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Utomi: Countries That Have Made Progress Did So Because Leaders Inspired Followers


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Pat Utomi, a professor at Lagos Business
School, is a former Presidential aspirant. In an
interview monitored on RockCity 101.9 FM,
Abeokuta, he speaks on several issues including
how he became a presidential aide in his 20s,
what he thinks is Nigeria’s major problem, how
the nation can tackle corruption, the killings in
the North, his tour of duty at Volkswagen of
Nigeria limited, why he thinks the Import
Substitution Industrialisation Strategy was a
misplaced policy, and his days as journalist in
the late 70s and early 80s. Excerpts:
You started as a journalist , what was your
experience like in the late 70s and early 80s?
Journalism then is rather different from today
for a variety of reasons. First of all, back in the
70’s newspaper in Nigeria sold big. Bola
Ogusanwo who was editor of Sunday times had
days which he sold a million copies. Today, i
don’t think most Nigerian newspapers sell
50,000 copies and its extra- ordinary when
100,000 is sold, that shows that the power of a
great reporter from those days does not quite
exist today.
Unfortunately, back in those days, there was a
certain sense of mission that journalists were
there to change the world. Amuka Pemu,
publisher of vanguard, Peter Pam and all those
columnists were extra-ordinary people who
were paying their dues as an investigative
reporter, great correspondents before they got
to write a column. Today everybody leaving
school is a columnist, and so people just feel
journalism with opinions rather than serious
investigative reports. As a 21 year old youth
corper, I wrote an investigative report that led
to a carbinet reshuffle in this country. I am not
sure if young reporters have that same sense
of guardians of the public space.
If I were to give you the opportunity and
power, what would you change about how the
media is being run today?
To be fair to the reporters and journalists,
probably what has happened is the economics
of journalism. There has been such that many
media enterprises were not properly funded.
Just like an experience not too long ago when I
checked into a hotel in Washington,
surprisingly, a wall street journal
correspondent called me, because he thought I
could help shed some light on a story he was
working on. It was a story about a certain
American oil service company that was alleged
to have offered bribes in Nigeria. The then
incumbent vice president of the united state of
America was associated with the company.
When i probed a little further, the reporter said
to me, ‘’here is a $100,000, nail the vice
president, confirm that he was involved in
bribe giving in Nigeria’’. I was amazed; I mean
can you think of any editor in Nigeria giving a
reporter hundred thousand naira not to talk of
a hundred thousand dollars to chase a story.
So the economics of journalism has affected
the quality of the work that people do,
everybody is just an opinion offerer rather than
people who do careful research and on the
basis of that present evidence that can lead to
choice been made.
You were appointed as special assistant political
affairs in 1982 to the then President Shehu
Shagari. What earned you that recognition?
My role and place in government, tells a story
about how different today is from those days.
My role had simply everything to do with
perception of ability rather than any network,
any contact or any desire to be in a political
position. As the story goes, people like Ray
Ekpu were more or less contemporaries, they
were the early editors straight out of journalism
school, they were in senior positions and Okon
Akiba, one of his colleagues in the “chronicle”.
Interestingly a group of smart journalists came
out, around the Calabar area, about the
mid-70s. Ray Ekpu, Pat Okon, Okon Akiba and
a number of them started the “chronicle” and
they were running very well. When I was in
Grad school, Ray moved to Lagos and became
editor of the Sunday times and on one visit to
Nigeria, he asked if I could write for him from
the US and make contributions. Incidentally, he
had become friendly with a well-known
Nigerian journalist called Dele Giwa. They were
colleagues working together. Dele had run into
my name in the US reading The “Christian
Science Monitor” which was one of the greatest
newspapers in the world. Back in those days, I
got a pretty interesting early break running into
its oversees editor called David Annabel who
asked if I could write on African issues for him.
Dele was amazed to see a Nigerian whose bye-
lines appeared in The Christian Science Monitor.
