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Public Institutions and the Paradox of Governance

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Public Institutions

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

From available records, it was the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, responsible for proposing legislation, enforcing EU laws and directing the union’s administrative operations, that in 1995 defined Governance as the sum of the many ways individuals and institutions, public and private, manage their common affairs.

It is a continuing process through which conflicting or diverse interests may be accommodated and cooperative action may be taken. It includes formal institutions and regimes empowered to enforce compliance as well as informal arrangements that people and institutions either have agreed to or perceived to be in their interests.

Without a doubt, if that is the meaning of governance, then, it will be relevant for/that this piece casts a glance at the meaning of a public institution.

Going by what Wikipedia, the world information search engine says, a public institution is a juristic person which is backed through public funds and controlled by the state.

This explanation/definition by Wiki in my view appears too academic, ambiguous and high sounding. Thus, let’s turn our gaze to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, an Indian lawyer, anti-colonial nationalist and political ethicist who employed nonviolent resistance to lead the successful campaign for India’s independence from British rule and in turn inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world, as he offers a more pragmatic, simple, codified graspable meaning.

Writing in his autobiography titled The Story of My Experiment with Truth, he among other things stated that a public institution is an institution conducted with the approval, and from the funds of the public, of which whenever such an institution ceases to have public support, it forfeits its right to exist.

Gandhi said something else.

Institutions maintained on permanent funds, he noted, are often found to ignore public opinion, and are frequently responsible for acts contrary to it. India at every step experienced situations where public institutions instead of living like nature, from day to day, abandoned the ideals of public trust, he concluded.

Indeed, if such worry expressed about a century ago was a challenge, what is currently happening here in Nigeria is a crisis.

Take as an illustration, the news report that despite the overwhelming outcry against the plan to retrace and recover stock routes, popularly called grazing routes, President Muhammadu Buhari via the Federal Government’s relevant institutions is not showing signs of relenting. Characterizing the development as a reality to worry about is that it is coming at a time when every other civilized nation has opted for Ranching. This is not only absurd but a paradox!

From this spiralling awareness, the question may be asked; why is it that public institutions in Nigeria have ‘successfully’ become non-conformists and non-adherents to public opinion?

How come the operations of our public institution have recently become reputed for non-infusion of governance principles of participation, accountability, transparency and non-discrimination towards the attainment of equity and justice in development initiatives? Why are the actions, policies of public institutions in Nigeria devoid of the process that allows the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights, and all fundamental freedoms? Why are public institutions in the habit of not expanding the capabilities and choices of individuals/citizens?

Why is it that public institutions in the country are far away from the people even when governance as seen above encourages public institutions to get in constant touch with reality and open dialogues with well-informed and quietly influential citizens and organizations in order to benefit from their experience and expertise? How come what we have here is but a direct opposite- as the public institutions have against all known logic become ‘famous’ for flagrant disregard of public opinions, advice and requests from well-meaning Nigerians and organizations; who ordinarily ought to be their partners in the business of moving the nation forward? Who will stop this progressive decay in our public institutions which like an unchained torrent of water has submerged our political and socioeconomic countryside? Should we allow it to continue, leaving the nation to enjoy or suffer whatever fruit it bears in future?

To this piece, finding answers/solutions to this challenge is important but trumping the factors that fuel public institutions’ inefficiencies and disobedience to public opinion is essential. Principally, this is the duty of the moment.

And I need not pause to know that the most pernicious of all these problems is the inevitable link between our public institution and bureaucracy which characterizes public administration. This challenge is not Nigeria-specific as most countries of the world are guilty of it.

Supporting this assertion about bureaucracy is the argument by Robert Kiyosaki, a world-acclaimed management consultant. He explained that the problem with the world is that many nations allow their institutions to be led by bureaucrats. And he went further to describe a bureaucrat as someone in a position of authority but takes no professional and financial risks; someone who loses a lot of money for his position/and the institution he represents but never loses his money or his job. He/she gets paid whether the job is done or not.

Another reason for non-compliance with public opinion by these public institutions is the barefaced illusion by the occupants of such institutions that they are more nationalistic or patriotic than other citizens. This baffling disposition in effect prepares the ground for exercising power and responsibility, not as a trust for the public good, but as an opportunity for private gains and promotes nepotism, cronyism and corruption as consequences.

