Not So Special Advisers

I remember a conversation I had with a friend last year where she was trying to explain to me some of the things Venture Capitalists and Private Equity types take into consideration when they are looking to make an investment in a company. When they are evaluating potential companies to buy, they grade the managers of that company using stuff like Grade A, B and C etc. Where it gets interesting is that these gradings are then used to determine how much the company can grow in the future.

The idea is pretty simple: If a company has C grade managers in the majority, those managers will be responsible for hiring other staff at some point. It is human nature that a C manager is unlikely to hire an A junior to report to him. It’s just the way that people behave which has been confirmed by experience. And it makes sense: an A manager is likely to be very self confident meaning he wont feel so threatened if it came down to hiring a subordinate who might challenge him but will deliver value to the firm. And int he profit hunting game, everything finds its way down to the bottom line.

 

If this argument holds true (and I think it does), what can we realistically expect from a second rate minister who somehow finds him/herself heading say the Youth ministry or Defence even purely by quota or federal character? Even if such a minister were to hire the best and the brightest he/she can find, can we be surprised when in a bid to protect their own ego or corruption, the young men and women hired as ‘Special Advisers’ are reduced to the brain challenging task of helping the Minister scratch his recharge card to reveal the number code?

Personally, I am not too scared of an incompetent government minister or official provided they are not in a position to do any damage. What we might not realise is that ‘doing nothing’ has a far better track record than the govt actually doing ‘something’. So in a lot of cases, the lesser evil is to have someone in charge who’s corrupt but too lazy or dumb to do any damage to the rest of us. Things might not get better but they sure wont get worse either. The real trouble starts when an incompetent govt official decides that he has some ‘ideas’ he wants to experiment on the rest of us. At this point, there should be people around said govt official who are able to challenge him and insist on subjecting his ideas to some more intellectual rigour. But if we go back to our earlier analogy, the people surrounding such a govt official will either be at his level or lower or utterly unable to challenge him for fear of losing their own jobs.

This is a small example of how an institution can get locked in a vicious cycle resulting in a ‘mediocrity trap’. In such a system, those who do things in a way that makes some sense will always be in the minority as there will be no benefit to be obtained from doing things differently.

 

Making Special Advisers Special

So what if we tweak this system slightly to make it work a bit better? As with a lot of things, you will only get the best out of everyone involved (and more) if you have a system that allows talent to bubble to the surface which will by extension come from allowing it to freely express itself. This cant happen in a system where power is so badly skewed in favour of those who call the shots.

So here’s an idea – why dont we break the current link between govt ministers and their special advisers and replace it with something more robust? Not scrapping the positions of course but taking some of the power away from ministers in the current arrangement and actually redistributing it to the SpAds.

Given that ministers are more likely to be politicians than anything else, what we want is for them to be surrounded by SpAds who can at least help them research policy, give solid fearless advice and not be afraid to challenge them when they come up with the usual bonkers ideas.

  • The first thing to do will be to create something like a talent pool of people who want to be SpAds. This can and should be made as rigorous as possible. So say every 4 years, there will be an intake of a certain number with the maximum at say 200 SpAds in the pool. These people will go through tests and interviews and anything else that helps to get the numbers down to what we want from the army of people who will apply.
  • Now when you get selected into the final SpAd pool, you get to make say 3 choices of ministries (i.e. ministers) you’d like to work in. Obviously some ministries will be more popular than others so perhaps they could be grouped into 3 tiers so you can have Finance as a Tier 1 ministry along with say Agric. When making choices, people can then be restricted to one Tier 1 choice and so on.
  • These would be SpAds will be encouraged to keep whatever jobs it is they are doing. No requirement to resign their jobs until they have been assigned. Heck, it could even be made a criteria that you must already be in a job to qualify to enter the SpAd pool. This is important – you are looking to get things done for wider society. This is very different from a job creation scheme.
  • Once the pool is complete, you then invite the ministers to the party. The job of SpAds should be standardized to the point where everyone who gets into the pool knows exactly what the job will involve. Organising babes for the minister will not be in the job spec so any SpAd will be perfectly within their rights to reject such an ‘assignment’. Here a variety of methods can be used to select. Different ministers will of course be allocated a different number of SpAds. Finance minister might get 4 while minister of state for water resources might get 1 or preferably none. I’d prefer a lottery method just to make sure the system cant be gamed.
  • Or ministers can be ranked in some order and then each minister gets the profile of all the SpAds in the pool who have chosen their ministry a Tier 1 choice. The minister then picks the allocated number and the rest go into their Tier 2 choices and so on until all ministers have picked.
  • The unchosen SpAds will then remain as ‘reserves’ in the pool. They would have jobs anyway so they can go back to doing whatever it is they do for a living. They wont get paid for this. The chosen SpAds will however be paid the same salary across the board. These salaries will be independent of their ministries or the ministers they work with but those ministries will be allowed to augment their pay if they so wish. The salaries for the SpAds should be very decent.

