Nigeria, Egypt, and the Vision thing
By Femi Olugbile
There was a furor in social media circles recently concerning a three-day trip to Egypt by Peter Obi, one of the men currently in the running to become President of Nigeria in 2023. By the man’s pronouncement, he was going to Egypt to understudy the modalities by which the Egyptians were able to deal with the issues of Power, Education, Planning and Finance in a way that made them outliers on the African continent.
The value of the ‘Short Course’ for Nigerian executive types is well entrenched in corporate culture. The top learning institutions in the world – Insead and Harvard and the like, make a substantial part of their income from ‘Short Executive Training Courses’ which are attended by well-heeled bank managers and business executives from all over the world, especially Nigeria.
To be sure, understudying ‘Best Practice’ is an effective way of improving corporate performance. And it may be truthfully said that no executive office in Nigeria, a country that is literally and metaphorically on life support and living on borrowed time, requires to be visited with a fresh dose of knowledge and performance capability as much as the office of the President, an office that is ultimately culpable for the country’s arrival at the sad pass it finds itself in. Nigerian leaders often do not discuss ideas, or feel the need to study them, create them, and try to make them work.
One unusual person in this regard, who seems to have understood the value of working from ideas, whether ‘borrowed’ or innovated, and who tried to lock them in for the succession is Babatunde Raji Fashola. Just before the end of his tenure as Governor of Lagos State, he caused to be published a set of nine ‘Good Practice’ documents. Each one dealt with the ideas he had put in place in one key area of governance, from Health to the creation of an Agency for the waterways, to the EKO system in education. The publications were not just celebrating his ’achievements’ but pointing out areas where the succession could build on. There is no evidence, unfortunately, that any of his successors ever read BRF’s ‘Good Practice’ series. Instead, his immediate successor took a perverse pleasure in ‘cancelling’ many of the things he had done – a very Nigerian story.
Going back to Peter Obi, why Egypt? Afterall, Nigeria’s ‘rebased’ GDP is higher than Egypt’s. Unfortunately, such ‘patriotic’ chest beating cannot hide the fact that, in terms of clearly defining problems and moving intentionally to tackle them, Egypt is miles ahead of Nigeria.
Several years ago, as a postgraduate student in the UK, this author undertook a whirlwind mini-world tour. In Cairo, you could see the construction work starting on the Cairo Metroline. The strongman in Cairo at the time was President Hosni Mubarak. Your next stop was home – Lagos, where it was gratifying to see, at Yaba, evidence of commencement of work on the Lagos Metroline. You went back to your station happy that someone in Nigeria was thinking right and building a spine for the mass transit of the burgeoning population of Lagos.
But shortly after that, it was in the news that the stern-faced military strongman who became Head of State after a military coup in Nigeria had ‘cancelled’ the Lagos metro, paying penalty for breach of contract equivalent to the amount it would have cost to complete the project.
There have been vigorous efforts since then to rewrite history and rationalize the bizarre decision, vaguely citing ‘corruption’ or the recommendation of some shadowy ‘committee’. The reality is that there was only one strongman in power in Nigeria, and he will be held accountable for one of the most atrocious public administration decisions in human history.
Incidentally, a ‘Federal Government’ delegation later travelled to Cairo to celebrate with Egyptians on the day Mubarak commissioned his Cairo Metroline.
It is the same strongman, in his civilian incarnation, that Peter Obi, with his ‘moonshot’ attempt at the Presidency, and the other candidates who are lining up for the 2023 elections, are hoping to take over from. Nigeria is substantially more damaged now than ever before. The essence of the nation has been subverted, the National Question – ‘Who Is a Nigerian?’ is ringing unanswered from every corner. People have lost trust in all national institutions. The next President will have to find a way back for the country from this nadir – if there is a way.
The current strongman of Egypt is a retired soldier who has jailed and killed his countrymen, especially members of the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’, on an industrial scale, and shows a readiness to continue to do so. His purpose is to maintain ‘stability’ and a secular constitution. But he is also a ‘development’ man who in a few years in charge has kept Egyptian economy growing, where other countries are sinking into recession. He has massively scaled up power generation and built spare capacity. He is building huge alternative energy resources. He is building a new administrative capital. Life expectancy in Egypt is 70+ years, where it is 55 in Nigeria. Egypt’s literacy level is much higher than Nigeria’s. More than 50% of the population already have Health Insurance, and most citizens pay 20% of the cost of their medical treatment, while the government pays the rest.
There is a lot for Obi to study, and it is uncertain how much he has brought back from his journey. A thirty minute one-one-one with Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi might have been more useful than hours trawling through power plants, looking for enlightenment. The thinking is the real achievement; the doing is just implementation.
Of course, in El-Sisi’s Egypt, a minister or civil servant stealing money meant for a public project might just ‘disappear’.
A lot of Egyptians hate El-Sisi, and many of Egypt’s best brains are in exile, fearful for their lives. The country’s ‘Democracy’ is a charade of periodic ‘landslide’ election victories. Effective Governance in Africa, it seems, comes at a price, and sometimes that price is very high indeed.