By Michael Peter and Gift Samuel, The Sight News
Abuja- Following the trend of issues happening in Nigeria and the perceived silence by Civil Society Organizations, the Executive Director, Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development, Otive Igbuzor has said that CSOs have not been silent and have not been bought over by the All Progressive Congress(APC) led government.
Otive who spoke to The Sight News Reporters in an interview in Abuja, while reacting to a statement that CSOs and NGOs have been bought over as well as other critical issues, stressed that there are NGOs that have remained steadfast, and went ahead to call on Nigeria’s not to leave everything to the CSOs to do but to also lend their voices to proffer solutions to critical issues in the country.
He further emphasized that “if citizens, CSOs, media and legislature do not perform their duties of oversight and holding elected officials accountable; corruption and impunity will thrive everywhere”.
See excerpts from the Interview
TSN: May we meet you sir?
Otive: My name is Otive Igbuzor. I hail from Orogun in Ugheli North local government area of Delta State. I come from a very humble background, not poor background because my parents were very rich in values, hard work and commitment. I wasn’t brought up with hunger. There was food three times daily. My first degree was in Pharmacy. But While I was in school reading Pharmacy, I had more books in Political Science and Marxism. I practiced Pharmacy from 1986 to 2000. I was quite successful. But in 2000, I went into teaching and development work. The development part of my work took me to ActionAid, and now I run the Abuja branch of the African Center for Leadership, Strategy and Development.
TSN: What informed your decision to Move from Pharmacy to Advocacy?
Otive: You know, when I was growing up, there was always the expectation that if you are bright, you must read either Medicine or Pharmacy. I was good in all the subjects but I was brought up in that mindset. So I studied pharmacy but it was worth it. Even if I am born again I will still go in that same path; because pharmacy prepares you for every aspect of life. There’s Pharmacy Business, there’s Pharmacy Law, there is Pharmacy management, there is science in Pharmacy, there is medicine in Pharmacy, there is herbs. That is why Pharmacy is my first love and will always remain so. I believe I have been able to attain what I have attained in life because I read pharmacy. I had a fairly successful Pharmaceutical Company. I rose to become the Chairman of Nigeria Association of General Practice Pharmacists in Borno State. Like I mentioned, when I was in the University I belonged to a Marxist group, where I subscribed to change in society. At that time it was the visionary overthrow of the bourgeoisie – the ruling class as a whole. Those ideals still affect me till today. Even though pharmacy was successful, it did not offer me my vision/ mission for life; which is that of changing society for the better. Because I had the vision of a world where there is no poverty, there is no injustice and there is prosperity. So all my life, my vision is to impact other lives spiritually, financially, politically, socially and knowledge-wise. Pharmacy offered me a limited opportunity to do that, that’s why I made a career change in 2000 to go into teaching and development. I was teaching at Delta State University, Lagos Campus; then to Center for Democracy and Development, CDD, with the current Minister for Mines and Steel and former Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi from there I joined ActionAid Nigeria in 2004 as deputy country director,later the country director that same year. I was there till 2009 and in January 2010 I started the Africa Center for Leadership, Strategy and Development.
TSN: The recent statistics show that the rate of Unemployment in the country is growing in an alarming proportion, what do you think can be done to remedy the situation?
Otive: There’s a lot that can be done. The beginning point is strategy. Every country should have a long term development strategy; where you would be able to project based on your population growth, the number of people that would be available to work. And then create the macroeconomic framework that will take into consideration the job needs of that population. Let me break it down, so it does not seem as grammar. You create an economic framework that for each sector, as you are planning, you are planning how you would create jobs. The education sector for instance, the major challenges are infrastructure, quality of teachers, the type of curriculum, access to education. So as you are planning intervention, for instance on building infrastructure, you know the employment you would create along the value chain. When you are looking at intervening in the tourism sector you look at the entire value chain, how you would create jobs. There are even countries that have poor security situation but create the tourism corridor, they secure that corridor, train people as tourists guide, let natives bring arts and crafts for tourists to buy and create a wide business around the sector.