 

Here’s the point of this – it’s not enough to say ‘good’ people should go into govt and ‘change’ things. It’s unlikely to happen. But what can be done is to at least make it possible for those people to have at least a 51% chance of doing the ‘good’ we think they are capable. As things are, govt is a wasteland and black hole where some of our brightest minds have been destroyed and the soul ripped out of them. 

Today what you have is a system that vests so much power in a minister without at least acknowledging that they just might not know what they are doing. So maybe if we take away their power to appoint people who are just like them and inevitably turn it into a method of dispensing favours and ‘creating employment’ for the ‘youth’, we might achieve something useful.

In other countries, the SpAd route is established as a pathway for bright young people to start a career in govt. Specifically in the UK, almost every current minister once worked as a SpAd in the past including the Prime Minister David Cameron who was a SpAd to the Chancellor of The Exchequer, Norman Lamont in 1992. We can and should use it as a system where talented and motivated people get into govt without feeling like they owe their allegiance to the minister who brought them into govt as opposed to the country they are serving. We need an arrangement where such people can challenge ministers without the fear of being sacked or losing their pay (ministers wont be able to sack SpAds in the plan I described above but a SpAd can go back into the ‘reserve’ if he/she feels they are no longer able to work with a particular minister). Further, those who get into the system will at least know they are in on merit or at the very least, understand that they are going to serve Nigeria and not a particular person who they might not even know.

 

Comment is free. Spaces below.

 

FF

 

Nigerian Aviation: Break It Up To Make It Up

Looks like a good time to talk about aviation so I will weigh in with my 2 cents. So I dont waste your time, I am not enamoured of the Nigerian aviation industry. I think it should be completely destroyed and rebuilt with the loss of jobs and whatever else such destruction might leave in its wake. Dont waste your time reading this if that doesnt appeal to you.

I am of the firm opinion that Nigerians cannot and should not be allowed to run airlines. It is too complicated and in my opinion is not even a business in the sense that you invest in it with a fairly good chance of earning a decent return. Running an airline is more likely to lose you money than anything else or as the saying goes, the fastest way to go from being a billionaire to a millionaire. 

Observe the chart below to buttress my point

Gao

The chart shows the profitability of the US airline industry from 1968 -2005 and it’s a sorry tale. At some point around the turn of the millenium, costs caught up with and overtook revenue and loss making became the order of the day. This is 7 years on and it has only gotten worse to the point where an airline like Delta is buying a refinery just to save on fuel costs. 

The exception to this rule of course has been SouthWest Airlines and that is mainly due to the hair’s breadth efficiency the company employs in its operations. For example it has only has Boeing 737s in its fleet which means it can save a lot of money on training and maintenance and also its planes can take off within 30mins of landing because all its pilots and crew can operate any of its planes.

But how counterintuitive is the fact that airlines run by Americans who love nothing more than to turn a capitalist buck are losing money by the billions every year and they remain in the air? Well maybe not so much. The ‘problem’ with an airline is that the need to carry passengers safely from point A to point B translates into one mighty big fixed cost. You cannot save money by using one pilot instead of two or using cheaper landing tyres because I doubt there are cheaper landing tyres to be had. Passengers have to be transported safely otherwise you wont even get the opportunity to lose your money. So you cannot cut corners with anything relating to safety even when it means it doesnt make financial sense and in running an airline practically everything is related to safety one way or the other.

