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Is This The Change We Voted For? Yes, It Is

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By Garba Shehu

The last couple of weeks have witnessed the heaviest public criticism of the Muhammadu Buhari administration since he came to power after inflicting a heavy defeat on the Peoples Democratic Party and their candidate Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Much of it has been on account of the unresolved social and economic problems facing the country.

Unfair criticism of the Buhari administration especially on account of escalating prices of foodstuff and the liberalization of the currency exchange needs to be challenged before it overshadows the commendable job the President has done in fighting terrorism as part of overall effort to secure the country, reducing corruption and yes, arresting the economic slide before it sinks the the nation.

The Hausa have a saying: “Ba zomo na kashe ba, rataya a ka bani,” meaning literally “I killed no rabbit, I am helping to carry the prey.”

Wherever they go these days, in London, Dubai, Beijing, Washington, New York or Tokyo, Nigerians get the good feeling of being asked the question, how is President Muhammadu Buhari?

It is a proud moment for many citizens that the country is being perceived differently now that it has a different kind of leader creating a positive buss abroad, the kind of sentiment that can lead to foreign investments when properly capitalized upon.

The lavish praise the President gets abroad and the wide public support he enjoys among the lower segment of the local population is, by contrast, given a short shrift in the local press, mainstream and online. At its lowest point, this unambiguous media rebuke has created a wave of sympathy for anyone with a view that runs counter to the President’s.

Boko Haram terrorist leader, Shekau or the pipeline vandal from the Delta region is more likely to get newspaper front pages today than the Minister of Labour, Senator Chris Ngige or the Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun talking about jobs creation in the economy.

I don’t say that media criticism is not reflective of the feeling of the citizens.

President Buhari has himself on numerous occasions admitted that the change mantra has brought with it pain and suffering which he likened to the pains of labour. It is a passing phase.

When they ask the question, is this the change we voted for, the critic forgets how far we have come from the scam-tainted years of the PDP rule.

How many people have given a thought to the possibility of Nigeria doing something that the combined strength of Europe and America have failed to do?

There are many today who take for granted the declared victory over the Boko Haram terrorists, forgetting the reign of the bomber who made it almost impossible for regular attendance in Churches and Mosques in many of our cities, including the Federal Capital City, Abuja.

Victory over Boko Haram has brought peace not only to Nigeria but to the countries in the Lake Chad region.

The world leaders are still at work trying to contain the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, ISIS, which threat sadly continues to become more potent.

Everyone living in Nigeria knows that there is a major movement against corruption as part of the ongoing change. This war has forced the return to the treasury of billions of Naira and millions of Dollars stolen by past officials.

On account of this war, government suspects that the biggest trigger of the opposition to the change agenda is the army of the corrupt. With the enormous resources at their disposal; money that is unearned, these forces are ready to throw in everything to gag the Buhari administration.

When he assumed office, President Buhari said he understood the outcry of Nigerians and was determined to right those wrongs. I will remind you of his inaugural speech where he said: “At home we face enormous challenges. Insecurity, pervasive corruption, the hitherto unending and seemingly impossible fuel and power shortages are the immediate concerns. We are going to tackle them head on. Nigerians will not regret that they have entrusted national responsibility to us. We must not succumb to hopelessness and defeatism. We can fix our problems.”(Emphasis added).

He has said times without number that his government is dedicated to the poor. As can be seen from the 2016 budget, this is a government that is determined to hugely empower the disadvantaged groups- the poor, the jobless, the widows and the orphaned children including those of the North-East.

As a listening government, the President was prepared to open the door to additional food imports but given the processes involved, the turnaround in any such import of commodities would have taken a long time as to coincide with the harvest of home grown grains and cereals now in progress. The market would have been deluged and the local grower given the short end of the stick.

Calls on Hausa radio by a rabble-rousing section of the opposition for the “reopening of borders” to “allow food come in” are redundant and mischievous because all the county’s borders remain open till date.

