monetary Fund-induced solutions to every situation and circumstance in far removed and alien soil like Nigeria. Prof. Steve Azaiki’s Thoughts on Nigeria: Speeches, Letters and Essays (Associated Book-makers Nigeria Ltd, 2014) falls into the category of seminal distillations that are often ignored by Nigeria’s policymakers at the peril of development.

It’s why, in spite of abundance of intellectual input to socio-political conundrums, the problems still persist, perhaps, that way, too, those who profit from the problems continue to feed fat on the misery of the majority.

The saying ‘do not judge a book by its cover’ is also true for Azaiki’s book. The author’s photograph on the cover, on a book that is not an autobiography, wrongly sets it out as one of those ego-massaging, self-glorifying tomes by Nigeria’s politicians likely to gather dust in private libraries soon after the fanfare of a launch. But Azaiki is no ordinary politician; he’s an academic that brings a whole measure of intellectual savvy to the governance table. Having served as Secretary to the State Government under Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha in Bayelsa State, Azaiki is eminently in a position to make qualified pronouncements regarding Nigeria’s leadership problems and offer modest suggestions on the way forward. But also, questions of his stewardship will also be asked: Is he speaking from hindsight of what might have been done? What did he and the government he served do to resolve some of these problems he is now exposing? Having also served during former President Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure as deputy governor, couldn’t he have put in a word or two to help stem the drift that assailed the country’s recently political history, especially the reverses that he contends National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) represent for the people of the Niger Delta and other low income, excluded areas?

These are some of the observable issues that arise from Azaiki’s postulations in his seminally researched essays and speeches that have the endorsement of former President Shehu Shagari, who wrote the forward to the book. These essays and speeches are clearly beyond the drill of some of the workaday run of politicians striding the land. Indeed, Azaiki is probably not writing for now, when democracy equals how much a politician can grab for his pocket while the majority wallows in abject poverty. This is why the emergence of an a properly educated crop of Nigerians that understand what development means and how it can be deployed to best serve the interests of segments of the Nigerians in their diverse sociological backgrounds is an imperative for the author. This postulation is at the heart of Azaiki’s Thoughts on Nigeria.

The book is divided into four parts although the themes or topics necessarily dovetail into one another, with a concern for the peculiar problems of minority Niger Delta inexorably confounded by oil politics. The first part is ‘On Governance and Politics’, with a telling first chapter on oil and gas and the leadership opportunity available for Nigeria. Sadly, Nigeria has repeatedly failed to cash in on such opportunities at the global level because the country fails to address inequities at home, what with the criminal neglect of oil-bearing communities both by the federal Government and the oil companies. The same neglect, Azaiki argues, attends Nigeria’s inability to diversify the economy with revenues from oil wealth, with the result that unemployment remains unacceptably high. The oil companies have their head offices in Lagos, a situation that necessarily denies Niger Delta youth employment opportunities in the oil exploited on their land.

According to the author, “We, as a major oil exporting nation, must use our oil to diversify exports and invest the bonanza in better roads and seaports, invest in education, manpower training, technology transfer and health services… We as a nation must address inequities in Nigerian politics. Oloibiri in Bayelsa State, where oil was first discovered in 1956-1958 must be indelibly etched within Nigeria’s consciousness, and not left barren as an after-thought of yesteryears”.

This essay was written during the Olusegun Obasanjo era. But clearly neither Obasanjo nor Jonathan heeded this sound advice. Even the road to Obasanjo’s Ota or the East-West Road to Jonathan’s Bayelsa was made during their tenures. The seaports of Warri, Port Harcourt, Calabar and Onne remain ghost ports under Jonathan. There’s, therefore, disconnect in scholarly postulations or advice and the realities of development in the land, a situation that has hobbled and stunted the country’s growth.