It is this last point that makes me conclude that Nigerians should not be allowed to run airlines. At least not now. I do not trust my country men or the system in which they operate not to give them a huge opening to cut corners regarding passengers’ safety. Such a temptation is likely to increase when costs are running quickly ahead of revenues. Postponing an expensive check just to get in a few more full flights or buying planes that were about to be turned into scrap metal from some obscure airline in one remote country. And we havent even gotten to the service and reliability issues. Our airlines cant even seem to count judging by the number of times they sell more tickets than available seats on the flight. 

I like markets not because they are perfect but because they are generally better than any system directed by one person or a group of persons who arrogate wisdom to themselves thinking they know better than everyone else. I also believe that it doesnt take a lot for a market to form and they can generally come about without any kind of govt intervention.

But in this case I have got a solution that involves ‘helping’ a market to get organised mainly because the overriding point of passenger safety doesnt give a lot of room for the kind of experimentation that is really good for most markets to get properly established.

But never mind, in a few steps, here’s my idea of how the Nigerian airline industry can be destroyed so it can become better. Feel free to disagree with me but dont waste your time reading if you are ‘proudly Nigerian’, my intention is to offend you. 

1. First step is to revoke every single licence held by Nigerian companies to run airlines. Ever single one. Nigerians have no God given right to run airlines and I think it is a misallocation of capital so if that door closes to our money men, they will hopefully deploy their capital elsewhere more useful in the economy rather than a sector that currently only serves the 1%. 

2. Get a list of the world’s safest airlines from ENGLISH speaking countries. Not Russian or Chinese airlines. Airlines from English speaking countries or that have a track record of serving English speaking routes so Air France KLM will fall in this category. No point inviting Emirates and say Qatar purely because having done a case study on Emirates in particular, the airline was established as pretty much a British Airways clone including hiring loads of ex-BA staff. 

What we want on the list is the most recognisble and reputable airlines in the world from British Airways to KLM to Singapore Airlines to Delta etc. If we get 8 of them interested in the next step below, then we would have done well.

3. Think of this as something like the GSM licence auction we had a decade and some ago. This is where we help the market to form. My preferred number is 4, so we restrict the number of ‘licences’ to give out to 4. So basically we will end up with 4 domestic airlines to serve the whole country. I think this is more than enough and given that making money from this ‘business’ is rather difficult, it makes sense to restrict the number of participants to at least ensure they have a fair chance of making money.

I dont think the govt should make money from auctioning the licences as there’s no chance they will reinvest the funds back into aviation as should be the case with funds received from auctions. But whatever the case, they can be auctioned off just so we can know who’s really interested and who’s half hearted. 

4. Once we get the 4 players who win these licences, they will then be allowed to form 4 ‘airlines’ to serve our domestic routes. Now this is very important – those airlines must carry the known name of the airline either solely or as a combination with another name. So for example, were Singapore Airlines to be one of the winners, they wont be allowed to form a local airline that doesnt contain the ‘Singapore Air’ name in one way or the other. Reputations are very important in this business so it’s important that they be willing to risk their brand name. In fact, even without knowing the name of the local airline, it should be obvious who the owner is from the livery – so if BA were to form such a company, the colours must be red, white and blue and not green and black as an example.

These local airlines will be 80% owned by the foreign airline owning the franchise. 10% will go to the Nigerian employees they hire including pilots and crew. If this cant be arranged, then that 10% will be floated on the stock exchange. The remaining 10% will be owned by local ‘technical partners’. Here preference will be given to former local airlines that had their licences revoked. 

After 5 years, the local ‘technical partners’ will get a chance to buy another 20% from the main company raising their stakes to 30%. This will not be by force though, it’s merely an option to buy meaning if they are able to come to pay market value and raise the funds, then the main company will have to sell to them. But not before 5 years. After 2.5yrs another 10% will be released and so on till we get to 50% for the local ‘technical partners’. After this, if the main companies want to exit, they can do so by selling to the local partners but not before 10 yers. 

