Transcript of Arise TV Interview as published in Business Day Newspaper on Tuesday, 14 August, 2018
Against the backdrop of recent developments in Nigeria’s political firmament, Atedo Peterside, erudite banker, corporate businessman and founder of Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc, in a terrific interview with Arise Television, deplored the excesses and desperation of some politicians, resulting in the siege on the National Assembly complex last week. He noted that the action sent negative signals to the investment community that Nigeria was not conducive for meaningful investments. He blamed such unfortunate incidences on the political scene on leadership failure. ZEBULON AGOMUO here brings to you excerpts from the interview.
The Executive-Legislature feud appears to be taking toll on the smooth running of government in the country; what is your take on this?
I think it is partly caused by failure of leadership. Let’s get it very clear; if something is not working well, it is a reflection of the competence or skills the leaders have.
It is true that the first experiment with the Senate and House of Representatives under President Obasanjo was tumultuous; you had Senate Presidents being removed all the time, but I think also, I am not recommending it anyway, some of them were removed efficiently; it was a well thought-out operation. The party was a large and dominant party and they knew what they were doing. What we have now is a little bit of people copying somebody else’s trait with less competence and with less coordination between the various arms almost at rivalry.
You need an effective leadership to coordinate all that. The result is that, it looks as if various actors are going off from the tangent trying wonderful things to create an impression or push their own agenda. The other thing I should add is that, some of the things that people are trying to do now, copying what happened 15 years ago is actually a lot more difficult to achieve today because some things have changed which they are overlooking.
You mentioned 2014, lockdown of the National Assembly. Between 2014 and today(2018), can you imagine the impact of the explosion of the social media on Nigeria? In 2014, we were not getting live images on everybody’s phone through Whatsapp, etc. So, when people are copying an old game in a new environment and they are not skillful and knowledgeable enough to manage a new environment, it may backfire. From my own understanding as an observer, you can get away with locking down a number of addresses in Abuja; same all over the word, but there are three places you can’t lock down without the whole world paying attention in this age of social media. One is Aso Rock; two is National Assembly, and three, is probably, the Supreme Court. Now, locking down the National Assembly is like locking down the Capitol Hill in America. If you lock down Capitol Hill, you must have enough intelligence to immediately give a reason to the media– bomb scare, lone gunman running amok, or something that they can understand. But it is a little bit daft to lock down such a place and not have a story ready to explain your action.
That’s why I say that the people trying this kind of things are not intelligent enough to understand the weight of their actions or carrying out such actions without giving people a storyline that would make them understand that the world was not coming to an end.
Do you know that there are some Nigerians who thought there was a coup? who thought seeing masked armed men, a coup was on? That’s Nigerians, not even talking about foreigners? By the time people in Australia see such pictures, they would be reporting that there’s a coup in Nigeria.
So, the people who try these childish games soon realised that they are dealing with a monster way beyond their control. The plot was running away from them and so they were looking incompetent and disgracing the country. Let’s thank God that they were not skillful enough and knowledgeable enough at carrying out the whole plot, they were bungling like amateurs, thereby giving them a feedback that nobody needs this.
Apart from the leadership mentality that you talked about, how did Nigeria degenerate to the point that we are now seeing a siege to the National Assembly and all that?
You know, when you say degenerate – it sends a scare to several places that probably those who laid the siege did not understand that it could get to so many places, so fast. Like I said, it’s local and international. The information was out there in a flash. I felt sorry actually for the poor security men, who looked very silly standing there with masks, and then somebody rebuking them almost like live TV and the whole world watching them. It is so sad, but I felt sorry for such young men who were deployed on such a daft mission and they couldn’t even say anything or explain anything.
It is degenerative also because it makes people to question the quality of leadership in the country because the truth is that if anything goes wrong in the country, the blame should and must go to the leadership. It is like in a company, if any goes wrong there, it is the CEO that would be blamed. I have right to say that the problem is because the CEO of that company was unable to manage the company well; the buck stops somewhere. So, when something goes wrong in a country, everybody knows where the bucks stop.