Azaiki’s is a man of patriotic fervour; for him, being in government is not the only way to serve his fatherland. Having left office, he set up the National Think Tank of like-minded Nigerians to help formulate policies for governments both at state and federal levels. In setting up the National Think Tank, Azaiki argues, “Given our political and economic antecedents and status in the comity of developing nations, we believe that the time has come for Nigeria to take its rightful position in world affairs. As one of the fastest growing, developing nations, Nigeria is expected to show leadership in the delivery of public service. We have, therefore, found it highly important that, in order to achieve good public governance, several factors come to play. Bearing these in mind, this Think Tank will provide a basis for analyzing the areas of success or failures of public governance in Nigeria and proffer credible solutions to the country’s myriad of socio-economic and political problems…”

The professor of Agriculture also writes on other issues of development and governance, especially as happened in recent collective memory. Such issues as Boko Haram, rash of impeachments, the sort that saw his former boss, Alamieyeseigha out of office in what he describes as strange circumstances akin to political witch-hunting, corruption, Bayelsa State under Sen. Seriake Dickson and a host of others.

‘On Niger Delta’ makes up part two of Azaiki’s Thoughts on Nigeria in which he devotes a lot of intellectual energy on issues plaguing the region that effectively feeds Nigeria, but which still has nothing to show for this economic bleeding that leaves a region and its people in bewildering abject poverty. Here, Azaiki argues that government’s developmental efforts through such policy as NEEDS have done far worse to deepen poverty rather than alleviate it. Apart from the physical poverty charactersised by the inability of the people to live well, as a result of polluted waterways and farmlands that starve them of their livelihood, Azaiki also points out a more deadly kind of poverty – educational poverty, which he says will keep the region’s coming generation perpetually poor and in disadvantage with their peers from other parts of the country.

The author argues that the rash of privatization and commercialization of government’s utilities, including the all-important social service like education, has devalued education currently offered in public schools. As a result, government now fails to budget adequately for education, which is contracted out to the highest bidder. This shortfall in educational budgeting will mean that the poor, a condition in perpetuity among the marginalized majority of Niger Delta citizens, cannot afford quality education for their children, as the oil resources of the region go to finance educational projects in other parts of Nigerian. This leaves them in the throes of poorly equipped schools and trained teachers, as local and state governments increasingly find it hard to cater for the huge educational needs of the region. This approach, which the author calls macroeconomic management of development that does not take into account the peculiar needs of special areas that are already at a disadvantage for which the Niger Delta falls compounds the problems of the region. This is moreso when the region is denied full benefit of its oil wealth, a policy that excludes majority of the Niger Delta poor.

As Azaiki states, “Under this framework, government has a purely regulatory role as education at all levels is now a commodity. As a result, NEEDS has deeply impacted the right to free, equal, and high quality education thereby excluding some citizens from participating in growing the economy and denying them from being integrated in a meaningful way in the long-run… the narrow mechanism of NEEDS as inadequate for the scale of a problem which requires broad-based measures…”

With part three as ‘Tributes’ and part four is ‘On International/Contemporary Issues’ that are dear to the author’s heart, Azaiki’s book effectively plumbs the depths of some of the problems plaguing the country. This is a book for now and the future that will help direct the course of good governance that has been lacking in Nigeria’s democracy since 1999. With President Muhammadu Buhari’s ‘Change’ mantra and his promise to feed school children every day, the first step would be to rethink NEEDS and its anti-poor stance in commoditizing education in line with Azaiki’s conception. Clearly, Azaiki’s former boss, Jonathan missed the road on NEEDS with regard to the Niger Delta.

Indeed, governors in the region will do well to read this book and redirect their thinking caps for better performance. Azaiki’s intellect shines through in this commendable work of dispassionate political rendering.

Anote Ajeluorou on June 17, 2015

Guardian newspaper 2015

HANDOVER NOTES; BUHARI MUST TAKE PERSONAL INTEREST IN THE CONTENT

By Prof. Steve Azaiki

President Muhammadu Buhari, who has just been sworn-in, ended his last public assignment 16 years ago, when he voluntarily resigned as Chairman of the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund (PTF). That was  on the eve of the take-off of the Fourth Republic with the handover of power by the last military regime of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar.