5. So the structure is now in place. The next step is where the govt gets to make some money. We then plot the major routes in the country and then sell licences to operate them in 3 year slots. If all 4 airlines want to operate Lagos – Abuja, then they are free to pay the ‘route licence fee’ (RLF) or whatever name they choose to call it. 

If the govt sets the price for Enugu to Kaduna too high, no one will buy it forcing a readjustment. Price for Abuja to Lagos can be set fairly high as everyone will want that. After 3 years, the RLFs will be up for renewal and renegotiation by auction preferably. 

6. Last year I wrote this note about how our airports had become money pits and even avenues for corruption with the eyebrow raising salaries attributed to some of them even when they were generating no revenues. I’d say the govt should only own a maximum of 4 airports – MMIA, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano. All other airports should be ceded to the states where they are located to manage.

It will then be up to the states who own the airports to ensure that cows are not allowed to cross their runways when planes want to land or take off. 

The RLF can be designed in a way like say if the govt gets a total of $10m for the Enugu – Lagos route (to be paid in tranches over the 3 years please NOT upfront), the money can be shared 40% to each of the airports on the routes and 20% retained by the FG. If cows are then found to cross the runway, a penalty of say 10% of the next tranche of the RLF will be deducted. No lights on the runway will also be a valid reason to deduct from the RLF amongst other reasons.

7. These 4 new airlines will be given free rein to bring in their own booking systems and safety standards. They will also be allowed to employ whoever they want to employ. There’s no need to ‘insist’ on local content for this, a Western airline wont bring crew from their own country to come and serve our domestic routes when it will cost them much less to hire Nigerians. 

8. Scrap the Ministry of Aviation and let it become part of the Transport ministry who will have a supervisory role and be in charge of the RLF auctions while NCAA will continue its role in ‘coordinating’ safety as opposed to setting standards. FAAN will be in charge of the 4 govt owned airports while the states will be free to form a single private entity to look after their airports or if they prefer, form companies to look after their airports individually. It wont be long before they realise the benefit of having one body to look after these airports collectively especially as it will be involved in bargaining with the airlines to make certain routes attractive. 

9. There can be plenty of benefits with this plan. Tourism being one. Take Obudu for example – this destination is quite popular with Germans as I understand. Imagine of Lufthansa was one of the airlines that won licences to operate local airlines? This would seriously open up Obudu as a tourist destination because Lufthansa might then win the Lagos – Calabar route and then sell tickets from Germany direct there for example a German tourist would be able to buy a Frankfurt – Calabar ticket with a short stopover in Lagos for say 1hour and not having to clear customs. Once they get to Calabar, they can then clear customs and go on their holidays. The same journey will happen return. This makes the destination a lot more attractive because at the moment a German wanting to visit Obudu will get to Nigeria and then have to join one of our unreliable local airlines with all the attendant palaver. 

 

 

The rest of it is pretty straightforward. Like I said earlier, Nigerians dont have any particular God given right to own airlines but the Nigerian people do have a right to fly as safely as possible for a flight they have paid for. If we are to measure by crashes alone, then it would look like we havent had a crash in Nigeria since 2007 until this last Sunday. But safety is not measured by only the times when a plane crashes, the near misses are important too – the times when someone did go wrong but by pure luck, the plane didnt crash. These near misses are very regular in Nigeria just going by newspaper reports alone. And the underlying problem is because when running an airline and you are faced with the choice of safety or making a loss, you are must make a loss and not compromise on safety. There is no evidence that this is the case in Nigeria. 

So will foreign airlines choose to make a loss instead? The answer is that such airlines have a much deeper buffer than Nigerian airlines have. So it might be worth British Airways making a loss on the Lagos – PH route for instance if it means that it can offer its passengers quicker and more reliable connection coming from London just as an example.

And what happens to our local airline ‘industry’? Well my answer to that is that it is not by force to have a local airline ‘industry’. We need that capital in other important sectors of the economy so this is a sector that will be good for foreing investment to develop. A country is not automatically obliged to take part in every industry just because it can, there is the question of compartive advantage as to what it can do and what it need not bother with. Alas in Nigeria we have N300bn Power and Aviation Intervention Fund (PAIF) run by the CBN through the Bank of Industry. This is bizarre if not silly. Why do we have this kind of money to throw at airlines when roads are in such a shocking state of disrepair? Again, this is another representation of how powerless the people are against vested interests in Nigeria who are able to corner huge resources for themselves as rewards for failure. Stockbrokers will soon get their own ‘bailout‘ too according to the Finance Minister. Is this why some of us were excited at her return? To serve the few at the expense of the many?

