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Tuesday, 17 October 2023 06:55

[OPINION] Three Lessons in Management and Leadership - Reuben Abati


Writing this piece, I am aware that perhaps the biggest lessons and examples in leadership and management in the world today, trapped as it is in a season of crisis are better extracted from the Russia vs. Ukraine war, as well as the Israel vs. Hamas war that broke out subsequently on Saturday, October 7, and the concerted efforts by the international community to safeguard international humanitarian law, the body of legal codes guiding armed conflict. In this regard, we have heard the voices of President Joe Biden of the United States and the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, now on a frantic shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East, UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak also in the Middle East trying to make peace from Jordan to Israel and elsewhere. And the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, of whom Josef Stalin in 1943, legendarily, perhaps apocryphally, once asked: how many divisions does the Pope have?


The Pope incidentally does not command divisions. He wields strong moral and spiritual authority, and this is what Pope Francis has done by calling on all the warring parties in the Middle East, this last Sunday, to give peace a chance by respecting international humanitarian law. He has asked for prayers around the world today, Tuesday, October 17, for peace. It is a charge from the Pope for an urgent need for leadership in the world, in the face of the failure, if not the ineffectuality of the divisive United Nations Security Council (UNSC). It is not certain that anyone would listen. The same US that is talking across board, even via back-door channels to China, to rein in Iran, has sent in two military carriers to back up Israel, similarly in Europe the sentiment on official sides is pro-Israel.


Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister has vowed to “demolish” Hamas, the Palestinian militant group and inflict a long and prolonged war. Israel however faces war from three fronts: Lebanon from where the Hezbollah has already fired rockets into Northern Israel, and Israel has retaliated, and also from Gaza and Syria. The fear that the situation could escalate rapidly is well-placed. For more than 100 years, the world has tried to deal with the menace and the barbarity of war by creating structures for managing conflict. It would appear however that the prevailing logic is the position by Carl von Clausewitz, in his book, On War (1943). Clausewitz was a Prussian military strategist whose theory of state was perhaps stronger than his theory of war, given his argument that “war is politics by other means among states.”


The reality is that the world has been torn apart by this corrosive, selfish ambition of states couched in nationalistic terms or as patriotism but nonetheless most of the distortions of the last three centuries and even earlier have persisted. It is a throw-back to the selfish nature of man. Netanyahu, Mohammed Deif and all the other leaders involved in the current conflict claim that they are fighting for their own people’s interests. In doing so, they and their allies are not too keen about the humanity of others. Pope Francis’s intervention is a throw-back to the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949, the additional protocols of 1971 and 2005 and the guidelines of 2009, which taken together uphold the connecting, common Article 3 of the Conventions to wit that war no matter how tough must have a human face: there must be a humanitarian corridor, as the Pope demands, non-combatants, children, Prisoners of war, the sick and the wounded must be protected, relief providing bodies like the Red Cross, the Red Crescent and others must be allowed access to the distressed and the wounded. In the Israel vs. Hamas conflict, over 4, 000 persons have been killed, more than 3, 000 are injured, over 7, 000 have been displaced, and the casualties continue to increase. Hamas is still bombing Israel. Israel is insisting that hospitals in Gaza must be evacuated. We have seen similar barbarity between Russia and Ukraine. Before now, Russia not only cut off energy supplies to Europe, it also shut down the major global food supply route.


The story of Israel vs Hamas is about “terrorism, evil and hate”. In. 1917, the British, through Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour announced the establishment in Palestine of “a national home for the Jewish people”, and “will use the best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire, at the end of World War I, the British took control of Palestine until Israel emerged as an independent state in 1947/48. The objectives enunciated by Balfour have never been met since then. Israel has known no peace from Palestinians and the Arab States who object to its existence. The conflict between Jews and Arabs is more than a century old, dating back to ancient times, further made worse by conflicts over historical sites and monuments. Everything came to a head on October 7, with the surprise attack on Israel, on a holy day, 50 years almost to the day after a similar attack on Israel by Egypt and Syria, the Yom Kippur war of 1973. Since then, the world has been scrambling to manage the situation and find leadership. The conflict reminds us poignantly of the failure of leadership from Babylonian times to the British, the United Nations, and the reign of evil/hypocrisy in our world and the increasing helplessness, non-meaning and expendability of man, in a world driven by might and arrogance. Man qua man is the biggest threat to humanity, and world peace. The world has failed Israel, and also the Palestinians.