When you are doing your economic framework, you focus on four sectors which have impact on the lives of people. The sectors are infrastructure, education, health and agriculture. When you focus on these four sectors you create jobs and you do things that have direct impact on the lives of the people. The kind of budget we implement today, unless there is a fundamental change we can’t deal with unemployment. Because the budget has about 70 percent recurrent and let’s take an agency like NOA for instance; NOA has offices in all the States of the Federation and the 774 local government areas. Their budget for 2017 has about N4 billion for salaries but N400 million for programs. What can you do with N400 million? When NGOs are having £6.8 million.
So, there’s a structural problem with the way we design our budget. If you have sufficient resources to devote to infrastructure; young Nigerians are being innovative and creative. You can create computer villages across the country with all the infrastructure, they will develop themselves. You know as I grew up, What pained me the most is that things our fore fathers bequeathed to us, we can’t bequeath to the next generation. Those days we had local government football pitch, sports stadium, sports center, libraries, so when you do all of these things, you create opportunities for these young people to develop their minds, skill and soul. There is no government that can provide employment for all citizens. It’s creating the enabling environment; providing power, ease of doing business, we must here, commend the Buhari administration for the improvement in the ease of doing business rating by the world Bank but a lot still needs to be done in terms of power infrastructure in terms of entrepreneurial education, widespread technology. The average Nigerian wants to be rich but ask many of them “how do you want to be rich’? Some will tell you, “only God knows”. But there is a sense in which Nigerians are being socialized unknowingly to be thieves. Many average homes encourage their children to go to school, so that when they leave school, they would get good jobs. What is the good job? Customs, immigration, police( now police has joined the group). Now, the official remuneration of these, is it different from others? No. But the parents know that if the child enters there, they would engage in corruptible transactions, the children know. Nobody says it ” I want you to go into that place so that you will steal but so that you get a good job. Now come to it, how do people make money globally if they want to be rich? Business! We can even see it in our very eyes young people developing applications, going into business, there are new businesses emerging today, yet what is still the mentality? Get a job! There is a disconnect in the society. People do not have the right financial information, no financial intelligence, no financial planning and no financial discipline. So you see a lot of people in the rat race. Get rich quick syndrome. And living above means.
You see young boys and girls carrying very big phones yet they don’t have a plot of land. They are living in rented apartment. So to deal with the issue of unemployment requires the intervention of government on a massive scale- Creating the enabling environment, entrepreneurial education, changing the budget, it requires providing avenue for people to showcase their talents and it also requires reorientation and change of mindset by both parents and children.
TSN: How do you rate this present administration bearing in mind that they promised change, yet the economy is in terrible shape, you still can’t get fuel without queuing and many Nigerians are hungry?
Otive: The change has imparted both positively and negatively. For me the greatest positive impact of this administration is that it is changing the way governance is done. And the way business is done in Nigeria. This administration came to power more than two years ago, people have been clamouring for political appointment, he has not appointed. The president has set the tone at the top of intolerance for corruption. Those who have stolen money can no longer flaunt it in our faces. These are intangibles. Increasingly it is becoming clear to people (a few still engage in it) but for majority of people, they now know that you can’t get easy money. For me those changes, if they are sustained over a long period of time, will be monumental. There was a time in this country where if you are not a thief, you are stupid; especially if you have opportunity. In fact if you go to some circles and you have not stolen, you are odd man out. You have not eaten yet you open the television to NTA or Channels, you see lavished wedding ceremonies of two young people who have not worked before. Have you noticed the decrease in those things? Those who have stolen money can no longer assault our sensibilities. For me that is a major achievement of setting the tone and making people know that for them to make money, they must produce and sell goods and services. You know what? Those who say business is not favourable for them under the Buhari administration, I ask what kind of business were they doing during the Jonathan administration? What goods were you producing? What services were you offering that is no longer relevant? Corruption money distorted the economy.