Those who, therefore, measure Buhari solely by his tour of political duty as military head of state in 1983-85 often miss out on some critical lessons that Buhari most probably learnt during and after his PTF years.

The Nigerian elite were vociferous in calling for the dismantling of the PTF, branding it a parallel government, and arguing that line Ministries should be funded with the PTF resources, to deliver on their statutory mandates.

Perceptible persons, who had gauged the results of PTF, urged caution in the hysterical demands to jettison the interventionist agency. Rather than discard PTF, a creature of the late Gen. Sani Abacha, more sober voices urged the civilian administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, which was then to assume power in 1999, not to discard PTF, but instead reduce its scope of intervention to infrastructure delivery.

In the end, PTF was wound up, not without controversy among some of its undertakers, but the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA), which emerged much later, was neither in a position to deliver on roads nor even to be anywhere near what PTF had achieved.

The one obvious question from the foregoing is: Do not cut your nose to spite your face. Buhari has come into office now on the mantra of change. But he can be certain that the campaign rhetoric, which permitted the unrestrained and unrelenting castigation of the administration of erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan, does not, and should not imply, that everything, or even most things, done by the Jonathan government must be changed.

It appears to me that Buhari’s best bet is to adopt a philosophical disposition that flows naturally from his public acknowledgement of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s rightful place in Nigeria’s political history.

Former President Jonathan’s good deeds do not reside alone in his patriotic and selfless management of the electoral reforms that have brought about a new dawn in our polity. In several other spheres of our national life, the Jonathan administration had begun, or completed programmes, policies, and projects with positive consequences that many choose to forget, having been bombarded with the negative election propaganda by what was then the opposition party. This is why President Buhari should carefully, and on his own (not by assignment to even his trusted aides), study the handover notes given to him by his predecessor.

In the notes, Buhari will find a succinct statement of the state of the nation. Those notes are a distillation of the bulkier notes prepared by the out-going transition team and handed over to the President-elect’s transition team headed by Alhaji Ahmed Joda.

 Mistakes, remedies

Although the handover notes cover the Jonathan Presidency, they, in fact, encapsulate the country’s governance experience since 1999. The notes contain the goals and efforts, the mistakes and remedies, the successes and challenges, as well as tips and hints on an agenda for the future. The notes, therefore, roll into one the Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, and Jonathan  administrations.

In studying the succinct handover notes, Buhari will discover that there is no point reinventing the wheel. Governments spend so much time trying to carve an identity for themselves, they lose time and goodwill in the process, and leave undone an array of projects and programmes.

President Buhari will discover that the handover notes deal with the areas which he says will engage the attention of his administration: anti-corruption, unemployment, insecurity, and the economy at large. To achieve speedier and more enduring results, Buhari will find wisdom in taking his bearing from where his predecessor left off.

For instance, you cannot pursue employment generation through agriculture and seek to ignore the gains and roadmap set by the preceding administration, nor can you ignore the goal of food security so relentlessly pursued in the last few years. Can you fix the economy and create more jobs without industrialisation? Check out the Nigeria Industrial Revolution Plan of the Jonathan years. Can you drive the economy without investment in infrastructure? Check out what had been achieved in road, rail, and aviation—not just in terms of projects, but essentially the legal and policy frameworks.

 New gameplan

President Goodluck Jonathan presenting his hand over notes to the President-Elect, General Muhammadu Buhari during the official presentation of Handover notes to the President-Elect at the Aso Chambers, State House, Abuja. Photo by Abayomi Adeshida

The Jonathan administration had also achieved milestones in the power sector. If Buhari were to start afresh, by abandoning what went on before, he would superintend the building of so many new power plants, work out ownership arrangements, indeed restructure the power sector. How many years does he have? And can he afford the political cost (of continuing darkness) while he tries out his own brand new gameplan? Even in the petroleum subsector, which has attracted the most negative comments about the immediate past administration, Buhari will find that there were also new frontiers, and that he does not need to throw out the baby with the bath water, no matter how odiferous the water is.