 

The solution to the problems our aviation industry faces requires that we come to the acceptance that the thing is not working as it is and is hardly getting any better. If our businessmen are so enamoured of the airline business that they must do it by force, they should be allowed to operate private jet companies for themselves….the 1% for the 1%.

The thing about a crisis is that it’s always an opportunity to do the truly radical things that could never be done when everyone was coasting and vested in the status quo. But we have a habit of wasting crisis in Nigeria such that people are very quick to want to bury the truth just so that status quo can be returned to as quickly as possible. 

So yes, you’ve just wasted your time reading this. No such thing will happen.

 

FF

 

Export Packaging – Wizkid in Concert

For some reason, I had never attended a Nigerian concert here in London until Wizkid came calling yesterday. Couple of random thoughts on the event

1. I have seen Neyo, John Legend and Hillsong at the HMV Apollo in the past so I know the sound at the venue is fine. Otherwise I might have been tempted to blame the venue for the poor sound. It started off well but then got worse as the evening went on especially at the times when there were a couple of people performing on stage at the same time. At that point it just became a lot of noise.

2. I think Wizkid himself is shy. He seemed to draw comfort from the crowd right in front of him in the front row and at some point it felt like he was performing for them alone. I’d say, just by sight, that there was a bigger crowd in the galleries but he never looked up once to acknowledge us (and yes, we paid much more than the people downstairs in front of him). 

3. The tickets to the show were sold on Ticketmaster which is one of the world’s biggest ticket sellers. Essentially there was nothing stopping a random white guy who had never heard of Nigeria before but looking for some fun, from buying a ticket and coming to find out what Wizkid was all about. 

So, even though the crowd was probably 99% Nigerian, this was essentially a Nigerian export and should therefore conform to the standards of the market where it is being exported to and not neccesarily the Nigerian market. 

4. Wizkid is popular, there is absolutely no doubt about that. He’s also got an army of adulating fans who will easily make him into a superstar. So that side of the equation is sorted. The missing bit is what he gives them in return through live performances. At this concert he had no backing singers or band. This is weird and meant that he was singing over a recording of his own songs (a big reason for the bad sound). You come to a concert because you want to hear the musician sing to you, anything less and you feel short changed.

The lack of backing singers or dancers also meant he couldnt ‘own’ the stage like he should have when you have a whole team working for your success on the night. This will come with time I imagine but it’s something to work on immediately. People paid to come see Wizkid so the whole event should have revolved around him with a steady build up. As it turned out, Eddie Kadi was a godsend as he managed to hold the crowd entertained for well over 2 hours. 

Basically a little bit of more planning wont be a bad thing. It’s the Nigerian way and is fine for Nigeria I guess but this is now an export competing with various other exports. 

It’s that final push that will get people to buy t-shirt, merchandise and anything else branded by the musician. Otherwise people might wlk out feeling like they have already dont enough for the artiste simply by turning up. And the tickets were not exactly cheap. By way of comparison, what I paid for one ticket to see Wizkid is roughly about what I paid for 2 tickets to see Anthony Hamilton recently. 

5. The crowd was huge. Huge. Maybe the doors were let open towards the end but by the time he was rounding up, there was hardly any space to move in the galleries anymore. The crowd was also very very young so much so that I felt serioulsy old like I was there to chaperone the event. 

I wont pretend to know how the music industry works these days but having so many young fans looks to me like a whole bunch of people that can ‘grow up’ with the artiste possibly right up to the time when they are have more earnings to play around with. Afterall the reason why people like Boyz II Men are still singing is because people like me became their fans a long time ago and will continue to patronise them.