But the Acting President was very decisive in intervening…
Yes, thank God for that, but the point I am making is that if things that are not supposed to happen, happen, I can still question the leadership of that company. That you now subsequently managed to arrest a bad situation still leaves open the inquest- how in the first place is it sensible to send gunmen with masks to go to the front of the National Assembly; lock out both the legislators and even the ordinary workers? It makes people wonder at the competence of the leadership.
The kind of erosion here being the usurpation of power; not obeying the tenets of separation of powers is gradually affecting the economic fortunes of Nigeria. To what extent do you believe that?
Listen, now that you mentioned economy. Of recent, Nigeria has made headline news for the wrong reasons with the economy. One, we became the country with the largest number of extremely poor people and two; we have become the country with the largest number of school-age children out of school. So, the whole world takes notice that Nigeria is now making news for the negative areas in the economy: Now, what they want to see is that we have a game plan that is responding to all these. Instead, what people see is incompetent leadership being displayed left, right and centre. This means that with those number I gave you on the economy, let’s tell the whole world we have a problem, but we want to see the competent leaders who are about to address that problem; But what we see, and available on the screen, are leaders who are distracted and involved in all manner of needless fights. Let me explain the needless fights. You know that they say a good General is one that has probably, not lost a battle; but people also say that a good General never lost a battle because he knew which battles not to fight. If Napoleon did not go to Russia, he would not have been defeated there. Perhaps, if Hitler did not go to Russia, he would not have been defeated. Now, some of these things we are seeing here, is that people are trying certain things but they don’t have the capacity and enough understanding that those things that they are trying is beyond them; and it is also complicated and a needless fight.
So, what I am saying is that you should have enough intelligence to know some situations that you cannot change immediately and you just have to manage them, live with them and sort of neutralise them.
But thinking that you can change everything at gunpoint is a mindset of people who have lost the plot.
And these plots are still unfolding with the back and forth movements of politicians in the name of defections?
It is possible that the large defection from the APC to the PDP got some people worried and they began to try some desperate things.
I have met two types of supporters within the APC. Interestingly, they come to diametrically opposite recommendations. The right hand side are those who believe that we don’t need to be perceived as people who are only efficient at trying to oppress the opposition and opponents and hounding them, we need to portray a better face, the other half is under the mindset that the way to stop all these defections and to make our opponents to be careful is to try to unleash the police on them. Oil and water don’t mix. That’s why I said it was a leadership failure because you cannot even sit down to articulate the best way to solve a problem, which battles do we not fight? which situation do we accept? When you misjudge all these things, you constantly embarrass yourself.
It is like the populace is losing faith in the leadership; particularly if you look at the last election in Ekiti where money became the issue. May we know in your opinion if the people still have their voice or voices?
When you said the people are losing faith in the leadership, what is really happening is that some people are being demystified. Sometimes, a leader protects his reputation if he was never put in charge completely. If you are in-charge, then the people get the chance to measure how effective you are. I think some people have been demystified. The whole world can now see that XYZ is in charge and this is what we are now getting. Are these people good enough? Are these people the way forward? Is there a better luck somewhere else? Even within the same organisation; the same institution, the same party; can we do better? They’ll begin to raise these questions.
Let me also explain that the dangerous aspect of what we are seeing is that it is clear that some people are exercising power without authority; that is when leadership is not effective enough to coordinate everything and to be on top of the game and know what everybody is doing. Even if you are running an institution of four thousand staff; for you to be an effective CEO, you have to be in control of all the whole units; force them to coordinate; you have to force them to a meeting; you have to have a hierarchy; you have to decide who is in charge of what?
If you miss all those things and people begin to see actually that they can misbehave; that leadership is not good enough to even understand who is doing what wrong, people take advantage of such situations to misbehave. So, when people exercise power without authority we can finish up with unexpected consequences because they are doing things they wouldn’t do normally under a properly structured leadership.
The poverty index of Nigeria among the poorest nations of the world; Nigeria is leading in poverty and all that; how would you reconcile this with what people describe as the excesses or otherwise of the EFCC’s freezing of accounts of two state governments arising from this political imbroglio?