Unfortunately however, the administration has not been able to manage the economy in a way that it has full impact on the citizens. I guess it comes with experience so we can only hope that as we go into 2018 that there will improvement. Luckily for us, through the economic and growth plan we’ve been able to come out of recession. This administration has some good policies like the social investment program; that’s a program that can Change the course of poverty in the lives of people. Especially intergenerational poverty. There are people who are so poor that unless you intervene through conditional cash transfer and social investment program, they will remain in poverty forever. This governance has those policies and programs. Of course there is still the challenge of implementation. I have written a lot of things about it- how to manage change. When you come with a change program it’s not an easy thing. In fact research show that 70 percent of change programs across the world have failed for many reasons. One, you need to get change champions who understand the process and content of the change. Who will be able to put mechanism in place to explain the change; to get people to support the change, to put programs in place to deal with people who oppose the change. There’s what we call “freezing, refreezing and maintaining” in the change process. But unfortunately this administration has not been very systematic in organising the change. We hope however, that with the statement of the President recently, that he is going to rejig his cabinet, make new appointments and deal with the mistakes of the past, we just but hope that he will do this as soon as possible.
TSN: Let’s go back to the budget: are you concerned that the National Assembly is still talking about padding in the 2018 budget?
Otive: Yes I am concerned about budget padding generally even though many people have different opinions about it. I would rather put it that it is important we have a realistic budget. Budget realism is what we desire. A realistic budget is one where the macroeconomic assumptions and projections are close to reality. A realistic budget is a budget that meets the needs of citizens. A realistic budget is that which does not have a lot of frivolous expenditures and it is implementable. In planning our budget we must first do a needs assessment. What do the people need? It is that needs assessment that feeds into the content of the budget. And not the present situation where people sit down in their office in Abuja and decide which village should get what and also the need to ensure that during appropriation citizens participate in the process and during implementation, there is tracking. And we must commend the budget office for putting in place the citizens portal. So now as a citizen you can go to the citizens portal, the i- monitor and monitor projects within the budget which is a good innovation that this present administration has brought about. But we must strengthen the auditor general in terms of auditing and reporting on the budget. So I will say that the budget process there are gaps, padding by whatever definition is negative. And what we really want is a realistic budget and not a padded budget.
TSN: The other day we saw the Director General of the Budget Office saying that the government will be selling some national assets such as the National Theatre, Tafawa Balewa Square, TBS and some power infrastructure to fund the annual budget for three years. Do you consider this as the right way to go; seeing that the diversification efforts of government may not be doing much?
Otive: I am against the selling of national assets for many reasons; number one; experience in this country shows that any time a national asset is sold, it is under valued. There is even a story about a time that one asset wanted to be sold and it was refurbished and sold at a cost less than the cost of refurbishing. That’s one reason. Second reason is that the national assets belong to all, when you sell it only a few have the opportunity to buy and you shortchange the poor. The third reason is that if well managed, national assets can bring resources to the government. I don’t support the idea that government cannot manage anything. Its an escapist and lazy approach to solving societal problems. There are many governments of the world that have national assets and they are bringing money to the government regularly. Ethiopian Air is one and there are many other examples across the world. Right from 1998 when we started the privatization and commercialisation, we have not seen any successful stories. Even including this power. And it’s not completely true that diversification has not worked. Because there is steady progress being made in agriculture under this present administration and there is steady progress being made in Mines and Steel.
In just one year the revenue from mines and steel more than doubled. And if you look at the mines and steel sector you know it’s a long term sector. One of the problems with us in Nigeria is that we suffer from the problem of “short term-sm”. We want it just now. There is no societal problems that you just give one magic bullet, it’s a range of things and usually they have political connotations to religious, spiritual and that’s one angle some people do not even look at, mindset, need for reorientation. So there are many things that needs to be done to deal with any social problems and we must have long term approach.
I use Singapore as an example, these people have a plan of what the country will be in 20 years time.we did a a study and did a projection of Delta population 2100 if the current population growth rate remains, Delta state will be about 82 million and I was just wondering, where are they going to stay. Look at the crisis in education there today, JAMB has gone to computer but many schools in Delta state have never seen computer all their lives. There is no systematic way for social housing for the poor. So you just look at in the next 30 to 40 years, what will happen to the citizens of Delta.