 

I like the kid and I hope he gets better on stage in concert. People really like him and what he represents so what’s left is what he decides to give his fans in return. Whatever it turns out to be, Wizkid ‘experience’ needs to be developed for the stage so people can take that away with them when they pay to go see him in concert. 

I think that when it comes to exporting Nigerian music, all the low hanging fruit have been plucked. The music is out there already on radio, iTunes and everywhere else. What’s left now is the hard bit – bringing up to truly world class levels where it can easily compete with anything else out there. This is also where I think there’s serious money to be made, afterall you cant really pirate a concert experience…you either pay to attend or you dont. In this regard, linking up with Akon is probably a very good thing. 

 

5.5/10 but I will go see him again if he’s back in town. And buy his next album too.

FF

And The Problem The Nigerian Government Will Ignore Today Is…

That noisome pestilence, also known as the Nigerian govt, has come again.

This morning I saw this report in the papers as to how the Nigerian govt is planning to add a National Identification Number (NIN) to the list of requirements for opening a bank account in Nigeria. The jokes that one can make with this ‘NIN’ of a thing are too numerous and too easy so let’s move on.

 Whenever policies like this are trotted out, my first instinct is always to ask the question – what problem are these people trying to solve? A chap called Dipo Fatokun who works with the CBN presumably, tries to explain

As part of CBN’s efforts to bolster the banking industry and the entire financial system, the Bank in the recent past commenced steps to overhaul the KYC processes in banks, including the recently concluded customer account verification exercise

Now we know that we have a serious problem of lack of access to financial services by the vast majority of our population. Only 22m Nigerians out of a population of 160m people have bank accounts by the latest widely available statistics. For a country with designs on becoming a serious global economic in a few years, this is a crisis and one which you’d imagine would be at the top of any policy maker’s list of things to tackle head on.

So I’m scratching my head here wondering exactly how adding another layer of paperwork to the process of opening a bank account is going to alleviate this problem? But then again, maybe we shouldnt be surprised given that Nigeria’s oil production has been around the 2m bpd mark for a decade or more now inspite of all evidence showing that we could easily raise this to 4m bpd with a little bit of seriousness. Our govt officials find it easy to get comfortable with mediocrity as long as the ‘other one’ is flowing…

There is a certain arrogance to all of this course, something that Nigerian policy makers are not short of. Govt believes that once it has deemed something good, it must by extension be good for everyone else. Anyone who’s read Hernando De Soto’s Mystery of Capital wont be surprised at how easy it is for govts in developing countries to design policies that end up shutting out the majority of the population who find it cheaper and easier to exist outside of the law.

According to the latest available (2010) UK govt stats, only about 3% of the UK population do not have any form of bank account. I remember when I moved here in 2004 with no credit history or any kind of address verification yet I neded to open a bank account. I was pleasantly surprised when on my first day at school, NatWest bank officials from a branch down the road came to our class to open accounts for us. I was also given a credit card with a £250 limit (I still have this card). And I hadnt been in the UK for 6 weeks yet. I had no form of ID whatsoever beyond my Nigerian passport. Isnt it interesting that this same passport which is not enough to open a bank account in Nigeria is good enough elsewhere? Today I’ve got at least 3 UK bank accounts and even an American current account even though I dont live in that country. No, having an ID card does not automatically mean that you wont try to defraud a bank.

Now the point here isnt to compare Nigeria’s banks with that of the UK, rather it should be easily clear that banks in any society are such a vital utility that they must reflect the society in which they operate. So in the UK where even illegal immigrants need a bank account to get paid, you can expect banks to be ubiquitous. Not so in Portugal for example where a large chunk of the population still gets paid cash in hand (which means the govt there doesnt get to collect taxes on the money….which explains why that country is the P in the eurozone’s PIIGS).

But even with this level of penetration of banking in the UK, I can easily name 3 banks that pay you, the customer, for keeping your money with them. There’s HSBC’s First Direct which pays you £100 for joing them. There’s also a Halifax account which pays you £5 every month as long as you deposit £1000 monthly via salary or anything else into the account regardless of whether or not you are overdrawn. And then there’s the rather interesting Santander 123 account which pays you 1%, 2% and 3% cashback if you pay your utility bills using their online banking platform or by direct debit.