Following the budget, the administration has begun rolling out several social welfare programs. The direct cash transfer to the poorest of the poor, the school feeding and the recruitment/skills training of about one million jobless citizens are such an example.

In addition to hard work, all leaders need luck on their side to create what is sometimes seen as economic miracles. As leader, President Buhari never had the luxury of high oil prices as did his predecessors in office.

When he first emerged as the military Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari saw oil price, the mainstay of the nation’s economy sank to as low eight Dollars a barrel.

He rolled up his sleeves, worked on diversification strategy of the economy only to be eased out of power just as they began to take hold. Thereafter, his successors abandoned these efforts.

On his second coming, this time as a democratically elected leader, the collapse of oil prices has challenged President Buhari to quicken efforts towards the diversification of the economy with emphasis given to agriculture and solid minerals mining. Every crisis, it is said, is an opportunity. Not so in Nigeria. This is a county that inherited massive technological inventions from Biafra, yet failed to take it forward. We must not lose this opportunity to diversify the economy and our foreign earnings presented by the present oil crisis.

As the country hopes for a bumper harvest this year, government is taking steps to ensure that no farmer will sell at a loss or fail to find markets for their harvests. Grain silos are being readied nationwide to receive excess produce for warehousing to ensure food security, avert market glut and price collapse. By this, government will ensure a minimum guaranteed price.

In dealing with challenges of the economy, the administration is devoting attention to ridding the country of its notoriety as a difficult place of doing business.

The government has been making quiet but significant progress in this area, thanks to the leadership given by the National Economic Council under the Vice President and the combined efforts of the Ministries of Trade and Investment, Finance, Interior, Foreign Affairs, Budget and Planning and the Customs under new leadership.

Everyone in this sector is doing everything in their power to boost up Nigeria.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s infrastructure initiatives will see country making progress with intractable projects such as the Second Niger bridge, the East-West expressway, the green field Lagos-Abuja expressway and important national railway projects, Lagos-Calabar and Lagos-Kano which had been on the drawing boards for as long as anyone can remember.

These projects will be counted among the accomplishments of the administration alongside the 4,000 MW Mambila power plant which the President has declared a national priority. Government has also taken several bold steps to boost renewable energy. It has opened the door for a new conversation on the environment with decisive steps towards the clean-up the Ogoniland in the Niger Delta.

The currency liberalization and the deregulation of the petroleum products sale will make President Buhari one of the best presidents till date. The removal of subsidies on the petrol products has saved the government more than two trillion Naira annual expenditure in this respect.

President Buhari’s foreign trips have brought many things to the country. He has energized our foreign policy. Beyond the enormous goodwill reaped from “resetting” age-old but damaged relations with neighbors and distant partners and friends, the President has attracted foreign development assistance and direct investments (FDI). It is generally accepted that good foreign relations bring foreign direct investment. So much is currently being done one year into the administration. This is in spite of the world economy being sluggish and recession-stricken.

It bears repeating that President is a different kind of leader, who just happens to be a victim of the tyranny of high expectations. He has brought positive intention, commitment, honesty and personal integrity into governance. This is why the country’s poor hold him so dear; this is why the world is in love with him.

His knack for prudent spending and effective management of resources is in the belief that this country can only prosper when there is transparency, reduced corruption and a drastic cut in bureaucratic red tape.

His decision to have a small cabinet, reducing government ministries from 46 to 24 has the effect of relieving the treasury of the burden of salaries, allowances and miscellaneous expenses now being counted in billions of Naira.

President Buhari should be credited for the unblemished record of his ministers. This is a government that has stayed above scandal for a year.

If all of these are not desirable changes, to be appreciated and adored, it is hard to know or determine what some of our critics want.

These reforms certainly represent major milestones in change which have led to a decline of corruption at the top.

As to the question of these leading to a resurgent economy, it all means that in a democracy everything takes times. The President needs our support with understanding and patience. No matter how hasty a president wants to bring changes, there is no magic wand in that office to make everything change from bad to good or make all of us prosperous with a wave of the hand. This change is on course. It requires patience.

