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Nigeria lacks leaders with moral compass – Amb Keshi

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Niger Delta ministry, NDDC of no use to region - Amb. Keshi

By Obinna Ezugwu

Former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Joe Keshi has decried what he called the lack of moral compass among Nigeria’s political elite, noting that poor leadership was the country’s biggest challenge.

Keshi who bared his mind in a chat with BusinessHallmark in his Lagos home recently, regretted that virtually all the country’s institutions, including the police force have collapsed.

“Again, I go back to the lack of morals. Look at the national assembly for example; everybody in the national assembly has cars, they have in Abuja, they have in their home towns, some actually keep in the various capitals where they land at the airport and so on,” he said.

“When you go to some of these guys, their garages are like car wares, yet they are the same people who sat down and approved for themselves to buy cars in a country where we are looking for money to pay salaries of teachers? How do you explain that? And you tell me our problem is not leadership?”

While many are waiting to elect new government in 2019, Keshi insisted that the solution to the problems does not necessarily lie in changing government for the sake of it.

“It is not about changing government in 2019, it might be part of it, but if we change government in 2019 but the new leadership has no clearly defined ideas and programmes with seriousness and commitment, not just live in the state house,” he noted.

“We once went to Ghana and were received by the president of Ghana. When we got to the place we were to meet him, I looked around the whole compound, even the street itself, I didn’t see anything indicating that the president was in the building. But we went up and the man was sitting down and drinking water.

“Immediately I finished greeting him, I went downstairs and asked the driver where is the President’s security? He looked at me and said, well, one or two are with him upstairs. I said OK, but where is his car? They showed me the car that brought the president. I asked again, where is the dispatch rider? And they started looking at me. They were like, what is this man saying?

“I remember on another occasion because I visited Ghana a lot of times then, I mean under Jerry Rawlings, I would have visited Ghana like ten times. There was an occasion in which he came for an event and when he was leaving, there were only two dispatch riders, the protocol car, his car and that was all. But wait and see the Nigerian president going out. In some states, they governors have created the same paraphernalia as if that is governance.

“That is what the next guy who wants to be governors sees, and when he comes, you now as an adviser tell him to do away with those things, you will become his enemy. The wife who has been studying other First Lady, you go go and tell her that look madam, you will not go out with sirens and convoy, you can be booted out of the state house.

“I hear the IG of police all the time saying that police men should stop carrying bags, but they still carry it till today. That shows you the weakness in our institutions.

“The police is one of those institutions that I keep saying, fine if we are going to create state police, let’s not do it with fiat; let’s do it through systematic and gradual reforms of the force. For example, decentralise power, authority and resources to the commissioners. At that level, you also decentralise power to the divisional heads. And every of these people is held accountable.

“It will do so many things, it will enable us to judge the police leaders in terms of how they are able to manage men and materials and resources. From there, we can also begin to see potential IGs, not what they do now where some people lobby and an IG is taken from somewhere when he is not even a DIG. From Assistant Commissioner, you can become IG because of the political system. You empower the commissioner to be responsible for the state security.”

Speaking on how to improve the country’s ailing economy, the former chairman of the United Bank for Africa (UBA) advocated for greater private sector participation in governance.

“By political ideology, I could be considered a welfarist or a liberal, but the Nigerian situation challenges you to think sometime in the extreme. The situation we are now, because of intellectual laziness in governance; because of the lack of capacity, focus and vision in governance; because of the lack of resources and because the little available is grossly mismanaged, I now believe very strongly that we need to bring in the private sector a lot into the equation,” he argued.

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“I have this idea, for example roads. I remember that one year when I was permanent secretary to the council, the federal government would have approved close to N800 billon for road projects in the country, but even then, the budget of the ministry was probably less than N600 billion. Yet, I don’t think they were able to find up to the amount they approved. So, when you hear they federal government say they have approved roads it is going to cost certain amount of money, but tomorrow you say that nothing has been done, it is usually because the money is not there.

“I came up with the idea that we could change the pattern, let the roads be opened up. Federal government should no longer construct interstate roads, led the roads be given to Nigerian contractors with international partners or any construction company from any part of the world can come and take over over the roads, but you must have a Nigerian partner.

“They can take the roads, construct them and toll it to collect your money. That will significantly do a couple of things. Number one, it will save the gov a huge amount of money which it can now put into education and agriculture. But even agriculture, some of the fundamental problems like in the state is land. Those who want to invest can’t get land, so government should assist people to get land.

“But fundamentally, when you withdraw government from this road construction, you have also blocked a huge source of leakage in the system because the private sector will not give you money and you will not do any work. In any case, it is the contractor who is going to borrow the money, so he is going to figure out how to make back his money.

“The government must realize it cannot do it alone and needs to fan out some responsibilities to the private sector. It will enable the private sector to grow. I will give you a good example. In spite of Donald Trump’s madness, and some of the things he is doing to debase Obama’s legacy, the American economy is still growing because it is basically a private sector driven economy.

“Donald Trump is almost a year in office, but he has not passed any bill. He promised a beautiful tax reform as he called it, but has only submitted one sheet of paper to the house. Because he also came to office unprepared, he was not expecting to win, so he is struggling but instead of listening to those who will help him, he is still carrying on with his showmanship.

“But the point is, no matter what he does, the American economy will continue to grow because it is private sector driven.

“When I served in Brussels, that was the first time I learnt a lesson. In the first 50 or 60 years after the Second World War, there was no stable government in Italy. The longest government before Berlusconi lasted for one year. Some lasted for three months, some five months and some six months. The Italians were changing government like you change your shirt everyday, but the truth is that the economy was best in Europe in the 80s.

“Here, those who are coming into government lack the intellectual capacity; they lack vision, they lack organisational ability and they don’t know how to reorder society; they simply come and begin to do things routinely. A good example, and I don’t want this to sound as if I’m too critical of the APC, to a large extent, it is even not the fault of the APC. It is a systemic problem. But what new initiatives has the APC come up with in the last two or three years?” he queried.

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