You only get stuff like this when banks are in real, as opposed to imaginary, competition with each other. But instead what we have here is that rather than let the banks go out and fight for their lunch by winning over the vast army of the unbanked in Nigeria, the govt has ‘intervened’ by reversing the dynamics…such that we are the ones who will now go to them to submit our biometrics so we can have these wonderful bank accounts that have been so life changing for the 22m Nigerians who already have them.

Yes, we will now have to go to the bank to queue in the hot banking hall because PHCN would have struck and the ‘gen’ wont be working. We will also get into heated arguments with each other because some smart alec will always try to jump the queue leading to an uproar. And of course after queuing for 2 hours, when it’s almost your turn, you will be asked to come back on Monday because, yep, their ‘server is down’. All that is left is for govt to link this NINcompoop of a thing to something more vital say like driving a car and the incentive for the banks to actually come after you as the customer would have been completely turned on its head – they will only need to open their doors in the morning and desperate citizens will file in to submit their details just so they can live their lives in peace.

This is the thanks we get for stumping up $21bn to bail out our banks. Those who work in our banks will protest this charge, but the reality is that even to a casual observer, the Nigerian banking system is incredibly inefficient. Everywhere you turn, it is one story of misallocation of resources after the other. Our banks have decided that a large chunk of the population are not worth their time so they’d rather go on empire building sprees in Rwanda or Ghana and pretend that the job at home is done.

———————————————————————————————————————————————

But there’s something even more sinister that should worry any lover of liberty and freedom out there – the Nigerian govt’s sudden thirst for so much of our personal data. In January 2011 we handed over our biometrics to INEC in the name of avoiding dodgy elections. Sounded like a good idea at the time even with the billions it cost…except that it didnt quite stop us getting dodgy results in certain places of course. Then a few months later we handed over our biometrics to the telcos to verify our SIM cards…because the INEC one was for INEC alone and they and the telcos dont talk to each other. And now finally we have this one…one ID number to rule them all. Not to forget that in 2003 or so, we handed over our biometrics for the National ID scheme under President Obasanjo which was inevitably derailed by – cliche alert – ‘scandals and mismanagement’ in the contract award.

So now we have this agency called National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) that will be populated by the usual apparatchiks, busy bodies and jobsworths who will ensure that no billion allocated to them is left unspent.

And of course the first ID card no. 000000001 will be launched by Mr President himself, just like Mr President before him, live in front of NTA cameras amid much back slapping and eating of cassava bread. And then there will be speeches by the usual govt ministers declaring how this new ID card will eradicate polio and malaria in the country.

Meanwhile for the millions of people who remain outside of the banking system, Jesus continues to be their insurance as they leave their money under their beds or inside their bra. Afterall why bother with a bank account when you will be hit with 3 different charges just to move money online?

And yes, on a bright and sunny day not too far into the future, our ‘amiable’ Central Bank Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi will jet out to London (first class) where he will give the keynote speech at a Pan African conference headlined ‘Tackling Low Banking Penetration in Developing Economies – The Nigerian Experience’. A lot of people will clap for him during his speech because he would have spoken very ‘eloquently and cracked a few candid jokes.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

In the final analysis, the real problem at hand – millions of people who have no bank accounts – will remain there untouched like the first wife in a house of 5 wives competing for the attention of the man of the house. Only for the next CBN governor to express shock, dismay and surprise at the sheer number of Nigerians who remain unbanked and then vowing to leave no stone unturned in ‘tackling’ the problem.

———————————————————————————————————————————————

Young Nigerians who are in the habit of rising to govt’s defence in matters like this because the policy sounds good on paper need to think long and hard about what it is exactly they are supporting. A policy does not automatically have merit or deserve support simply because it was put out by govt. Governments, especially the Nigerian one, do incredible damage and are a cog in the wheel of progress more often than they actually solve any problems. Some restraint on their part wont go amiss. What we need to be asking these rampaging bulls in a China shop is how exactly does this NIN ID card get millions of Nigerians into the banking system just like Eko Bank in India is doing?

Until these questions are answered, we are merely fooling around.

FF

No crystal balls were employed in making any of the above predictions into the near future.