The change is working for the nation and sooner than later, the testimony shall be given.

Garba Shehu is the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity.

Dipo Olowookere is a journalist based in Nigeria that has passion for reporting business news stories. At his leisure time, he watches football and supports 3SC of Ibadan. Mr Olowookere can be reached via dipo.olowookere@businesspost.ng

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Feature/OPED

CEPEJ and the Reality of Niger Delta Underdevelopment Crisis

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By Jerome-Mario Utomi

Talking about the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, it is true that today there exists in the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) which made some far-reaching provisions for the host community’s development such as its demand that any oil prospecting licence or mining lease or an operating company on behalf of joint venture partners (the settlor) is required to contribute 3% of its actual operating expenditure in the immediately preceding calendar year to the host communities development trust fund. This is in addition to the existing contribution of 3% to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

It is also true that recently, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, the Vice President of Nigeria, at a function in Lagos noted that the present administration was determined to see through to the completion of all the critical projects in the region.

Once more, we are equally witnesses to the fact that the Minister of Environment, Dr Mohammad Abubakar, after a meeting in Port Harcourt, said his ministry was in talks with key stakeholders in the Niger Delta region on devising a blueprint for alternative ways to preserve, conserve and restore mangrove in the region.

Abubakar, who said the destruction of mangroves was catastrophic to the economy of the nation, noted that the resolution of the meeting in Port Harcourt was to focus on starting with short term goals of seeking alternative means of making people stay away from mangrove destruction.

However, if a serious statistical study is carried out about the area, it may be ‘amazing’ how the Niger Delta region has, and despite all these moves remained a backward and degraded, coastal region occasioned by crude oil exploration, exploitation and production with no better chance of development as the government is not ready to learn from its past mistakes which bother on the adoption of a non-participatory approach to development that strips the people of the region their sense of ownership over their own issues.

And as a consequence, cast a long dark shadow on efforts to improve the wellbeing and economic development of the region’s individuals, peoples, and communities while resulting in a state where the region’s communal right to a clean environment and access to clean water supplies was brazenly violated. And fierce war raged in the region between ethnic and social forces over the ownership and control of oil resources in the Niger Delta.

Bringing this ugly account to the fore is a recently well-timed statement/alarm raised by the Centre for Peace and Environmental Justice (CEPEJ), Comrade Mulade Sheriff, calling on the Federal Government of Nigeria not to hands-off Niger Delta region until it completes the environmental remediation and socio-economic rejuvenation of the zone devastated by long periods of oil spill neglect, crude oil exploration/exploitation, deprivation and marginalization.

The group spoke recently in Warri, Delta State against the backdrop of speculations, claims and counterclaims in some quarters regarding the advent of the PIA that the federal government will abandon its responsibility to remediate the environment.

It was argued that the PIA and allocation of 3% to host communities do not mean the federal government should shy aware of its primary responsibility of providing basic amenities for and care for her citizens, especially when the government is the main beneficiary of oil production proceeds from the region and the cause of degradation of the Niger Delta environment.

The environmental rights group, while speaking with newsmen in Warri, asserted that it is the responsibility of the Nigeria government and oil companies to remediate the degraded environment, pay adequate compensation to affected host communities and rejuvenate the lost socio-economic wellbeing of Niger Deltans for the impoverished state caused by crude oil exploration activities engineered by the federal government.

CEPEJ drew the attention of the federal government and other relevant agencies to the fact that the region has long been degraded and the environment devastated before the emergence of PIA, hence, it cannot and should not hide under the Act to further marginalize the region, rather, it should be directly involved in the remediation and socio-economic rejuvenation of the region.

Remediation and rejuvenation of the socio-economic life of the people in the Niger Delta region of the country is a responsibility that is extremely important which successive administrations have failed to address and spent far too long a time not only to attend to but also to accomplish.

In explaining the importance of the PIA to host communities, CEPEJ said “the Law or Act cannot take retrospective effect on the people it’s meant to benefit and Nigerians should not lose sight of the beneficial reality of the Act.