Our second lesson in management and leadership is local, and closer home and it has to do with the contrastive dramas that we have seen this week, at the Corporate Affairs Commission of Nigeria (CAC) and the Nigeria Postal Service (NIPOST). In recent appointments, President Bola Tinubu reportedly changed the CEOs of the two government agencies. The reactions by the staff have been different, somewhat hilariously morbid and of a burlesque nature but useful all the same as case studies in management and the nature of man. On Monday, it was announced that the Registrar-General and CEO of the CAC, Garba Abubakar had been removed, and upon hearing the news of his removal, lawyers, law firms and staff of the CAC broke out in jubilation.


Lawyers accused Abubakar of messing up the CAC, even when no one knows what awaits the agency with the appointment of a replacement, Hussaini Mogaji (SAN). What I found even more shocking is the fact that yesterday, the staff at the CAC headquarters in Abuja recruited a musical band to celebrate the exit of their former boss. They put up banners and placards calling Abubakar an “emperor” and “a vicious tyrant”, and as the band belled out tunes, they danced joyously. They even prayed for the new CAC CEO and sang in praise of President Tinubu: “On your mandate, Tinubu, we shall stand” to pledge their loyalty.


They accused the former CAC CEO of being too wicked. Mr. Abubakar has not been given an opportunity to defend himself, and he may take all the staff complaints about his failure to attend to staff welfare, nepotism, high handedness, arrogance, abuse of office, backwardness and insensitivity… in his stride. But still I do not think that the CAC should become a hideout for closet politicians. There is a lesson here however, for all managers and chief executives. In the CEO Handbook, managers and CEOs are expected to be people persons, exhibit emotional intelligence and realize the simple fact that any organization is only as successful as its people. The complaints about Mr. Abubakar’s tenure by lawyers and CAC customers may have been a direct consequence of the former CEO’s disconnect with his own team. This may not be the first time this kind of reaction will occur. There have been reports of former CEOs who were not even allowed to return to the office to clear out their offices, after their departure. The banner at the CAC headquarters in Abuja listing Abubakar’s offences should be photographed and used as reference material in the teaching of management and leadership.


In contrast, yesterday, however, there was a different situation at NIPOST. The new NIPOST boss, Post-Master General/CEO, Tola Odeyemi whose appointment was announced on October 11, had gone to the headquarters to assume duties. The workers said they did not want her. They carried placards and blocked the gate. They insisted they preferred the former Post-Master General, Adeyemi Adepoju. Somehow, Ms. Odeyemi managed to find her way in at about 1 pm to meet with top Directors of the agency. Having been met with such hostility, and the pro-Adepoju sentiments of the staff, the lady rejected the seat that she was offered and chose to sit elsewhere. This one is clearly a superstitious appointee! If she survives the storm, she would be the first female to be appointed head of NIPOST, which by the way, is a moribund organization despite the massive assets it owns across Nigeria. But the staff seem to like the former Post-Master General. The uncertainty that now hangs over Odeyemi’s appointment is not helpful. Whatever may have recommended the former CEO to the staff as a good leader, the Presidency must quickly clarify the situation at the agency. Was the former Post Master General reinstated after his sack? What is his exact status today? Heads of MDAs hold their positions at the pleasure of the President, on whose behalf every appointee executes delegated authority. We can only hope that if Odeyemi survives her present ordeal, she would be confident enough subsequently, to sit on the CEO’s chair and endeavour to make the kind of difference that would endear her to the staff. Again, the personnel make much difference in any organization. They do the work. They write obituaries.