So when I met Ray, he asked if I can write for
Sunday Times. I then began writing pieces from
the US while I was still in Grad school and
many of them were policy-type issues, taxation
and so on. Obviously a couple of people took
notice of the kind of advice that came out of
those pieces and one of them was the vice
president of the country. when I returned into
the country, a group of people were talking
about ideas being offered so my name came up
in the conversation and they reached me and
asked if I could do some policy issues as a
consultant and I accepted because that is what
I set up to do. In my return, I had set up a
policy management consulting firm called
‘’Utoma’’. The first piece of work I did which
was around tax policy was taken to the then
vice president. This group was actually led by
chief Bayo Kuku and in the course of a general
conversation, he just said it very casually that
“President Shagari approved of you to replace
professor Odenigwe” who was a special adviser
at that time and I said “I would think about it”.
So that is how I ended up in that position.
Between 1986 and 1993, you were assistant
general manager and then later, deputy
managing director of Volkswagen of Nigeria
limited.Does it bother you that we no longer
have them operating in Nigeria?
If I had the right; I would have closed it down
the day I was appointed.
Because the strategy was foolish and we were
about to repeat that foolish strategy. How can a
country keep making wrong judgments.
Volkswagen of Nigeria, Peugeot Automobile and
those other firms like ANAMCO, LEYLAND in
Ibadan and co were the result of a policy called
‘’The Import Substitution Industrialisation
Strategy ‘’.They came out of the writings of a
Latin American Economist called Rahul Pribish.
Most Asian countries started with the import
substitution industrialisation strategy but at the
time we went into it, it probably had some
rational things that was justifiable except that
the window was closing very quickly on us.
What was one of the major attractions of
import substitution was that back in the 50’s
shipping cost was very high and because of
that, if you put four trucks on a ship going from
Madrid to Sao-Paolo in Brazil, the cost was so
high. If you put those four trucks in one
container as SKD and you re-assemble them on
the other side, there was such a significant gain
in the reduction of the cost of shipping. Even if
you spend a lot of money re-assembling it
here, you have plenty of benefits from creating
jobs and the advantages you got from the
savings and from the shipping cost. Now, the
shipping industry realising that it was losing
grounds as a way of moving things, although
there was a prediction in the 50’s that by the
1990’s, it will be cheaper to ship things around
the world by air than by sea, so industry got
concerned and began to look at how to deal
with this problem. Typical thing managers do
when they have a problem is manning levels,
like let’s reduce the number of people who
man ships or design ships that can be manned
by fewer people. So the more they designed
and reduced shipping cost, the less competitive
ship continued to be until they came to the real
question of the moment which was…What is
the reason shipping costs are very high?. In the
analysis they discovered that shipping costs
were high because the ships spent most of
their time at harbour offloading and loading.
What Nigeria needed to do was to say” let’s not
waste our time, we’ve missed the window on
building the motor industry. What we should do
is take some components of the motor car in
which Nigeria had strong factor endowments.
For example, let’s say” my favourite item was
rubber, in those days as my own studies
showed that Nigeria had the best yield per
hectare of rubber in the world. There were a
couple of car components out of rubber that
will determine you to become the best quality
producer in the world to export to these
companies that are in Nigeria for use in their
global production. My estimate was that Nigeria
will earn more money from selling those
components than it was earning from crude oil.
So I said to people back then that if I had my
way, I will shut down and people thought I’m
not a patriot. Fifteen to twenty years later, the
entire industry is dead as I predicted the day
that I took the job. If Nigeria became the best
producer of just one rubber component in a
motor car in the world, it will provide Nigeria
more than a million quality jobs, we will earn
foreign exchange and so on. That is the point of
a motor industry, so this is the vision that I saw
that made me in 1986 suggest that if I had my
way, I’ll shut down the industry.
Unemployment is a ticking time bomb. As it is,
how can we create more jobs for the youth of
the nation?