“Before the federal government can hands off the Niger Delta, it must complete its environmental remediation as well as socioeconomic rejuvenation of the environment which is what the federal government owns the people living in the region.

“It will be unethical for the federal government to hands off at a time when the world is in agreement in terms of citizen and communal right of the people, and that it is the communal rights of the Niger Delta people to have a clean environment and access to clean water supplies which are being violated by Nigeria government and oil-producing companies operating in the region.”

It also asserts that, by the admission of oil companies to the region, ‘the oil industries have abandoned thousands of polluted sites in the region which need to be identified and studied in detail, He, therefore, called on environmental experts to go the extra mile to identify these spots, study them and make cases for the affected communities.

While complaining about the negative effect of oil operations in the Niger Delta, CEPEJ said due to degradation of the environment, aquatic organism and water supply sources are being adversely affected including the health and wellbeing of the people which has resulted in high mortality.

He also said that the present environmental state caused by oil companies and their operational activities need to be recovered while affected communities are adequately compensated for their losses.

Referencing what is obtainable in other oil-producing nations around the world, the rights group said, “We expect the federal government to apply what is obtainable in countries such as the Netherlands where the Dutch government requires all operators to restore their areas of operation back to how nature intended, which means all infrastructures used for operations during active production will be removed at the end of production and proper maintenance of the environment need to be carried out.”

“He said this method of operation is referred to “abandonment liability” which the operating company need to carry out at the end of active operation, and that is what he expects the Nigeria government to emulate.

On the management of the 3% to host communities, the group submitted that the 13 per cent oil derivation fund and the PIA fund are meant to address the environmental, ecological and infrastructural development issues of oil communities and “we expect that should be done to better the lives of people living in oil and gas host communities.”

He further insisted that the 3 per cent PIA fund should be managed by the Host Community Trust Fund as stipulated by the PIA.

It concluded that leaving the funds under the hands of Ministers or State Governors to control or even nominate candidates to manage the fund for host communities might lead to its being mismanaged the same way the 13% derivation fund allocated to oil and gas producing states for the development of oil and gas host communities was misappropriated.

To avoid a repeat of such stories, the host communities should nominate credible individuals to manage the Host Community Trust Fund as stipulated in the PIA for speedy infrastructural development and environmentally friendly condition of the oil-rich region of Nigeria.

Indeed, CEPEJ, in my view, may not be wrong.

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374

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#EndSARS: No Real Consequence for Leadership Failures in Nigeria

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Chinwendu Ohakpougwu Consequence for Leadership Failures

By Chinwendu Ohakpougwu

I was in Zanzibar, on a work leave when the protest that held Nigeria standstill happened. It was the #EndSARS, a protest which was largely and primarily against police brutality, but which spiralled to all other things holding the Nigerian nation down.

It was the 20th of October 2020 precisely – and our flight had left for Nigeria from Zanzibar. We had a stop-over in Addis Ababa. Just as we landed in Ethiopia, we received news that flights were grounded from entering Nigeria.

This was the second time I could clearly see a reflection of what I had watched in the movie ‘Sometimes in April’. We had no transit visas and were stranded in a foreign land – with our own country evidently in ruins. It was a painful feeling. It was clear things had gone out of hand.

The airport hotel we were put in felt like some prison. Apparently, they too had received the news of what was happening in Nigeria – and they made sure to treat us in a way that was demeaning. We were not let out of the hotel. They wouldn’t let us have the keys to our rooms. We slept that night, praying and hoping that the next day we would receive good news from Nigeria. Some of us had started to make plans about taking a flight to neighbouring Ghana, after all, we had the ECOWAS passport.

Miraculously, the next morning, they allowed a few more flights into the country and we took the opportunity. Ethiopian Airlines landed in Lagos in the late afternoon on the 21st of October amidst great tension. There were soldiers everywhere. We were told not to leave the airport, but most people tried to get accommodation in the hotels around the international airport.