III: Nigeria Goes A-Borrowing?


One of the issues during the Presidential campaigns for the 2023 general elections was Nigeria’s debt profile. The point was made repeatedly that Nigeria ‘s debt burden was too high, but the Debt Management (DMO) kept insisting that Nigeria could in fact borrow more money, because we had a relatively low debt burden compared to other African countries. Those who should know argued then that the problem was that the country was borrowing not for productivity, but crass assumption. By the time the Tinubu administration assumed office in May 29, the debt profile had grown bigger with about 98% country revenue to debt service ratio. Subsequent disclosures showed that inflation was well over 26%, food inflation much higher, the foreign reserves was down to a paltry $4 million, equivalent of just 4 months of imports, the country’s unemployment rate was over 36%, later reviewed strangely downwards, through voodoo methodology. But more persons had slipped into multidimensional poverty. By the time President Tinubu took key steps in the economy: removal of fuel subsidy, that the Buhari administration tactfully dodged, and the harmonization of the foreign exchange regime, our nightmare was complete.


To address this, the government of the day has been busy announcing palliatives and loans, up to about N3. 27 trillion that would be used to alleviate the suffering that has descended heavily on the land: as follows: N200 billion to boost agriculture, N75bn for manufacturers, N125 bn for MSMEs and the informal sector, N185 billion as palliatives for states, N1 trillion as student loans, N315 billion to pay federal workers allowances for six months, N1. 13 trillion to 15 million households at N25, 000 for 3 months, N100 billion to acquire 3, 000 units of 20-seater CNG fuelled buses, N70 billion as palliative for lawmakers, N75 billion loan for market women… and so on. The way this Nigerian government has been announcing a spending spree of billions since June 2023 is frightening. Wale Edun, the Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy has said the country will no longer rely on Ways and Means. So where is the money to run the economy and fund wastage and leakages coming from? Even the IMF/World Bank, at their recent Annual Summit in Marrakech, Morocco while praising recent reforms in Nigeria have said openly that the Naira is under pressure, with inflation at 26% year on year, and while reviewing Nigeria’s growth projection downwards, advised that Nigeria has to tighten monetary policy and address its foreign exchange to build trust and confidence. IMF says it is willing to lend Nigeria money if it is approached by Nigerian authorities. May we not end up like Sri Lanka and Venezuela. And Ghana next door.


The truth is that we have been on a borrowing spree since June 2023: $449 million in IBRD loan and $301 million IDA credit totalling $750 million, $500 million from the World Bank to invest in improving livelihoods of Nigerian women; in July, it was further reported that Tinubu’s administration is to take $800 million pre-approved loan to cushion the effect of fuel subsidy removal, by September 2023, within three months, Nigeria had borrowed $1.95 bn from the World Bank. By last weekend, it was reported that Nigeria was poised to borrow an additional fresh loan of $1.5 billion from the World Bank, what is otherwise called HOPE loan. Who is going to pay? Hope? How? The projected revenue of N10 trillion for 2023 cannot support fresh borrowings. The Senate has asked the government to bring a supplementary 2023 budget, nobody has said anything, perhaps because the lawmakers themselves have been allocated N70 billion for expensive SUV vehicles. Yesterday was World Food Day, food inflation in Nigeria is above 24%, much higher in some of the states. And yet on top of it all, the government continues to make appointments on a daily basis, driving up the cost of governance. One or two Governors have more than 50 media aides, most of them bearing the same titles, doing nothing.


Is the Tinubu government planning to run the country by borrowing? Some commentators have praised the choice of President’s economic managers: Wale Edun – Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy, Yemi Cardoso – Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and Abubakar Bagudu, Minister of Budget and National Planning, but all the praise from the international community about suitability just because these managers appear to be dancing to the tunes of the neo-liberal economists at the IMF and the World Bank would be of no use to Nigeria, if the average citizen can no longer eat bread or corn. Nigerians cannot be fed with rhetoric and platitudes. Can we stop the grandstanding, and do real work? It is a question of management and leadership.

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