But, why did I advise that Buhari should personally study the succinct handover notes, rather than by proxy? It is probably the best armour he has, as well as the best source of his bearing that will enable him focus on the areas he has isolated to tackle frontally during his years in office. Make no mistake about; Buhari will be bombarded with all kinds of ideas, proposals, and suggestions—and these are by persons who are outsiders pretending to know more than the insiders.

These may also be persons who lost out in earlier schemes and are desirous of getting into the new groove. Some will advise the President to jettison what went on before, and present him with new templates that are either conflictual or would amount to reinventing the wheel. If Jonathan had been re-elected, a good many of such proposals would have been untenable.

However, by arming himself with knowledge from the handover notes, Buhari will be better positioned to interrogate some of the proposals he will definitely be bombarded with. It will also help Buhari if he creates a back channel of communication with whoever served in the previous administration, to help explain, clarify, or put in perspective any matter arising from the past and especially as the new influence peddlers sneak in to the President to sell their ideas.

I am making these propositions, not because I was an insider in Jonathan’s administration. I was not. I did not belong to his kitchen cabinet; I did not run any parastatal under his government, nor did I serve on any committee set up by his administration. I am making the suggestions based on my experience with statecraft at the state level, and my studious observation and analysis of governance at the federal level over the years.

 No booby-traps

On May 28, Jonathan also handed to Buhari a copy of the Report and 600-plus Recommendations of the National Conference of 2014. The President should view the National Conference Report and Recommendations the same way he has regarded Jonathan and his selfless contribution to Nigeria’s political and democratic maturity. In particular, Buhari should ask himself whether former President Jonathan was the kind of person who would lay booby-traps for him.

Buhari might find the answer to that question by carefully examining Jonathan’s action in withholding his assent to the 4th Alteration Bill of the 1999 Constitution, and even proceeding to the Supreme Court, to seek judicial intervention. And yet, that was a President on his way out of office, and, therefore, had nothing to lose, as a number of the clauses in the 4th Alteration Bill sought to erode the powers of the President and vest same in the legislature, among other objectionable provisions.

Already, some irridentists are urging Buhari to disregard the National Conference Report and Recommendations. But in this poor advice none has articulated any position that the Report and Recommendations were self-serving for former President Jonathan, who convened the Conference and was widely applauded by the Conference leaders and participants that he did not interfere with the proceedings or outcome of the Conference.

The 2014 National Conference was by far more eagerly attended, and by first-elevens, than the Political Reform Conference of President Obasanjo in 2005, which collapsed upon rejection of the third term bid. Nor was the 2014 National Conference anything like the 1994-95 Constitutional Conference organised by the military regime of Gen. Abacha. Buhari will hear, loud and clear, the voices of Nigerians in the Conference Recommendations. He will hear the yearnings of Nigerians.

If Buhari hearkens to the voices, he and the nation will have peace in the long run, even after the current honeymoon with his new administration is over. Buhari does not need to organise another Conference, nor should he ignore the outcome of the 2014 National Conference. Former President Jonathan set up a Committee to streamline the 600-plus Recommendations of the 2014 National Conference, into Policy, Legal, and Constitutional reforms.

These were approved by the Federal Executive Council, and then forwarded to the National Assembly.  Buhari should study this and use it as his article of engagement with the National Assembly.

The 7th National Assembly concluded its business with the matter of the 4th Alteration to the 1999 Constitution in abeyance. But the matter will be revived in the 8th Assembly. Would Buhari want to treat it as a sole issue, or take the option of looking at the relevant Recommendations of the 2104 National Conference that have implications for constitutional amendment, and graft these into a new 4th Amendment Bill? That, I think, is the way to go.

* Azaiki is Chairman, National Think Tank.