They had to walk long distances to these hotels in Ajao. No cab wanted to leave the airport premises – and those who eventually did charged outrageous prices.

As we walked out of the airport premises to find hotels nearby, the young men littered around, blocking the road, yelled at us and cursed us, that we were the mistresses to some of these politicians and are kept away from the chaotic scenes happening back in Nigeria. They searched our bags and took some items. Soldiers were patrolling like it was Lebanon, the air was too tense and volatile. Eventually, I made it back home, safely.

Fast-forward – it’s 20th October 2021, and I am witnessing the memorial of the #EndSARS. The feeling is still the same – hurt everywhere, and yet more oppression and injustice can still be seen and felt. It is as though we never picked up any lesson one year after.

As a Comms person, I try to look at these things with an industry eye and wondered why the Lagos state governor was not present at the #EndSARS memorial. I had an exchange with a friend heavily involved in political PR and he said something that struck me “Two weeks after the 2020 massacre, APC won the election in that same senatorial zone by like 10k votes. Do you know what 10k votes are? You can mobilize 10k people.

So, when I sit with politicians and tell them to care about young people, they can only scoff because there is no consequence to ignoring them. Each time events like this happen, all politicians need to do is ignore their social media accounts for a while, send some other young people to disrupt the activities and the world is fine again.”

This, right here is my vexation with Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB – all that power and influence and yet all they do in the SE is a Sit At Home? What happened to real influence over who wins elections in the SE? What about teaming with the people to pick only the crop of leaders who are fit for the future we want to achieve? Nigerian youths have the numbers – and in all games, numbers are great leverage. Get out and get involved in politics. The change we desire will not happen on social media. Let us start to strategically get more smart young people into the National Assembly. That is where true and long-lasting change happens.

Chinwendu Ohakpougwu is the Head of Corporate Communications at DLM Capital Group

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Nigeria: Between Persuasive Leaders and Coquettish Behaviour

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Persuasive Leaders

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

For most of our political history, concept and reality, particularly banking on the underlying understanding of a Coquette by Robert Green, the author of The 48 Laws of Power, it will not be out of place to describe an average Nigerian as a Coquette.

The reason stems from the belief that they are experts at arousing desire through a provocative appearance or an alluring attitude.

Their strength lies in their ability to trap people emotionally and to keep their victims in their clutches long after that titillation of desire. This is the skill that puts them in the ranks of the most effective seducers. Instead of persuasion, some resort to lies, many to propaganda while the rest take to intimidation of their followers.

Regrettable, while this attribute has not only flourished but thrived with unhindered access in Nigeria, it is true that today in many parts of Europe, America and Asia; it is in sharp contrast with the demand of modern leadership. Let’s look at particulars that support this claim.

First, writing on the theme the Necessary Art of Persuasion, Jay A Conger, a Henry R. Kravis Research Chair in Leadership Studies at Claremont Mckenna College, noted that gone are the command-and-control days of executives managing by decree.

Persuasion is widely perceived as a skill reserved for selling products and closing deals. It is also commonly seen as just another form of manipulation-devious and to be avoided.

Certainly, persuasion can be used in selling and deal-clinching situations, and it can be misused to manipulate people. But exercised constructively and to its full potential, persuasion supersedes sales and is quite the opposite of deception.

Effective persuasion he argues become a negotiating and learning process through which a persuader leads colleagues to a problem’s shared solution. Persuasion does indeed involve moving people to a position they don’t currently hold, but not by begging or cajoling. Instead, it involves careful preparation, the proper framing of arguments, the presentation of vivid supporting evidence, and the effort to find the correct emotional match with your audience.

Also, Deborah Tannen, a Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University, in a similar research report titled The Power of Talk, Who Gets Heard and Why, underlined something that could be described as a missing link in Nigeria’s leadership corridor when she among other things thus observed that In organizations, formal authority comes from the position one holds. But the actual authority has to be negotiated day-to-day. The effectiveness of individual managers/leaders depends in part on their skill in negotiating authority and on whether others reinforce or undercut their efforts. The way linguistic style reflects status plays a subtle role in placing individuals within a hierarchy.