I think we have to look at manufacturing as
being critical to creating jobs. Manufacturing
sector in Nigeria has literally gone from a point
where in the 70s manufacturing contributed
nearly 13 per sent of GDP to a point where it
contributed literally less than 3 per cent of
GDP. Manufacturing in Nigeria, following the
import substitution industrialisation logic, did
not emphasize the country’s factor
endowments, what are the comparative
advantages of the country and then the
manufacturing strategy. Instead we went for
the things that were deleted from our import
list, they were generally what everybody was
trying to do which was getting to manufacturing
and our competitiveness suffered because we
were not doing what we could do well. If you
notice when manufacturing went into a slump
after the structural adjustment programme was
introduced, the price of inputs became higher
because of the return to market for foreign
exchange, many of the manufacturers that
thrived were in sectors like food and beverages
whose inputs were primarily local, and so
manufacturing going forward must be based on
our factor endowments and our exploring
global value chains of those endowments. We
need to look at agriculture and manufacturing
and how they relate in terms of global chains
not just exporting. We also got to think of
some of our endowments around the hydro-
carbon value chains. Years ago, I also repeated
this in a lecture I gave recently to NNPC
managers in Abuja, I talked about Gas
Utilization. Nigeria often is referred to as an oil
producing country but the truth of the matter is
that Nigeria is a gas producing country with
associated crude oil. There is a lot more gas in
this country and if you look at the value chain
originating from gas, you could literarily create
millions of jobs out of that. If you think of
manufacturing possibilities out of gas, a lot of
fertilizer companies just simply require gas and
another easy take out of gas value chain, is the
fact that there are certain heavy industries that
can only thrive when they have very cheap
power available. If the country made a strategic
choice of selling gas to attract those kinds of
industries into the area, Nigeria will find itself
up there, in a very short period of time with
jobs created all around the place.
A lot of young Nigerians are creating business
ideas but lack the capital to actualise them.
How can we help these youths?
Well, I think it’s a very good thing that our
country is gifted with talented young people
who are anxious to use those skills to create
value. The truth is that there is an over-
exaggeration of the lack of capital because
when you have a really great idea, you will
always find some source of support financially.
It’s not going to be easy but most businesses
started with a couple of aunties, uncles, mom
and dad giving the child a few thousand dollars
to start a family garage or something else once
you show promise. So the idea is beyond
availability of capital, the capital is there but
there are also institutional factors. For instance,
somebody who is absolutely nothing can
because he went to a school like university of
Chicago graduate school of business or any of
the great university goes to a search fund and
say he wants to search for a business to take
over. Even if he doesn’t know the business, he
says he needs $300,000 to do the search, he
will get the money because he is set up for that
What exactly will you say is a major problem in
Nigeria. Is it the leadership or the followership?
I hear that many times, but I think the issue is
being misstated. Countries that have made
progress did so because leaders enlightened,
inspired and mobilized the followers. Not
everybody in the society have a gift of seeing
tomorrow very clearly and the capacity to
navigate obstacles. You have to have enough
knowledge to see tomorrow clearly, you also
have to have a sense of service to be able to
think about the interest of others as the
essence of my position rather than me, myself
and I which unfortunately is what dominates
the Nigerian leadership terrain. Most people are
not educated to take role of leaders and so
hustlers call themselves leaders. But that is not
what leadership is about, leadership is
sacrificial, giving of oneself for the good of
others. If you are unable to think of others
most of the time, you analyse your day and
you find out that 90 per cent of your time, you
are thinking of me, myself, and I, just accept
that you are not a leader. So discovering that
this is the major problem with Nigeria, we
decided to find a center where we can have
research workdone, advocacy and spreading
the ideas that we have generated from our
research to many people.
What can we do to arrest the decline in the
standard of education in Nigeria?
Among the things that are critical to do is
ensuring teacher quality. Most of the reasons
education system is the way it is, is because we
don’t have quality teachers anymore. We have
teachers who can’t teach, we have teachers
who even when they know cannot impact what
they know but more importantly we don’t have
teachers with the kind of passion the teachers
of the 60s had. I believe, we are not getting
value for money we spend on education. The
money for education, small as it was, was being
misapplied, so education budget is critical.
Ownership of the process is a major issue, I
believe parents are the first teachers of their
children. Until parents can play major role in
the family to educate their children and to
take an interest in what they are being taught
in school so that through joint action, maybe
through P.T.A, help monitor quality. We also
need to ensure that we invest appropriately. I
think in continuing teacher education, we need
to get the system to focus on relevance. What
makes the education more relevant? We agreed
as a country years ago that we must have
majority of students in the sciences and that
has not happened. We need to have incentive
skills so that the best students in some of those
critical areas are the ones that get the
appropriate kind of support to achieve the
goals set for education.