But both the politicians and citizens have short term-sm, this Christmas, it is who will bring rice, for politicians, it’s how they will win the next election. That’s where you see a Governor who will appoint 2,203 special assistants in Delta state and in every ward you have 2, 3, 4, 5. They don’t go to work, they don’t have office but they have salary and their work is that in 2019, go and deliver your wards. We cannot run a society like this.
Our children and grand children will be so annoyed with us and our forefathers will be turning in their graves. And it’s like it’s norm, you pay journalists, they write good things, you give citizens money, they sing your praises.
TSN: HURIWA Coordinator said most NGOs and CSOs have been sold out to the APC government, would you say that is true?
Otive: People must understand certain things, first is that, look at the trajectory of the history of this country. When Obasanjo came to power in 1999, from then to 2000, what was the NGO doing during his regime? When Goodluck Jonathan came to power in 2010 to 2011, NGOs were the ones that put him there. That is what I am saying, in this country we have short term-sm. Look at the trajectory, what NGOs were saying in 2015 and check what they are saying now, is it the same? No. It’s not true that NGOs have been bought over but we should also know that historically, there are Government Non-Governmental Organizations and there are NGOs that have remained steadfast. So because it is the sector I work, it pains me when you lump everybody together. Look at people’s antecedents, are NGOs keeping quiet about the fuel scarcity on the social media?.
One other thing which is a danger to the country is that some people think that there are some people whose work is to talk , so if there is fuel scarcity you are looking for what Femi falana, Otivie and others will say.; how about you, don’t you have social media handles, why can’t you speak? In every society, vigilance is the eternal price of liberty. If citizens, CSOs, media and legislature do not perform their duties of oversight and holding elected officials accountable, corruption and impunity will thrive everywhere.
NGOs are working, there are NGOs and there are NGOs.
TSN: What can you say about the $1 billion from the ECA to fight Boko haram and the call by Seriake Dickson to give 13% derivative to oil producing states?
Otive: Security is a serious issue in any country. There are certain issues about security that cannot be made public for security reasons so we cannot know everything but under normal circumstances we are supposed to trust the judgment of our leaders on the money but there has been trust deficit in governance over the years so what is happening is understandable but we are a federation and if $1 billion is needed, in my view, the best way to get it is through supplementary budget and not the Excess Crude Account because ECA belongs to all the levels.
The Governors may have approved it based on National security because insecurity in one part is insecurity in all but ideally, it should be part of federal government money. On Dickson’s request, there is no where in the country where there is no security issues and it doesn’t help to give regional and ethnic analyseseca because many years we have had special intervention in the Niger Delta but I agree with him because since it’s from ECA, 13 percent ought to go to Niger Delta.
TSN: What will be your final words to Nigerians
Otive: The final word would be that the way things are being done in this country, it is not sustainable at all. The way everything has been politicized and if you look at trend, you will see that most Governments are no longer interested in provision of public goods and services but on how to sustain or perpetuate themselves in power. The way even citizens begin to look at everything from prism of ethnicity and religion and even the media which is supposed to bring balanced news is now the generator of fake news. In this period of festivities, I hope Nigerians both young and old would be able to sit down and reflect and make commitment to the country. There are sufficient resources in the country to make life better and comfortable for everyone but more importantly, there are many good men in Nigeria that cannot be corrupted but they lack the organisational power and resilience to come together. Everybody today, those who have the opportunities are building themselves into local governments. Everyone is looking for money to send their children to private schools, everyone is providing water and leaving the bigger picture. If that was the attitude of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Aminu Kano, Many of us will not be where we are today.
I call on Nigerians to make a new year resolution to not just be committed to the country but to do things so that we can hand over a better society for the upcoming generation. This idea of selfishness, everyone having a price, people struggling and people not looking at what has happened to others must stop for the collective interest of all.
This interview should not be used either in part or in whole without permission from The Sight News Editor.