Often, so many leaders assume persuasion is a one-shot effort. Persuasion is a process, not an event. Rarely, if ever, is it possible to arrive at a shared solution on the first try. More often than not, persuasion involves listening to people, developing a new position that reflects input from the group, more testing, incorporating compromises, and then trying again. If this sounds like a slow and difficult process, that’s because it is. But the results are worth the effort.

Now, this is the lesson that every leader in Nigeria must draw from this conversation.

For a leader to be a successful persuader, Deborah Tannen and Jay A Conger were unanimous in agreement that such a leader must ask this question; do those I am hoping to persuade see me as helpful, trustworthy, and supportive?

The duo also said something striking.

Let’s listen again; some leaders think the secret of persuasion lies in presenting great arguments. In persuading people to change their minds, great arguments matter. No doubt about it. But arguments, per se, are only one part of the equation.

Other factors matter just as much, such as the persuader’s credibility and his or her ability to create a proper, mutually beneficial frame for a position, connect on the right emotional level with an audience, and communicate through vivid language that makes arguments come alive.

In my view, it will not be considered as an overstatement to conclude that was Nigeria’s public office holder’s quest to achieve persuasive purpose considered as strategic, that explains as well as propels the never-ending manner with which offices such as the Minister of Information (for the federal government), the Commissioners for Information (states), chief press secretaries, senior special assistant (media), senior special assistant media (technical), special assistant (media), special assistant (information gathering), special assistant (print media) and special assistant (electronic media), among others are created.

Under this arrangement, a government spokesperson communicates to people the work done (i.e. political and institutional) by the government. The task of assisting and supporting the members of the government and the government itself is assigned to the spokesperson.

However, the question may be asked: has the discussed topic any relevance in Nigeria public leadership arena? How well have these appointed/elected public officials performed/harnessed persuasive leadership strategies in their day to day administrations? What is the future of persuasive leadership in Nigeria? What will the state of public leadership in Nigeria be like in hundred years to come; success or failure?

While providing answers to the questions are as important as the piece itself, one thing that bothers me, in addition, is that instead of developing the art and act of persuasive leadership, most of the present public office holders in Nigeria are capped with the spirit/attributes of Paul Joseph Goebbels, a German Nazi politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. He was one of Adolf Hitler’s closest and most devoted associates and was known for his skills in public speaking and his deeply virulent antisemitism, which was evident in his publicly voiced views.

This newfound attribute by Nigerian public office holders has made the innocent/well-intentioned position of persuasion in leadership become a platform for fierce political and ideological warfare in ways that negates rationality as human beings.

A great amount of innocent human character has been spilt, wars of words waged, countless souls/ambition persecuted and martyred.

Spokespersons have in recent times failed to communicate noble ideas and ideals. This consequence of their failures is responsible for why anarchy presently prevails in the country and accounts for why Nigerians daily diminish and are impoverished.

Take as an illustration, instead of telling their principals what the real issues are or encouraging them to keep promises that gave them victory at the polls, curtail the challenges confronting the people, and promote consensus politics, some government spokespersons encourage divisiveness, uphold autocratic tendencies, and endorse/promote media trial of political opponents.

In most cases, they become propagandists using radio, television and the internet as outlets to relentlessly false feed Nigerians.

Each time some of these spokespersons are faced with embarrassing facts about their principals, they fall back on data that is hardly objective, generating inferences that can never be described as explicit.

While finding solutions to the unwelcoming behaviours of government’s spokespersons will have far-reaching effects on both the public officials and the entire Nigerians, as it is laced with the capacity to engineer socioeconomic prosperity and propel the masses to work together for the greater good of the nation, it has become overwhelmingly urgent for government spokespersons, image makers and media assistants to understand that every decision they make requires a value judgment as different decisions bring different results

Jerome-Mario Utomi, the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy, SEJA, wrote from Lagos. He could be reached via; jeromeutomi@yahoo.com or 08032725374.

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