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Letter to President Jonathan: How to develop Nigeria

by Bankole Olubamise

I don’t want to start by saying, I told you so!

Let me illustrate the kernel of this piece with this story I heard:

“Many years ago, a popular politician went to his village for a weekend. As usual he met with various ‘stakeholders’, but at the end of his trip, two elderly villagers asked a favour.. They brought two of their grown up children who had been with them on the farm, and asked the politician to kindly help them find jobs in the city.

He accepted and took the young men with him to the city. A few weeks later he took them to his friend, who head the Civil Service Commission and got them jobs in the federal civil service. His friend the commission chair asked after his own children, he said they should be back soon from Harvard where they (2 of them) studied Petroleum Engineering and Chemical Engineering respectively.

Truly, his own kids arrived and he fixed them up with Chevron! Twenty years later, Chevron needed to get approval for their oil licenses, of course they designated the two now senior managers to do the job of lobbying and guess who they have to lobby: the two most senior government officials were the same two that their politician father felt did not deserve to work in the oil industry, but the Civil Service.

However, there is a snag, our two Civil Servants are now Super Permanent Secretaries, so booking an appointment for the Harvard trained oil executives alone is a task! They had to beg (literally kneel, bribe heavily and give up their…)!”

Now that Jonathan is King, I read everyday of advice for the President on his next agenda and how he should go about implementing the same agenda! Haba, Nigerians – including Professionals! You mean the President is the one that will determine our future for the next four years. No Sirs. I am not going to sit on my butt, and wait until the President determines what I will do. I am already heavily involved in defining that future and I suggest you get involved too.

For those of you waiting to be appointed Ministers before you engage the system, I am sorry for you. Have you ever wondered why we have never really had a super Minister since independence. Its simply because Ministers DO NOT DETERMINE the efficiency of the Civil Service, CIVIL SERVANTS DO! Until you identify the critical change making platforms in the system and engage at that level you cannot influence change in Nigeria, forget about who is the Minister. I

hope you know the President cannot SACK one single civil servant, why do you think that is so?

Options for the Civil Society:

For massive critical changes to be made in our development in the next four years. I think we should concentrate on these sectors:

PETROLEUM/ENERGY: I think the Civil Society have not done enough here. We need to study and ensure the cash cow of Nigeria produces as at when it should, so as to have the funds flowing to other sectors that need investments. I think a critical Petroleum Industry Watch should be established (Publish What You Pay Campaign and NEITI are a good start, but absolutely inadequate for what is needed). By the way I think the civil society helped kill the PIB! Those rallies in front of the National Assembly were simply unnecessary, if we had understood the forces at play ab initio!

The privatization of the power sector too needs a close watch before we end up with the Russian mess!

TECHNOLOGY (ICT):  As far I am concerned this is the sector with the greatest job potential. DevNet (and myself) have devoted the past five years into helping to develop the roadmap in this sector and now its time for implementation (2011-2015). If properly implemented, thousands of jobs will be available especially to the youths. Watch this sector.

BANKING/FINANCE/CAPITAL MARKET: This area is new to civil society intervention, but I think we have left it too long and its hurting the economy. The mess of the past few years and the confusion the CBN is creating need to holistically analyzed (where in the world do you sell a company behind the shareholders?).

I am not one of those celebrating the CBN Governor yet (how many jobs has his intervention saved or created?) I think we need to look more closely at this sector, because of its potential for financing the Small Scale Industry/Agriculture which will benefit more Nigerians and which inevitably is the pointer to a growing economy.

A group of Civil Society organizations invested almost N140m a few years ago, our fund manager lost 40% of the money with lame excuses, that was when I realized we are actually in more danger than we could possibly imagine. I strongly believe a strong independent civil society watch over this sector will save Nigerians many tears in the future.

BUDGET MONITORING/ FISCAL POLICY:  For many years to come the Budget in Africa will remain the most important annual development plan, simply because the government remains the largest investor/financier of development and secondly, because of the weak (very weak) private sector. We need highly versatile professional watch over how and what forms the budget and its implementation.

Our fiscal policies are simply one of the funniest on earth, highly fluid, sometimes confusing and contradictory (Nigeria sometimes forgets she signed into the World Trade Organization since 2001), a mistake we will live with for a very long time.

GOVERNANCE/LAW MAKING AND LAW ENFORCEMENT: This is the consuming sector ( I think more than 65% of our national income goes to this sector), therefore it deserves our watch and engagement. My story at the start of this piece is actually about how we can fill this sector with the right persons (Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Unilag, UI, OAU, UNN etc trained) experts, rather than seeing it as a dumpsite.  Whether we like it or not, our leaders operate from this sector, therefore, if you want results from the other sectors, get involved.

DevNet will convene a monthly talk shop to explore what could be done in these sectors in Lagos and Abuja. Partners are welcome. We will implement our own development agenda. That’s the way we won’t moan in the next four years.

Bankole Olubamise, is Executive Director, DevNet can be reached at




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