You were born in Kaduna, the North must have
been very peaceful then. How do you
characterise the destruction of lives and
property in the North at this time?
Its beyond understanding, it takes away from
my sense of civilization that in this age, human
beings can still do this kind of things to people
who have never offended them. I find it really
obnoxious and I think that this time to know
who statesmen are. It’s not a time for politics.
Everybody have to realise that this is the worst
thing that has happened to our country. What
is done is that Nigeria is in a creeping civil war.
People don’t think there is a civil war but more
people are dying in Nigeria than Syria everyday.
How best can we tackle corruption in Nigeria?
Stop seeing corruption as a moral thing.
Corruption kills, there is a book published years
ago on corruption and development in Africa.
First paragraph of the book run like this
“corruption runs a spectrum in Africa, from rare
in Botswana to widespread in Ghana, to
systematic in Nigeria”. Many things made it rare
in Botswana and systematic in Nigeria. Not just
catching the thief, first of all you have to have
systems that reduce arbitrariness. So many
things are arbitrary. The temptation to do
things happen, you’ve got to have
consequences, you’ve got to have strong
institutions, you’ve got to have a value frame in
the society. Today a criminal will come home
and they will celebrate him, give him
chieftaincy tittle, that is not right. We have to
learn to ignore people who, quote and
unquote, whose wealth we don’t know where it
have come from. If they have gone into
government and they come out as rich-men,
we should be able to hate them with contempt.
Dr. Micheal Opara who was premier of the
eastern region allocated hundreds of plot in
GRA Enugu, did not give himself one because
he taught it was unethical. Today, a governor
will give himself two hundred plots. We should
not think of this as a moral problem. It’s a
practical mismanagement and development
How can we rid NNPC off corruption and make
it more transparent and incorruptible?
It is well known that partisanship has been too
much a panacea. There is a place for
government in everything but I will say the
more you put things out of the hands of the
people who see it as belonging to the public
and not a person’s interest, the more we will
reduce corruption. There is a concept referred
to as “The tragedy of the commons”. The
common grazing field where your cattle comes
and eat, mine comes too and eat, nobody will
care about replenishing the grass because it
belongs to nobody. One day the commons will
become Sahara Desert but if it was owned by
you, you will be re-grassing as they are eating.
That is what is happening to Nigeria, that which
belongs to all belongs to none and that is why
privatization is a useful way of looking at this,
but also selection of leadership elite. Let me be
honest, though it’s not a nice thing to say,
Nigeria- state is a criminal enterprise.
What is your take on the allegation made by
the former Governor of CBN Sanusi Lamido that
20billion dollars was missing?
I don’t know, it could be true, it could be
untrue. But that is what he needs to do as a
person who has evidences, he gives us the
evidence so we can calculate if it is missing.
There is a lot of corruption in Nigeria and there
is a tendency to speak without evidence and
that is not good. The Bank PHB story was just
an attempt by a certain group of people to
steal a bank. Look at what happened, people’s
reputations were ruined, lies were told just
because they wanted to steal that institution.
Sanusi should never have been hired as the
Governor of Central Bank, he should have been
fired a year after. Look, there are certain kind
of jobs that you need people who are level-
headed, they may be good people, Sanusi
Lamido would have made a terrific minister of
finance but not CBN Governor. CBN Governors
don’t talk anyhow, in America, the central bank
Governor when he says “good morning” you go
and check if the tone of his voice reflects in this
direction or that direction .
The Bank PHB story which was abated by the
central bank, if it is in other parts of the world,
many people will be imprisoned including
himself. He is a wrong guy for the job. Nigeria
economy lost at least fifteen years. He mis-
What is your assessment of the administration
of President Goodluck Jonathan?
I don’t think its news that I am not a fan of the
federal government so what do you want me to
Looking ahead of 2015, do you think Nigeria will
remain one indivisible entity?
It”s my prayer, it’s my hope, it’s my
expectation but I think Nigeria needs to change
dramatically. I think we need to renew our
country. There is a huge possibility for Nigeria
to make dramatic progress but we need new
leaders, we need more impassioned committed
people who really want to offer society a better
place rather than people who just think about

Source: This Day LIVE

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