Looking ahead, If truly a people- purposed leadership is what we seek if the accelerated economy is our goal, if social and cultural development is our dreams, if promoting peace, supporting our industries and improving our energy sector forms our objectives, then, the solution lies in the government’s urgent recognition that those structures that created failures in those institutions will also prevent the implementation of incentives that will improve performance. Also, attempting to engineer prosperity without first confronting the root cause of the problem and the politics that kept them in place is a mere waste of time.

While calling for the restructuring of public institutions to deliver service, via the adoption of a structural and managerial model globally recognized for curbing bureaucracy and corruption in public institutions and instilling public trust, this piece draws the attention of all to the global warning that governance manifests when societal members find they are interdependent and their actions impinge on each other.

This can lead to conflict or cooperation between the different partners. Conflict, it argues, occurs when the efforts of actors to move toward their goals impinge or interfere with the efforts of others to pursue their own ends. Cooperation on the other hand can ensue when opportunities to increase social capital emerge by managing the relations and interactions of the group – essentially the sum is greater than the parts and actors can achieve their goals from cooperation.

Above all, as the nation prepares for the 2023 general election, Nigerians must come to the recognition of the fact that it takes good people to have a good government. However good the system of government, bad leaders will bring harm to their people.

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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Delta 2023; Why Justice and Equity Must Prevail Over Sentiment

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Delta 2023

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

It is common knowledge that recently, the Ijaw leaders, youths and women predominantly residents in six councils of Delta State, with these councils domiciled within the Delta South Senatorial zone, insisted that their ethnic nationality must produce the next governor in 2023, as they have made huge sacrifices, contributing to the socio-economic sustenance of state and supported other ethnic nationalities over the years emerge governors in the state.

Though alluring in outlook, what, however, qualifies as a worrisome, worrying as well as newsy development is that another ethnic nationality in the state, the Urhobos of Delta Central Senatorial zone are also of the views that the year 2023 is their turn to produce the governor.

Essentially, their argument comes in double folds. First is predicated on the alleged political power rotation arrangement in the state between the three senatorial zones.

The second stems from the first but focuses on the logic that since the Central Senatorial zone kick-started the governorship arrangement in May 1999 when democracy re-emerged in the state and, in 2007, after completing their two terms in office handed over power to Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, an Itsekiri man of Delta South Senatorial zone (Delta South senatorial district is made up of the Ijaws, the Isokos and the Itsekiri ethnic nationalities), who at the expiration of their two terms handed over power to Senator Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta North.

It is, therefore, reasonable to argue that, having completed the circle, the position naturally comes back to the centre which was the starting point for another round of gestation.

Tragically unique is that this line of belief has blossomed and flourished, in spite of the recent declaration by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, during the quarterly media interaction that there was no formal agreement in which zoning was discussed and ratified and has, without doubt, heightened political tension in the state and ‘polarized’ ethnic nationalities against each other.

For a better understanding of where this piece is headed, there are three distinctions to make.

First, in the geographical landscape, Delta State could be likened to the ‘proverbial dot’ in the map of Nigeria. But the people, in material terms, have through hard work, planning, improvising established themselves in all sectors; finance, science/technology, sports and education among others.

Appreciably also, it daily manifests signs of a people that have left behind third world challenges of illiteracy and poverty, to become a successful centre for the dissemination and distribution of the best human capital resources across the nation.

Secondly, the state, to use the words of Governor Okowa, is a microcosm of Nigeria because it is populated by different ethnic nationalities. It has had inter-ethnic conflicts/clashes, fatal boundary disputes, especially over oil-bearing land, and political tensions’.

Thirdly and very fundamental is that to arrive at the answer that will give every man his due without fear or favour, affection or ill-will, this piece will depart mundane and parochial senatorial consideration for a more liberal and sophisticated approach such as demographic validity, ethnic specificity and socioeconomic contributions.

With the above highlighted, it becomes relevant to make a detour and face the kernel of this intervention.

Catalyzing the process will elicit the following posers; are the Urhobos right in their present demand for the number one position in the state, bearing in mind that their illustrious son is in the person of Chief James Ibori, occupied the same exalted position for two terms as explained above?

Will it be considered right, fair and in line with the spirit/dictates of equity to allow power to go back to Urhobo ethnic nationality when the likes of Ijaws, that is unarguably the second largest ethnic group in the state and others such as the Isokos, have not enjoyed similar opportunities? Must the state downplay, fail to give details to, and offer tribal/ethnic relevance and economic contributions on the altar of flimsy senatorial dichotomy?