I think it is unfortunate and I think that we have to be very careful about such things. We shouldn’t send signals; it is about perception. We should not send signals that we are about to politicise every institution, including the EFCC.
As soon as the Benue Governor defects, the EFCC found a problem with the security votes; as soon as something happens in Akwa Ibom, the EFCC wakes up. See, you almost bastardised the EFCC and you trivialise everything and making mockery of it. It is unfortunate, and it should stop. This is because it does not send the right signals to the investment community. People want to believe they are investing in a place that is not a kangaroo environment. People want to believe that there is some order that people follow and that people are doing things genuinely and correctly. If you are just sending signals to the whole world that we are not mature enough to resolve our differences using valid and proper channels. It may be dangerous. I am talking about perceptions. I am not saying that perhaps, nobody did anything wrong in any place; but for goodness sake.
Some people even made a prediction that as soon as the Governor of Benue State defects that the EFCC would go after him; and it came to pass. The point I am making is that we have to be careful there, and I think we should hold all these institutions to account one by one – including the civil society. Let’s not pin everything on the boss of DSS and makes him seem as if he is a lone wolf or the only bad guy in the system. We should challenge everybody; ask them questions and make them render accounts. Again, like I have said, some of these things are about defective coordination and leadership.
Defective leadership or lack of leadership seems to be affecting Nigeria’s budgetary provision, implementations and the rest. 2018 Budget was passed not long ago and another supplementary budget is before the National Assembly. What is really happening? Why are we not doing things right?
It is because you are doing a number of things which are unaffordable. You talked about the budget being passed; in the budget, was there any provision for fuel subsidy? You are talking about N1.4trillion spent on fuel subsidy that is outside of the budget. People use terms like ‘Oh, it is under recovery by the NNPC’. What does that mean? Run a transparent budget. It is better to run a proper budget system. Budget for a subsidy; let us quantify it and approve it; and spend the money properly. In an attempt to do things under the table – it all sends the signal of a bunch of people who think we can bend the rules or we can do exactly as we please. It gets everybody worried. We know that those sums being squandered are unaffordable. You may say you are playing politics; but my point is that for goodness sake, it should have been budgeted.
What does it cost to actually build a refinery?
And the signal it also sends is that a situation where a political party (APC) swept the last elections; it makes people wonder that even when you have a party that swept everything, they cannot organise themselves very well to run an economy; to run security or to run the nation properly. It makes people wonder what happens the day you have parties that no single one has complete control – one controls the Senate; one controls the House of Representatives, and so on? But like I said before and am tired of saying it that it is all about leadership and leadership failure. It is something we have to address very quickly and everybody has to speak up.
What about followership?
Yes, you see, that’s why I said everybody has to speak up. If I did not think there was a need for followers to speak up, I would not have been here. I would have stayed in my house. The reason I am here is to point out that it is also a shame if the people who are properly educated do not use their knowledge, experience, intellect to speak about life issues because it influences people. It influences good actors; it influences bad actors. Somebody has to tell people enough is enough; stop disgracing Nigeria. You can disgrace yourself because you don’t know what you are doing; but for goodness sake, there’s a minimum standard. I am happy that the Acting President stepped in on Tuesday and saved us from the ultimate disgrace.
Do you think that this is capable of derailing our democracy? Is there a possibility?
Well, I have said that if you have disparate units exercising power without authority you can finish up with unintended consequences. Is like a horse that soon realises that the rider does not know what he is doing and the horse takes control. So, the point I m making is that it leads to uncertainty and then you can easily get unexpected outcomes and that’s why leaders must take control.
Key operations of the Executive and the Legislature are being affected by the rivalry; what is the way out?
I have said something repeatedly that people have to understand that if you have a serious problem; of the type you described, in life, there are only three things you can do: one, you can do nothing; two, you can decide to fight over it or three; you can sit down and talk about it. So, you should be clever enough to sit down and talk. That’s all we ask of them.