Beginning with the first question, the answer at the face value is but a simple ‘yes’.

However, beyond this simple answer, peripheral argument and other cursory perspectives that could not hold water when faced with embarrassing facts particularly, justice and equity; there are sincere reasons that characterize Ijaw ethnic nationality’s present agitation for the number one job as not lacking in merit.

The facts are there and speak for it.

Apart from the above declaration by the state number one citizen (Senator Okowa) that; “there was no formal meeting where an agreement was reached on zoning and that is the truth as at today, that whatever we are doing or talking about today is about fairness, equity and how to define what is fair and what is equitable and hinged on justice’, the Ijaws, going by available records, have been active in the socio-economic and political affairs since the days of Western and Mid-Western regions, Bendel State and now Delta State.

In view of this spiralling fact, equity and justice should be the defining approach to the above debate. As argued elsewhere, in the present Delta State, the Ijaw massively supported Olorogun Felix Ibru and Chief James Ibori from Urhobo ethnic nationality, Emmanuel Uduaghan (Itsekiri) and Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa (Anioma) ethnic nationality as governors.

Away from the support given to other ethnic groups to produce state governors at different times and places, the Ijaw ethnic nationality, like other ethnic groups in the state, is in my opinion littered with illustrious, self-contained and quietly influential sons and daughters that can eminently govern the state.

As an illustration, with the likes of Barrister Kingsley Burutu Otuaro, current Deputy Governor of Delta State; Senator James Manager, four tenure senator; Dr Braduce Angozi, former Commissioner of Agriculture, Delta State; Dr Patrick Akpoboloukaemi, former DG NIMASA; Chief Alaowei Broderick Bozimo, former Minister of Police Affairs; Chief Sheriff Mulade, National Coordinator Centre for Peace and Environmental Justice; Elder Goddey Orubebe, former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, among others, an Ijaw nation cannot be described as lacking in human resources needed to move the state forward.

Presently, the truth must be told to the effect that Delta as a state has benefited from remarkable exploits and contributions of the Ijaw ethnic nationality, be it in natural resources, human science and all other fields of knowledge. The state is indeed indebted to them for the wealth of knowledge they provided.

Thus, as the debate rages, one point we must not fail to remember is that the fundamentals of democracy guarantee the individual’s right to go against the masses and say no according to the dictates of his conscience.

It also guarantees the right to call for change, when people cling to tradition out of fear and frustration’. Likewise, the present challenge in the state demands a deliberate deviation from a political party and sectional interest, to achieve collective state interest anchored on equity and justice.

Finally, “the destiny of the ship is not in the harbour but in sailing the high sea” and so shall our collective responsibility be, not to destroy this great state (Delta) but join hands to nurture and sustain it.

If we are able to manage this situation and other challenges, it will once again announce the arrival of a brand new great state where peace and love shall reign supreme. But, then, no society/state or nation enjoys durable peace without justice and stability without fairness and equity!

If this is the true position, I see no reason why other tribes should not support the Ijaw governorship ambition in the state. It is a common palace in politics that whoever contributes to the common purse, must draw from the commonwealth.

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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How to Validate Start-up Ideas With Design Thinking

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Design Thinking

By Otori Emmanuel

Innovators are concerned about building a product that will have a huge impact on the lives of people by increasing the quality of living standards, addressing a pain point or an alternative that is cost-effective for its consumers.

With these great thoughts comes a big question that has to be answered before launching a product or service and it is the question of “is there a market”?

The addressable market size becomes a question to answer in order to ensure that when a product is manufactured, it will find users or consumers who are willing to utilize the product based on the offer that is being given.

One of the techniques that most successful start-ups in the world has applied to ascertain whether a product will sell or not is called Design Thinking.

Leading Change

One of the failures is the assumption that there is a market, is one that can be seen or witnessed in solutions that have been made for people. An example is the construction of an overhead bridge for pedestrians to avoid crossing the expressway. However, the humans who this provision has been made for usually ignore the bridge and use the expressway to connect to their routes, which even makes their transit riskier than the use of the overhead bridge.

Why would anywhere risk their lives to cross an expressway when there is an overhead bridge beside them?

Failure in the consideration of what would drive people to use the overhead bridge is what is lacking and why the preference for the use of the expressway.

Would these same people use the overhead bridge if there were possible factors considered before making the designs? The answer is an absolute yes. The failure in the use of the overhead bridge is driven by the fact that the normal tendencies of human behaviour were not considered before constructing the bridge.

Human-Centred Design

Design thinking takes into consideration the natural tendencies of human behaviour before designing a solution. This will ensure shared responsibility from both parties such that there is already a market with reasonable demand to capture a market share that can sustain the business when eventually presented to the users. The failure of most start-up ideas is embedded in the emotional attachment that founders have to their ideas which makes it difficult for them to be open to feedback from prospective users. However, a fact-based finding should be prioritized against emotions when creating a solution.

How Design Thinking Drives Innovation

There are five stages in the design thinking process

  1. Empathize

Being able to empathize with customers most especially when it is a challenge or pain point that makes the purchasing or usage of a product or service difficult for them gives an opportunity to learn closely from them as it then creates an attitude that makes them become difficult customers because there are bottlenecks that hinders the what they expect to be an ideal purchasing process. Customers also have a reference point of a better offering and would always voice out. Active listening to their challenges becomes great feedback for start-ups. This stage consists of interviews in getting to know what the ideal scenario is for prospective customers.

  1. Define

Having interviewed the prospects, it then becomes necessary to begin to define what the challenges are from all the opinions gathered from several interviews conducted with stakeholders. The age group of those facing these challenges, their income level, experience, education and location becomes parameters to pay attention to.

  1. Ideate

The aim of conducting interviews and surveys by visiting the field is to be able to generate a product or service that has a fit for the market. All the feedback that has been given now needs to undergo divergent or convergent processes where divergent takes the several opinions and create solutions around them while convergent thinking helps to narrow down to the best idea. These two thought processes help to come up with what the proposed solution to be developed would be.

  1. Prototype

Prototyping involves making a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), a minimum viable product is one that is made with the minimum resources in order to furthermore see how customers interact with the product or service in its pilot or beta phase. The feedback from the usage and engagement would then help to determine whether a full product would be manufactured or not. For digital products such as web or mobile apps, tools such as Figma or Adobe XD can be used to make a prototype.

  1. Test

The testing stage helps to pick the ideas that work and move very fast to implement them. If there are impediments or bugs, then it has to be corrected. When the product passes the testing stage, a complete product category can now be created and ready to make entry into the market.

The first two stages in the process of design thinking help to look out for evidence by carrying out Primary Market Research (PMR) to ascertain by means of qualitative and quantitative analysis the fact there are pieces of evidence to either support whether a challenge really exists or not for a solution to be created.

Founders should learn to embrace what the primary market research presents in order to avoid losing big as a result of the assumptions of what they either expect the market to be or their emotional connection to the product.

Emmanuel Otori, the writer, has worked on the GEM Project of the World Bank, Conducted training for entrepreneurs and professionals at the Abuja Enterprise Agency and has over 8 years of experience working with over 50 SMEs across Nigeria. Please visit my LinkedIn profile here – https://www.linkedin.com/in/emmanuelotori/

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King of Boys 2 (The Return of the King): The Gender Imperatives

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Timi Olubiyi Small Businesses

By Timi Olubiyi, PhD

In Nigeria and beyond a trending movie this time is the King of Boys 2 (The Return of the King). It is a seven-part series Nollywood movie, streaming on Netflix platform on the internet.

In my view, the storyline of the movie can easily pass as a reflection of the dark side of politics in the country, Nigeria. It tells the story of Alhaja Eniola Salami (real name Sola Sobowale), the lead character, as a very powerful businesswoman, and an influential political figure.

She is the eponymous King of boys, heading a table of gang-lords and whatever deal any of the other men on the table makes, they are obligated to give her a percentage as the King.

Despite the elated performance of Alhaja Eniola Salami (Sola Sobowale) in the movie, the heavy criticism of her role is the focus of this piece. Alhaja Eniola’s criticism was no surprise at all I must submit, having played a significant role that many believed was best suited for the male gender, and this made the condemnation of her role in the movie severe.

In Africa, gender equality is a lip service phenomenon and it is not only in entertainment but also prevalent in the business world and indeed in politics and governance. From observation, women leaders are basically in their minority, even in the military, education, and religion. Their acceptability is usually low and this has existed for several generations and has become a norm in homes, businesses, governance, and most spheres of African life.

Undeniably, politics and corporate leadership in most African nations bear a masculine face and Nigeria is not an exception. Women are viewed to have very limited access to decision-making processes in all domains. More so the continent particularly instils a culture and norms that women are subordinates and in some cases are perceived as lesser beings than men principally in leadership. Leadership is the action of leading a group of people and it is connected to governance, management, and/or administration of corporate entities.

Though women and men have different biological and physiological make-up, conversely, women may still share common features with men in terms of educational qualifications, socio-economic status, and occupation, among others. The biological makeup which is associated with gender is what is widely acknowledged and valued in leadership, rather than personality, competence, and character.

This perception is particularly challenging for women mainly because effective leadership transcends gender. So the continued criticism of Alhaja Eniola on her role in the movie is largely tied to gender disparity.

Painfully, it is well documented in the literature that leadership is a role perceived as a masculine role on the African continent. So regardless of the capacity, experience, competence, knowledge, displayed by women they are not seen as having parity with men. For this reason and despite women’s share of the population, women remain underrepresented in leadership across the continent.

For instance in Nigeria, the World Bank reported in 2020 that the labour force in the country has 44.82% of female representation. The big question is how many of these females hold key leadership roles? Furthermore, the report ranked Nigeria as 128th out of 153 countries in a survey and the country has remained within the 100th and 130th position out of these 153 countries, over the last 10 years (2010 – 2020).

In the same vein, out of 53 countries in Africa, Nigeria holds the 27th on the World Bank’s Global Gender Gap Index 2020. This available data implies that as a nation Nigeria still has much to do in attaining gender parity and having meaningful representation for women.

It suffices to say the trend is not due to a lack of competence or leadership traits on the part of women but that the public has accepted the culture as a way of life on the continent.

Remember, when partisanship, political pressure, and gender bias are taken into account, the gap and differences become sharper and more obvious. Even though generally, women are perceived to have an advantage over men on honesty and ethical behaviour index which are key elements of leadership, these traits in women are rarely considered.

Some of the known and cited barriers to female leadership are sexism, stereotyping, sexual harassment, family demands, maternity, and institutional mindsets.

In fact, the obstacle females face begins in the womb, families that prefer sons may abort daughters. For these reasons and more, women are not only ignored in leadership but are likely to continually be in vulnerable employment, paid less than men, and even be more unemployed than men if this disparity remains ignored.

It is noteworthy to mention that it is time for opinion leaders, captains of industries, governments, religious leaders, policy, and decision-makers to improve on gender matter advocacy in leadership and discourage the social structures and family values that completely favour men over women.

The world is evolving and the concept of effective leadership has moved from an emphasis on “who” the leader is to “what” the leader can do.

So, with this conception, attention should therefore be placed on improving on selection approach of a leader with gender-neutrality.

Capability and ability should be the key determinants of a leader particularly in the business world and in governance, where competence is expected to drive performance. It is noteworthy that key aspects pertinent to leadership such as self‐confidence, honesty, humility, trustworthiness, responsiveness, education, experience, competence, and integrity which are not gender-specific should be the most important attributes to consider when considering a leader and not the gender.

In my humble opinion, there is no shortage of qualified women to compete for any leadership role, be it in governance, military, business, corporate, or academia, we just need to improve on the political will.

Even though in Africa there are few or no regulations on gender matters. Nigeria can still do more on the established gender-mandated regulations.

For instance, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has a regulations-mandate of having a minimum of 30% of females on boards of Nigerian commercial banks this can be reviewed upwards to 40% if not to 45%.

Then as a capital market operator in Nigeria, I am aware that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has a code that recommends that publicly listed companies should consider gender when selecting board members, this code ought to be reviewed to have specific gender-based rules to improve female participation. Such regulations where applicable should be duly monitored along with proper enforcement. Furthermore, governments need to intensify gender policies to address the gender imbalance in the polity.

Finally, to have greater participation of women in all spheres of Nigerian society and indeed Africa, the governments and all stakeholders should engage in programmes and policies that would empower women politically, socially, and economically.

This is because women can be major stakeholders in the developmental project of any society if given the opportunity and platform. Culture and customs such as women are required only to take care of homes, and girl child marriages should be discouraged across the continent. More importantly, education must be a priority for all. Good luck.

How may you obtain advice or further information on the article? 

Dr Timi Olubiyi is an Entrepreneurship & Business Management expert with a PhD in Business Administration from Babcock University Nigeria. He is a prolific investment coach, seasoned scholar, Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI), and Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) registered capital market operator. He can be reached on the Twitter handle @drtimiolubiyi and via email: drtimiolubiyi@gmail.com, for any questions, reactions, and comments.

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